Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Karen Village, ceremony for Grandpa Joe, Chiang Rai market

February 14th, 2008

On our first visit to Chiang Rai, we visit a Burmese refugee camp a little ways outside Chiang Rai city. Our tour guide was a little girl named Sinoi, who lived at the camp, and what she lacked in size she made up for in personality! May was so in love with her, she wanted to ask her parents if we could take her with us and raise her in Bangkok. I had other opinions but this time around I did agree that it would be fun to go visit her again. 

When we arrived at the camp, we skipped the first two villages and went straight to the Karen tribe. It had been a couple of years since our last visit but I could still remember all the beautiful faces we'd met before. We found Sinoi and she was a lot bigger and didn't remember us a single bit but seemed to enjoy the fact we came to see her! She had a new baby brother to show us.

The children in the village seemed really happy, running around laughing and playing, trying to make us laugh. They were on break from class and some of them brought us to see their classroom, which I hadn't noticed before. 

A couple of days earlier, I received news that my grandfather had passed away in his sleep. It wasn't unexpected, his mind had been deteriorating for a while. I really wanted to do something for him, and May said if we could find a monk he could do a death ceremony for my grandfather. From the hill where the Karen tribe was, I noticed a huge pagoda on the adjacent hill, so we wound around the little roads for a while, getting a bit lost, until we finally found our way to a giant, amazingly beautiful Avalokiteśvara statue. We climbed the stairs up to the pagoda but there was no monk around. May had already told me there probably wouldn't be, but I wanted to see anyway. Around the corner, we walked passed a heard of cows to a big temple but the two farmers with the cattle told us there wasn't a monk there at the moment, either. I didn't consider it a waste, though, it was a beautiful spot to visit.

After lunch in the village, we headed back towards the city. It was fun driving through the countryside on a scooter, but every time I went around a turn, May had to remind me get back on the right side of the road (which was actually the left).

As we got closer to the city, May took over driving and she found a beautiful old temple on the outskirts of town with a small community of monks. May explained that my grandfather had died, so one monk came over and brought me inside the temple. He gave me an envelope to put a donation inside, along with orange robes, a day's worth of rice, and some candles that the donation would pay for. The merit of the donation would be transferred to my grandfather. He told me to write my grandfather's name in the centre of the envelop and my name in the upper corner. When he noticed that I'd written the same name, he let May know that I'd made a mistake then laugh when she said we had the same names. In Thailand, this doesn't happen, I guess! Next, I held a beautiful, lotus-shaped offering bowl in the palm of one hand and a pitcher of water. I slowly filled the bowl and prayed for Grandpa Joe to have a good rebirth, while the monk chanted an ancient Khmer sūtra. After the chanting, I took the water outside and poured it under a tree by the entrance. I didn’t get a clear explanation, but what I gathered was that the water collected my grandfather’s negative Karma, which I then poured out to feed the tree.

Back in Chiang Rai, and hungry, we stopped by the market and picked out a bag full of Thai street treats to bring back to the guesthouse, which is always an adventure in itself! All I'll say is, chicken feet are surprisingly good!

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