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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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sounds easy enough huh?
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.
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.
Then came the roar. The sweet melody of the 21st century: John motherfucking Deere.
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.
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.
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*.
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”