Steve and Jemjahn go to Thailand, 2003
7. Rice = Money
Jem has patches of land in three places. One, fortunately, is across the lane behind the back yard. Its proximity was perfect for letting me participate in some rice harvesting. Our trip to Thailand was in the middle of rice harvest season, a generous season this year. In fact the harvesting of Jemís fields was delayed for our arrival.
In the spirit of truth in reporting, I did not spend all day bent over in rice paddies.
I did join a group of villagers, friends and relatives of Jemjahn, holding a small sickle to cut a few stalks of rice. It was enough to get an idea of the process, and to be thankful for not having been born a Thai farmer.
They were paid 140 baht for a dayís work, about $3.50, which sounds like taking advantage of them, but it was more than the standard wage and welcomed as a chance for some extra money.
I also helped gather some stalks into bundles. Others carried the bundles to a central place to be piled into a huge heap. Later a threshing machine drove up to the heap. Its job was to strip the seeds from the stalks and fill the seeds into 100kg sacks. The chaff was blown into another pile for use as animal feed.
I saw the sacks of rice loaded onto a truck to be taken to the old rice storage house. A few days later, I accompanied the sacks as they were sold to a rice middleman. Each 100kg sack of rice sold for about 400 baht, or ten American dollars.
A week later Jem pointed out a neighbor down the street loading the labors of their own fields into their own rice storage houses. 2003 was a good year, and the family was cheerful as they unloaded truck after truck, about a hundred sacks altogether. Then I did the math: this family had $1000 to show for a yearís work.
Not yet including the cost for workers, fertilizer, rented trucks and threshing machines, they had no more than $1000 for a year of hard work. It makes me pause to realize I make over $1000 in a week. Unlike them, I have full medical coverage (should I get a paper cut) and I don't have to fear floods, fires, or pestilence in my fields.
OK, in the Army on active duty with two wars going on, yes, Iím susceptible to other hazards. Still.
Money does go further in Thailand in some ways, but a Samsung microwave still costs $65. A Dewalt electric drill still costs $75. A Panasonic TV still costs $200. A Goldstar refrigerator still costs $400. A Toyota pickup truck still costs Ö.
How do they ever afford them?