Author Archives: Kitjar Sukjaidee

A Sea of Yellow: My King of Hearts

His Majesty The King Rama IX Bhumipol Adulyadej The Great is not just a beacon of hope for his people. He is more than Thailand’s symbol of unity. Through his dedication and by setting an example for others, he has earned not merely the trust and respect of his subjects, but a deep reverence for his wisdom and his affinity with the Thai people.

Prajao Yuhua is without any doubt my eternal Guiding Light. This is no simple ruler of Thailand, His Majesty is without a fragment of doubt the Living Rama on Earth. As the Buddhist scriptures put it, His Majesty is the Greatest Chakravatin of all time — the King of all Kings, and The Living Boddhisattva On Earth !

With the ongoing most auspicious Sixtieth Anniversary of His Majesty’s Ascension to the Throne, the whole Thai nation and all Thais worldwide are rejoicing with His Majesty. Although I am only 1/8 Thai, I am so happy to share His Majesty’s birthdate of December 5, and we even share the same birth colour! Not unlike 64 million Thais in 76 provinces, I have also been wearing yellow as a mark of respect to my Greatest King on Earth!

I wish I could be at the Ananda Samakhon Throne Hall to pay my respects at the feet of His Majesty! Unfortunately, I am at least 1,500km away. At least, I am with His Majesty in spirit. I bow and prostrate with my deepest reverence, respect and veneration!

May All The Buddhas, the Devas and Brahman Deities Look Upon His Majesty!
Long Live His Majesty
Long May His Majesty Remain My Guiding Light

Celebrating Chinese New Year I

Being of Penang-Phuket Peranakan Chinese ancestry, Chinese New Year (CNY) or Trut Jeen is my family most significant celebration of the year.

Besides the firecrackers, the ‘ang pows’ (red packets), and the ‘sinfully’ rich food, it is also a time of prayers, merit-making, and more importantly the coming-together of the large extended family.

It all begins with the ritual cleaning of the house with lime and lemon leaves. This can start as early as one month before CNY. Rituals aside, it is not easy task — house-painting, cleaning all the windows, scrubbing the floors etc etc.

Symbolically, the most important item to be cleaned is the Buddhist Altar. At my house, on an auspicious day and time, I would usually do the ‘bathing’ of the Phra Puthachao, Chao Meh Kuam Imm and Chenrezig images. This is followed by the tablets of the San Phra Bum Jeen (Teh Chiu Ee Earth God) and the Kitchen God. After all the ritual cleaning and polishing, it is time to re-decorate the altar with ornaments such as red couplets stickers, peacock feathers and host of other offerings.

Usually, one week before CNY, my family would usually make merit (tamboon) at a local Thai Buddhist Temple by offering cash, rice, oil and daily necessities to the Buddhist monks. For a Thai-Chinese family, making merit for CNY accrues among the highest merits. Perhaps, this is the only Buddhist aspect of CNY, the rest being traditionally Peranakan and Chinese.

Later at night on the same day, there would be a special offering of barbeque pork, fruits, nien guo (sticky rice cake), chocolates (Kit-Kat, Toberone and Mars), biscuits, and sugar cane to the Kitchen God. This is a very ancient Peranakan practice and many families have discarded this ritual, but my family still practices this earnestly.

Accordingly, it is believed on the 24th night of the 12th Lunar Month, the Kitchen God ascends to Heaven to report the domestic happenings. This is the time for my family to ‘bribe’ the Kitchen God with sweet sticky stuff (thus the sweet chocolates) for him to report only ‘good stuff’ about the family. Of course, this is also a symbolic prayer for enough food on our dining table for the coming year.

On the morning of CNY’s Eve, just before putting up the ‘chaiki’ (a kind of red cloth) at the main entrance of the house, there is another prayer to honour our ancestor with the ‘Sembahyang Abu.’ (Ash Prayer).

Traditionally, the expensive blue-and-white Peranakan ware would be taken out to offer our ancestors with a most sumptuous feast of pork, duck, chicken, fish and mushroom dishes. But being staunch Buddhist, we only offer vegetarian dishes these days. As we don’t have an ancestral tablet, this ‘Sembahyang Angin’ (Wind Prayer) takes place in front of the main entrance.

On the night of CNY’s eve, my extended family would have our reunion dinner. This is usually celebrated at my grand-parents house with traditional Peranakan Chinese dishes on the tok panjang (dining table) such as ‘kiam chye ap’ (salted vegetable duck soup), ‘pongteh’ (marinated pork knuckles), gulai ayam (chicken curry) and ‘acar chilli’ (preserved and stuff chilli with dried shredded papaya).

However since their passing, my extended family would have our reunion dinner at a hotel restaurant in the city. Bedecked in all our richly- red clothes, it is the time for the family to have the traditional family meal and the ‘loh sang’ (Throw Prosperity). The expensive food and the small talk aside, this gathering is a time for well-wishing for a better year, for better business deals, for job promotions, and for a healthy and prosperous year ahead.

After dinner, the extended family disperses. It is time to return home with only me and my parents. At 12.00am sharp, on the first start of the Chinese New Year, my father would perform the ‘Sembahyang Sambut Kepala Tahon’ (welcome the start of the year) Prayer.

He will ritually offer a golden joss-stick, switch on all the lights at home, open all the doors and windows, and call for Phra Puttachao to symbolically bless our home and the family. Then, there will be three ritual callings of ‘Huat Chye,’ or ‘Tuah -Berkat Mari’ (Come’ye Prosperity) in Peranakan.

On CNY’s morning, after a vegetarian breakfast, we usually start our day with more family prayers. With a ritual lime and flower bath, my family will wear our newest and brightest clothes and make our first visit of the year to the Thai Buddhist Temple. There, it is time for more prayers and blessing from the Phra Putthachao and his Thai Buddhist Monks.

Only after these Buddhist Prayers, in true Malaysian style, we will visit my family’s relatives’ open houses for the pai nien (CNY visits). Traditionally, the women-folk of the older generation, would wear their traditional sarong-kebaya, (a see-through tight traditional blouse) festooned with their huge diamond kerongsang (a three-piece button set) and diamond earrings. Sometimes, I find all these a little too flashy for an octogenarian or a nanogenarian, right?

On the second day of CNY, it is my family’s traditional open house. Thankfully we have a good Malay caterer serving non-Chinese food such as roti jala (a type of Malay deep-fried bread), curry chicken and mee siam (Thai vermicelli). I don’t see how I can cope with more than 150 guests of my father’s relatives, business clients and friends. Also thanks to paper cups, plates and plastic forks and spoons, there is no washing to be done.

Even after the second day, there are still so many CNY rituals like receiving the arrival of the Kitchen God, the prayers to the Jade Emperor and the final Chap Goh Meh. Interestingly, Chap Goh Meh is also the Buddhist Magha Bucha Day which commemorates the spontaneous gathering of the Buddha’s disciples.

(PS – To my non-Malaysian readers, I would emphasize that my family’s CNY rituals and practices are a syncretic reflection of my Chinese, Peranakan and Thai ancestry, I doubt many other Chinese families follow the same rituals.)

The Day of The Great King

Every Tuesday night, hundreds of Thais gather around Bangkok’s Royal Plaza. Coming from all ranks of Thai society, they believe, on this night, the spirit of Prabat Somdech Phra Chulachomklao Chaoyuhua Maharach (พระบาทสมเด็็จพระจุลจอมเกล้้า เจ้าอยู่หัวมหาราช ) returns to Krungthep Maha Nakorn.

With offerings such as pink roses, red wine, black coffee and cigars, the Thais beseech their revered departed king for advice, blessings and prosperity. The Thais simply love Phra Chulalchomklao and can’t seem to have enough of Him.

Since the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, more and more people, especially the Thai-middle class, have elevated Phra Chulachomklao Chaoyuhua or better known as King Rama V Chulalongkorn, to a near divine status.

His images, posters, statues, amulets, tie-pins and button badges can be found at every corner of the Thai universe. It is not strange that Chulalongkorn’s image gazes down proudly at nearly every government offices, shops and even the night clubs at Soi Thonglor.

His near-divine status also accords him a special position at Buddhist altars, standing slightly below then the Lord Buddha’s or Chao Meh Kuan Imm’s image.

Last Sunday (Oct 23), marks Chulalongkorn’s 95th death anniversary. His death anniversary is a public holiday in Thailand, and it is known in English as Chulalongkorn’s Day, or in Thai, วันปิยมหาราช (wan peyar maharach), which simply means the Day of the Great King.

Indeed, Chulalongkorn steered Thailand (then known as Siam) through various political and economic crises of 19th and 20th century. Through his diplomatic wisdom, Thailand evaded the clutches of the European, American and Japanese colonialists.

He was perhaps the first westernized monarch in Southeast Asia to embark on a self-reformation and self-modernization policy. His western-inspired Chakri Reformation (1868-1910) modernized public administration, freed the slaves and abolished the forced-labor (corvee) system. He also laid the modern infrastructure of Thailand such as telegraph, telephone, railway and road systems.

Interestingly, these days, Chulalongkorn is revered for His boon-giving powers. It is believed, Chulalongkorn still has the power to deliver promises and wishes to his subjects. He has become the eternal symbol of a Modern Thailand. Chaiyo!

The Vegetarian Festival

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival (เทศกาลกินเจ ๕ วัน Tesagarn Gin Jae 9 Wan) is the island’s largest religious celebration. For nine days of the ninth month of the lunar calendar, the San Jao Chui Tui at Ranong Road becomes the centre of a myriad of religious activities. There are various prayer offerings, a parade of mediums and astrologers, loud firecrackers and generally, a wonderful celebration of colours.

But few farang tourists are aware that the Phuket Vegetarian Festival or the Kiu Ong Tai Yeah is the highlight of every Chinese community in Southeast Asia. It does not matter whether you are in Phuket, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or Semarang; for every nine days of the ninth month of the lunar calendar, the Chinese community gathers to pay homage to the Nine Sons of Queen of Heaven (Chao Meh Thien Hou).

Sedan Chairs for the Nine Emperor Gods

The Nine Sons or The Nine Emperor Gods are believed to preside over blessings, life and death, and peace and harmony on Earth. With a syncretism of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, the focus of rituals acts as a channel between the celestial and terrestrial beings for the salvation and protection of mankind.

Although my family members are fervently Buddhist, we still pay homage to the Nine Emperor God. Perhaps this is a mark of respect of our Chinese ancestry, and according to Chinese beliefs, it is a thanksgiving prayer for a safe journey from China to the South Seas of Nanyang.

Every year, we would make our prayer offerings to Kiu Ong Yeah at either the Penang’s Burma Road Temple or Kuala Lumpur’s Nan Thien Kwang temple in Ampang. For my family, It has become somewhat of a yearly pilgrimage

This year is no different, we made our offerings, and I did my Fong Wong Sang or Releasing of Life at the temple. Maybe, I believe in combining my Buddhist beliefs into this traditional Chinese prayer.

Being Chinese, the worship of Taoist Deities is not uncommon But I also see this in a Buddhist’ light. I believe that the Nine Emperor Gods are Bodhisattvas manifesting themselves in the form of the planets in our solar system. Perhaps, that is the beauty of Buddhism — being a Buddhist does not exclude me from being a Taoist or a Confucianist concurrently.

Nonetheless, for the uninitiated, the Vegetarian Festival can be very gruesome and at times rather frightening. I remember, as a small kid, I was traumatized by the festival in Penang’s Burmah Rd. The fire walking, the lashing of the whips, and the self-mortification was something that I just couldn’t accept. Perhaps the idea of hurting’s one own body is so foreign in the Buddhist belief.

Only later, I realized all this is about the power of the Nine Emperor Gods. For the uninitiated these Chao Jeen (Chinese Gods) are reputedly very high deities, and the worship of these Gods come with their own pantang-larang……. Just make sure you follow all the guidelines, or your sembahyang hajat will not come true…….

Cleanliness of the body during the festival
Wear white during the festival
Behave physically and mentally
Avoid eating meat
Avoid sex
Avoid alcohol
People in mourning should not participate
Pregnant women and menstruating women should not attend ceremonies

It will be another year before I make my pilgrimage to the Ampang’s Nan Thien Kwang. Perhaps by then, my sembahyang hajat/ adistharn / wishful prayer would be answer……….………

Thailand Life

In mid 2005, I began my life as a blogger. To date, after some numerous postings online at Thai-Blogs and my own personal blog, I am still contemplating what it means exactly to be a blogger. Of course, I am still selective in what I write online and there is still the fine thin line that separates reality and the world of blogsphere.

My favourite inspiration for blogging has been Panrit “Gor” Daoruang’s of Thailand Life. For me, it is still hard to call Gor as Panrit, as I have always remembered him as Nattawud. His website used to generate more than 3,500 visitors daily and for almost a year, he was a columnist (Gor’s World) for Bangkok Post.

Thailand Life began in 1997 when Gor was only 12 years old. Then, he was a student at Sriwittaya Paknam, one of the most prestigious schools in Samut Prakan, which is about 30km from Krungthep. Today, seven years later, he seldom updates his website. Sigh……..

Gor may not the best English blogger online, but each of his posting tells a wonderful story of what it means to be a Thai living in a suburb of Bangkok. It can be simple everyday stories such as what he has in his pocket, or his challenges in life, such as his drug addiction or even his life as a butterfly boy. Of course, all this is told with lots of emotions, and at times with brutal honesty.

Of course, if you are a drug-addict, you would not tell the world, but Gor did exactly that. I salute him for his braveness! Thankfully, Gor had one of the best teachers, Acharn Richard of Sriwittaya Paknam. Somehow, Acharn Richard is also an inspiration for me to start blogging, especially at this community website.

Then, Gor was lucky. With Acharn Richard, he was able to finally stopped his drug habit and return to normalcy. But, Gor’s life is not at all about being plain or normal. Would you believe it, he is at least a decade younger than me, but he has more experience than I can ever have in my whole lifetime?

I was happy when Gor wrote about his girlfriends from school. It was so lovey-dovey when teenagers fall in love. Geez, I would have like that for myself, but coming from a very strict Chinese family, it was impossible.

Without doubt, Gor’s life makes an interesting blog — and he indeed has an extra-ordinary life to write about. I recalled reading his blog on how he slipped into his girlfriend Tai’s house at night. All that night-time adventures make juicy blog postings, but I was totally shocked when his girlfriend, Tai got pregnant. That truth was a little hard to swallow.

Imagine being a father only in your teens? That sounds almost nightmarish. Being Buddhists, abortion is totally out of the question, as it meant taking the life of an innocent person.

Eventually Gor and Tai got married in November 2003 when both were in their teens. And later he did blogged about his challenges of falling in love with Tai, and how Grace (the baby) came to the world…. It was simply euphoric….. Grace is now growing up to be a very cute girl!

Gor’s blog made a very strong impact in my life. Every time, I am in Bangkok, I would think of making the trip to Samut Prakan. It is not that far away from Bangkok, but the traffic jam along the Sukhumwit-Bangna Highway can be really bad and it may take hours just to reach Paknam.

Yet, earlier this year, I did make the trip to Samut Prakan. I visited Gor’s most photographed theme park, Muang Boran or Ancient City. Without doubt, it was the most beautiful park I have seen in my whole life.

I was there almost the whole day, admiring the beauty of Thai architecture, and the various architecture differences of Thailand. It was like a Mini Malaysia, but it was really huge, you need to cycle to get from one place to another.

Besides Muang Boran, I also visited the Phra Erawan Shrine near Paknam, but it was already too late to enter. All did was to offer my prayers to Phra Erawan, and perhaps in my next trip to Bangkok, I would perhaps visit Samut Prakan once more.

It has been a long time since Gor updated his happenings in his life. I wonder what’s new with him? I hope and pray that Gor is doing well in his life. Maybe, my next trip to Samut Prakan would be a chat over drinks with Gor, and perhaps even with Acharn Richard.