Tuesday was a big day for the ordination of monks in Sukhothai. I was told that my normal shorts, t-shirt and sandals was fine for the previous day but grown-up pants and a nice shirt would be needed for the final day, which I brought in anticipation for such a rule.
“Thais are a relaxed people so the dress code is simple. You can wear jeans, pants, a dress, a skirt, anything that’s comfortable. The only things you should not wear are shorts, very short sleeved or sleeveless shirts and anything that is black.
“Black is the color for funerals, so Thais do not wear it for the temple at any other time, particularly for special occasions. Bright colors, however, are fine (and they would definitely be in style on the final day!).”
We traveled to the Wat Pho outside of Sukhothai, where a large street bazaar was set up permanently, signaling that this temple gets a lot of traffic.
The temple seems more of a working place rather than someplace for tourists, with a huge hall where ceremonies were held, and several ornately decorated temple buildings.. The food waiting to be cooked for visitors stood stacked six-feet high in a hallway.
Once there, Non and I had a little disagreement over who would use my camera – me or Sai. When I attend an event like this one, my interest is to capture the essence of the affair. Sai’s goal was to take pictures of her boyfriend. They are not the same thing, but not mutally exclusive.
I lost the argument and handed my phone over to a college student – one who turned out to do a pretty good job. Some of her photos are truly emotional, as she was able to get closer to the subject than this tall American was going to be able to manage. Photos of Kuan generally were taken by Sai. general photos to the mix.
I did get in my share of still shots, but contented myself mostly with doing videos with my new camera. Much of the action actually is better reported using video, but be aware that these are loud. The music and the master of ceremonies were so loud, I had to leave the building on a couple of occasions.
The best way I can describe this ordination is as a combination of Marti Gras in New Orleans, African tribal rituals, and evangelical christian ceremonies at black churches in Mississippi or white churches in Kansas. It certainly was not a solemn experience for the attendees, as many danced and sang for hours. Many were encouraged by Thai whiskey camouflaged in soda bottles.
For the monks to be, and their parents, the situation was solemn. For example, the candidates are not allowed to smile when taking photos. I learned this the day after I kept encouraging Kuan to smile when I was shooting. He couldn’t resist.
From the web: “Most men in Thailand will eventually become a monk. Not as long-term as it would be in the west, being a monk in Thailand can be as short as for only a day or as long as the rest of the man’s life. Most Thai men fall in between. A week, a few weeks or a month or two is quite common, with most Thai businesses allowing unpaid leave so a Thai man can become a monk.
“Becoming a monk for a man in Thailand shows his commitment to his Buddhist faith. It also is usually a precursor to marriage, with some families refusing to allow their daughter to marry a man who hasn’t been one.”
I’ve also read that becoming a monk is a show of respect for the mother, who is heavily involved in all the ceremonies. Other family members also participate, such as cutting the hair or marching in the Mardi Gras-like parade at the end of the ordination.
The Tuesday ceremony was long and loud, four hours of mind-numbing noise. The candidates sat in their prescribed positions around the center stage, with family members around them, most notably their parents.
The ceremony ended this day with the unwrapping of the class centerpice, a 7-foot-tall green and gold tree-like art creation in the center of the room. A close examination revealed that it is mostly made up of banana tree leaves. The work is intricate and I would guess time-consuming.
On the way back to the truck, we stopped at a restaurant stall in the bazaar owned by friends of Non. A group of men offered my a drink, so I sat down and tried to have a conversation. One of the men was the cook, who looked the part of a pirate, especially when he decided to put a bottle cap over one eye. That prompted me to walk over to ask if he was a pirate. We got along fine after.
After returning to the hotel to refresh, we headed to Sai’s home for dinner again. There were already about eight men and a woman there, having just finished their meal and tearing into the Chang beer and whiskey.
Kuan’s mother had baked two Thai perch, about 5 pounds each, accompanied by an assorted of other dishes. We ate and drank for a while before Non decided to bridge the gap between the two groups, with lots of Thai conversation following, including a lot of looking and pointing at the American.
We then headed back to the temple, I thought for dinner. Actually, we were there to sit in front of one of three stages, watching middle-aged fat women dance in a circle to loud music. We had a bottle and eventually the guys (not me) decided to dance.
Back at the hotel, I frantically put out my Monday Hua Hin newsletter late Tuesday night, before crashing hard.
More Day 2 images:
Mother and son