(Life of a Taiwanese Farmer – Final)
“Holy crap, this is heavy!”
I’m heaving a bag of rice onto a forklift and I think I almost pulled a muscle. At 50kg, the rice bags were the heaviest set of weights I’ve ever attempted to lift. I looked at Guang-Hui and he cocked an eyebrow at me with a knowing smile.
He had managed to lift and line up sixty two of these bags and I’m the one making a blatant, exasperated statement on the first go.
Day 3 and we are back at the silo and preparing for the transportation of the rice that were dehydrated yesterday. One by one, we filled large Hessian sacks with the brown grains until the silo was empty. Once tied up and manoeuvred to a vehicle, they were to be transported to A Deng’s mate’s house. All sixty two of them.
I looked skeptically at the tiny, obviously makeshift trailer they were going to be transported in. It could hold about fifteen bags which meant we had to do several trips, but the thing looked like it would collapse under the weight of even just five.
With careful roping though, we squeezed and secured eighteen to the trailer on the first go and prepared for the ride. The house was only two minutes away but with the heavy weight, we took our time.
Why we were transporting to be stored at someone’s home, I’m never going to know. We lifted, heaved and stacked the bags into what literally was a bedroom. What I do know though, was that the rice didn’t belong to A Deng, and he was simply giving his friend a helping hand by drying their grains for them, and packing it up.
As I helped Guang-Hui lift another sack on the count of three, I thought back to the work we did yesterday, and whatever I thought was hard work is nothing compared to now. We worked from 2pm and kept at this repetitive rhythm of lifting and moving well into nighttime. Guang-Hui though strong, had never done heavy-lifting to this degree either, and I could see sweat drench his shirt on all sides of his body.
I didn’t have much time to admire my hardworking partner though because I was doing it too, and trying to be more efficient at it. We watched A Deng lift the rice bags like they were sacks of cotton and I couldn’t help but feel pathetic at my poor display of physical power. It is certainly admirable that A Deng and his farmer friends have done this all their lives and think nothing of it. A Deng sees this particular work relaxing rather.
Both surprised and impressed at the lack of safety measures, we wanted to prove that we city-dwelling Aussies were just as useful. We may be weaker but we sure don’t lack in spirit! Afterall this is the life we signed up for, and though I wished I had a back brace or a third helper, remembering to bend my knees would equally suffice!
Despite straining ourselves, we powered through, in the end assisting A Deng’s friend with three out of the four trips. It was at the end of the third trip did we learn of how precious, yet, just how undervalued rice farming in Taiwan was…and perhaps around the world too. We learnt that each kilo of rice pays around 45 New Taiwan Dollars. Each 50kg bag then is valued at a mere 2250 NTD. That’s not even equivalent to 100 Australian dollars.
50kg of blood, sweat and tears and for so little. We were only part of the last stage of packing and storing, and it took about four hours to cover 3100kg of rice. Imagine all the time and effort these farmers put into the planting, cultivating, harvesting and processing beforehand…and for countless more weight.
It is in these very eye-opening and grounding moments that make me appreciate the opportunities I have even more. It is humbling to be here to learn from these farmers and see their hard work.
When I was young, to make sure I finished my food, my mother often said that every rice grain is like a fragment of jade. Now I truly appreciate my mother’s words.
We sat together at the end if the day for dinner. I made sure there was not a grain left in my bowl.