During the past week, I went to a Buddhist funeral in Petchaburi (point B on map below, about 100 miles, southwest of Bangkok), to a Buddhist cremation ceremony in Suphan Buri (point C, about 80 miles northwest of Bangkok), and on a two-day business trip to the southern provinces of Surat Thani (point D), Phattalung (point E), and Songkhla (point F).
When a Buddhist dies, the body is typically not buried for at least seven days. For six days, there are funeral services at the temple that typically begin at 7 p.m. and run for about 60 to 90 minutes. The guests all wear black — men wear either black pants and a black shirt or else a black suit with a white shirt and black tie while women wear either a black dress or black pants and blouse. Wreaths are typically sent to the temple although some people choose to send blankets or fans that the monks will later distribute to poor people. This seems to me like a far better way to honor the deceased.
As you enter the temple, you are given a red string or thread; I was told to place it over a button on my shirt and that it would ward off bad luck (so far it has). Once inside the temple, visitors chat among themselves and young people typically offer water, juice, and food to each guest. Most of the socializing ends when the monks, usually seven, begin to chant prayers. The monks shield their faces behind a small screen as they chant, apparently so that they can breathe without breaking the illusion of one long continuous chant. Several times during the chanting, the guest will wai and bow their heads.
The cremation ceremony is typically held one week after the death, although some cremations, particularly for high-ranking people, are delayed for 100 days or more. The cremation ceremony was relatively short; at the end of the ceremony, every person walked by the coffin and placed a paper flower (dokmai chan) in a tray beneath it. The paper flowers were then burned with the body.
Our apartment is located on the corner of Sathorn Road and Suan Phlu, also known as Sathorn Soi 3 (point A on map below). Suan Phlu means Betel Garden, and at one time this area was an orchard where betel plants were cultivated. Betel leaves are a mild stimulant and are combined with areca nuts and slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) and then chewed. The areca nuts produce red saliva and the teeth of those who chew become black. I don’t think that one can find betel leaves and areca nuts anymore on Suan Phlu, but it wouldn’t really surprise me if they were available.
On Sunday evening, we walked about 1/3 of a mile down Suan Phlu from our apartment (point A on map below) to Uncle John’s (point B) for dinner. Uncle John’s is an interesting local restaurant because the chef, John, cooks all the meals in his small, outdoor kitchen. The restaurant used to be just a tiny storefront with half a dozen tables and stools for seats, but a few months ago John expanded. He kept his original restaurant but opened a second dining room a couple of storefronts further down Suan Phlu Soi 8. The new dining room has an additional 10 to 12 tables, real chairs, and even a bar. John continues to do all the cooking in his small, outdoor kitchen.
John works as a chef during the day at a five-star restaurant in a local hotel, so his storefront restaurant is only open from 5:30 to 10:30 in the evenings. John offers Thai food, European food (primarily French and Italian), and Indian food at very reasonable prices. Among the farang (foreigners), he is renowned for his Tenderloin steaks that he serves several ways. The steak served with a red wine reduction and accompanied by vegetables and potatoes goes for $11; the filet with foie gras costs $15. Our dinner for two on Sunday — Chicken Masala with roti for Theresa, Beef Stroganoff for me, and a crepe with vanilla ice cream and mango that we shared for dessert — ran all of $27 (tip included, of course, since I am among the last of the big spenders!)
Suan Phlu is a typical neighborhood street. From early morning until late at night, this bustling thoroughfare is full of vendors selling food from their carts and storefronts, tables on the sidewalk for the diners, hair salons and barber shops doing a brisk business, video stores, internet cafes, convenience stores (including three separate 7-Elevens in the 1/3 of a mile between the apartment and Uncle John’s), street-side tailors, and other assorted merchants, shopkeepers, and street vendors. The street food includes standard noodle dishes, fresh made papaya salad (Som Tum), satay, grilled fish, wok fried chicken, and even sushi rolls.
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2012 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.