Daily Archives: July 8, 2005

Ghost Festival

The Phi Ta Khon festival, or Ghost Festival, is unique to the Dan Sai district in Loei Province and reflects the local Isan belief in ghosts and spirits. Held once a year, it is part of a grand merit-making festival known as the “Boon Luang” festival. This year it is being held July 8-11 with the main parade on Saturday.

The origins of the Phi Ta Khon Festival can be found in the tale of Lord Buddha’s last great incarnation before attaining Enlightenment. In Buddhist accounts, it is said that when Prince Vessandara, the Buddha’s penultimate incarnation, returned to his city, it was such a joyous occasion that the village spirits came forth to join the welcoming parade. This very colourful and vibrant Phi Ta Khon procession is the central focus of the celebrations.

In a lively re-enactment of the tale, the young men of the community dress up as “spirits” wearing long trailing costumes made from colourful strips of cloth sewn together.

The hideous-looking Phi Ta Khon mask which is made of dried sticky rice husk is painted in bright red, green or other colours, and features the characteristic long pointed nose. This completes the transformation. The clanging sound of the square cowbells worn around the waist announces the presence of the spirits who wield phallic-shaped long-handled swords decorated with red paint. The good-natured, fun-loving spirits mingle among the crowd, teasing and amusing all who take part in the procession. Spectators and visitors are welcome to join in the fun.

There are two types of “spirits” featured in the Phi Ta Khon procession namely the “Phi Ta Khon Yai” — the supreme Phi Ta Khon, and the “Phi Ta Khon Lek”, the ones that are commonly found. The making of the Phi Ta Khon Yai involves the performance of a sacred ritual to seek the blessings of the supreme powers before work on the Phi Ta Khon Yai masks can be initiated. It is also a task reserved exclusively for the descendants of families in which the tradition of making Phi Ta Khon masks has been practised for several generations. The Phi Ta Khon Yai is made of bamboo and is dressed in either in male or female attire.

Source: Tourist Authority of Thailand

Continue reading

First lesson in Thai

Unlike many aficionados of Thai Culture, my initial learning of Thai language was more of a necessity than my love for the language.

My dad runs a small road side store selling clothings in Penang road in Penang, Malaysia when I was young. Way back in the 60’s, many of our customers were Thais and it was common to see them coming in vans. My father was quite a “language genius”, so to speak and I know he was able to communicate with customers of difference races and nationalities. Besides the Chinese dialects, he can speak Malay, Tamil, and Thai.

At the age of about 12, I had to help in the store during the school holidays. It was never too early to start working if you were hungry and in need of money to feed yourself. Child labor was never an issue at all then, and even now, if you care to look at your neighbours in the ASEAN region. Even now in the North East and Northern Thailand, you can see children working in the shops.

My first few lessons were counting from one to a hundred. Hundred was an astronomical figure for me. The Malaysian currency of Ringgit was called “rian” (I wonder if anyone out there knows the reason. Perhaps it is a short and distorted form of Rin sans ggit). Next I was taught how to bargain with the customers. Adjectives like good, best, low, lowest, cheap were to be memorized.

Well, without going into more details, some of which maybe heart-rendering issues for me, sufficed to say that these lessons on Thai and business, were an important part of my growing up. I become very street smart. I definitely could speak more languages than my father except Tamil. Like a chip of the old block, today, my son beats me with his command of the French language. The social scientist call this “social mobility”, if I am not wrong.


Yesterday I shared with everyone the 4th of July cookout I had with my Thai and farang friends in the No. VA Thai Language Group here in DC. I was surprised that everyone who wrote a comment (all except one) wrote only about my brief mention of going to see Carabao the day before. I hope that does not say anything about my cooking! 😉

I wrote my blog out of order of the weekends events so I could collect the pics from the concert to add to it. It’s on my ‘things to do list’ to finally get around to buying a good digital camera or at least a good film camera that I can have the negatives printed on a CD at the photoshop. I am missing too much good stuff to not be taking pics myself esp since I used to be a photographer in the late 80’s and early 90’s including taking pictures at rock concerts.

The night before my friend Vut called to ask if I wanted to go see the show at Wat Lao and asked me if I had ever heard of the Thai band Carabao. Now I am, dare I say, a Thai music fanatic with about 200 Thai music and movie CD and VCDs compared to about 30 western CD’s of music in my collection.

My tastes are pretty well rounded too. I have alot of Thai pop and rock as well as some traditional Thai folk music with the traditional classical instruments, some movie soundtracks, and even new age music by Thai composers including HM King Rama IX who, among many things is an accomplished musician and composer himself.

Oh course I knew about Carabao and their style of music called Folk Life but I had never heard their music before so I was up for an adventure to try something new.

I met up with Vut in Virginia and after shopping for the next days 4th of July cookout we stopped to pick up Dew and Oop and some of his friends for the trek deeper into Virginia to get to Wat Lao. Now I should tell you that Wat Lao Buddhavong is not the oldest Thai or Lao temple in the DC/Virginia area but it is one of the biggest! The main temple building at the Wat (or Bot, more formally called the Ubosot) itself is about the same size as Wat Thai DC where I go for class but the first thing that impressed me was that it was built with the characteristic Thai single tiered, skirted and flaring roof as you can see here in this picture from the temple website. The Nagas and chofa that decorate the edges of the roof are really quite beautiful and I may write more about them and the history of this style in a future blog 😛

What makes it so big is that the temple grounds sit on at least 26 acres of property donated to the Wat! The immediate grounds around the temple are huge and landscaped with a nice lake, complete with lilly pads, bridges and walk ways as well as several colorfully decorated statues and prize raffle and game booths just for the weekend and manned by monks (even a farang monk) that gave me the impression I was in a Buddhist theme park more than a solemn temple. 😉

The first thing we did once we got there is remove our shoes to kneel and and bow three times and pray before an outdoor image of the Buddha that you see below, yes I am a Buddhist but I am also a self-conscious nibbish too so I was nervous doing this in front of my friends the first time for sure I wanted to get it right!

After praying each of us also offered a wish by buying a wax image of the Chinese year you were born then melting it in a vat of burning wax and dipping the remains in this column as you can see I am doing in this pic so you will get whatever wish you make. I was born the Year of the Rabbit and I’ll let you know if this works or not and I get my wish 😉

Behind the temple grounds is where the concert stage area is so we bought our tickets and went inside. For only $10 a ticket this was dirt cheap for entertainment. Of course you had to buy your own food and there were plenty of vendors there to choose from. We were starving so that was the first thing on the list. Everyone split up to find what they wanted to eat and then find a place we could all sit down to eat. I was craving Pad Thai and found someone making it but I had to wait about 15 minutes for a new batch to be made however it was worth it because it was soooooo good. Once we sat down together everyone could sample everyone elses dish so it was a cheap way to eat alot of food!

Carabao was to go onstage at 3:00 and another band was warming up the crowd with covers of other popular Thai songs so we milled around and checked out the shops. I had seen all the usual stuff for sale before so I didn’t bring much cash on me or I would have been tempted to buy something I don’t really need anyway. There was a huge turn out of people, many of them Laotian and darker skinned than many Thais there. The kids were having a blast, literally, shooting off fireworks! Nerve wrecking for some but the kids definately were having a good time. I even saw a kid with a top knot! Yet another time I wish I had a camera to take a picture.

Finally after several delays and closer to 4:00 than 3:00 Carabao took the stage and Ad Carabao asked if everyone was ready for 3 hours of music, no commercials. However my friends and I were standing in front of the main commercial, the booth where they were selling Carabao t-shirts, CD’s and of course, Carabao energy drink 😀

I didn’t try the drink myself but several folks who did weren’t impressed with the taste. I think I’ll stick to Red Bull and be impressed with Carabaos music instead. Someone told me that their music is kind of a mix between Santana, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, and Bruce Springsteen and I agree but growing up in Alabama, the Deep South, in the 70’s I would have to add the music style of Lynard Skynard to the list too.

The music was great where it was slow and ballad like one song then hard rocking to the point of being heavy metal the next! I know many Carabao songs are stories about hard life and salt of the earth people. I wish I knew more Thai so I could understand the words better but even my Thai friends had a hard time following along because many songs were in a Northern-Issan dialect.

Needless to say the music was a definate hit with everyone there dancing and having the absolute best time singing along to just about every song, Vut pointed out this 200 pound, tall black guy, obviously not Thai or Lao, also singing along and he knew all the words too! That’s a cool thing I like about Thai people they love to have fun and cut loose at a concert and don’t care what anyone would think. Not like the uptight, image conscious farangs (like me I admit) but I caught my self loosening up and shaking it to the music. I was thinking about buying their new compilation CD set on sale there for $20 that came in a nice wooden display box. Not a bad price for that here in the US but my friend Dew told me not to buy it. She got a list of everyone that wanted it and said she’d have her friend in Thailand get them for us for about 215 Baht each when she comes to DC to visit. You got to love friends 😀

Heres a great shot of me and Vut and me not looking at the camera

Now I am sure from the comments to my other blog yesterday some of you are eagerly wanting to know what, if anything happened, at the concert. Were there any fights? Any trouble makers? Well I think that part of Carabao’s reputation followed them here because there were several Sheriffs Deputies patroling the grounds during the show carrying big sticks and I don’t think they were there because the monks get rowdy on the weekend. But the worst thing I saw was the cops talked to some kids that looked like they might want to cause trouble and convinced them otherwise although the cops were all smiles and friendly about it. That’s the south for you, laid back but still all business.

We definately got our monies worth and Carabao gave a lot for their show. It made up for the hour delay to start and they even played a couple of their songs that I had heard before but didn’t know were Carabao songs! Unfortunately I don’t know the names of the songs and I didn’t ask 🙁 Oh well guess I’ll have to buy the CD then 😉

Finally the afternoon had gotten very hot and we stayed as long as we could till the end of the show before heading home tired but having had fun. It was cute toward the end this little boy I had seen early dancing and having fun on his dads shoulders. His dad and friends put him on the corner of the stage to dance and slowly he wound up dancing on stage in front of Carabao who joked about it and got several laughs from the crowd. He played the next song for the little boy and eventually put his guitar down and picked up the boy to sing to him. Talk about a photo op! Carabao roadies and the boys parents and friends where all taking pictures of their hero with the little kid including my friend Dew who took most of these pics you see here. Thanks Dew!

And thank you all for reading yet another monster blog from me. Once again till next time,



Moslem New Year Celebration In Mae Sot

I was in Mae Sot in November 2004 and witnessed the Moslem New Year celebration there. The scale of celebration paled in comparison with that in Malaysia as the celebration in Malaysia can last for 2 weeks.

It was not possible to get a low cost flight during this period as the Moslem New Year is celebrated nationally in Malaysia. We had to take a bus to Haadyai and thereafter take a NokAir flight from Haadyai to Bangkok to save cost. From Bangkok we took a bus to Phitsanulok and stayed there a night. After the sight-seeing at the market and the wat, we took a bus to Sukhothai and stayed there a night. Sukhothai has a lot of attractions and I am sure some of the bloggers must have written something about the attractions there.

Mae Sot is a really an outback place bordering Myanmar. It is however much bigger than Sangkla Buri in the south, another border town with Myanmar which is famous for the “Three Pagoda Pass” border crossing. Mae Sot is interesting in that there are more ethnic races and it is even possible to hear some Chinese and English spoken here. One can even find goods from Myanmar. I managed to pick up a Myanmar wall map there for 50 Bahts.

The first day of the New Year started with some prayers at the Mosque.

Mosque in Mae Sot

The street which the mosque is located at is full of people in their best clothings. I had the opportunity to take lots of photos, and even befriended a few people. To my surprise, some of them spoke excellent English, and we were even able to discuss intellectually on religions and politics.

Many of them have heard of Malaysia and some of them were curious how the Moslem New Year is celebrated there. They thought I was a Moslem.

Moslems are a united lot, even though the conditions in Mae Sot were not that perfect to practice their religion. These people were also very kind and generous, as I was even invited by one man who called himself Rahim to have lunch with them. During this festive season, unlike in many other countries, many of the shops were open to provide free food and drinks to the less fortunate.

Food is served and everyone is invited

There were even beggars and handicapped people lining up to receive donations from the shop owners. I even joined in to give some money to the handicapped.

Lining  up to receive donation

The ladies were in their best clothings and make-ups. There was a general festive atmosphere. I was quite surprised that there seemed to be no one taking photographs. As such, I asked if I could take photos of them. They, especially the ladies were pleased to pose for the shots.

Kind hostess that provided free foods & drinks

To thank them for their lunch and kindness, I sent their photos for printing at a photo shop at the corner of a street. The owner of the photo shop was Chinese, and even spoke perfect Mandarin. She was from Bangkok.

I had to leave early the following morning as one of my friends had hired a tour van (Rot Tour) to take us to Nakon Sawan. As such, I had to rush to hand the prepaid receipt to Rahim and asked him to collect the photos from the shop after 10:00am. I had also informed the owner not to delete the softcopies of the photos from the hard disk, in case Rahim and friends may ask for reprints or enlargement of photos. I hope Rahim’s family and friends will treasure the photos I took for them and remember this friend from Malaysia.

Moslem New Year in 2005 will fall on 3 November.