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"

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