Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

That Phanom Festival

Although it is spelled with a th, the name of the town where we went first on Saturday is pronounced "Tat" as in tit for tat. Known for its celebration of Orkbpeansaa, where monks come off of their retreat, That Phanom is the location of an enormous temple or Wat. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about it: Wat Phra That Phanom is the sacred precinct of the Phra That Phanom chedi, located in the district of the same name, in the southern part of Nakhon Phanom Province, northeastern Thailand. According to legend, this structure contains The Buddha's breast bone, and as such, it is one of the most important Theravada Buddhist structures in the region. It was originally built in the 16th century by the Laotian King Setthathirath of Lanxang. Each year, a festival is held in That Phanom to honor the temple. This festival last for one week, during which thousands of people make pilgrimages to honor the shrine. It is located about 45 minutes south and east of where we are staying so we headed off early, about an hour after the girls representing this high school left on the bus.  
It was quite something to see them as they readied to leave, getting their make-up put on and eating breakfast and saying a prayer or two while burning incense and putting it in front of a tree. I found the contrast between the perfection of their attire and the decrepitude of the hulking bus which would ferry them to their destination remarkable. 

This last dancer was clearly another Ladyboy. There were several participating in the festival, usually in quite flamboyant locations. Then all the dancers filed into the Wat, there were speeches (some in English) and the dancers reemerged in separated groups to do a particular, themed dance. 

The girls in black are "our" girls from Pla Pak. They did a superb job, but it was so hot in the sun that I felt my brain was frying and I retreated into the Wat, which I will show in another post. This girl in the blue is clearly not a ladyboy, but it is hard to believe she is a high school aged young woman, possibly even 15. This is partly due to the make-up and hair of course, but it is difficult to judge ages here in general, which is perhaps one of the reasons one of the first questions anyone asks on meeting another is: How old are you? This is not considered rude since it helps establish status and weiing (hands together to the face and bow of the head) and other deferential behavior. At 51 I am supposed to be ripe for all sorts of veneration, but when I tell people my age mostly I get a cackling, hysterical laugh. I think (hope!) it is because I appear a svelte and stylish dandy in my late 30's...Below are a few of the hoi polloi that attended, including the former prime minister of Thailand. It is quite interesting to observe the various levels of bureaucracy as they wei each other since there is a relatively elaborate system of doing this, as far as how low to bow and where to place the hands in relation to the face depending on the status of the person being "weied". The hands are supposed to represent a lotus flower in their shape.

Everyone was very "rip roy, the term for gussied up, which is a big part of teaching as well. I am expected to dress crisply every day and there are strict etiquette rules for women as well. This is a challenge in a country with rudimentary laundry facilities.

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