I have been silent for a while as I was traveling to Switzerland and Europe for some time off. Back in Bangkok since the beginning of the week, I got the invitation to attend a monk ordination on Saturday.
A friend of mine kind of had explained the whole process for part-time monks (usually sons who gain merit for their parents) to me earlier this year when he did his duty. According to Thai employment law, the male employees get about 10 days off to go to the temple.
As I only heard about the ceremony, but not seen it yet, I thought it might be an interesting thing to do on a Saturday morning. That was before I knew it started at 7.15 am.
However, as often on Thai time, a start time does not really mean much to the participants of an event. So when my co-worker and I arrived at around 7.40 am at the temple, the group was still waiting around and nothing had happened yet. Actually it almost felt like they were waiting for us, because soon after we got there, the procession started.
All the co-workers were walking at the end of the group as family and friends went first. At the head of the procession was a major boom box that played fairly contemporary music and some people were dancing ahead of the group.
Then there were some beautiful umbrellas protecting, what I thought, the grandma and parents or so from the sweltering sun, but then I found out that my colleague Nat – the monk to be – was there as well.
His head had been shaven the night before and he was dressed in white and golden clothes, so that I almost did not recognize him.
We toured the temple three times – in the rural areas it is seven or nine times, but we are city dwellers and quite happy not to have to go on for more as it was quite hot.
At first, the temple located in the Southern part of the inner city appears not to be much different than other temples. But walking around the main buildings we noticed that there were statutes nestled under the roof of pirates, Che, Native Americans, Africans, some creatures out of fables, fairy tales and more.
With every round, we discovered more delicately crafted cultural and societal diversity depicted on the walls of the main buildings. It was a great conversation topic and helped distract me from the sweat running down my face.
Finally we stopped in front of the main temple and Nat, now monk, stood at the entrance and showered the gathered group with coins and more coins wrapped in colorful fabric. The guests were running around, grabbing as many of these gifts that we could gather.
Shortly after, Nat and the other monks and his family, friends, and other guests entered the temple. By the time, it was our turn, we realized that the temple was already packed to its capacity. So we did the practical Thai thing – we went to have food!
Although I had have breakfast, I wanted to try some of the noodle soup they offered in another part of the temple and certainly I was most happy to get a few cups of cold water. We sat around, ate and chatted and then decided to explore the temple grounds until it was time to go back to the main building.
We walked behind the building where we got food and found ourselves on the shores of the Chao Phraya river; basically just upstream from the Bhumipol I bridge. We bought some “wonderbread” and started feeding the superfat fishes that live near the pier. Some co-workers were even tempted to eat the bread themselves, but having just spent a few days in Germany and Switzerland I passed on the opportunity to eat soggy, soft, white bread (as I probably would any other day, too).
On the way to the pier we passed a small coffee stall where we got the necessary caffeine to overcome the sleepiness. As I had no idea how long this ceremony would last, I thought that I better be prepared – having flash backs to long ago experiences in Indonesia where we sat for hours and hours on end during some event where we did not understand a single word without the possibility to leave or to nap (as we were in the first row).
Finally another co-worker called us to get back to the main temple building for the photos. I still did not know what that meant, but when we got there, people were lining up to have their picture taken with the new monk Nat.
Picture taking is a big thing in Thailand (and Asia). When it was our turn, we sat on the floor and someone took pictures in various poses. When we finished with the pictures we offered our contribution and donations for Nat’s monkhood (say money). It was explained to me that during his stay he will have to pay for small things like shaving blades, tooth paste etc. on his own. He could ask someone to buy food for him, but he cannot go and buy food for himself.
I was wondering whether he could get himself a cup of coffee from the little stall, but I guess it would be the same system – someone would have to go buy it for him.
I fully expected that we would be sitting for a lecture from the monks until the lunch was served at 11 am., but my co-workers decided that we were able to leave after we admired yet more interesting and mind-blowing art work inside the temple.
It was also quite astonishing that during the ceremony, the construction work in the temple did not stop, but they continued designing the walls and artwork.
Finally, shortly after 10 am, I returned to a busy morning in Bangkok feeling refreshed (despite the heat) by the colors and the wonderful artwork of the temple and a new experience: monk ordination.