Saturday, January 31, 2009

Remembrance Ceremony

Our friends were kind enough to invite us to a remembrance ceremony in honor of relatives who had passed away. They thought we probably hadn't seen one before and would be interested. It was nice of them to think of us.

I should start by explaining how their Thai-style home is organized. It's a stilt house, where the living quarters are above and open, garage-type area is below. I've seen some stilt-style houses that had living quarters in the lower level as well, but for them, the area was mostly a playground for their nine or so cats. When you take off your shoes and head upstairs, you enter a huge general living and eating area. Smaller bedrooms shoot off to one side and the kitchen and bathroom to another. The houses are usually made of large slats of wood but you do see partial or entirely cement constructions as well. This website about Thai homes has some good pics and info. In the large living area everything is arranged around the walls, TV, shelves, etc. As in other parts of Asia there are not typically any chairs; if there are some they are also pushed to the side. This leaves a huge floor space where you can relax and sit around with each other. The kitchen and bathroom are made of cement and tile, as you would expect with modern day plumbing needs. The biggest difference, I think, between Thai and Western style homes is that Thai homes are very open to the outside. The walls are filled with large open windows or are slatted to be continually open. The kitchen is almost completely open and in some homes it is outside with just an roof overhead (as is the case with our neighbors). It's very comfortable for the climate but I would need some time to adjust to the higher volume of bugs that get in.

Eight monks sat at the head of the house facing all of the guests in a row. They chanted for some time in the names of the deceased. I love listening to chanting monks, it's easy to start being lulled into some sort of a trance. As I don't know the language, I feel like I'm being carried away to an exotic place (as if the setting were not exotic enough). The family prepared a large meal which was presented to the monks after their incantations. We socialized while they ate and then they started another short round of chanting, this time as a blessing for all of us. They ended by splashing holy water on each of us before leaving the home.

Our friends explained to us that they have monks come every year for this ceremony, usually in January since that is when their father passed away. The food is an offering to the monks, as thanks for their service. The ceremony and meal are often held at 10 or 11 because the monks fast from noon until the next morning.

Once they left we were then able to eat as well. Since this was a special meal a lot of dishes were prepared, many that we had never tried before. The highlight was ant egg soup, from the corn kernel sized eggs of red ants. As the soup was so spicy, I can't really tell you what they tasted like. I wish I could have been there when they prepared it that morning though, as they apparently just shook down an ants nest they found in a nearby tree, brushing them off as they swarmed up their arms.

Unfortunately, I do not have pictures from this exciting afternoon-- blame Al, who told me we were invited for lunch, and left out the bit about the Buddhist ceremony and special feast. Haha.

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