Feast for Dead Souls

The Vegetarian Festival has now reached its seventh day in Samut Prakan. Last night, many devotees went to the City Hall Plaza to float krathongs on the Chao Phraya River. This was done as a kind of invitiation to the dead souls to come to a feast on the following day.

This is what happened today at Rong Jay Thong Siang in Taiban. Hundreds of local people came to the VegetarianHouse to offer food first to their own dead ancestors and then to all the dead souls.

In addition, they bought a food package consisting of a bag of rice and bananas. These were then later distributed to the poor. The Vegetarian Festival finishes on Thursday 6th October with a giant parade through town early in the morning.

More pictures on Facebook >>>

Loy Krathong in October

Everyone knows about Loy Krathong that happens on the full moon in November. However, not many people know that we have another Loy Krathong in October. The phrase “loy krathong” means to float a bowl shaped container. It is not a festival like Christmas which celebrates a particular event. You can actually float a krathong at any time of the year. The annual event I went to tonight was called “Loy Krathong Jay” and is part of the ten day Vegetarian Festival that we are having in Thailand at the moment. The ceremony started at Rong Jay Thong Sian, near Taiban Circle in Paknam, and then all the participants walked all the way down to the Chao Phraya River at the City Hall Plaza. They were accompanied with musical instruments for their fifteen minute walk through the town.

We were lucky with the rain this year as it stopped shortly before the ceremony was due to start. A table was set up with candles and a food offering for the ancestors. Three monks led the chanting. The idea behind this ceremony is to change your misfortune and to float away your bad luck on the krathongs. But, this ceremony was also held to transfer this merit to the dead souls in the water and on earth. Each krathong had incense sticks which were lit before it was floated on the water. One horse-shaped krathong was also set on fire which is a common thing in Chinese ceremonies to pass merit onto dead ancestors.

The whole ceremony was over within 15 minutes. After the last krathong had been floated on the water, everyone then set off for the walk back to the Chinese temple. We are now more than half way through the Vegetarian Festival. There are more ceremonies to make merit for ancestors. On the last day, Thursday 6th October 2011, there will be a big parade through the town. I will be bringing you pictures of this parade next week. I have also posted some pictures of the vegetarian food that I have been eating over at www.ThaiFoodPhotos.com. More pictures from tonight can be seen on my facebook page.

9 Gods Invited for the Vegetarian Festival

Yesterday marked the official start of the Vegetarian Festival in Thailand. In Samut Prakan it runs from 26th September to 6th October 2011. We went to Thong Siang Vegetarian House in Samut Prakan to watch this opening ceremony. The event was a signal for the nine Gods to come down to earth. Something similar happened all over Thailand. During the following ten days, people will keep a strict vegetarian diet and also obey ten basic rules which will help cleanse their mind and body. The symbol for the festival is a small yellow flag with the words in Thai “jay” which means “vegetarian”. In Thai culture, yellow represents Buddhism and good moral conduct. When looking to buy vegetarian food, we need to look out for the small yellow flags on the foodstalls.

According to legend, the nine Gods come down from heaven to inspect the earth and to record the good and bad deeds of everyone. So, during the festival it is important for Chinese people to be on their best behaviour. Refraining from eating meat means less animals being slaughtered which will gain them some merit. People taking part in the festival will often wear white and will visit their local shrines to pay respect to the spirits. If you want to visit a shrine then you should wear white too out of respect. In addition to not eating meat, strong smelling vegetables cannot be eaten. Such as garlic, onion, spring onion, Chinese chives and Chinese parsley. In Thailand, many popular Thai dishes are replicated by using tofu and extra mushrooms.

These days, it is not only people of Chinese descent that are following the strict vegetarian diet. It is also Thai people and foreigners who are living here in Thailand. Here are the ten rules that you must keep during the festival:

1. Keep your body clean during the nine days of the festival
2. Use special kitchen utensils that have never been used to prepare and cook meat
3. Wear white or yellow during the festival
4. Make your mind pure and mentally calm
5. Do not eat meat or animal products such as milk and butter, and strong smelling ingredients such as garlic and onion
6. No sex
7. No alcoholic drinks or tobacco
8. People who are mourning should not attend the festival
9. Pregnant ladies should not attend any of the ceremonies
10. Ladies who are having a period should not attend any of the ceremonies

Getting Ready for the Vegetarian Festival

The annual Vegetarian Festival is about to start here in Thailand. It happens every year in the tenth Thai lunar month on the first new moon after the equinox. This year it is celebrated between 26th September and 5th October 2011. Most people make the mistake in thinking that this is a festival only celebrated in Phuket. Although it is true that their version is certainly livelier, it is actually celebrated in many places around Thailand wherever there are large Chinese communities. Samut Prakan is no exception. All through the town we have had large yellow banners hung across the roads for the past week. Also, food stalls selling vegetarian food have been flying little yellow flags. This will now be my fourth year of taking part in this festival.

At school, about 15% of our students and teachers have signed up for vegetarian meals. As well as a vegetarian meal for lunch, the students will have soy milk during break time. Not everyone has Chinese ancestors as there are people like myself who are doing it as a kind of purification of the body and mind. Personally I think it is a great form of detox not to eat animal products for ten days. However, some teachers have already admitted to me that they will probably only do it for three days. Most of them are worried about gaining weight. But this is mainly because of the deep fried snacks. Some of them are very addictive. Strangely, I usually lose weight during this period.

For my preparation I went to Tesco Lotus to see what I could eat. A large section of the supermarket had shelves stacked with food that we can safely eat during the vegetarian festival. It is easy to spot as there are always yellow flags with the word “jay” written in Thai in red letters. In the picture above, you can see some of the things I bought. These include soy bean milk and mama noodles. There were even cup noodles of tom yum with mushrooms and tofu.  Last time I also bought plenty of vegetables as I was planning on cooking for myself. However, there are so many food stalls here that are selling vegetarian food that it is usually easier to eat out every day.

Bang Phli Riverside Market Fair

One of the oldest markets in Thailand that is still operating is the Bang Phli Riverside Market in Samut Prakan. It was first started by Chinese traders back in the 1850’s. This now makes it older than 150 years. The original name for the market is “Talad Siri Sopon”. It is situated along the Samrong Canal which used to be a major trading route between the Chao Phraya River and Chachoengsao. I visited Bang Phli this morning for the launch of their Old Market Fair which will run every weekend between now and 2nd October 2011.

The market consists of wooden two storey shop houses along the northern bank of the canal. The market stretches for about 500 meters along two sections which is broken up by a bridge. You can gain access to the market from Wat Bang Phli Yai Klang. There are shops along the entire length which are selling a diversity of old and new products. When I first visited this riverside market they were mainly selling items for local people. These were practical things like household items and school clothes. However, there is now more of a variety and shops selling items that are of interest to tourists. However, it still maintains its unique charm and beauty.

If you come and visit this market now, you will have a good opportunity to see the traditional way of life of the Bang Phli people living along the canal. Every weekend there will be special activities that include folk plays, sea boxing, boat tours, traditional sword fighting and of course local food. In fact, I think the variety of food on offer is one of the highlights of the market. The market runs throughout the year but they always have special activities during September in the run up to the Rub Bua Festival. The boat tours exploring the local canals also also run for the whole year.

I am very impressed in how the local people have gone about conserving the local market and also restoring the local traditions and customs to their former glory. They have certainly gone to a lot of effort. If you are in the area now then I do strongly urge you to go and visit Bang Phli and this market fair. Also make sure that you pay a visit to their local museum which is situated in the market. Although most of the displays are in Thai, there are plenty of pictures to view as well as scale models. At present the market doesn’t get many foreign tourists so this is the best time to come.

I have posted more pictures over at my Facebook Page.