Saturday, March 14, 2009

runwitme's Guide to Traditional Thai Wedding

What? Hajime & Narumol Wedding Ceremony

Where? Narumol's house in Bangkok, Thailand

When? 6 March 2009

Who? Hajime and Narumol are my running friends whom I always "bumped" into when I run in Thailand. Also click here.

It was 5.00am, I was already ready in my nicely pressed blue shirt waiting for Narumol’s brother, Ti to pick Tey and I up. When Ti arrived around 5:30am, I was surprised to see Hajime was in the same car! He was in his Reebok vest, shorts and running shoes! Yikes! He looked as if he was heading to a marathon instead of his own wedding. I chatted with him along the way to Narumol's house in Bang Sao Thong district where the wedding was held.

It was still dark. I couldn’t see where we were going. After about 20 minutes ride, we arrived at a two storey wooden house. Narumol was nowhere to be seen. She must have been busy preparing herself putting on makeup and stuff upstairs. I saw food are being prepared at the make shift tents next to the house. Chairs were being arranged. Tents were already erected outside the house. It reminds me of the Malay wedding set-up. Very much like a Malay kampung if not for the roaming dogs. Not too different from Malaysia.

Hajime excused himself to change into his traditional Thai costume. Tey and I walked around the house compound taking photographs. The day was dawning. I did do some "research" in the web just to get some do and don't. So, the first thing I learnt was not to wear black. It is consider very inauspicious. The host would be deeply offended as black is usually worn for funeral.

At about 6:30am (local time), a bunch of monks garbed in their bright orange robe arrived at the house. I followed them upstairs. The floor was lined with red carpet, devoid any furniture. The guests were seated on the floor.

There were some speeches. I don’t really understand a word as my usual translator was busy getting married. LOL! In the picture below, Hajime and Narumol can be seen praying at the altar.

Thai people believe that number 9 is a lucky number. Nine in Thai pronounced as “Gouw” which means progressive. So, there were 9 monks to bless the wedding. They were seated on the left of the altar.

The newlyweds sat near the altar which a Buddha image was placed. A sacred thread joined the heads of both groom and bride and then unrolled into the monks hands (see picture below). The monks started to recite various chants to bless the couple.

The first monk held a special fan (Talapat) in one hand and a microphone in the other hand. With the loud speakers and PA system, the whole village could listen to the prayers. No kidding. :)

The newlyweds were also blessed with holy water by the monks.

You can take a Japanese out of Japan, but you cannot take the Japan out of the Japanese. :D Hajime brought his Olympus camera to the wedding and snapped his own photographs even though they had hired a wedding photographer. Very cute!!! :)

Nine plates were placed in front of the monks. Each plate contained rice, salted egg, biscuit and some other dishes. After prayers are over, the newlyweds presented the food to the monk. I learned that the monks cannot eat later than 12:00 noon. I wonder why?

My tummy was rumbling and I salivated when I watched the monks tucking in those yummy dishes. Upon close inspection, I did get close to get close up of the food, they contain meat. Apparently, Thai monks are not always vegetarian. They do eat meat unlike their Malaysian Chinese counterparts who are strictly vegetarians.

The monk left after the prayer and meal. Taking over the PA system from them was a live traditional Thai band. Jamming session started. :) Nice!

More and more guests had arrived. I went downstairs to the tents. The guests were enjoying the food while chatting incessantly. I joined the buffet party.

Speaking about food, do you know the food served at wedding is also being carefully selected based on the names? Food names that are similar sounding to long live, sweetness, happiness, love, luck and other auspicious words are favoured. Example, one of the desserts served was khanom jeen – which means long lasting love.

On the other hand, the food that gives love a bad name is avoided like plague. Example – the hot and spicy, tom yum soup. Tom yum means lying and cheating. Yikes! That’s my favourite! LOL!

After eating something light (a plate of rice and tonnes of desserts. LOL!), I got ready for the next ceremony – the Khan Mark procession.

The Khan Mark procession was led by the groom’s representative called “Thao Gae”, (I think it’s adapted from the Chinese - Teo Chiew dialect word for THE BOSS, or Tow Kaey). Following closely behind was an entourage, carrying offerings and gifts to be presented to the bride’s family.

The procession started from a neighbour house, a stone’s throw away from the bride’s house.

This reminds me of the Malay wedding. Instead of Bunga Manggar, the Thais used sugarcane and banana trees.

The sugarcane is used to denote its long lasting sweetness while banana is chosen for its fertility – bear lots of fruit. The sugarcane and banana trees are usually planted at the newlyweds’ house to signify sweetness and fertility of their love life.

Gong was beaten repeatly to announce the arrival of the groom.

The procession to the bride's house is the most exciting part of the wedding. Lots of fun and laughter along the way. Too bad I couldn’t participate. If not, I would get some money for shopping. LOL!

On his way, the groom have to pass through many “toll gate” made of gold chain. To open the gate, the groom must give some money to the gate keepers. The “Thao Gae” will do all the sweet talks and negotiation. Hajime was seen smiling away occasionally snapping photographs, just like a Japanese tourist. (See the video later)

Wow...look at them, they all came out full force to collect toll! But no worries, the Thao Gae has a stack of cash laden envelops in his hand.

The golden gates led to the room where the bride was hiding. After much negotiation at the last and most difficult gate, the groom gets to be with his bride.

Back to the procession part - the people who carry the trays must not be divorced or widowed. So, we get sweet young ones like the pics or happily married aunties carrying the offerings. LOL!

Next in the agenda was counting the dowry (sinsod). Literally, sin sod means “compensation for mother’s milk.” In the olden days, marriage means a loss of “worker or financial contribution” for the bride family because the bride would leave her family to be with her husband. So, some kind of compensation had to be given. But nowadays, sinsod is usually done because of tradition but the money would be returned to the newlyweds to build their life together.

During the wedding ceremony, money and gold jewellery are shown to the guests. In some cases, the more cash shown, the prouder the bride parents are – indicating a good catch! :)

Some wealthy family gives land, property, business and houses to the couple in addition to money and gold. In the old time, the groom family gave cows, water buffaloes, farm land, chickens, ducks and pigs to the bride to make sure that they will have good living after their marriage. Very practical, right?

Mrs. Nishii paying respect to Mr. Nishii. :)

The newlyweds paying respects to bride's parents.

The newlyweds paying respects to the elderly relatives. The newlyweds would hold a "candle bouquet" with the elderly relatives. The relative would say something to the newlyweds before giving an envelope which contains cash to them. In return, the relatives would be given a small token, in this case a piece of towel.

More event to come! Next - "Rod Nam Sung". Translation = ROD is soak, NAM is water, and SUNG is conch shell. Wow! I learned lots of Thai words by attending this wedding!

The holy water that was blessed by the monks earlier was used for this ceremony.

The newlyweds were seated with their hands clasped. The bride and the groom were connected by a sacred thread tied to the garland on their heads. They are tied together from this moment! For better, for worse.

Guests made a beeline to bless the couple by pouring water from a conch shell onto the newlyweds’ hands. The water is caught by the flowers placed underneath the newlyweds’ hands. In the process of pouring the water, guests are expected to say something auspicious to the newlywed. I find this tradition kinda similar to the process of “Merenjis Air Mawar” in the Malays Wedding in Malaysia.

The reason to use “sung shell” to put holy water because Thai people believe that sung shell is one of the fourteen sacred goddesses.

After performing ”rod nam sung”, the guest usually put an envelope containing cash as a gift to the newlyweds. In return, a little gift is given to the guest to commemorate the wedding.

This is a tip I got from my Thai friend before the wedding. Most Thai people would give even number like 400baht or 800baht. Avoid 600 as six or “hok” means fall (in Thai).

The envelopes with cash are usually placed in a container like this....But Hmmm......What is that running magazine doing in there. LOL!

I put together a video presentation of the wedding ceremony – a closer look at a wedding full of rich culture and traditions. Please forgive the “shakiness” as I am no pro videographer. Background music – Endless Love (Mariah Carey & Luther Vandross) and From This Moment (Shania Twain).

Acknowledgments: I would like to extend my congratulations and heartfelt thanks to Narumol & Hajime for having me at their wedding. I really enjoyed myself and it has opened my eyes to new cultures. I found many similarities between our Malaysian wedding ceremonies with the Thai ones. I hope you two achieve many more PRs in life together. Hope to run wit you all again!

Kop khun mag to Ti and Lin! Nice meeting you. Thank you for picking us up at the airport and chauffer us around. Remember to invite me when you two “teng ngan” (get married)! :D

Not forgetting Narumol’s parents and also friends whom we met at the wedding. Thank you for your hospitality and smiles!

Thanks to Mr. Tey Eng Tiong for being a wonderful travel friend, makan buddy and excellent personal photographer.

Please take a look at some pictures I took at the wedding by clicking the link below. Comments are always welcome. Kop khun krub!

Disclaimer: I am no expert in Thai wedding or in any weddings for the matter of fact. The above account is based on my own observations as a guest and some internet research. Please let me know by leaving your comments if you find any factual error in my presentation.

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