Pressuring the Group with Skill
Fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes was all it took for Xia Lei to finish his processing. Normally, he would be finished and hand his processed part to the engineer for inspection but he did not do so.
“Master Xia, are you finished?” smiled Ning Yuan-Shan. He was pleased by how smoothly Xia Lei had completed the processing – as ‘uncle’, it reflected positively on him.
An engineer also spoke, “Master Xia, right? Are you done? Hand it to me if you’re done. I’ll go have it measured.”
Xia Lei, however, shook his head. “You lowered the precision on this lathe. The accuracy on the processed shaft is only 0.0005mm so it cannot be considered complete.” He hesitated and added casually, “Plus, this imported bearing requirement is actually 0.00009mm. The difference is marginal but there is no way to make it work normally. I can guarantee that even if this imported machine hadn’t had its precision lowered, it cannot process accurate parts. I’m guessing that you have tried several times and not succeeded, am I right?”
The entire workshop was silent when Xia Lei was done speaking.
The first engineer to speak of his doubt of Xia Lei sneaked a look at Chi Jing-Qiu. His look was strange and Chi Jing-Qiu avoided his eyes guiltily.
“What’s going on here?” Ning Yuan-Shan was seeing red, “Did I let you lower the precision on the lathe? Who allowed this? Step forward.”
The first engineer to speak of his doubt looked at Chi Jing-Qiu again and she turned bone-white.
Just then, an elderly engineer spoke up, “Chairman Ning, it was me. I was only trying to test Master Xia’s workmanship. He is not only skilled with his hands but sharp of eye. I am in admiration.”
Ning Yuan-Shan looked at the old engineer, unhappy but not too upset, “Engineer Liu, aren’t you making trouble for nothing? I finally got a Master to come but you engineers are giving me trouble.”
Chi Jing-Qiu quietly let out a breath and her bone-white face regained some colour.
Xia Lei had seen it all and knew what was going on. Chi Jing-Qiu had poked the hornets’ nest and this old man named Liu had covered for her. Chi Jing-Qiu’s husband’s surname was also Liu so it was obvious how they were related.
Engineer Liu bowed to Xia Lei, “I apologise, Master Xia. Please forgive me.”
No matter what relationship this Engineer Liu had with Chi Jing-Qiu, a white-haired old man apologising to him made Xia Lei’s dissatisfaction go up in smoke. He moved forward to help Engineer Liu up, saying, “It’s okay, it’s okay. Engineer Liu, you must have done this considering everyone’s feelings. Don’t apologise to me, really.”
Engineer Liu patted Xia Lei’s shoulder and chuckled, “Young’un, I rarely hold anyone in admiration but you are one. Tell me, how could you tell that the precision of the lathe had been lowered? And how did you know that this machine cannot process the parts we need?”
“Experience, experience,” Xia Lei gave an answer that was not an answer. He was definitely not going to say he used his eye – if he did, uncountable jaws would hit the floor.
“Keeping it a secret, eh?” Engineer Liu smiled as he said, “Then again, there aren’t any trade secrets in our line of work. All right, I won’t ask you how you did it. I do want to say that we have not been able to process this type of imported bearing parts and even if we tried, we had no way of making it work normally.” He looked at Ning Yuan-Shan again and said, “Chairman Ning, I’m not being a wet blanket or anything but without better lathes and technology there is no way he can process the parts we need. It may be better to research other ways to import it from other countries – this is the real solution to the problem.”
Ning Yuan-Shan frowned and said, “There’s the technology block that Europe and America imposed on us now. It’s not us who don’t want to buy better lathes but them who won’t sell. The parts and materials suspected of being used in precision processing for supporting national defense is now being restricted in trade too. If you can get your hands on these materials, I’ll concede my position of Chairman to you.”
His words had an edge to them and Engineer Liu may be hard-headed, but not that hard-headed. He held his tongue.
Xia Lei spoke up, “Actually, higher grade lathes are not needed. The axis needed on this bearing can be done manually. I can make it to your requirements.”
The workshop was silent at once and it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Everyone stared at Xia Lei, each and every pair of eyes looking at him strangely.
Engineer Liu spoke, “Young’un, you have skills, I admit, but you can’t boast like that. What you said is a joke. How can your manual work be better than a high precision lathe imported from Germany? Are you challenging our IQ?”
Others agreed, “Yeah! Aren’t you being too unrealistic?”
Another said, “Young’un, you’ll be shamed if you can’t do what you claimed. You’d better think before you speak.”
A wave of mocking and ridicule ensued.
Strangely, Chi Jing-Qiu smiled. ‘I don’t know when this Xia Lei punk learnt his skill but I know how he likes to show off. It’s been years and he still has this bad habit. My father-in-law is the best engineer craftsman in the country and he has never been wrong. That guy passed just now because of a fluke but he won’t be able to hide his lies this time’ she thought.
Ning Jing stared at Xia Lei too but her gaze was full of worry.
Xia Lei did not argue with anyone. He removed the processed shaft and turned to a normal manual lathe in the corner of the workshop.
“He’s actually going to use that antique lathe to process a high precision part? Are you kidding me?” said someone.
“This punk keeps springing surprise after surprise but I won’t believe that he’d be successful,” said another.
Another wave of chatter buzzed, with them saying whatever they liked.
Ning Yuan-Shan couldn’t hold it in; he pulled Ning Jing to one side and asked quietly, “Can your boyfriend do it?”
Ning Jing’s pretty face turned pink, “I don’t know, Uncle. You know I don’t really understand your industry. I did tell you about when he repaired the Ming dynasty compass. His workmanship is excellent. I will believe in him and whether you do or not is up to you.”
Ning Yuan-Shan smiled wryly, “Of course you’d believe in him. I still have to face this group of stubborn old men. Once they decide on something, they get so stubborn about it you’d never change their minds. Honestly, I really hope your boyfriend succeeds. I’d love to see these stubborn old men get their pride dented. How can their way of thinking be so inert when the times are advancing?”
“I’d better go take a look at Xia Lei’s work.” Ning Jing turned and walked off.
“You…” Ning Yuan-Shan sighed.
While everyone was chattering like monkeys, the ancient lathe started up and begun to rotate. Xia Lei focused on the rotating shaft and slowly, slowly lowered the blade. From the perspective of an outsider, it looked like Xia Lei did not use the blade at all to cut at the rotation axis of the processed shaft but in his eyes, the blade had cut through the epidermis. There were no loud screeches of metal and almost no sparks fell but his high precision processing was going smoothly.
Five minutes later, he stopped the lathe, used a clean cloth dampened with oil to wipe the shaft and said, “Okay, you guys can take it and test it now.”
Nobody came forward. The group of old farts just goggled at Xia Lei wordlessly, as if the manually processed high precision shaft in his hands were a grenade and would explode if touched.
Xia Lei spread his hands, “Why are you looking at me like that?”
The engineers’ gazes turned to the oil-dampened cloth in Xia Lei’s hand and they could not look away. Nobody thought that he was processing the shaft earlier but this piece of cloth was stained with fairly fine metal shavings!
“Hey?” Ning Yuan-Shan spoke again, “What are you all blanking out for? Didn’t you hear Master Xia? He has processed the part, so go inspect it!”
“Ah, yes! Right away!” Engineer Liu snapped out of his shock and retrieved the shaft from Xia Lei’s hands for inspection.
The group of engineers followed Engineer Liu, all talking at once in a cacophony of disagreement.
Xia Lei was not interested in helping the old men inspect the part. He was confident in his eye.
Ning Yuan-Shan walked excitedly over to see the result of the inspection. Ning Jing walked towards Xia Lei and when she got close, she asked softly, “Was it a success, Master Xia?”
Xia Lei nodded, “I think it is. It wasn’t much.”
Ning Jing hit Xia Lei, laughing, “Show off.”
Chi Jing-Qiu watched their intimate exchange and the look in her eyes became ever more complicated.
At that moment, Ning Yuan-Shan suddenly laughed aloud, “Success! Holy fuck! In your face, technology block! We have a guy who can do it manually!”
The Chairman of a large enterprise cursing was even more shocking than Xia Lei processing a high precision part manually. All eyes turned to the jubilant Ning Yuan-Shan. There were no words to describe him.
“Um, hurmpf, hurmh…” Ning Yuan-Shan pulled at his tie and was immediately restored to his normal self. “Very good, very good. You all saw that, didn’t you? Admirable. No more talk of importing from Europe or America in front of me in the future – I don’t want to hear it. Those parts we urgently need shall be handed to Master Xia. You must fulfill all his needs, everything. If anyone tries anything funny, you’re fired!”
If Ning Yuan-Shan said this in the beginning, this group of engineers would definitely not follow his orders and protest loudly but no one spoke against his words now.
Ning Yuan Shan spoke again, “Secretary Chi, Master Xia shall work here for this period of time. You will be in charge of his lodging and meals.”
“Yes, Chairman Ning.” Chi Jing-Qiu’s smile was very sweet.
“Disperse, disperse.” Ning Yuan-Shan had no more patience to deal with these old men. He waved at Xia Lei and spoke warmly, “Master Xia, let’s go to my office and talk about a contract.”
Xia Lei returned the warm smile, “All right.”
Chi Jing-Qiu stuck by Xia Lei’s side and waited till Ning Yuan-Shan and Ning Jing turned to walk out of the workshop before she whispered, “Lei, don’t rush off after you’re done with your talk with Chairman Ning. We haven’t seen each other for years. I’ll treat you to a cup of coffee; let’s have a good chat.”
Xia Lei laughed, “Aren’t you worried that your Big Brother Wu Qi-Long would get the wrong idea?”
Chi Jing-Qiu felt like a fishbone was stuck in her throat.