Having spent three days updating the format of the blog it is a joy to return to writing a post before I get back into admin again. As it is cold with grey skies outside, in a weird brief spell of winter that has no business happening this late in January, it’s no hardship to be in front of the computer writing this blog. This is the first time that the benefits of a well insulated house is to keep the heat in rather than out. It is 15 degrees outside, single figures at night, as it has been the last two days. Inside is a comfortable 21 with no heating.
Mind you it has been a lot cooler at Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest peak a couple of hours drive from Chiang Mai that I wrote about HERE.
It is also a pleasure to share the events and photos of a small Isaan wedding between Apple, a cousin of Gaun – a lovely young lady, and her husband to be, a local man living just down the road from us.
The formal invitation made an appearance and I had to laugh at being referred to as “Uncle Tony”. It was a nice acknowledgement that I had a some place within my Thai family group.
Apple’s wedding has brought back happy memories of my wedding to Gaun HERE and I will include a few photos of that day in 2014 to illustrate some aspects of this one.
For those of you who have been to an Isaan wedding you will be aware of the reverse order of events, compared to a western one, which unfolds over two days. If you are a newbie then I will explain so you don’t miss out on the fun when you are invited to or maybe even end up as, more likely the groom, but maybe a bride at an Isaan wedding.
Firstly I learnt some new things about Thai weddings, which is nothing unusual as I am hardly an expert on the subject (but getting better). In the case of my wedding, as a farang without a base or family in Thailand, I didn’t have any celebrations separate from Gaun. The evening party the day before and morning breakfast on the marriage day were a combined event in that Gaun and I enjoyed them together, but this is not the norm evidently. Usually the Thai man and lady will organise completely separate affairs and they only combine resources and guests for the formal ceremony itself. It’s a bit like an extended bucks and hen’s night in that the couple party separately but instead of the split being male/female here the invitees are split into the friends and family of the bride and groom.
The event itself is held over two days. The first day leads up to the main evening party, a reception in our terms, which kicks off once the music gets going in the afternoon and goes into the night. This is what caught me out on my big day. I presumed the party would be AFTER the wedding, as it mostly is in Australia and elsewhere, but here once the official ceremony is complete the whole thing packs up and shuts down. The formal wedding ceremony is on day two.
We got involved on the day before the ceremony, which had all the volunteers getting ready for the evening party and the breakfast the following morning, the latter being the main meal of a wedding in Isaan.
What always amazes me about celebrations of this type where large numbers of people get together to eat and drink is the amount of food which is effortlessly produced from the simplest of “kitchens”. Here was no different. Apple lives with her mother in a very simple, small one room place with an outside “lounge” area, kitchen and a separate bathroom. Because Apple is family most of my immediate Thai group were helping out especially Yuan, Gaun’s younger sister, who is the master organiser of the family.
Meanwhile a group of elderly ladies had gathered to make the wedding krathong, a banana leaf centrepiece, plus the sweet banana in sticky rice bundles you will find at events like this. Get in early because they go fast.
The photo above is of Yaun, Gaun’s younger sister. Note the new gold necklace bought with some of the proceeds coming from the sale of one field of sugar and the extra income generated over New Year, which you can read about in Isaan – the Small Stories 10 HERE.. Although this looks like an extravagance at around 20,000 THB (A$800.00) gold jewelry here is an easily traded resource and if you need money you can go to one of the many, many gold shops and get a buy-back price based on weight.
This is the first time I have seen Yuan buy anything decent for herself and considering the work that went into funding it I have no problems with this treat and it’s none of my business how she spends money anyway.
The main source of meat for the occasion was a whole pig that was killed at the farm that morning and mostly butchered there. The results were trucked in ready to be turned into various dishes for the two main meals.
Now if you have the money you’d probably buy pork from the local market and have it minced for your larb moo dish, an easy if more expensive method. However with this wedding everyone got involved with machetes to hand mince goodness knows how many kilos of pork over a three hour period. It was a slow but enjoyable time as food kept appearing along with whisky and beer and, as always when you get a bunch of Thais together, there was lots of laughter and chat.
This lady in the photo above lives across the road from the family home and is raising her granddaughter also pictured. Her daughter works in Bangkok and only sees her girl twice a year, which an isn’t unusual situation in Isaan.
The evening party was a pretty modest affair at Apple’s end. We didn’t get to the groom’s event as we were part of the bride’s side of the family but I think he had a much more energetic night. Still we enjoyed food, drink, music and a bit of dancing so Apple’s last evening as a single lady was celebrated with friends and family, which is how it should be,
The next day started early (by my standards anyway!) as Apple had booked a Lam (pronounced “lum”) band to play for Tune’s (the groom) trip from his house to Apple’s (the man always travels to the lady) and I wanted to see them in action. If you read my post “Making Merit with a Monk” HERE you will have seen a Lam group in action including a video. This was a smaller affair hired at 3,800 THB for around one hour in case you wanted to engage them.
We dropped into Apple’s house first to get some breakfast and beer! I have to say that I have never drunk so much beer so early in the day since moving to Isaan. My tip is to get past the first couple of glasses, if this is a novelty for you too, as the desire for a decent coffee fades after that.
The early breakfast fits into the Isaan work schedule, which doesn’t necessarily stop just for a wedding. People who have been invited but can’t go to the ceremony itself will come to the breakfast, make their donation and leave after eating. Some don’t even stop. They will come, donate and take food with them to be eaten later.
Money was very tight for this wedding so all the food was catered for by family and friends, paid for by Apple. In many situations, mine included, where there is more money to spend caterers will be employed to provide food for the wedding breakfast in what’s called a Chinese table as shown below:
We then headed over to the Toun’s family home, which was a ten minute walk to the next moo ban (village). I was greeted by the man who records all the donations as “Tony Vansutha” a mix of my and Gaun’s names. It is how I am recorded for weddings, funerals and monk celebrations! Their breakfast had been going since 7 am in readiness for a wedding at 9.09 am, lucky numbers being important here.
What I hadn’t realised at the time of my wedding was the significance of this walk. We actually started at the land I had bought HERE (where we now live) and then walked to Gaun’s family home. I thought it was just a procession but only now understand that it was part of the formal declaration of a change in circumstances as the groom moves from his residence to the bride’s home. Gaun obviously joined me for the walk while in Apple’s situation she waited for the arrival of her fiance at her mum’s house. Many of the villagers came along too even though I guess they were on Gaun’s “side” rather than mine. I would have looked a bit lonely with just my brother, sister-in-law and best friend and wife walking with me otherwise!
What’s funny here is that traditionally there are two chains separating the groom from his bride – a silver and gold. The groom has to pay money to the people holding the chain to get entrance. Here we ended up with four as some of Apple’s relatives and friends were hopeful of getting a bonus 🙂
With access to bride gained by Toun the crowd mostly sat under the marquees and chatted and drank while the more formal wedding party headed to a raised platform at the front, which in normal times becomes the lounge and dining area.
I have endless photos because I was invited to the front to record the occasion but I won’t go over the top. The following should give you a little taste of the event.
At the end of the ceremony everybody comes forward to make a donation and to tie a white good luck string onto the wrists of the bride and groom – normally right wrist for guys and left for the ladies. You should leave the strings on for three days before removing. I think it is a lovely way for everyone to personally meet the couple.
The money is given to the groom while you tie the string. The amount is recorded and then placed in that pot.
………..before the couple are lead away to the bedroom.
He’ll be disappointed at this stage because there is only a little ceremony that happens here blessing the smaller gifts to be given to other key guests. The couple also take food and drink together, neither of which they seemed very interested in doing in front of an audience.
These little pillow things are a complete mystery to me. They make an appearance at every formal event in vast quantities. We have just got back from the final day of a funeral and I have used the last of my supplies. We will have to buy more at 120 THB (A$4.80) for a pack of four because someone else has died this afternoon (must be the cold) and we’ll be paying our respects to that family in the next few days!
My onerous duties as photographer over I decided to toast the newly weds with the Lam band.
And a few family shots:
In a western situation the newly weds would now take off for the best bit of the whole process – the honeymoon. However in Si Bun Runag, where the money doesn’t flow quite as easily it is a quick return to reality.
Thank you Apple and Toun for sharing your special day with us. I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
Thanks for reading.