Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wednesday 13 October 2010 - Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Mar Song From Ban Neow Shrine Parade Through Phuket Town

We arrived in Phuket the evening of October 12, 2010.  In researching this trip to attend the Phuket Vegetarian Festival, I had been tracking the weather forecasts.  The forecasts were for thunderstorms and 20 to 60% possibilities of rain for each day of our stay.  Two years ago we had spent 7 days in Phuket and had about one hour of intense rain one afternoon during a thunderstorm.  Based upon that experience and our knowledge of brief daily rains here in Isaan during the monsoon season , the Phuket forecast was not a major concern.  We brought an umbrella and two Goretex rain jackets as a precaution.

One half of the way from the Phuket International Airport to our hotel in Phuket Town it began to rain. By the time that we went to bed, there was a hurricane outside - well not really a hurricane but definitely squall lines raking across the city.  There were horizontal rains and winds around 60 to 70 KPH.  The wind continued all night and it rained most of the night - due to the wind we were asleep at 10:30, 12:00, 1:30, and 3:30.

Tuesday morning, I woke up at 5:00 A.M.  I could hear the the wind outside but I did not hear any rain.  I opened the curtains on both sides of our room and although it was very dark, I could tell that it was not raining.  I could also tell that there was a very ugly sky - fast moving storm clouds - but it was not raining!   Duang and I showered and prepared to get to Ban Neouw Shrine by 6:00 A.M. for the preparation of the Mar Song for the morning's 7:00 A.M. procession.

A Mar Song Pierced By An Umbrella As Well As Steel Skewers
Ban Neow Shrine was close to our hotel so we decided to walk over to the shrine.  Quickly all the sights from 2 years ago came back to us.  We had walked the same area before on our last visit to Phuket.  The shrine is near the large morning market - about 4 or 5 blocks from our hotel.  the morning market was very busy as we passed by.  Fish, meat, vegetables, along with hard goods and household items were being shopped and sold.  The route for the upcoming procession became apparent as we walked towards the shrine.  Merchants together with residents along the procession route had set up altars outside of their businesses and homes for the Mar Song to stop at.

A Ma Song Delivers A Blessing At A Local Altar
 Ma Song through their pain and suffering from piercings and self mortification are believed to be able to take away bad luck and evil of others as well as for the community thus ensuring them good luck as well as success during the up coming year.  To assist in the departure of evil and bad spirits, people and especially businesses will ignite firecrackers to scare off the evil as well as any bad spirits.  We were told that in front of one local gold exchange, 100,000 firecrackers were exploded.

Just as on our previous visit to the Phuket Vegetarian Festival, I found myself in the middle of one of the firecracker barrages.  For a former young boy who loved the smell of gun caps, this was pure ecstasy.  Five hours after the procession had ended as I was writing in my journal, the smell of sulfur and the other components of gunpowder was still discernible on our bodies and clothing.

We arrived at Ban Neow Shrine around 6:00 A.M., but it was too late to stake out prime territory at any of the Ma Song piercing stations scattered about the shrine courtyard.  Each station was surrounded by 4 to 6 deep rings of photographers.  Undeterred, I muscled up and sometimes below the myriad cellphone cameras as well as point and shoot cameras to take some shops.  Wednesday was the first of four scheduled morning opportunities to photograph and document the preparations for the processions.

Mar Song Being Pierced By Many Hypodermic Needles

An Assistant Adds Another Row of Needles to a Mar Song

A Ma Song Awaiting the Start of the Procession
As the light improved with the passage of time so did the weather.  The wind died down.  The clouds rose higher and became lighter.  By 9:00 A.M. there was actually abundant sunshine.  We never had to use the umbrella or the rain jackets that we had in the camera backpacks for the procession.  I did have to use my floppy hat from the camera backpack for protection from the sun.

Duang was not at 100% strength so I sought and found a great location for both of us.  At a street intersection where the sun was shining on the marchers and at my back, where the procession had to take a 90 degree turn to continue their trek, I found a club named "Fantasea"which had a beer garden at the sidewalk level.  The beer garden was closed but the tables and benches remained outside under a roof.  The location besides being convenient, sheltered and comfortable had full visibility of the street.  It was a great place for Duang to sit and enjoy the procession while I photographed the event 30 feet away in the middle of the street.  An added bonus for this location was that it was directly across from a business that had 8 long bamboo poles from which six to eight foot long strings of firecrackers were dangling.

It was a great morning - 775 photographs of which 709 were with my one year old camera - a new camera since our last Phuket trip.  This might bring up the question of why return to a place that you have been to before.  I have been to Machu Pichuu twice - why?  I had three reasons - 1. I had a new camera with greater capabilities than the previous cameras.  2.  I wanted some specific shots that I did not get during my first visit.  3.  I wanted to experience, enjoy and appreciate the location more fully.  So it also was with my return trips to Yellowstone National Park, Foz do Iguacu, Grand Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, Paris, Maehongson, Bangkok, and so many other wonderful locations and events.  So it was with this Phuket Vegetarian Festival.

A Ma Song Possessed By An Emperor God
At the conclusion of the morning's procession, I was soaking wet - not from rain but perspiration.  We returned to our hotel at 10:00 A.M., 2 blocks away from our last procession vantage point.  We arrived at the hotel in time to have the breakfast buffet which stopped serving at 10:30 A.M.  After  showering and changing our clothing, we watched the return of the squalls - wave upon wave of torrential rain and gale force winds that rattle the windows of our room. 

The remainder of the day was spent relaxing in our room and working on my journal.  We were fortunate to not to have to leave the protection of the hotel.

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