Ajarn yai, the greatest teacher of all

Ajarn yai – many of you may know this phrase as “school principal” in Thai. Today I want to tell you about a Thai custom that will give this phrase a very different meaning. 🙂

If you visited our university last month, you’d have been greeted by the solemn sight of black-and-white drapes hanging from the walls of the doorway, and the throng of neatly dressed undergraduates lining the entryway. As you’d step inside and walk down the hallway, you’d be aware of the large flower garlands all along the walls, sometimes surrounding lists of names. You could suspect that something or someone is being honored there. The chants coming from behind a closed door would confirm that notion.

If you’d step closer and peek inside through a window, the first thing you’d notice are the nine monks sitting on elevated platforms, chanting to an avid audience of Thais dressed in black. Something strange in the middle of the room: large black bags, holding unknown things. The group of skeletons standing in a corner give an eerie hint of the bags’ ghastly content…

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