Farming & gardening Nature Rice Water

Watching, Hearing the Rice

A long time ago, during one of my initial stays in Southeast Asia, I first heard a certain saying about farmers throughout the region: some of them plant the rice, others watch it grow, and some simply listen to it grow. It’s meant to be a commentary on stereotypes, ethnic relations and workmanship. I won’t get into that because I don’t promote stereotypes. But I will say this: growing rice makes for no easy life. And every farmer I’ve met in Asia has had his or her days of exhaustive work, tempered with times of restful splendor (mid-afternoon hammock naps, anyone?).

This summer, Jerry and I traveled to Laos to create a video trailer for our forthcoming book on unexploded ordnance (stay tuned… please be patient). We bought some new equipment and spent a lot of time tinkering before we even got to Laos.

One day, our good friend Rith took us to the Cambodian countryside to visit his relative’s Palm Village Resort (if you get the chance, go there – it’s lovely and as tranquil as the ads proclaim). We ate a feast, drank coconut juice, indulged in palm fruit, then took a walk while Rith rested. All around us were radiant fields of rice, fed by recent rains. Jerry clamped his camera to a branch, and he shot a video.

Of what?

Of the rice, growing.

We watched. We listened. Not a lot moved in the thick, still air. But the birds did sing and the bugs did buzz. A few vehicles rumbled in the background, and plenty of frogs croaked from the soupy muck in which all that rice grows. I’ve watched and listened to this video several times now, and I love it because it gives me a nearly perfect sense of what it means to be in the Cambodian countryside. If only we had smell-a-vision to convey that deep, damp humidity. (Though engineers are getting closer.)

So here it is, complete with a surprise ending (thanks to modern ringtones that mimic nature). I thought it appropriate to post now, as folks gather in Stockholm for World Water Week and a host of discussions about food security. This, right here, is it. This is Cambodia with water. Cambodia without water looks nothing of the sort – brown, cracked earth with not a hint of green. Everything shrivels. Everyone thirsts and prays for rain. In recent years, too much of the world has seen too much of both extremes—alternating cycles of droughts and floods. But this, right here in this video, is 2 minutes of life when things are just right:



4 replies on “Watching, Hearing the Rice”

I have heard corn rustle on the stillest night. Three days ago I heard, then saw a leaf open on the plant next to the kitchen door. I stood, transfixed as it shuddered and unfurled a tiny degree. I am still amazed by the sound it made. 🙂

I live in Katy. We were once known as the rice capital. Not so much any more. Cookie cutter homes shot up where rice once grew. I wish I could have listened to it grow.


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