Oryza Sativa per Bubalus Bubalis
By Jared Andrukanis, Segment Producer
It\’s a foggy morning in the near-perfect village situated by the sea in central Vietnam known as Hoi An. I am standing in a rice paddy and my New Balance sneakers are covered in brown clay from the saturated ground. Staring off into the distance, I notice Todd shooting b-roll.
My socks are wet, but I don\’t notice because of the view – it is one of complete calm, with green growth, grey water and paddies stretching out for what seems like miles in each direction …an open playing field of agriculture at its most base. In my view, there are three women in conical hats slowly pulling at the stalks with the country\’s most prevalent foodstuff at their ends – it is a delicate process, compounded to almost an art as the women\’s hands move with uncanny deftness, repeating the same process that most likely has been done by them for many years.
In the center of an adjacent paddy there is a water buffalo pulling a plow with a farmer on its back. The beast is looking downright joyous, dragging its heavy load behind it, taking time to lower its snout into the gray water below and then splashing to the left and right while plodding down a line of rice grass. I am nearly mesmerized by this, as the massive animal reaches the end of a line of green, it turns completely around and begins the process on another endless string of rice plants.
I am surrounded by tradition – The tradition of the rice pickers in the field, the tradition of the farmer riding his plow and the tradition of the buffalo doing its daily walk. This is all common ground for them …I feel almost as if I am invading their space.
I turn to Todd, who has his face buried in the sunshade of the viewfinder, most likely in a shooter\’s paradise of amazing footage to be had all around him. I ask, \”Did you get that water buffalo?\”
He looks up from his viewfinder, \”Yes …a few different sizes. You see anything else that we should get out here?\”
I do a 360-degree scan of the area, and my eyes set on another, yet another water buffalo moving slowly up the narrow shelf of clay. Todd and I chose to wander out, on to shoot the paddies. The strip we are standing on is about 3 feet wide and stands nearly a foot above the flooded plane where the rice is planted.
After a quick calculation, it becomes very clear that either Todd or I, or the approaching water buffalo, is going to have to get off this shelf and into the half submerged paddies for this to work out. And she is not looking like she will be getting out of our way – I feel like I am playing chicken with a massive, grayish-black, horned, and motivated beast …but in super slow motion.
I then notice the two calves behind her.
Now this is interesting. A mom and two calves, walking towards Todd and I, with nowhere to go but through or around us. It is basic knowledge that in the wild (or elsewhere) it is never a good idea to upset a mother when her offspring are nearby – it is just bad business, and even the most docile and cute animals tend to get nasty when you mess with the kids. Naturally that rule is compounded when the mother in question has horns spanning nearly 6 feet, and the neck muscles are capable of tossing my 190-pound frame into the air like a wet tissue wearing a backpack.
I tell Todd, \”Well, here is another one of them heading right for us. And she\’s got her kids with her.\”
Todd, looks up, looks at me and then starts filming our approaching guests. She is not paying any attention to us, and walks up the narrow stretch of land toward our position. Twenty-five feet …20 …15 …10 … and then, the mother heads off the clay shelf into the paddies to our left, and the calves branch off to paddies on our right.
Now Todd and I are standing right between a mother and her children.
At that moment she notices us – and her body language shifts immediately from the trundling mass of a docile farm animal to a different sort altogether. She stands upright and completely still, looks directly at me and starts breathing in a not-so-friendly fashion. It sounds like half-stifled coughs, but with a lung capacity of, well, a buffalo, behind the brays. Her eyes do not look kind, to say the least.
I hear Todd say, \”I don\’t think she likes you.
\”I get that feeling too.\”
I pull my camera out of my pocket and start firing off some still photos, \”Hey Todd, just so you know, I am documenting this in case we both get gored by a water buffalo. Hopefully they will find the camera.\”
I realize that this is not a funny comment and put the camera away. She is still breathing like a goddamn freight train and staring me right in the eye.
\”Not sure what the protocol is for handling this sort of thing. Stand still and hope for the best, huh?\”
And as the last word falls out of my mouth, she forgets about me and starts giddily splashing away to rejoin her calves. Just like that.
I remember to breathe in …and ask Todd, \”Did you get that?\”
Todd nods his head.