A Wedding in Thailand

The day was hot and humid. The temperature in Thailand was going to reach 104 degrees for the fourth day in a row. And, the humidity was in the mid-90s. What a day. It was stifling. Everything was wet with perspiration. It was hard to replace the water being lost. I came to Thailand on an escorted tour. An "Adventure Travel Group" the brochure said. After the first day it was painfully apparent that nothing could have been farther from the truth. It seemed that most of the members of this group only found time to complain.  I could not handle the constant bickering and negative comments about the Thai people.  So, after four short days, I left the tour and struck out on my own.  I was wonderfully free.  I was having the time of my life!

I went back to the mode of traveling that I know and love – the city bus.  I took local mass transportation whenever possible.  The bus system was good, and the cost was only $.09 US.  It was an incredible value given the quality of people watching that was readily available.  I sat in the part of the bus that I loved – the front.  This was a perfect vantage point to see everything and everyone.  It was great. It was especially interesting to see the scooters on the highway. There were hundreds of these little vehicles on the road jetting in and out of traffic. Each seemed to be piloted by a child-like person with a tee shirt, long pants, and sandals. Each scooter had one, two, three, four or even 5 passengers.  Students, mothers with children, workers, police in uniforms, women, and even the elderly seemed to prefer this mode of transportation.  Often, the scooters would run red lights, and otherwise try to avoid the crippling traffic of this big city.  I could understand the attraction of this mode of traveling as it seemed that scooters could get somewhere when everything was stopped.  All of the traffic seemed to watch out for the scooters while they were weaving through the hordes of vehicles.  The car horns honked while the scooters tried maneuvering from this side of the road to that side only to come back again.

I was on the "green" bus.  It was especially fun to experience the "green" bus.  This bus was smaller than the regular buses and was designed for approximately 20 passengers.  Of course, the bus always contained over 40 people.  This mass of humanity was marshaled by a person gathering the bus fare from anyone who ventured on board.  S/he would work his way into the heaving crowd to collect the 3.5 baht, tear off a ticket as a receipt, and move on to the next paying passenger. This was done in conjunction with the bus driver speeding down the road, cutting in and out of traffic, periodically heading into on-coming traffic, and back onto the lane again. He often had "conversations" with other drivers. I could not understand what he said, but I did understand that it was not pleasant.

Our bus was recklessly speeding down Phahon Yohthn Road about 2pm. All the sudden the traffic stopped. I looked up ahead to see some smoke spiraling skyward from what seemed to be a small fire.  This single column of smoke came up from the center of the roadway. The bus driver used his extensive skill to navigate around the traffic so we could continue our journey. As we traveled I noticed a single car up ahead with its hood up. The smoke was coming from that car directly in front of us. As we got closer I noticed that the fire was not coming from the car, but, rather, from a scooter just in front of the car. It was on fire and burning.

I looked over to the curb and saw the a most disturbing sight.  Next to the curb was a young man laying flat on the street with his head in a pool of blood. More blood was oozing from his mouth, nose, and ears.  His mangled leg had a compound fracture which added to the awful truth that this young man was no longer in this world. I saw a policeman standing next to this person talking on a hand-held radio. There was a small crowd standing around looking down at this unfortunately soul. My mind screamed out to help this poor soul. But, the words didn’t come out of my mouth as I looked on this tragic sight.

This was the first time that I saw a dead person that close. It was very, very disturbing. I sat on the bus thinking that just a few minutes ago this person was a son, brother, possible father, worker, and friend. Now a father, wife, brother, and friends would have lost someone special in their lives. It was so very sad. I sat thinking of this horrible event. I had to leave the bus to think about this. I got off the bus at the next stop. I wanted to just walk around a little to gather my thoughts and process this event.

I began walking down a street not knowing where it lead and not really caring where I ended up. I did not look up or even consider the time. I was thinking about the fragile nature of life, and how easily this precious time can be taken from us. I thought of what would happen if I was to pass on in the next second, minute, hour, day or year. Would anyone care? Would I care? Is the world a better place after I had taken up space and consumed resources.

I looked up as I was considering these sobering thoughts. I was very surprised to see a group of people up ahead with banana stalks, papaya leaves, plates of food, and gifts. All of them were dancing in the street. I curiously walked up to see what was going on. I stood by the group like a dumb tourist fascinated at the amount of joy they seem to have. What a sharp contrast to what I just experienced. After a few minutes a young man came up to me wanting to practice his English. He and I spoke in the usual phrases that I used when I traveled to another country. He seemed to be very pleased with himself and soon left. I continued to watch this incredible crowd. A grown man came up to me and asked my name. I introduced myself in the traditional Thai way. This seemed to please him. I asked why this group was gathering. He said that it was to celebrate a marriage.

I asked if he thought that the groom and the family would mind if I took a few pictures of this joyous occasion. He said that he would ask and let me know. He came back after a few minutes to tell me that the groom said that I could take pictures, and said that the groom and family would like me to attend the wedding. Of course, I agreed! This man stayed by my side treating me like an honored guest as is the Thai custom. He translated the language and told me about the Thai wedding ritual. It was fascinating and beautiful.

Weddings in Thailand are a combination of the old customs modified by modern traditions. In the old days the marriages were arranged soon after birth. The groom and bride were not allowed to speak to each other privately until married. The bride’s eldest relative would visit the groom’s eldest relative to propose the match. He would ask if his cow could stay under the roof of the groom. This was a clever way of asking for marriage without losing face if the groom’s family declined thus disgracing the family of the bride. After all, they only were talking about livestock. Well, after the negotiation took place (the amount of the dowry was determined) it was all arranged. The dowry was given by the bride’s family to the groom’s family. And, usually, they did not even see each other until that fateful day. The actual wedding day and time was determined by the Buddhist monk according to the birthdays of each. This allowed the power of the universe to work in their favor for a happy and productive marriage.

Now the young people meet for dates like any other people on earth. There are not many arranged weddings any longer. And, yes, they talk to each other prior to the wedding day. However, usually the eldest member of the bride’s family does still visit the groom’s family to negotiate the dowry and ask if his caw can live under the roof of the groom. And, the wedding date/time is determined by the ancient monk method.

The first part of the wedding is for the family and friends of the groom to gather food, banana stalks, and presents. They march in a precession to the home of the bride where the wedding actually takes place. There is dancing and singing along this path. Friends, family, and neighbors are asked to attend this joyous procession. It is a great celebration. The entire throng marches and stands in front of the bride’s home. The bride’s family, friends, and neighbors are already gathered in the residence of the bride getting ready for the wedding. The bride is tucked away from public view and attended to by the most elder of the bride’s family.

Next, the groom must cross the three boundaries – wood, silver and gold. These boundaries are crossed figuratively by walking past. Usually, the boundaries consist of a long stick stretched across the driveway. In addition a silver and gold chain are stretched across the path to the bride’s home. After the groom and family cross these boundaries the families meet at the door. The eldest member of the groom’s family present the groom to the bride’s family. The food is placed in a place where all can see. The groom sits in the presence of the eldest member of both families. This person will officiate at the wedding.

The bride enters the room after the everything is prepared. She enters and sits by the groom. The eldest person from the bride’s family then puts out the dowry. The bride gave 12,000 baht and 175 grams of gold. The marriage ceremony begins after the acceptance of the dowry. The couple join hands and have a thread is wrapped around their hands to represent a binding of hearts and souls. The ceremony continues and soon the couple is married. The happy couple is then congratulated by the family.

The festivities continue with a dinner and party. It is the custom that the couple consummate the marriage before the festivities that evening. The party lasts until the very last guest decides to go home. It was getting dark, so I left to catch the bus back to the hotel.

I sat on the bus and thought about the wonderful events of this day. I sat amazed how the universe seeks to find balance. The day began with a tragedy only to later bless a marriage which brings an equal measure of joy. One group of people experience the worst of all possible scenarios while another group has all the hopes and dreams that life can muster. Again, life has reached that delicate balance.