Monday, October 5, 2009

Thai Night and Thai Temple

I feel like a broken record, but we feel so thankful for the wonderful Thai community in our area.  We attended the Milwaukee Thai-American Association's Thai Night and had a great time.  My parents and Kyle's mom came also, and we were really happy they wanted to soak up some Thai culture with us.  T showed everyone his bright, social personality by running around all night making new friends and dancing with beautiful women (I sometimes feel like we already have a teenager).  Kyle and I skipped the dancing  but we ate a lot of incredible food and enjoyed the traditional dancing.  My dad did *not* skip the Thai dancing, and he is very lucky it was dark and the evidential pictures didn't turn out well enough to post.  The very luckiest part of the night was meeting new friends who have a son nearly T's age.  The boys enjoyed chasing each other around.


After Thai Night, our new friends invited us to join them at Buddha Haksa Temple in Waukesha.  We had talked about going in the past but had chickened out because we didn't really know when or how to go about visiting.  Totally psyched to have an "in", we invited other friends with a Thai kiddo along, too.

Here's where I confess that, despite knowing we were meeting multiple  friends, we were still pretty nervous about going.  We'd visited many wats (temples) in Thailand but had never been to a formal ceremony.  Kyle and I are socially challenged in large groups of new people to begin with.  The thought of adding in an unfamiliar religious ceremony and a volatile, unpredictable two-year-old was really making me sweat.   We had no clue what the protocol was for going to the temple.  We asked our friends for tips, and they told us we could bring water or juice boxes for the monks. 

Water or juice boxes!?  This sounded so strange to us!  What kind of juice do monks drink?  Would it be wrong to buy them something artificially flavored?  Do they only drink organic juice?  Do we bring it inside the temple with us?  Like in a plastic bag?  Isn't that weird?  We did not want to do anything disrespectful but I was pretty sure we'd manage to somehow.  Our Thai friend Jet was so sweet and casual, and very, "Oh, whatever you bring is fine" and I think that attitude is *awesome* and totally. not. me.  I need to learn to relax and just go with the flow.  I think living in Thailand for awhile would be good for me.

Sunday morning dawned and Kyle was too sick to go to the temple and then I *really* started sweating.  I was going to have to navigate the temple and T-wrangling solo.  Yikes. It turned out that I should not have worried so much (as is always the case).  We stopped to buy water on the way (because I really couldn't decide which flavor of juice was most respectful for a Buddhist ceremony) and in the gas station, T announced to the cashier "Water for the MONKS!  T give the water to the MONKS!"  The cashier eyed him suspiciously and handed me my change.

After about an hour's drive we arrived at the temple and the parking lot was packed.  T and I stood outside the building with our other white-friends-with-Thai-kid and wondered what to do.  Walk right in?  Wait for Jet and her family? But what if she was already inside?  Thankfully, we spotted her husband Andy outside and he gave us a little tour of the grounds.

The main building is decorated on the outside as much like a traditional Thai temple in Wisconsin can be.  The upper floor is the main temple.  The "basement" (which is actually at ground level) is a large open room set up with tables for feeding a very large group of people.  The group decided we'd like to at least give the ceremony a try before retreating to the basement, so we climbed the steps, removed our shoes, and sneaked in as inconspicuously as a group of 7 adults and 3 kids can.  The floor was full of people kneeling, praying, and chanting.  Monks were all seated in a line along one side of the room on a platform a few inches higher than the floor.

I would love to learn more about the actual prayers being said.  The language used, I later learned, is Pali.  T wouldn't let me hold my hands together in the wai position like everyone else did.  For some reason, that really bothered him.  The ceremony we were there for was the end of Buddhist Lent.  From the Wise Internet:
After three months restricted to their temples, learning dharma and practicing meditation, the Buddhist monks once again return to their social duties.  Thai Buddhists celebrate this occasion by offering food and lavish gifts to monks.
The kids were getting antsy so we sneaked back out of the temple after maybe 10 minutes.  Soon, the gong sounded and people started to file outside, carrying their offerings for the monks.  The monks walked around the circle carrying alms bowls and we placed our offerings inside.  T, who had been super-stoked about giving water to the monks, was suddenly shy and I had to do it for him.  (My camera battery died so these pictures are courtesy of Andy and Jet - thanks guys!)  Some people gave sticky rice or fruit, but juice and individually wrapped snacks seemed to be the most popular gifts.

After the offering, everyone filed back inside the temple to finish praying.  We, instead, hung out in the basement until the worshippers joined us downstairs for lunch.  There were many huge tables sagging under the weight of a feast of food that people had brought.  It was delicious.  I can't get enough of that spicy papaya salad.  We saw other Thai friends we'd met at picnics and Thai Night.  Everyone was friendly and a few women T had danced with at Thai night wanted to hold him again.  He was more than happy to oblige.

After lunch, Jet wanted to take the boys upstairs to give our monetary offerings directly to the monks so the kids could get used to seeing them.  That was a great idea.  Unfortunately, T's parents didn't prepare him for this situation.  Instead of a respectfully kneeling and wai-ing like his little friend, T started to say "No!" and got upset.  We backed off for awhile, and with some coaxing by the adults, and the monk holding out a little ceramic Buddha for him to take, he got pretty close.  I had to take the orange thread from the monk to tie around his wrist, but I think he'll do better next time.
 
Once outside, another monk offered the boys some juice boxes.  T really liked that a lot but wanted someone else to take the juice and hand it to him.  He was still wary of getting too close.

The oddest part of the day was getting a goody bag of treats.  After the ceremony, ladies sat in the temple and package up the offerings people made for the monks and gave them out to everyone to take back home, because there was simply too much food for the monks to eat.  We arrived home with a random collection of Thai snacks, American granola bars, and a banana that T ate before we snapped this picture:


Within 5 minutes of leaving, T was crying in the car because he wanted to go back and thank the monks.  Since we've been home, he repeatedly tells me that "Monks give you juice".  Well, I guess he's technically right, but I think we're all going to have to learn a little more about Buddhism so he takes away something beyond the treats.

3 comments:

rosemary said...

This is soooooo cool and I am literally green with envy! I too feel a bit of anxiety about attending the formal services at a wat here in the states so I totally feel your shyness. I'm thrilled you had such a good day and are making such a lovely community for your family!

jet said...

I love reading your story and I feel bad that I should explain to you more in details. I am not very good with that since Andy is always the one who inform people. I am more hand on. Well, you will learn more by going there every time when we go:). we have lots of fun with you and T. Andy loves to see Ben and T playing together. By the way, that was the best pic of Ben with the monk. he never done that in thailand. I am sure T can do it soon. Will give you a call.

Jay and Chandra and Penny Regan said...

I, too, love to learn about other religions and cultures. I've made it my mission to learn more so that I can understand why I've chosen to be a follower of Jesus vs. any other spiritual leader. The best book I've read so far on the differences and similarities between Christianity and Buddhism is a book we bought in Bangkok entitled "From Buddha to Jesus" by Steve Cioccolanti. I hope you find it helpful.