Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Vegetarian Week

The facebook fan page of this blog is going alright. The blog now has 20 fans and I think this might still grow a lot. I am very happy about the development. It's easier to keep in contact on facebook, and it's less one-way.

I do not want this to be a fan page for me as a person but I'd rather want to create something more interactive, where people can set topics, write things, upload pictures, post links and discuss issues.

This week is vegetarian week here in BKK. Actually, it's a Chinese tradition. I cant tell you much about the spiritual meaning and the historical origins of this week, but I can tell you about how it happens in reality in the streets of Bangkok.

Since this festival has Chinese origins (or so I am told), you can find vegetarian food mostly in the chinese areas of the city. Or lets put it another way....in the richer parts of the city. In my area, in Ari, there's quite a Chinese Thai community, and near my university, Chula, there's a very big community.

Usually, you see shophouses with Chinese-style Thai script, and also many Chinese signs. Anyway, the vege festival is a bit something for the rich I think, with ordinary Thais not caring very much. If they would care, they would hardly find the food in their neighbourhood anyway...

The festival, I think, is meant to cleanse you. One week, no meat, no dairy products (and no egg, yippie....I hate eggs!!!) and strangely also no garlic and other strong spices. How odd....it's more like a VEGAN festival, with added restrictions.

I am actually following the festival! Except this morning I had croissants with butter and nutella, I guess that counts as dairy...:(

But what are the usual foods they serve in the carts and shops with the little yellow-red flags? It's a lot of vegetables, unsurprisingly, some tofu stews, a lot of fried spring rolls, dumplings, mushrooms etc. It's kinda like chinese food....duh!!!

None of the usual strong Thai spices...

So, my office mates are partly following the festival. One lady, she is quite big (very very big for a thai person) and loves food very, very much, has trouble following the rules. She complained that last night, she was so hungry and her family served lots of normal Thai food, so she had to eat.

So this week is meant to cleanse us....for me, it has no spiritual meaning. I want to see how my body reacts to eating no meat. I remember last year, when I was in Korea for a week, I came back with the best skin I have ever seen....it was so flawless I thought I had put on permanent make-up....so lets see what the vege week will do to me.

The way Thais handle this week is interesting. Some will follow it and give it quite a substantial meaning, but when they feel hungry and some yummy basil chicken is around, they dont mind tucking in...

Thais have this wonderful mix of spirituality and pragmatism, I do really admire them for that. But sometimes I find the pragmatism a bit much, especially when it is too much impulse-driven. If you promise yourself something, you shouldnt just let it go after seeing the first yummy spicy Thai dish...:)

These pictures are taken in the Suan Luang area by the way, just behind Chulalongkorn University, towards Hua Lamphong train station. I think it's Chula soi 16...? I'll go there again sometime this week, but the good camera is with the BF in Seoul, therefore my pics are a bit sucky...


Anonymous said...

I used to eat vegetarian food from time to time while I was living in Thailand. There was even a vegetarian food stall at my college. It is supposed to be very good for your health. Just reading about this story, I can hear my stomach rumbling right now!

BB said...

really? wow...I guess that depends on the university...I have not seen any of that at mine:) maybe i am at the wrong faculty!

hehe, go get yourself some spring rolls and tofu:)


Anonymous said...

Phuket's Vegetarian festival (or jia chai in local Hokkien Chinese dialect) began in 1825, when the govenor of Thalang, Praya Jerm, moved the island's principal town from Ta Reua in Thalang District to Get-Hoe in Kathu District, where were tin mines and Chinese miners. Kathu was then still covered by jungle and fever was rife. It happened that a traveling opera company (called ngiu in Thai or pua-hee in Hokkien dialect) came from China to perform for the miners. When the whole company grew sick from an unnamed malady, they kept to a vegetarian diet to honor two of the emperor gods, Kiew Ong Tai Teh and Yok Ong Sone Teh. The sickness afflicting the opera troupe then disappeared. This greatly interested the people of Kathu, who asked how it was done. The answer came that ritual vegetarianism with its attendant ceremonies had been the cause, with the result that people embraced the faith enthusiastically. Thus the festival began:starting the first evening of the ninth lunar month, it continued until the ninth evening; the aim was to bring good luck to individuals as well as to the community.

It later happened that one familiar with the festival volunteered to return to Kansai, in China, where he invited the sacred Hiao Ho-le or Hiao lan (incense smoke) and Lian Tui (name plaques), which have the status of gods, to come stay in Kathu. He also brought holy writings used in the ceremonies, returning to Phuket on the seventh night of the ninth month. The people, upon hearing of his arrival, went in procession to Bang Niao Pier to bring him and his sacred cargo back. This was the origin of the processions that figure so greatly in the festival.

The afternoon before the festival begins, a great pole at each temple is raised, called the Go Teng pole, with which the gods are invited to descend. At midnight the pole is hung with nine lanterns, signalizing the opening of the fest. Two important gods are also invited down at midnight to preside over ceremonies; these are Yok Ong Hong Tae and Kiew Ong Tai Tae.

Aside from this, there are other ceremonies throughout the fest, notably: invocation of the gods Lam Tao, who keeps track of the living, and Pak Tao, who keeps track of the dead; processions of the gods' images; and feats of the Ma Song-like bathing in hot oil, bladed ladder climbing and fire-walking. The festival ends with merit making ceremonies at each temple (sadoh kroh) and the send-off of the gods on the last night (when fireworks are at their most impressive).

Ma Song, or entranced horses, are devotees whom the gods enter during the fest. They manifest supernatural powers and perform self-tortures in order to shift evil from individuals onto themselves, and to bring the community good luck. Ma Song fall into two categories: those who, having had an intimation of impending doom, want to extend their lives; and people specially chosen by the gods for their moral qualities.

Throughout the festival fireworks and drums are sounded, especially during ceremonies. It is held that the louder they are the better, because the noise drives away evil spirits.

Participants in the fest keep to a strict vegetarian diet for a varying number of days, usually no less than three. This they do to make themselves strong in mind and body; they refrain from all vice, eating animal flesh, and killing animals. The festival thus promotes good hygiene, brightness and inner peace.

source: http://www.phuketvegetarian.com/phuketvegetarian-eng/phuketvegetarian-history.htm

-- trakanrungsi

BB said...

thanks for the interesting description:) shows how strong the Chinese influence is and has been all over southeast asia.

interesting that it says people eat vegetarian for no less than three days usually. I am in my fifth day already....

actually, i think it's VEGAN, not vegetarian, since products like egg and milk are not allowed too!

the curious thing is the non-allowance of garlic...that interests me...

Oscar said...

wish I was there :( I'am a vegetarian myself

herwin said...

i did find your blog by change (google : vegetarian + bangkok )
i loved reading this entry about the vegetarian week and you are very right, it should be called "the Vegan Week". ;-)
I talked with a few "jay" people here who don't eat meat and what they tell they don't eat meat because its sad for the animal who suffers. in that respect they are even more closer to vegan.
the garlic and onion thing, i asked but everybody gives a diferent reason ; health reason, or that these spices arouses the body etc. and are avoided just like alcohol or coffee.