Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Its a nice day for a Thai wedding

We met Patrick and Noi at their hotel. Their hotel was slightly, o.k very much more, up market than ours. We felt very scruffy in our travelling clothes. I spotted Pat across the lobby and crept up on him. It seemed to take him a while for it to sink in who I was ( I think he was jet lagged). It was great to see him and finally meet Noi and I showed this by giving her a big hug. In Thailand Noi means small and this was the fitting nick name given to her at birth. She is indeed small and I thought my hug was going to crush her. She didn't seem to mind though and we said goodnight to Pat's parents and went up to Pat and Noi's room to catch up.

It turned out that they were leaving Bangkok the next day and driving up to Noi' s family's village and as soon as they arrive they would be having the wedding ceremony. It was happening very quickly because that day was the only auspicious day available.(Meaning that the spirits are good for that day and the planets are aligned- something like that anyway).

They invited us along and Noi started finding out about flights and calling her friend who was going to be flying there the next day. It turned out the only flight was 9am. We ended up booking it at 11pm and getting up at 5.30am so we could catch it on time. It was all a bit of a whirlind descision, but we thought we'd go for it because, why not? We met Noi's friend and said we hoped to see her at the airport the next day all being well.

Everything did go well and we met her on the plane. It was a tiny plane.Tim described it like a smarties tube with wings. He assured me it was alright though as it was a jet and it goes fast. Oh. thats alright then! It was a 50 minute flight and qute enjoyable. We landed at Buriram airport at 10am and were met by Noi's brother. I don't know if he was expecting us, but he made us feel welcome anyway. This was the case for the whole day. Noi is from a rural village in the NorthEast of Thailand (less visited and less developed region of Thailand) 35km from Surin. The majority of people, including her family are rice farmers. We arrived at their house and were just blown away by the rest of the day really. I am struggling knowing what to say; how to describe it. These are people who don't see Farangs (foreigners) very often and who don't speak English. There were about 50 people there and we were instantly made very welcome by them. There was a lot of smiling and nodding and waiing (Thai greeting- like the prayer gesture) Tim and I could already say hello and thankyou in Thai which came in handy and I think was appreciated. We were shown to their couch and given drinks and food; fruit platter, rice cakes which are like rice Krispies cakes but very dry (later we found out they were an offering for the spirits. I really hope we were meant to eat them because we did) and sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves and dipped in sugar.

Throughout the day people were preparing for the ceremony. The women were inside sitting on the floor, decorating the pillar in the main room (which we were sat in) and the men were outside, drinking. Their style of living is very communal. Everyone leaves their windows and doors open and walk in and out of each others houses. There was one communal kitchen which was outside under an awning with people sitting on tables eating and chatting under it.

The pillar, the main focal point for the ceremony which Patrick and Noi would kneel in front of, was decorated with Banana leaves, baskets of flowers,(one with a pig's head in it) offerings of food, lots of bananas and rice cakes (we didn't eat those ones), a rifle, a sword,(both of which Tim got quite excited about-it must be a boy thing) a bottle of water and a bottle of beer.

We were made to feel so welcome and it was such different experience, yet I felt really comfortable. We had lots of people at varying times approaching us tentatively and extending their warmth and generosity. There was a huge language barrier, but the language of smiling is so powerful. However, we did learn a few new words with the help of a lovely lady who took us under her wing. I think these efforts were received gratefully and with much laughter. We taught the lady who helped us some English too and she put us to shame with her memory for it. I seemed to learn something and it would go straight out of my head as soon as I wanted to use it. However, I did remember how to say "that was delicious", "I am full", "I dont understand" and "my name is" which I was quite happy about. We learned more Thai in one day than in the 3 weeks we'd been there.

During one of our Thai lessons, we were summoned to a table on which our lunch had been put and which they had prepared and got especially. It was 2 giant catfish, rice and vegetable sidedish with beancurd. It was aroi (delicious) and again, I was blown away by their hospitality.

A couple of hours after lunch our new friend took us to the lake to sit in the shade under the trees. It was cooler there and was really calm and peaceful, with the sounds of the countryside interspersed with the 3 of us singing numbers 1 -10 in thai to the tune of Frere Jacques.

At 5pm Noi, Patrick and his parents finally arrived. They had left Bangkok at 9am and had not expected it to take so long to get there. There were a few emotional greetings (Noi had not seen everyone for 2 and a half years) before they were all whipped upstairs to change into ceremonial costume. Noi looked beautiful, her hair and makeup made up perfectly and was wearing a pretty blouse and thai skirt. Patrick. Well I don't know how to describe what Patrick looked like. Tim said he couldn't decide if he looked like Sinbad or a cruise ship waiter! He looked really nice though. He wore a white jacket with a patterned Thai sash over one shoulder and blue silk short trousers with a bit wrapped up between his legs. (The photos will be on Flickr, don't worry, but not for awhile I'm afraid).

None of us Farangs knew what on earth was happening during the ceremony. A monk blessed Patrick and Noi as they knelt at the "altar" and lots of people were talking and shouted responses to the monk. Patrick was hit round the face with leaves and beer was poured into a jug. People tied bits of orange wool round all our wrists as a blessing. Patrick looked quite emotional and overwhelmed by it all, as did his parents and I can't blame them. It must have been totally overwhelming for them as they had just arrived. We at least had had some time to get used to the surroundings.

After the ceremony,photos were taken and we were asked to have our photos taken with people who wanted photos with farangs. A lady kept telling me I was lovely and beautiful. It was quite embarrassing. I had also had people telling me I had lovely skin. The Thais really like white skin and aspire to have it. In shops there are whitening products as we would have tanning products and they don't like to be in the sun. This always amuses me as of course in the Western world we are the same (except we want brown skin).

I feel very priviledged to have been a part of the whole day. It was very humbling to receive such warmth and generosity. It feels strange that it came at the time when we were feeling quite despondent by Thailand. I have seen it in a new light now. We had heard that Thai people are really friendly, warm people, but until now we didn't really have that much evidence of that. I feel that I can't adequately describe the day. All in all, a strange, surreal, fun, exciting moving day which was rounded off by watching heavily accented thai singers in thai costume singing hits such as "wind beneath my wings".

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