Beer brewer’s account of ex-pat ups and downs
IT WAS a full house on Tuesday at the Port Alfred Ski-boat Club, where Kowie Probus Club invited former South African Breweries (SAB) brewer Ray de Power to speak of his experiences as an ex-pat living abroad.
Born in East London and educated at Queens College, De Power joined SAB East London in 1974 after qualifying as a brewer in London. For 12 years he was the Amstel brewer in Cape Town before being asked to move to India to oversee the brewing operation there.
“I was given LSD, but not the type you’re familiar with,” he said. “It was Look, See and Decide.” The package they offered him as an ex-pat was too good to turn down, and De Power and his wife moved to New Delhi.
“Living in India is not easy,” he said. “But as a senior person you get showered with gifts. Language was not an insurmountable problem. You can easily get by.”
Culturally it was different and De Power spoke of driving along the Ganges River and seeing what he assumed were braai fires along its banks, later discovering they were funeral pyres set up to cremate the dead.
His two daughters were able to visit their mom and dad on free flights and he and wife could travel back to South Africa. He said the money was great, including allowances, and all he and his wife needed to buy was their food.
He said that beer consumption among Indians was about 0.3 litres per capita.
“This could be because it is difficult to carry a crate of beer on the handlebars of your bike,” he said.
Although De Power and his team struggled to get going, by the time they left there were 10 breweries there.
“There’s no booze at the airports [the only way to travel as the roads are terrible] so, while waiting for a plane we would buy a bottle of brandy and then drink it with coke in the airport lounge. Security used to find it strange when we would begin to get louder by just drinking coke,” he said.
From India De Power was transferred to Nepal where he was lucky enough to fly up to Mount Everest on what his pilot told him was one of the clearest days he had witnessed.
From Nepal he moved to China, a country De Power’s wife did not enjoy. He spoke of the language issue, and how no one spoke English. Each ex-pat was allocated a translator. Where De Power stayed, temperatures reached -16°C in the winter.
The average beer consumption was 30 litres per capita, which he described as “a hell of a lot of beer”.
After China it was Lesotho, what De Power said was, “the best” and “bliss”. Then he was off to Nigeria until, finally, he flew back to South Africa, retiring in February after spending 18 years as an ex-pat. Would he do it all over? De Power hesitated before answering.
“No. Well, I missed the sport and the food and the people. But maybe I would.”
DE POWER OF BEER: Former SAB brewer, Ray de Power, left, spoke of his life as an ex-pat at the Kowie Probus Club meeting, held at the Ski-boat Club on Tuesday. Probus president Doug Sutherland gave him a hearty handshake after his talk
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