Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Breaker, breaker.... I'm outta here...

I'm going away for a while. No set date to come back. Need to clear the cobwebs, get some sun, get some exercise, lay on a beach, walk in the forest, visit friends, eat non-curry dishes, go to the movies. Live. Life.

No need to worry, J is coming with.. just need to escape the folks, you know!

Probably will have some interesting tales when I come back :-D

Saturday, 15 March 2008

No invite...no problem

It's been a bit quiet for a few days with a lull in parties but got to go to another Chinese style 8 course wedding one again today at lunch time.... but with a twist. We weren't exactly invited. J's uncle owns the restaurant and the guy getting married was a Vietnamese-Aussie dude marrying a village girl, so he thought I'd like a gander.

Just as we arrived the wedded couple were singing a karaoke duet in English which was such a treat. Then he made a little speech in English which she translated while everyone was feeding their faces with the same scrumptious array seen in pics on my previous post. J and I ate on the sly in the kitchen! The couple won't be living in the ville as he works in Pattaya so they just came back for the family wedding. It was quite amusing when the bride (who was stunning in a long sleeve wedding dress - not sure if it was traditional Vietnamese style, or old style Thai) threw the bouquet to a crowd of highly excited ladies... now that, I have never seen at a Thai wedding!

I didn't take any photos today though as sometimes I get a bit of a complex doing the touristy photo shoots at stranger's weddings. One of the restaurant's waitresses dumped her super cutorarama 6 month baby on me anyway the second I walked in the door, so I was kinda distracted! No clucking in the corner please!

And, just as a side note... this was my dinner tonight! Uncle gave us a fish left over from the wedding..not sure where the crabs came from but they were super fresh. Yumola!

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Thai Wedding Party Gorge Out

The 8 course wedding party heartily lived up to expectations last night. It was a relatively small party with about 120 guests. People started arriving around 5pm and when the tables were predominantly full at around 5.20pm the first course rolled out. I was the only woman at my table of 7 drinking men. It turned out to be quite amusing because after I took a photo of the first course they then wouldn't touch the food until I snapped a picture! I forgot a couple of times and had the whole table waiting to eat. Very polite gentlemen indeed.

These multi-course wedding parties are called "Toh Chien" literally Chinese Table in the tradition of a Chinese wedding.

The top pix are the happy couple, the entrance into the restaurant, the creepy hood ornament on the wedding car and some of the guests seated.

Let me delve into the details to excite your senses.

First course: nibblies of lemon grass salad, cashew nuts, salty eggs with fresh ginger, bite sized pastry like things, that weren't really pastry, filled with some sort of coconutty mixture and pineapple in the centre.

Second course: Huge salad with tempura king prawns (to die for, die.for. Delicious!)

Third course: Krapoh Pla (fish fat soup!) Soup with yumola mushrooms, shredded chicken, coriander and apparently big globs of fish fat.

Fourth course: Pork with gravy and vegetables. Looked good and they seemed to enjoy it!

Fifth course: Steamed fish with lemongrass, coriander and chilli

Sixth course: Seafood Tom Yum

Seventh course: Fried Rice

Eighth course: Rambutan fruit in syrup. By this course I was so full that I didn't have complete control over my senses and was too slow in taking a picture before the men devoured it.

The eating went for an hour which was interspersed with speeches from theparents, the bride and groom and some not so bad karaoke. After all the guests had arrived the wedded couple goes around to personally thank each person for coming. When arriving at our table the groom was quite chuffed to say thank you to me in English. He was aglow...very cute!

And of course, of course, the night would not have been complete without 8 giant karaoke speakers on both sides of the stage. There's a dude walking by that gives a good indication how big these suckers are.

It seems we're not finished yet with the parties. The neighbour directly across the street from us (the fried chicken lady) is setting up for a monk party tonight. This is also our Pu Yai Ban's house (Village Leader). His son, the one going to do a brief stunt in monkhood went AWOL from the army last year so is officially in hiding (for the next 20 years, I kid you not), so the party will thankfully be a small affair. Only one tent and only 4 karaoke speakers have been set up.

Was a fab night. Should have some monk party ones later from the neighbour's do.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Party Profiteering

Just in case anyone is interested in the financial side of hard partying Thais - the week long funeral for my neighbour cost just under 100,000 baht (~A$3,500). Whoa, I hear you shreaking. But wait there's more. Every person that comes to eat at the party makes a donation. They made 200,000 baht from donations. Noice, very noice. This is the real reason I think a lot of people hold the big monk parties. Of course it's being completely cynical but becoming a monk for 2 weeks isn't really telling the world you're doing it for the 'right' reasons and all multi-day parties bring in this kind of cash. It's huge!

I'm off to the Chinese style wedding (because it's 7 courses - obviously a Chinese thing!) soon, so hope to post pics tomorrow.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Parties Galore...

I'm sure I've mentioned before that there are certain times of the year that are particularly auspicious in Thailand. I believe the days are determined by ancient rituals held by Buddha, his disciples, monks and the particular alignment of the planets. I'm totally being serious here.

So, it seems this week is duperliciously auspicious due to the ridiculous number of parties going on in the ville. Today I went to a wedding party at 1pm and an hour later walked directly across the street to attend a funeral party. Same family, karaoke set up at both, spaced approximately 15 metres apart! Should be fun for all their neighbours. The actual wedding ceremony is tomorrow so it was just another sit down, eat up, give a donation and leave type deal today without any fanfare (hence no photos). People who are invited can show up any of the 3 days the wedding is held for or any of the 7 days the funeral is held for.

What was on the menu today? Anyone who has read this blog for a while will know that I'm a non-pork, non-beef eater and every single gazillion party held in Southern Thailand predominantly only serve these meaty disgusts and possibly one fish gut curry (see photo...hmm!). Totally the norm, obviously not a lot of Muslims in my area. Today was no different. Plate of rice, scoop of fish guts and a couple of slices of cucumber. yarrr-mee. BUT they did have sticky red rice with delectable sweet stuff accompanying it which more then made up for the guts. Over to the funeral we politely refused more food at least 7 times but sat for a chatski for politeness, then scadaddled back home so J could assist papa dear set up 4 more tents for a party down the road (family biz = party hire... yes it is quite lucrative!)

Late this arv, the folks ordered us to go to another party (pre-monk initiation) because they had to attend a different one in the opposite direction. I made J go on his own though because I'm thinking that if I have to put any more fish guts down my gob today I will probably end up expressively regurgitating it, making for an ugly scene. This picture is how you buy the fish guts if any of you are interested.

Just driving back from the parties this arv, there were at least 5 houses in our street with tents, tables and chairs all set up. Go the planetary alignment. AND fab news is that there is a Chinese style wedding this week which I live for. LIVE for damn it! 7 course meal, all scrumalicious and usually not a piggy or mooball to be seen in the place. See here for one I documented last year. Hope the folks don't rip this one away from us!!

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Final Day of the Funeral

Death has a way of putting everything into perspective, doesn't it? I mean what is the use in being unhappy, angry, resentful when you're just going to die anyway. What a complete waste of time, of which I have plenty so I am no longer a dweller in da house of doom (so I may need another name for my humble abode!)

One of the many things that I love about Thai people is how they deal with death. I first witnessed it in the aftermath of the tsunami and have witnessed it in the village countless times. Their strength is incomparable and it awes me. Today that facade shifted. With his cremation, came the rivers of tears. Totally heartbreaking.

It was the final day of the funeral today. About 20 monks came to do the final chanting rites before the cremation at our local temple at 3pm. The monk part of the ceremony went for a couple of hours as they do some chanting first, then the head monk did a sermon (for want of a better word) and we had a super chattarama leader in the house today and a comedian to boot. He (head honcho monk) had everyone cracking up which was so brilliant to watch. I could only understand about 10% of what he was saying (southern dialect and cos he was a bit of a freak!) but J translated quite a bit for me. He was joking but had serious undertones about gambling and alcoholism and that people like to make a show of being so Buddhist, but then go to every funeral to gamble and drink. Much hilarity was to be had as he said he was aware that none such thing had been happening at this funeral! A har har, Casino Ville the funeral should have been called! If you look closely at the 2nd photo you can see the head monk sitting much higher then the other monks, next to the sparkly coffin.

Listening to so many monks chanting is the fastest way to teleport me back to reality. It lifts me up to the place that I wish was where my true self resided at all times. It also is a very timely reminder about why I love living here so darn much! Exquisite.

After the second lot of chanting finishes, important people in the community and family members come forward to make a donation to the monks. When this is completed the monks leave and then everyone lines up holding onto handmade paper flowers that they put through the candle flame to symbolise the burning of the body.

Then the final stage of the funeral is where the body is transported to the temple in a sea of vehicles as everyone from the funeral sends him off. The coffin is carried up the stairs to the temple furnace where the immediate family lifts his body out of the coffin and places him into the fire. The first time I saw this done I was so confronted, so speechless, so shocked. Imagine personally putting the body of your dearly departed into the fire yourself. I was astounded at the gravity of this process. The grief it would surely cause. But I think the act of doing it is so final that perhaps it gives them closure. I have been invited several times to be a part of this process but can not do it. The final picture shows the temple furnace up the stairs where the deceased's children, wife and siblings stand (after cremating him), where they throw cellophane wrapped coins to the crowd for prosperity, luck and to end the ceremony with smiles. A small ceremony will be held at the temple in the morning to retrieve his ashes.

I am truly blessed living in this amazing country.

Southern Thai Music

I have a new found respect for Manora singers. If you haven't read my post on southern Thai music, either scroll down to the next post or click here to see the post and watch a couple of video clips. The dude started singing at around 8pm and didn't stop til nearly 4 am the next morning... without stopping! I am not joking. It was impossible to sleep with the sound vibrations gently moving the hairs on my arms to and fro so I was watching the clock every 20 minutes (and when he did stop they put on a tape of equally deafening local music). Apparently the all night vigil was like a sign of respect by playing local Thai folk music for my deceased neighbour's sending off, so putting it that way made it less painful... sleep schneep, who needs it anyway!

Thais seem to have this innate ability to talk and talk, and talk if they are asked to make a speech. I've always found it phenomenal as I run out of things to say after about 30 seconds... or rather I'm self conscious of boring people to death so just shut my face. Thais don't have that. They'll talk about anything as I think it must be impolite to speak for less then 10 minutes if you're asked to talk, judging by what I've seen here. Relevant how? Manora singing is basically talking with a tune and this guy should surely get a world record. Respect to my homies dude, I am officially impressed.

We were treated to our third night of home made fireworks last night..lovely lovely.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Another Election Day..

Today was a full on day. Thais went to the polls again to vote for their Provincial Senator to represent in parliament. At least I think that's what's going on! We've been on the election campaign trail for a couple of weeks as Hillary, sorry J (my husband) has been one of the organisers gathering people to check off names in 23 areas of a couple of villages and today we had to go round checking on everyone to see if they showed up so they can get paid. Tomorrow we have to go around yet again for about the 50th time to actually pay them, and then hopefully the craziness will end.

I don't think Thais are particularly well known for their organisation skills (yes, horrible generalisation, I know it) ...it's just been a never ending stream of phone calls changing plans every 5 minutes and telling everyone they're getting paid x amount then reducing it by 50 baht to pay for photocopying. Now you do the math.. deducting 50 baht from a few thousand people to pay for photocopying... ahem *corruption* acough cough! Anyhooo dodo doo...

So now we're home and yes, the karaoke has finally begun, the street stalls have indeed been set up, and our house has been taken over by about 40 kids running and screaming all around our house. Nothing better when one is suffering from PMS... ah sweet heaven. oh oh ooow, J's dad just cracked the shits at them! He's fierce when he wants to be!! ...ok that resulted in about 20 milliseconds of peace...moving on..

We were just treated to some fabulous fireworks though which I love love love! Especially home made ones where the element of danger seems to add to the thrill! Let me talk you through the photos... firstly the view from my bedroom window which over looks the back yard and neighbour's house where the tent is..all the chairs and the speakers are on our side. This was at 5 pm this afternoon. You will please take note of the extraordinarily large speakers in the lower right corner (click for a slightly bigger view)..hmm, whatever could they be for. hmmm, how many metres is that from my place of sleep...hmm, approximately 20 metres!

Secondly, the view from the front upstairs window of street stalls setting up to sell sweets, clothes and fried chicken.

Thirdly, we have the entrance to our front door... I guess business is closed today!

Then, the sparkly, fridge coffin, not yet completely adorned as it's only officially the first day of the funeral (how many first days can you have?!).

Anyone hungry? I haven't actually even been over next door to eat in the last 3 days...you'll see why... obviously J's stolen the camera as I only saw this photo for the first time about 5 minutes ago! The guy peeling off the face is about 16. Probably should have warned about content cos I'm feeling ill and avoiding looking at it myself.

So, if you can't do face, how about trotters. Actually I believe this is a bubba cow and the pan on the right are its innards. I'm not a meat eater (I'm in denial that chicken is meat ok) but I do appreciate the fact that it is prepared this way rather then picking it up in plastic covered polystyrene from the sterile supermarket. There's usually a bunch of kids standing around watching the proceedings.

Oh blaspheme, blaspheme... the noise! People who haven't ever lived in Thailand can never truly appreciate the noise in this country. Seriously, there is nothing like it (except perhaps there is in other developing countries!). Our television is so loud it's vibrating. Why? So the parents can hear it over the karaoke 20 metres from our house. Everyone a couple of metres behind me is yelling at each other. Why? Because there are 7 visitors here (fam from another village come for the funeral) and they are yelling over the sound of the television (and the karaoke). The children are high on coke and fanta. I'm getting high off the vibrations from all the noise, I swear.

Oh dear they've switched from karaoke to southern style manora singing. Now, don't get me wrong, I love being exposed to such amazing cultural diversity, but keep in mind, these dudes have been drinking for hours so it kinda takes the beauty out of the sounds that come out of their mouths. Manora music and singing is almost impossible to describe, but I'll give it a whirl. Improvisational droning words the 'singer' thinks up on the spot and adds an Indian "hngg-anngggging" sound for a few seconds after every third word. If only I had a youtube clip of this. I'll keep searching while I have some peace and quiet! ahar har.

Found one, although there's no singing but from the music you'll get the idea.. shitacious clip that is hard to watch but just listen to the first millisecond to get the idea of what I've been listening to for the last hour and will surely go on late into the night.

มโนราห์ 1 - ดูวิดีโอทั้งหมด กดที่นี่

Ok, found another one of singing, but this one is actually awesome and can not compare in any way to what I am actually being subjected to here. These guys are award winners in their craft whereas I am listening to a group of men tanked off their asses (pissed, drunk you know) with the speakers turned up so loud the trees are calling for mercy, the back windows are trembling and all the voices are distorted. So, yeah, a really similar experience. But, get past the first minute of talking in this clip and listen to this southern style Thai singing.. it is just beautiful.
เพลงบอก - ดูวิดีโอทั้งหมด กดที่นี่

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Important Visitor

Yesterday must have been a highly auspicious day in the ville as the Governor of our province did a house call to our lovely friend who is always doing great work in the community and also visited the local temple. Great news as it meant a huge assortment of free food, and I am quite the sucker for a free delishy feed. Check out this buffet of about 15 curries, Thai salads and deserts. Yumola! Also on offer were peel your own bamboo stick to eat the coconut sticky rice inside. It's not so easy to peel these suckers! I waited til we got home and bashed it with a hammer to break it open! Cheater extreme.

After feeding ourselves to ridiculous levels of fullness, we high tailed to friend's house to help prepare for the official's visit. We put all her boards of all the projects she's done in the village along the driveway for him to peruse. This ended up being futile as it started pissing down with rain just as we finished putting them up!

She did a bit of a fishing demo. These fish ponds have gone up in every second house in the village in the last 3 months..it's the latest trend which is quite fab as people can be more sustainable and even make money by selling the fish. Very easy and cheap to build and maintain.

She had lots of demonstration areas like this one where she teaches people how to make different types of fertiliser and dish washing liquid without using chemicals. Not to mention the edible frogs they were bagging up. Actually these ones aren't for eating, they're for breeding and cost 300 baht for one! It became hysterical when they put all the frogs in the red bags in a big bowl and left them and 5 minutes later they all started escaping. High entertainment! But then they put them in plastic bags which was nauseatingly disturbing. And later presented it to the governor! He looked really impressed (see below).

And then he came...oh exalted one. The Provincial Governor. It always fascinates me watching Thais around 'powerful' people. The respect they are given is just beyond imagination. It is also a small part of why I think corruption is rampant in Thailand because they go unquestioned because they are so important, but that's another waffle. This dude seemed genuinely nice and interested in what was going on.

On his arrival he was seated on a dais with flowers, slightly elevated above the crowd, like a monk actually. Then the speeches started..then when it was his turn everyone crowded around eagerly smiling widely. After his half hour visit and just before leaving he was bombarded by everyone, and I mean everyone wanting their photo taken with him (including my husband who was very excited with Mr Gov asking me lots of questions). Our photo didn't turn out unfortunately as I think the dude had never touched a camera in his life! J was very disappointed to put it lightly! I love days like this :-D

Village Casino

So, my neighbour died on Tuesday..it's now Saturday and I'm a thanking the lord I haven't been subjected to the delightfully raucous sounds of obscenely loud karaoke all week (cos it's all about me, you know). It's gotta be some kind of miracle. Especially since the speakers were delivered on Tuesday. I do believe it may be due to the fact that the entire front yard of our neighbour's house (which is parallel to our backyard with no fence) has become a casino and perhaps they don't want to draw more attention to themselves. I've done a bit of face blotting cos you just never know who reads these blogs and wouldn't want to get anyone in trouble!

Every night at about 7 or 8pm the crowds start gathering. By 10pm there's at least a hundred people gathered in a dozen or so circles getting their game on. Now, officially, gambling is illegal in Thailand, but when there's a death, no one cares and the law overlooks this indiscretion. Hell, the cops come and join the fun! They've put curtains up and everything to make it quite the cosy punting grounds! Most people seem to head back home by about 1 or 2 in the morning but there will still be a sizable group of about 10-20 people still playing when I get out of bed around 7.

It's been 5 days since the death and apparently the party is only starting tonight. This morning I go outside and 3 fat pigs were awaiting death in small cages in our backyard. I left (to go visiting wonderful farang superchic in the next province for coffee, goss and chocolate. ie bliss) before the chop thank goodness, cos there's nothing so bad as hearing pigs meeting their maker. I imagine this part of the party, the part that involves a thousand people coming to eat from sun up to sun up again and drink into the night, singing karaoke, will go for at least 2 more days and his body will potentially be burned about Tuesday. But every funeral seems to set a different time for cremation, so who knows how long it will go for. No little street stalls selling food have been set up yet but that's only a matter of hours I'm sure. Ah, the sense of community at its best!