Picking Flowers in Petchaboon

Mukdahan april 18 2009

Farmer Talen circa 2009 in the rice fields of Mukdahan quite a bit heavier then and very sweaty.

The first thing I noticed as the bus pulled into Petchaboon province were the small mountain ranges on the horizon and after that was the miles and miles of farmland. Petchaboon is definitely farm country as is most of rural Thailand, and while you’ll see many rice fields as expected they are far from the the money crops. The rice fields for the most part are for personal use while the main crops are sugar cane, tamarind, soy beans, corn and potatoes…miles and miles of potatoes. From atop the mountains you get a beautiful view of these patchwork crops laid out as far as the eye can see.

Mountains of Petchaboon

Looking down on the fields from the mountains

One evening after dinner I was sitting with Mo and her parents talking about, of all things, Ford tractors, and that’s when Pappa asked me if I would like to go with them in the morning to pick flowers…I said sure, I would love to. Now, I have learned quite a bit of Thai over the past year but staying with the family in Petchaboon quickly made me realize that my Thai was sorely lacking. I was able to pick out enough words to understand what was going on but I missed a lot of the subtle things such as Pappa’s picking flowers question.

While the farmers do rotate crops and in October many farmers rotate in sunflowers it was still too early for picking because the sunflowers were only 2 feet tall with small heads and for the life of me I saw no other flowers anywhere. Needless to say I was a little confused as to what flowers I would be picking.

The next day came early and after a good breakfast we headed out in the pickup truck, a few miles down the road we pulled into some fields and I started looking intently for flowers…nope, we had stopped at a house to pick up a few older ladies. A few more miles down the road we stop again to pick up and old couple…and when I say old I mean old, they were in their 90′s. Another twenty minutes and we pull off the road into a muddy track between sugar cane fields, about a mile in we stop as the road is flooded so we had to walk the rest of the way.

Rice fields

Interspersed between the sugarcane fields were the flower fields or should I say RICE fields. We wouldn’t be picking flowers at all but cutting rice. I asked Mo if I misheard her father about picking flowers and she told me I didn’t but when harvesting rice many of the old timers refer to it as picking flowers. Of course everyone was dressed for farm work but me because I thought we would be casually picking flowers :P Either way I grabbed a sickle and followed the 90 year old man into a field.

Rice laid out to dry

They had already started harvesting a few days before as there were already bundles of rice laying out to dry. It turns out the 90 year old couple owned the 15 or so rice fields which they shared with 4 families in exchange for planting and harvesting. A good deal all the way around which keeps every family in rice for the year.

Working the fields

The old man showed me what I needed to do which was as you could guess…grabbing a handful of rice by the stalk and cutting it about 3-4 inches from the ground then laying it behind me to dry. After about 15 minutes of this in the blazing sun I was ready finish, the old man told me to slow down I could die in this heat :P which made me laugh my ass off as he had cut one bundle then sat down and lit up a cigarette and that was his work day. I talked to him the best I could and caught bits and pieces of what he was saying but could read so much more in the lines of his face and the big smile he wore that said so much more than any words could. At 90 he was still going strong and taking care of his family and friends and he was more than happy to do so.

Old man taking a break

By 11 am it was time to quit, the fields would wait for another day as Pappa and the others had their fields to tend to. Mo and I hung out with the kids at a small shack in the middle of the fields and had lunch before we went home, I was beat,  the sun had taken it out of me and it showed. This was hard back breaking work that these people do day in and day out year after year because they have to, because this is how they feed their families.

Lunch time

2 years ago I worked in the rice fields of Mukdahan getting them ready for planting by shoveling dung into the fields and now I have come full circle by helping to harvest some rice. What I’ve done working in the rice fields was very little compared to the lifetimes the Thai’s have spent in these fields, but the little bit I have done has helped me to understand and appreciate what it takes to put a bowl of rice on the table and the people who do it.

Sadly just a few hours ago Mo told me she is going back home for a week, the old man who I shared a few laughs with passed away last night.





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8 Responses to Picking Flowers in Petchaboon
  1. Rambone
    December 2, 2011 | 4:32 am

    I got back to the US from my trip to Thailand on Wednesday, ate Thanksgiving on Thurday, and promptly suffered a mild heart attack 2 hours later. What an end to an exciting yet still disappointing trip.
    However one of the highlights you can see at http://www.mpd.thde.com/m1.html
    And I never did get to meet Talen :(

    • Talen
      December 5, 2011 | 1:45 pm

      Rambone, I’m sorry we never got a chance to meet…but I am sure you will return and next time the beers are on me.

      I’m sorry to hear you had a mild heart attack, take care of yourself.

  2. Catherine
    December 2, 2011 | 7:45 am

    Talen, I first found out about rice flowers when I was on the grand hunt for Thai scarecrows. We were walking through fields of waving rice when Khun Phairoa brought up the subject, wanting to know what Europeans called the flowers.

    “the old man who I shared a few laughs with passed away last night”

    So sorry to hear that :-(
    Catherine recently posted..You are Invited to the Charity Cat Party!My Profile

    • Talen
      December 5, 2011 | 1:44 pm

      Cat, I had never hear the flower reference before …hence why I was cutting rice :) I learn something new every day.

  3. Stephan Hilson
    December 4, 2011 | 5:52 am

    I am sorry to hear that the old man passed away recently. Although I have a relative who is a farmer, I didn’t know how to harvest rice. But it seems that cutting rice is not easy thing to do. Good luck in picking flowers in the future.
    Stephan Hilson recently posted..Forfait Mobile Avec Appel InternationalMy Profile

    • Talen
      December 5, 2011 | 1:51 pm

      Stephen, cutting rice in and of itself isn’t hard but squatting to do it all morning in the hot Thailand sun is rough…these people work very hard.

  4. Lloyd
    December 7, 2011 | 10:45 am

    Taken that’s some impressive moobs you had a few years ago :-)

    I enjoy spending the odd day in the rice fields the banter and laughs always make the hard work seem enjoyable.

    • Talen
      December 14, 2011 | 2:03 am

      Lloyd, yeah I think I was up to a C cup :P There was definitely a lot of banter and laughter during my morning cutting rice, Thai’s make everything more fun.

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