The International Steam Pages

Harvest Sun, Dakhondaing 2010

A Burmese Rice Mill
and its Village.
26th March 2013

This is the eleventh part of our 2010 Burma Crusade. Click here for the index.

My somewhat morbid assessment of the situation at Dakhondaing and links to earlier reports are on a separate page.

We had spent a very long day trying to film the harvest on Daw Ei Ma's land in the middle of nowhere west of Dakhondaing. It made for a great blog story, but to be honest, it came up short in terms of memorable video, not least because it would have taken the best part of a month to make a half decent record as only a combine harvester (and they now have such things in Thailand) can 'do it all' in a couple of days. So it was back to the editorial drawing board and my decision was that we would have to film the stages after cutting in the immediate vicinity of the village if we were going to have any hope of representative coverage.

So it was that we headed for the 08.00 bus out of Moulmein, there was no way we could have got to Dakhondaing by public transport to get the good morning light, but the toy camera was pressed into service in town. One of the ferries proudly sporting a new flag had just pulled in behind the market, near the bus stand:

The porters were busy emptying it, the mind boggles at the probable weight of the sacks. The bus takes the long way round out of town via the east bus station (next to the new railway station), which offers more photographic opportunities. Yuehong was smiling because it was still cool and the snake oil salesman was hard at work.

Our two cameras are now so mismatched for colour balance that we agreed that Yuehong would go off into the village to get some local colour shots and enjoy herself there. I knew I was going to spend long periods sitting under trees waiting for inspiration so I gave Han the day off to entertain the villagers. It was just gone 10.00 and I caught the tail end of the morning business, in this case the raw paddy was being thrown in the air and then fanned to remove some of the dust.

In 2009, 'someone' solemnly told me that there was no railway station in Dakhondaing but I had spotted such a creature on our 'harvest moon' visit. The trainspotter in me demanded something here, I had heard two trains passing through around midday and I had also actually observed them at Kwewan a few miles north. There were a dozen or so people waiting patiently, so I plonked myself under a tree and waited, it was obviously the sort of train that rarely ran to time but sometimes did. An hour and a half later, everyone jumped up and rushed forward, only to halt when they realised the first train was not stopping - it was apparently the Yangon Express. Another hour later, DD 941 pulled in on the 'all stations local' and I had my clip.

Very nice, but I was meant to be working on the harvest and as 14.00 approached it was time to do the rounds looking for some action, I wanted to see how the paddy haystacks were formed. Eventually, I spotted what looked like a bullock cart in action about a quarter of a mile away across the railway. A quick route march brought me into video range just after the last sheath of rice was loaded. These days, it seems, everyone in the village knows what we are up to and to my astonishment, the last two were slung off the cart! Smiles all round and as soon as the video camera was set up, they were reloaded and I had my shot. I galloped on a parallel bund to grab a run past. It was just a short journey to the unloading point where everyone waited until I was ready, I got the lot including the bullocks going 'on shed'. Only later did I discover that much of the video here may be unusable owing to a speck of dust on the lens.

Yes, that's Dakhondaing station behind in the last shot and coincidentally there was now a third train coming - no bullocks still but a nice row of lady rice cutters in the foreground doing their stuff. I decided to pan that shot so there's no 'still' available but these are the ladies. And after that there was another bullock cart to be filmed being loaded, chased on foot through the village and filmed again unloading on the other side of the railway - by now the dust had vanished as mysteriously as it had arrived.

All of which went a long way towards getting exactly what I was looking for. That just left separating the paddy from the top of the stalks which would have to wait for another day as I was right out of time. Before we rushed off for the last bus back to base, I got Han to confirm that one nearby farmer would be 'doing the business' the following afternoon. And when we pitched up at 13.30, it was just in time for loading. After which everyone made their way back to base, the cart was unloaded and a couple of bullocks spent an hour going round in circles - basically the paddy falls between the stalks. The bullocks have muzzles to prevent them eating the profits.

Absolutely splendid and all recorded on video... As it happens, it was a good idea to do the trainspotting the day before because not a single train passed during our visit. At this point Han vanished for a couple of days with our blessing to satisfy the demands of his masters, Yuehong elected to put her feet up and I was given the freedom of the paddy fields once I had delivered some photographs round the village. The score was two trains, one bullock cart (which performed an encore or two) and a bullock circle, not to mention the harvesters. The old man on the cart was still wearing the same green suit as two days earlier, it's a video editor's dream moment:

Dakhondaing has been very good to us over the last 5 years or more and now that filming is complete, come 2011 it will be my considerable pleasure to have the job of turning the many tapes into a coherent DVD. The project has cost us a small fortune, it was never intended or expected to make a profit, we know there is not a TV station in the world which would touch our material, quite simply it's too genuine. Our fervent hope is that as many people as possible will have the chance to see for themselves something which would have been very special in the second half of the 20th century and is even more amazing in the 21st century. I would like to think that all our films have some kind of timeless quality, but this one should stand out the most.

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson