He has not passed primary school. But he invented the peanut husking machine. Meet “country bumpkin” and scientist Chin Tuong (real name Dao Kim Tuong) who lives in Vietnam’s southern Binh Dinh province.
Earlier this month, Tuong nearly fainted with shock when the provincial Department of Science and Technology asked him to “prepare the machine’s technical specifications” to take part in the national invention contest for farmers organized by the Vietnam Farmers’ Association. A peasant all his life, he could not write, let alone do all the paperwork they wanted.
Then his wife came up with an idea: she told him to simply take the entire machine to the contest. However, he needed a report on how the husker operated to enter the contest. As the contest approached, the farmer-scientist admitted frankly he “could not write.” Five officials were sent to his house to “struggle” with the machine the whole day to produce a report on its design to send to Hanoi.
Necessity the mother of invention
The idea of “doing” science flashed in him when he saw his wife suffer from a constant blistering of her hands because of husking peanuts everyday [taking off the hard outer layer of the nuts]. In 1987 and 1988, his province was agog with the export of peanut kernel to Japan and Republic of Korea. Paddy fields were hastily converted to farm peanut and many families earned minor fortunes by merely scraping the cover off peanuts.
His wife, Thu, was also swept along in the rush to exports the nuts. But, in her words, “straining the entire day, one could only husk 30 to 35 kg of nuts”. Besides, after a day like that, her hands would become blistered and sore. Tuong told her he would one day invent a machine that would do the job but she was dismissive: “You cannot even write. How will you invent? It’s enough if you to take care of the fields and buffaloes and not let them die. That’s all I expect from you”.
He remained silent, she recalls. But the future scientist was silently hatching his invention. His first machine was modeled on a rice husker. It was leg-operated, and produced only 300-400 kilograms of husked nuts. However, it failed to liberate his wife from heavy work since hard labor was needed to run it.
After this unhappy invention, Tuong temporarily stopped his scientific pursuit and went to Daklak province in the Central Highlands to practice carpentry. In Cu Mot commune, where he lived, a lot of groundnut was grown, just like in his hometown. This renewed his enthusiasm for inventing a husker. This time he was determined to make it motor-driven. To buy the motor, he sold his motorbike for 1.4 taels of gold (about US$700). His first motor-driven machine was born in 1990.
Its astonishing output – of 1 to 1.2 tons of husked nuts per hour – evoked plenty of interest from farmers and peanut dealers. The kernels it chewed out were of good enough quality to be exported.
With his reputation rising rapidly, locals came to borrow Tuong’s husker. Good news has wings and soon a merchant from Phu My township came and asked to buy it. After discussing with his wife, he sold it for VND1.5 million (US$94). Since then, he has sold about 200 machines throughout the central region.
Asked why he did not take part in the contest 15 years ago when he invented the machine, he said he had never thought of contests and the like – his sole motive was to do his wife a favor. The contest entry materialized when an official from the province farmer’s association paid him a visit. He saw a husker in Tay Son district and wanted to meet its inventor.
At the contest in Hanoi recently, Tuong’s peanut husking machine won second prize. It not only astonished the jury but also enabled its inventor to stay in a hotel and board a plane for the first time, something beyond the wildest dreams of a poor peasant like him.
The luxury trip to the capital
He arrived at 4 am and had little time to savor the luxury of the bed and mattress, since he had to show up at 6 am. When he heard a beautiful receptionist say “VND175,000” ($11) for the room rent, the “scientist” turned white. He whispered to a man accompanying him: “Before my bottom had time to warm, several bags of rice were gone [to pay the rent]. If my wife hears about this, she will never let me go beyond the village gate”.
“It must be costly for a scientist to take part in a contest,” the man replied.
After that, he flew to HCMC and was checked into a hotel. Here he washed the clothes himself. When someone gave him VND300,000 to take the train home, he preferred a bus since it cost him only VND80,000, leaving quite a bit to buy presents for his wife and four children.
Recently, a book center sent him a letter asking for more information since it wants to include him in the Vietnamese book of records as the first Vietnamese to invent a peanut husking machine. Subsequently, many people told him to get a patent as quickly as possible. But he refused to do so, choosing instead to “show for free to all those interested how to make the machine”.
“But I will do it by word of mouth and not in writing.”
Hardly did he finish saying this when his wife called out: “This morning Mr. Sau Dang [a neighbor] told me our field was under water”. Quickly getting her drift, he set out bare-footed to the fields with a hoe in hand.
The ground, wet from the rain, reflected a gaunt figure. The rain poured on his “bumpkin”, intelligent head.