My Thai Teacher Gets Married

On the day after Christmas, my Thai teacher of the last four and a half years finally tied the knot.  There’s no doubt she’s a patient person – continuing to tutor me after all these years is all the evidence of patience you would ever need – and her patience finally paid off as she married a handsome, decent, and loving man.  Tawn and I were very honored to be invited to the ceremony and I thought I would share some of the photos with you.


Above, photos of Khru Kitiya (“Khru” means “teacher” in Thai) and her husband, Khun Por.  It is common for Thai couples to go for professional wedding portraits weeks or months in advance of their wedding.  These portraits are often elaborately staged in specialized studios, many of which are located in our neighborhood.  The photos are then displayed at the wedding reception for guests to enjoy.


The wedding ceremonies were held at a facility on the north side of the city that is built in a traditional Thai style.  This main building is part of a rooftop reception area with open-air pavilions on either side of the deck.  Because it was a very bright day, although pleasantly breezy, most guests were hiding in the shade.  Notice all the shoes of the guests who are inside the main building.

The day consisted of three distinct events, of which we took part in the second two.  The first began at 7:30, when the monks arrived to conduct a traditional Buddhist ceremony, complete with chanting and the splashing of holy water.  The families of the couple then feed the monks in order to make merit for the newlyweds.


The second event was the Rot Nam (“water pouring”) ceremony.  Family members and friends bless the groom and bride by pouring a small amount of water on their hands, which are held in a prayer-like position, while wishing them happiness in their marriage.  You will notice that both the groom and bride are in more traditional outfits, symbolically joined by a string, and have additional blessing marks on their foreheads.


The third event was a Chinese style luncheon banquet, held downstairs from the pavilions.  There were probably 200 guests and we enjoyed dish after dish of tasty food while listening to speeches by Phuu Yai (“big people”, or guests of honor) and teasing by the two masters of ceremonies.


One special treat after the speeches was that Khun Por and Khru Kitiya performed a duet for the guests.  Singing in front of a crowd is always a little scary but doing that on your wedding day just raises the stakes!


After the cake was cut, Khru Kitiya did something unconventional for a Thai wedding: she threw her bouquet to the crowd of unmarried women.  This is something borrowed from American style weddings and I’ve never seen it at a Thai wedding before.  Unfortunately, her aim was a bit wide and the bouquet ended up in the hands of a young lady, recently married and expecting her first child!

It was a very fun celebration and we were glad to have been invited to be a part of it.  I hope Khun Por and Khru Kitiya have a long and happy life together!


Royal Cremation Ceremony

Galiani Funeral 2 The three-day cremation of the late Princess Galiyani Vadhana, the King’s sister who passed away in January, took place this weekend with nearly round-the-clock coverage on all the TV stations. 

One channel broadcasts in English and that provided some interesting (and repetitive considering things proceeded very slowly) coverage. 

Here are a few pictures from the events just to give you an idea of the grandeur given to such a ceremony, a good illustration of the love Thais have for their royal family.

Left: the royal urn was transported from its resting spot at the Grand Palace to the site of the cremation, the adjacent royal field known as Sanam Luang.

The urn is the traditional shape used to hold the royal body or bodies of high-ranking monks.  As I understand it from online coverage, the Princess’ body was in a more traditional (although elaborately decorated) coffin and this urn was only for ceremony.

I was asked in a previous post why there was such a long time between the death of the Princess and her cremation.  In Thai tradition, a body was usually kept at the temple for 100 days before being cremated.  This allowed the spirit time to leave the body and move on to the next life.  Especially if the death was sudden and unexpected, Thais believe that the spirit may have a hard time letting go of the body.

This also gives the family and friends time to grieve before saying a final farewell at the cremation.

In contemporary Thai society, this period of time is regularly shortened to seven or fewer days.  But in the case of the late Princess, much more time was allowed.  This gave more than a million people the opportunity to come pay their final respects (the section of the Grand Palace in which her body has laid in state has been open only to mourners since January) and allowed the Brahmin priests to choose an auspicious date for the cremation.

Khru Kitiya, my Thai tutor, was down at Sanam Luang along with thousands of other people.  She shared several stories with me yesterday, including how after waiting for several hours to see the King’s motorcade pass by, she nearly missed him as she was fiddling with a broken strap on her shoe.

Below, an aerial view of the procession as it heads from the Grand Palace.

Galiani Funeral 3
Galiani Funeral 4

Above, one of the thousands of people lining the route to pay their final respects to a much-loved princess.

Below, a nighttime view of the cremation complex, in the foreground, with the Grand Palace behind it.

Galiani Funeral 1

On Friday evening, members of the royal family came to pay last respects to the Princess, making merit for her by donating robes to Buddhist monks.

Saturday morning there was more royal merit making followed by the ceremonial cremation.  This was a symbolic cremation in which fires were lit and flowers made of sandalwood were burned. 

Below, their Majesties the King and Queen pay their final respects before the King lights the pyre during the ceremonial cremation.

Galiani Funeral 6
Galiani Funeral 5

The actual cremation ceremony began late Saturday night (about 9 pm) and various entertainments were held – traditional Khon dancing, for example – as its the Thai custom to signal the end of the mourning period.


Above: taken at sunset just before the actual cremation started in the golden tower in the middle.  The chedis in the background are at the Grand Palace.

Early Sunday morning the royal family returned to the site.  With the Crown Prince acting on his father’s behalf, royal relics were collected and placed in an urn, then the remaining ashes were placed in another container to be interred at the royal cemetery.  Interestingly, the ashes were laid out on a silk cloth in the shape of a body, looking a bit like a grey gingerbread man. 

The Prince selected bone fragments with his bare hand, placing them in the urn, being sure to take pieces from each section of her body.  It was quite interesting to watch this being broadcast live on television.

The Bangkok Post has a four-minute video montage of images from the ceremony here.  Nicely done.

Needless to say, this is just a fraction of what we will see when the sad day comes that His Majesty the King passes away.

Note: I wasn’t planning on doing a full entry on this but found many interesting pictures that I thought were worth sharing.  I’ll continue with the rest of the Buriram trip in the next few days.

Monk Sponsorship

Tawn’s employer is celebrating the tenth anniversary of their office here in Thailand.  As part of their anniversary celebrations, Saturday morning they held a tam boon ceremony, literally “make merit.”  Tam boon ceremonies are a large part of what Buddhist monks do.  You call up the temple, arrange for a certain number of monks to come over on a certain morning and then they do the ceremony.  In return, you make a donation to the temple.

Tawn was in charge of arranging for the monks.  Saturday morning we arrived at the temple next to Ekkamai BTS station,  Wat Tat Tong at nine and met the monks.  The senior monk was a kindly man in his fifties, with a friendly disposition and eager to ask me questions to see how much Thai I know.  As we were waiting for the van, he grabbed my arm and, repeating “come take a picture, come take a picture”, led me to one of the main chanting halls to show me one of the Buddha images.  He gave me a lecture about how the main image was from Sukkothai and was several hundred years old, made around the same time as an image at another temple down near the Hualomphong train station.  It was difficult to keep up.  So I took some pictures (below), agreed that it was a very pretty image, and then we went back to the van.  You’ll notice that this wat is decidedly more modest than the Grand Palace and other Thai temples you’re used to seeing pictures of.


The monks each had a prominent characteristic, reminding me a little (and I mean this in a respectful way) of the Seven Dwarves.  The head monk was like Doc since he was in charge.  A second monk was a jolly, large fellow who upon learning I was from San Francisco was trying to remember the lyrics to a song about the city and then started singing, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”.  I complimented his memory and asked him whether he liked to sing karaoke, until he explained that “no singing” is one of the 256 precepts that Buddhist monks have to obey.

Whoops!  Faux pas.

As we sat in the van waiting for a third monk who wasn’t answering his phone, he came hustling over to the van still wiping his wet head with his robe.  “Sorry, I just got out of the shower.” he explained.  I’m not sure which dwarf he would be.  Tardy?

The other two monks were junior, “Summer Monks” on break from school.  They don’t get nicknames because other than one’s relatively small ears, they didn’t say or do anything that particularly distinguished them.

We headed to Tawn’s office where about the staff was waiting having already set up the mats, chairs and other necessities for the ceremony.  The monks were seated and then started about twenty minutes of chanting in Pali, the Sanskrit-derived language that is the Buddhist Latin.  (Or maybe Latin is the Catholic Pali?)


Afterwards the monks were fed.  They have to take their last meal of day by “mid-day” which is usually described as somewhere between 11:00 am and noon.  While it is usual for the monks to be served seated on the floor, in this case they were set up at the conference room, an image that I thought was very funny, below.  Maybe I’ve just seen so many corporate meetings where all the participants were dressed in the same charcoal gray suits that it tickled me to see a conference table filled with people tressed truly identically. 


Here’s a short video of the first two steps of the ceremony:

While the monks were eating, several of the employees went downstairs to the back of the building and presented offerings at the spirit house.  This isn’t part of the Buddhist ritual as the spirit houses comes from more of an animist / Brahmanist / Hindu background.  The spirit house literally houses the spirit (spirits?) of the land that were displaced when the building was constructed.  Offerings included little portions of food and beverage as well as a single stick of incense per person, below



P1060591 Returning upstairs, the monks were still eating so Tawn and his colleagues messed around and took photos of each other, being playful as Thais do so well, above

Finally, when the monks were finished, we did the second part of the ceremony which is the blessing with the holy water.  There was further chanting and then the head monk used a bamboo whisk to splash water on everyone.  Seeing me near the back of the group, he flicked a very experienced wrist and a large amount of water sailed over the heads of Tawn and his colleagues and gave me quite a splash, right.

With the air conditioning on high, I nearly caught a cold afterwards!

Something to notice, if you will: in the picture below the monks are chanting behind ceremonial prayer fans.  The purple one on the left used by the head monk was presented to him by the Crown Princess.  The one to the right, used by the happy monk, is interesting because I wasn’t aware that corporate sponsorship was a common practice in Buddhism.  “This merit-making ceremony brought to you by Accenture.  Accenture: High performance.  Delivered.”  Kind of like public radio, I guess.


The head monk then proceeded around the office, splashing holy water in each room, along the hallways, on the equipment (taking care of the computers and the photocopiers), driving away the bad fortune in much the same way that our exterminator sprayed along windows, doors, and the floor to drive away pests.

Chalk up another interesting cultural experience.