This post started life as a topic in “Isaan – the Small Stories 7”, which will be published very soon. However it seemed long enough to stand on its own so here it is.

Sunday the 29th of September is one of what Gaun calls “holy days”, and these happen a few times each month. They are special Buddhist days and people are more likely to make an effort to get to their local temple for an program than a “normal” day. Sometimes they have a theme to them like this day. The other days may have too but what that might be remains a bit of a mystery to me anyway. I am going to call the 29th “Ancestor Day”, but I think that is already taken later in the year so who knows. The theme for this ceremony was all to do with ancestors so that’s good enough for me.

If living in Thailand make sure you have a Thai calendar in the house.

If you are living in Thailand make sure you have a Thai calendar in the house.

A Thai calendar is useful because (a) they will let you know of the many public holidays (police day, teacher day, government day, army day, royal birthdays etc) (b) they will tell you the Thai date, which is different from ours and (c) they will show you when the “holy days” are, which if you have a Thai partner may have some significance.

A closer view of the calendar.

A closer view of the calendar.

The Thai date is under the large number. Yesterday being the 29th is also the 15th! Our local town Nong Bua Lamphu has a big market day and it is held on the 11th (Thai date). If you don’t have a Thai calendar you will miss it and you wouldn’t want that to happen 🙂 In the box marked the 29th and also last Sunday the 22nd (or the 8th) you can see a red Buddha signifying a holy day. Saturday was obviously something to do with food from the image on the calendar but I missed out on whatever that was. I would like to think that’s a bottle of chilled white wine behind the pig’s head but suspect it is more likely to be a bottle of fish sauce. Oh well, I can but dream.

Yesterday was a particular day of importance because it is a time when people give food to the ghosts (Gaun’s terminology – she means spirits but I prefer ghosts). Thais are very mindful of spirits and I have written often about the influence they have on life – see HERE as an example. Also one of my favourite moments in Thailand was coming across a sound stage and dancing girls set up next to a “holy” place to appease the spirits (who must be male ghosts in this case) and bring good luck to whoever paid for this show.

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Now that’s my sort of spiritual path. Where do I sign up?

The main purpose of Ancestor Day is to take food parcels to family and friends who have died, have them blessed at the temple and then set out a mini-feast for the ghosts to enjoy. Preparation started the day before with all the food ingredients being collected and the parcels made using banana leaves.

Inside the food package. Peanuts, bamboo, fish, rice (of course), fish dead long time, chilli (of course!), chicken, and some other stuff I can't remember.

Inside the food package. Peanuts, bamboo, fish, rice (of course), fish dead long time, chilli (of course!), chicken, and some other stuff I can’t remember.

Yesterday we met at the family home to walk to the temple for an 11.00 am blessing ceremony. Regular readers know of my ability to head off on a path that has nothing to do with the topic so the following will come as no surprise. If I see an opportunity to at least alert you to some aspect of Thai culture as we go along I will.

When I typed 11.00 am in a previous sentence it reminded me that Thais have a different system of time to us. I will give you a link to an article if you want to explore this more but an extract below will give you a taste of what I mean. 9 o’clock can also be 3 o’clock! So my 11 o’clock temple appointment could also be 5 o’clock – how Thai 🙂

The Thai way of telling the time takes a little getting used to, as it’s very different from English and other European languages. Thais do use the familiar 24 hour military time system to some extent, for example for official announcements, but in everyday life a different and uniquely Thai system is used instead. The easiest way to approach it is to recognise that the Thai clock is divided up into roughly 4 blocks of 6 hours each rather than 2 of 12, and that each of these blocks of time is referred to in a different way.

For telling time between the hours of 1am and 5am, the number of the hour is preceded by the word ตีdtee . This is also the verb “to strike”, and its use here comes from the ancient custom of a night watchman striking a drum on the hour throughout the night to reassure village residents of their safety.

From 6am to 11am, the number of the hour is followed by the word โมง mohng (“o’clock”) and optionally also เช้า cháo (“morning”). This is where you can see that the day is divided into 4 blocks, as the hours from 7am – 11am can also be referred to using the numbers 1 – 5 followed by โมง เช้า mohng cháo . 9am, for instance, can be either เก้าโมงเช้า gâo mohng cháo (“9 o’clock in the morning”) or สามโมงเช้า săam mohng cháo (“3 o’clock in the morning”).

Read more HERE if this rocks your boat.

Yuan all dressed in her finest.

Yuan, Gaun’s younger sister, dressed in her finest for the occasion.

Gaun all dressed up for the day too.

Gaun all dressed up for the day too. Her mum’s home grown and spun silk skirt. See my story HERE.

This is a big event with the two Moo Baans combining at the local temple.

This is a big event with the two Moo Baans combining at the local temple.

Pick the odd one out.

Pick the odd one out. Only one farang as usual.

Inside what was originally the village pre-school set in the temple grounds.

Inside what was originally the village pre-school set in the temple grounds where the main ceremony would take place.

I wrote about the role of temples in the education system in my post “An Isaan Funeral” HERE (another time I headed off topic) but I thought I would include an extract here as it relates to the location of the pre-school in the temple grounds:

Prior to the creation of state-run primary schools in Thailand, village temples served as the primary form of education for most Thai boys. Service in a temple as a temple boy was a necessary prerequisite for attaining any higher education, and was the only learning available to most Thai peasants. Since the creation of a government-run educational apparatus in Thailand, the number of children living as temple boys has declined significantly. However, many government-run schools continue to operate on the premise of the local village temple.

Many more outside.

Many more people outside. Can you spot something strange in the last three photos (apart from me)? The vast majority of attendees were women. Gaun couldn’t tell me why that was.

The food is contained in these baskets.

The ghostly meal is contained in these baskets.

The food blessing in progress.

The food blessing in progress.

If you observe a Buddhist blessing ceremony you will often see water being poured into a cup at some stage. This is then poured onto a plant in the temple grounds later.

If you observe a Buddhist blessing ceremony you will often see water being poured into a cup at some stage. This is then poured onto a plant or just on the ground in the temple grounds later.

Inside the monk does his thing.

Inside the monk does his thing.

The small gray haired lady behind that plastic bag in the centre acted in place of my mother at my Isaan wedding, a fun filled day you can read about HERE. The man in front of the green fan on the left was the spirit man who led the blessing of our house, which you can read about HERE. One of the pleasures of living in a small community is that more and more faces become familiar over time and I can start to pick the complex weave of relationships that make up this village.

The schoolbell still in place outside what was the pre-school.

The schoolbell still in place outside what was the pre-school.

The new temple building being constructed as a replacement. Fits and starts as the money comes in. Far too big for a small village.

This new temple building is being constructed as a replacement to the schoolhouse. Work happens in fits and starts as the money comes in. It is far too big for a small village but merit has to be gained so the construction of new temples is an ongoing fact of life. Yuan in the centre heads off with her basket.

Once the ceremony is over everyone scatters throughout the temple grounds but particularly to the perimeter of the temple where the remains of relatives are contained in the wall.

The coconut leaf parcels are hung in the trees. some are opened on the ground so the spirits can get to them.

Leaf parcels are hung in the trees. These will be taken later to feed ghosts who prefer a more rural life in the farms and elsewhere.

The others are opened on the ground so the spirits can access them. The photo above shows a small cremation ashes pot in the wall or it could contain some bones as I described and photographed recently HERE. Gaun’s dad died when she was five years old and well before this wall was built around the temple. There are limited spaces there anyway.

DSC_0614The location of this part of the ceremony isn’t relevant then. Gaun tells me that deceased family can rely on ghost friends to bring them food if they miss out on finding it themselves. Sounds like a plan.

Yuan, Gaun and Paed pouring the water on the ground. candles lit and food parcels opened.

Yuan, Gaun and Paed pouring the water on the ground. candles lit and food parcels opened.

Love the cigarettes. Just what the ghosts need after a good meal.Tobacco for males on the left and chewing tobacco for females on the right.

Love the cigarettes. Just what the ghosts need after a good meal. Tobacco for males on the left and chewing tobacco for females on the right.

All done.

All done. Thai smiles.

The parcels in the trees are now collected to be distributed to the farm ghosts later in the day.

The parcels in the trees are now collected to be distributed to the farm ghosts later in the day.

Everyone heads home.

Everyone heads home.

That dog probably won’t move and everything will flow around it. They often lie in the road to pick up the heat and sometimes will stay put even for a car coming although they do keep an eye on you. In Canberra we would do one or all of the following presented with the same situation (a) sound the horn (b) drive closer and closer until the dog moved (c) get onto the dog patrol to have the dog removed (d) attack the neighbours who owned the dog or (e) run it over! Life in Thailand often involves adapting to the situation rather than wasting effort trying to make the situation adapt to you! Just drive around the dog 🙂 Thai forums are full on farang whinging about why Thai life doesn’t just change to suit them. Go home mate.

Mushroom are around again and I had to capture this moment as the family called into a home we passed to check out the latest mushroom catch.

Mushrooms are around again and I had to capture this moment as the family called into a home we passed to check out the latest mushroom catch.

So there you have it. Happy ghosts and a community that has got together for a common purpose. A small story but another lovely example of the undercurrent of life that goes on here and can be so easily missed if you don’t get out and take an interest.

Thanks for reading.