Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The San Francisco Treat

When I couldn't sit on the floor getting ready for school on Monday anymore, I hoped on my (t)rusty steed and headed out to do an exploratory loop. Yes, I was pretty cool with my basket on my one speed  Zoom. The seat post is a little bent back because I have it as far up as it will go without falling out. And it is almost high enough if I were 5 feet tall... I wanted to see how long it would take me to get to my friend Ben's school, as well as one of my own, Thai Samakee. I also wanted to get some exercise and get a lay of the land. It only took me about 8 minutes to bike to my school, thus I think that will be my way in on Thursdays and Fridays. I split Wednesdays and I will get a ride over from Nong Ya Sai to Thai Samakee. I decided to go ahead and eat my breakfast at school since it will save me a little money, and I have to make it to the end of November for my first stipend. Plus, if I eat fish and rice for breakfast, I can justify eating oatmeal and peanut butter sandwiches for dinner! Speaking of rice. I ended up doing about 40 kilometers overall today. Fortunately there weren't any hills to speak of, and the weather was absolutely stunning. Low 80's and almost NO humidity! It was like the perfect, height-of-summer day in Maine, and of course most of the locals were wrapped up in coats and scarves. 

The rice workers actually often wear a ski mask hat, even on the hottest of days. For harvest I was expecting, I guess, a writhing mass of rice harvesters, but the reality is quite different, at least here in Isan, where I understand the rice grounds are really not all that great, one reason why the region is poor. Sometimes there were a group of workers, 10-12. Other times there would be a couple, or often a solo harvester, steadily chopping a handful at a time, doing something to the stems, setting them down, and moving on. I felt a little intrusive taking pictures of them working, but when I stopped to take the photo of the rice laid out on the blue tarp, the man holding the child actually said, "Photo?" and posed.
I know there are many many different kinds of rice, and I have no idea which I am looking at field to field. That could explain some of the variety of harvesting as well as the prosperity of the field owner. I did see one threshing type machine in one group, that was shooting out stalks the harvesters had brought to it. I think this machine may go about on a for hire basis. It was interesting to see the foundations of the fields exposed. You can see the elevated banks which, when the rice is tall, function as the pathways, sometimes going forever towards the horizon.
After the fields are cut, some of them had cattle on them grazing at the cut stalks. I am not sure if this is more for the cattle's nutrition or the fertilization of the grounds.
 There were quite a few water buffalo about, some of them huge, though I haven't seen any engaged in working. This big fella was cooling off in a small pond, ducking under completely for 10 or so seconds at a time.
 There is something absolutely perfect about biking as a way of travel, even old 2 bit Zoom, who carried me with efficiency if not elan. It puts you into the landscape and is so easily stoppable. Several times I passed a scene only to think, No I will be sorry later I didn't take a picture of that. and on a bike you haven't traveled all that far so you just turn about and take care of it. I find myself increasingly drawn to all of biking's attributes- the combination of rubber and steel and pavement and, of course, flesh, blood, and oxygen. There is more than a little righteousness in the act of riding, without the utter hopelessness of having to walk. Now don't get all Thoreau on me- I love to walk too, but you know that feeling when your dawgs are beat and your back is bent from your load, while on a bike, with your awesome basket, you whisk past the barking dogs and gaily greet the dumbfounded stranger looking up from the porch. Only the very poor and children ride bikes, so my approach is always anything but subtle and I am always given the extended double take, an inevitable identifying "falang" (There I am. They have heard rumors of my existence, seen it perhaps on tv, and by golly out of the blue I appear on an ordinary afternoon of work, all 3d and everything, better than Pixar.), and if they are under 20 someone always, always shouts out, "Hello!" and laughs riotously when I wave and call back. It was a lovely ride, though a little lonesome. I felt a certain comradeship with this fellow out taking down infinity a handful at a time, his little moped parked there with him.
Here is the end result of all those miles of waving grains:
Then it was time to get back to work, making materials for Monday classes. Here I am "laminating" my days of the week and action verbs with clear tape so I can stick them to the wall and reuse them at both school placements. I really stink at getting the tape straight on each piece, not to mention how many cards I end up tossing because my writing is too big or too sloppy!

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