In Marrying a Thai: Part 1, I told you about the legal process. Well, I think Pim and I had already gotten married before this, but I’m not sure.
A couple of months earlier, we had taken our usual New Year trip to Surin. For a couple of months before that, Pim had kept saying about how we were going to do something in Surin, but I couldn’t quite make out what she was explaining. She kept going on about it, but I couldn’t understand, so I just asked her if it was a good or bad thing. “Oh, it’s very good,” she had said, so I just left it at that. She had also said that I would have to give her parents 10,000 baht, but that I would get it back later. Fine, if they want to borrow some money, I’m happy to help out.
When New Year came around, there had been the usual parties for Pim’s dad’s birthday and New Year itself with nothing out of the ordinary, except that Pim was drinking less and eating more due to her pregnancy.
The first sign I got that Pim was up to something came on January 3rd when everyone at the family home was herded into a pick-up truck before being driven miles out into the countryside to visit a remote and simple Buddhist temple.
We all entered a large hall where we sat on the floor in a position that looked as if we had been kneeling but someone had then pushed us from the side. We made sure that our feet were pointing away from a slightly raised platform in front of us. Thai culture dictates that the head is the highest part of the body, both physically and spiritually. For this reason, you should never touch a Thai on the head. Likewise, the feet are the lowest, so you should never sit with the soles aimed at anyone or anything of importance. It’s also taboo to step over people, food or literary works.
After a few minutes, an elderly monk with shaved head and orange robes entered. He sat cross-legged on the platform and a tray with some incense, flowers and a few other objects was placed in front of him. He recited a few chants and a few of our flock went to the platform and prostrated themselves in front of him. After a while, the pregnant Pim whispered that her back was aching and she motioned for us to leave. We quietly went outside and left the monk and the other family members to their merit-making.
I thought this was the end of our temple visit, but once everyone came out of the hall, we all made our way across the courtyard to a smaller wooden temple raised a metre or so off the ground on stilts. We climbed the steps and once again assumed the position. This time, however, Pim and I were ushered to the front and middle of the congregation.
A different monk recited different chants and lit candles and incense. Following prompts, I joined everyone else in putting my hands together in the prayer position and bowing my head. The monk dipped a brush-like implement made of very fine bamboo strips into water and proceeded to splash us repeatedly, presumably to cleanse our souls. Next, we each had a thin white cotton strip tied around our wrists while more incense was lit and prayers were chanted. After about 15 minutes of this, we filtered outside again into the eye-squinting sunlight.
Pim and a couple of her relatives stayed behind a little longer. When she emerged, I asked her why that was. She told me it was a sanctioning and good luck ceremony, and she wanted blessings for our relationship and for our unborn child. I assumed that this was what she had been telling me about a couple of months earlier, but the fat lady wasn’t singing yet.
That evening after dinner, I joined Nid and Chum on the terrace, sitting around a fire in a small clay oven and drinking a few beers to ward off the chilly night air. The conversations were pretty limited:
Nid: “Nao mai kha?” (Are you cold?)
Me: “Nao” (Yes, I’m cold)
Chum: “Nao maak!” (Yes, it certainly is rather chilly weather we are experiencing and no mistake)
Once enough beer had been consumed to fend off the chills, we retired to bed.
The next morning, I was awakened by a smiling Pim, who was up and about before me. I was feeling a little rough around the edges from the previous evening’s beer and ready for a day of doing not much in particular. Pim had other ideas.
“I need the 10,000 baht now. Everyone’s ready.”
Still half asleep, I reached into my jeans and pulled out my wallet. I handed over the 10,000 baht and attempted to go back to sleep, but Pim wasn’t giving up.
“Come on. It’s going to start.”
Everyone’s ready? It’s going to start? What was she talking about? I got dressed and together we wandered into the living room, where I was suddenly overwhelmed by a flood of realisation that something was indeed about to happen. It might have been the severed pig’s head on a tray, or the masses of people milling about outside. I don’t recall now exactly what triggered my brain into functioning, but I do remember turning to Pim and saying, “We’re going to get married, aren’t we?”
“Yes. Yes,” she beamed enthusiastically.
All the furniture in the living room had been pushed back against the walls. The centre piece was a woven mat, upon which there was a tray with the pig’s head, an incense stick poking out from its nose and a few other unidentified pig parts placed decoratively around it. A second tray held two small bowls of rice with a lit candle in each one, other small bowls containing fruit or meat with incense sticks, and an ornamental chalice with what I guess was water in it. Standing separately on the mat, there were two larger chalices, one of which contained the money and unlit candles, and the other had a white cloth folded over it with more candles and incense laid on top. A bottle each of water, lao kao and orange Fanta completed the ceremonial requirements.
The smiling congregation began to filter in and take their seats on the floor. I smiled back, nodded and waied everyone and then Pim and I took up our lopsided kneeling position together in front of the mat, with her parents to our left and the officiator to our right. The pig stayed where it was.
The service wasn’t presided over by a monk, but rather a local dignitary, someone akin to a village headman. It was later explained that this was a Khmer rather than a Thai Buddhist ceremony, hence some differences in personnel, paraphernalia and procedure. I’m still not even sure if it was actually a wedding or a ceremony seeking approval and acceptance from the parents. Different people have given me different explanations and something always gets lost in translation.
As the ceremony began, Pim and I were each given one of the large chalices. I got the one with the cloth on top, and Pim got the one with the money. We held these up as if making an offering while the officiator recited his lines. After a while, the chalices were taken off us and placed on either side of the pig’s head. The officiator continued his monologue whilst pouring out measures from the various bottles. I didn’t have a clue what was being said, so I just kept alert to prompts. The next one indicated that Pim and I were to place our hands on top of each other palms down on the mat. As he kept talking, the officiator tied more cotton strips around our wrists. He motioned for us to turn our hands palms up and he completed the task. His work for the day seemed to be done, but the rest of the congregation now shuffled forwards to tie more cotton around our wrists while they recited some good luck mantras. Tied up in the cotton strips were 20 and 100 baht notes. Once everyone had made their donation, the ritual was over and the party began.
We spent the rest of the day eating, drinking and dancing. I don’t know what happened to the pig’s head. I had been worried that I would be expected to eat some of it as part of my rite of passage into the family, but I was mercifully spared that ordeal. I do know what happened to the lao kao, though. Pim’s dad and the officiator saw that off.