Daily Archives: April 20, 2005

Ordination of a Thai Monk II

This is now the final part of the ordination that I was telling you about yesterday. Nattawud had already been ordained as a novice monk about nine years ago during his grandfather’s funeral. This is actually quite common. Every now and then, a boy at school will come in with hair and eyebrows shaved off after being absent for a few days. It usually means the same thing: someone in the family had just died. The ordination of a novice monk is exactly as I described it yesterday. To become a full fledged monk, he had to be given an alms bowl by his family. He then took this to the abbot and requested to become a monk. The alms bowl was then hung over his should and the monk proceeded to teach him the names in Pali of the three robes and of the alms bowl. As he did this, he pointed at each piece. He then ordered Nattawud to go to the far end of the temple and prepare himself for the examination. I was hoping this part would be funny, but the humour came from a completely different direction.

Nattawud stood at the far end with his hands pressed together in a wai. By this time he was sweating. What followed was a close examination to see whether he was fit to become a monk. Basically, he was about to be asked a series of questions in Pali. The first four he must answer “no, sir”. The fifth question is “Are you human?” and he must obviously switch to “yes sir” and continue like that for the remaining questions. We were all waiting with baited breath to see if he would get it right. “Are you human?” No!

Two monks then approached him, I will call them Phra Laurel and Phra Hardy. They then started chanting in Pali which roughly translated as “Listen, Nattawud. This is the time for the truth, the time for what is factual. You will be asked in the midst of the sangha about things which have occurred. Whatever is so should be affirmed. Whatever is not should be denied. Do not be embarrassed. Do not be confused.”

Well, that is what they should have said. But Phra Hardy kept getting his words wrong and they had to keep restarting. Then in the middle of the third or fourth attempt they started having this discussion about what they should be saying. Then Phra Laurel excused himself with a little wai and went back to the abbot to ask permission to consult the book of chanting. We were all laughing at this stage as it was so comical. Anyway, after flipping through a few pages, Phra Laurel came back and the chanting resumed. Then it was the time for the questions:

Do you have diseases such as these….

(1) Leprosy? – no, sir
(2) Boils? – no, sir
(3) Ringworm? – no, sir
(4) Tuberculosis? – no, sir
(5) Epilepsy? – no, sir
(6) Are you a human being? – yes, sir
(7) Are you a man? – yes, sir
(8) Are you free from debt? – yes, sir
(9) Are you exempt from government service? – yes, sir
(10) Do you have your parents’ permission? – yes, sir
(11) Are you fully 20 years old? – yes, sir
(12) Are your bowl and robes complete? – yes, sir
(13) What is your name? – Venerable sir, my name is Nattawud
(14) What is your Pereceptor’s name? – My Preceptor’s name is Venerable..

Then it was finished. He had just about answered correctly though the man in white kept giving him stage whispers. If you are wondering about the human part, then read my earlier blog when I said a naga (serpent) once disguised itself as a human in order to be ordained as a monk.

The two monks then returned to the assembly of monks and chanted that they had examined the applicant and if they were ready, he would like to invite Nattawud to join them. They agreed and Nattawud came forward and prostrated in front of them three times. As he still had his alms bowl over his shoulder, one of the monk had to steady it for him. Nattawud then requested acceptance. The abbot accepted his application and asked the other monks to gather around for further examination.

I should point out that up to this stage I had pretty much free reign to move around and take photographs. Of course I did this in a humble way by continually bowing my head as I walked behind and between people. However, at this stage I had to leave the raised area. Even the back door was bolted and the side windows were shut. Nattawud was then asked the same questions as before. This time he didn’t have the help of the guy in white. No-one was allowed near.

Then more chanting continued which went something like “He is free of obstructing factors. His bowl and robes are complete. Nattawud requests acceptance from the Sangha.” This was then repeated in chant three or four times. Finally he was accepted as a monk! What happened next, was the pouring of water like before to pass some of the merit on to people not present. Then family and friends made merit by making offerings to him. Basically giving him things he would need as a monk.

The whole ordination had taken less than an hour. The lay people then left to eat their mid-day meal. Nattawud, or should I now say Phra Nattawud, went with the other monks to the sala – the place where it all started. By the time I arrived there the chanting had begun and people were preparing to offer food to the monks. I couldn’t see Nattawud anywhere and so I asked where he was? Then I saw him. Of course, there he was on the platform with all the other monks. I hadn’t recognized him. How much he had changed in such a short time.

Phra Nattawud is now living in the temple and will remain there for at least two or three weeks. I will let him settle in before going to see how he is coping with life as a monk sometime next week. It is possible, of course, that he might stay longer. It is up to him. I am hoping not as I have to now take over the internet shop. I really hope he comes back before the summer holidays finish. The thing is, if I have a problem with the shop or accountant I cannot go and ask him any questions. Monks are not allowed to discuss money matters. I cannot even ask him to disrobe and come back!

Photo Albums

You can see a selection of about 200 pictures I took during the ordination:

Saving Hair Ceremony
Chanting and a Sermon
Procession around the Temple
Ordination Ceremony


Songkhran DC Style – Part 2

Sawasdee Krab!

Yesterday I told you some about what a Songkhran celebration is like here in America with some of the festivities and food and things the kids can do for fun. Today I will tell you some of my impressions and observations of the day as well as tell you about some of the Buddhist traditions that were celebrated at the festival.

Thinking it over last night it occured to me that the Songkhran Festival at Wat Thai is a lot like a great big American family reunion where everyone in the family gets together for a huge picnic to eat and enjoy the day together, including having to keep an eye on the kids so they don’t get dirty or into too much mischief 😉

Imagine a family reunion of several hundred Thais living here in America that we (farangs) were kindly invited to join in and celebrate with and you might get the picture. However I can’t help wondering a ‘what if’ here that if there were not any farangs at the festival how different or ‘more Thai’ would everything be or how ‘Americanized’ would it still be? Just a curious thought 😉

Many of the events and entertainment were put on for show more for the farang guests like the kids musical and dance performances to show some of Thai culture and even some Chinese culture mixed in as you can see in the pics below.

In the picture on the left Chinese Lions danced to chase away bad spirits and Thai kids of many ages performed traditional Thai music and songs and were actually very good at playing the Thai instruments. These are Thai-American kids that mostly were born or grew up here in America but their parents, through Wat Thai and Wat Thummaprateip here in Washington, were able to teach them Thai culture through music. Imagine a Thai version of piano lessons as your growing up :p

However these kids are serious about how they perform because they practice a lot and they are quite good. Recently a group of them even did a performance back in Thailand! I think I will do some investigative reporting on this for a blog in the future for you.

Watching the crowds that day I noticed not only many Thais and Thai-Americans but also an interesting assortment of farangs there. Some farang folks who you could tell had been to Thailand before because they wore Thai style clothes (unlike the Moh-hom shirt I wore) that were very formal and festive. Also you saw several Thais with their farang boyfriends or girlfriends and more than several farang husbands and wifes with the kids in tow including what I am pretty sure was a lesbian couple.

I saw American skater kids milling about in the crowd with their skateboards and many African-Americans, some dressed in hip hop style with their ‘bling bling’ as well as several Thai teenagers dressed in the same hip hop style which I have to be honest that looks weird to me but to be fair probably looks no less weird than I did wearing the Issan Moh-hom shirt and Pa-Kao-Ma. 😀

It’s not really surprising to see so many different kinds of farang guests since Wat Thai is located next to two suburban neighborhoods but you could tell everyone loved the food and watched the entertainment even if they were not sure of what to think of the monks and Buddhist traditions.

While the Thai dancing and music celebrations were displayed on a stage in the back of the temple grounds, in the front of the temple and inside is where many Thais and farangs practiced some of the original Songkhran traditions of bringing in the Thai new year. Above me you can see where a large Buddha was placed outside the main temple entrance. Here people could buy flowers, candles and incense and gold leaf to make merit and pay homage to the Buddha.

Even though this was a small pavillion outside the main temple you still removed your shoes to show respect the same as if you entered the main Temple Bot upstairs. Check out my photo album and you can see not only Thai people but farangs paid homage to the Buddha as well.

Another tradition which is more specific to the Thai New Year is the pouring of rose scented water on Buddha images. Whereas you can go to a Wat and make offerings to the Buddha anytime I think Songkhran is one of the only times that pouring scented water on a Buddha image is specifically practiced.

This comes from the idea of bringing in the new year by making everything clean and new. You also do this by cleaning out your house and going to see older relatives at their home to offer new clothes and pour water on their hands as well to symbolise cleansing. Some Thais that have their parents or older relatives living here in America probably made this visit before going to the temple to celebrate. It is also tradition to do this same pouring of water ritual for the monks as well.

At Wat Thai we did not follow the tradition of pouring water on the monks for Songkhran but you could stop and pour water on an image of the Walking Buddha as this girl is doing in the picture above. Through out the day many people stopped to pour water on the Buddha and offer a quick prayer. This is a much simpler offering, almost ‘on the go’, than all the steps to offer homage to the Buddha in front of the temple with flowers, incense and gold leaf.

This is a picture of the main Buddha Shrine in the Bot or Abusod as the main ceremony hall is called. You can see it is different from a Bot in Thailand because even though the main altar is multi-tiered and well decorated the walls are very plain and all around the room they are only decorated with large pictures of the Abbot and other monks here and in Thailand.

The Bot is actually on the second story of the main temple building. Below it is another hall used for meditation practice and sometimes I have my Thai lessons there when we have a big class of students. There is a small stage and another Buddha Shrine in this room and behind the stage are storage rooms and the rooms where the monks sleep.

When there are only a few students in class we meet in the main office/classroom building next to the main temple building. In this building there is the kitchen and dinning rooms, smaller classrooms and also a private meditation room with a third Buddha Shrine.

Here it is very important that you observe custom and remove your shoes outside before entering. Throughtout the day many guests would check out the inside of the temple as they were quite curious.

Wow again I’ve written another huge blog and I haven’t even talked about the food and shopping yet 😛

I should stop for now since I am losing feeling in parts of my body for sitting in front of the computer this long. I guess there will have to be a ‘Part 3’ tomorrow.

Till then,



My last year in England

There’s an old saying “everything that comes, it goes”. Looks like I’ll be leaving England soon as well. I would not like to stress out why but I would say it is “personal problem”.

I would say that England is a very warm place (not the weather). I meant warm hospitality. You get chances to meet loads of different kind of people. I would never regret being here, though it is one of the best thing that has ever happen to my life. My one year here is full of hospitality. People here are very nice as many of those have had the same experience as me before. I wish to stay here longer but it doesn’t look like happening. From next month on, I would probably be going back to Thailand and start my life all over again.

Writing blogs here is a benefit for everyone as I get to compare and contrast between the two countries. I found that many things are very similar to our culture and it is adaptable. Unlike many other countries where people have difficulties adapting into.

London is lovely. I would suggest anyone who are ambitious to come and study here, you’ll never be disappointed. It might be a expensive but if you get a job, the wages are good as well. I was kind of hoping next year I would be able to work but it doesn’t look like it anymore. I would also miss my friends who are very nice to me. I’ve never had close relations with western friends. Coming to England make me learn that. I shall never regret it.

Lastly, I will not be writing another blog until I get back to Thailand as my exams are coming up. So, I guess this is my last blog here. If I ever shall come back again, I would love to!

Love or Trade?

Reading the blog from thibodi called Thailand Rocked My Life, and his remarks about Thai women, I feel I should contribute to the subject.

I’m a Thai woman married to a white American. Despite the fact that I am well educated and come from a respectable family, or however I carry myself around my husband, while in Thailand, there is always someone thinking I’m a prostitute hired by a farang.

Ironically, I think I caught myself thinking the same discriminating thoughts a few times while I was in Thailand with my husband last November. It was his first visit there. We have been married 3 years.

Is it so engrained in my head that Thai woman + Farang = commercial relationship? Now that I am one, is it just me thinking that someone else is thinking that about me?

I caught myself being overly critical of how I dressed when we went out about town together, caught my mother being even more critical of my behavior and the way I dressed. Actually, she went with us almost everywhere partly because she knew the city better than either of us, but may be partly to be our chaperone, fending off any possible accusing stares.

My girl friends said that there was nothing to be worried about. There are plenty of respectable Thai women with farangs all over time. They said that my mom was thinking too much, and I was feeding such paranoia off of her.

I wish I could believe my friends. But I doubt our society has changed that much when it comes to seeing Thai woman with a Farang. The stigma of interracial relationship has lifted, they said.

I believe them in a sense. But I also have doubts in a country where women are still expected to behave a certain way, and to adhere to certain codes. Perhaps the younger generations may not be pointing the same finger as the older generations, but some of the prejudice lingers on.

The country and the culture may be moving forward, but I feel that Thai women still have a lot more to fight for, more than just our rights to marry whoever we choose, and in the same token, to take up a profession we choose, and not be judged by our choices.

Being women, first battle we have to do is with ourselves. We have to make peace with ourselves, getting over our own critical eyes on our body and social image. And then, perhaps one by one we’d rise above prejudice and learn to love ourselves and our sisters.

Then again, I’m a dreamer.

P.S. Readers in Los Angeles Area – Come down and check out “Asian Voices” this Thursday, April 21, 8 p.m. at the Village Gate Theater by USC (University of Southern California). 6 USC students and yours truly, the lone alumni, will perform our monologue pieces written about our lives as Asians/Asian-Americans. My performance piece touched briefly about the above topic.