This is an essay written by Uncle Qingsong, and is the original source for his impetus to return to the fields as a farmer; it was originally printed in Qingsong¡¦s Notes on Cultivating the Fields, published in 2007.)

Returning to the Field-Side Paths Walked by My Grandfather

Sometimes I contemplate, even though it is hard to put into words, why is it that after thirty-plus revolutions of the seasonal round, and many ups and downs in life, I still decided to return to the land, return to the field-side paths that were trodden by my grandfather?  

In the spring of 2004, after concluding my studies in graduate school in Japan, I returned to my homeland from which I had been separated for two years, and went down to the fields and assumed the role of a peasant shouldering a hoe and wearing a bamboo hat. Most of my friends, including my advising professor at law school who had studied the law for most of his life, all stared at me with wondering eyes and doubted the evidence of their own ears when they heard of my plan to return to the countryside and be a farmer. Perhaps only I knew myself that this seed of rice had been planted long ago in my heart during my youth.

During winter when I was twelve years old, because of my father¡¦s failure in business, the whole family moved back to the countryside around Taizhong, to a small village that I only visited during New Year¡¦s celebration and other festivals. My impression of my grandparents¡¦ home, with my grandfather¡¦s belly extended by having eaten his fill of delicious New Year¡¦s cake and the smoke curling up from his chimney, was a great culture shock to one such as I, who had grown up in a family of car mechanics. Although I myself had travelled abroad for visits or for study, the shock of encountering different cultures seemed to be less severe than that time of leaving the city to return to the countryside. Now as I reminisce about when I was just entering the adolescent stage, it is like a spiritual transplanting; like when you cultivate fruits and vegetables, you take sprouts from the seed bed and transplant them to the field. Although young sprouts have to endure the trauma of having their fibrous roots severed, nevertheless when they are transplanted to soft and dark fertile soil, it is hard to imagine that countless new living components of the root system surprisingly grow out of the old wounds where the young roots had been severed. Soon a new and more hardy root system has been formed that is much more vigorous than the original one. That experience of one year in the countryside should be considered the origin of my choice to travel my current path.

Changjing was a traditional village of central Taiwan during the eighties. Our family that had just escaped from the frantic pace of the city to the countryside, in a mere moment, added a lot of pressure on my grandparents who had not had to contend with so many mouths to feed. Furthermore, city children who had never engaged in farm work had to share the various associated tasks. The first time I shouldered a hoe and held a heavy sharp knife in my hand, I left a bloody wound on the toes of my left foot. My little sister, who had never hefted a sickle before, also made a self-inflicted wound that required many stitches. Even though the accidents that resulted from engaging with an alien culture added to us children much spiritual and physical pressure, still all members of the family working together in the daily labor of life that was part and parcel of rural culture added an element of incomparable happiness to our childhood years.

I still remember that we lacked toilet paper in that period of life; what replaced paper was the processed stocks of kenaf that grandpa cultivated. While we were using the toilet, we could hear the nasal grunts of the little pigs on the other side of the wall of our common fertilizer pond. At that time grandpa was still raising a cow used exclusively by the villagers to pull the plow for tilling the soil. I, who was neither old nor young in age at that time, naturally became the best herd boy. Whether it was a bright sunny day in the heat of summer or a day when it rained cats and dogs, I was always grandpa¡¦s best buddy at his side in the rice paddies. When the water buffalo came wheezing up the field-side path, one had to choose the best time to poor buckets of cool creek water over his back that was almost steaming with heat. On rainy days, grandpa would never forget to stick a piece of rice cake in the mouth the little child, me, who spent the day in the rain. Sometimes it is hard to avoid the feeling that the taste of sweat mixed with rain while squatting by the side of the fields or the taste when the rain mixed with my tears was perhaps my constant path towards ultimate happiness.        

During the season of planting rice shoots, helping to load the cart of rice shoots was the work of the children. When the season of harvest arrived, the most vexing job for me as a skinny and weak kid was to know how to safely push the wheelbarrow full of bags of rice grain back to the rice warehouse. When it was the season of growth for sugar cane, we had to help strip off the leaves from the stalks. After harvesting the Chinese cabbage, he had to trample on the pickled turnips in vats. When vegetable seedlings started sprouting, we certainly had endless grass to clear away from them, in addition to endless swarms of mosquitos to swat away. During these times, the only thought in our heads was the hope that god would make it rain so we could close up work and return home and take a break. Although the work in the fields was endless, the joy for kids was equally endless. The best playmates in the country for kids were the bugs, birds, fish, and animals that were everywhere. Even now, I cannot forget the giant stage beetle that I dug out from under the Litchi grove, and miss even more that small tortoise that scurried in front of me and hid in the mud. If I start talking about those fruit trees that grandpa planted in the front and back of his old home like the litchi of June, the longan of July, the wax apple, the star fruit...and the local guava that were too numerous to pick¡Xno matter what I could never eat enough¡Xmy saliva simply never stopped flowing.

After saying all of this, even I find it hard to believe that all of these seemingly endless childhood stories unexpectedly are memories of the span of a single short year. During the second grade of middle school, I moved with my family to the bustling capital of Taibei, inaugurating another period of my young life that seemed to have no splendor whatsoever¡Xgoing to classes and afternoon tutoring became the totality of my life. Although later on I effortlessly went on to a famous high school and national university, my own heart seemed forever to loiter beyond my window, awaiting another opportunity to spread my wings and soar again.

A few years ago, the first time I took my young children to visit Yilan, the hometown of my wife, I had been depending on translating Japanese to earn a meager wage. I finally had another opportunity to become close to the land. At that time the greatest motivation in my heart was the hope of providing a happy childhood for my children that I myself had experienced, one that money could not buy. When my father-in-law promised to lend us the use of a few rice paddies, the mood that surfaced from the bottom of my heart was one of both anticipation and the fear of being hurt. It is just like back in the day when I used to play noisily together with a little girl; now she has grown up into a slender and lovely young woman, and the feelings of that type of shy reunion is scarcely describable!

In 2001 occurred the second period in my life of spending my days in the company of rice paddies. Because of the support of my good friend Brother He, who had spent several years in agriculture without the use of chemicals, and braving the pressure of being laughed at by family and friends from among the villagers, I determined to attempt to follow the natural cultivation methods of using absolutely no agricultural chemicals or chemical fertilizers. Even though at stake was only a few fields of rice paddies, and profit and loss were not issues, nevertheless, it was a great challenge for me to interact with the land. Can man gain the food necessary to sustain life without harming the land?      

        Under the ¡§guarantee¡¨ of all of our family and friends that ¡§you¡¦ll never make it without agricultural chemicals,¡¨ our lonely little vessel set sail within sight of all the villagers. Because we used a different variety of rice, we started planting the fields and transplanting rice seedling later than the norm. In addition to the devastation caused by channeled apple snails and the overly high level of water, the seedlings we grew were of poor quality. They looked like pitiful little pale and emaciated faces filled with sores. It was very difficult to replace these rice seedlings. Soon after, I encountered the problem of lack of vitality in their growth. At that time, the depression I felt can be imagined. Nevertheless, while I was almost at the point of giving up, I myself discovered after a few days of not paying attention that clumps of rice stalks were starting to flower and produce grain pods. Despite the small stature of the stalks and the unevenness of nutrients in the soil, their vitality for reproduction was moving to me. Perhaps they lacked chemicals that harm human life, but our fields had increased in the number of guests: greater painted snipes, egrets, frogs, water snakes, and even soft-shelled turtles and rice-field eels appeared in our little rice paddies. Only those who have experienced this zest for life can appreciate the feeling of satisfaction that comes from creating life and from living alongside of new life.    

        In 2004, with the support of all of my good friends, I returned to these fields that I had irrigated with my sweat, and truly tasted the zest of being a farmer. If not for the wild notions of Brother He, in addition to the response of many good friends, I would never have believed that this system of cultivating the fields, for which only a year previously I had obtained capital and had to shoulder the possibility of loss or damage during natural disasters, surprisingly was able to attract so much attention and participation in a few short years. When I harvested the first handful of bright yellow rice kernels under the brilliant sun of a July month, honestly speaking, it was a feeling of inexpressible freedom from care. With grain stockholders investing money and providing a portion of the labor, and the field managers supervising overall management of all agricultural affairs, and given the stability of this type of system of production and sales that depended on mutual trust, the only thing I had to worry about was to accompany and guard the rice paddies, and god willing, to have a good harvest.

        Now that my feet are planted squarely in the mud, I constantly think of my grandpa who passed away many years ago. I also remember the words he spoke that erased the worry that plagued us all. ¡§When our family eats, it is no problem to add a few bowls and pairs of chopsticks.¡¨ These are the words he spoke to us to comfort a family that was close to falling apart, and which provided a happy childhood for a young child that could not be bought by any amount of gold. It is only now, while standing on this muddy path by the rice paddies, that I realize it was this piece of land under my feet that has given me this bravery to face anything. At the same time, it also provided a direction to my life. (Cited from ¡§Qingsong Rice--Grain Stockholders Club¡¨.)

¡iWensi¡jThe first time I saw Uncle Lai, I discovered the he was a man who deeply loved the land. Because he always was bringing up matters concerning the land, it is evident that he is man who deeply loves nature. Why did Uncle Lai want to establish the ¡§Grain Stockholders Club¡¨? I think it was because he wanted to let everybody become closer to nature, to let everybody experience the joy of going down to the fields to study how to be a farmer who respected nature. I remember when I was young one time I was gathering peanuts in my uncle¡¦s peanut grove; although the heat from the sunlight was intense and my body was all covered with dirt, when I collected the clusters of solid peanuts, my heart was moved to no end. I think that Uncle Lai wants to plant this same type of moving experience in the hearts of others, and produce fruit of hope. 

¡iHancheng¡j Mr. Lai Qingsong, manager of agricultural fields, is a farmer with a M.S. degree. He once went to Japan to gain his M.S.; his highest professional position was that of a general-manager. Why did he not miss Japan but instead returned to Taiwan, just not to bustling Taibei with its many work opportunities? Rather, why did he come to Yilan to engage in hard labor in the fields? This then was the theme of our wild and rambunctious team this time; moreover, as far as we rookies were concerned, this was indeed a difficult subject. Gathering information was an unavoidable step, so I collected some information. Therefore, this helped me understand why Mr. Lai wanted to return to the countryside¡XYilan¡Xto cultivate his fields. Obviously, cultivating fields is arduous, thankless work, so why would he want to do this? Because Mr. Lai Qingsong wanted to let others eat this natural rice that was cultivated without the use of chemicals, so he established the grain stockholders club out of the wish to produce non injurious rice. But when he first started, everybody felt that he was just playing around, even his father. But he was very steadfast, and would never give up. Every day he would get up at first light and inspect his fields for any changes. When he weeded he did not use any chemical weed killers but would instead weed by hand and plant rice that was not harmful to humans.       

¡iWeiman¡j The founder of the grain stockholders club Mr. Lai Qingsong once went to Japan to get his M.A. degree, and had also been a general-manager. However, he did not miss these things. Leaving bustling Taibei with its many job opportunities, he was off to the countryside around Yilan to cultivate rice and to learn how to be a farmer. According to his ideal of being close to nature, he founded a grain stockholders club to highlight his ideal of eating what one plants, and attracted many persons to join his club. He felt that living together with heaven and earth was the only thing that humanity should do; I am in complete agreement with this point. He worked very hard to realize the dream he held for himself. At length he used his own two hands and sweat to cultivate ¡§Qingsong Rice¡¨ that was dense, soft, and chewy, altogether like chewing gum. But farmers who depend on the weather for the food they eat, no matter how determined or how hard working they are, can only shake their heads and sigh most of the time once a natural disaster occurs. However, how do you control your mood when a bad situation occurs? It is very important to not let outside influences affect your mood and do your best to control it. Mr. Lai Qingsong¡¦s moods sometimes change along with the changes in the weather, but he always does his best to control his moods. Mr. Lai Qingsong¡¦s spirit of being close to nature is very admirable, and worthy of our emulation. It is also the precise direction he is working towards at present. He also hopes to be able to let more people enjoy Qingsong Rice.        

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