Thursday, January 31, 2013

Morlam Lao Show - Merit Making

" Double, double toil and trouble; 
Fire burn, and caldron bubble." Macbeth by W Shakespeare
Last week we had the opportunity to attend another death anniversary party.  My brother-in-law was performing at the Morlam (Mo Lam, Mor Lam, Lam, ) Lao show that was part of the party had asked us for a ride to the venue which was a little north of Udonthani on the road to Nong Khai.

Special merit making rituals are conducted in Isaan after a person has died and been cremated.  The determining factor for when the ritual which is essentially a grand party is held is mainly economic.  The ritual is held when the family can afford to pay or afford to borrow to finance the event.  Since the funeral ritual is expensive, most death anniversary parties are held a year or more after the death. Recently we attended a party for two people, one who died ten years ago and the other person had died twenty years ago.  The party that we attended last week was for a man who had died three months ago.  He and his wife were both teachers and he had a great amount of life insurance on his life so the family was in much better financial condition than the majority of the people around here.

When we arrived, the widow greeted us and ensured that we had plenty to eat and drink.  It always amazes me how gracious and hospitable Lao Loum people can be no matter the situation they find themselves in or issues that they are dealing with.  Throughout our 5 hour stay at the event, she made sure that we were not in need of anything and was concerned that we were enjoying ourselves.  Other family members and friends were just as welcoming and kind.

The entertainment commenced at 5:00 P.M. with traditional Morlam Lao music.  Morlam Lao music is the traditional music of the Lao Loum people who reside in Lao People's Democratic Republic and Northeast Thailand.  The music is typically performed with a khene, drum, and hand cymbals.  The following are two links of typical music at these performances.

Traditional Morlam Lao music was performed for about four hours.  Towards the end of the traditional music portion of the show, a merit making ritual was conducted.  A large saht was placed upon the stage.  The widow, her children, and close family members of the deceased man knelt upon the mat.  The son held a large framed photograph of the deceased man.  In front of the mourners, a large tray of food offerings and a glass of Lao Lao (whiskey) was placed.  The food and drink offerings are for the spirit of the deceased man.

Family Members and Performers Making Merit for Deceased Person

Widow Grieving for her Husband
The khene player performed a sad melody that is used for these rituals.  The lead singer sang a song specifically about the deceased man, making up the lyrics as she went along.  Making up the lyrics?  In marlam Lao, although there are set melodies, there are no set lyrics.  The performers make up the lyrics at the spur of the moment to coincide with the situation and conditions that they are in at the moment.  As much as their performance is judged on their singing ability, their selection of words and the story that they tell is just as important to the audience.  Think along the lines of the tune "Happy Birthday" but without the well known lyrics but new lyrics dependent upon the performer and the circumstances.

For this merit making the ritual is along the lines of the man's past, how much he accomplished, how good a heart that he had (his kindness), how much he is missed but most importantly - his spirit now has been fed, his spirit has been refreshed with whiskey, his family is doing fine and his spirit is now free as well as released to move on with its journey.  It is very moving even if you do not understand the words but observing the emotions communicates the intimacy and importance of the ritual.

As people drank more and more, they were seduced by the hypnotic rhythms of the morlam Lao music and were frequently found dancing in front of the stage.  Once people found out that I knew how to dance Lao style, I was constantly being invited up to dance by both men and women.  Duang was not spared either - I ended up picking her up out of her chair and carrying her out to the dance area - much to the delight of everyone.

These events are quite interesting and you never know what to fully expect.  One elderly women, quite dignified, ended up to be quite bawdy. She kept getting the microphone and making comments over the large speakers.  The comment that I remember best was something along the lines of "I am going to go off on a motorbike and it is going to feel very good because I have a small %^&&#"  Rather than being shocked, people laughed like crazy.  The men were not to be out done.  A brother to the deceased man was quite drunk but was very entertaining.

During performances at these shows, people will approach the edge of the stage and give money to the performers.  Sometimes if people do not have money they will just shake the hands of the performer and state their appreciation.  At some events, flowers or paper garlands are offered.  At the party that we attended last week, the deceased man's brother had plenty of money.  He was given money by the family and was the designated person to distribute the money to each of the performers.  He did a good job until he drank too much.  He stopped giving away the money.  Either his sister or wife noticed and confronted him out in the middle of the dance area.  She was talking rather loudly at him.  She checked the pockets on his vest and pulled out a wad of cash.  Everyone roared with laughter.  He made amends and recommenced distributing the cash.  When he ran out of money, he gave a piece of paper to the female singer.  According to Duang the paper said something along the lines of when you get to be as old as me (65 years old) perhaps we could get together.  Apparently he forgot that at that time he would be around 90 years old!  Over the microphone, the singer said "One time with me will probably kill you!"  Everyone laughed like crazy.  The man did not get angry and concentrated on his dance routines.

Dancer Performing to Morlam Ziang Music
After the traditional music portion of the event, singers and dancers performed modern music. Morlam Ziang - electronic versions with greater instrumentation and set lyrics.  The deceased man's brother was an amazing dancer.  He had his own moves and routine.  I was most impressed when he would dance on one leg - an ability that I was unable to match no matter how hard that I tried.

Dancer Performing A Classic Dance Move - Pelvic Thrust
It was a great event and we headed home at 10:30 P.M.  Duang's brother was going to return to his home with the other performers after the show concluded - at 3:00 A.M.!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

An Exorcism In Isaan

Theravada Buddhist Monk Performing An Exorcism

When I wrote about the relocation of the spirit houses at our home, I mentioned that my wife was dealing with some family issues.  One of the family issues is her daughter.  Duang's daughter is involved with a married man who is also involved with four other women while his wife is serving time in jail.  His wife will be released from jail in a month and Duang's daughter knows that her boyfriend will not leave his wife.  Despite knowing this, Duang's daughter is madly in love with this man.  She fears the heartache and heartbreak that are coming her way. When she does not see him, she hurts inside her head and inside of her body.  When she is with him she is very happy. She is obsessed with this man and suspects perhaps that she is possessed by this man.

Possessed by someone?  In Isaan and perhaps Thailand in general there is a belief that people can make other people love them when there is no reason, justification, or wisdom to do so.  I was first made aware of this back in March 2007 when by circumstance we attended a celebration of a Mon wedding in Samut Songkhran.  I ended up dancing with some of the women and while dancing I had strange twitches as well as tingling in my hand.  At first Duang said that it was good because it was a religious dance and I was being effected.  However when her friend told her that Mon people knew how to get people to leave the people they love to love them instead, Duang became very cautious as well as defensive.  She warned me not to eat or drink anything that the women may offer me.  Supposedly, the people have you eat or drink something in which they have put a bad spirit in beforehand.

Just as I wrote recently about how you will read that Buddhist Monks are not supposed to sing, if you research on the Internet, you will find that except for Tibetan Buddhists, Buddhists do not believe or practice exorcisms.  There is a dichotomy in life.  There is the way life is supposed to be and the way that it actually is, which quite often is very different.

Just as it is virtually impossible to define or describe universally in any detailed level what an American or any other nationality is, let alone what they may believe, so it is difficult to define what Buddhists believe and even more so what heir practices are.  There is a large gap between what are theoretical believes and local practices and applications.  As you read more and believe that you understand better, you realize how many exceptions there are to what you have read or originally believed that you understand.    This can cause a great deal of confusion or frustration, but it can lead to a better appreciation for the richness and complexity of what you are studying or experiencing.

Once again I do not profess to be an expert on Buddhism, but can only reassure you that I am accurately recording what I have witnessed with some explanation coming from my wife.

The other day at a funeral that I did not attend, one of Duang's aunts told her that she has two daughters just like Duang's daughter and how a certain Monk had rid them of the bad spirits that were the source of their bad and self destructive behavior.  When Duang discussed that option with her daughter, her daughter agreed to go.

Yesterday we drove out to Tahsang Village to pick up Duang's aunt who knew where the Wat was and Duang's daughter.  We drove out to Huai Koeng Village.  It turned out that the Monk is another of Duang's relatives.  He is known as the second best Monk in the area for expelling bad spirits from people.  I did not realize at the time but the young Monk that lead the exorcism of Nongdaeng Village in December 2010 is considered the best Monk for performing exorcisms.  I asked how long he had been a Monk and through Duang I learned that he had been a Monk for 16 years.

Two Funerals and An Exorcism

The ritual started with what appeared to be an informal interview during which the Monk wrote down information such as her age, her birth date, and where she lived. From Duang he determined what the issues were. he confirmed with Duang's daughter what the issues were. With the formalities completed, the Monk had Duang's aunt go off to the local market to buy some eggs.  Shortly she returned with a bottle of Pepsi for me and 7 fresh eggs.  The eggs were part of the ensuing ritual.  Eggs are very important in some rituals in Isaan.  I had to eat a hard boiled egg as part of our marriage ritual.  Eggs were smashed on the ground during the exorcism of Nongdaeng Village.

What followed was a fairly typical merit making ritual, except for the use of the eggs and a metal sword. A pressed metal bowl contained Baii Sii Kwan made from banana leaves, a cotton string (disaisein) connected Duang's daughter a bucket  of water, the raw eggs, the sword, an offering plate and the Monk.

The Monk did a great deal of chanting and blowing air upon the eggs as if he was preparing them for something.

Two burning yellow candles where placed over the bucket of water while the ritual was being performed.  The pattern(s) that the wax drippings from the candles make in the water of the bucket indicates the internal state of the person and is an indicator of the future for the person.  In the case of Duang's daughter the dripping candle (one of the candles had fallen into the bucket about 3/4 the way through this portion of the exorcism) had created a spiral design on the water's surface - I was told that this was not a good sign.

After the completion of this ritual, Duang's daughter changed into a "pahtoon" (Lao clothing - wrap around cloth from the arm pits to just above the ankles).  We congregated outside where she sat before the Monk.  As he chanted, he poured cold water over her several times.

Monk Sprays Water With His Mouth, One of Three Times
As part of the cleansing ritual the Monk filled his mouth with water and quite forcibly sprayed Duang's daughter with a fine mist three separate times..

Monk Blows Upon the Head, One of Three Times
As she was drip drying in the bright sunlight, while chanting the Monk blew air upon Duang's daughter's head three times.  Duang's daughter then went into the bathroom and changed into dry clothing.

A beautiful saht (woven reed mat) was placed on the landing outside of the door to the sala.  Duang's daughter laid down on the mat.  The Monk knelt beside her.  He had her loosen her blouse and pull her blouse up to expose the back of her neck and lower back.  Monks are not allowed to touch women or to become aroused by women so we were threading on dangerous ground here.  I could have written we were on "thin ice" here but even now in "cold season" the low temperatures are 60F at night so there is no possibility of any ice. to tread upon. To ensure that would not be any problems, Duang assisted the Monk by moving clothing as directed by the Monk and using a hand towel to cover exposed areas of flesh not involved in the exorcism ritual.

Starting with the back of the neck, the Monk rubbed an egg on various parts of the daughter's prostrate body.  The Monk's fingers never touched the daughter's body as he rubbed the egg on her body.  After he had finished rubbing her lower back, and upper back, the monk had her lay upon her back on the saht.

Monk Blows Air On Abdomen As You Uses A Bronze Sword and Egg for Exorcism
As she lay on her back, the Monk probed her stomach lightly with a heavy intricately embossed bronze sword called a "mitdap".  It appeared that the monk was using the mitdap to press and better expose sections of the abdomen for the egg .  Occasionally the Monk would interrupt his chanting to ask Duang's daughter where she was feeling discomfort.  I later found out that the Monk was forcing the bad spirit form inside the body to go into the egg.  As I had learned back at the exorcism of Nongdaeng Village, phii (ghosts, bad spirits) are attracted to and like to feed upon raw eggs.

Using the Mitdap and Egg To Capture Bad Spirit

Using A Knife To Rid Body of Bad Spirit
After using the egg on the body, the Monk used a small handcrafted knife, very similar to the ones that we purchased in Laos, to rhythmically tap the torso as he continued to chant.  When he had completed tapping the body with the small knife, the Monk had Duang's daughter sit up.  He then drew out some kind of design on her lower back using what appeared to be a glue stick and some oil (not motor oil).  Duang said that this was to prevent bad spirit from going back in.

The Monk then used the small handcrafted knife to scrape the daughter's back as he chanted.

When he completed this portion of the ritual, Duang, Duang's aunt and I went off to the side where the egg used in the exorcism was cracked open which revealed three small blood like specks in the egg white.  They were pointed out to me and I was told that these were from the bad spirits that had been removed from Duang's daughter.

We all returned inside of the sala where the Monk completed the exorcism by performing a traditional Bai Sii ritual - binding the 32 good spirits to the body by tying a cotton string around the wrist.  The entire exorcism had lasted 2 hours.

Last night, Duang talked to her mother in Tahsang Village and learned that her daughter has been a completely new person.  She had cleaned the upstairs, cleaned the downstairs, did the laundry and had not talked back to any one.  Duang told her mom that tomorrow would be a new day and would would see if she had really changed.

Today Duang learned that her daughter had gone off with her boyfriend once again - boosting my theory that  her aching is not from his absence but more likely from "withdrawal" not from any "food" that he maybe feeding her but from whatever she may be eating that he gives her.

Life is suffering and the issues that cause suffering in Isaan are the same issues that cause families and individuals to suffer all over this world.  Although the methods used to try to stop or prevent the suffering may be different from culture to culture they can not be effective on the people unless they are committed to making the necessary changes in their life. It is sad.  But it is true.  It has been true since man started exercising free will and will always be true.  But it does not stop us from trying our best and all we can do for others.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fishing In Isaan - Two Different Ways

Raising A Large Dip Net In Isaan
Last week I shared my experience of watching two Monks and some Tahsang Village men catching fish by draining the water and feeling around for the fish in the resulting muck.  That is one way to go fishing here in Isaan.

Another way to catch fish is to dip net for them.  The Mekong River is about 40 Km from here and serves as the border between Thailand and the Lao People's Democratic Republic.  The Mekong River is one of the planet's greatest rivers.  Besides supporting thriving international river commerce. the Mekong River supports the peoples of China, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam with its fish stocks.

However here in Isaan, most of the wild fish that is caught is not from the mighty Mekong River or even in rivers of much less size or fame.  There are not many streams to catch fish in either.  The wild fish are mainly caught in drainage ditches, drainage sloughs, mud holes, and flood plains.

In Isaan, rain typically falls from may until October.  In between, very little rain falls.  However, the land is flat and does not drain very well.  By the time that the natural monsoonal rains stop in October, the land is saturated, the rivers are flooding, and there is plenty of standing water.  The Mekong River floods which backs up the small streams that feed it from the interior of Isaan.  Since the water can not drain quickly into the Mekong or other waterways flowing to the south, the water level on floodplains of Isaan will rise dramatically.  This in turn supports the growth and reproduction of wild fish species.  The higher water levels allow the fish to migrate and feed upon recently submerged vegetation.  In addition to being a food source for the fish the submerged vegetation provides shelter for breeding and raising young fish.

In September when water levels are about their highest and into January when water levels have diminished greatly to the point that fishing isn't possible, you will find people fishing the drainage ditches  drainage sloughs, mud holes, and floodplains.  In many areas, people construct platforms out of bamboo from where they drop and raise nets to the water below.  In other locations people will wade out into the water to drop and raise nets that they have attached to a long bamboo pole or they will cast a large nylon net onto the waters to try to catch fish.

Fishing Platforms Outside of Baan Tahsang (Tahsang Village)
Duang's sister, as I pointed out in an earlier blog, had a large ditch dug along her back property line on the Kumphawapi floodplain.  Since her neighbors did the same thing there is now a good place for fishing for a better part of the year.  I had not been out to her place in wto years and I was shocked to see how many fishing platforms had been constructed.  When I arrived my sister-in-law's yard was filled with motorbikes and pick up trucks.  I quickly found out that the vehicles belonged to people fishing in the new ditch or slough.  I thought that perhaps my in-laws had set up a fish for fee business or at least park for a fee business.  They looked at me like I was crazy and through Duang I found out that all the people were family. Since Duang has 23 Aunts and Uncles along with 96 cousins just on her side of the family, it is easy to understand how a place could get crowded with "family".

Duang went off to the village to get her hair done and I wandered around taking photographs.

Fishing - Isaan Style   I Guess Since No Bait Is Used, There Is No Need To Stay Awake
On the day that I visited the site, people were using drop nets and throwing nets to catch fish.  In both techniques, no bait was used.  In the case of the drop nets, the people were using very large nets that were rigged off of their fishing platform.  Levers, fulcrums, and pulleys were used to provide mechanical advantages for raising and lowering the nets.  Other than the corrugated metal used in some of the platforms for roofing all the materials were local. Three pieces of thin walled tubing were welded together to create the each of the two required combination pin connection and journal bearing for the bamboo poles of the net boom and bamboo poles of the base of the platform.  I had seen young men performing welding repairs on some farm equipment at the Tahsang Village miller's house, so I suspect he was the source of these vital metal connections.  Many of the fishing platforms had little shelters built on them where the fishermen could eat, drink, and fish out of the direct sun light.  Oh, some of the fishermen also slept in the shelters.

When the fisherman thinks he has waited long enough, or when he wakes up, he will raise the net to determine if he has caught any fish.  If he has not, the net is lowered and the wait will start again.  If he has caught some fish he will use a net on the end of a long bamboo pole to scoop them up.  The fish are then placed in a bucket of water kept in the shade.  We are not talking about catching very big fish - the vast majority of the fish are around 4 to 6 inches long (10 to 15 cm).  There are no size limits on the catch with people keeping fish that would be too small to even use as bait in the USA.  There is no license required to fish.

Wakened From His Nap, Lao Loum Fisherman Checks His Net
Many of the larger sized fish never make it to the bucket, they are cooked and eaten on site.  Fishing along the embankment was a family gathering with people of all ages eating, drinking, gossiping, and some people actually fishing.  It was a great big picnic if not a party.

Fresh Fish Being Grilled
Some of the men were using hand nets to work sections of the slough.  Fish fences had been set along the ditch to encourage the fish to travel along certain routes.  The men using the hand nets collaborated to take advantage of the fences and the placement of their nets to trap the fish.

Casting Their Nets Upon The Waters In Isaan
 Once the nets had sunk to the bottom, the fishermen would pull them in.  Soon they would be holding a mass of nylon netting coated and dripping with chocolate colored muck.  Sometimes they would even find a couple of small fish in the last bit of the net once the muck was washed away.  The small fish would be placed in a small fisherman's creel floating near the fisherman,  The creel is woven from strips of local hardwood and is kept afloat by lashing empty 1.5 liter plastic bottles to it. One of Duang's uncles, most likely more than one, weaves these creels in Tahsang Village.  I have watched and photographed other villagers making the throwing nets.  Again, the people exhibit an amazing degree of self-reliance as well as self sufficiency.

Starting To Haul Net With Floating Creel Close By

Getting Down to the Business End of the Net

Most of the fishermen had completed fishing when I headed back from the slough to go to my in-law's house.  On my way back to the house I came upon, what for me was an extraordinary scene.  Near where the motorbikes and pick up trucks were parked, a tarp had been placed on the ground.  All the buckets and creels had been emptied on top of the tarp.  People were sorting through the fish and creating at least twelve equal piles of fish for the people to take home with them.  The individual extended family members were cooperating for the greater overall good of the family.  This was yet another example of the sharing and caring nature of the Lao Loum people here in Isaan.

Dividing Up The Day's Catch

Monday, January 21, 2013

Here's Hoping That Third Time Is Really the Charm

Our Spirit Houses - Relocated Once Again
Here's hoping that the saying "Third time is the charm" or perhaps the saying "If you want a job done correctly the first time, hire a professional"  well maybe not "hire" in this case but rather "use the services of" is true.

When we moved into our home in Udonthani in September of 2008 there was a special ritual to install two spirit houses on our property.  Spirit houses (san phra phum) are shrines to the animist spirits. The houses are found throughout Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. The spirit house is built like a miniature Buddhist temple mounted on a pillar or platform. They are meant to be the homes of the land spirits.

Spirit worship, referred to as "Animism", in Thailand goes back to the migration of the Thai people from northern Vietnam. Animism predated Buddhism in Thailand and Buddhism developed side by side with Animism in Thailand. The two religions are very intricately interwoven and many practices today in Buddhism are actually Animism beliefs and rituals.

The spirit houses are a shrine where offerings of food, fruit, flowers, candles, incense, water, soft drinks as well as whiskey are made.

The san phra phum provide a dwelling for the wandering guardian spirits for the buildings and areas of  land. The spirits can cause problems and suffering if they are not kept happy. There are spirit houses at homes, shopping centers, businesses, government buildings, factories, oil refineries - everywhere but at a Wat. The spirit houses are not part of Buddhism.

The spirits are kept happy by offering them gifts frequently. People believe that the spirits can influence coming events, grant wishes, and keep people healthy. I have seen the daily ritual of offering candles, incense, fruit and whiskey made at some Go-Go bars prior to opening for the night.

I wrote about the installation of our spirit houses in a previous blog back in September 2008.

Everything seemed to going just fine until 2010.  In 2010, Duang's uncle, who had selected the location for our spirit houses and performed the ritual associated with installing them, became ill.  He was hospitalized and was eventually sent home when the doctors said that they could not do anything more for him.  In October 2010, another Shaman had told Duang and her relatives that the uncle would be dead within two weeks unless our Spirit Houses were relocated.  According to the Shaman, Duang's uncle was not fully qualified to do a spirit house installation ritual.  We went ahead and had the Shaman do a relocation ritual of our spirit houses.  He actually ended up leaving one in the original location in the front yard and moved one house to our side yard.

The relocation ritual was subject of a blog entry on October 29, 2010.  Amazingly Duang's uncle who had been sent home to die survived well into 2012.  We were fortunate to be able to visit him a few times upon our return to Thailand before he died this October

Amazingly Duang's uncle who had been sent home to die survived well into 2012.  We were fortunate to be able to visit him a few times upon our return to Thailand before he died this October

Recently my wife has been dealing with a health issue along with family issues in addition to a number of funerals that we have been attending since our return from the USA.  Apparently in consultations with people, Duang became convinced that the problem was due to our spirit houses.  Even though the spirit houses had been relocated by a second Brahman, the spirits were still not happy which was manifested in the issues that Duang and her family were dealing with.

I do not get into metaphysical discussions with my wife regarding her beliefs.  I support her because those beliefs provide her comfort and a moral compass.  It is her heritage and her culture. Her devotion to those beliefs was part of what attracted me to her in the beginning. I am content to just know what her beliefs are.

Mass Transit In Isaan - 14 People in a Pick Up Truck
Duang made all the arrangements to have the Monk from the Wat outside of her home village to come to our home and preside over the relocation of the spirit houses.

Last Thursday, the Monk, his handler, Duang's mother, our grandson, Peelawat, and 10 grandmothers from Tahsang Village arrived at home in the early morning for the relocation ritual.  The grandmothers were a combination of aunts and friends.  Personally I suspect that they were Tahsang Village's answer to the "Red Hat Society".

Monks are not allowed to drive motor vehicles or to travel unaccompanied with women so each Wat has a layman who will assist Monks in these activities.

Under Peelawat's Watchful Eye, Women Prepare For Ritual
While the Monk determined what should be done with the spirit house, the women helped Duang to prepare for ritual and common meal for after the ritual.

Preparing Petals for the Ritual
Part of the preparation was to strip a bunch of chrysanthemums of their petals and place them on a religious pressed metal stand.  Other preparations include setting up plates and trays of bananas, oranges, grapes, coconut  and other fruits as offerings to the spirits.  Duang had also had me buy a box of beer, Leo, but that turned out to be an offering to the old ladies rather than to the spirits.

After the Monk had finished the ritual he came inside and ate his only meal of the day.  When he had selected his food to eat, I went upstairs to get a break from the animated conversation of the old women while they outside underneath our car port.  Later in the day, I thought that I would treat myself to a beer.  I was shocked to discover that the ladies had drank all the beer.  Perhaps that was the reason for the animated conversations.

Duang and Tey's Grandmother Prepare White Candles for the Ritual.
Besides having a Monk performing the spirit house ritual, this relocation involved me more greatly.  I had to stick some of the burning Joss sticks into the fruit offerings that Duang had placed before the spirit houses.  In previous rituals, I had only held on to three lit Joss Sticks.  Perhaps that is what was missing?  Maybe it was the white candles in addition to the yellow candles?  We also did not use chrysanthemum petals previously.

Duang Places Lit White Candles

The Monk Lights Joss Sticks

The relocation ritual concluded with Duang placing some long garlands over the relocated houses.

The morning went along well with the only "issue" being our grandson, Peelawat. starting to sing out a sort of snake charmer music that I hum to him when we play Muay Thai boxing.   The music is played when the boxers perform their "wai khru ram muay" but is definitely not appropriate to do when a Monk is chanting as part of a formal ritual.  His great grandmother quickly stopped him.

I am optimistic that having had a Monk perform the ritual, the spirits are happy now and the spirit houses can remain where they are now.

Duang is feeling more secure and confident now that the houses have been properly installed in the correct location - at the side of our yard.  She says that it will all be better for us and the family now.

As for me, I am wondering and perhaps I am somewhat confused.

In late September, I was contacted by a client in Europe who wanted to use 23 of my photographs in a public display.  We had agreed on pricing and I had sent a Limited Copyright License Agreement for use of the photographs along with an invoice.  In late October I contacted the client and informed them that the invoice had not been paid nor had they returned the conformed Limited Copyright Agreement for use of the photographs.  The client informed me that they would check with the public institution where the photographs would be displayed.  After almost two months of no word, I believed that there was no longer an interest.

The very night that the spirit houses were properly relocated, I received an email informing me that the project had been approved and the funds allocated.  By the end of the next day, I had received both the conformed LCLA and the license fee.  When I told Duang of the developments  Duang just knowingly smiled and said "Buddha take care, now"

This is not the first time that unexplained things, for me, but ordinary based upon Duang's faith and beliefs have happened.  I often joke that I have no hope if she decides to use her powers against me.

I have written that in my blogs that I write of what I have seen and experienced.  I do not try to proselytize.

I wrote earlier in this blog that I support Duang in her beliefs because those beliefs provide her comfort and a moral compass.  It could also be that after having witnessed and experienced several things with her  ... I am keeping my options open or at least keeping the spirits happy.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

New and Recent Photographs Added

Little Nong of Tahsang Village
Thirty-one new and recent photographs have been added to my most popular photo gallery, "Runny Noses and Dirty Faces - Children".  As you can see there is a new runny nose and I have also added some dirty faces to the gallery.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Monks In The Mud - Fishing In Isaan

Monks Fishing By Hand Outside Tahsang Village

On my photography website I have a gallery entitled "Monks In The Mist", and another gallery entitled "Monks In The Morning"  Today, I ended up taking photographs that could be placed in a gallery entitled "Monks In The Mud".

We started the day with three main objects.  The first was to burn a CD of photographs for my client in Europe and send it to her.  The second objective was to go out to Kumphawapi and pay the monthly fees for our grandson to attend school.  The last objective for the day was for me to write a blog on fishing in Isaan.  I had recently posted a photograph on Facebook that one of my friends had expressed some interest in what was going on.  I had promised a blog related to the photograph soon.

Well, for many reasons, "soon" here in Isaan takes a while to become reality.  My main delay was getting caught up with editing and post processing the photos that I have taken in the past month.  I then started to clear up the backlog of blog entries that have been in my head for the past month.

First thing in the morning we got a call from Duang's mother asking why I was not coming out to the village to photograph the Monks doing something with the fish in the ditch outside of Tahsang Village.  Well, since we were then aware that something was going on, we incorporated a visit to Tahsang Village into our schedule.

I had seen a new holding pond being constructed outside of the Wat that is inside of Tahsang Village so I assumed there was going to be some kind of ritual or blessing to fill the ditch with water from the flood plain and stock it with some fish.  Well, I sure got that wrong. What was actually happening was the Monks from the Wat outside of the village along with some of the villagers were draining the ditch outside of that Wat and removing the fish.  They were removing the fish for the villagers to eat and to sell any surplus to help pay the electrical bill for the Wat.  The monthly bill for the Wat runs around 1,000 Baht ($33 USD) a month.

Tahsang Village Men Fishing By Hand
When we arrived at the ditch we discovered that the fishing had been going on for a while.  The ditch had been divided up into two sections.  The first and largest section had been drained to the point that rather than holding water, it contained about 18 to 24 inches of muck, a sort of earth pudding, and fish.  Several of the men were bent over knee deep in the muck searching for and grabbing fish with their hands.  When they did catch a fish, they washed it off in a bucket of water and either placed it in a collecting bucket or tossed it up on the embankment where people were cooking fish over the coals of a log fire.

Fish Being Cooked the "Old Fashioned Way"
I knew that they had been at it for awhile not by the number of fish that they had caught but by the number of beer bottles and Lao Lao (Isaan Moonshine type whiskey) up on the embankment where the fish were being cooked.  The people may have been working but that never seems to prevent them from enjoying themselves or making a party out of it.

The two young Monks of the Wat were also out in the muck grabbing fish with their hands.  The Monks did not kill the fish nor did they eat because it was past noon.  They only eat one meal a day and it must be completed by noon.  I suspect that they were doing it for the fun of it and camaraderie with the villagers. No matter their motivation, they were enjoying themselves as much as any one.

The Monks Working To Corner A Fish
A wide range of "fishing" attire was worn by the men.  Some of men wore pakamas (cotton cloth strip) wrapped around their waist and up through their crotch so that the looked like the main character from the 1937 film, "Sabu, The Elephant Boy".  One man was wearing only his western style athletic briefs.  Other men wore a sarong around their waist while others opted to wear cotton shorts or cutoff sweat pants.  The Monks were wearing something similar to Sabu The Elephant Boy undergarment only it was the same color as their Monk robes.   Well actually it was the same color as their robe before they entered into the ditch.  After everyone entered into the ditch, they were quickly covered with a grey creamy muck.  Their garment was also more intricately wrapped and twisted than the laymen.  The older Monk, perhaps 25 years old, had a belt type device around the top of his garment,  The device was not a simple belt but was comprised of tubes, cords, and perhaps a small chain.

Two Monks After Fish
I was invited to join them fishing but once again I was happy to remind them that it looked like work and I did not want the Police to come and take me to jail because I was working.  Having told them that they were happy to just have me take pictures of them.  I did not tell them that I did not have the heart or courage to go into the muck and actually try to grab something that I could not see with my bare hands. I did joke with them that I had brought a tuna fish sandwich to eat for lunch because I wasn't sure that they would be catching anything.

The Older Monk Takes A Rest From Fishing
They caught several small fish, ranging in size from 6 inches to perhaps 16 inches.  The smaller fish appeared to be Talapia and the larger fish I believe were Snakeheads,  They caught a few eel like creatures and some large snails.

Everyone had a great time laughing and joking as they fished.  The older Monk fell when he walked into a hole hidden under the muck - much to his amusement and everyone else.  The biggest laugh, so big that I almost fell down the embankment, was brought about by the youngest Monk.  He was squatted down in the muck when all of a sudden he started yelling and jumped up as a big splash could be seen exiting between his legs.  The largest fish of the day had swum between his legs and apparently brushed up against his inner thigh or someplace near there. I missed the shot but did see the fish.  Everyone was laughing hysterically including the Monk once he overcame his initial shock.  About 10 minutes later he captured what we believed was the offending fish.

The fish that were to be eaten were cooked the old fashioned way - they were thrown on to a bed of coals from the burning of a couple logs - no scaling, no gutting and no seasoning.  As the need for more coals became apparent the burning log was moved closer to the center of the fire.  Some of the fish were thrown on the coals alive and some people dispatched their fish before cooking them.  One man shoved a fresh twig down their throat to cook them over the coals.  A couple men placed the fish's head on an empty beer bottle laying on the ground and pounded the head forcefully with the bottom of another empty beer bottle. No matter how the fish were prepared, everyone seemed to really enjoy eating them.  I enjoyed eating and was thankful for my tuna sandwich.

One of My Buddies Displaying His Catch
Udonthani is the capital in Thailand of liver cancer incidence caused by a parasite that infects fresh water fish and snails.  The hospitals have signs posted informing the people of the danger of eating improperly prepared fish and snails.  The main contributor to infection is the consumption of unpasteurized fermented fish - a Lao Loum staple.  I am leery of eating local caught and prepared fish and snails.  I am not afraid of the fermented fish because just the smell of it makes me sick so I would never be eating it.

After the smaller section of the ditch had been drained and fished the village men went to the Wat where the women had prepared  all kinds of local dishes from the fish that had not been grilled.

Having had their fun for the day, the Monks returned to their quarters.

Having had our fun for another day, we returned to our home in Udonthani.


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