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,