Bruce Lawson's personal site

Harvesting the young rice

Something in Zeldman’s blog reminded me of a phrase I learned in North Thailand. The area near the Golden Triangle, north of where my wife came from, is dotted with empty villages. They used to be populated by hill tribes, ex-nomads who settled and quietly grew opium for selling to the burmese and for own use. A decade ago, the US government put pressure on the Thais to eradicate these small opium farms, even providing helicopters and napalm.

If you’re addicted to smoking opium, it has no ill-effects (apart from making your teeth fall out) as long as you have a constant supply. When the opium was taken away, the people had to buy refined heroin. As the apples/ strawberries that the governement gave them to plant instead of opium didn’t pay for food etc as well as heroin, the local girls were sent with kindly gentlemen from Bangkok who came up to the villages to take the girls as bonded “waitresses”, and the money paid for lots of lovely smack. The process of touring the villages for girls is known as “Tok Khiew” – cutting/ harvesting the green (eg, young) rice.

The girls were, of course, “employed” in brothels. Many were raped to break them in, and shackled. (After a disastrous fire in a Thai brothel, the corpses of half a dozen teenage girls were found chained to their beds.) When the girls got older, or – almost as inevitably – became HIV+, they returned to the villages, to share the village’s heroin and small supply of re-re-reused needles. End result? everyone died of AIDS.

Or the girls continued to prostitute themselves back in the backward North in order to buy AIDS medicine, or the village’s junk. Coupled with the Thai belief that only ‘bad’ girls ask a man to wear a condom, the wives of men who visited these prostitutes got AIDs in this secondary manner. My wife used to work with children who were HIV+ due to a tertiary infection. The saddest of these (if there can be any kind of hierarchy of misfortune and misery) was a small child named Kgung who was horribly deformed, born of an HIV+ mother. When she realised she was pregnant, she had tried to abort him with a rod of metal, but failed, and he was born – HIV negative.

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