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Gems and Jewelry in
Phayao Province

IF YOU HAVEN'T been to Phayao Province, it's near enough for a one day trip. Although I have been to Phayao to enjoy sitting by the lake and visiting the hillside monastery above the lake many times, I was introduced to new sights by several friends. I will always remember a recent Tuesday as a special day in Phayao. I was captivated with the sight of "Si Banyen" or passion pink all around. We were surrounded by this color worn by customers in a the noodle shop. At first I thought it must be worn by teachers of a particular school as it often the tradition for school color day. But I noticed the color pink over and over again and asked a native about the significance. Its the signature color of the province in gorgeous pink each Tuesday.

Even more color and sparkle was seen at The Chairwoman Director of the Red Cross in Phayao Province, Mrs. Pornnsawan Rattanaprasit, who is the first lady of Phayao as the wife of Governor Bovorn Rattanaprasit, escorted us to the Gems and Jewelry Industries Center (GJIC), under the Department of Industrial Promotion. The GJIC has been serving the province since 1999. It was officially opened on March 11, 2000 by Her Majesty the Queen. This is a unique example of the Department of Industrial Promotion (DIP) promoting rural industrial development, job creation and the development of community economy. Many agencies are associated with this center such as: Northern Young Women Development Foundation, Under the Patronage of Royal Highness Princess Kalayanitwat- tana; Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand and Thai Gems and Jewelry Traders Association.

The spacious facilities include the gems retail showroom and the province OTOP showroom featuring the top products of the province being Gems, Fabrics, and Food. Other buildings in the spacious GJIC compound are the training center, dormitories and dining hall.

The accepted trainees are usually women 40% and men 60%. The basic course is two months long. Students stay in the dormitory if they are from outside Phayao. They also receive meals and per diem of Baht 80 per day. The rate of students finishing the course is about 50%. Gem polishing is a skill requiring artistic nature as well as patience and perseverance. A stone requires about 58 cuts. One must be a perfectionist as well as fast to cut each facet.

The initial goal for a student is to polish 10 stones a day working up to finishing 30 pieces. Wages for this type of work in private industry depends on both salary and piece work. We met a young man from the private industry whose task was to shape 2,000 stones for the trainees. He turned out emerald shaped stones at one piece per every 4 seconds. He was paid by turning out 2,000 pieces so the faster he worked, the sooner he would complete that order.

On the average out of 30 trainees starting the course, 15 trainees complete the course and as certified personnel they are readily accepted to work for private lapidaries throughout Thailand. They can also get loans from the SME bank to start a lapidary shop in their own homes.

In mid-February 2004, the GJIC, held a Gems and Jewelry Exhibition Fair with competitions for designs. It was very successful and the Exhibition will be an annual event for the province.

How to get to Phayao: Book a tour, or take a bus from the Arcade on Kaew Nawarat Road, Chiangmai. You can have a meal at the Phayao Lake, visit the Thai Fisheries Dept aquarium and, in the same compound, view the late Prince Mother's former residence.

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