The pace of life is different in the Northeast of Thailand, but it can be surprising. Often things tend to move very slowly, and then amazingly quickly
That’s been the story over the last couple of weeks - and I guess it applies to me as I’ve just not had enough time to write.
After returning home from a work trip to Bangkok at the beginning of the month when I spent around five days in the office, rice harvest season was just beginning. The difference in the fields after just a few days away was quite dramatic. Fields coloured light green when I left had turned bright yellow, a signal that we were ready to cut.
The general rule of thought around Thailand is that people in the Northeast are lazy, but it’s a different story when you see what happens here. It’s nothing close to the truth.
At this time of year it’s not just rice being planted. Fresh cassava stalks are also going in the ground, and sugar cane needs planted too.
And it’s not just your own plot of land that is harvesting rice. Everyone is. And everyone helps each other. It’s a busy time of year, and it seems to work like clockwork.
For sure there is now heavy machinery that can come in and do the job in a fraction of the time, but that has its own issues (as we found out for ourselves).
We hired a rice harvester, which is like a mini-combine harvester, to cut about 10-15 rai of rice. Our own plot, and family land that surrounds us. We figured it would be quicker and easier than doing it by hand.
The harvester set off and tore through the first couple of fields, taking minutes to do a day long job. But that was the problem. He was tearing through the fields too quickly, and ripping the rice from its stalk, which meant we were losing a lot of food. When he was asked to go a bit slower, he took the hump and drove off, nearly taking out our new building - yes, we have a finished structure, but more on that later!
His inability to take a bit of gentle feedback meant the work had to be done by hand, and in truth, I’m glad it was. I saw and learned much more about the culture and people here as a result.
Everybody plays their part when it comes to the rice harvest, and work in general, and even I managed to help out and cut some rice.
While everybody gets involved in the work the big difference is that nobody’s trying to be the best or cut the most or work the fastest. I realised this was hard for me to get my head around at first because it’s just so ingrained in how you live in the city. It’s all about you and what you do, and that makes the difference. It’s a bit different in the countryside.
I thought I had to do my job really well and that I set my expectation higher than it needed to be. I had to show I was contributing. But I didn’t need to break any records, as I was already contributing. It took me a while to realise that.
And my contribution is valued the same as others. Some people do a power of work, but everyone does what they can. We had women over 70 years old in the field, kids as young as 10 - everyone did their bit and there was no judgement. In fact, it was always a lot of fun.
Of course, this rule of doing what you can may just apply to me, and in truth I contributed very little, all of it of questionable quality, but the way everyone else around in the fields work together, knowing their job, laughing and joking throughout while walking across sun-baked fields in midday sun - it was a sight that was full of joy.
Just before the harvest began we managed to get the first part of our zone one plan finished. We now have a carport/workshop/store room. It’s always a risk building here but a couple of guys from the village did a great job. It’s exactly what we need. Next up is a little house for mum-in-law, but building material prices are still high - global supply chains really do impact every corner of the world - so we’ll wait for next year to complete that.
Water system and planting vegetables looks like the next project. In between all of this we’ve also has Loy Krathong, many people’s favourite festival. Over the years I’ve gathered many good memories of this time of year, and this one will be another.
My first Loy Krathong was in ‘96. I’d just arrived on my first visit to Thailand and after a nervous week in Bangkok I made my way slowly down the coast headed to Malaysia.
I took short trips on the train every couple of days and found myself in a small place called Bang Saphan, somewhere between Hua Hin and Chumpon, on what I later learned was Loy Krathong day.
Arriving just after dark the town seemed it be congregated in a small patch of land, with an outdoor cinema dominating the area, playing a Hollywood movie dubbed in Thai. Lots of things were floating in the pond or lake - to be honest details feel very hazy as my head was in a spin for weeks after I arrived here, trying to make sense of everything. But I remember it being magical, and the first time I really relaxed in Thailand.
Our first Loy Krathong at the One Tree Farm was a bit different, as we didn’t get involved in the usual festivities. The festival happens on the full moon, and. We stayed home and watched as it lit up the night and we felt as if we had the whole sky to ourselves. It was equally as magical, just in a different way.
There’s been some pretty amazing skies recently, both in the morning and evening.
I keep having to pinch myself about how lucky we are to be able to live here. It’s been a great move so far.