Category Archives: DC Thai Culture

Songkran DC Style! Pt. 3

Sawasdee Krab,

I can’t believe I’m on Part 3 the final installment of my blog about Songkhran DC style. I had planned to only write one page on my experience but I kept finding more and more things to write about and still not cover everything I thought might be interesting to share with you. I hope your still with me and not bored by now 😉

I also apologize that it took a few extra days to get this final chapter written as my blog is now a week late since Songkhran was a week ago! My original intent was to write a blog once a week and after I get through my back log of blogs that I plan to write today that will be the schedule for me with a new blog each week written sometime on the weekend.

On the main things I wanted to write about today was the procession of Fai Pook Kean ฝ้ายผูกแขน that you can see in the pic above.

Throughout the day many guests, both farang and Thai, went inside the main temple or Bot at Wat Thai to see what it was like. Some people were at Songkhran for the first time and had never been to a Buddhist temple before while most farang guests were there with their Thai husbands, wives, boyfriends or girlfriends all celebrating Songkhran together and many I noticed took part in the Fai Pook Kean.

Before going into the temple I took off my sandals on the front steps and left them on one of the racks for your shoes on each side of the temple doors. You should always remove your shoes when entering a Wat especially the Bot or hall where the main Buddha image is kept. To not do that is considered very disrespectful. That’s why I wear Sandals when I go to Wat Thai because they are easy to slip off and then slip back on later when I leave. Also when sitting down in a Wat you must never point your feet at a Buddha image or a monk as that is also very disrespectful but I will get into that more later.

Many guests knew to remove their shoes before going in but if they did not then someone watching the door would politely remind them. I wonder how many people also knew not to step on the threshold leading into the Bot but to step over it instead. Most Thai temples have a raised threshold, which must not be stood or stepped on because Thai people believe holy spirits reside in these thresholds.

Being careful to step over the threshold I quietly entered the temple. I sort of described the main temple room in my previous Blog but let me tell you more about what it is like inside.

This is a picture of the main Buddha Shrine at the center in front of the Bot. It is the most decoration inside the temple. Most of the temple is empty except for the shrine. In the back of the room on the right were some folding chairs usually for guests to sit that cannot sit easily on the floor. On the left side were two very nice arm chairs probably for important visitors to sit and a very large gong in between them. Everyone sits on the floor for sermons and chanting at the temple except for the monks who sit on a raised walkway that runs along the right side of the room.

Trying to be as discreet and humble as I could, smiling and bowing my head to guests seated in the chairs, I moved around the room to take some pictures often times moving around just on my knees to show a more humble prescence during the procession. That was not very easy!

Although the temple is very plain compared to the beautifully ornate temples in Thailand I like it that here, same as in Thailand, you sit on the carpeted floor. It’s alot more comfortable than the hardwood pews I had to endure each Sunday growing up in a Christian church. There were large windows on the left side of the room that let sunlight pour into the room which also created a very comfortable feeling but if you weren’t careful you could get lazy and want to take a nap 🙂

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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,

โชคดีครับ

วิทย์

Songkhran DC Style!

Sawasdee Krab,

Welcome to my second blog. My apologies for not having this published before now I had planned to already have this done yesterday but I was getting the hang of posting my pics here and also getting over a fairly serious Songkran sunburn, not fun!

The good news is now I have my first photo album here of all the pics I took during Songkhran this weekend, complete with captions! So after reading this please feel free to check that out also. My thanks to Richard for all his help teaching this green horn blogger the ropes getting the pics for this blog posted and setting up my photo album. Man I just love that new blog smell! And now on with todays topic.

Here in Washington we actually have two Thai Buddhist temples, Wat Tummaprateip in Virginia and Wat Thai DC in Silver Spring Maryland. Usually the weekend before Songkhran in Thailand Wat Tummaprateip holds it’s celebration on Sunday for Thai people and friends to attend and have fun. Wat Tummaprateip is a much bigger Wat so they have a much bigger celebration to bring in the Thai New Year however this temple is in rural Virginia a good ways from where I live in Washington so if you don’t have a car it is rather hard to get to.

As you can see from the pics above I went to the celebration at Wat Thai DC which is a smaller but very nice temple in a quiet wooded suburb of Maryland. Wat Thai has their own Songkhran festival the weekend after it is celebrated in Thailand so if you can get to both Temples you can actually celebrate Songkhran twice two weekends in a row! Maybe next year if I cannot be in Thailand for Songkhran I’ll try going to both.

Wat Thai is also where I go two nights a week to study Thai language so I know the monks there and it is a very relaxed and friendly place for farangs as well as Thai people in the community to go and learn Thai, or learn English, study the Dhamma or practice meditation with the monks. I’ll be writing more on that in future blogs to be sure.

Sunday I got dressed early and left for the temple in Maryland. For this Songkhran I wore a special outfit for the occasion. A friend from Thailand last summer brought me a traditional style shirt from the Issan region of Thailand and also a nice plaid sash called a Pa-Kaao-Ma that is worn with it. I carried my digital camera, phone, etc. in a Yarm, also a gift from my friend. A Yarm is a woven shoulder bag you would often see a monk carrying tucked under his arm.

Dressed as I was I knew I might get some looks but I figured this would be the one time of the year, if any, I should wear this outside the house. I probably did look a sight walking to the subway in my neighborhood a tall, very pale, bald farang dressed like Issan Thailand in inner city Washington, DC. Look for my pic in the photo album to see for yourself how I looked.

To get to Wat Thai you ride the Metro subway train all the way to Glenmont the last stop in Maryland and then the temple is exactly one mile down the road. Usually I walk to the temple from the Metro but at Songkhran they arrange for shuttles to carry people to there and back and I got there just as another full shuttle was about to leave. I needn’t worry about how I looked dressed in my outfit as two Thai girls were standing on the sidewalk as I exited the station. The looked at me and both said “oh, suay mahk!” (very beautiful) I think I might have blushed as I smiled, gave them a friendly ‘wai’ and then got on the shuttle. At 10:30 that morning already there were so many people there and we made several stops along the way to pick up more passengers.

I made it to Wat Thai just in time as the monks came out of the temple for traditional Alms round. This is the biggest event of the day because so many Thai people that live here can gather to give food to the monks and earn merit which is very important in Thai Buddhism for living a good life for yourself and your family. There was a huge crowd around the front of the temple and people had baskets overflowing with foods to give to the monks.

Many Thai people brought their own food to give to the monks but if you did not have any you could buy a basket of food from the temple for $20 to give the monks. Some people might think this is a rip off to buy food from someone then you turn around and give it to them but not really. This way you can make merit two ways by giving to the monks and your money is a donation to help the temple. After Alms the monks went inside to eat the food offered and prepared for them before midday when Buddhist monks must fast until sunrise the next day. I am sure they have so much food left over that they donate what is left to needy people that are not as fortunate.

While the monks were eating inside the temple I checked out the food stalls and shopping market spread out around the temple grounds. Every inch of concrete and pavement in the parking lot of the temple was taken up with stalls selling all kinds of Thai food. This is one of my favorites for Songkhran because there is so much to eat and very cheap too!

The pic above on the right is my favorite to eat – grilled chicken! It is so good and I have that everytime I go to the festival. The pic on the left is what the kids do here for throwing water. This is what most people recognize when they think of Songkhran but if they come to Wat Thai planning to get wet they may be disappointed since we do not throw water everywhere like in Thailand.

The reason for that is there is not a lot of room as all the food and shopping stalls take up the pavement and parking lot. The rest of the temple grounds are soft dirt and grass and woods. If we tried to have a big water fight like in Thailand it would be a huge muddy mess! Personally that would be a lot of fun but parents would probably not be so keen on their kids getting that dirty especially since many of the kids there performed at the festival and are dressed in nice traditional Thai costumes.

Instead they hand out cans of silly string for kids to use like you see in the pic above. It’s probably not the same but the kids still think it is fun to squirt each other and possibly any unsupecting adults.

I’ve gone on a lot today and there is still so much more to tell you about so I will write again including more about the Buddhist traditions at the festival, entertainment for the crowds, more food of course and my other favorite, shopping! Look for Part 2 tomorrow.

Check out my photo album for all the pics and also check out these links for more information about the Buddhist temples here in Washington.

http://www.watthaidc.org/
http://www.tummaprateip.iirt.net/

Till next time,

พบกันใหม่พรุ่งนี้ครับ

วิทย์