Monday, July 29, 2013

Observing Buddhist Lent

Last week,on the 22nd July, we witnessed one of the most important events in the Buddhist religious calendar, Asalha Bucha day.

Asalha Bucha commemorates the first sermon delivered by Buddha, in which he explained his doctrine of the "Four Noble Truths" and is seen in the Buddhist faith as the day when "the wheel of dhamma was set in motion". Dhamma is the principle or law that keeps balance/order in the universe. The law was theorised and formulated by Buddha and over time the word "dhamma" has also come to mean his teachings, so essentially Asalha Bucha is celebrating the beginning of Buddhist teachings and of the religion itself.

The day after Asalha Bucha is the start of Buddhist Lent, known as "Khao phansa" or "Rains Retreat". It is when monks remain in their temple for a period of 3 months (during the rainy season) to pray, meditate and study Buddhist scripture.

Laypeople often participate in Khao phansa by following a vegetarian diet and giving up alcohol, tobacco and other luxuries. They also bring offerings to their local temple. The offerings traditionally include candles, food, bottled water and other basic necessities. The tradition of giving candles started in the days before temples had access to electricity. Monks would use the candles as a source of light so they could pray and study during the hours of darkness.

The town of Ubon Ratchathani, in Eastern Thailand, is famous for it's candle festival which is held each year during Asalha Bucha and Khao phansa.

Here are a few pictures from the candle festival.................

If you would like to know more about Buddhist Lent here are a few links.........

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Nazi cafe controversy

When I first heard about this story I thought it was an April Fool's joke, but then I realised it's July and the story is actually true!!!!

There is a Nazi-themed cafe in the Indonesian city of Bandung, which is the provincial capital of West Java, that features German World War II paraphernalia including posters of Hitler, giant Swastikas and even waiting staff dressed as SS officers.
(I am not the owner of this photograph, nor do I hold the copyright. It is reproduced courtesy of the Independent & Independent Print Ltd)
(I am not the owner of this photograph, nor do I hold the copyright. It is reproduced courtesy of the New York Post & News Corp)
(I am not the owner of this photograph, nor do I hold the copyright. It is reproduced courtesy of Facebook)

The "Soldatenkaffee" or Solider's Cafe is named after a famous Parisien watering-hole that was popular among German soldiers during the 2nd Word War. I'm sure the Fuehrer would approve of this incarnation as long as no "black" coffee is served of course!!!

The owner, Henry Mulyana, has stated that he "...simply adores the soldiers paraphernalia". It makes you wonder what's on Mr Mulyana's menu, perhaps a"Luftwaffe Latte", maybe a "Mussolini Mocha" or how about an Americano "Auswitchz style". I can just picture his advertising slogan..."only the beans are roasted"!!!!

Opppss was that last comment a little close to the knuckle?

Although the cafe has been in operation for several years, it is only recently that it has been bought to the attention of the Western media. It has caused quite a furore with Germany making official protests to the Indonesian government and Jewish groups expressing their outrage.

But they fail to realise that most Asians are ignorant of the events that occurred during the 2nd World War and even those who are aware, don't give a sh1t.

A patron of the cafe, Mr. Arya Setya is reported to have said 'We're living in Indonesia and Indonesians weren't tortured in the Holocaust, so we don't really care".

Maybe I should move to Aceh and open a "tsunami-themed cafe" decorated with life-vests and rubble and dress the waiting staff as bloated, decomposing corpses because, to paraphrase Mr. Setya, I "don't really care" about the peasants in the sh1t-hole that is Indonesia.     

If you fancy reading some more about this story, here are some links to a range of articles from around the world........

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A return to Ayutthaya.......

I remember a few years back that I brought you some of my highlights from a trip to Ayutthaya and having recently returned to the city, to attend a friend's wedding, I thought it would be a good opportunity to show you some more of the sights.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ayutthaya, it is to the North of Bangkok and approximately 160 kilometres from my home on the outskirts of Pattaya.The drive is around 3-3 1/2 hours depending on traffic and it's fairly easy to take the wrong turning if you don't have your wits about you. It is also very easy to access the city by train, public bus or minivan. However, most minbuses in Thailand are driven so recklessly that I would rather poke hot coals in my eyes than travel aboard them. But that's a story for another day!!!! 
Now we have got the travelling practicalities out the way, allow me to give you a short history lesson.......

In the 13th and 14th centuries Thailand was a patchwork of Kingdoms, with Ayutthaya being the one of most powerful. In 1350, the reigning monarch King U-Tong fearing a smallpox outbreak, moved his court to the location of the current city. At the time it was a modest port known as Ayothaya Si Raam Thep Nakhon or "the Angelic City of Sri Rama". It later became known as simply Ayutthaya, the invincible city and was the centre of commerce and political/military power in the region. Ayutthaya was to remain the capital of "Siam" until 1767, when the Burmese finally took control and sacked the city.

Today, it is renowned for it's archaeological sites, including many temples and palaces. The "Ayutthaya historical park", which covers almost the entire city, was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1981.

During our trip we experienced the "floating market" and Wat Maheyong. The Floating market is a well-known tourist destination or should I say tacky tourist trap. Everything there is designed to part visitors from their hard-earned currency, from the petting zoo to the elephant rides through to the fish feeding and the small shops selling cheap "made in china" cr*p at vastly inflated prices. There are many similar incarnations throughout Thailand but they are nothing like the traditional floating markets from days of yore.

However, I did like the strange 3-D murals painted on the walls near the entrance/exit where visitors could take "action" photos The pictures included a T-Rex and an exploding Leaning Tower of Pisa among others!!!!

Maheyong temple on the other hand was a first-rate attraction, full of history and extremely atmospheric. According to historians there has been a temple on the site since the early 15th century and you can really get a sense of that history by strolling around the grounds. The ruins are impressive in their current state so you can only imagine what they were like during their heyday.

Opposite the ancient buildings, there is a modern temple which offers Buddhist retreats. It is very popular with the Thais and apparently they welcome foreigners, so if you fancy a few days of meditation then give them a call!!!

Here are a few photos for your viewing pleasure..............

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Buddhism: The concept of karma and making "merit"

The Thais are a strange bunch, most of them seem to be as poor as church mice and any farang who has spent time in the Kingdom will tell you that they are constantly pleading poverty or asking to borrow your money.

But, when it comes to making donations to local temples, then wads of money will quickly appear and be placed in the ubiquitous envelopes. Hardly a week goes by without somebody in the local community coming to your house asking for "money for Buddha".

In order to understand this behaviour, you have to understand the importance and prevalence of Buddhism in Thai society. The Thais place great importance on the concept of" karma" and "making spiritual merit".

Karma is basically the sum of your actions in this life and in previous states of existence and as Thais believe in reincarnation, this means karma can carry over in to your future lives. The idea of "making merit" is to ensure that your karma is good and that this life and any future lives will be happy, prosperous and without hardship.

This is a useful link , albeit a little long-winded and convoluted, describing the background and reasons for making merit.

I liken the idea of making merit to having a spiritual bank account. You start with zero merit and every time you do a good deed you get a "deposit" but every time you do a bad deed you have to make a "withdrawal". So if you have done more good deeds than bad deeds, you will be "in the black" but if your bad deeds outnumber you good deeds then you are "in the red" or drawing on your "karmic overdraft".

Merit can be accumulated in many ways. For example, by donating money or useful items to the temple, offering alms to monks, praying for the spirits of the deceased or simply by living a good life and being mindful of how you behave and interact with others. It is also just as easy to to lose merit, simply thinking ill of somebody or uttering an unkind word can cause you to lose good merit.

We recently held a merit making ceremony at our house, to pray for my mother-in-law's spirit guardian. We still perform this ceremony every year in July, even though my mother-in-law is sadly no longer with us. The ceremony includes a display of traditional Thai dancing together with offerings of food, fruit, flowers and whiskey. Everyone in the family will pray and thank the spirit for watching over us and then place incense sticks among the offerings.

Here are some photos of the celebrations.......

I hope you enjoyed this post and I look forward to bringing you more from the Land of Smiles very soon. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Amusing Thai brand names

Doing the weekly shop back in Blighty is generally regarded as a bit of chore. The thought of trudging around the supermarket aisles, full of miserable, grumbling, sour-faced punters, having to queue up for an eternity and being hit with a 3-figure bill upon reaching the checkout, is enough to bring you out in a cold sweat!!!. 

However, a trip to Tesco in the Land of Smiles is a whole different ball game........the shelves are positively groaning under the weight of hilariously named products.

Thailand is a country where political correctness is virtually non-existent. It is not unusual for a Thai person, upon meeting a friend, to say something derogatory. Examples I have heard whilst meeting Thai friends include; "Hello, you're much fatter since I last saw you" or "Good morning, your skin is looking very black".  

It is this lack of political correctness that leads to products like this being deemed acceptable for sale.........      

I believe darkie toothpaste was originally manufactured in China and was widely available throughout Southeast Asia. However, in the mid-nineties the brand was acquired by Colgate and Darkie became Darlie. The box now features a racially ambiguous character which I imagine won't cause any red-faces around Colgate's boardroom table!!!

How about a delicious Collon biscuit with your cuppa.......

Cream sounds like the name of a low-budget Asian porn movie. I can just picture the unfortunate Thai starlet screeching ...."Hey Mister why you no tell me you put cream in my collon".

You'll be delighted to know that there is also a chocolate flavoured collon. But we won't go there, for fear of unleashing all manner of school boy mirth!!!! I can still remember those playground chants....."Milk, milk, lemonade, around the corner chocolate's made". 

Although not strictly a Thai product (they are produced by Glico, a Japanese based company) they are available throughout Thailand and you can't enter a 7-11 or Family Mart without seeing them on the shelves. 

But the crowning glory has to be the Black Man cleaning products..... 

I'm just waiting for Mammy to jump out from behind the Corn Flakes to offer me a plate of fried chicken and grits!!!!