Two big days: November 15th and 16th. Here’s just some of the reasons why:
This year, November 16th is my 37th birthday, and I’m reveling in my continuously decreasing number of grey hairs. The number is decreasing only because my overall hair count is decreasing. As a percentage of total hair, the grey hairs are gaining the majority.
Tawn took the morning off work and we were up shortly after six for a taxi ride to the old city, to Wat Mahanparam. Just down the street from the Democracy Monument, this temple is in the neighborhood where Tawn’s father and siblings lived when they first moved from Buriram province when Khun Sudha was in his teens.
Above: Stopping for coffee and steamed buns before catching a taxi. Below: An unusually elaborate altar set up by the taxi driver on his dashboard, to provide him with protection as he navigates the streets of Khrungthep.
The temple parking lot was filling quickly as it is used as a car park on weekdays, local workers renting out spaces and providing temple coffers with additional funds. Inside the compound, though, things were very quiet. We lit incense and candles, offering prayers and placing gold leaf on statues of the Buddha and venerated monks.
Then we proceeded inside the wihaan, the main Buddha image hall. After we paid respects to the Buddha statue, we went over to a monk and explained that we had come to receive a birthday blessing. This is done as a short ceremony where the monk chants, then you chant, then the monk chants some more. For your convenience, there is a laminated sheet where you can follow along on your part of the chant should you not have memorized it in your childhood. I could read the card, but not quickly enough to keep up, so I let Tawn do the chanting for me.
We were splashed with holy water – thus the laminated cards – and I poured holy water from a small container over my fingers as the monk said a blessing.
Afterwards, we chatted for a few minutes with the monk, who was maybe thirty years old. He was curious where I was from and whether I lived in Khrungthep and wanted to practice his English. We learned that he is also from Buriram province although his Issan accent is so heavy that I didn’t catch that at first.
Below: Posing outside the wihaan where pre-made donation buckets are available. They contain soap, toothpaste, an umbrella, robes, and other things the monks can use. Since most of the urban temple have all the supplies they need, these buckets are cellophane wrapped and are just reused. You place your money in the donation box, “give” the bucket to the monk, and the the bucket is eventually brought back around to be used again. A rather practical solution.
Above: A stray cat with a gnarled ear and blue eyes seems to match the window frames of the temple building. Below: A beautiful orange Vespa parked by the side of the road.
Afterwards we walked down the street and stopped by a Chinese temple and then walked through the neighborhood, seeing a local ice house, vendors who sell various Vietnamese foods (this area has many Vietnamese immigrants and families with Vietnamese roots), and then continued up to the Democracy Monument to catch a taxi home.
Below: A rare daytime shot of a traffic-free traffic circle in which the Democracy Monument sits. Hopefully, Thailand will return to being a democracy on December 23rd, when the elections are scheduled to be held.
So now you know why November 16th was important. But what about the 15th?
In addition to being the birthday of my ex-girlfriend Sandy, the only girlfriend (yes, you read that right – girlfriend) with whom I’m still in touch, November 15th this year had an oenophilic significance.
Each year in France, the third Thursday in November is a day as highly anticipated as, say, the season finale of American Idol is in the United States. The reason for this feverish anticipation is that at the stroke of midnight, that year’s Beaujolais Nouveau is released. Beaujolais Nouveau is a light-bodied red wine made from Gamay grapes in the Beaujolais region of France, just north of Lyon.
In 1951, The French government granted the region permission to release their annual vintages one month ahead of the other regions, creating a public relations opportunity not to be missed. Beaujolais Nouveau is fermented for only a few weeks after the grapes are harvested and it is most definitely not a wine for the cellars. Instead, it is best enjoyed in its first few months after being bottled.
On Thursday night, the Plaza Athenee Hotel held a party to celebrate the release of this year’s vintage, complete with extensive all-you-can-eat French entrees and desserts and non-stop refilling of your glass. It turned out to be a fantastic value as the entrees were very lavish, including stuffed quail eggs, pan-seared foie gras on toasts, escargots en croute, a wide selection of French cheese and saucisson, and crepes.
Tawn and I were joined by Russ, Roka and Brian and had a fantastic time, eating and drinking for more than two hours before we finally reached our fill. Mark the calendars for next year!
Above: Tawn and the Chocolate Factory, Chris with little chevre (goat cheese) and endive “ice cream cones”. Below: Afterwards, Tawn and Brian were too tired and too full to leave the hotel.
Below: A short video showing the scene last night at the Plaza Athenee. About 45 seconds long.