Saturday, December 26, 2015

Boxing Day 2015 - In Isaan


Duang Making Treat Packs
The day after Christmas, 26 December, is a special day in some countries - especially Great Britain, Australia, and Canada.  Here in Thailand it is a regular day just as yesterday, Christmas, was.

However today was a special day for Duang and I - yet another day where family and the opportunity to help others make for an excellent quality of life for us.

Duang's sister called early this afternoon and asked if we could help out with the Christmas celebration at the small Christian church outside of Thasang Village.  Thailand is 95 to 97% Buddhist but people of all faiths are allowed to worship as they choose.  There is a large Catholic Church and school here in Udon Thani.  I have seen and on a couple of occasions spoken with Mormon (LDS) missionaries.

Duang is a devout Theravada Buddhist - praying and meditating roughly an hour everyday.  We have a large shrine area upstairs in our home where she conducts her rituals.  Some aspects of our life are dictated by her faith.  I do not mind and her faith was one of her attributes that I found attractive 10 years ago.

I find it ironic that given the small numbers of Non-Buddhists here and with Duang's strong Buddhist faith, her sister and brother-in-law are Christians.

Every year we go to the small church to participate in the Christmas celebration - live music, tons of precocious children dressed to the nines, singing and dancing.  For me there is also a great deal of speaking in tongues - Lao and Thai, although the minister does speak English. The children receive presents - often care packages fro church organizations in the USA.

It was a good thing that I had agreed to help out.  Duang had not given her sister an answer because she wanted to discuss it with me first.  I agreed to provide milk and snacks for the children.  When Duang shortly later called her sister to tell her and to find out an estimate of how many children, Duang heard the minister in the background announcing to the congregation that "Yai Duang and T'Allen (Grandmother Duang and Grandfather Allen ) were coming tomorrow with treats"

Duang set off to buy bags of treats and milk for 100 expected children.   She was gone less than 5 minutes when I heard a car pull up to our house - it was her cousin, his wife and two daughters - 4 and 6 years old.  These are the two little girls that like to visit abut every 4 to 6 months.  I enjoy their visits - they like being photographed.

Today was a special visit. Nong Gem and Nong Goy had gone to their school's end of the year party.  Here in Isaan, school party means getting dressed up and participating in your class's entertainment skit - song and dance.  They were on their way home and stopped by our house.

Nong Gem and Nong Goy
The girls were wearing their special holiday dresses and were still wearing their make-up.  They were just took cute.  After they wai'd to me, the first words out of their mouths were "Merry Chritmass (sp) T'Allen!"  They are both learning English in school.  I immediately called Duang to have her come back to enjoy a quality visit.

When Duang returned we were entertained by the girls.  Each of them sang and danced their routines from the party.

Nong Gem performed two songs - go-go dancing to the video her Mom had recorded on the I-Phone.  It was fascinating to see her doing the same moves synchronized with her performance on the phone. She had all the moves that you see at the outdoor shows or in the Go-Gos.  I kept her laughing - every time that she did a hip or pelvic thrust, I acted like it was knocking me over.

She wanted to go sing and dance at some big national competition which is coming to Udon Thani early next month.  Her teacher told her that she could not because it was a school day and she was too young.  The little girl was not pleased.  She has asked her father to go talk with her teacher.  She wants her dad to tell her teacher that if she can not go sing and dance, she is never going back to school!  She was so focused on dancing that I was concerned about her school studies.  Duang checked with her parents and told me that Nong Gem was the #1 dancer at school AND she is 95% student.

Her younger sister Nong Goy, 4 years old,  performed one song - very well and seemed to prefer singing more.  It was a very entertaining visit and a wonderful prelude to tomorrow's party.

Duang went off and returned with two cases of boxed milk - not just any ordinary milk but a new kind - coconut flavored milk that the vendor had Duang drink first to see how good it was.  "Very good, aroy aroy, I like, good cold"  Sounds good to me.  She also had three bags of snacks - deep fried banana chips, crab flavored spicy crackers, and sugared corn tubes - kind of like Cheetos without cheese and sugar instead.

Here in Isaan you can by big bags of treats.  How big?  Very BIG - roughly 3 feet diameter and 5 feet long.

It May Be Boxing Day, But For Us It Is Packaging Day!
Duang and I sat on our living room floor to make 100 bags of treats for the children.  Each bag contained 5 "Cheeto" tubes, 3 banana chip slices, with the plastic bag topped off with the crab flavored crackers.  We ended up with a nice assembly line - I filled each bag with the Cheeto tubes - any that did not pass our high quality standards - I ate. Duang finished the bags which I kept count of and eventually placed in two big bags to haul off to Thasang Village.  It reminded of the old days, in a land far far way during a much more simple time - when my mother, my sister and I would sit down and prepare individual "Trick or Treat" bags for Halloween.  In those days, people did not have the money. or at least in our neighborhood, to give away candy bars.  In fact I don't think that there were even miniature chocolate bars available to give children.  Of course those were also the early days of the baby boomers - not unheard of having up to 100 children showing up at the door during the night.

Working together we produced 100 individual bags for the children.  Duang said that we should make 105 bags for Buddhist children like Peelawat, Kwan, Tay, and Pare who would be sure to show up.  I disagreed and said that we would make 108 bags because 108 is a very significant number in Buddhism (I like to joke around with people - even if they may not always get it).  The nice thing about these parties is that all children are welcomed.

In the end we enjoyed our Bagging Day - I mean Boxing Day!  It will be a busy day tomorrow - a great deal of excitement as well as some photography opportunities.

Well it is 11:00 PM here now and Duang has finished making her dress for tomorrow so I will close and call it a day.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A New Gallery - "Back In Time - Angkor Wat"

A new photo gallery is now available on my photography website.

This gallery of 35 photographs from our trip to Angkor Wat a year ago is a departure from my normal practice for my photographic work.  I typically post and populate my galleries with color photographs.  I prefer color because, for me, it better represents the reality of the moment that was captured.

For a photographer, or any artist, it is important to maintain an open mind and, more importantly, to continually refine one's style and improve one's skills.  I have started to venture a little more into black and white for some of my photographs.  For this series of photographs, in particular, the use of black and white is appropriate and, now in my opinion, preferable to color.

The ruins of Angkor Wat and its environs are a profusion of vegetation and weathered stone.  I find that in most cases the focus on the muted tones of the ruins are distracted by the vegetation in color photographs.

On Facebook, I recently seen and enjoyed many photographs from the 1880s and early 1900s of Southeast Asia.  I also noted how popular the postings were.

For this gallery I decided to try to capture more of the mood of the ruins than can be conveyed in an "as shot" reality of today.  To capture my interpretation of the mood for the ruins, I post processed my shots to convert them into a more 1880s and early 1900s photographs.

My goal is to provide a more unique opportunity to clients to purchase different type and style photographs of the Angkor Wat and its environs than is so commonly available from others.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Bpoo Naa

Young Man Joking With Bpoo Naa In His Mouth
Back in May of this year, I got the inspiration for a long term project.  During the Bun Bang Fei Festival in the sub district, Tambon Nongwa, we had witnessed several Muay Thai boxing matches - most of them involving children younger than 15 years old.

The career of a Muay Thai boxer is typically over before they are 30 years old.  However their career starts early - sometimes before they are even five years old.  The song, "The Boxer" from the 1960's rattled around in my brain after watching the matches, especially the ones involving very young boys.

"I am just a poor boy  Though my story's seldom told ..."  The lyrics motivated me to embark upon a long term project photographing and writing blogs about the life and development of young Muay Thai boxers - hopefully focusing on one boy.

I asked Duang to call the people associated with the matches at Tambon Nongwa and determine if I could visit where the boxers train and perhaps meet a young boxer.  She obtained the phone number, called but nothing has materialized ... yet.

Recently, entirely by chance, Duang became friendly with a friend of a friend - a woman whose son and grandson are Muay Thai boxers here in Udon Thani.  Duang remembered my wish to start the long term project and spoke to the woman about it.  The woman was very supportive of the idea.

Four days ago we made arrangements to meet with her and go to some Muay Thai matches at the Udon Thani Fair.  On Saturday morning got a call from the woman inviting us to meet up with her family on their land where they had a pond.  The family had drained the pond and were harvesting fish out of the mud.  We ended up meeting with them at 2:00 PM rather than 4:00 PM.

The Party Next to the Pond
Duang ended up driving which was great - we got lost many times - three phone calls and finally her son, the boxer, found us on the wrong side of the airport to lead us the correct way.  I can deal and handle getting lost when Duang is driving much better than when I am driving and following her directions.

The family had finished hauling the fish out of the pond - a very small pond more like a large puddle, but had pulled some good fish out of the mud.  They were cooking two of the fish over small charcoal fires.  A grand picnic had been going on for a while.  We were immediately welcomed, offered food and beer.  We gave the beer that we had bought for our visit.

Digging for Bpoo Naa

I took some photos of the various activities.  For some reason two of the men decided to catch some crabs.

No, they were not planning to drive 8 hours down to the ocean.  They were going to capture some crabs hiding underground in the dried up rice paddy where we were.

My first introduction to rice paddy crabs was almost exactly six years ago outside of Kumphawapi while visiting our infant grandson, Peelawat.

I had seen very small crabs getting crushed in large mortars as part of the preparation of the ubiquitous Lao Loum culinary specialty - "Puak Puak" also know as Som Tom - green papaya salad.  I had assumed that they were salt water crabs until my chance encounter with the old lady harvesting them in Juanuary 2009.

My research on these crabs did not completely confirm my observations regarding the crabs.  I checked with my wife to verify my observations about the crabs.  What you are about to read is different from some web articles but it is the truth as confirmed by a local person - someone born and raised in Isaan - someone who has eaten her share of bpoo naa over the years.

The crabs are called "bpoo naa".  Their scientific name is "paratelphusa hydrodromus".  Bpoo naa is a freshwater crab that is actually a nuisance for the rice farmers.  In the planting season, our rainy season. starting typically in June the crabs feed at night upon the tender seedlings - cutting them off at mud level and chopping them into small pieces that the crabs haul back to their hole to have their meals.

I have seen Isaan farmers time to time spraying a liquid from small back mounted tanks over the surface of the water in paddies where rice seed is germinating.  The chemical is to destroy the rice paddy crabs.  In older times, the crabs were removed from the paddies by attracting them into submerged earthen pots or jars baited with smelly fish, cooked coconut, or shrimp paste.  The crabs attracted by the smell of the bait would go into the submerged jar but because they are not great swimmers and are unable to walk up the steep walls of the hard container, they would be trapped.  The farmers would then empty the traps of crabs each morning - just in time for breakfast or to have some fresh pauk pauk in the afternoon.

During the rainy season, as you walk along the rice paddy bunds, the narrow low mounds of compacted earth that surrounds the paddy to contain the water for growing the rice. you will encounter many dirt cones.  The dirt cones are about 4 to 5 inches high  and about 2.5 inches in diameter at the base. It appears that the cones are constructed of many small balls of mud.  These cones are constructed by the crabs as they dig into the moist ground to construct their homes. The burrows are approximately 18 inches deep at this time.

As the growing season advances, the crabs cut through the outer layers of the rice stalk to get at the tender insides for a meal every night.  As the growing season continues the ground becomes progressively drier. Later in the season, the cones become less prevalent on the bunds and appear more often inside the actual paddy where water remains.

By the time of the rice harvest in November, the crab burrows have become deeper and deeper.  The crabs dig deeper to keep moist and prepare for the stifling hot days in January, March, April, and May before the rains reappear in May or June.  The rice paddy crabs hibernate in their burrows from approximately January to May.  People consider the crabs to be most flavorful during their January hibernation.

Quickly Excavating A Suspected Crab Burrow

Last Saturday, there were no longer any dirt cones to be found on the floor of the rice paddy.  Since we have not had substantial rain since the end of September, the cones have turned to dust and scattered by feeding livestock, the activities of harvesting the rice crop, and the action of wind.  However if you look carefully you can find the entrances of the crab burrows ... as well as snake holes.  Fortunately there are many more crabs around here than snakes but you still have to be careful.

Scratching Around For Bpoo Naa
Because it is getting close to hibernation for the crabs, their burrows are now about 36 inches deep.  When the crab hunters have gotten close to 36 inches (one meter) below the dry paddy surface, the men reach down into the hole, scratching around and feeling for a crab.

If the hunter did not find a crab, he carefully looked into hole for some sign and would commence once again to dig deeper with his hoe type tool.  After a short while, he or his helper, would stoop down on the ground and shove their arm down the hole to repeat the process.  After two or three tries, the hunters, they would pull a 2" to 2.5"crab out of the hole.

Bpoo Naa Fresh From the Burrow
The harvested crabs were placed in a bucket and brought back to the other people of the group.  Bpoo Naa have to be eaten before they die.  I read that shortly after they die, they smell very bad.  Smell bad?  I have yet to find a Lao Loum person that was put off from eating something because of the smell - after all they use 6 month to 12 month old fermented fish to season their food like we use ketchup in America.

There have been many times that I was in the process of throwing some meat into the garbage because of its smell, when Duang would stop me and ask what I was doing.  I would tell her that it was bad and did not smell good.  She would smell it and tell me that it was Ok, Good - good for Isaan.  She would end up taking it to Thasang Village  for her family to eat.

Even in my days as the Steward of my fraternity back in college, I was quick to discard any food that had a hint of not smelling exactly right.  I take pride in knowing that in my three years there was not a single case of food poisoning.  Old habits are hard to break, I guess.

I asked Duang about having to eat the crab while it was alive or very shortly after it died.  She said yes because some people eat it when it is too old and they throw up and have diarrhea.  All good reasons to not it after it dies if you ask me.

One of my new buddies had a great time clowning around and posing for me with a crab.

At 4:00 PM as originally scheduled we set off for the start of the Muay Thai project.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Thamnot Poo Papit Kanet

Siarn Ruesi - Ruesi Mask
The world that I find myself in now is very different from the world that I lived in for so many years of my life.  What I knew of Southeast Asia was dominated by nightly reports on television of the "body count" in Vietnam during the Vietnam, or American War, depending upon your perspective.

Shortly after my 15th birthday, I remember sitting next my grandfather as he drove his 54 Chevy not down to levee but over to Barn Island in Southeast Connecticut on one of our fishing and clamming expeditions.  There was a news bulletin on the radio regarding some ships from North Vietnam attacking one of our naval vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin.  I remember thinking that it was very serious stuff but also coming to the conclusion that it really had nothing to do with me.  Little did I, along with so many other people that day, realize how much that "incident' would affect their lives for the next 15 years or more.

I did not a very high regard for Southeast Asia and its peoples for many years due to the daily coverage of the war and related political events.

It was not until later in my life, when I went to work in Malaysia, that I began to learn and appreciate what a beautiful region and how interesting the inhabitants of the region are.  It is one of the motivational factors that I have in writing this blog and sharing my photographs.  The reality of this region is not what is so often depicted in film or on television.

Living here and being married to an ethnic Lao Loum (Lowland Lao), I have many opportunities to experience and witness unique peoples, cultural events, religious rituals, and traditions that are not available to the vast majority of visitors and tourists.  My wish is to share these with people who only know of this region from the traditional media.

I make a concerted effort to not judge what I see and experience.  I always check with my wife to ensure that what I report as fact is indeed fact and not my observations through the veils of my American experiences and perspective.  I write of what I see, hear, and what I am told.  There is the possibility of some inadvertent miscommunications and confusion.  Today's blog is perhaps one such example but it is my best effort.

Duang and I were invited by one of her cousins to attend a special ceremony on November 1 at her home in Kumphawapi.  Duang told me that her cousin was a special person, a person who was once the grand-daughter of "Papit Kanet".  After some further discussion, I learned that "Papit Kanet" is actually the Hindu deity "Ganesh" - the multi-headed Elephant with the potbelly.

The belief in reincarnation is an integral part of Buddhism and Brahmanism (the precursor to Hinduism).  Duang has been told by a Ruesi (sage, wizard) that she was once the grand-daughter of two Nagas.  Nagas are mythical serpent creatures sort of like dragons that live and rule the underwater world. She was the grand-daughter of "Si Phatoum Ma" (female) and "Si Suttoo" (male).

Many of Duang's family and friends believe that I was once Lao in a former life.  A Monk once told her that I was once a Naga.  However unlike Duang who is related to royal nagas, in a past life I was just an ordinary Naga.  Duang has forgotten my name as a Naga.  The Monk even told her where I used to live.

I have often marveled at how so many people, who believe in reincarnation, in the West believe that they were once royal, noble, or famous.  I have yet to meet someone who claims to have been a serf, slave, or vassal in a previous life.  Considering throughout history how many more slaves, serfs, vassals there were compared to royalty, nobility, or famous, I would suspect that there would be plenty of people today with not so desirable past lives.  Tonight I wonder if being a Naga in a past life here in Southeast Asia is equivalent to the West's preferred past lives.

Duang's Cousin's Home Shrine
We arrived at Duang's cousin's home and after being greeted, we sat down on the floor in the front room of the house.  The room was a shrine, a shrine of paintings, sculptures, offerings and masks associated with the Ruesi tradition, Brahmanism, Hinduism, Animism, as well as Buddhism.  This may seem somewhat strange to have a spiritual and religious focus on so many different faith systems.  However, although confusing to outsiders, the conglomeration of diverse faith systems is a reflection of regional history and culture.  Thai culture is known for its tolerance. 

The first belief system was Animism, the faith in the existence and power of diverse spirits such as the spirits of the land, spirits of the water, and spirits of the home.  As time progressed the region was exposed to Brahmanism which was a precursor to Hinduism.  Rather than discarding the Animist system, the people assimilated Brahmanism into their culture.  As time moved on Brahmanism evolved into the system of current day Hinduism.  Once again the old systems were maintained and the elements of the new system, Hinduism, were assimilated.  Buddhism, the faith of roughly 95% of Thai and Lao people arrived from Shri Lanka.  The tenets of  Buddhism were accepted and assimilated into today's faith system widely referred to as "Buddhism" but retaining much of the prior traditions, rituals, and practices.  It is important in attempting to understand Buddhism is to recognized that Buddhism evolved originally from Hinduism.

Loading Up - Betel Nut Chewing

In the room with us were several young people all of them dressed in white or very pale blue simple cotton clothing.  The simple vestments are worn by woman and men laypeople for participation in special merit making rituals.  The start of the special ritual was the commencement of betel nut chewing by Duang's cousin, her husband, and many of the lay people.  Betel nut is a mild stimulant and it is widely known and accepted that the spirits appreciate and expect the chewing of betel nuts to participate in the rituals.

The ritual was very much like the Korb Siarn Wai Khru ceremonies that I have witnessed and written about before. But as we say, say often, here ... "Same, Same but different"  I was confused that the ritual was being conducted by a women who seemed to be acting like a Ruesi.  From what I know about Ruesi, they can only be men.  I have questioned Duang about this and she confirmed that only men can be Ruesi but women can be like Ruesi (Same, Same but different?).  Women like her cousin can be spirit mediums - able to communicate to and from spirits.

Duang's Cousin, Wearing a Khata,, Chants a Kata

The ritual was very similar to the Korb Siarn Khru ceremonies that I have previously witnessed.  Devotees would kneel before Papit Kanet and listen to her chanting a Kata (mantra), a sort of invocation or spell.  Unlike previous rituals involving Ruesi, in this ceremony the devotees as well as Duang's cousin wore silk scarves around their neck.  The scarf is called "Khata" and is a traditional ceremonial item in Tibetan Buddhism - another element assimilated into what is accepted as Thai Theravada Buddhism.  I did not know about the need for a scarf or even have a scarf but that was not a problem,  Duang's cousin graciously opened a package and presented me with a beautiful red silk scarf and gave it to me as a gift.

Another difference between this ceremony and others was the incorporation of betel nut chewing into the ritual.  The vast majority of the devotees, except for Duang, chewed betel nuts.  All of the people, except for Duang, who actually had the Ruesi mask placed on their heads had chewed betel nuts.  Chewing betel nuts is a mild stimulant and is quite often used as offerings to the spirits.

Duang Receiving the Siarn Ruesi
Another difference with this ritual and previous Khru rituals, was the dancing of the devotees while under spirit possession - that is everyone except for Duang.  This spirit possessed dancing is a common element in Hindu rituals.  At other rituals of this type the people were possessed by animal spirits of their sacred tattoos.  They would become violent and had to be physically restrained by other laypeople.  To break their animal spirit possession, laypeople would have to lift the possessed person's feet off of the ground and rub his ears.  For the Thamnot Poo Papit Kanet ritual performed by Duang's cousin no intervention was required.  However in addition to dancing some of the possessed people would choke, make guttural noises and spit phlegm into small containers lined with plastic bags.  I don't know if the spitting up of fluid was a result of chewing betel nut or possession by spirits.

A Possessed Devotee

Devotee Dancing While Possessed

At the end of the ritual for each devotee, Duang's cousin drew a symbol on their forehead using a long wooden rod and a paste like substance.  An ancient symbol which is a Sat Yank representation for Buddha was the end result of the marking part of the ritual.

Duang Being Marked

My "Marked" Wife
Parts of the ritual were quite intense - chanting of katas, guttural sounds, loud Oriental music punctuated by reverberating drums, clanging cymbals, the odor of burning incense, and the high energy of the participants.  I could feel the energy of the ritual and started to immediately thing about experiencing a small glimpse of mass hysteria.  Eventually the energy level and its intensity subsided - a welcomed denouement.

Kali Standing on Shiva's Corpse
With everyone returned to normal, I was able to ask some questions regarding some things that I had observed - things that I had not seen before.  Off to the left of the raised platform where Duang's cousin was located for the ritual, there was a full sized grotesque black statue that had one of its feet resting upon a supine blue life-sized man. This statue was something that I imagined was related to some type of voodoo ritual in Haiti.  The standing figure was demonic with a long dark red tongue fully projecting from its mouth.  A wreath of skulls was worn around the neck of the statue. A ring of heads encircled the waist of the statue.  This was the substance of children's nightmares and perhaps even mine.

I asked Duang what it was all about.  She quickly informed me that the black statue was Pamet Gali - a good female spirit that takes care of people (OK ... who am I to cast doubts upon someone's believes and besides Duang is my wife BUT I was not convinced)  This good female spirit, Pamet Gali, was the sister of Mare Touranni.  I know about Mare Touranni - she is the deity that protected Buddha while he was meditating.  His enemies had massed to attack him but she came up out of the Earth and created a flood by wringing the moisture out of her hair that drowned the enemy forces.  She is highly revered in Lao and Thailand.  You will often find statues of her - a beautiful young maiden often topless twisting her long hair draped over her shoulder.

Duang went on to tell me that the blue statue under the black statue's foot was her husband, Si Wa Tet, who was in the Army and taking a rest.  I remember that there are some Wats in Thailand named or containing the words "Si Wa Tet" in it, so I was feeling somewhat more comfortable in Duang's explanation but then again there were those skulls and severed heads.

When I write these blogs, I truly want to write the story of the people that I encounter rather than writing my story.  Perhaps I am trying to be a living medium - communicating their story to others through me.  As such I always run what I saw, what I thought that it was all about, and its significance with my wife before I write a blog entry.  I also do Internet research to confirm, verify and better understand the elements and facts of my blogs.

This blog was no exception.  I started researching the Ruesi, the silk Khata, and the chanting of kata.  Lo and behold I stumbled upon information regarding "Pamet Gali" and I even found a very similar statue WITH explanation.

Duang's "Pamet Gali" is actually the Hindu deity - Kali.  The story behind the statue is entirely Hindu and as follows:  Kali is the dark Hindu Goddess of time and change.  She killed a demon named Raktabija, an enemy of her husband - Shiva.  She ill-advisedly licked up the blood of the demon before it could touch the ground to prevent him regenerating.  The demon's blood messed up her mind and she went berserk - destroying everything and everyone that she saw - in THREE worlds.  Her husband Shiva wanted her to stop and snap out of her craziness.  Shiva took the form of a corpse and laid in front of her.  When she tripped over his body, she snapped out of her madness. She was concerned that she in her frenzy had killed her husband.  She placed her foot on the corpse of her husband, Shiva, to bring him back to life.  Shiva came back to life in the form of a crying child.  Kali was so moved with maternal instincts and love, that she shed her fierce form and became Gauri - the radiant mother and giver of life.  AHHH - it started making a great deal more sense ... to me.  Duang, as typical, knew exactly what she was talking about.  The problem is sometimes she "not talk English good" and more often "You English, not understand"  Fortunately we get it all straightened out - often with the help of Google.

Ruesi Papit Kanet and Laypeople
There are connections that tie things to the past, the present, and the future.  The connections are not always readily recognized, appreciated or understood but they exist.

It turns out that one of the sons of Kali and Shiva was Ganesh - the multi- headed elephant deity.  Another connection is that after killing the demon Kali celebrated by dancing wildly about the battlefield.

I was beginning to understand a little better the spiritual world of the people about me.  My learning and experiences into that spiritual world was to continue in November of this year.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Month That Was - November

Siarn Ruesi
The past month, November, was an extremely busy month here in Isaan.  It was so busy that it was only last night that I finally completed editing and post processing all the photographs from the events that we attended during the month.

November is typically a very busy month.  The weather is some of the best that you will experience here in Isaan.  The monsoon rains have stopped and the temperatures, especially for foreigners are optimal.  Our high temperatures for the day are around 90F (32C) and the nights get down to 72F (22C) - great for sleeping.  During November and December, there are actually a few nights when we do not have to run the ceiling fan let alone the air conditioner in our bedroom.

One of my favorite festivals occurs in November - Loy Krathong.  Loy Krathong is observed on the night of the full moon during the 12th lunar month.  Krathong, baskets, boats, and other floating objects decorated with banana leaves, flowers, incense sticks, candles, and coins are placed in rivers and lakes to pay respects and make offerings to the water spirits.

The month of November is a period for Bun Kaithin here in Isaan.  "Bun" is a Lao word  that roughly means festival so Bun Kaithin here is the festival for Kaithin.  The Kaithin ceremony involves demonstrating  appreciation for the Monks by offering them robes called "Kaithin".

Throughout November and all over Thailand as well as the Lao People's Democratic Republic local people demonstrate their appreciation for their Monks in village celebrations.  In addition to robes, offerings of "money trees" are made to their Monks.

For us, this November was focused a great deal on religious albeit at times "spiritual" matters.

Korb Khru - Placing of the Siarn Ruesi On Duang's head

Our journey into the world of spirits during the past month started on November 1st.  On the morning of November 1st we stopped at Duang's cousin's house in Kumphawapi on our way out to Thasang Village.  We had been invited by her cousin to attend a special religious ceremony.

Duang's cousin is a female Reusi, a sage, a sort of wizard.  I later found out from Duang that her cousin is a "Ruesi Papit Kanet"  The belief in Ruesi has its roots in Brahmanism and Animism.

Merit Making Ritual for Deceased Monk
After the special ritual, we completed our journey to Duang's home village.  We picked up some of her relatives and drove to a neighboring village for a special ritual. One of Duang's cousins, a Theravada Buddhist Monk, had died and on the night before his cremation there was a special merit making ritual.

Funeral Pyre for Monk
On November 2, in the afternoon, we returned to the neighboring village for the cremation of Duang's cousin.  Unlike typical cremations which occur in the afternoon, the cremation of the Monk commenced once the Sun had set.

Monks Building A Raised Area for Funeral Pyre

Less than a week later, we became involved with the preparations for the cremation of another Monk.  On November 6th we drove out to the Ban dung area to witness the preparation for a very important Monk.  The Monk was well known and was 104 years old when he died.  A week of preparation would pass before he was actually cremated.

The last day of the Kumphawapi Long Boat Races was conducted.  The races like many others in Thailand, Cambodia, and Lao People's Democratic Republic pit amateur crews of 30 to 40 people against each other as part of local water festivals.

Isaan Farm House
It was back to religious events on November 12th for us.  We drove out to another nearby village to witness a Bun Kaithin procession.  It is always interesting for me to witness life in the countryside - far from the influence of metropolitan areas and tourism.

Bhikkhuni at Cremation Ritual

The day following the Bun Kaithin ritual, we returned to Ban Dung for the cremation of the very old Monk.  We had arrived early in the morning because we had donated 8 Styrofoam coolers of individual sized cups of orange drink.  As is typical of events at Wats, food and drinks are donated by laypeople.  One family will donate ice-cream.  Another family will donate bottled water. Some families donate soft drinks.  Other families donate papaya salad while others donate pad thai or soup called quweteao. You will never go hungry or thirsty at these events.  The donors earn merit as well as respect of the community for their generosity.

Buang Suwang Tep Taway Ritual

On November 19th, we drove out to Kumphawapi once again.  Duang's cousin, the Ruesi Papit Kanet, had invited us to a special ritual being held in Kumphawapi.  It was a grand ritual involving many Ruesi and had 9 pig heads as offerings to the spirits. It was a very interesting ritual that is held once a year by the person who lives in one of the finer homes in Kumphawapi.

While Duang was off on family business on the 22nd, we had special visitors.  Duang's cousin, his wife, and two young daughters came to visit.  I am sure that the adults would have liked to have seen and talked with Duang, I know that it did not matter to the girls.   I am like E.T. to them - an alien who they can have fun with.  I always give them juice and M&M Peanuts when they visit.  However it is not juice or candy that they come for - they want me to take their pictures.  I enjoy taking photographs of them - each time they seem to be becoming better and better models.

Our youngest grandson, Pope, spent the next day with us.  The highlight of the day was taking him to get the second haircut of his 14 month life.  He was a very good boy - apprehensive but no crying.  As soon as we got back to the house he had a shower - outside under the hose.

It seems that the month of November had 15 days in it - it passed so quickly.  I don't know who started the meme that retirement can be boring and unsatisfying.  They were misinformed.

I have never been so busy or happy ... but then again I had never lived in Isaan before.



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