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Standing in his Rice Field

Profile of a Thai Rice Farmer


Willard Van De Bogart

November 9, 2001

Standing before me, in the heat of the mid-day sun, was Bunchuai "Dort" Fakchar, a man truly native to his environment. The year was 2001, and I found myself in Central Thailand many thousands of miles from the center of the "Information Age" in Silicon Valley, California.

I had come to learn that living in a culture that constantly processed information, classified information, stored information, and relied on information was in some respects devoid of information about living with the earth. For years I had been reading how the indigenous cultures of the world were vanishing. It bothered me because I had a sense that the earth itself was a source of information which was being eliminated. It was becoming increasingly more difficcult to understand the earth in the confines of a culture that revolved around automobile traffic, megabytes, hard drives, and data processing terminals.

It seemed to me that I was living in a barcode culture. Every place I went I was aware of the demographics of my environment and how the processed part of culture would dictate product selections for the economic profile each area possessed. It seems to me that every available frequency band on the radio was geared for a particular audience and the world of media became for me a nightmare.

I transported myself out of the processed system and into the rural life of Thailand. The man on the path in front of me was not from Palo Alto, CA. This was a simple rice farmer who had lived his whole life in the rice fields and riverbanks and canals of Banphot Phisai. As ominous as he may look wielding a machete like knife this man is a gentle man, a quiet man, a humble man and an honest man. This man is my father-in-law. Although not educated in erudite universities his sense of how the land responds to the natural forces is how he has learned to survive and raise a family of seven children.

Everyday is an orchestration of managing the land. Before full moon the flocks of ducks lay their eggs in the soggy warm rice fields. Many ducklings are born, and the eggs remaining are collected. There is a specific grass that can be eaten, and put on salads or boiled with clams dug from the riverbanks of the mighty Ping River. The large supermarkets that the modern world is so used to, with everything wrapped in clear plastic and checked out at the laser cash register is here plucked from the land everyday. The pigs, the chickens, the ducks, the fish, the water buffalo, the orange trees, mango trees, papaya trees, coconut trees, and the rest of the list of natural foods is amazingly endless. Bio-regional diets have been in existence here for thousands of years. Here the children do not gorge themselves on candy and cakes, milk, cheese, and butter but on a healthy diet of jasmine rice, fresh fruit juices, and coconut milk.

When I consider the large agri-businesses buying up land and planting genetically modified seed stocks I sense a great loss in humankind's relationship to the natural order. It would not be impossible to have local municipalities opt for having regional land management by every township and community. There is no excuse for the blatant suppression of the small farmer in place of the large conglomerates. The American society in the name of expediency and efficiency has prevented itself from becoming totally human and instead is becoming sub-human with a nutritional diet that is killing millions with cancer producing products everyday.

It seems to me that every aspect of the modern world is to take us away from understanding how we develop in relationship to our surroundings. This natural development is important to being human, for when all relationship to the natural order is lost there will be no way to ever discover what our natural human nature is like. How important is this? It is very important. Keeping the natural order alive allows a resonance to stay alive from the very earth we live on to the farthest reaches of the galaxy we live in.

The man on the path is naturally connected to both the earth and the cosmos. Wisdom is necessary to maintain this relationship. Wisdom is that which keeps nature close to human development, and not substituted by artificial systems of sustainability.

Other Thailand Short Stories
Willard Van De Bogart

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