Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Very "Tai-Tai" 2007 (Part 4): Finale

I almost couldn't wake up the following morning. I supposed I had tired out myself by dancing too much the last night. Sames goes for Oh, and we decided not to join the streeet procession in which Oh's parents were supposed to take part in. It was simply too rushed, for after the procession, we had to return home,get changed and pack our stuffs quickly to head for Don Meuang Airport. Therefore, we decided to just head straight for the airport after washing up and bidded everyone goodbye. Well words were simply not enough to express my grattitude, for the family really treated me very well during my 3-day stay with them despite me unable to communicate with them very well due to language barrier. Oh told me that his parents liked me alot, and his father even felt that I and Oh really looked quite alike.

We reached Don Meuang International Airport (now dedicated to domestic flights only) at around 7.45am, and after purchasing our air tickets to Phuket, we headed to the market opposite the airport for our breakfast. We did not eat much, for Oh has got a habit of eating relatively little for breakfast, whereas for me I wasn't feeling too well. Perhaps I was feeling lethargic that I would be back to the slogging work life the following day, and that somehow affected my mood. Our flight to Phuket was scheduled at 10.40am, and being still early, we lazed around the airport till it was time to check-in.

We arrived at Phuket International Airport at around noon, and we took the airport bus to the Phuket Town. Actually I like Phuket for it's beach atmosphere, but I don't really like it for having too many Farangs (foreigners). Nto that I have anything against them, but having too many foreigners in any place would simply make the place too commercialised, and will somehow affect the beauty of the place (sometimes I'd simply felt as though I haven't even stepped out of Singapore). Oh and I had Su Ki for lunch. It is a kind of light spicy glass noodle dish which I thought looked rather Chinese. In fact, Phuket town has got a very strong Chinese presense, as everywhere I go, I'd see those Chinese "Heavnly God" altars. I even saw those big Chinese graves like those I've seen in Bukit Brown Cemetery in Singapore (native Thais do not get buried, but are cremated with their ashes buried down the foundation of stupas and chedis).

Oh and I had actually intended to go to Patong area for final shopping before I head back home, but the journey to Patong was kind of expensive and I didn't have much money left. Hence we could only make do with a short trip to a local wat. I don't know what the name of the wat was, but I could tell that it was a very popular destination with the tourists from every part of the globe. It's architecture style was somehow not quite the same like other wats, or so I felt. This was the first Thai temple (other than the one we went to the previous night for performance) that I've actually visited in my entire trip to Thailand this time round!

After visiting the temple, there wasn't much time left, so we headed back to the bus terminal where Oh and I had an early dinner before we took the airport bus back to Phuket International Airport. It was there I started to have stomachache, and even visited the toilet twice. Actually this was something quite remarkable for me, as I have not had any "major relieve" during the past few days until the last day. It was even more remarkable as prior to my trip to Thailand, I was down with high fever, had diahhrea almost everyday and my appetite was poor. However, the moment I stepped onto Thai soil, my illness seemed to have disappeared, and I could eat well and only visited the toilets for "minor relieves".

It was soon time for me to check in, and I bidded farewell to Oh, and thanked him for his kind hospitality for the past few days. I proceeded with the check-in, while he left to find a lodging for the night in Phuket before heading back to Suratthani the following morning.

On looking back, this trip to Thailand was a very special one, as I actually ate, lived and played just like how the locals did. In fact it was only in Phuket town and the two airports that I had actually came into contact with non-Thais. However, there was still a bit of culture shock, like having to bathe in the enclosed but open-air backyard of Oh's house, and sleeping in a stuffy bedroom in the kitchen with mosquitoes feasting on my legs throughout the night. Well, although uncomfortable, I'd still prefer to experience such kind of "Tai-tai" life than to live in a posh hotel and behave like a typical Farang!

This wraps up my four-part diary of my "Tai-tai" trip to Thailand for the Songkran Festival period for this year. Now I had to get ready to go to work later. How I hate such anti-climax!

Very "Tai-Tai" 2007 (Part 3): Ram Wong at a Local Wat

I was very excited since the moment I wake up in the morning, as this is the day I can get to see Oh's parents in action at work. According to Oh, his parents are musicians who plays music for various occasions. I was initially rather surprised by his words, as his mother looked just like a typical hosewife while his father don't quite look like a musician to me. However, when I watched a video of his brother's ordination (as a monk), I was convinced. In the video, Oh's parents, together with their band, were touring down the streets while playing music in the blazing heat of the day, with the vehicle carrying Oh's brother paraded along behind. The fellow folks of the same village trailed behind (or was it in front; I couldn't really tell from the video), dancing along with the music.

We left the household in the evening, preparing to leave for a Wat (Thai temple) where Oh's parents were supposed to perform for the night. The setup of the musical ensemble is simple; 2 keyboards, 1 bass guitar, 1 saxaphone, 1 drum set and 1 percussion keyboard. Oh's father, together with one or 2 other relatives helped out with the vocals (I was told that his entire family and extended family were musically-trained since young).

My mood was dampened when it started to rain halfway through our journey to the temple. It didn't seemed like a good omen, as that would mean less people would be willing to come out of their homes to the temple. I was wrong, however. At around 7pm, people started streaming into the temple, where there was already some games and food stalls in operation at the entrance. Somehow it reminded me of temple festivals in Lorong Koo Chye Temple near my house, but this was not quite the same as I soon found out, as people actually took part in the celebration, instead of being passive spectators. As the band played song after song, people started dancing along to the music. This was what the Thais called it "Ram Wong" (circle dance, since the people were actually dancing around around in circles). This was a rather unique experience, as people of all ages were actually dancing together on the same ground. What's more, all these were actually happening inside a temple! This was something I had never expected, as I thought such activities do not quite blend in well with the sombre atmosphere of typical Thai temples. But I guess this is the unique side of Thai Buddhism, and how Buddhism formed the core essence of typical Thai Buddhist culture.

Throughout the night, I enjoyed myself very much, and though I never knew how to dance like these Thais, I soon blended in well with them. However, I did get a bit embaressed during certain points of time when the emcees kept stressing that there was a Singaporean among the crowd (that was me, of course, and Oh even wanted to raise my arm to expose my identity to the rest of the people there). Of course I did not want to do that, for I wanted to keep as low-profile as possible. Luckily for me, the emcee did not know my name, and Oh's parents couldn't help much, so I was "safe from harm"! But towards the end of the celebration, my identity was still exposed when people started talking to me excitedly, and I had to turn to Oh for help as I couldn't understand what they were trying to say. Oh told them I am actually Chinese and do not know what they were actually talking. This was the first time I got so much attention in the presence of the locals, and to be honest, I wasn't quite used to it.

The temple celebration ended at around 12 midnight, and after helping ourselves to some porridge, we packed up and left the temple grounds. It was indeed a very unforgetable experience!

Very "Tai-Tai" 2007 (Part 2): Songkran Celebration

After a night at the funeral came a day of celebration. It was the second day of Songkran, which coincides with my friend's birthday. In the morning, we went to pay a short visit to his grandmother's house at another corner of the village. Unlike his parents' home which was built on flat ground, his grandmother's house was those typical Thai stilt houses. Oh's relatives were starting to stream into the house, who had returned from every parts of Thailand during this festive season to visit their elders.

Oh had wanted to bring me to visit the nearby waterfall, but had been told that recently there had been rather little water at the waterfall, hence it wasn't quite a good time to visit now. That came as a disappointment, as it meant one less place to go now. Oh then brought me on his motorbike in search of water splashing happenings in the vicinity, something which I had much anticipated. Although water splashing is part of the Songkran Festival, the degree of water splashing differs from region to region. In the heart of Bangkok like Khao San and Patpong districts, everybody splashed water at anybody, and at times it resulted in tragedies when the fun got too far. In remote places like Oh's village, there were still such practices, but at a lesser degree. What we had here is only groups of youngsters stationing at the side of the roads with big containers of water, waiting to splash at oncoming motorists or armies of "water troops". Oh and I even joined a group of such youngsters in the fun, although we were complete strangers. The head of the gang, whom I believed is much older than I am, even explained to me about this Songkran Festival in relatively good English (at least better than I am with my Thai!). During the Songkran Festival, everyone's supposed to be happy, so one is not supposed to get mad when splashed at. However, there were exceptional cases when people's handphones or electrical and eletronics equipments get damaged in the process of all these splashing. Of course, the Thais do see who their "victims" are before splashing, like they would not splash at elderly people, people carrying goods behind them, or people who had signaled their intention not to take part in their fun by waving at them from afar, not driving past them at a fast speed, but then again, sometimes accidents do happen when the splashers failed to read their signals correctly.

After having quite a bit of fun at the water splashing game, we headed back to the venue of the funeral last night, as there was some celebration activities going on on an open field nearby. At the field, there was a football match going on. What was interesting was that all the football players on the field were either ex-classmates or cousins to my friend. Oh's younger brother, Eh, was even the best soccer player among the bunch, and he was said to be the most feared player by others. I couldn't even remember when was the time I had seen so many of my relatives at one time!

The soccer game was paused during an interval, when another activity was about to be commenced at the adjacent field. Over there, a group of elderly folks were seated on some chairs in a few rows, waiting to be "bathed". This ceremony is similar to the bathing of the Buddha statues and splashing of water by the youngsters, but of course they do not get splashed ruthlessly from head to toe with icy cold or dyed water. What was done was actually by pouring small amount of flowered water into the palms of these elderly people, while wishing them a happy New Year. This is considered a form of respect for these elderly people, something which one rarely see in Bangkok. Of course, after the end of the ceremony, people starts the common practice of splashing water at one another again, while the soccer match resumed.

The sky turned dark and thunderous halfway through the match, hence Oh and I decided to head back to his home to get changed and rest for a while before heading off to his grandmother's house again later in the evening for a get-together party. Well it may be called a "party", but there was no wild dancing or rounds after rounds of booze. It was just a very family-oriented gathering over food and some liquor, for the relatives to catch-up with one another whom one might not have chance to even meet on ordinary days. Although I don't quite understand what everyone's talking about, it was still a rather interesting experience. The folks seemed rather interested at my background, especially since some had never even seen a real Chinese in their life. It was also during this get-together that I tried "smelly fish" (a kind of fermented fish prepared just like how fermented toufu is done) for the first time, and I could see that Oh's relatives were quite impressed that a non-Thai like me can actually appreciate such food.

We left the household at around 9pm and headed back to Oh's house. It was still early to sleep for me, but since there wasn't anything much to do in the night, I just decided to turn in early...

Very "Tai-Tai" 2007 (Part 1): Funeral Visit

Do not be mistakened by the title of this post; it has got nothing to do with the Tai-tais who are well-versed in enjoying the finer side of life. This "Tai-tai" here simply means "very Thai" (authentic Thai you can call it too), a phrase I got to know from my Thai friend Oh.

Well you see, my friend Oh is not a typical Bangkokian, for he isn't one to start with. He actually came from a village in Nakhon Nayok province, but had been out of his villages for over a decade due to his travelling work with his ex-Teochew opera troupe. Now he had quitted from Chinese opera, and is taking up a musical career in Suratthani province. As it has been ages since he had returned home, and that his birthday was just around the corner, he decided to invite me over, to see how his hometown is like, as well as to experience how a true Songkran Festival is like, other than all the water splashing.

I arrived at Phuket International Airport at around 3.15pm local time, and my friend OH had just arrived. I originally didn't know he really intended to bring me back to his hometown, but soon after I saw him, he told me that we'd be taking the next available flight to Bangkok, from there we'd be taking another transport to his home. I was taken aback, for although the flight from Singapore to Phuket wasn't exactly long, I was already quite tired. So it took us a few more hours before I finally arrived at his hometown in Nakhon Nayok. It was there I got another big surprise of the day: Oh's going to bring me attend a funeral! Well, the father of one of his mother's workers had passed away, and the entire family would be attending the funeral. This is the true blue spirit of the village people, as everyone's so close to one another that funerals get attended by everyone in the village, despite the fact that it is their New Year.

I think Oh and I became the instant highlight of the event the moment we turned up, due to our dressing. I was told later on that people would usually wear only black or white to funerals, but Oh and I were actually wearing floral shirt, and somemore we had not removed the flowers from our neck before we left his house. His mother told us that many people thought we were either drunk or simply mad (many of Oh's fellow village mates couldn't recognised him already since he'd left long ago), but of course she stood to our defence as she knew this wasn't intentional. However, I was still blaming Oh silently in my heart for making such a blunder!

The funeral was an eye-opening, although I didn't really got the chance to get near the place where the coffin was placed. We were all seated outside this wooden house on higher grounds, listening to the monks chant prayers. It was a rather unbearable experience sitting outside because there were lots of mosquitoes. The funeral rituals ended after the participants to the funeral were treated to supper, a kind of wanton-mee-lookalike dish, except that it doesn't come with any noodles.

Oh and I excused outselves to return back to his house to pack some stuffs before heading to check in at a nearby guesthouse. Having left his hometown for over a decade, he wasn't too used to staying in his own home, and therefore decided to put up elsewhere for the night, and my first night in Nakhon Nayok ended right here...

Friday, April 13, 2007

Songkran Festival is Here Again!

It's 13 April 2007, and it's what the Thai people call it the Songkran Festival, also known as the Thai New Year (Water Splashing Festival).

I'm currently in Changi Airport, and soon I'm be embarking on a journey to Phuket. I'll not be exactly visiting Phuket, but more of travelling around with my Thai friend, whose birthday happens to be tomorrow. Hopefully during my short 4 day stay in Thailand, I'd be able to update my blog regularly.

Can't wait to touch down at Thailand, for it has been 3 years since I last celebrated Songkran Festival in Bangkok! Thailand here I come! Wan Songkran Sook Sun!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Qing Ming Festival and Tomb Sweeping

Yesterday was what we Chinese call it the Qing Ming Festival, or Tomb Sweeping Day in English. Actually, Qing Ming Festival was originally just one of the 24 seasonal festivals in ancient Chinese society observed by the farmers to plan their crop-growing duties. Qing Ming, also known as "Bright and Clear" festival, was used to mark the period of time where by the weather starts to get warmer, and with more rainfall, floral and fauna starts to bloom. As for how this seaonsal festival subsequently got linked to honouring of one's ancestors were due to 2 historical figures: Duke Jinwen of Spring & Autumn dynasty and Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang dynasty.

Duke Jinwen, whose real name was Chong'er, once was forced to fled from the palace due to internal conflicts. Many of his royal subjects accompanied him on his exile, but only a small number stayed by him throughout, and one of them was known as Jie Zhitui. 19 years later, when Duke Jinwen returned to become the king of his contry, he decided to honour and reward those who had stood by him in times of trouble, but Jie Zhitui had been forgotten. When being reminded by his other subjects, Duke Jinwen immediately summoned him into court, by Jie Zhitui refused to come. He even took his elderly mother deep into the forest to hide. Duke Jinwen then decided to set the forest ablaze, hoping that this would force Jie Zhitui out. However, after 3 long days of burning, Jie Zhitui never came out, and subsequently he was found burnt to death. In remorse, Duke Jinwen ordered this day to be a day to honour the deceased. Centuries later during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong, the Emperor was upset because the wealthy held too many expensive, elaborate ancestor-worshipping ceremonies (that period of the Tang dynasty was well-known for the high standards of living among the commonfolks due to the prosperity of the country). In order to cut down on such extravagant acts, Emperor Xuanzong declared that respects could be formally paid at ancestor's graves only on Qing Ming Festival, and this was how Qing Ming Festival became what it is today.

Actually for Qing Ming Festival, one do not neccesarily have to pay respects to their ancestors' graves on the day itself. For us Hokkiens, one can do so as long as it's not beyond 10 days ahead or 10 days behind. Our family did that on 27th March, and there're already quite a number of people at the cemetery already. I can't imagine how crowded the place would become when the actual day draws closer!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A Cool Curtains Call Video From A Taiwanese Opera Troupe

This is a clip I've found on Youtube, featuring Zheng Xiu Ting Taiwanese Opera Troupe from Taichung in her curtains call for their show "Spring Snow".

In the beginning of the video, I just found the music arrangement of the background music ("送君别": one of Taiwanese opera's melodies) was very nice. However, by the middle of the clip, the curtains call started to become somehow different!

Now, I wonder what would happen if we were to use such effect for our curtains call?