Chindwin River Part II: Sometimes a Great Notion: Teak/Gold/Jade

There are plans to construct a dam upriver from Homalin to serve the Chinese. It will impact life for those living along the Chindwin and change the entire region in the future. 

Typical bamboo raft to transport goods locally.
Typical bamboo raft to transport goods locally.

Some houses on the river are made of teak. But many homes or bashas are made of bamboo.  As in India, bamboo is used for everything, from paper to particle board to knit-hats.

Commercial bamboo boat
Commercial bamboo boat

The teak is exported abroad. But many old practices are in existence until modern equipment can be transported to the logging sites.

Oxen used to haul cut logs instead of skidders
Oxen are used to haul cut logs instead of skidders.

Growing teak trees takes skill. The seeds must be placed in a fire, then soaked in water. Then it takes 45 days for the seeds to germinate.

Dozer lining up logs while workers have some fun in the water.
Dozer lining up logs while workers have some fun in the water.

Previously, Myanmar had implemented British Forestry practices with a 60-year rotation. But given the demand for teak, the regeneration time has been reduced and the quantity of the wood is not as good.

Ready to be loaded.
Stockpiles of teak that are ready to be loaded.

Logs are milled within the country rather than exported abroad to foreign mills, where the finished product fetches a higher price.

Ready to be put into rafts
Ready to be put into rafts

Due to a lack of roads in this region, most of the logs are tied together as a raft to be transported to the mill.  While watching the log rafts move down river, the novel Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey came to my mind.

Teak raft. Sometimes a Great Notion: Chindwin River January 2014
Teak raft on Chindwin River January 2014

The teak industry is labor intensive. It requires a mobile infrastructure that moves from one log camp to the next after a site has been harvested.  Barrels of oil are shipped to the roving logging camps to power portable generators.

Oil barrels transported to logging camps.
Oil barrels are transported to logging camps.

Wayward teak rafts are known to disappear, stolen by pirates before they reach their final mill destination.

Government permit tracker and log grader
Government permit tracker and log grader

Men are needed to cut, load, grade, and track the trees. Accounting records held by the government official in the above photo showed 100 logs ranging in size from 12ft diameter x 25ft long to smaller 7ft diameter x 22ft long logs weighing 287,000 tonnes, all contained within one logging raft. Logs that size are most likely from virgin forests, soon to be extinct. So what are the country’s revenue alternatives when teak production disappears? Gold, jade, and opium.

Surface gold mine. Hydraulic river mining next?
Surface gold mine. Hydraulic river mining next?

Gold and jade mines provide get-rich-quick job opportunities, but since this work is far from home, the men become bored. Enterprising dealers find ways to help them spend their free time and money on other forms of entertainment, such as opium.  It’s not unusual for workers to get lured by the good money then trapped by drugs.

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