During my second week in KPP, I participated in the Ubon Ratchathani Candle festival, went on a trip with my host family, and dressed up for ASEAN day at my school.
Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival
On July 25, 2018, I made merit to monks at school with the help of my friends, host family, and teachers as part of the Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival. The festival is to prepare for the rainy season, which peaks from August-October, by giving candles and items to monks to rid the wats and their quarters from darkness. I had never made merit and it was very easy. Kru Nok instructed me to wai correctly and to be sure not to touch the monk, as it is illegal for women in Buddhism.
On July 26, 2018, I woke up at 4am to get dressed in Thai traditional clothing and put on a full face of makeup for the festival’s town parade. My friend, a teacher’s assistant from China, joined me as we were both new foreigners to school. We were driven by my teachers to Rimping, the riverside in Kamphaengphet. We participated by representing Kamphaengphetpittayakom on our float in the parade. The marching band played as we drove slowly around town. We saw many other people wearing Thai traditional clothing, some being as young as seven years old. Of course, so many photos were taken! We finished the celebration at two different Buddhist wats to give the candles and other items to monks.
Family Trip to Nan
On July 27th-July 29th, my extended host family and I went on vacation to Nan, a Northern province about six hours away. It is also where Sofia lives; however, I unfortunately didn’t get to see her. We woke up early and were on the road by 7am. As there were so many of us, we took a lovely and comfortable van with a driver. It was the first time I met my host cousin, a girl my age named King, although I had met her younger brother (maybe two years old) many times before. We got along great and I shared a room with her during the trip. We took occasional stops for food and arrived in Muang Nan in the early evening. We visited the famous Wat Phumin, featuring a famous mural of a man whispering in the ear of a woman. Next to it, there is Nan’s Walking Street, where you can buy delicious food, beautiful handicrafts, and traditional Northern clothes. Right outside, there are mats and low tables so you can sit and enjoy your food and watch informal live performances from people of all ages. The next day, we went to Wat Phra That Khao Noi, overlooking the whole of Nan. We explored and took tons of photos. We travelled for a couple more hours and went to another wat on our way to Pua, Nan.
I had never been to Buddhist wats before that week and there was a lot to learn about paying respects. There are some items that can be purchased or supplied at the wat for praying or making merit. For example, often, we light incense sticks. The number of sticks varies but it is usually three. Every stick must be lit but the flames have to go out. You hold the sticks between your palms and up against your forehead, any lower is disrespectful. Sometimes you will also hold a Phuang Malai (you can read my 1st week post to learn about that). Then, you pray silently for 1-3 minutes in whatever language you speak, as Buddha knows every existing language. Praying while standing is acceptable and sometimes easier if you have candles or Phuang Malai. If you are able to kneel, you finish your prayer by making three bows, pressing your palms to the ground and back to your forehead after each. You can put the incense in several tubs around the temple and outside. The Phuang Malai is hung around offerings. Of course, there is no wrong or right way to pray. These are merely a few things people do to be respectful in wats and it is easiest to just follow what others do.
We then visited beautiful rice fields by the mountains. Beside the fields, there was a vibrant market full of activities. I enjoyed exploring with my host cousin.
On our last day, we started our long journey by having breakfast at a coffee shop that was connected to an art gallery. It was located beside a river and the tree trunks were all painted. We spent about an hour appreciating the environment and art. My favourite piece was unconventional, a van completely painted and outside of the gallery itself. We then drove for several hours and all of us kids sat in the very back, playing games together on our phones or sleeping. Although this was my first time in Nan, I loved the province and couldn’t wait to return.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a political and economic organization with the goal of advancing the economy and maintaining regional stability. The members are Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam. There was a celebration of the organization’s 51st anniversary (August 8th) at my school on August 3rd. Various students and teachers represented the countries in traditional costumes and I wore Thai traditional clothes.
Luckily, I got to wake up later than the last time I dressed up and I put my own makeup on. To my surprise, when Kru Nok and I arrived at morning assembly, I felt under-dressed in comparison to other assigned countries’ outfits and makeup. Some other foreign teachers and students wore traditional clothing from their homelands, such as China and Scotland. We watched beautiful dancing from the ASEAN countries, which my friends later convinced me to join, and fireworks during assembly. We also prayed at various Buddhist wats around school and finished the celebration with lots of photos.
Leo, my German friend and an AFS English teaching assistant, and I joined several teachers as well as our advisors & coordinators on a trip to take photos in Kamphaengphet’s historical park. We visited various wats again and had a lovely lunch afterwards. I had such a fun day learning about ASEAN!