|A Thai boy searches
the drains of Bo Rai town in the quest for
rubies. (Photo: Olivier Galibert)
For much of Asia's population,
life is a constant battle for survival. But few have
it tougher than those Bangkok residents whose job it
is to climb down into sewers and drains and cleanse
them of society's offal and castaways.
begins at dawn, with the removal of the first grating.
Down someone goes, a blackened rope the only lifeline
to the world above. Even at street level, the stench
makes one wince. But he is beyond smell, beyond light.
Slowly he moles into the dark, tugging the rope. Eventually,
the charcoal form slowly emerges from another drain
a few paces away. One hand still clutches the rope,
but the other's fingers wrap even more tightly
around a different buoy – a small bag of debris
collected along the way. He has been mining the city's
alluvials and, like those upcountry, the heavies are
the most valuable.
it goes, until the sun's last rays force their
way into Bangkok's acetylene sunset. Then the day's
production is laid out on a soiled blanket. A few swipes
with a blackened toothbrush bring forth life, luster.
Here a fragment of silver, there a bit of gold and,
if it has been a particularly good day, a scrap of jewelry.
bend down to examine the finds. One pays particular
attention to a silver coin. With the toothbrush, he
slowly works away the years of grime and, as he does
so, his mind's eye slowly smiles. It is a rare
coin from the colonial days, much sought-after by local
collectors. Quickly mixing it into a pile of common
coins, the haggling begins. They finally settle on 900
baht – about $36.
No matter how low the drain cleaner's
caste, in the end, he manages some dignity. That, and
a few more baht, a bit of sweet relief, a bit of light
at the end of the tunnel, until the next day's
descent. As the customer walks away, the drain cleaner
also smiles inside. He thinks he'll get a few more
of those coins from that Chinatown workshop where they
are made. They seem to be popular.
Taken from Ruby
& Sapphire by Richard W. Hughes