The Paddy Effect

Why is it that otherwise perfectly rational people will travel to remote (and sometimes godforsaken) places all around Asia, fumbling through guidebooks, tracking down, asking around, searching about, scouring, detouring, occasionally paying exorbitant fees, all in the name of seeing a rice paddy or two?  What is it about these swaths of an essential food staple (in-the-making) that causes people to become smitten, to swoon and sway, to ooooh and ahhh at first sight?

I’m sure you have your theories, but for what’s it worth – and I am no expert in the field (haha!) – here are my two cents:

Quite simply, they are hallucinogenic. Incandescent. As addictive as alcohol or drugs – minus the hangover and potentially hazardous side effects. Free – minus the airfare, and safe – unless you tumble into one and break your leg or hip.

The mere sight of rice paddy fields (the more the merrier) can bring you to your knees, trigger imaginary delusions, cause an immediate sense of well-being and peace. All is right in the world. Their presence is captivating, simultaneously ethereal and ephemeral, sucking us into the cyclical vortex of nature’s beauty. Leaving us speechless.

From afar, a plethora of rice terraces takes on the semblance of a 1960s psychedelic shag rug or a plush wall-to-wall carpet in a luxurious resort. It invites us to imagine ourselves falling into, and being embraced by its thickly woven green weave.

But even up close, we are met with an impossibly bright glow that causes us to fall into inexplicable trance. What is it? The sheer precision, one season after the next, one stalk next to the other, of nature’s design and procreation? The perfectly erect and luminous stalks? The shadow play that a rising sun forms along the uppermost part of each shoot as it juts up into the sky? From eye-level, the prickliness of each stalk is clearly visible, pointedly protruding tips with equally sharp edges; if you simply MUST reach out and touch, proceed with caution, or nature’s progeny will sic you with a paper cut.

And so, if you are ever going to receive that proverbial call from halfway around the world (it doesn’t always come in the middle of the night), with news that will shake you up, make your heart skip a beat, wonder if you’re getting all the news or just part of it, grounding all plans to a halt, turning your life into a sudden blur, making you nearly hold your breath until you can hear a reassuring voice shortly after telling you that tragedy was averted (amen amen), and you acknowledge yet again (as you do every morning) the fragility of life, then on balance, you may be grateful for the timing, to have received such soul-sucking news far from the hubbub of Ubud, and the prying eyes and ears of the Balinese farmers, but rather while strolling knee-deep in rice terraces, surrounded by a landscape that enfolds you, graciously, unsparingly, into its mood-altering stillness and calm.

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3 Comments

      1. I couldn’t do it with my permanently F’d up back, but watched many times. Rice is food and life in so many countries. The respect that goes with it is for the love of nature, the work, the animals that help make it possible and of course the people!!

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