Friday, December 25, 2015

Harvest Season Ceremonies

Even while our three week long harvest was in progress, there were Buddhist ceremonies to attend. These included Boon Katin, the Chedi Posts ceremony, and Loy Kratung.

Boon Katin – I’ve already written about. In some ways, it is celebrated to an even greater degree than Ohpensa. It is the traditional time to give monks new fabric for robes, cushions and personal care items. Equally important, it is a time when monks from different wats visit each other. So, many temples’ Boon Katin falls on a different day.

The Chedi Posts Ceremony was like a bigger, grander version of the posts ceremony we had at Bann Nah, in summer of 2014. Blessings on the building of the structure were made, along with donations – monetary and symbolic. We gave a modest donation of baht and spread dirt from our two homes and farms onto the chedi pad. A little bit of sand and gravel from Bann Nah, along with brass “paper” with our names and those of all our immediate family members here and in the USA, were mixed in with the concrete of the center post.

Loy Kratung (Loi Krathong) is celebrated on the night of November’s full moon. People influenced by Tai Culture launch floating baskets on rivers, canals or ponds, making wishes in the process. The festival may originate from an ancient ritual paying respect to the water spirits.

This year, Thip and I were the first to float our lighted, incense-burning banana leaf boats along the surface of the chedi pool, between Bann Nah and the chedi site. I believe we are the first ones ever to do so, as the pool was too new, last year. Sawt, Nui and Thip’s neighbor friend Mai shortly followed suit. It was beautiful out there under the full moon, reflected in the chedi pool!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Giao Khao, 2015 - 4

Conveniently, the thresher is designed to let the grain filter down to a port where a bag can be attached. So, as the machine separates the grain from the stalks, family members – two men to a bag – are busy collecting the grain in fiberglass bags, hauling them to a central location and tied closed.

After the meal with the threshing crew and they have departed with 10% of the take, the bags of un-milled rice are then loaded into pick-up trucks to be taken to different family storage areas. Sawt – Thip’s brother who is in charge of the annual rice growing operations at both of our farms – decides who gets how much. I presume most family members get an equivalent of what they’ve put into the months-long effort.

However, the opportunities to use the yield for personal advantage are great and I think this is one reason why Sawt is deferred to throughout the year by members throughout the community. I’m not sure how much of the rice distribution is subject to graft, but putting it somewhere between 10-25% is probably a realistic estimate.

Of course, no one pays any attention to things like this except for Sawt and me. I’m sure he doesn’t think I suspect anything. And, as far as I’m concerned, it is what it is. I’m just thankful that approximately 30 family members have rice to eat, every day, all year long, due to this successful operation.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Giao Khao, 2015 - 3

During the time of the rice cutting, the rice on stalks cut to about two feet lengths are left in the dry paddies, organized neatly to dry. After a couple of days, these are bundled up in small bunches and tied-up with wet bamboo strips that, when dry, make for a very effective tie. The material is important, as when the bunches are thrown into a thresher, the machine treats the bamboo the same way it handles the stalks – cutting it up and throwing it out without “string” gumming up the works.

After the rice has been dried (not too much, though, otherwise the grain will fall off the stalks onto the ground) and bundled and tied, the bundles are collected by mechanical buffalo with a cart attached and brought to a central pile.

A thresher and crew are then called in. The thresher is most often connected to a tractor that actually provides the power to the thresher. There are also threshers that are self-contained vehicles, but these are more expensive and can only be used seasonally, whereas a tractor can be used most every day, with the actual thresher mechanism standing by for when needed.

The crew of at least four guys looks after both machines and take turns being the primary feeder of the thresher. Once the machine is warmed up and ready to go, family and friends then throw bundles of rice from the pile to the primary feeder, who is usually on top of the pile of rice and stalks.

Video I shot in 2013 of the process, at our smaller farm:

Rice Harvest at 8.5 Rai from Malcolm Gault-Williams on Vimeo.

Of course, there are containers of ice, glasses and bottles of soda, beer, water and M150 to keep everyone in a good mood. These are touched upon only lightly during the actual work, including breaks.

After the threshing has been completed, everyone eats and drinks – usually on a tarp so that many people can be accommodated. More beer magically materializes (along with a small number of bottles of lao khao [rice whiskey]) as everyone celebrates the end of the rice harvest for that particular farm. This year, our harvest at Gao Rai (9 rai; approximately 3.5 acres) and 8.5 Rai was the best it’s ever been – in part due to the water well we had drilled at 9 Rai during the summer, which gave us more control over water availability, and a water pump at 8.5 Rai. Since rainfall was low and late, this Monsoon Season, many Thai farmers did not fare as well.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Giao Khao, 2015 - 2

Following the beginning of the Monsoon Season, rice land is tilled and prepared. After about a month’s worth of regular rainfall, seed beds are prepared and seeded.(Gam Kha). If a farmer knows he doesn’t have the labor to successfully work the season, he might just throw out rice seed in the paddies, hoping for a decent crop.

The more efficient way to seed is to prepare seed beds – usually a paddy or more, where the rice will sprout thickly for about a month. After the rice stalks are strong enough, they are transplanted throughout the rest of the paddies. This is the time of Tam Nah.

During the time the rice grows, fertilizer is applied and paddies are kept wet. If the paddies get too dry, weeds pop up in abundance and the grain grows thinly. So, it’s good for the rice and good to keep the weeds down by keeping a layer of standing water in the rice paddies. Weeds that sprout up are pulled out whenever possible.

After four months, it’s time to cut the rice. This is usually done by hand, with a short handled scythe. Workers suit up in long pants, rubber boots (if they have them; socks and sandals are not uncommon), long sleeve shirts, head gear and often face and neck gear, along with cloth gloves that everyone uses. Cutters work in this attire in the hot sun.

My wife's brothers Awt and Pawt at 8.5 Rai.

For those farmers who do not have the labor force (family members or hired hands), there is an out for them by hiring a combine. The big draw back using a combine instead of the less-advanced thresher is that after going through a combine harvester, rice requires separately drying before permanent bagging. This can be time-consuming and takes longer; subjecting the grain to a greater possibility of rainfall.

This was my first year spending any considerable time out in the fields during giao khao (rice cutting). I got to understand the whole process, including details like how to use a scythe correctly without gorging myself. By the end of day, however, I’d feel it in my back – from bending over, but also from back twisting.