Rice Harvesting in Thailand: The Redundant Rice Farmer

rice farmer

Have you ever worked in a place hotter than the sun? I have. It’s called a rice paddy. Forget the AC going out in your cozy office cubicle  This is heat. Real heat. Ever wetted your pallet with some  of that starchy goodness that goes with everything?Anyone who has eyeballs knows just how big rice is in Asia. It’s huge. Like Godzilla huge. Like Americans dining at iHop huge. But what most people, including most of those exotic natives of the mystic Orient don’t know is, where does it come from?

rice paddy

I am no novice when it comes to grueling labor jobs, or rather, how to avoid said grueling labor jobs. But when the opportunity arose to see if my life’s work was to harvest that delightful carbohydrate that is more ubiquitous than Hello Kitty in Asia, I decided to once again meet my reluctant mistress Mother Nature and attempt to produce the finest organic staple that Thailand has to offer.

thailand rice paddy

My day began like most of my days since moving to Thailand: a parade of Asian people cheering the arrival of the white devil, messiah, dipshit willing to work for free, also known as the farang in Thailand. It was the opening day of the season’s harvest. A cheerful occasion, as the region in which I deliberately chose to harvest from has been, and is still, plagued by an annual flooding that threatens both the lives and livelihoods of those that inhabitant the Chainat region. In 2011 this region had been devastated by monsoons and floods so devastating Noah himself would be left rendered with a WTF. The people there are still in recovery mode and are looking for ways to make the region more sustainable for when future floods arrive (ie, bamboo harvests as they are more resilient). It is for this reason that I lent my uncalloused, farang feminine hands to the cause. It is far easier to be a spectator and stuff my face with Thailand’s delicious cuisine, than it is to actively pursue, discover, and appreciate the root of its origin.

 

the parade entourage

the parade entourage

After the ceremonial parade, filled with a dance, not dissimilar to a Native American rain dance or something cringe worthy that my parents generation would throw together at a high school reunion, began the prayer. The funny thing about many ceremonies that I have attended thus far in this mystical nation of elephants and crazy Tuk Tuks, is that few prayer ceremonies are ever fully explained to outsiders. Rather, they are just to be understood. Buddha would have it no other way.

 

loving this

loving this

thai dancing

 

Women that can dance. A rarity nowadays.

Women that can dance. A rarity nowadays.

I want to party with this guy

I want to party with this guy

And as is tradition in Thailand, a ceremony that is not explained at all to the white people in attendance

And as is tradition in Thailand, a ceremony that is not explained at all to the white people in attendance

And then it began – the event that always  precludes the arduous task that lays before me. The endowment of my work uniform. I had been down this road before. Whether it be dressed merrily in Christmas attire to pour holiday drinks or a devilish krampus suit, I was given what those who devote themselves to this noble and oft thankless pursuit wield: the rice hat, long sleeve work shirt and hook. Many a tourist dons these rice hats, but few appreciate the art and masterful practice the accompanies its wearing. It serves as a shield. Like warriors facing an enemy in the field of battle. Their battle is with the sun and their armor protects them from its menacing rays.

behold - my latest work uniform

behold – my latest work uniform

 

Rice Farmer or Gay Cowboy...you be the judge

Rice Farmer or Gay Cowboy…you be the judge

Looking out onto the aged field, feeling almost sorrow for the fate I am about to deliver this rice

Looking out onto the aged field, feeling almost sorrow for the fate I am about to deliver this rice

 

We took to the fields. And like many times since arriving in Thailand, I witnessed  the masterful hands of elderly Thai women. The motion goes something like this: a hand sweep grabbing the top 8 inches of aged harvest rice, a clinch, and then a firm taut grouping matched with the flick of the hook. The motion ends with a lock of rice that has been finally given its finally death blow and is then thrown in front of the river harvester.

 

And he was like "bro, you are totally doing it wrong"

And he was like “bro, you are totally doing it wrong”

And I was like "Thanks dude"

And I was like “Thanks dude”

And he was like "no problem brah, I gots you"

And he was like “no problem brah, I gots you”

harvest rice

To the field novice. It is hard to discern why are  the harvesters are hrowing the freshly cut rice in front if them. But for them, it makes it easier to pick up later having it all in mounds in front of them. The only trail left is that of the amputated grass.

 

throwing the freshly cut rice

throwing the freshly cut rice

fucking elated

fucking elated

Sounds easy enough huh?

 

these guys on the adjacent field obviously didnt get the memo that organic is in

these guys on the adjacent field obviously didnt get the memo that organic is in

Well. Perhaps one could say driving a car is easy, but then we see that that car is really a Tuk Tuk in India in mayhem. It is the environment. And this environment is the sun.

 

No need for the seasonal flood to come. My sweat pouring off my face could surpass whatever foray could be levied by the skies. 20 minutes in was like sitting in a steam room in a sweat suit. I dropped more water weight than runway model before a shoot. Luckily one of the veterans in the rice farming game helped me out by showing me the art of making oneself into a bandito.

funny rice harvest

 

With a team of 20 harvesters we had conquered a mere 6 Meters deep inward of the field. The task that lay before me was endless. Acres of crop ready to be cut. But I was already about to faint.

 

and then this kid came up and showed me what had found for dinner in the fields and I almost fainted again.

and then this kid came up and showed me what had found for dinner in the fields and I almost fainted again.

Then came the roar. The sweet melody of the 21st century: John motherfucking Deere.

chianat rice field

One of my rice harvesting brothers in arms hopped into the mechanical beast. And let loose its engines in fury. He then proceeded to mow down the fields and accomplish in in minutes what scores  of harvesters were needed for.

rice machine john deere ricer

My heart leapt. I was freed from the scorching fields, and my almost assured fate of being dragged out of the field by an elderly Thai woman.

 

But then realization set in.  My heart sank into a deep despair. For while the sweat from my brow could be saved for other worthy ventures, my future career potential as a rice harvester evaporated.

 

a rice farmer stoically looks on, seeing himself become obsolete

a rice farmer stoically looks on, seeing himself become obsolete

And like those that had walked before me, from the trusted gas attendant to pimpled faced kids at blockbuster to male commercial sex workers.

 

The age of the automated machine had come.

 

I had become redundant*.

bastards

bastards

***********************************

If you are interested in organic rice farming, you should check out Bangkok Vanguards for more information on how to give back and harvest.

 

*To my dear American brethren out there. Redundant is what our former oppressors, which we so righteously expelled from our promised land in 1776 eloquently use in lieu of “fired” or “getting canned”

 

Turner barr
turnerbarr@gmail.com

Hi, my name is Turner. I travel the world, hustle to find interesting jobs, and write about what happens when you read too many self-help books.

9 Comments
  • Alana - Paper Planes
    Posted at 22:02h, 20 May

    So true about having a single effin’ clue as to what’s going on during any ceremonies…

  • Kristin Addis
    Posted at 01:44h, 21 May

    This got me laughing quite a few times. If you don’t save that hat and bust it out at parties as an ice breaker, well, it will all have been for naught.

    • Turner
      Posted at 02:43h, 22 May

      Yeah. Chicks dig guys in rice hats. So I am told.

  • Adam Finan
    Posted at 02:30h, 21 May

    Good man Turner,
    I am sure they were pissing themselves when they seen you coming for a day to help out. (You silly farang!)…

    Back breaking stuff the auld rice farming.. No place for soft Nivea hands lad!

  • Matthew Karsten
    Posted at 19:03h, 21 May

    The rice farmer is secretly planning to sabotage that fancy new machine…

    • Turner
      Posted at 02:42h, 22 May

      ha I am so busted…

  • Mary vanderwalArnemann
    Posted at 20:23h, 04 June

    I think this is super funny and the one of Holland and Sinterklas was even funnier. God bless him.

  • David
    Posted at 11:49h, 19 June

    Turner,

    Glad to have discovered your blog — quite an adventure. I’ve backpacked in SE Asia, the mid east, and Africa, but always did my trips by saving up at home in the US, then taking six weeks or so of a leaves of absence/sabbatical from “real life”. I like your approach of finding work as you travel; obviously it allows you to stay on the road for a much longer time than I ever was able to. But does it fully support you, or have you had to rely on your own savings? Some of these jobs seem to make great posts, but would someone be able to do what you’re doing, without saving up first?

    Also, I am curious about the logistics. Could you post about your itinerary — in which country did you start, how did you choose to go there, rather than somewhere else, how long did you stay in each place, how you found your jobs, how you lived (rented apartments? hostels? hotels?) I see you rented a furnished apt in BKK, but how did you live in Italy? Was working as a gatherer & pizza cook enough to keep you afloat there?

    Thanks! I look forward to reading more about your next move. I was just in China for a project, and hope to get back on the road soon.

    Dave

  • Jeffrey Nelson
    Posted at 10:14h, 20 June

    Fantastic post like all the rest. Funniest blog I’ve ever read. This has killed a few otherwise equally unproductive hours at work for me. I love it.

    Jeff