Easter weekend was a big weekend for me. I couldn’t fit it all in the last post, so here it is.
I would not describe funerals in America as fun. I would say they are more mournful, sorrowful or grave. You don’t find yourself smiling too much at them anyway. Not the funeral in Thailand I went to two weeks ago. I would actually classify it more as a fair, fully equipped with food vendors, 6-hit-the-balloon-win-a-prize stalls, two huge blow up slides, a stage for the after show performance…and blue bunny balloons that looked suspiciously like the Easter Bunny. For music, there were instruments in the shape of a gigantic watermelon rind with gongs lining the inside. There was a big float in the center of the temple. (I do not know if it was actually a float, but I am going to call it that since it was about as big as the floats in the professional parades and as intricately decorated with flower sewn chandeliers, lots of bright colors and gold, bows of every shape and kind, a decorative elephant on the side and mini temple towers around the outside. I would guess the float was about 1 ½ stories.) In short, it was a beautiful creation. On Thursday, I had actually helped with the decorate it. Such detail was put into every part. For instance I helped with bow tying, but it was not just regular bow tying, we specially tied them as to maximize the fluff. During the funeral, there were specific times when everyone would stop what they were doing and pray with the monks toward this float. Now, this wasn’t just a funeral for some ordinary person. A prestigious monk of the temple had recently died. Everyone in the town was invited. There were professionally printed banners around town telling of the date and time. The funeral took place over three days, with Sunday being the climax.
I actually visited the temple three times that day. For the first two, the theme seemed to be “Lets eat as much food as possible”—on par with the Iowa State Fair. By nightfall it was ready for cremation time. I am pretty sure it will be the coolest cremation I will ever see in my entire life. First they set off a rocket from one edge of the temple. It followed a string to where the fuse lit off a display to what was I suspect was the monk’s name. From there, it went around the float lighting off small fireworks along the way. Then the casket was lowered into the into the heart of the float. Big fireworks went off like Fourth of July. Next, the whole float started to smoke, and smoke and smoke. At this point I, actually thought the show was over…I was very wrong. Suddenly, the towers on the outside began to spontaneously combust, one after the other. Suddenly top of the float burst into flames. They spread until the whole float was ablaze… flames 10 feet tall burning and the float crumbling to the ground…until it burned to nothing. Even though I have tried to describe it, it is one of those things you just have to see for yourself. I asked my counterpart’s sister if she had had ever seen anything like it, she hadn’t. I asked counterpart, only once. (Of course, my mom wants it to be recreated when they come) I don’t know how they did it, but it has been the coolest thing I have seen in Thailand so far.
Other news: I am getting better at conversing with people at work and in the community. At this point, it helps greatly if they know a little English. The other day I had a conversation about Social Security in Thai—very small and simple of course, but I felt proud of myself.
I did go to Easter service. There is a nondenominational church in my town that I didn’t know existed until Holy Saturday. It was in a small room (about the size of a large family room) in a non-descript building. You wouldn’t know it was a church except for a red cross on the sign on the front of the building. There were around 25 people there in total (this is including the small babies). I did not need to worry about getting a seat. I stayed after for the lunch that they provided. It was pretty fun. .. I didn’t have any chocolate-filled eggs. But I did drink some Land O Lakes mocha cocoa (which I brought from the U.S.) for my Easter treat when I got home.
On Monday, we did not have to work because the king declared a holiday because his sister had died. I watched part of the king’s sister’s funeral on TV. They had an even bigger float than the monk’s. People were parading around it in the square and then there were guards, also marching, dressed like British monarch guards – tall, black fluffy hats, red coats with gold buttons and swords like the guards at Buckingham palace.
This past weekend was the holiday Sokcron a huge water festival. More about it in my next post, so stay tuned!