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Friday, November 25, 2011

The Wedding

Drummers and Dancers at the Wedding
A while ago a some friends told us that they were going to have a wedding in November, and they wanted us to be there. It would be a traditional Thai wedding, so we were quite interested to experience this new facet of Thai life as part of our continuing education about the culture we are currently living in.

The invitation arrived and it was primarily in Thai, with some English. Enough for us to know the date and time, and that there would be a western celebration to follow. From what little Thai I can read, it looked like the ceremony started at 0709 AM! The something at 1209 PM and then something at 1700PM. One of our Thai friends was over visiting, so we showed him this invitation and asked him to read it for us, especially the information in Thai about where it was. Now, I should have known better than to ask this. This is the same guy who had us driving all over old Phuket town with the largest concentration of one way streets and 5 road traffic round-abouts, only to find out 45 minutes later that he actually did not know exactly how to get there, but he did know where it was.
Basis Thai 101, always ask specific follow-up questions.
Question :Do you know where Super Cheap is?
Answer: Yes.
Assumption: you know how to drive there and guide me through the shortest possible route to avoid those traffic round-abouts.
Without the follow-up questions, you will find that you may be no further ahead than when you sought an answer in the first place.

Back to the wedding invitation:
Q:Do you know where the ceremony is being held?
Q:Okay, I know Patong, but where exactly will the ceremony happen?
A:In a temple close to where they live
Q:Does it say which temple in Patong?
A:It just says nearby the house
Q:They live near the large temple on the road to katu, do you think they would get married there?
A:Maybe... if they want to they can marry at that temple

Based on my drive to Super Cheap experience, I decided to drop the whole interpret this for me, and decided to call my friends and find out that it would be at their house, and yes it did start at 709AM because the monks picked the date and time and there had to be a "9" in the time, because the number nine is lucky.

2 days prior to the wedding, we received an email advising us that the time had changed to 0830. This was making me feel better knowing I could sleep at least until 6:30! And then another email to say it was changed again to 08:09. Still better than 07:09 in my books. I am seldom up and about much before 08:00, and often got to bed into the wee hours of the morning. Clive on the other hand is up by 05:30 every day without fail. He often tells me about how beautiful it is then, as his almost daily 10K or more, morning run, is usually finished by the time I am crawling out of bed, being harassed by the bassets who are wanting their morning beach run. So he took great delight at having me up at 06:00 and getting to share his bemusement of the beauty of first dawn.

I grumbled all the while about having to put on shoes and long pants, because my normal attire of shorts and T-shirt would be inappropriate. And so off in our best duds, we headed along the eastern coastline from Rawai to Patong. Passing through Kata Noi, Kata and Karon , places I normally avoid because of the traffic and people which at this time of day was completely devoid of any traffic, and the only people on the street were the food cart hawkers, selling the breakfast of everything from deep friend banana, pineapple and papaya; to roasted squid and curry. The temperature was a balmy 23 degrees. I say balmy, as I seem to be adapting to the climate more than I though. That 24 degrees felt very chilling at times we were riding along the beach fronts. The sky was a beautiful blue, and the air smelled so fresh and clean. Elephants were grazing their bundles of grass, and the sea hawks were circling looking for the carnage on the roadways from the night before, of snakes, frogs and rats. We got into Patong and the streets were quite navigable, and our trip took less than 25 minutes, compared to the week prior when the same trip one night took me 1 hour and 30 minutes.

We crested the very steep hill to our friends home and parked our motorbikes. As we made our way to the house that is perched on a small mountain overlooking the city of Patong and the Andaman sea, we had to first pass some small groups of people sitting all over the place. My eye caught the scene of about 6 man, with plastic tumblers, making some significant headway into a bottle of Jonny Walker Black label. Which we were dutifully offered to join. But something about sunrises and whisky just does not work for me, I had not yet had my morning coffee. We sat at a canopied area with patio chairs and tables all decked out in white fabric. We were asked for our drink preference and when we said coffee they looked at us with this look of surprise. And then said they did not have, and quickly returned with a collection of Coke, Fanta in three different colours, and orange is not one of them, a variety of beers and whiskies. They were able to get bottles of water, so at one table sat all of the foreigners with their bottles of water, and the family all sat with bemusement that all the "farangs" were drinking was water.

A 20 something Thai man, who I shall identify as Pon was already in the festive mood. He had gone to an all nighter birthday party and arrived fresh from there for the wedding. He was feeling no pain, and was quite the amusing dancer, making his way around and making sure no one had an empty glass, except for those crazy water-drinking farangs.

The arrival of 9 monks sent us all to our feet to wai to them as they went into the house. The bride followed and 8 of us went up the hill with the groom. We were all given these beautiful krathons set on golden stands, and made of flowers and pandamas grasses. Each one had gold or money in them, including the wedding rings. As we began our procession a drumming band began to escorts us shouting, dancing and beating their drums. I only hoped there were no people sleeping in with a hangover, as this would surely wake them.  In front of us jumped, gyrated and danced Mr. Pon. In the Issan style of the north of Thailand. And across our procession stood people with ropes made of flowers strung together. We had to stop at each one and pay a "toll" of 100 Baht, except for the last one who would not let us pass for less than 200. I am glad the groom saw fit to pay it, so he could get into his ceremony! Our collections of gold and money were then passed at the doorway and into the house.  The bride and groom were dressed in traditional northern costume, and I must say they looked great. Lots of gold fabric. A few months prior to the wedding, they had arranged for the photo shoot that I have normally seen on the day of the wedding, while you are usually trotted off to the hall to wait for the bride and groom to arrive. From the photo shoot, done in various locations and in different outfits (including one in the traditional western, white bridal dress). These had then been produced into coffee table size books, which we passed around waiting for the ceremony to finish. The only ones present for the actual ceremony with the monks were the bride and groom. The mothers stood in the doorway to watch from outside.

And then as quietly as they had arrived, the monks, with a collection of cylindrical stacking food canteens, provided by the couple, hopped into the back of the pick-up truck and headed back to the temple. We were all then invited in to finish some of the rituals with the husband and wife. This included pouring water over their clasped hands, held above floral bouquets, and the mother of the wife, placed a garland type headband on each of their heads, connected by a string. The husbands mother then  placed three white dot on their foreheads. I am not positive of the significance, so I will not try to conjure up some theory. But suffice to say it was very touching and engaging of everyone there. Even the selection of the people to carry the Krathon's was made for the "gifts" they had from longevity to health and nature. All to bring these same traits to the married couple.

Time for the usual family photographers to do their thing. And then it was time for breakfast, of steamed fish, masaman curry, rice, marinated vegetables, a fish and rice curry pate type dish steamed in banana leaves and fresh tropical fruit and a creme caramel, that does not hold up well in the 36 degree sunshine. Make no mistake about it, except for the creme caramel, this is a normal breakfast dish for Thai people. And it was delicious! By now some of the guests had to leave and get back to their homes or work, and the wedding party was tired and changed into casual clothing, so we made out way back to the south of the island. As we were leaving, Mr. Pon was filling a beer crate with ice cold beer. It seems he was not tired and was packing a little something to take to the beach for the intervening hours before the western reception, while all of us old people went for our naps.
There is one thing about Thai hospitality. It is all out. There is never a shortage of food or drink, and it is all given and encouraged with a genuine desire that you enjoy yourself and feel welcome. I noticed that there were some rows of whisky in mickey sized bottles on a table, that some people picked up on their way out, or a cold beer. And the hosts were making sure there was enough so that if anyone wanted one, there was some there. I commented to Clive that in North America, if I went to ta function and picked up a bottle to take home, I would probably be branded a thief and never invited back. here, to not take something would almost be an insult to the hospitality. So if I do ever visit you and make off with a bottle of some of you really good stuff,  you'll know why.

There is a Thai pop song that is called Too Much, So Much, Very Much, by the artist Bird Thongchai.
My friend the bride, has this as a ring tone on her cell phone. Over the past few months when i call her, I would listed to the song and got pretty good at being able to sing along. This seems to amuse her when she says hello and I am singing.."loving you too much, so much, very much right now...", it always stops her as she asks me if I am finished yet. As a laugh I compiled my photos from the day and make an iMovie with the song as the soundtrack. It was a big hit with the Thai's who all know the song and they would begin to sing along and pointing out their friends pictures on the movie.

A big western style BBQ commenced with enough meat to feed 100 people for a week, more beer and whisky, and then it was time to light the floating candles. They had fifty of them and the lanterns are about 1 meter high, and 1/2 meter wide. They are made of bamboo hoops and covered with a white gift wrapping tissue paper material, and centered in the bottom is a wax ring, which you light and let it expand the lantern until it floats aloft. So overlooking the night scene of Patong city, we set off 50 of the lanterns, which the wind caught and blew directly to the city centre. For first timers, it can be tricky knowing when to let go, and to keep the lantern erect while it is filling with the hot air from the wax burning ring. We discovered that in the manufacturing, they had stencilled some with big red hearts, and the paint had not obviously gull dried, thus putting the cinch in the lantern. One such lantern tried to lumber into the air, the wind gust tilted it enough for the lantern itself to catch fire, just as it began it's ascent over the canopied seating area. As the crowd watched and oooh and awwwed this spectacle, I thought, that is going to land on the canopy and set it on fire. the groom had the same idea and we ran down the hill looking for what to do to put it out if it did land. He grabbed the garden hose, and the crowd continued to make sounds of wonderment. The lantern glanced off the pinnacle of the canopy and then tumbled to earth setting the grass alight in the banana trees below the house, which was quickly extinguished and we went back up the hill to the parking lots, where a large assortment of large fireworks canisters had been assembled. They were ignited and filled the night sky with the colours of the rainbow, and simultaneously along the beachfront the night fireworks show was underway along Patong beach. Time to call it a night and make our way back to the quiet of Rawai, after a full and rewarding day.

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