This is the second of my blogs to capture some of the events that are happening right now in our part of Thailand, the northeast a region called Isaan. Mushrooms and monks may seem like an odd combination but they are both at the top of the to-do list for many people this time of the year.

We are in the wet season here a period that covers May/June through to September/October. Although still warm, in the low 30’s most days, it is cooler than the period that precedes it and with the moist soil it combines to cover the treed areas of our area and elsewhere with mushrooms. Isaan people have a fascination with mushrooms, maybe because it is a seasonal treat, a bit like ant eggs in the dry season. Mushrooms are collected at night, so the hills are alive not with the sound of music but mushroom hunters with miner’s lights strapped to their heads searching for this free crop of yumminess.

This post covers the four days in July 24 – 27:

24 June 2018 – Yuan’s First Crop

My sister-in-law and husband, Yuan and Lud, are keen mushroom hunters, because Yaun always maximises what money she can make in every season. The vegetables, that are their everyday cash crop, aren’t ready to harvest so Yuan turns to whatever is available to make some extra money. She and Lud never just sit around with nothing to do. They had been up well before dawn this morning mushroom hunting, along with half of Isaan. Yuan was getting her crop ready for the markets when we arrived for coffee. I am always blown away by the wonderful mix of shapes and colours. My idea of mushrooms before living here was the clinical gray ones in all Australian supermarkets.

This is Yuan’s collection before washing. How fresh is that!

Each mushroom is individually washed.

Small boxes made from banana leaves are held together with two bamboo ‘toothpicks’.

The end result. Quick, simple and free!

And ready for market. About 600 baht worth here ($25.00).

The farm is still that unique mix of vegetables, sugar, rice and flowers. These purple flowers were grown from seeds Gaun harvested when we lived in Chiang Mai four years ago.

The farmhouse floating on a sea of new rice. A visually beautiful time to be in rural Thailand this time of year.

25 July 2018 – More Mushrooms

I am not going to turn this into a mushroom post so the last photos. The mushroom harvest from last night was so beautiful to this city boy that I had to share one more time. Don’t show your Thai partners otherwise you’ll be off to the markets  A slightly different mix from yesterday.

Yuan starting the washing process.

Almost an artwork shot. Just the colours……..

Higher priced these ones.

Yuan almost finished by the time we left.

25 July 2018 – A Monk Ordination, Day 1

Buddhist Lent starts on 27 July this year and it is a time when many young Thai men, and some not so young, become ordained as a monk often for the three month Lent period. For those of you who followed the cave rescue I believe most of the boys and their coach are becoming monks, although in their case only for nine days (a lucky number in Thailand).

 

Rescued Thai boys and members of the “Wild Boars” football team were ordained as novice Buddhist monks in a ceremony Wednesday. Their coach, Ekapol Chanthawong (left), was ordained as a monk. (thanks to Getty Images)

We have two ordination ceremonies happening in our moo ban, one being a friend of the family – a guy called Tea. Day One is where a lot of the preparation work happens. The ceremonial part is mostly done by the yai (grandmothers) of the village who make traditional sticky rice and banana parcels (also made the day before a wedding) and the krathong, a banana leaf and flower centrepiece.

Food is central of course and the volunteer cooks were there although the big push will be for the crowds at the main ceremony tomorrow. Gaun’s family are heavily involved because this is a friend and neighbour. This is an endless circle of obligation. The next time my Thai family have a party this neighbour will turn up to help as ‘payback’, and so it goes.

The monk-to-be begging bowl is wrapped in white for the ceremony tomorrow. This is obviously a guys only task!

Inside the yai are working on the krathong, which is taking shape.

Working on the detail.

Now this may not look much of a kitchen but this area plus surrounds will feed one hundred villagers and visitors tomorrow.

One hour after people have eaten all plates, glasses and cutlery, borrowed mainly from the temple, will be washed and packed for return. All of this happens at that washing up area at the back! The efficiency of Isaan people at preparing, serving and cleaning up for a party is world class.

Gaun, front left, helping to prepare bamboo.

Bamboo shoots grown to sell, not wild bamboo.

This lot came from a region just south of Udon Thani because that’s the home village of the husband of one of the ladies helping out! Life here works like that. The bamboo is boiled to soften it and then it is cut into strips using…..see next photo

……..not a special stainless steel kitchen implement imported from Germany but three toothpicks and a couple of rubber bands? Isaan people are a great disappointment to the capitalist system 🙂

Gaun front and sister-in-law Paed at the back. I included this photo mainly because I love the yellow colour and texture.

These are the banana and sticky rice parcels. Three small ones inside a bigger one. Sometimes coconut and sugar is added but not these examples.

Another German import in action! An Isaan steamer. The banana leaf parcels being steamed over a charcoal fire. Tin – free, BBQ – 50 baht or $2.00!

Completed parcels ready for tomorrow.

I also took the photo above because I spotted this lovely wooden sticky rice tray. Sticky rice is steamed not boiled and when done it is turned out onto a surface like this one and broken up to release the steam and cool it down a bit. One batch is used for the day and it is eaten hot or cool. They don’t make trays like this these days so it has a bit of history. One for my rice hut I’m thinking for regular readers!

A big group from Korat turned up for the ceremony tomorrow – family connections.

They brought with them baskets of these wrapped coins. They are thrown out by the monk-to-be on his procession to the temple. These is usually one baht inside but they are considered good luck to catch. I haven’t seen strawberry ones before. All handmade.

These were some of these coin parcels made by a lady just down the road from us. They were some of the best I have seen. No strawberries though!

Got to get me at least one strawberry. I’ll get the whole family onto it. I will report back on the ceremony itself tomorrow.

27 July 2018 – The Ordination – Day 2

A full day starting with a quick run into Udon Thani Immigration, three hours on the road, to lodge my 90 day report of address. The online system accepts my application but then doesn’t approve it for some reason requiring a quick dash to do it in person. Udon immigration are wonderfully efficient and helpful (in my experience) and it’s a 5 minute chore. You can read about how to lodge a 90 day report online HERE although not many report success.

The 90 day report itself it a Thai oddity, taking up expat’s time and Thai police resources to have notification lodged that your address hasn’t changed! Why not only require it when you actually change your address, which would be a win-win for both sides? Oh well. It’s a minor complaint.

Us country folk would normally make a day of a trip to the big city, do some shopping and see friends but we were involved in the monk ordination ceremony I wrote about last post so we headed straight back. Gaun started the day at 3:00 am helping out in the kitchen so by the time I got up ‘early’ to drive to Udon she’d done a day’s work!

The rest of the day was taken up with other chores like eating, drinking and joining a street party. A few of my favourite photos that I hope capture the fun part of the day.

The cooking area was quieter now as most of the work had been done early morning but a mass of raw ingredients still available.

Doing my bit to give the new monk a great send off!

We were served eight different dishes, all pure Isaan, and the beer just kept coming. The environment is basic, the food not to my taste, the format is the same every time BUT I just love the natural interaction between people who have known each other all their lives and the influx of relatives for the event catching up with others. Gaun patiently explains to me all the amazing web of connections that I almost immediately forget 🙂 The inclusiveness of being involved in these village events make each one an absolute delight.

My sort of woman. This is Yuan efficiently knocking the cap off a beer bottle. If she could do it with her teeth then perfection will have been achieved.

This is Tea – a neighbour and friend.

He is taking on being a monk for the full three month Lent period. The ordinates at this stage are dressed in white and are referred to as Naga, which is a huge mythical serpent. There’s a terrific story behind that which I share shortly. You will see Naga at many temples, the long dragon/serpent that runs alongside steps – see next photo. Tea’s hair was shaved in the morning (we were in Udon so missed that bit) and in a bit of trivial information so you can sound like an expert, the hair is wrapped in a lotus leaf and placed in a river or perhaps a pond if in a river-free area!

The Naga guard the entrance to this temple Wat Wiset Mongkhon, one of my favourites because of the muted colours, HERE  on Google Maps.

Contemplating three months of pre-dawn prayers……

………..or maybe some of the questions the candidates get asked such as:

  1. 1. Do you suffer from leprosy? If you do, answer ‘Yes, Venerable Sir’, if you do not, answer ‘No, Venerable Sir’.
  2. 2. Have you got boils?
  3. 3. Have you got eczema?
  4. 4. Have you got tuberculosis?
  5. 5. Do you get epilepsy?
  6. 6. Are you a human being?
  7. 7. Are you a man?
  8. 8. Are you a free man?
  9. 9. Are you free from government service?
  10. 10. Have you got your parents’ permission to be ordained?
  11. 11. Have you a set of three robes and an alms bowl?
  12. 12. What is your name? (My name is Naga.)
  13. 13. What is your preceptor’s name? (My preceptor’s name is Venerable Tissa.) Quite an examination!

The ‘Are you a human being?’ question sounds odd but it relates to the Naga myth and makes sense once you understand that. Read on:

One important requirement that may sound weird to you is being humans. The following legend will put you out of doubt. Legend has it that a naga (or nak in Thai meaning a huge mythical serpent), who was a devout admirer of the Lord Buddha and his Teachings, once disguised himself as a young male human and was ordained as a monk. One night the magic lost its power and he turned to his natural serpent form, to the horror of his fellow-monks. It was said that the Buddha summoned the naga and sternly told him that only humans were allowed in the monkhood. The serpent sadly asked the Buddha to use his name “naga” or “nak” to call a young man who was about to be ordained so that his name would remain in religion for ever. The Buddha consented, and a monk-to-be has been called “nak” up to the present time. My thanks to Thaiways for this material – website HERE

It was a fairly small event but there was another ordination party happening in the village so loyalties were split. This is at the beginning of the circuit of the moo ban, with a music truck in the back for the younger folk, like myself, who don’t mind a bit of a dance to Isaan music.

Tea, his brother holding the umbrella and mum.

This is the second monk, whose procession tagged onto ours halfway around the street circuit.

Gaun enjoying dancing as always. She doesn’t mind a party and considering she’s been up since 3:00 am was doing pretty well.

A sister-in-law. Married to Gaun’s older brother Jun, who built the new house at the farm (for regular readers who know my family as well as I do).

My favourite yai (grandmother). Just the sweetest lady and her family own half the village so a good friend to have.

The second monk had a slightly less formal umbrella 🙂

Gaun’s mama watching the procession. Always a wonderful face.

And Duk Dik, the family’s dog and world’s scruffiest mutt, who is either enlightened or a non-Buddhist and ignoring the whole event. He does get washed regularly but in the wet season this is what you get!

This is the Ubosot or just Bot building you will see in most traditional (non-forest wat) temples.

It is the monk ordination hall and not usually open to the public. I went there for a chanting and meditation session at 4:00 am one morning and scared the life out of the monk who thought a spirit had arrived to send him to meet Buddha 🙂 The two monks arrive at the final destination. The music truck and beer stays outside the temple complex.

The monks take three turns around the temple – clockwise.

Tea’s mama, probably happy to get rid of him for three months 🙂 They live opposite to mama’s house.

The rest of the wrapped one baht and sweet packages, I shared photos with you before, are thrown out to the crowd. The monks were closely followed by heaps of kids for some unknown reason 🙂

The final lucky parcels being thrown out before the Naga enter the Ubosot to become monks.

Gaun in fits of laughter as she wins a battle for one of the strawberry parcels she knew I wanted (she wanted one as well). A total enthusiast in everything she tackles and loves every moment.

Yuan and Gaun showing off a few of their wins! Lud in the background in the process of eating his!

A final shot of the two Naga as they wait to enter the temple.

What an enjoyable time as only the Thais can do. A mix of excessive food and drink, loud music, dancing and then everyone gets Buddhist merit points with the ordination of two new monks.

27 July 2018 – Buddhist Lent

Up early, for me, this morning to join a few locals at our small forest wat to ceremonially feed the monks and receive their blessing for the start of Buddhist Lent. Despite the rain it was a lovely ocasion. I love the intimate nature of local events. After over three years here I know a lot of the faces and them me. WARNING: One mushroom photo ahead 

The begging bowls at the front where we place offerings. This is mostly ceremonial as the main food is served separately. You’d need bowls ten time this size to hold the bulk food the villagers prepare for these occasions!

The lone farang and loving it that way.

Terrific to see all ages involved. My observation of Buddhist events is that it is family oriented with all generations represented.

Dit, the abbot on the left and his number two, a friend of Gaun’s who has just returned from a year in Chiang Rai to spend Buddhist Lent in this area (monks aren’t supposed to swap wats for this three months).

It was a telephoto shot in poor light so I am sorry Dit isn’t in focus. However, what you can tell is that this guy has one of the best smiles in Thailand. He is just the friendliest monk and a favourite of the locals.

The blessing.

A photo of silence.

A public holiday, as is Monday, so Peng was able to join in.

The main food is passed around clockwise.

The most senior monk sits on the far left and the order goes down from there. That’s because the bosses get the best choice of food and whatever is left over ends up with the juniors. Works the same in Buddhism as in everything else 🙂 Mind you with the quantity of food that is presented no one goes hungry. Note the little wheeled tray that make it easy to pass the food around.

Only a small gathering of villagers.

Food being passed up. A huge range of hot, cold, packaged, fruit, drinks etc.

What the monks don’t select ends up available for the locals to eat. No one goes hungry at these events. Here the food is being taken to the public eating area.

And candles being passed up to bless.

Tradition says that at this time of year villagers wanted monks to stay in their temples and not travel around trampling the new rice in paddy fields. They gave the monks candles so they could study their scriptures at night and stay home 🙂 True or not it’s a great story. For the most amazing display of candles and wax carvings made for Buddhist Lent go to my 2015 story HERE.

Hand carved from wax.

Can you spot the big candles in the background in front of the Buddhas? These are lit when the monks have an evening chanting session this time of year.

Part of the blessing requires the pouring of water into a container.

Afterwards the water is returned to the earth by watering a plant with a prayer. An internet source describes it as:

The water is a symbol of life, purity and cleansing. As it is poured it represents the ‘fluid’ nature of generosity, how easy it is for this kindness to pass from one person to another. As the small bowl overflows into the larger one considers how the positive benefits of any generous act ‘overflow’ into the lives of many. When the chanting is finished the water in the bowls can be taken outside and poured onto a tree or plant; again increasing, or expanding the ‘field of merits’ resulting from the initial act of giving.

Gaun doing exactly that here.

Everyone heads to the remaining food. Some is packed up and people get a free takeaway and others stay to eat here.

This is a forest wat and I have been reporting on the construction of its main building for a while now. Progress has been made since I was here last. The stairs have gone in.

And the floor is expanding. Beautiful timber.

And more. This is a more formal use of wood than some of the timber temples I have shared with you.

If this retains a traditional forest wat design then there will be no walls and these views over rice paddies will be retained.Some halls are enclosed so we will wait and see how it pans out.

Nice detailing. A square edge would have been used in many situations, which gives me hope this will end up a beautiful wat.

And on the way back home we called into see Yaun for a coffee, who after a heavy day drinking at Tea’s ordination yesterday and lots of very early mornings collecting mushrooms, wasn’t at her normal bright best! A terrific harvest though.

So you see mushrooms and monks DO mix this time of year.

Thanks for reading and please leave a comment. It’s the only payment I ask for what is for you a completely free Thailand resource.

 

Tony