The reporter's notebook
Last updated 10/12/2022 at 3:16am
The Thai student we sponsored at the University of Washington while living in Bothell keeps coming back to me.
His name is Khien, and I have mentioned him in previous columns.
He was a college professor in Bangkok and already had his master’s and at that time was working on his doctorate. He had already written a half dozen books and was considered an expert on issues dealing with Mainland China.
When I told him I was going to Thailand, he said he would have his nephew take me wherever I wanted to go.
His nephew was taking care of his house and would come by my hotel there. I was going to stay at the Narai Hotel, and on my first full day there the nephew showed up. I told him I wanted to visit a sapphire mine and go into the jungle. I didn’t think I could become a jungle Jim, but a jungle Roger would have to do.
I was on a mission and carried with me a plastic vial of some 59-plus sapphires from my friend’s mine in Montana. He wanted to see if there was a market for his sapphires in Thailand.
We traveled to Khien’s family place about a 100 miles north of Bangkok. His family brokered crops from the area to market.
The place became our dropping-off place for the complicated trip up country.
The sapphire mine was a barren spot that appeared to have been rained on and then dried up.
People could rent a spot in the area, dig a hole in the ground, and sift through the dirt for sapphires.
We watched the process and then went to a lean-to where a man was faceting sapphires. His power source was pedals that turned a wheel to do the work.
I interrupted him to show him the sapphires I had with me. He looked at them carefully and explained that they didn’t have the brilliant blue colors like the sapphires from that area.
He was right. The sapphires I had with me were pail in color compared to his blue ones.
I could tell that he had little interest in the colors of the stones in my possession.
We returned to where we stayed the night before and readied for the jungle trip.
This time we drove for two or three hours until we were at the edge of the jungle and hired a boat to take us up river.
The boat resembled a long canoe with an outboard motor.
The nephew explained that we would be on the river for an hour or so and would be going to the family mango plantation.
We encountered snakes in the river, a couple of working elephants, and a lot of monkeys.
When we pulled into the mango grove, there was a Buddhist welcoming spot with all kinds of symbols.
I was offered a mango, which I turned down. I had never developed a taste for the fruit.
That jungle trip fulfilled my request.
On our return, we stopped at a banana grove, but we were impolitely escorted on our way. So, no bananas.
We returned for another overnight stay before returning to the city.
Khien’s home had a high stone fence around it and steel gates shielding the driveway so you couldn’t enter unless you knew how to open the gates. Security, it seemed, was an issue there.
I was to visit there two additional years, each time taking advantage of the nephew for guidance.
I had to return with my sapphires and advise my friend that it appeared that the vivid blues were the more popular sapphires.