Author: RichardBarrow

Flag Marking His Majesty The King’s 84th Birthday

The year 2011 marks the auspicious occasion of the 84th birthday anniversary of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. As part of the celebrations, students from Mattayom 3 distributed flags carrying the royal emblem to people in the local community. They also handed out national flags to each household. Now every house near the school will be flying these two flags.

For Thai people, the 7th cycle, or 84th, birthday anniversary is an important milestone in life and a special celebration is usually arranged on this occasion. The Government has urged offices and households across the country to display the national flag together with the flag with the Royal Ceremonial Emblem for the celebrations.

Flying the two flags is an expression of love and respect for His Majesty, who is widely known as one of the hardest-working monarchs on earth and has devoted himself to the benefit and happiness of all his people.

Visit To The Temple On Wan Phra

If you are a Christian, then you would know that your sabbath day is every Sunday. It is the day that you should go to church with your family. Buddhism also has a sabbath day called “wan phra” in Thai. You could translate this as “monk day” or maybe “holy day”. However, as Buddhism is based on the lunar calendar, you will find that “wan phra” is on different days of the week each time. The two most important days are the full moon and new moon. The other “wan phra” days are on the quarter phases of the moon. In all, there are 4 days a month when the monks don’t go out on their alms round and the local people go to the temple instead.

Obviously it is more convenient when “wan phra” falls on a weekend. But, a lot of people still go to their temple early in the morning before they go to work. I took these pictures this morning of students from my school. We arrived at the temple just before 7 a.m. To make proper merit you need to prepare the food specifically for the monks. You cannot use leftovers. These days people are so busy that you will find that at most temples there are stalls set up selling food for you to give to the monks. Once you have the food, you should crouch on the ground and raise the tray above your head in quiet contemplation.

On “wan phra” and some of Buddhist festival days, the monks are not lined up to receive alms. Instead, their alms bowls are placed on a long row of tables. People go along this line and place rice into each of the bowls. If they have Thai desserts or curries in plastic bags, they then put this in another bowl. It shouldn’t be mixed in with the rice. This food is then taken to the kitchen to be shared among the monks later in the morning. After the lay people have presented their offerings of food, they next paid homage to the Buddha image.

At about 7.30 a.m., earlier in other temples, a monk will ring the temple bell by beating it with a stick. This is the call to prayer. After the lay people have finished making merit, they make their way towards the community hall where all of the monks are already sitting on a low platform. We didn’t stay for this today as we had to go back to school. For about an hour, the monks take part in chanting. During this session, a senior monk also gives a sermon, and asks the lay people to recite the eight precepts. For normal Buddhists, there are only five precepts. However, on “wan phra” days, many Buddhists like to keep the eight precepts.

The eight precepts that they have to recite out loud are as follows:

“I undertake the training precepts…

(1) to abstain from taking life.
(2) to abstain from taking what is not given.
(3) to abstain from unchastity.
(4) to abstain from false speech.
(5) to abstain from intoxicants causing heedlessness.
(6) to abstain from untimely eating.
(7) to abstain from dancing, singing, music and unseemly shows, from wearing garlands, smartening with scents, and beautifying with perfumes.
(8) to abstain from the use of high and large luxurious couches.”

Novice monks and nuns have ten precepts. Monks have 227 precepts. They have to recite all 227 on the full and new moons every month.

Chinese New Year At School

Tomorrow marks the start of a new year for Chinese people. It is the year of the Rabbit. Today, it is still New Year’s Eve. Firecrackers have been going off all day and local shopkeepers have been setting up shrines in front of their premises. Several that I passed today were burning paper money and other objects. At school this afternoon, the administrators made an offering of a large banquet to Chinese Gods and also their ancestors. It is also traditional to wear red on this day but for some reason not so many people do that these days.

On New Year’s Eve, many of the Thai people with Chinese blood will go and visit their elders. At my school, there was an average of about five students in each class that were absent today. They eagerly went with their parents to visit their grandparents as they knew they would receive a red envelope with some money inside. My next door neighbours this morning had set up a small shrine in front of their house. As I was eating breakfast they had just finished their offering of food to the Gods and were setting off the firecrackers.

At school they probably had one of the biggest feasts laid out for the Gods in my area. Maybe with the expectation that they will receive great merit in return. Each of the food items have special meaning. For example: glass noodles (longevity), chicken (dignity), duck (cleanliness and harmony), pig (abundance), fish (wealth and fertility), oranges (affluence), pear (good fortune) and gourd (abundance). So they pick and choose the food carefully.

After paying respect to the deities, the burning incense sticks are then placed in each of the plates of food. Each person does this three times so they end up lighting three sets of incense sticks. This number is linked to how the Chinese bow three times to their elders and images of their ancestors. In fact, every part of this ceremony has meaning from the time it starts to the layout of the food. Nothing is random. For Gods there should be one rice bowl in front of the incense bowl. Then there are four rows of food: vegetarian dishes, meat dishes, fruits and desserts.

Furthest away from the incense bowl are the stack of paper clothing and gold and silver papers. Once all of the food has been offered to the Gods, then it is time to burn the paper offerings. This starts with the paper clothing and paper money. And then the gold and silver paper. There was also paper mobile phones and even cars. At the completion the firecrackers were set off. Nothing is wasted. The householders can now eat the food themselves, though often this is donated to friends and neighbours. I certainly got more than I could eat today.

Video Conference With Thai Students

When I first started teaching at Sriwittayapaknam School nearly 17years ago, I used to do penpal projects between my Thai students and students in other countries such as America, England and Australia. It was great fun for all the students involved as they got to communicate with people on the other side of the world. However, we could usually only do it two or three times as there were long delays involved. The students had to first write up their letters. If they were taking pictures as well, they had to take the film to the shop to be developed. Then I used to collect the letters and then take them all to the post office to send them off. It would then be a week or two before the students the other end received our letters. Maybe longer if they happen to be on a half term break when it arrived. If they wrote the letters back straight away, it would still be a couple more weeks before my students received them. So, a minimum of a month had passed before any of my students received a reply to their questions!

The coming of the Internet helped speed this process up. We went from the more traditional snail mail to the much faster e-mail. The students visited the computer room once a week where they could compose their emails and then send them off straight away to their penfriend. In the early days, most students didn’t have Internet or even computers at home. So, if there was a quick reply, they couldn’t write the next letter until the following week. Things have, of course, changed even more since then. Most students have Internet at home and are very savvy when it comes to working on the Internet. At least they know their way around Facebook and Hi5. Despite this, we haven’t been keen on encouraging students to write to penfriends from home. Mainly because we are worried about predators on the Interent. It is much safer if all emails came into a central mailbox which we could monitor.

The emergence of new technology over the last year has encouraged us to look again at ways of communicating with other schools around the world. In particular, the ability of being able to do video conferencing on the iPhone has been quite exciting for our students. Our first video conference was between my students and my sister who is a teacher in the UK. Using the iPhone and 3G the students spent the first session asking her questions about her school and her students. In return, she also asked them some questions. I had the iPhone plugged into the speaker system so everyone could hear her clearly. As she had an iPhone as well, we could also see each other.

Every year I do a project with my students where they learn about the different length of days between summer and winter. As Thailand is near the equator, the length of our day doesn’t change much. But it does in places like England and Australia. So, as part of the project, they have to find out the times of sunrise and sunset in these two countries around June and December. This year for the first time we took it a step further. Using the iPhone and Skype, we first did a video conference call with someone in Australia and then my sister in England. So, they found out firsthand that my sister had just woken up and was about to have breakfast while the person in Australia was about to start cooking her evening meal.  The students were also able to ask about the weather. My sister told them that it was -1 Celsius. She also sent them a recent picture of the house. At the same time, they learned that in Australia they were having summer as it was hotter there.

From the information they were given they were able to work out that days in the summer are very long and then in winter they are short. The students were fascinated when my sister said that it was dark when she went to school and also before she went home. They couldn’t believe the sun would set before 4 p.m. At the same time, after they asked her about the times of sunrise and sunset in June, they were shocked when she told them that her students could stay outside playing football as late as 10 p.m. at night. I could have told them all of this myself but nothing beats asking someone who is on the other side of the world. Hopefully the students would have gone home with a better concept of different timezones and seasons around the world. If there is anyone who would like to do some video conferencing using Skype with my class, then please contact me.

Pictures Of Fun At Songkran

I am not sure about you but it is getting a bit boring with all the news about the red shirt protests. So, how about some fun pictures of children playing Songkran? While the adults in Bangkok are waging war against each other, the children of the nation have started their own version. Songkran is the start of the traditional Thai new year. It also marks the height of the hot season. A good way to cool off is to join in with the many water fights that are just starting in Thailand. Traditionally, you are supposed to splash your elders with a little rose scented water. But, these days people just throw buckets of water at each other.

At Sriwittayapaknam School in Samut Prakan this morning, the students went to school early in order to make merit for the start of the Songkran period. They went there with their parents. They first took part in some chanting and then received a blessing from 25 Buddhist monks. They next offered alms to the monks which consisted of food and other basic essentials. They also poured rose scented water over a Buddha image.

Afterwards, the students, who have been attending summer school, took part in some fun and games. This climaxed for them with a giant water fight in the school playground. As you can see from these pictures, everyone had a lot of fun and got very, very wet! Songkran doesn’t really start until 13th April, but as that is so close to the weekend, people are bound to start playing early this year. And a word of warning, in some areas it will go on until 18th April!

Christmas at a Thai School

Sriwittayapaknam School in Samut Prakan put on Christmas activities for their students on the morning of 25th December 2009. As the students arrived at school, they were greeted by Santa Claus and a couple dozen fairies. The young fairies handed out candies to the students as they arrived.

During morning assembly, there was singing and dancing around a Christmas Tree. The students sang popular Christmas songs such as Jingle Bells, Away in a Manger and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. All of the students in our school are Buddhists and there are no Christians. However, Thai people are always keen to adopt festivities of other countries as long as they are fun.

Anniversary Of King Rama VI’s Death

Today marks the anniversary of the death of King Rama VI on November 25, 1925. As this King is regarded as the “Father of Thai Scouting”, schools all over the country took part in a special ceremony to celebrate his life and to remember the day he died. Mr. Surachai Kanasa, the Governor of Samut Prakan, presided over the ceremony at the City Hall Plaza. He is seen here laying a wreath at the foot of a statue of King Rama VI.

Thousands Sing National Anthem

In September, the Thai government started a new project called “United Thais – Strong Thailand” with the intention to promote unity and patriotism. Thai people normally sing or at least stand for the national anthem twice a day at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. At school the students all around the country stand straight at 8 a.m. exactly to sing the national anthem as the flag is raised. It is broadcast on all television and radio stations and also outside government offices and places like railway stations and police stations. I have also sometimes seen policemen stop cars at an intersection at 6 p.m. However, not everyone does it. If they think they can get away with it then they might carry on walking.

The government had this idea that instead of the same recording every night on television, they would ask each province to host the singing of the national anthem. That is why I found myself the other night surrounded by 50,000 people from Samut Prakan waving the national flag and singing both the national anthem and the King’s anthem. The project started back on 20th September with the citizens of Krabi singing the national anthem live on television. It then continued every day, in alphabetical order using Thai letters, until they reached the turn of Samut Prakan two months later.

A few weeks beforehand, letters were sent out to all school, factories and other organizations in the province. Sriwittayapaknam school was asked to send at least 300 students. The same went for other schools. I know it sounds a bit like forcing people to go and show unity in front of the tv cameras. Maybe a bit like what happens at the big parades in North Korea or China. However, there was a genuine excitement about this event with lots of people talking about it. Many of my neighbours went. Also quite a few people in my community. Everyone said afterwards that they were very proud to have been a part of this historic event.

The event was broadcast live on all channels at 6 p.m. but NBT covered the event for a full ten minutes starting at 5.50 p.m. If you thought that we were asked to turn up half an hour before this then you would be wrong. Such a massive crowd needed a lot of organization. People had to register when they arrived and then they were told their designated spot. The majority of people came with their co-workers but there were also a lot of the normal public. You can also imagine the traffic situation outside. Coach after coach after coach dropped people off outside the City Hall Plaza. Unbelievably, the first people started to turn up as early as 3 p.m. I arrived at 4.30 p.m. and the place was already packed.

Everyone was in their correct place when the Governor turned up at 5 p.m. This is when the first of three rehearsals started. As the event was going to be live with multiple cameras, it all had to be done perfectly. Everyone waved their flags, lowered them in unison as the pips went to mark the start of the anthem, sang all together, and then cheered again at the end. We also had performances and the Governor paid respect to a portrait of H.M. The King. We had wonderful weather for this glorious event unlike Samut Sakhon that had a storm while they were bravely singing the anthem. I don’t envy them but they did a good job with no umbrellas.

It was certainly an amazing event of historic proportions. It is not often you see so many people coming together to show their love for a common cause. It was very moving and something I will remember for a long time. I took most of my pictures from down below during the rehearsals, but then went up to the top floor of the District Office to watch the real event. It was just a sea of colour which all of a sudden turned pinkish as the sun set over the Chao Phraya River. A flotilla of ships manned by sailors and also local people also showed their support. The project will finish on the 5th December, which is H.M. The King’s Birthday, with the singing of the anthem in Bangkok.

Students Ordain As Novice Monks

During the school holidays in Thailand, it is common for Thai students to ordain as novice monks for a short time. In the olden days, before there were government schools, poor boys would ordain in order to get an education. However, these days, their parents want them to ordain for a short time during holidays in order to keep them out of trouble. They also have training in ethics and Buddhism which is good for them. At Wat Chai Mongkhol in Samut Prakan, over one hundred Thai boys recently ordained as novices to honour the 82nd Birthday of H.M. The King. They will be novices from 17th to 25th October 2009.

On the first day, the boys went to the temple with their parents and other family members. All of them were wearing white. The first important ceremony is the cutting of the hair. The first few snips are symbolic and are usually done by an elder member of the family or honoured guest. Here the abbot and local politician went around cutting a small piece of hair each. The other family members then took turns. Finally, all of the hair was shaved off including the eyebrows. Once this was completed, the boys took part in a parade through town to visit the city pillar. At the shrine they made an announcement to the spirits of the shrine that they were ordaining for H.M. The King. In this picture, you can see some of the boys carrying portraits of His Majesty. Others are holding yellow flags.

In Thai, novices are known as a “samanen” or just “nen” for short. A monk is called a “bhikkhu”. The main difference between a novice and a monk is that novices only have 10 precepts while monks have 227. If you are a male and are less than twenty years of age, then you cannot become a fully fledged monk. Everyone first ordains as a novice. The first part of the ordination procedure is called the “Going Forth in Homelessness”. This is where the candidate requests to become a novice. He is instructed about the Triple Gem (the Buddha, the Teaching, and the Community of Monks) and the purpose and benefits of the ordination. He is then told the five basic objects of meditation which are: hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth and skin.

The first half concludes when the shoulder cloth is put over the head of the boys. After this, all of the candidates are taken outside to change from their white clothes to their robes. These are not easy to put on. The boys certainly couldn’t do it themselves. As there were so many of them, they needed the help of monks and family members who may have once been monks themselves. The novices basically wear the same robes as monks, but they don’t put on the double-thickness robe. When you see the monks go out on the morning alms round it is easy to spot the novices as they have one shoulder uncovered. Novices and monks can only wear the orange robes. They are not allowed to wear vests or underwear.

Once they have the robes on, then all of them go back into the hall. They next request to take Refuge in the Triple Gem and the Ten Precepts. They say: “I go to the Buddha for refuge. I go to the Dhamma for refuge. I go to the Sangha for refuge.” This is then repeated three times. The abbot then tells them that they are now “samanen”. As a novice monk, they have to obey the ten precepts. This includes basic things like not stealing or lying and also not eating after noon. But they can drink liquids in the afternoon like milk.

At the end of the ceremony, the abbot reads the 10 precepts out in Pali which is the ancient language of the scriptures. The novices have to repeat them after him.

1. Refrain from killing living things.
2. Refrain from stealing.
3. Refrain from un-chastity (sensuality, sexuality, lust).
4. Refrain from lying.
5. Refrain from taking intoxicants.
6. Refrain from taking food at inappropriate times (after noon).
7. Refrain from singing, dancing, playing music or attending entertainment programs.
8. Refrain from wearing perfume, cosmetics and garland (decorative accessories).
9. Refrain from sitting on high chairs and sleeping on luxurious, soft beds.
10. Refrain from accepting money.

The new novice monks now prostrate three times and leaves the hall. You can read more stories about Buddhism in Thailand at my website.

09 09 09 Lucky 9 In Thailand

Today is an auspicious day in Thailand for all Thai people. Today is the ninth day of the ninth month of the ninth year in the 21st Century which translates as 09 09 09. The number nine in Thai is “gao” which sounds similar to another word which means to “move forward”. Tata Young has chosen today to launch her new album. A new Thai horror movie will also be released today. Some Thai companies will launch new projects today, couples will get married and pregnant women in hospital will be trying to have their baby delivered today.

The number 9 has always been a lucky number for Thai people with some people spending a lot of money to get lottery tickets with the number 9 or even number plates with a 9. Nine monks are often invited to important ceremonies. It is also an auspicious time to do things or start a new enterprise. Many ceremonies start at 9.09 a.m. or 9.29 a.m. just to get the number nine in the time.

In honour of H.M. The King, all Thai people across the kingdom, came together today at exactly 9:09 a.m. to sing the Royal Anthem and other songs dedicated to H.M. The King. At Sriwittayapaknam School, all classes were suspended in the morning for the students to go down to the playground. There they lined up in rows to wave the yellow royal flag and to sing songs to praise his name. If you missed it this morning then I guess you get a second chance tonight at 9.09 p.m.

The only thing that I don’t really understand is why the whole country had to come to a standstill today when it is not really 2009 in Thailand. This is the Christian calendar and in Thailand they use the Buddhist calendar. It is actually 2552 which is widely used by everyone in Thailand. You rarely see “2009″ being used apart from when naming the “Big Flu of 2009″. Not long ago, this wasn’t even the ninth month of the year as the Thai government only declared January to be the first month in 1941. But that doesn’t seem to worry them.