AN EXPERT ON THAI RICE

Strange as it seems, I have become something of an expert on rice cultivation in Thailand. I have learned about the various methods, such as dry land rice, wet land rice, broadcasting and transplanting; I’ve learned about the different rice-growing seasons in different parts of the country; the festivals, the fun and the many hardships farmers face. The drought, flooding, snakes, beetles, weeds, plant eating crabs, worms, field rats, birds, heat, pain in the thumbs, pain in the lower back, etc. The sowing, the planting, the harrowing, the threshing, the plight of today’s buffaloes, etc. I even figured out that any rice growing on Patpong Road was most likely what they call “miracle rice.” And yet I have never once planted any rice nor did I gain most of my knowledge from books.

I learned about rice cultivation in two ways. First, by spending a great deal of time traveling through Thailand photographing the farmers at work and secondly by talking to the experts: the farmers’ daughters. Those who now permanently or temporarily work as go go dancers in Bangkok and other places. Because it is my long-held belief that, whenever possible, scholarly research and intellectual inquiry should always be combined with sensual pleasure.

After all, if I can learn about rice cultivation from farmers’ daughters in the comfort of an air-conditioned Bangkok go go bar why should I try to engage them in conversation in the violent heat and muddy fields of upcountry Thailand? For that matter, why sit in a dull classroom at Harvard University studying something like “Rice Cultivation in Southeast Asia” when I can go to the source, so to speak?

And some of the bar owners still complain that when the girls are needed back home for planting or harvesting they don’t have enough girls in the bar. And when the crops are in and the girls aren’t needed on the farms for a few months, then they have too many dancers. Well, we all have our problems.

Nevertheless, researching rice cultivation in this way is not quite as easy as one might think. First there is the noise and distractions. Remember also that the interviewee is an attractive young woman dressed in nothing but a bikini and boots, sometimes causing a less-disciplined interviewer’s attention to wander. Then there is the serious problem of holding a go go dancer’s interest in any one subject for more than thirty seconds.

In my usual technique I would of course ask the girl where she is from and what her father does. If she replies that he is a farmer I then ask if she has ever planted rice. Almost invariably, the answer is yes, and then I touch my thumb and lower back, complaining of the pain, then complain about the heat of the sun.

They usually laugh and ask if I have planted rice. I explain that I simply traveled a lot and photographed farmers at work. So the conversation usually goes something like this:

“So, Dang, in your part of the country, the rice season begins in April, right?”

“Yes.”

“Does your village still use buffaloes or do you have the iron buf-“

“You buy me drink?”

“Uh, oh, yeah, sure.” (I try to employ the method know to pompous academics as a “cross-cultural sensitive treatment.”)

Her drink arrives. We toast good luck to one another.

“So the buffalo tramps back and forth over the harvested rice to remove the rice grains from the stalks. The Thai phrase for that is ‘massaging the rice,’ is that-“

Dang grips my leg and begins a rhythmic squeezing. “You want massage?”

“Well, maybe later. OK, now in transplanting the seedbeds-“

“You want barfine Dang?”

(Possibly it was the word “beds” which put that notion into her head.) “Well, that is certainly a possibility down the road, if not tonight, another time for sure. But I was wondering how old are the seedlings when you transplant them into the flooded fields and-“

Dang’s hand strays to my crotch. “You pay mamasan five hundred baht and we go.”

“Well, maybe we could just finish up here a bit. When you bend over and pull the roots of the rice seedlings from the seed plot, how many-“

One of the dancers yells something to her. She sniff-kisses my cheek and gets up. “Dang turn to dance now.”

So, as you can see, this particular research method has its hazards as well as any other. This is not a job for timorous, ivory tower academics afraid to get their, um, hands dirty. It does take perseverance, discipline, and long hours of practice. Certainly I have had the long hours of practice.

I wonder though if I could apply to Harvard for a grant in agricultural studies. I will try to give it an interesting enough title full of fancy academic bullshit words to attract university interest. Something like, A Semidialogical Exchange into the Nature of Sexual Cartographies in Agricultural Societies of Southeast Asia. Except I don’t know what a cartography is.

Fortunately, I haven’t far to go for assistance in such bullshit because I own a copy of a feminazi book denouncing guys like me in Thailand called Night Market. The only reason they didn’t denounce me by name was because their book was published before Thailand: Land of Beautiful Women came out and they obviously didn’t know about the out of print Girls of Thailand book. They did denounce every other male who has ever set foot in Thailand, however, from Jack Reynolds to Christopher Moore. I was somewhat humiliated not to have been included in their angry invective, but you can be sure I will be next time.

One of their sentences reads (and it is typical of their gobbledygook): “The legitimizing trope of reciprocity cannot conceal the fear that in any given exchange of cash for material goods or labor one of the parties will be taken advantage of, thus rendering the falsity of the trope explicit.”

Hmmm. If they mean that when I bought their book I got cheated, then they got that right. But have you ever noticed that humorless, man-hating, feminazis unintentionally write in the same hilarious way as Lewis Carroll did in his classic of nonsense rhyme, “Jabberwocky”?

But in Thailand nothing is explicit, certainly not the falsity of tropes (“I’m guessing here but I’m assuming a trope is one of the creatures in Lord of the Rings like the hobbits, maybe?) In any case, most of the tropes running around Thailand are of the completely unlegitimized variety and it is best to give them a wide berth. And as for the legitimized types, the last time I ran into a legitimized trope it bit me in the ass just outside the Carnival Bar on the upper level of Nana Plaza.

Beware the Femiwocky, my son

For the trope doth falsify outgrabe

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