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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