Daily Archives: November 1, 2005

“Deeparaya” in Malaysia

Today, Deepavali is celebrated universally by Hindus and is observed as a public holiday in Malaysia. Diwali, known as Deepavali in Malaysia, is also commonly known as the Festival of Lights. The celebration of Deepavali marks the triumph of good over evil, the victory of light over dark. It is celebrated here in Malaysia by the Hindu community – mainly consisting those of Indian ethnic origin.

This year, as Deepavali falls on 1 November, Malaysians jointly celebrate the double festivals of Hari Raya and Deepavali, which is coined as Deeparaya.The double festival mood is reflected in the brightly decorated streets, homes, hotels, government and commercial buildings. Some of them blended Malay and Indian cultures in the decorations to have a cross-cultural effect for the double celebration.

The popular Ketupat lightings along the road(picture taken in the car in front of traffic light, I like the smile!)/Hari Raya decoration

For days before, there are a lot of people ferrying from the city to the country by any available transport. Cities like Kuala Lumpur get relatively quiet during this double festive season of Deeparaya. Thus, driving around the city is enjoyable as the traffic is very smooth.

The shopping centres were less crowded as compared to the weekends. I came across a Thai fair called Mini Siam. The stalls sold a wide variety of Thai foods and produce such as woven baskets, shoes, clothing, accessories, Thai food items including pickles, Thai sauce and curry pastes, and so on. Certainly I didn’t buy anything as the price was much higher than in Thailand.

There were also some festive activities held in conjunction with the festive season in the shopping centre which included Indian dance performance, free Henna tattoo and playing of traditional Malay leisure games.

Some of the stalls at the Thai Fair

Malaysia is a multi-racial country with many different ethnic groups and religions. We have been living in harmony because of mutual respect and tolerance for each other, the beliefs, culture, tradition and all those little things that made us different. Since a kid, we have always been taught and reminded to respect each other’s sensitivities and celebrate each other’s culture.

I have always been fascinated with different cultures and traditions that I learned and experienced in my life –Thai, Malay, Chinese, Indian, Western and others.
Today, I am living and working in a beautiful neighbouring country -Thailand. I learn a lot about the history, the language, the people, the tradition and the culture of the country.

In fact wherever we are, we are part of the multi-racial global village. Therefore, we must learn to accept each other as they are, recognise and accept the existing diversity and realise that our diversity does not divide us.

Let us celebrate diversity in all its splendour and colour!

Deeparaya decoration-traditional Malay and Indian house/A girl with Henna tattoo, an old Indian traditional body art which uses natural dyes and herbs to create a red-brown stain on the skin on the skin. Initially I thought it was chocolate!

Indian dance performance in the shopping centre

The King and I

If you throw a shoe into a gathering crowd in Bangkok’s upper-middle to high class social circle, you’re bound to hit one person who is a descendant from the current Thai royal dynasty.

In that case, thanks for throwing a flip-flop instead of a steel-toed Caterpillar. I really don’t need a concussion.

Surprise. Surprise! Yours truly has royal DNA. Really I do.

I am the great, great grand daughter of King Mongkut of Siam (King Rama IV). That’s Chow Yun Fat or Yul Brynner depending on which movies you saw. (And by the way, both are inaccurate. But of course, another beef for another day.) Really, I am.

There are some twenty-seven royal lines of descent (Rajasakul) from King Mongkut. Twenty-eight if you also count the line that became King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). And I’m a part of this lineage.

Weirder yet, I found at least 2 friends of mine to actually be my relatives. We all share the same great, great grandfather!

How come I have no title? First, you’ll have to understand the royal ranking system. According to the Mahidol University website on the Chakri dynasty, the current dynasty of the kingdom, the ranking goes like this.

Currently, the king’s sons and daughters are titled “Chao Fa” – Prince and Princess. Their children are titled “Phra Ong Chao” – Still in English, the Prince and Princess.

But prior to King Rama VII, Thai kings had more than one wife, and each of these ladies had more than one child. So, the king’s children back then had a complete different set of titles. Not to mention that, also back then, titles could change with military and political ranking. Such titles are not just simply the rank–i.e. Commander or Minister–either, but almost a new name. You’ll see an example of that here in my very own family line.

The Princes started their own family line, usually a part of their names or titles became the last name for the following generations. The Princes’ children had title of “Mom Chao”, Serene Highness. Same title for the children of the modern day “Phra Ong Chao”.

“Mom Chao” is the lowest of the royal ranks according to these folks. Pretty much after this the royal-ness is too thinned out, I guess.

After “Mom Chao”, it’s “Mom Rajawongse”, or M. R. in the title. There is no English translation for this nor the following generation, “Mom Luang”, or M. L. Subsequent generations in the male line of decent from a king have no titles, but may add the dynastic surname of “na Ayudhya” to the surname of the branch of the Royal Family from which they descend.

Everybody still with me? Okay. Good. We are now coming back to MY family line.

On my last trip, I brought back with me the family history book of King Mongkut. “A Royal Album: The Children and Grandchildren of King Mongkut (Rama IV) of Siam” by Jeffrey Finestone – in Thai and English in one book. One heck of a coffee table book, I tell you. Wait until I have a coffee table. Included in this hefty volume are family trees with photos, plus a group photo of the surviving grandchildren of the King.

(Unfortunately, we don’t have a scanner at home, and the book is too cumbersome to be hauling up to my office on a commuter train. Unless Richard could pull a miracle, in the mean time, sorry kiddies! )

So, now we’re going to trace my family tree down from King Mongkut.

King Mongkut + Chao Chom Manda Kian = = His Royal Highness Prince Voravarnakara, Krom Phra Narathip Prabandhabongse … and many others.

Here’s a little decryption for you. “Chao Chom Manda” is the title for the king’s wife who is not of royal birth. It’s translated to the Royal Mother.

My great grand father’s name is actually Prince Voravarnakara. The “Krom Phra Narathip Prabandhabongse” is his title originally bestowed upon him by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and then raised by King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) for his literary works. I know this much that the “Prabandhabongse” part means to praise his gift of language.

Prince Varavarnakara was a poet, a playwright, and a composer. He introduced the Thai musical theater, and wrote the adaptation of Madame Butterfly for Thai stage.

Now. Prince Varavarnakara + Mom Phan = Her Serene Highness Princess Barnacheud Varnavaranga Voravarn. … and many others.

Again, “Mom” is a title for a commoner wife of the prince. And this is the first generation to use the family name, Varavarn.

Still with me? Excellent.

Her Serene Highness Princess Barnacheud Varnavaranga Voravarn + Lieutenant General Mangkorn Phromyothi = Dad and Uncle Phromyothi.

General Mangkorn, also known as Luang Phromyothi, was the origin of the Phromyothi family name. “Phromyothi” is actually a bestowed title, like Narathip Prabandhabongse earlier, for his military rank. Appropriately, it means the army of Brahma.

And this is where the royal title ended.

Princess Grandmother retained her royal status, but it did not get passed to her children, my father and uncle, because my grandfather, despite having held the highest ranking in the Royal Thai Army and being a highly respected political figure, was after all still of common blood. You know how it goes with a male-dominated culture. The wife and children take on the name of the husband. Being of royal birth, Princess Grandmother was exempted from changing her name, but not the kids.

Therefore my father and uncle bear my grand father’s last name, and no royal title.

Hence, it’s Oakley Phromyothi, and not Oakley Varavarn.

If my grandfather was from another branch of the royal family, then my father would have been a Mom Rajawongse Dad RoyalLastname, and therefore I would have been Mom Luang Oakley RoyalLastname, and my brothers’ kids Nieces and Nephews RoyalLastname Na Ayuddhaya.

But as it stands, my dad will end up with Grand Kids Phromyothi, and GrandKitten Boren.

All I have to show for my royal bloodline are my physical features. Apparently, the Varavarn’s genes are quiet strong. My dad attended a Varavarn bloodline family reunion of sort many years ago, and he said it was a surreal experience to be in a hotel ballroom full of people who look just like him.

I flipped the book through with Brandon’s dad who was visiting yesterday, and he was like, damn Oaks, everyone in here looks kind of like you!

There was a picture in this book of my grandmother as a teenager, sitting in a window in traditional Thai sash (Sabai). I have a similar picture taken for Loy Kratong at about the same age. My mom displays these two pictures side by side at home. If my picture was a black and white and I was a little meatier and sitting in a window, it would’ve been spot on.

Well, look at me! I’m a rubber stamp of my dad, but more so of my grandmother. Especially my feet. I have my grandmother’s feet. According to her, she had the same feet as King Mongkut.

You may address me as Her Royal Shortness Princess Royal Feet.

fallen tree

A family of 5 lives happily in a comfortable home for many years. The children, 2 girls and 1 boy, fight and bicker as siblings do, but underneath the squabbling they genuinely love and care for each other. The parents are happy to have such a warm and happy household.

Outside, in front of the home, stands a large tree. When they were younger, the children used to chase each other around the tree. The boy learned to climb the tree at a young age as he sought refuge from the teasing of his older sisters. The tree stands tall and proud, as if guarding the home behind it.

On a dark and stormy night, the family are sitting in the warmth and comfort of their home listening to the wind and rain crashing against the house. Inside the house is silent. The children are studying, the mother is cleaning up in the kitchen and the father is reading. A powerful crack breaks the silence startling everyone in the house. The children run towards the front window and try to see outside. The tree has been struck by lightening. The family watch as the glowing embers of the fallen tree fade away in the wind and rain. The children are beyond excitement at the sight of the now fallen majestic tree. The scream and shout over each other. Father tries to calm them down and finally orders them to sleep. As he gently pushes the children up to their bedrooms, mother stays at the window, silently staring outside. she feels uneasy. She closes the curtains and follows her family upstairs to bed.

The next morning, the mother wakes up suddenly. She hears a weak moan and jumps out of her bed, running to the bedroom of her eldest daughter. The girl is shivering and clutching her stomach in pain. The parents rush her to the hospital…

In the days and weeks that follow, the rest of the family soon become inflicted with the same mysterious sickness. The family’s doctor believes they have contracted a virus, but the antibiotics prescribed do little to fight the illness. The mother believes a different type of treatment is needed…she calls her aunt to ask for help.

Auntie shows up at the house the next evening with an elderly man. The man enters the house and stops. He senses the coldness of the house although it is a warm night outside. The mother welcomes them and quietly leads them to the front room. The furniture has been pushed to the edge of the room to clear the floor. The man gently asks the family to sit down on the floor, forming a circle. He lights a candle and closes his eyes. The family bow their heads and close their eyes. The man starts to speak; his voice gentle and calm.

“Tell me, who are you? Where are you from?”

“In the tree? For how long?”

“Yes, I understand how upset you must be. Nobody wants you to be unhappy but this is someone else’s home. Can we not find somewhere else for you? I think there is another place where you will be more at peace…”

The man continued to talk to the spirit for over an hour as the family listened with their heads bowed. Then, the man was silent. As he lifted his head, the candle flickered out. The family lifted there heads and opened their eyes, all looking at the old man.

“The spirit had lived in the old tree for over 150 years. In his lifetime he was an explorer and travelled to many different lands. He was upset that his home had been destroyed by the lightening bolt. He is sorry that he has made you all ill. He has agreed to move into the cherry tree that is at the bottom of the back garden. He has gone now.”

The mother smiles in appreciation and invites Auntie and the elderly man to join the family for their evening meal where the food brings warmth and comfort back into their hearts and the conversation brings laughter and love back into their home.

The next morning, the mother wakes up and looks outside her bedroom window. The cherry tree has its first blossoms of the year.

Most of this is made up, but some of it is based on a true story. All Thai people know that spirits live in trees. Hope you all had a happy halloween!

Hari Raya Puasa Approaches

Muslims celebrate the festival of Aidilfitri – popularly known as Hari Raya Puasa, or simply Hari Raya (Day of Celebration)– to mark the culmination of Ramadhan, the holy month of fasting. It is a joyous occasion for Muslims, as it signifies a personal triumph, a victory of self-restraint and abstinence, symbolising purification and renewal.

The period of fasting ends when the new moon is sighted on the evening of the last day of Ramadhan. If the crescent is sighted, the following day is then declared the first day of Aidilfitri, which is also the beginning of the 10th month of the Muslim calendar- Syawal.

This year, Hari Raya is expected to fall on 3rd or 4th of October. According to my Malay staff, her family and the neighborhoods will start making the traditional ketupat (rice dumplings boiled in palm-leaf wrappings) on the 2nd. The ketupat is traditional Hari Raya fare and is often served with beef rendang (beef cooked with spices and coconut milk) and/or satay (grilled meat on a skewer).

A week or so before the big day, Muslims wash and decorate their houses, making cakes or biscuits, do shopping in search of gold accessories, new shoes and clothing for the very first day of celebrations when everyone wears their best.

In the kampung, there is joy of reunion of family members and old friends. Urbanites or those leaving hometowns make their annual return to be with parents, relatives and old friends. This is popularly referred to as balik kampung (returning to village).

The Hari Raya atmosphere in Betong town is not that obvious. This is because the Muslim population in Betong is relatively small as compared to the other places in the three Southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat. Besides, most of the Muslims in Betong live outskirt and lead a very simple life. There are only a few Muslim shops in Betong town and the Muslims here normally do their shopping in Yala or the nearby Malaysian towns as the goods are cheaper and have more variety.

In Malaysia, Hari Raya is celebrated nation-wide and as it approaches, shopping centres in the various parts of the country come alive with flowers, lamps, traditional clothes, and of course – the festive goodies. There are festive sale everywhere and the shopping complexes are thronged with families doing their shopping for the festive.

I am back here in Kuala Lumpur for a few days’ work and rest. I am a fast shopper and normally do not go shopping during weekends especially when there is sale (too crowded!). Yesterday, I tried to have some fun joining the crowds. The sad thing is …I lost my mobile phone in the changing room!

(31 October 2005 23:30, K. Lumpur)

Shopping in a Muslim Shop in Betong

I visited a kampung before taking a flight back to Kuala Lumpur. A Malay friend’s house is painted for the Hari Raya and for his wedding after the Hari Raya/His mother is a tailor and these are traditional Malay costumes, Baju Kurung.

Where have all the sarongs gone,,,

Old Patong, where sarongs filled the streets and shops by

the blue Andaman Sea. A rainbow of sarongs. From the

little gardens at the southern end of Ao Patong, to the wild

and old jungle north of vailed Kalim.

Men, women, children, some farongs even. From the lady

on the motorcyle market to the rice farmers and expatriates
village way back near Baan Sai
living in the Nam

Yen, near the where the road finally straightens hugging the

edge of the jungle. The lings sings and screech as we turn

north at the base of the mountain. The secret garden village

lay ahead to the north, the coolness of the little waterfall

cuts through the heat of the night.

edge of the paddie, our charming bungalow await, and another nights rest…