Friday, December 5, 2008

14. November Chiang Kham, Ricoh Foundation

Ricoh is a growing tennis foundation supported by a fair-wage sweater design production. Corinne heads up All Things Sweater at the foundation, and she gives us a tour of the sweater stronghold. The majority of the knitting actually happens in the huts and fields around the village. There are cooperative teams overseen by district managers who have the order list. Individual knitters take a “sweater kit” with specs and measured yarn quantities organized into a little blue bag. When the knitters have time, they work on their project, meeting the deadline at their own schedule. Currently, in fact, nearly all available knitters are helping to bring in the rice harvest. Tradition demands an all-hands-on-deck attitude, with all families and all farmers helping to bring in all fields. Much of the work is still done by hand, but some groups of farmers chip in to rent a harvester machine, which, of course, cuts work into a fraction. The machine is manned and run 24 hours to get the full value of the rental. Grains of rice from the fields have been known to find their way into a finished sweater like a highland pearl, and the lines are named Rice and Ricoh in that honor. A symbolic silver rice-shaped bead is stitched to each final product.

Just before we left Australia, Corinne sent a note offering a custom sweater for both Mieke and me. I just had time to make a selection from all the gorgeous choices on their website before we left for Thailand. Today, after our tour of the facilities, Corinne presents me with a beautiful hand knit sweater in the design and colors I’d chosen just a week before and thousands of miles away. I’m overwhelmed.

Bailey, Finn & I hop in a van with Rick and a few of the knitting team to scout out locations for shooting in the coming days. We wind through the village, passing an architectural assortment of colonial stucco farmhouses, plantation-style wood cottages with some chalet fliar, a few brick retro modern ranches and, mostly, clustered huts on stilts - some with satellite dishes, many with dogs and chickens frolicking under the houses in the long afternoon shadows. The village stops abruptly and the rice paddies begin. As we follow the ridge of red clay road, the setting sun lights the fields and scattered ricebarns with a rosegold hue, and we do our best to capture the waning magic moments on film.

At the end of a little road, we stop the car at a farm (and potential shoot location.) Stepping into the twilight, we are bathed in the comforting, delicious smell of sweet, sun-warmed, ripe rice. It could be the best scented sunset ever.

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