The Rice Paddy and the Commune

Bernice and Tinh with a Commune water buffalo

Bernice and Tinh with a Commune water buffalo

Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the book Outliers, wrote that because rice farming is the hardest type of farming and the most time consuming, Asian people are better at doing math than all other peoples. While I do not belive his argument in terms of Asians and math, I do agree with him that rice farming is extremely difficult!

This past weekend I went to Thanh Hoa province to visit my fellow Fellow in the field, Bernice. She had many things planned for us to do in her ‘boring’ town which I was extremely excited to do, even if I almost drowned in the process of getting from the train station to the hotel because of the torrential rain. Amongst the many things we did, we went to her favorite food stalls, we had dinner at a Vietnamese friends house, we went to a beach resort, and best of all we went to her translator’s home commune to visit and help weed a rice paddy!

Tinh's family house in the rural commune.

Tinh's family house in the rural commune.

After hopping on the back of Tinh’s (Tinh sounds like ‘Ting’ and is Bernice’s translator) motorbike and her boyfriend’s, we arrived at Tinh’s home commune. First off, commune housing is very different than the housing found in cities. In the cities property taxes aren’t based on squared footage as we know it, but instead are determined by the amount of frontage space the building takes up on  the street. Thus houses are built to be narrow and tall to cut down on taxes, but still have decent square footage. I’m not sure if this property taxing is the same in the rural communes, but here houses look like regular houses; they’re much sorter and much wider with yards and patios.

Tinh’s house was a very busy house indeed. There were animals running around everywhere including four dogs (one was the cutest puppy in the world that was purchased only the day before), a rooster, numerous hens and chicks, four ducks, a cat, and roosting pigeons. It’s also common for some houses to even have cows or water buffaloes in the yard! Not to mention people are constantly coming and going, but maybe this was due to the fact that there were two foreigners visiting.

Looking for the supposed grass in between the rice, and with a cow as company. Bonus!

Looking for the supposed grass in between the rice, and with a cow as company. Bonus!

After helping make spring rolls for lunch, we were taken to the rice paddy belonging to Tinh and her family. For those who don’t know, growing rice is very difficult and requires a lot of work; up to 3000 hours a year vs. regular farming’s 1800 hours a year. The good thing, however, is that small rice paddies can yield a lot of rice due to the efficient farming methods developed for wet-rice cultivation, and thus there isn’t a lot of land that an individual has to worry about. This paddy was roughly 500 square meters and very close to the cluster of houses in the commune. Before stepping into the paddy we were quickly breifed by Tinh for what we were looking for: grass growing amongst the rice.

The grass that grows in the rice needs to be weeded because it steals nutrients from the rice, however the specific grass we were weeding for has evolved over time to look almost exactly like the rice. Bernice and I were very confused and couldn’t differentiate between the two while Tinh in her best English tried to explain that the two look slightly different and feel slightly different. Alas, we never figured it out, but years and years of experience would probably help us out in the end. Instead, we weeded the types of grass that did not look like rice and were much smaller and easier to spot.

The result of Bern's fall in the paddy: muddy

The result of Bern's fall in the paddy: muddy

Two hours into weeding and in between the croaking frogs I  heard a scream quickly followed by intense laughter. Bernice had fallen over in the paddy! Bernice was extremely embarrassed and very upset because she had crushed several plants. Tinh on the other hand was laughing hysterically and trying to say that it was ok because the rice will just grow back up as this happens when the field gets over flooded by hard rains. It was at this point that we decided to call the weeding for the day. As we dragged ourselves out of the paddy, I saw that Bernice was covered in mud from her waist on down!

When we arrived back to Tinh’s house Bernice was muttering that she was afraid to confront Tinh’s mother and would buy a bag of rice for the family. Tinh and I tried to calm her down and tell her everything would be alright with Tinh’s mother and it wasn’t until Tinh’s mother got a good look at Bernice that Bernice felt better. After seeing how muddy Bernice was, Tinh’s mother immediately bent over laughing while clutching her stomach and pointing at Bernice! I’m serious, that’s exactly what happened. I couldn’t believe it, and started laughing too as did everyone else.

The puppy trying to 'help out' in the spring roll preperations!

The puppy trying to 'help out' in the spring roll preperations!

While rice farming is difficult we sampled the least labor intensive parts, however we were thankful for the cultural opportunity we were granted by going into the paddy and to Tinh’s family house where we helped cook. This will be a memory that we’ll never forget and has turned into a great story that I’m sure Bernice will tell to everyone she knows! (and I will too actually!) If any of you ever gets the opportunity to work in a rice paddy, try it out and see how fun it can be…the oozing mud between your toes makes it all worthwhile and brings you back to childhood memories of mud puddles!

And now, for your entertainment pleasure the animals of Tinh’s house and commune!


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3 Responses to “The Rice Paddy and the Commune”

  1. Kathy OMalley Says:

    Your musical choice adds a fun aspect to the entertaining video. I vividly remember your “fun” with mud!

  2. Andrea Says:

    Man, I would have loved to have seen that! You can tell Bern she got a chuckle out of me all the way down here in Guatemala.

  3. Liz O'Donnell Says:

    OK, that is hilarious!

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