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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
The 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.
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.
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.