Daily Archives: April 19, 2005

Ordination as a Monk

After all the lead up, it was now time for the ordination of Nattawud as a monk. You can see in the above photograph that Nattawud is facing towards the Buddha images and directly opposite the abbot. He is surrounded by 22 monks. I was actually quite surprised how casual the whole affair was. The abbot was just sitting there chatting away and a monk to his right was busy making him a cup of tea. I know for the past week or so that Nattawud was worried that he would forget his lines or do the wrong thing at the wrong time. They had given him a small yellow book which contained all the words for the ordination. Most of this he would repeat after one of the monks, but some sections had been underlined as these ones he had to learn off by heart.

After some introductory chanting, Nattawud came forward on his knees and entered the group of monks. He put the robes down to his left and then did the five-point prostration three times. To do this, your forehead, two forearms and two knees must be touching the floor. He then made an offering of different trays to the monks. Finally, he again placed the robes over his forearms, joined his hands in respect and then started chanting in Pali. That is right, the ordination is not in Thai. They use the ancient language of the scriptures. This is what makes it so difficult. But, the monks around him were very kind and kept prompting him if it looked like he had forgotten his lines. After about five minutes or so, Nattawud took off his white shirt and the abbot placed the amsa (the shoulder cloth) over Nattawud’s head covering his left shoulder. He then told him to go with one of the monks to get changed into the rest of the robes.

They then went to the back of the ordination hall behind the Buddha images. I can imagine it is not at all easy to put the robes on. You can see in the left hand picture Nattawud is trying to slip off his white trousers and underpants and still keep some dignity. Notice how the monk smiles at him. I think I am right in saying that the robes consist of four pieces. And as I have mentioned before, underwear, for some reason, is not allowed. Obviously he would have to be careful when he goes back to do his prostrations. The lay people in the audience might get more than they bargained for!

Once he was properly dressed, Nattawud went to kneel down near his family in front of a single monk. Here he requested the Refuges and Precepts. The basic translation goes like: “I go to the Buddha for refuge. I go to the Dhamma for refuge. I go to the Sangha for refuge.” Then the monk informed Nattawud that he is now a samanera (which is like a novice monk). He then told him the ten precepts he would have to keep as a samanera. This was again done in Pali and Nattawud had to repeat after each line. Do you see the guy in white? He has been at Nattawud’s shoulder for most of the time. In some of the pictures you can see him making a loud stage whisper whenever Nattawud couldn’t quite repeat after the monk.

Here is a rough translation of the ten precepts:

(1) Refraining from killing living beings
(2) Refraining from taking what is not given
(3) Refraining from unchaste conduct
(4) Refraining from false speech
(5) Refraining from distilled and fermented intoxicants which cause carelessness
(6) Refraining from eating at the forbidden time
(7) Refraining from dancing, singing, music and going to see entertainments
(8) Refraining from wearing garlands, using perfumes
(9) Refraining from using high or large beds
(10) Refraining from accepting gold and silver

Nattawud then prostrated three times which concluded the first part of the ordination. This is as far as he got last time when he ordained as a novice monk during the funeral of his grandfather. What happens next will make him a fully fledged monk. I will tell you the rest tomorrow and about the incident which had everyone cracking up with laughter.

Songkhran DC Style!

Sawasdee Krab,

Welcome to my second blog. My apologies for not having this published before now I had planned to already have this done yesterday but I was getting the hang of posting my pics here and also getting over a fairly serious Songkran sunburn, not fun!

The good news is now I have my first photo album here of all the pics I took during Songkhran this weekend, complete with captions! So after reading this please feel free to check that out also. My thanks to Richard for all his help teaching this green horn blogger the ropes getting the pics for this blog posted and setting up my photo album. Man I just love that new blog smell! And now on with todays topic.

Here in Washington we actually have two Thai Buddhist temples, Wat Tummaprateip in Virginia and Wat Thai DC in Silver Spring Maryland. Usually the weekend before Songkhran in Thailand Wat Tummaprateip holds it’s celebration on Sunday for Thai people and friends to attend and have fun. Wat Tummaprateip is a much bigger Wat so they have a much bigger celebration to bring in the Thai New Year however this temple is in rural Virginia a good ways from where I live in Washington so if you don’t have a car it is rather hard to get to.

As you can see from the pics above I went to the celebration at Wat Thai DC which is a smaller but very nice temple in a quiet wooded suburb of Maryland. Wat Thai has their own Songkhran festival the weekend after it is celebrated in Thailand so if you can get to both Temples you can actually celebrate Songkhran twice two weekends in a row! Maybe next year if I cannot be in Thailand for Songkhran I’ll try going to both.

Wat Thai is also where I go two nights a week to study Thai language so I know the monks there and it is a very relaxed and friendly place for farangs as well as Thai people in the community to go and learn Thai, or learn English, study the Dhamma or practice meditation with the monks. I’ll be writing more on that in future blogs to be sure.

Sunday I got dressed early and left for the temple in Maryland. For this Songkhran I wore a special outfit for the occasion. A friend from Thailand last summer brought me a traditional style shirt from the Issan region of Thailand and also a nice plaid sash called a Pa-Kaao-Ma that is worn with it. I carried my digital camera, phone, etc. in a Yarm, also a gift from my friend. A Yarm is a woven shoulder bag you would often see a monk carrying tucked under his arm.

Dressed as I was I knew I might get some looks but I figured this would be the one time of the year, if any, I should wear this outside the house. I probably did look a sight walking to the subway in my neighborhood a tall, very pale, bald farang dressed like Issan Thailand in inner city Washington, DC. Look for my pic in the photo album to see for yourself how I looked.

To get to Wat Thai you ride the Metro subway train all the way to Glenmont the last stop in Maryland and then the temple is exactly one mile down the road. Usually I walk to the temple from the Metro but at Songkhran they arrange for shuttles to carry people to there and back and I got there just as another full shuttle was about to leave. I needn’t worry about how I looked dressed in my outfit as two Thai girls were standing on the sidewalk as I exited the station. The looked at me and both said “oh, suay mahk!” (very beautiful) I think I might have blushed as I smiled, gave them a friendly ‘wai’ and then got on the shuttle. At 10:30 that morning already there were so many people there and we made several stops along the way to pick up more passengers.

I made it to Wat Thai just in time as the monks came out of the temple for traditional Alms round. This is the biggest event of the day because so many Thai people that live here can gather to give food to the monks and earn merit which is very important in Thai Buddhism for living a good life for yourself and your family. There was a huge crowd around the front of the temple and people had baskets overflowing with foods to give to the monks.

Many Thai people brought their own food to give to the monks but if you did not have any you could buy a basket of food from the temple for $20 to give the monks. Some people might think this is a rip off to buy food from someone then you turn around and give it to them but not really. This way you can make merit two ways by giving to the monks and your money is a donation to help the temple. After Alms the monks went inside to eat the food offered and prepared for them before midday when Buddhist monks must fast until sunrise the next day. I am sure they have so much food left over that they donate what is left to needy people that are not as fortunate.

While the monks were eating inside the temple I checked out the food stalls and shopping market spread out around the temple grounds. Every inch of concrete and pavement in the parking lot of the temple was taken up with stalls selling all kinds of Thai food. This is one of my favorites for Songkhran because there is so much to eat and very cheap too!

The pic above on the right is my favorite to eat – grilled chicken! It is so good and I have that everytime I go to the festival. The pic on the left is what the kids do here for throwing water. This is what most people recognize when they think of Songkhran but if they come to Wat Thai planning to get wet they may be disappointed since we do not throw water everywhere like in Thailand.

The reason for that is there is not a lot of room as all the food and shopping stalls take up the pavement and parking lot. The rest of the temple grounds are soft dirt and grass and woods. If we tried to have a big water fight like in Thailand it would be a huge muddy mess! Personally that would be a lot of fun but parents would probably not be so keen on their kids getting that dirty especially since many of the kids there performed at the festival and are dressed in nice traditional Thai costumes.

Instead they hand out cans of silly string for kids to use like you see in the pic above. It’s probably not the same but the kids still think it is fun to squirt each other and possibly any unsupecting adults.

I’ve gone on a lot today and there is still so much more to tell you about so I will write again including more about the Buddhist traditions at the festival, entertainment for the crowds, more food of course and my other favorite, shopping! Look for Part 2 tomorrow.

Check out my photo album for all the pics and also check out these links for more information about the Buddhist temples here in Washington.


Till next time,



Did you know you have died?

One of the best things about living in Thailand is DMC TV, or as I affectionately call it, Buddha TV. DMC TV is the media branch of the Dhammakaya Foundation, which seeks to promote meditation and Buddhist studies around world. Among its claims to fame are building the world’s largest public building, and of course, this little gem…khun roo mai, khun nan kae dtai? Produced for its kiddie show, there are no words to describe the utter genius of this music video: from the skeletons doing the Batusi, to the images of the cute puppy and kitten placed at the lyric kai, kai, kai ga dtawng dtai, to the utterly surreal image of the army of cloned nurses dancing in zombie-like synchronicity.

Of course, the message of the song rocks as well. The reason children are such obnoxious lil’ snots is because they have no sense of their mortality. Children need to learn from a very early age, as the song states, “If you’re afraid, you will die./If you aren’t afraid, you will die.” Sadly, sort of this video would never get any airplay in America due to fat ignorant soccer moms from Kansas.

Oh yeah…there is also a great kiddie music video about cock fighting, complete with dancing chickens!

First Songkran: the traditional way

Sawatdee pi mai – the Thai phrase for Happy new year was heard on the streets of Thailand all throughout last week. Some even said it in English to me, right before dousing me with a bucketful of ice-cold water.

I was excited to experience Songkran for the first time. However, my excitement was tamed down a little bit by my memories of Loy Krathong, about which I had great expectations, but they fell short. I didn’t want to get disappointed like that again, so I put myself into the “let’s wait and see” position.

Luckily the Loy Krathong fiasko didn’t repeat, and my first Songkran was truly memorable and joyful. I got to experience it in four different ways – not bad for a Songkran noob. 🙂

1. The traditional way
My very first exposure to Songkran was completely unplanned, spontaneous – but don’t we all know that these can be the best sometimes? 😉
As usual, I was skating in the little maze of sois near my apartment on Saturday, when I run into a small but very noisy procession consisting of dancers and musicians in traditional Thai dresses, and some older folks singing and dancing with them. A bottle of whiskey also went around in the crowd, increasing the festive mood.

One of these mid-aged women came to me, holding a bowl of water in one hand, and some paste in the other. She came slowly, smiling, and upon my nod, she gently touched my face with the paste and poured the cold water slowly on my shoulders. What a nice way to get “initiated” into Songkran, no? 🙂

Afterwards she went back to the crowd, and I decided to follow them, out of curiosity. I also had more time to observe the crowd. A group of young school-age boys were dressed in blue clothes with golden ornaments, carried drums and other instruments and played music. A group of girls lead the procession; they wore traditional Thai dresses of red and gold, and danced. In the back were the older folks of whom I already wrote.

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California Dreaming

Greetings from the sunny…uh…well…not today…Southern California! Varavarai Oakley (Phromyothi) Boren reporting in from Long Beach, California, offering up the perspective of a Thai woman with an American husband living in the United States.

First of all, thank you Richard for putting up this blog. It’s a wonderful space! I’ve been sending my American friends here to read the blog so that they’d really believe a wonderful holiday of Songkran really does exist. (Of course, after I flicked some water at them, they’d want to know if Songkran is real or I made that up just to be able to flick water at their heads.)

Now, a little bit about me. I came to the US in 1993 to attend 11th grade in Orange County, California, as the only international student at the school. I proceeded to University of Southern California. Instead of returning home after graduation, I stayed another year and landed a job at Hollywood Stock Exchange, a dot com, who kept me on as an intern when I returned to USC for graduate school in 2000. I met my husband Brandon at HSX, and we got married after my graduation in 2002. I live in Long Beach, but I work in Downtown Los Angeles as a communications manager at a non-profit organization.

I’ve been into blogging for about a year now, getting more active as I go. I used to write articles for The Nation’s Femme for Women magazine while I was in grad school called “West of Campus”. It was an advice column about student life in the US. Now that I’m in an interracial marriage with my family back in Thailand, I hope to shed some lights on how Thai cultures still affect my daily life, how relationships on both side of the Pacific works, how Americans think of Thailand, and perhaps share some thoughts on being married to my big, geeky white guy. 🙂

Warning: I am outspoken and opinionated, sarcastic and fully capable of being a smarty pants, and occasionally a little bitter. Not all that typical of the general Thai women population. So please, don’t think that Thai women are all like me because I *am* a freak of nature. As my mom would say, she has 3 sons, not 2 sons and a daughter. Haha.

Looking forward to posting and “meeting” you all!

Oakley (Oh+) Boren