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LEXICON

 

 

rice

Edible crop cultivated and eaten principally in Asian countries. There are several species including glutinous or sticky rice, known in Thai as khao niauw (fig.) and black rice (fig.). One specific strain of rice, the fragrant jasmine rice, is so popular that it has been patented by Thailand to prevent other countries from using its name. With the exception of plantation and mountain rice (fig.) it is grown in paddies deluged with water (fig.). Rice cultivation starts in a specific prepared corner of the basin where rice seeds are sown in the beginning of the rainy season. After about 45 days, when the first crop of rice sprouts or ‘ton klah’ reaches a height of 20 to 30 centimeters, these are uprooted and tied into bunches to be moved (fig.). The sprouts are then cut at the top and transplanted apart from one another in more spaciously rows throughout the remainder of the field, in small groups of about 3 to 5 seedlings, a process known as ‘yaay ton klah’ (fig.). Not all rice matures at the same time and depending on its variety and external factors it may be harvested up to three times a year (although two is more likely), except for plantation and mountain rice which has usually only one yield annually. The quality of the rice is graded (fig.) according to the variety and its time of ripening, distinguishing between early, middle and late matured rice, and off-season rice or ‘khao nah prang’ when produced after the rainy season or on poor-grade paddy land with too much water. Good quality rice is called ‘khao nah suan’ and comes from farms called ‘nah dam’ on which transplanting of paddy seedlings is practiced, as distinguished from farms called ‘nah wahn’ on which paddy is sown without transplantation. Throughout the time of ripening the paddies will be kept flooded with water. In hilly or mountainous area rice paddies are either terraced (fig.) and deluged with water (fig.), or so-called mountain rice is grown, a variety of rice which cultivates in less humid soil on mountain slopes. By harvesting time the rice will have turned yellowish gold and the ears of rice are hand cut with a crescent shaped rice cutter called kiyaw (fig.). It is then threshed in order to separate the seeds or grains from the straw, an activity traditionally done by either trampling the rice beneath the hooves of a water buffalo that is made to walk in circles, or by beating the grains out on the ground (fig.), on a threshing board (fig.) or threshing bench (fig.), or into a large basket called piyad (fig.), by holding a bunch of ears between two sticks tied together with a piece of rope, a tool known as mai faad khao (fig.). Subsequently the loosened grains are milled in a krok sih (fig.) or pounded in a krok tam khao (fig.)and then winnowed in flat, round baskets called kradong (fig.), to remove the chaff. A threshing machine (fig.) combines these actions by separating the grain from the stalks as well as from the husks. For larger quantities the rice is brought to a rice mill (fig.) where it is not only polished, but also sorted, according to size, quality, harvest period, etc. Thailand produces an average of around 15 million tons of rice per year making it the world's leading exporter. It has since long been known as Southeast Asia's rice bowl and in ancient Sanskrit literature the area of Thailand was referred to as Suvarnabhumi, the Land of Gold, after the many rice fields which turn yellow-gold when ready for harvesting. After the harvest, often slash and burn techniques are used to clear the fields from the remaining stalks by setting them on fire (fig.). The process is easy and frees the farmers of doing the labourious task of clearing the field themselves, while the ashes provide free fertilizer. Though illegal, laws are hardly ever enforced as it hard to police. Violations usually occur in remote areas, while it would generally be hard to pinpoint and proof the actual cause, as well as the instigator of such a fire. Pests or natural enemies to rice include Apple Snails (fig.), that lay their eggs on the stalks of rice plants (fig.), Cereal Leaf Beetles (fig.), and Rice Weevils (fig.), that infest stored rice crops. In Thailand, as in many Asian countries where rice is often the main food staple, friends and strangers alike are informally greeted by posing a question to find out if one has already eaten. In Thailand, where rice is called khao, one is asked kin khao reua yang, while in Myanmar, one is similarly asked thamin sa bibi la, and in China, chi fan le ma, all literally meaning the same, i.e. ‘have you eaten rice yet?’. These questions are usually rhetorical in nature, and posed in order to show an interest in the other person's wellbeing, rather than a nosiness into someone's actual eating habits or an invitation to a meal.