Life in Thailand is Fascinating

Last Thursday, a new restaurant, La Gondola, opened, virtually at the end of Harry and Margaret's drive! It is attached to an hotel, but is independently owned by Stefano and Jim, the owners of La Girasol Restaurant, in which we frequently dine. The day began with a blessing, of the hotel and restaurant, by nine monks. The ceremony was quite new to me and I was honoured to be allowed to be present. I found the chanting of the monks very calming, and, although I had no idea what they were saying, I could feel a definite spirituality about the proceedings.

The nine monks seated ready for the ceremony. The one on the extreme left is holding an enormous ball of string, which played a part in the ceremony. The monks' chanting was quite hypnotic.

Everyone taking part in the ceremony was connected with a length of string.

Here the monks are winding the string up again, with which they 
bound everyone together during the ceremony.

The proprietors of the hotel and restaurant were blessed by the monks.

A delicious buffet lunch was served to celebrate the opening of the restaurant and if the food served was an indication of the standard in the restaurant, we will definitely be going back, it was excellent. There was both Thai and Italian food on offer, in great abundance, and everything was quite delicious. We found it quite difficult to drag ourselves away and go back to the office! (The photo shows Margaret, Harry and me enjoying the buffet lunch.)

Stefano (on the right), with his wife, Jim, are presented with flowers at the opening of their restaurant.

The Montfort Boys' Choir performed on Friday at Payap University, and what an excellent evening that was! The boys sang in English, French, Italian, Zulu and, of course, Thai. Montford is a very large Catholic boys' school here in Chiang Mai and we were really impressed by their performance. The music ranged from John Rutter's 'The Lord Bless you and Keep You' to an enchanting medley of nursery rhymes, sung by the junior choir and a rousing rendition of the African song 'Shoshaloza'!

The Montfort Boys' Choir was joined by their Junior Choir for some rousing numbers.

FERC (the Foundation for the Education of Rural Children) held a gala charity evening at the Shangri-La Hotel. There were raffle prizes and a silent auction to raise more money, and our show 'Let Me Entertain You', for which we had been practising all this time, finally came to fruition. The evening was a great success and I hope lots of money has been raised for this worthwhile cause.

Mark bidding for the Buddha. I would have bid too, but I thought I might not get it onto the plane home!


Loy Krathong Festival

The monks at the Yee Peng Sansai Ceremony for Loy Krathong at Mae Jo.

Loy Krathong is held on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. In the western calendar this usually falls in November.

The Celebrations last for days! This festival represents a symbolic letting go of all one's grudges, anger and sadness, so that one can start life afresh.

Our first celebration for Loy Krathong, was at Mae Jo University. Frank and Becky had arranged a trip out to the Buddist Ceremony of Yee Peng Sansai, the festival of hanging lanterns, which is held there. This is a festival of light, held in homage to the Lord Buddha.

This was an amazing sight. First of all came the processions, then the monks were seated on a circular dais and prayers were chanted, calling for peace in the world, before thousands of people lit their lanterns and let them float into the sky.

As you can see from the photos, Glynn, Becky and Frank finally managed to launch their lantern, although it was not easy, there is obviously a technique!

'Elf and Safety would have a field day here! The heat for each lantern is generated by a circle of wax which is set alight. As the lanterns rise into the sky, hot wax drips down. I carry proof, as a lump of hot wax dripped onto my arm! Also, the odd lantern burst into flames, causing some consternation among the crowd!

The lanterns are constructed using traditional bamboo formed into hoops and then coated with either tracing paper or Saa Paper made from the branches and leaves of the mulberry tree. A small candle or ring of wax, is placed in the base which provides the hot air that fills the paper envelope and floats the lantern gently skywards. These giant hot air balloons, called Kome Loy, rise into the sky like huge orange lanterns. Some people attach fireworks to them and then they leave a sparkling trail.

Thousands of lanterns floated into the sky.

All this week, firecrackers have been sounding through much of each night. So many firecrackers that, at times, it has sounded as if there is a civil war going on!

Another aspect of this festival is the sending off of the 'krathongs' down the river. These also symbolise the letting go of all misfortunes and sorrows in life and beginning anew. The word 'loy' means to float, and a 'krathong' is a banana leaf cup. People place a candle and incense sticks in their krathongs and then float them on a local river or pond. As they push away their krathong, they ask for forgiveness in polluting the waterways and also for good luck in the coming months. They also do it to honour and thank the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha.

On Wednesday, Glynn, Margaret, Harry, Janet and I went to Regina's restaurant by the River Ping to launch our krathongs into the water and to float more lanterns into the sky. It was such a magical evening, with fireworks, floating lanterns and krathongs sailing off down the river. Loy Krathong is a truly mystical and magical festival.

Me about to launch my krathong, (notice that I am holding on tightly so as not to fall in the water!)

Margaret and Harry prepare to float their krathong.


The Northern-Most Point of Thailand

Last Saturday, Glynn and I had to do a visa run to renew my visa. We went up to the northern-most part of Thailand to Mai Sai, on the Thai-Myanmar border.

Renewal meant crossing over into Myanmar (erstwhile Burma), spending a while shopping and then crossing back again to get a new stamp in my passport, granting me another month's stay in Thailand.

(Note, the rules have changed again since then!)

Burmese puppets on sale. The two on the right are angels.

A Burmese trader selling fried beans and nuts.

We then travelled on to the Maekok River Village Resort, owned and run by friends of Glynn, Brian and Rosie. This luxurious resort also runs an Outdoor Education Centre where schools go to experience a range of outdoor activities to 'learn new skills, develop the ability to work as a team, to test leadership qualities and ultimately to learn about themselves'.

Their website is http://www.mrvproject.com check it out for yourselves!

Rosie kindly took us on a tour of the facilities. The students' dormitories and recreation rooms are separate from the guest cottages, so there is no disturbance for people wanting to enjoy the resort.

On the way to the resort we passed this procession of happy people on their way to present the money they had collected for their temple.

This week I was also very privileged to attend the ceremony, at the regional education offices, to present the FERC Scholarship Awards, for the second semester, to six rural children. These children would not be attending school at all were it not for these scholarships, as their families are too poor to pay for the uniforms, books and materials. Every one of these students has done well in their studies and they all want to go on to university. They were quite charming and so grateful for the help they have been given. It was very touching! (The photo shows a student thanking Glynn for presenting him with the scholarship money to continue his studies.) If you would like to see what FERC does, please check out http://www.thai-rural-education.org

The students and their teachers, together with the education department officials and Frank, Glynn and me, at the FERC presentation.


Three Choirs in Chiang Mai, Thailand

I have been so busy that I haven't even had time to update my blog! I am going to try to catch up this week.

If you have been following my blog, you will know that I belong to three choirs here in Chiang Mai. One is a madrigals choir 'The Spirit House Singers', another is an ad hoc choir especially got together for a charity performance of show tunes for FERC (the Foundation for the Education or Rural Children (Chiang Mai Thailand), and the third is the Chiang Mai Choral Society.

Our madrigal group performed at the Chiang Mai Friends Group. This is a group that brings together Thais and Farangs (foreigners) to help each other and to understand each other's cultures. Below is part of the report by the Chiang Mai Mail:
'The last item on the programme was a performance by the Spirit House Singers, formed almost a year ago to specialise in Renaissance music, both sacred and secular. The short and charming concert featured 6 madrigals, all dating from the time of Queen Elizabeth the First in “Merrie England.” As the group’s founder stated, “Music is the international language which transcends time.” '

Before we sang, Becky gave a presentation informing us about FERC ( the Foundation for the Education of Rural Children (Chiang Mai, Thailand). Becky, her husband Frank and Glynn are all on the board of FERC and devote a lot of time to this project.

The following evening, Becky and Frank held a party at their house to welcome a group of Americans to Thailand, who had each donated $500 to FERC on top of their travel expenses. We had lots of fun and the food was amazing. Becky had also organised a performance by Mark, Art and John (the leaders of our charity concert group). Thank you Becky and Frank, that was an amazing evening!

The rainy season here in Thailand should have finished by now, but it has rained incessantly! So much so that Glynn's house became an island – a sea of mud on one side and a lake on the other, with the result that I have moved over to Harry and Margaret's house, rather that wade through the water every day. No. that is not Glynn's pond you see. It is his garden – under water.

Press Centre

Press Centre
I couldn't resist this one!