Monday, April 29, 2013

Song Poo Day - 2013

Tahsang Villagers Clean Buddha Statue
Yesterday I wrote about the night before Song Poo so it seems logical to me that today's blog be about Song Poo Day.

Once again I have been unable to find a definitive answer as to exactly what Song Poo Day is about so this blog will be about my observations of this day's and previous year's celebrations.

Song Poo Day is associated with Songkran but is not a fixed date.  Previous celebrations that I have attended occurred before the start of Songkran in Tahsang Village.  This year Song Poo Day was celebrated  after Songkran in Tahsang Village had concluded.

Song Poo Day is a joyous celebration.  It is like the grand church bazaar that I used to attend back in Groton, Connecticut when I was a child - complete with food, drinks, rides, and religious ritual.  However Song Poo is even better because the food and drink are free plus the live entertainment is also free.

We attended Song Poo Day at Duang's Wat of choice, the Tahsang Village "outside" Wat located out in the middle of the rice and sugar cane fields.  For some reason, unexplained. the "inside" Wat does not celebrate Song Poo Day.  During Song Poo Day, people pay homage to the Buddha statues by washing them with water.

Isaan Merry-Go-Round
Besides religious activities, there are carnival type activities associated with Song Poo Day.  There was a merry-go-round for the children - 10 Baht ($0.30 USD) a ride.  The merry-go-round was a unique device.  It was propelled by a propeller with occasional assist by the ride operator to keep it in motion.  The merry-go-round had small metal seats suspended from a frame with metal rods.  The seats had no safety devices or measures other than handlebars for the children to grasp and metal footrests.  An electrical extension cord ran along the dry dusty ground to the center post of the merry-go-round.  The power cord ran up the center column and out along one of the cantilevered ribs to a small electrical motor.  The motor had a small plastic propeller on its shaft.  The thrust from the whirling propeller moved the merry-go-round ... most of the time.  When the propeller was insufficient to keep the ride rotating  the operator would grab one of the empty seats and give it a good tug and thrust to maintain the ride's momentum. 

Brother and Sister Ready to Ride
The merry-go-round was more than just riding round and round until a bell rang and the operator shut off the switch on the center column.  When the children took their seats, the operator placed several hard plastic rings on a hooked piece of rebar in front of them as well as plastic mallets.   The children would toss the rings at two rows of bottled soft drinks placed on a table along the merry-go-round's path.  When a child's ring stayed around the neck of a particular bottle, they were given that drink at the end of the ride. Later on the children were handed small plastic balls or in many cases reasonable facsimiles of plastic balls to toss into a very small basket as they passed by.  Many of the balls had been crushed and were like small hard deflated footballs than ball but the children did not mind in the least or the fact that there were no prizes for getting the object into the basket.  They giggled and laughed as they stretched out from their seats trying to get the balls into the basket.  This is a common sight in Isaan - children enjoying themselves and having fun with what is available to them - a trait that serves them well later in life.  I still marvel at the day I saw our grandson who does not have many toys, playing cars with discarded peanut shells.

Towards the end of the ride, the operator slung a small box in front of himself and stood along side the path of the ride.  On the top of the box there were nine balls with 50% of them exposed - sort of like a Whac-A- Mole classic carnival game only in this case the balls did not go up or down and there was no winner.  The children enthusiastically pounded the balls as they passed by the operator.

Besides the merry-go-round for children, there were several trampolines for them to play on.  It was a common sight to see around 10 children all jumping on the same trampoline - with no spotters, guards or padding on the ground.  Some daring boys made sport of jumping from trampoline to trampoline.  The children had a grand time and filled the air with giggles and laughing.  It was truly a day of celebration.  Something like this could never occur in the USA today with the fear of liability and litigation.  Here in Isaan people focus more on enjoying life than fearing the risks that a full life can bring.  There were no accidents on the trampoline perhaps due to the older children looking out for the younger children as they all jumped on the trampoline.

There were also booths where people of all ages could shoot air rifles to knock down prizes with cork bullets.  There were booths where darts were being thrown at balloons to win prizes.  One of the booths had many short pieces of straw hanging from a string grid in the booth.  People paid money for a certain amount of straws.  The person with great deliberation and animated conversation would point out to the operator which straws that they wanted.  After removing the selected straws from the grid, the operator would then remove the rolled up paper from inside the straw to reveal the person's prize. Prizes were very varied - including bag for one wash laundry detergent, bottles of soft drinks, clocks, bag of squid flavored chips, radio, handcrafted cutting boards, cane knives, woven reed mats, pillows, pots and pans, and electric fans.

Some booths were selling women's clothing; special modest clothing of the type worn by the village women during their just concluded retreat at the Wat.  Other booths were selling religious medallions and medals.  In one of those booths a man was making custom plastic enclosures to hang medals from your neck.

Villagers Parade Around Buddha Statue with Banana Stalk Money Tree
The Buddha statues from the previous night's ritual were also available for purchase at the same booth where people could purchase offering towels for the Monks.  Offering towels serve two purposes - Monks can use them and women use them to give offerings to the Monks.  Monks are not supposed to have any physical contact with women - o for a women to give something directly to a Monk, she first places a towel or piece  of fabric in front of the Monk and then places the offering on top of it.  After she removes her hand from the towel the Monk will pull the fabric and offering to him.

There were many family booths or rather family tables set up underneath several pavilions set up on the Wat's grounds.  These tables provided food and drinks to the celebration attendees.  Our family provided glasses of soda and drinking water with much appreciated crushed ice. The temperature at 1:30 P.M. was 103F.  For a good part of our time at the celebration, Duang spent time manning the family booth.  It is important in the Isaan culture that one be generous and just as important to take credit for your generosity.  It is not considered to be bragging but considered to be part of the generous act.   Manning the booth ensures that everyone knows who, what, and how much.  Me?  I prefer to wander about taking photographs rather than taking credit.

A part, a big part, of Song Poo Day is to raise money for the Wat and the Monks.  Families that donate food and drink earn merit.  Their donations attract people to the celebration, people who will make offerings and spend money at the other booths.  The families who distributed free food and drinks did not have to pay for their space.  However the game booths, rides, and booths selling thing had to pay for the privilege.

Song Poo Day Security
 There was no drinking of alcohol at the Song Poo Day celebration.  "No Drinking" is like saying there is no gambling in Thailand.  There is the way things are supposed to be and the way things often are.  On Song Poo Day I did not  see any bottles of Lao Lao or other types of whiskey but I did see many people drinking small amounts of a liquid ever so carefully, hunched over amongst a close circle of people, out of plastic cups.  After a while the smell of alcohol in the crowd was easily recognizable as well as some of the people's behavior.  Since there was a a live Mo Lam show and recognizing that there are always fights at the shows, there was a strong Police presence at the event.

Dancing In 100+ F Heat
The Mo Lam show started at 10:00 A.M.  It was a great show and the Go-Go dancers were very hot - literally and figuratively. It was 103F when I gave up and told Duang it was time to return home.  The heat did not seem to affect the young dancers other than they would stop occasionally to drink from a cooler on the stage.

The spectators sought what shade they could find to enjoy the show.  It was so hot that many people ignored the inherent risk and danger of sitting underneath a coconut tree.  Duang and several family members were sitting underneath a coconut tree.  I checked out the tree and saw only small green coconuts so I concluded the risk was small that day.  More people are killed by falling coconuts in the world than are killed by sharks each year.

Although our Song Poo Day celebration had ended rather early, we had had a great day.

Oh, for the record there was a fight and the Police arrested some people.  More importantly, 224,000 Baht ($7,100 USD) was raised for the Wat.  Construction of the new Sala will now recommence with the new infusion of cash.  Perhaps you may have heard of "just in time delivery" of materials in manufacturing, here in Isaan we often have "just in time financing"

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Night Before Song Poo

Duang Participates In Merit Making

Wednesday, 24 April, was the night before Song Poo in Tahsang Village.  Duang and I had spent the day in Tahsang Village attending once again yet another family funeral.

After the funeral, we drove the short distance on the dirt road through the rice and sugar cane fields from Duang's parents home to the "outside" Wat.  Duang's mother along with several other of the village women were attending a religious retreat at the Wat.  During the retreat the women wear white clothing, study scripture late into the night, are lectured by the Monks, and participate in merit making.

We went out to the Wat to see Duang's mother and to check on the family arrangements at the Wat for the next day's Song Poo celebration.  As Duang was visiting with her mother, I wandered over to the Sala which has been under construction for a couple years now.  The Sala interior was decorated for the next day.

Buddhist Statues Inside of String Cage Inside of Sala
At the main entrance to the Sala, there were some tables upon which offerings were placed.  Offerings are a very common sight in Salas but these offerings were unique.  The offerings were placed on small shelves inside of pyramids constructed of slivers of banana stalks.  A majority of the pyramids had three shelves which I understood the significance of.  A very strong symbol of Buddhism is the number 3.  In Buddhism, the number 3 is symbolic of the 3 gems of Buddhism - Buddha, The Teachings of Buddha, and the Sanga (Buddhist religious community).  One of the pyramids had nine shelves which I do not completely understand other than it is a multiple of three - which is good.  Whenever you attend a merit making event such as a house warming, there will be 3, 5, 7, 9 or 11 Monks.

Banana Stalk Pyramids Containing Offerings
The entire Sala had a string grid approximately two meters (6-1/2 feet) above the floor.  White cotton string, the same type used in funerals and merit making rituals, called siesein, was used to create the 2 meter by 2 meter grid. One meter lengths of string dropped down from the intersection of the strings of the ceiling grid at 4 meter spacing.  The grid was connected to the large Seated Buddha statue in the corner of the large room.

Approximately 1/3 from the north wall of the Sala there was a rather large ceremonial decorated platform constructed in the middle on the east-west axis of the room.  A large Walking Buddha statue that normally resides in a small outside pavilion on the Wat grounds was wrapped completely in coarse cotton cloth and bound with many wraps of siesein.  In front of the wrapped statue were many smaller Buddha statues of various types.  The entire assemblage of statues was surrounded by its own string grid enclosure which in turn was connected to the Sala's grid.

Walking Buddha Wrapped Statue and Buddha Statues
This configuration only occurs once a year - "The Night Before Song Poo".  I have questioned my wife as to the significance of this and I have not gotten much information other than it is good for people, good for phii (spirits) and good for Buddha.  She apparently was embarrassed in not being able to provide me with definitive answers because she called her Aunt who is more familiar with these matters.  Duang's Aunt could not answer my questions.  We just got back from visiting our neighbors across the street.  She is also from Isaan and knows about Song Poo Day and the strings but was unable to answer my questions.  I have written a few times that often in the case of religion is more a matter of accepting rather than understanding.  I will chalk up Song Poo to be one of those cases where accepting is as good as it gets - at least for now.

I did witness a similar ritual in June 2003 in Cusco, Peru.  As part of the ritual for the Feast of Corpus Christi, patron saint statues were removed from their local churches, paraded around the main plaza and placed inside of the main cathedral.  The intent of placing the patron saint statues in one location was to allow the spirits to communicate and renew their miraculous powers. On the last day of the Festival there was another grand parade around the central plaza after which the statues were returned to their local churches.  Perhaps the Night Before Song Poo has a similar purpose.

The ritual for the Night Before Song Poo was such a big event that even the Monks from the Wat "inside" of Tahsang Village were in attendance.  Duang and I were surprised and pleased to see "Rocketman", the head Monk of the Wat inside the village, enter into the Sala.  Duang's uncle the Abbott of a Wat from another village also attended.  They had also participated in the funeral that we attended earlier in the day.

A Tahsang Village Novice Monk - Age 8
Besides the Monks from both Wats there were some special Monks in attendance.  This time of the year many schools are in recess for approximately 5 to 6 weeks.  Just as we had just witnessed in Mae Hong Son, it is during this school break, that young boys 8 to 14 years old become Novice Monks.  The boys remain Novice Monks for two weeks in a sort of summer camp and intensified religious education experience.  One of our 4 year old grandson's friends had become a Novice Monk five days earlier and was in attendance.  There were also three visiting Monks who showed up for the ritual.

Novice Monk Points Out An Aspect of the Ritual to Peelawat
One aspect of living in Southeast Asia that I find very fascinating is the life of the Novice Monks.  These young boys are taking their first steps into a spiritual life that will lead them eventually to a higher status in their culture as well as society.  At the same time these boys are young boys - full of energy, enthusiasm  curiosity, and some times a little mischief.  It is at the times that the spiritual world and the child's world collide that I find most entertaining and interesting.  The Night Before Song Poo provided such a moment, a personal moment.  Peelawat's friend, a Novice Monk for five days, took care to teach and explain things to Peelawat - no doubt wanting to help him if not to demonstrate his new found knowledge.  This is not uncommon here in Isaan.  It almost seems to be out of instinct, older children look out for and after younger children.

After a while, the villagers arrived in the Sala and the ritual commenced.  The vertical strings that had been rolled up to keep them off the floor, were unfurled and the ends placed on the plates of offerings that the people were making.  The plates held folded cash, flowers, leaves, and small yellow candles.

A Siesein Connects the Chanting Monks
Several Monks were seated upon a decorated raised platform located between the worshipers and the statues within the string cage. For over an hour the Monks chanted in Pali, the original language of the Monks who initially brought Buddhism from Ceylon to Siam (Thailand).  It is one of my favorite experiences to sit and listen to the rhythmic and at times almost hypnotic chanting of the Buddhist merit making rituals. For me there is a comfort in knowing that this chanting just as other religious chants or calls to prayer is a direct link to a long distant past that still binds millions and millions of people together today.

In front of the raised platform where the chanting Monks was a rather large pyramid made from three long pieces of sugar cane.  The pyramid was also festooned with freshly cut banana stalks.  Buckets of pieces of cut cane were placed on the floor outside of the pyramid.  I asked Duang about the significance of the cut sugar cane and got an answer about them being offerings for the spirits.  Pressing her further she told me that the sugar cane would later be planted because it would be good and have power.  At the start of the ritual a woman dressed in white entered into the pyramid and remained there for the duration of the ritual.  I asked Duang about why this woman and not Duang or Duang's mother got to be inside the pyramid.  Once again I did not really get much of an answer other than this woman wanted to be there, she was not chosen to be there, and that no one would want to be there since she was already there.

Connected to the Grid, A Young Girl Worships
As is typical of these events, people of all ages were in attendance.  To a great extent, women were on one side of the Sala and men were situated on the other side although there were some men with younger children sitting with their family.

Duang Worshiping After Placing Siesein On Her Head
After about an hour, one of the Monks walked through the Sala sprinkling water from a pressed metal decorative bowl on the heads of the worshipers using a stiff brush made with bundled reeds.

Monk Sprinkles Water On Devotee, Duang, At Conclusion of Ritual
As people were leaving the Sala, Duang and I knelt before her uncle the Senior Mon and received his blessing as well as our personal water sprinkling ritual.

Water blessings, white strings, pyramids, statues and so forth?  These objects and practices many purists will tell you are not Buddhism.  Most likely these people are not Buddhists.  Buddhism accept theses items if they are helpful to people to better to learn and understand the teachings of Buddha.  I am in no position or feel entitled to lecture any one who believes that they are devout adherents to any religious system what and how they should practice their faith.  To me to do so would be extremely arrogant especially for some one who only knows what they have read.

I have written before that many rituals and practices here that are performed under the umbrella of "Buddhism" are Animist or Hindu in origin.  The rituals that I witnessed on the Night Before Song Poo were performed by Monks and devotees that consider themselves to be "good" Buddhists - for me, that is good enough.

As I climbed into the truck to return to our home in Udonthani, I heard a voice speaking to me in broken English.  I looked out into the darkness and determined that it was one of the three visiting Monks.  Just as I was reaching this conclusion, Duang entered the truck and informed me that we would be taking these Monks to Kumphawapi on our way home once we brought Tey's grandmother back to Tahsang Village.  That was no problem for me since both destinations were along our way back home.  As Tey's mother sat in the back of our crew cab, and the Monks settled in the pick up bed, someone ran up to our truck and told Duang that Buddha wanted to talk to her.  Duang immediately left and returned a short time later.  Buddha, "Rocketman", had told her to not take the Monks anywhere.  He had not invited them to the ritual and did not know them.  He was also not certain if they were in deed whom they appeared or claimed to be.

In Thailand it is very easy to buy Monk's robes.  There have been instances where some men have impersonated Monks and committed crimes, very serious as well as violent crimes.

We drove the short distance from the Wat to Tahsang Village.  I parked the truck in front of Duang's parents home, and shut off the lights and engine.  Duang got out of the truck and was immediately joined by her two brothers in the street.  I sat in the truck for a while since I figured that I could not add much good to the situation.  After a while I got out of the truck to find Duang and her two brothers kneeling in the very dimly lit street before the three Monks receiving blessings and several amulets as well as religious medals.  The Monks then walked down the side street heading towards the inside Wat where they would spend the night.

Duang, Peelawat, and I continued on our return journey home.  About 20 minutes after we left Tahsang Village, Duang got a phone call from "Rocketman".  he was calling to determine if we were OK.  Duang told him that we were fine and that the three Monks were going to stay at his Wat.  It was very comforting to know that Buddha, "Rocketman", was concerned about our temporal as well as spiritual life.  Monks fulfill many roles in Thai society.

The next morning when we returned to Tahsang Village we found out that the Monks were actually Monks.  After the morning merit making ritual they had enough money to call for a car to help them on their journey to Phuket,  This was comforting and reassuring on many levels for us.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Poi Sang Long Gallery - Now Available For Viewing and Print Purchase

A gallery of 63 photographs from this year's Poi Sang Long Festival in Maehongson, Thailand is now available for viewing as well as print purchase on my personal photography website.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Band

Shan Musician - A Leaf Blower
As some people get to be around my age, they talk about "getting the band back together".

No, this blog is not about a group of middle aged or older men hoping to possibly recapture the enthusiasm, glory, and vitality of a long past time.  This blog is not about the Windjammers or Mustangs from my high school years or my fraternity band the "Wazoos".  This blog is not even about "The Band" that was so instrumental in the music scene of 1968-1975 or is it even about "We're An American Band" a song made famous in 1973 by Grand Funk Railroad.

This blog is about today.  It is not about glory.  It is about a band, a simple and humble band ... a Shan band.

On Thursday, the second day of the Poi Sang Long Festival, we returned to Wat Hua Wiang at a more reasonable hour to witness the start of the procession through the center of the city.  We arrived about an hour before the scheduled start of the procession so there was plenty of time as well as opportunities to photograph the people.

Towards the front of the second wave of the participants in the procession, we found a decorated flat bed truck ... and a familiar face.  Seated at the head of the flat bed, was the very same leaf blower musician that we had seen four years ago.  Time had been kind to this man.  He looked exactly the same.

A Violin Type Instrument With Attached Sound Horn and Microphone 
The band that he plays in had changed somewhat.  There was now a keyboard and banjo joining the traditional drum, guitar like stringed instrument, and a violin type instrument.  All the musicians were dressed in traditional Shan clothing.

Another Stringed Instrument in the Band
The stringed instruments were very interesting.   The violin type instruments had a metal sound box that transitioned into a sound horn - a sort of mechanical amplifier.  A small microphone was attached inside of the sound horn to allow electrical amplification of the sound.

The banjo also had a electrical hook up to allow for electrical amplification of its sound.

Electrical amplification was necessary because the band provides the traditional Shan music during the course of the procession.  Periodically along the procession route, a large troupe of Shan women, dressed in traditional Shan costume, perform traditional dances to the band's music.  In between the dance stops, the band performs traditional music to entertain the crowds along the streets.

Drummer Tunes Drum With His Hammer
My taste in music is very eclectic although it excludes jazz, hip hop and rap.  The Shan music is very ethnic in it sounds.  It resembles, at least to my ears, Chinese music which is understandable because the Shan people originally migrated from China to Burma (Myanmar) before immigrating to Northern Thailand.  Leaf blowing also is a part of some Chinese ethnic music.  The Hmong as well as the Shan peoples still utilize leaves in their ethnic music.  The sound from blowing on leaves is squawking sound however the skilled musician can make the sound over a wide frequency and actually carry a tune with them.  The melding of the instruments created a "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore" moment.

I enjoyed listening to the Shan music.  Like other ethnic music, the Shan music captures and defines the unique aspects of a people's culture.  It serves as a link to a shared common experience and past while serving as a bridge to the future.  Ethnic music is also a celebration of the diversity of mankind.  It is a celebration that I hope continues forever.  I do not want to live in a homogenized world, a world of common government, common laws, common thought, common lifestyles and worst of all common culture.  At my age I do not have to worry about living in a homogenized world but I have concerns for the world that my grandchildren and their children or grandchildren could find themselves in.

People like the members of the Shan band are on the front lines maintaining and sharing their unique cultures. We are all enriched by their efforts.

"Allen's World" is a large world with many fascinating people and many diverse unique cultures to experience and to strive to understand.  It is an interesting place that is open to all, not just me and my wife, to explore, to cherish, and to appreciate.  The most important step in what can be a wonderful journey for any one is that first step outside of their comfort zone.  I hope to see more fellow travelers on some these back roads - roads outside of their comfort zones.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Thai Yai Architecture

Wat Huaipha  December 05, 2006
The Shan, Thai Yai, originated in Myanmar, which was formerly known as "Burma".  They immigrated to Northern Thailand to work in the forest industry in the last half of the 19th century.  They congregated in Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son Provinces.  Mae Hong Son was settled by Shan people in 1830.

Due to the remote location and, until relatively recently, the isolation of Mae Hong Son Province the Shan were able to maintain their cultural identity - their customs, their music, their dress, their festivals and their architecture.

War Huaipha - 1 April 2009
Shan temples, Wats, are unique and distinctive.  Whenever I am in Maehongson, I make it a point to visit Wat Jong Kham, Wat Jong Klang, and Wat Huaipha are typical Shan structures - multiple stacked layers resembling a wedding cake with decorative pressed metal trimming along the edges for icing.

Wat Jong Kham and Wat Jong Klang
The Shan temples are typically wood with intricate carvings and an intricate symmetry.  They blend in very well with their surroundings.

Wat Huai Phueng, Ban Huai Phueng, Thailand

Wat Hua Wiang, Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Wat Hua Wiang, Mae Hong Son, Thailand

One of my favorites is Wat Huaipha located north of Mae Hong Son on the side of  but lower in elevation of Highway 1095.  I first became aware of this Wat on my first trip to the Maehongson (Mae Hong Son) area in October 2006.  It was late afternoon and my guide was returning me to my hotel in Maehongson.  The sun was low in the afternoon sky giving the wood exterior of the Wat a warm golden glow.  I immediately recognized it as an excellent photo opportunity.  However, we had quickly passed it.  I was shooting film at the time and I was reluctant to change to a faster film to be able to capture the shot.  As too often people find themselves on a trip, I had also developed a case of tunnel focus.  My mind had been set and focused on the destination up ahead - the hotel.  As such I was reluctant to have the driver stop, turn around, and drive back up the hill to visit the Wat.  I thought that I could get "That Shot" later on.  Well I never did get that opportunity during that trip.

I returned in December of the same year and made sure that we stopped at the Wat in the late afternoon to take photographs of the Wat in the golden light.  I had learned a valuable lesson on my first trip - to take advantage of every opportunity for photographs; even if it means turning around and retracing part of your route.  Just as in life, opportunities are special gifts that should be appreciated and used.  Opportunities may not return.

Wat Huaipha - December 2006
Since the first trip in October 2006, I make it a point to stop and check out the lighting to photograph Wat Huaipha.  Each visit has presented different opportunities for photographing the unique Shan architecture.

Wat Huaipha - April 2013

After visiting the garlic and soybean workers, we found ourselves driving past Wat Huaipha in the late afternoon.  Driving past the Wat on this trip was not a problem.  From our last trip in 2009, I knew that further down Highway 1095 past the Wat was the entrance to the small village where the Wat is located.  We drove through the extremely narrow streets of the village until I found a suitable spot half on the street and half off of the street - as good as it got in the village but a common practise here in Thailand.  Duang was tired from our full day of activities so she elected to remain in the truck since I told her that I would not be long.

I walked the short distance to the Wat and walked around the grounds.  The sun was fairly low in the sky and not too high above the western mountains.  There was a slight golden color to the light but nothing that I would describe as exciting let alone spectacular.  I took some photos but nothing that excited me.  After awhile, I heard loud shouting from inside of the Sala.  The shouting was very animated and came from young voices.  The shouting was definitely not the type associated with arguing or fighting.  The shouting sounded to me to be like young children playing a game; an enthusiastic game. I climbed the wood stairs into the Sala.  As I entered into the Sala, I quickly understood what was going on.

Novice Monks Learning Scriptures By Rote - Loud Rote at That
In the Sala strongly lit by the golden directional light of the setting sun through the windows and door on the west site of the building, the Abbott and a Monk in his early twenties were instructing four young Novice Monks in Buddhist scripture.  The older Monks would ask the young Novices questions.  If the young Novices knew the answer, they would shout out the answer, with each  trying to out do the other in volume as well as enthusiasm.  When a Novice did not have the answer he woud refer to some papers to find the answer.  It appeared that one of the Novices was having a particularly difficult time with the answers.  He was referring to the study papers often and was off to the side getting individualized instruction the the twenty something Monk.

It was a great scene made even more spectacular by the strong natural lighting.  I found this to be very exciting.  As exciting as it was, it was also a scene that required respect and minimal interference on my part.  I decided to not use any speedlights to photograph the scene.  I set my camera to a high ISO (light sensitivity) to be able to take photographs at high enough speed to minimize blurring from camera shake.  My tripod was in the truck and with the setting sun, I realized that I did not have enough time or light to retrieve it.  I would have to deal with and make the best out of what was available; what was presented to me.  It was very much like life. It often is not perfect but you can make the best of it.

It was enjoyable and inspiring to witness this scene.

It was enjoyable and inspiring to witness this scene. I went back to the truck so that Duang could see and most likely appreciate and understand more than me what was transpiring inside of the Sala.  We returned together and I was so pleased to see the look on her face - I knew that I had helped to make her day memorable.


Another objective our trip had been achieved - photographs of some Shan Wats  but that was not all.  We had been fortunately given the opportunity of a scene that has been repeated countless times over the past 2,556 years - Monks teaching Novices the teaching of Buddha - another of the connections that ties today to our far distant past.  It was a continuation that binds many of people all over the world and activity that will mind the future to our present day.
Just as the Shan architecture helps to identify and define a people.  The propogation of faith identifies and defines people.  Our visit to photograph a temple ended up being much more.  Our visit ended up being an opportunity to witness and experience some of the spiritual world.


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