Gemmology Canada - Special Issue

Response to Death of the Thai Ruby

by Scott Montgomery

I just finished your Aug/Sept issue and I wanted to tell you that I really appreciate JewelSiam's wide range of coverage of the jewellery industry in Thailand and the region. Your features, like the Burma special, are particularly interesting
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I also appreciate the way you make use of different writers with such very different styles. Occasionally, however, some go beyond the pale, like Richard Hughes in his Aug/Sept "Devil's Advocate" column. This time his attempt to be outrageous and controversial really fell flat

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To quote Mr Hughes from his Letter to the Editor in the same issue, "Truth is indeed a wicked mistress, but I have tamed the dame enough to extract . . . nuggets (from) the forthcoming edition of Ruby Sapphire. Unfortunately, he cannot claim that he has truth under control in his article "Death of the Thai Ruby"

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In that article he states, "Fish no longer swim in Thai waters. Forest cover is now probably less than 10 percent . . . "

Actually, fish do swim in Thai waters, and according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Thailand's forest cover in 1990 was 25 percent, down from 32 percent in 1980 and 36 percent in 1976. Even if Thailand continues to lose forest cover at the same rate, the coverage won't fall below 10 percent until about 2010

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These are just trivial examples of how Mr Hughes can sometimes distort the truth to make a point, but they are also symptoms of a much more serious problem. Beginning with the last paragraph on page 102, Mr Hughes states that:

"The 1960's brought much change in Southeast Asia. Impetus came primarily from the Vietnam conflict, which gathered and concentrated industrial revolution technology in a region just beginning to crawl out of the feudal era. Europe, Japan and North America had experienced a similar phenomenon) decades before. Much mischief was made (in those countries), but me technology more closely matched the minds of the countries) as a whole."

"Southeast Asia has not been so fortunate."

Excuse me? Let's ignore for the moment that technology has played little more than a minor role in shaping modern Southeast Asia (and Industrial Revolution technology even less). Let's also over look the inaccurate slur about Southeast Asia "crawling out of the feudal era". Does Mr Hughes actually imply here that Southeast Asians "as a whole" were not mentally capable of handling contemporary technology? Although this section is rather vague, it's difficult to find any other interpretation

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Now take a look at the article's introduction:

"(In the Third World . . . the impact of any action seems petty, relative to an apparently infinite world. For impoverished residents (of the Third World), consequences stretch only as far as the lip of the nearest rice bowl."

"To most (people) on this planet, the world is indeed limitless, if only because they have seen so little of it. Like goldfish trapped in a bowl of someone else's making, their glass bubble is the world. Rare glimpses of the (world) beyond (them) only reinforce their impression that they are but ants, grain by grain moving an unfathomable mass. Similar to children, they comprehend only the immediate_ that which they can touch; the rest is both physically and intellectually out of reach

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". . . In every Third World nation there are those who understand only too well the true complextion (fragility) of the earth . . . Thus it is not to prostitutes that the present column is directed, but to their pimps, those who trade virtue for coin, knowing full well that the consequences of their actions have severe negative effects on others."

It seems Mr Hughes is actually saying that most people in the world are unable to understand what they cannot see and touch. Beyond this, he even finds them (us?) similar, not only to children, but to fish, insects and prostitutes! And those people in the "Third World" who understand the importance of protecting the environment, he seems to call pimps!

To be fair, I may not be interpreting this exactly as Mr Hughes intended; he may have had certain groups of people in mind (or he may just have been carried away on a rhetorical flight of fancy). He should explain himself, however. Since the point of his article is that "Thailand continued to recklessly mine, with no thoughts of tomorrow . . .," and there

fore, "the sky has fallen. The Thai ruby is dead," I have to assume that he meant to belittle the people in the Thai gem mining industry, at least
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What a silly thing to do. Maybe the gem deposits are exhausted, but so what? Gems are not a renewable resource; every deposit will get worked out some time, and it hardly makes any environmental difference whether it happens today, tomorrow, or one hundred years from now

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And what did the miners and their families get in return for their exhausted deposits? Among other things, they got better clothes, housing and medical care, and their children probably got better educations, too. How can anyone hold that against them, much less call them prostitutes or pimps?

This article is really quite a regrettable exercise in inter-cultural ignorance and arrogance, although Mr Hughes claims it's "a wake-up call from someone who has lived here (in Bangkok) and departed". (No pun intended, I'm sure.) But this "call" to warn other residents of Thailand that "(there is a tomorrow, there is a future, and the consequences of our past actions do impact the present and the future," is nothing more than a restatement of the Buddhist law of karma_a very important part of the religion in Thailand among other countries. In Thai called "kam"

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At the end of the article, Mr Hughes says that, I'm just left to complaining about some place that matters to me"

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I'd have to say that if Thailand really does matter to Mr Hughes, he should take some time to try to understand it. He might have to trade some of his skepticism for sympathy, but that's a worthwhile exchange, and one that's required of anyone, even a devil's advocate, before he can make a true judgment about anything

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