Woodley's World
Hai Tan
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In 1959, when I was a mere stripling and a greenhorn in the trade of  labelling, I received a bursary from the employer where I was  apprenticed (the long-gone Laing's of Kircaldy) to be spent on an  overseas trip to "investigate foreign labelling practices". During  that 18 months I learnt little about labelling but plenty about life  - almost as important, in my view.

To start my trip I signed on to a tramp steamer which normally plied  its trade in the South China Seas but which was then conveniently being refitted in Leith. After six months and many adventures (which I cannot recount here as there were no pipes involved !) we reached Indonesia. One day we put into port on one of the smaller islands and on going ashore we were accosted by the usual crowd of supplicants and hawkers which this time included one young lad who kept saying "Mister, you come see Hai Tan, he wise man, he tell your fortune, you be very rich man I think".

Having nothing better to do and being slightly intrigued I went with him a short way out into the shanty town that bordered the port and was ushered into a low wooden building thatched with palm fronds. Inside, shrouded in incense smoke, was a tiny brown wizened old man smoking a simple pipe fashioned from bamboo. After crossing his palm with silver (a dollar bill, actually) he grasped my hands, looked into my eyes and spoke:

"Know this. You can no light fire when woods he be wet. You can no make butterfly strong" He paused, and looked at me intensely "You can no fix egg when she no quite good."

Having treated the experience as a joke to this point suddenly I became a little unsettled. The old seer continued:

"And you can no fix MAN when HE be wrong."

Then he began a rhythmic rocking back and forth chanting an unintelligible string of words that I took to be partly in the local language:

"Am ga wah man out here !"
"Am ga wah man out here !"
"Am ga wah man out here !"

His words had a profound effect on me. From that day on, when faced with a bad situation or person I would remember his advice that "You can't fix a man when he's wrong" and walk away. And often the old man's final chant would echo with me: "Am ga wah man out here" - it became my personal mantra summarising his (and my) outlook on life.

Many many years later, one wet Sunday afternoon I was sitting in my lounge room in Falkirk with Mrs. Woodley idly changing television channels when the screen was filled with the image of a huge red sunset which whisked me right back to those far off days in the East - it was the Rogers and Hammerstein classic "South Pacific". As I watched, the old man's words seemed to come back to me, in fact seemed to be being repeated to me from the screen ...

You can't light a fire when the woods are wet
You can't make a butterfly strong
You can't fix an egg when it ain't quite good
And you can't fix a man when he's wrong!

With a start I suddenly realised what his final mystic chant was. It was not "Am ga wah man out here !" but "I'm gonna wash that man right outa my hair !". My whole personal philosophy up to that point had been based on a show tune !

How many people can say that ? Plenty, I bet.

Happy Days,

Many thanks,

Ted Woodley

Many Thanks, Ted Woodley