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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
………..or maybe some of the questions the candidates get asked such as:
- 1. Do you suffer from leprosy? If you do, answer ‘Yes, Venerable Sir’, if you do not, answer ‘No, Venerable Sir’.
- 2. Have you got boils?
- 3. Have you got eczema?
- 4. Have you got tuberculosis?
- 5. Do you get epilepsy?
- 6. Are you a human being?
- 7. Are you a man?
- 8. Are you a free man?
- 9. Are you free from government service?
- 10. Have you got your parents’ permission to be ordained?
- 11. Have you a set of three robes and an alms bowl?
- 12. What is your name? (My name is Naga.)
- 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 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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
So you see mushrooms and monks DO mix this time of year.
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