Sunday, January 31, 2010

To Wai or not to Wai:

Even Ronald McDonald "wais" in Thailand. A wai is your basic "hello" gesture, accompanied by a "Sa was di ka." You put your hands together in a praying gesture and bow slightly. How high you put your hands (at your chest, your nose or even your forehead) and how low you bow is based on the seniority of the person you are wai-ing.

Seniority is really important here. So much so that people are always asking how old you are so they can figure out how much seniority you have. It's not considered rude--just an important part of paying proper respect. (Alas, I have way too much seniority!)

The deepest wais are reserved for Buddhas, members of royalty and revered monks. The person with the lowest seniority initiates the wai--and the one with the highest seniority may choose to nod his/her head, simply smile, or return the wai.

Now here's the rub: Technically, you don't wai certain persons or you will look like an idiot who doesn't understand the custom at all.

Students always wai teachers but teachers aren't supposed to wai back. You just nod and smile.

Shop keepers or anyone trying to sell you something, serve you in a restaurant or otherwise get your business, will always wai you--but you don't wai back because you are the lofty customer. You just smile and nod.

When someone is your "equal", you ALWAYS wai back--even if your hands are full, which makes for some interesting, awkward wais.

Farangs easily get the concept of wai-ing--but always have a knee-jerk reaction to wai anyone who wais them. I myself find it hard not to wai the adorable kids who run up to me in the school yard wai-ing as if I were Buddha's best friend.

And how do you not wai someone who just gave you a great massage?

For that matter, how do you know who's your "equal"--or not? As an "all-men-are-created-equal kinda gal," I do tend to think I should wai everyone.

When in doubt, we are told to wai only as deeply and respectfully as we have been waied. Which means you need to pay attention. How low did they go and where were their hands?

To wai or not to wai...that is the question.

P.S. Ronald does NOT get a wai. That much is clear.

Best Friend:

Have already mentioned this product--a necessity in the tropical heat here. Without it, you're soon miserable. All the new volunteers are warned when they get here--and if they fail to heed the warnings, it only takes a few days to make them devotees. Thought you might want to see what it looks like.

Wish I could get it for the occasional hot day (never this hot!) on Maui. It's sold here in huge cans as well as small ones. A very hot walk around town this afternoon looking for the bead shop, which wasn't where I thought it was, reminded me to share this mundane tidbit with you.

(You DID want to know all about life here, didn't you?)

Those of you who are up to your ears in snow may be less than sympathetic. So you can skip this post if you want. It's been a quiet Sunday otherwise, preparing for next week's classes and finishing up laundry (still doing by hand and it dries in two hours when hung outside).

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tiger Cave and Temple:

Welcoming Buddha at the entrance to the compound.

Friday afternoon, we visited an amazing wat in Krabi. It is located at the base of a steep mountain and on the top of the mountain sits another wat with a huge golden Buddha. Monkeys ran wild through the compound, nuns in white robes accepted offerings from tourists and monks in orange robes meditated or strolled the grounds.

It was a most exotic place. More than one thousand steps lead up to the golden buddha. The afternoon was sweltering hot so some of us opted not to climb to the top. There was so much to see at the base of the mountain that I decided to let the younger ones climb all of those steps. (Every once in awhile, I do manage to be sensible, especially when it's 95 plus degrees, or feels like it.)

Tinu promised to share her photos of the golden Buddha at the top so you do get to see it. You also get to see all the ones I took below. Those who climbed to the top had no time to explore the treasures below so it all worked out. We were all in awe of the place. A Buddhist nun blessed me and tied a good luck bracelet she had made of string around my wrist. When I tried to make an offering of thanks, she then produced an amulet for me as well.

Both the monks and the nuns live severely spartan lives. Yet they look happy and serene, possessing great dignity and calm. This wat was once the home of the most famous, revered and holy monk in all of Southern Thailand.The people really seem to treasure these holy men--though nuns do not seem to have quite the same status. If not for their white robes, they would be hard to tell apart from the monks. They shave their heads as monks do--and have the same air of detachment from the concerns of this life.

Top of the mountain you see here is where the Golden Buddha is located.

Magnificent new wat being built on the site. Will have stairs going up to the top.

Flying Buddha in front of the new wat.

Wat guard.

I think this shows funds raised for the new wat.

1,237 steps worth of merit. (You can gain merit by climbing them.)

Beginning of the stairs up the mountain.

The Buddhist nun who gave me the amulet.

Fantastic images and Buddhas could be found all throughout the compound.

Another set of steps heading up the mountain.

In many buildings on the compound, the Chinese influence has been integrated into the Buddhist culture.

Not sure who/what this buddha signifies but it took up an entire tall building of several stories.

Buddha of The Thousand Hands. This one appeared to be a female deity. She didn't really have 1,000 hands but each hand was filled with something symbolic.

Incense offerings.

More evidence of the Chinese influence.

These accomplished little thieves were everywhere, stealing everything they could.

This monkey was sitting in front of a fenced-in garbage can and wasn't too happy about being denied its contents.

Marvelous carvings like this one were everywhere throughout the compound.

The Happy Buddha.

Everyone has a "guardian Buddha." You know which one is yours by the day of the week on which you were born. Here, you can make an offering of gold leaf to your special Buddha. The gold leaf with your name and date of birth engraved on it will then be incorporated into the magnificent new wat being built.

This exquisite little temple was set off to one side and we almost overlooked it.

Front of the temple features a man shearing his hair to become a monk.

Shutters of the temple.

Warriors guarding the door to the temple. (Except they looked like more buddhas to me.)

Shining floors reflect back the light.

The beautiful Buddha in this temple sits beneath a rendition of the Tree of Life. The real Buddha is said to have sat beneath the Tree of Life for a very long time. When he finally arose, he had learned all of his wisdom, passed down today in many Buddhist sayings.

Photos from the Top of the Mountain (Thanks to Tinu)

Wheel of Life

Hot Mineral Springs:

On Friday morning, we visited some lovely, steamy mineral springs patronized by locals and tourists alike for their health-giving properties. Twenty minutes is the maximum time you may enjoy the waters because of the high temperatures. The springs cascade down large rocks and natural pools are formed in several places. It's a beautiful spot in the next province, Krabi, about an hour and a half from Trang.

Afterwards, we went into Krabi and had lunch at a huge, modern mall centered around a Tesco/Lotus. The restaurant was also a coffee house and had many "Western" items. I was delighted to try them out as I've had nothing very Western in quite a long time. The hazelnut coffee frappe was especially delicious!

Green and shady, the stream flows into the surrounding woodlands.

A very cool "hot" spot.

Jack, our wonderful guide to all things new, shows the typical Thai enjoyment of life's simpler pleasures. He's always smiling, always cheerful, always patient with his brood of "farangs" and their endless questions and always ready for "sanuk" (fun).

Volunteers look like woodland nymphs gathered around the pool.

Couldn't resist clowning around over a Western lunch and coffee drink. Yes, I loved it.

Dunkin Donuts display in the mall. Even the donuts in Thailand are done Thai-style--with an eye for color and design.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Harvesting Rice:

Rice sheaves

This is rice harvesting season in Trang--so naturally we had to go out and harvest some.

The rice we harvested today was planted in August. In the South of Thailand where we are, there's only one rice planting/harvest. The North manages to get two.

We were each given a sharp little knife to cut the stalks. You hold the blade a certain way, twist a stalk of rice around it and slice through the stalk. This is done in a bent over position that soon convinces you that you don't want to do this for a living.

Rich farmers lease big blue machines to do most of the backbreaking work. Not-so-rich and/or smaller farmers (the majority) harvest all of the rice by hand with the whole family and every friend whose arm they can twist pitching in.

I was able to cut and collect three stalks to every fifteen or so the experienced woman I was working with collected.

I cannot imagine spending a whole day in the hot sun doing this. We were exhausted after about 20 minutes.

The rice stalks are tied together in a bunch so they can be hung and dried before the kernals of rice are separated from the husks.

After all our hard work, we were only too happy to pile back into the van and go home and eat--what else?


Rice fields stretching away to the horizon--just waiting for us.

Tying up the sheaves of rice

A bull shared the rice field with us.

Told you this is backbreaking work! (As Gerry demonstrates.)

The women who do this work are really something. They evoke my greatest admiration. And they were so kind and gracious to show us "farangs" how it's done!

The rice we harvested today--probably not even enough to feed us all at dinner.