TUESDAY 18th JUNE

I have been partaking in a bit of Buddhism in an unplanned way. I wanted to go to Big C, which is a shopping Mall in Phuket city about a 45 minute drive from the villa. On the way Kaun asked me if I had been to the big Buddha. This is a huge white statue on top of the highest hill around here and overlooks the whole Phuket area. I hadn’t and in that lovely flexible agenda sort of way we wound through narrow side streets to get to the main road up the hill to the BB.

The Big Buddha statue

For us tourists it is mainly a photo opportunity but for the Thais it is also a spiritual place and chance to earn some merit points. The wonderful bonus of being with Kaun is that she involves me in whatever is going on, which otherwise I would totally miss.

On the way in attendants hand out shawls and wrap round skirts for the woman. Kaun ended up looking very conservative for once except for the Buddha dog handbag:

Conservative Kaun

So we did the whole ceremony including getting blessed by the monk. It’s quite a process which involved starting by buying a pack of items including a plastic tub of food items, flowers, candles and incense.

Going back a step. If you had images of an ancient Buddhist temple, beautifully arranged with that deep silence one associates with places of power then think again. This is set in a large shed, concrete floor and the multi Buddha statues and images are scattered around in no particular order. No special photo opportunities for tourists at all. What were they thinking?

Big Buddha temple

The ceremony in this case involved removing shoes of course, going up to the central area kneeling and bowing three times. The kneeling resulted in being attacked by tiny ants, who were promptly dispatched in a totally un-Buddhist fashion. Maybe the rest of the ceremony was to atone for this act of aggression in a temple.

The flowers were placed on a brass plate, the candles lit from a brazier and put into holders, where they were promptly blown out by the breeze, the incense lit, three bows and stuck in a bowl full of sand. You then make a donation to buy a bottle of oil which is poured into the brazier to keep it going. Three more bows and this part is completed.

We then went over to where the monk was, except he had gone on his tea break. Kaun filled out a piece of paper provided, which she told me is to record the people you wanted recognised, in her case her papa (her word) who died when she was five. The plastic tub of food (have you been keeping up?) is offered to the spirit of that person through the monk. We also picked up a little brass pouring jug, filled it with water, and a bowl.

The missing monk

We waited a while for the monk to return, which Kaun put down to “monk poo poo too mutt” and took some photos as Thais, like us farang, record everything and there doesn’t seem to be any restriction in a temple area.

On the monk’s return we both went up and bowed three times. The food tub was handed over and the piece of paper deposited into a large slotted container. The water from the jug was slowly poured into the bowl while the monk chanted some words, we then got hit on the head with a bunch of reeds dipped in water and had a multicoloured wristband attached. Audience over. Kaun then took the bowl of water and we both poured it over a plant just outside. Collected out shoes and blessing complete.

Now a regular tourist on a package in/out tour would have missed all of that. I feel so lucky to have the chance to get a glimpse into the local world with traditional connections still being made even in the midst of the tourist silliness.

I balanced my spiritual work by buying a bottle of wine, three t shirts and a Wendy’s ice cream at Big C. Also bought a coffee from inside the supermarket only because the person serving was a full on ladyboy with the whole large eyelashes, makeup and gear. Wonderful. Can’t see it happening at Woollies but wish it would.