Thursday, August 15, 2013

Thailand's Mothers Day - 2013

Duang and her older sister pay respects and make offerings to their aunt
Monday, 12 August, was a special day here.  It was one of only about three days without rain here in Isaan since we returned on 5 July.  The day was also a very special day no matter what the weather is or would be - it was the Queen of Thailand's birthday.  Since the Queen of Thailand is considered to be the mother of the Thai people, her birthday is celebrated as "Mothers Day" in Thailand.

Here in Thailand there is a strong sense of family and community.  There are few government programs for the social benefit of the people.  The strong social fabric of the people provides for the needs of the young, invalid, and the elderly.  Two tenants of Buddhism is to care for the young and to care for the elderly.  The first line of care providers is the family; family as in extended family.  Nieces and nephews are expected to care and provide for aunts, uncles, and cousins just as members of the immediate family are expected to.

These expectations are strong and well communicated.  During our visits to the hospital we always see teen aged grandchildren accompanying and assisting a grandparent.  On the few occasions where we have seen an elderly person struggling alone, Duang has expressed sorrow for the person and contempt for the family.  As I looked around the waiting room at the other people I strongly sensed similar emotions from the other people.

Once I read a comment related to these blogs that I write.  The reader was asking that since I write about people who they would consider to be poor, the reader was curious as to how the Thai people differeniated as to who was poor.  My reply went along the lines that the people do not use material possessions as the prime determinator of wealth.  A person with a great deal of money but is not happy, and is not loved, respected and taken care of by their family would be considered to be poor whereas a person with few material possessions but was happy, loved, respected and taken care of by their family would be considered to be well off.

Duang, Duang's daughter, Duang's oldest brother, Duang's older sister, and Duang's nephew pay respect to Duang's mother
There are four national holidays when Thai ppeople are expected to return to their family's home.  The holidays are New Years, Songkran, Mothers Day, and Fathers Day.  Children are expected and under considerable peer pressure to visit their parents to show their respect as well as to honor them.

On Mothers Day, children give offerings of fresh floral arrangements (pumahlai) and cash to their mother and favorite aunts.


Duang's Aunt Accepting the Offerings

There is a specific ritual for making the offerings to mothers on Mothers Day.  A small plate is placed on the raised platform where the mother is seated or on a table in front of the seated mother.  The participants place the offerings in the plate and say things along the lines of "Thank you for everything that you have done for us, the help that you give us and for taking care of us".  After saying this, the participants supplicate in front of the mother.  They then rise up and respectfully offer up the plate to the mother.  The mother raises her hands to the plate in a gesture of acceptance while thanking and telling the participants that she wishes them good luck as well as good fortune.  Part of her blessing includes a reaffirmation of the social compact to care for the very young and to take care of the elderly.

Duang's Aunt Gives Her Blessing

Caring for others is the strong foundation of the culture.  Manners and respect are taught at a very early age. When we go out, I make it a point to visit with the babies and young children that we encounter.  Unlike in the USA where such behavior would be extremely questionable and suspect, here in Isaan the parents are quite flattered.  I am always impressed that the parents, starting with children as young as 9 months old, require their children to show respect to me by performing a wai (placing the hands together in a praying position and bowing the head).

Our grandson is now 4-1/2 years old and is aware of the social compact, when he has candy, he always ensures that he shares it with me.  He also shares his soda with me.  Now we have to work on him to share with his grandmother Duang.  He always wants to go to Ta Allen's house (Grandfather Allen) to eat "kao falang"  (foreign food).  He loves macaroni & cheese, spaghetti, shredded pork for chimichangas, pizza, and new this weekend - levepastej (home made Danish liver paste).  He seems to like any food that I make unlike his uncle Perk, Duang's son, who hates all foreign food.

Duang's son and his wife came to our home in the evening.  They had offerings for Duang and brought me some fresh pineapple from the market.  I had to sit next to Duang on the couch as they paid their respects. Although I pointed out that it was Mothers Day and I was not a mother, Duang said that I was like a father. As Duang accepted their offerings, she was telling them many things in Lao.  When the ritual was completed, I asked Duang what she had told them.  She said that she was wishing them good luck and fortune.  She also reminded them that good luck and fortune would allow them to take care of us when we got older.  Upon hearing that I told Duang to tell them that I was counting on Peelawat to take care of me because he liked and understood "kao falang" (foreign food), if I counted on Perk, I was certain that I would starve.  We all enjoyed a great laugh.

I live in a country of strong traditions, manners, respect, and where people still deal with each other on a one to one basis.  For that I am very content and grateful.  Mothers Day is a special reminder and manifestation of that each year.

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