I had a moment when I wondered whether sharing a Thai sports day opening was really the sort of thing I should be covering in the blog. It sounds so mundane doesn’t it? However on very modest reflection I thought that it was and is very much in the general theme of this blog. This event is a great example of how us expats need to keep a lot of our western preconceptions of life boxed in the storage shed along with many other concepts brought from our home country that might stop us experiencing this new culture to its fullest.
If we don’t take care it would be easy to label a sports day as boring, a funeral as something we’d never go to unless it was ours, a monk’s initiation as a religious nonsense and a bike ride as a waste of time. I only raised these examples because three of them will be covered in this and the next post and one, the funeral, I have already written about HERE. I hope to show you that instead of being irrelevant to our lives here these are in fact small opportunities to get involved in local life at the grassroots level, mix with everyday Thais and open yourself up to your chosen homeland.
Having done that you might find that a sport’s day opening ceremony was a totally unexpected music and dance production, a funeral a wonderful insight into the connection between a Thai family and the local community and a party worth attending, a monk’s initiation ceremony a three day party with free food, drink and music and a bike ride an afternoon exploring the local town with a police escort and free drinks.
A School Sports Day Opening Ceremony
I have to confess that I was never much into sport growing up. Sport’s Day was only useful because it got me out of geography, maths and other boring and irrelevant subjects. Funnily I ended up in banking and am now living in Thailand! I was so useless at sport and unenthusiastic that they made me cross country captain, which allowed me to make sure other people did all the hard work while I filled in the paperwork. It was an experience that served me well in my government career.
Let me tell you that a Thai Sport’s Day is nothing like anything I have seen before and if I had been given the opportunity to dress in women’s clothes and dance on the oval who knows how sporting I might have become. Read on and all will make sense – maybe.
I have a friend in Si Bun Runag, an English guy called Mark, who teaches English at a local school in a little town about 20 minutes down the road from us called Si Chomphu (Si = colour and Chomphu = pink). Just out of interest all colours in Thai are preceded with “Si”. So si daeng is colour red and si khaw is colour white. Mark dropped in for a cuppa recently and told me that his school’s sport’s day was coming up and I might find it interesting to observe given the number of costumes and amount of dance practice he had seen taking place at the school. Costumes and dancing at a sport’s day????? Count me in.
We turned up at about 10.00 just in time for the official opening led by the mayor of Khon Kaen, a major city about one and a half hours drive from us heading South.
I am always slightly taken aback by the politeness of Thais in including a farang to events such as this. I turned up at the official stand just because it was a good place to be to take photos. We were both met by the ladies who were there to welcome official guests and had flowers pinned to our shirts. We were invited to join the formal group and I was given a small tray of coffee, tea and a light snack (food being an essential ingredient to any Thai get together).
I am not sure that we Australians would be so open to a foreigner wandering into one of our celebrations. I would like to think we would but……..
This all looked like a pretty normal and appropriately formal opening to a sport’s day, which is a serious competitive event and should be treated as such. Things started to look a little different when this photo moment happened.
These balloons supported a banner welcoming in the 40th games and were released shortly after as a threat to low flying aircraft. If you live here you will know that many Thai activities have the potential to divert your flightpath! Fireworks are essential to any occasion but in particular Loi Krathong sky candle lanterns, which you can read about HERE, and the ultimate a Bun Bung Fai rocket as seen HERE are both days that you should avoid being in the air 🙂
Looking from the stage to the oval you might have been surprised, as I was, to see a sea (why do non-English people have such a problem with our language do you think?) not of just muscled, fit looking sporting youngsters but lots of theatrical types mixed in.
The opening procession then got going and it was one of those wonderful Thai events where the main goal seemed to be to have fun sometimes expressed in way that we straightlaced westerners have either lost or never had. Not much happens here without colour, dancing, music and that very Thai expression of silliness that they probably acknowledge and want you to join in and laugh with them.
All pretty conventional so far. Not all went quite to plan. The idea was the girl lit a rocket on a wire that followed a path to light other rockets that would eventually fire up the main “Olympic” torch.
The first rocket went well but nothing happened at station two all to much laughter from the crowd. Finally the second rocket got underway and a similar delay happened at the next stage. I am pleased to report that although it all happened in Thai time the end result was a success. The crowd would have done the equivalent of a western shrug of the shoulders if it hadn’t I am sure. I think Thais are used to things not quite working out as planned, which is a trait we should relax into as well if living here for our own sanity.
With the more static part of the day over the students on the oval started a procession past the official stand.
I find it interesting how Thailand has adopted some aspects of the western love of pomp and ceremony. For an Asian culture the incorporation of displays like brass bands, European military uniforms and even historical trappings like ceremonial swords, something that I am not sure were ever part of their history, is colourful but doesn’t seem “Thai”. Having said that you will thankfully often find a lot of Thainess in many events. I guess when it comes down to it Thais love to dress up and the European military tradition provides a smorgasboard of fashion tips.
Back to a more realistic level. The school was split into teams for this event each having its own unique theme (many of which had me a bit lost) and colour.
The guy at the back with the flowers in his hair and the red slippers might have had problems at my Grammar school one of the most boring straight laced institutions churning out lawyers, bankers and senior government employees. I suspect schooling in Thailand might not produce the same educational standards but could be a bit more liberal on the fun side of life and isn’t that an equally important part of growing up?
The scene then changed for the best part of the morning, a dance display which seemed to involve half the school.
Streams of kids then flowed out onto the oval and a really entertaining spectacle got underway involving quite complex choreographed dance routines with a mix of cultural styles as the following photos show:
I make light of the whole thing but a lot of effort had gone into the presentation and it ended up being a good show that covered a lot of the very large ground area they had to fill. The “show” was worth seeing for the costumes, the dancing and the enthusiasm on display. It all added up to a very enjoyable couple of hours, which finished with a cast photo opportunity involving a lot of those sort of smiles you find when people are glad to have got that public event out of the way successfully.
Now this sort of activity may well not be your thing. However if it looks like fun then make sure you keep an eye open for your school’s sport’s day and get along for the opening. You might be as surprised and delighted as I was. For those of you (both!) living my way Si Bun Ruang has it’s day on 28 and 29 December at the big school (final two years of schooling) to the left of the intersection of the 228 and the main road through the “CBD”. This school is larger than the one I have written about here so maybe their ceremony will reflect that. I will report back.
Thanks for reading.