Tuesday, 2 October 2007
When Your Number's Up
This is a rice barn in Si Saket province in Thailand. There's usually at least one rice barn standing beside each house in rice growing areas and the size and number of them indicate your standing and wealth.
Poor farmers sell off their rice crop as soon as possible so they can pay back the money they borrowed to pay for ploughing and fertiliser and harvesting and for all the other costs that have to be paid up front. A richer man stores as much rice as possible both for family use and because during the year the price of rice will slowly rise and make him even richer.
The rice is generally stored in big hessian sacks in its unmilled state as the brown rice with its husks is less open to attack from pests. Even so, it amazes me that the rice barns are not overrun with rats.
The door of the barn is closed with horizontal slats, just like the cabin hatch on an old style wooden sailing yacht. I well remember that with those, you had to get them in the right order or they just wouldn't run and it's the same with a rice barn.
The door slats for the rice barn are invariably numbered, though it's not a numbering system that a westerner would recognise. Just as the Thais have their own script for writing, so also they have their own numbers. Thus the kiddies at school have the double hurdle of having to learn two systems of writing and number.
It's a huge burden and hardly efficient, though it's very Thai and for the wide-eyed foreigner it's another exotic thing for us to wonder at. In my novel, "Thai Girl", the chapters have Thai numbers and, as on the rice barn, don't they look pretty!