Sunday Summary #8

Welcome to Sunday Summary, the meme in which I attempt to summarize the week that came before. This was the first week of the month-long term break and I was even lazier than usual. I concentrated on music and little else, as we will see. I have decided that the coming week will see more of a philatelic concentration, some of which may be reflected in blogging. I hope so anyway.

One of the many things I didn’t do this week was to create a separate article for World Post Day, so I will mention it here. It is celebrated each year on 9 October, the anniversary of the establishment of the Universal Postal Union in 1874 in Bern, Switzerland. It was declared World Post Day by the UPU Congress held in Tokyo, Japan in 1969. Since then, countries across the world participate annually in the celebrations. The Posts in many countries use the event to introduce or promote new postal products and services.

Working

As Friday, 30 September, was the last day of the first school term for most schools around Thailand, most of my in-house students cancelled their lessons last weekend wanting to make the most of their month-long holidays. The first day I worked this month was Friday, 6th October, which came close to cancellation for an entirely different reason.

Thailand as a nation is mourning the victims of its biggest mass murder in history at the moment. I have not seen this level of grieving since His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great (which is how we properly address him) died on 13 October 2016. Just after noon this past Thursday, a former police officer entered a day-care center in Uthai Sawan, a small town in the remote Northeastern Thai province of Nongbua Lamphu, and brutally attacked those inside using a knife and gun. The total number killed fluctuates from source to source but it’s between 35 and 38 victims, at least 24 of which were children aged two to four years old.

Mass shootings are extremely rare in this country, although there is a fair amount of gun and knife violence. This one, involving so many young preschoolers has shocked the entire country. The prime minister called for “all agencies” to immediately search for the perpetrator (who ended up going to his home and murdering his son and wife before turning his gun on himself). His Majesty King Vajiralongkorn and Her Majesty Queen Suthida Bajrasudhabimalalakshana visited survivors in the hospital on Friday. Support and condolences poured in from around the world including Pope Francis, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

To give an example of how the average Thai person deals with such a tragedy, one of the secretaries at my agency on Saturday greeted me by telling me about two sets of twins who were among the victims in Uthai Sawan and began reciting the nicknames of the children. There are reports of children afraid to attend their summer day-cares in fear of being shot. Already, I have been informed of security changes at my kindergarten once classes resume in November.

Truth be told, I thought I had become numb to such violence due to the number of mass shootings (many of them in schools) back in my birth-country but, no, this affected me deeply. I tried to sit down several times Friday and Saturday to put together a blog article about this incident and how it impacted me personally. I just cannot get over any of the images associated with it, particularly the sight of all those white coffins being loaded onto trucks and then the long line of ambulances slowly traveling down the local roads.

Still, I taught one one-hour class Friday evening and then a two-hour class Saturday afternoon. Another Saturday lesson and one on Sunday were cancelled by the students. However, the three little girls that I teach on Saturdays want to learn every day this coming week for two hours per day. One told me that all they do at home is watch television and would rather play games with me!

Celebrating

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2565, AKA Nine Emperor Gods Festival, was the 111th held this year from September 25th to October 4th. (The 2565 denotes the year according to the Buddhist calendar.) Every year I lived here in pre-pandemic times, I always made sure to attend at least a few of the early morning processions which would feature the members of one or two local shrines making their way through Phuket Town amidst spectators throwing fireworks at the participants. Many of those participants have multiple piercings on their faces, often with heavy objects dangling from them.

The Vegetarian Festivals for 2020 and 2021 went ahead more or less as usual for the participants but spectators were severely restricted and limited. I didn’t attend any of the events during the height of COVID-19 as a result. As most of the local restrictions have been lifted as of July 2022, I was looking forward to getting the most out of the festival as I could.

I missed all of the events of the first week as I was working up in Khok Kloi (although my accommodations were next to the festival location there, it just was not on the grand scale of Phuket’s celebration). I also missed the following weekends’ processions due mainly to bad weather. I overslept on Monday and so missed that one (with a starting time of 6:30). The Tuesday morning procession was to begin at 8:00 and I thought I had read the route map correctly; I estimated it would pass near my home around 10a.m. so I went out at that time. I saw no evidence that it had passed by so I waited and waited and waited. It never came by (nor did I hear it — these processions are LOUD!!). I gave up around 1pm and went home to rest for that night’s Grand Finale.

This final night’s event has long been my favorite of the entire festival. Instead of just one or two shrines doing a procession, ALL OF THEM do their own processions making their way to the waterfront south of town. My favorite spot to observe is a roundabout (called Surin Circle) which features a clocktower just to the south of our downtown area. All of these parades pass through the circle or its neighboring streets over the course of just a few hours late at night.

I shot more video this year than in the past simply because I quickly found that my new (well, bought in May or June of this year) phone couldn’t handle nighttime still photos as well as my old one. It would quickly jump out of focus whenever anyone or anything moved (which was constantly); the ever-increasing amount of smoke in the air certainly didn’t help either. Thus, this post includes very few photos from the Grand Finale. I spent much of today uploading a video of the night to YouTube (linked here); I simply combined all of the footage I filmed that night with very little editing (title and end-title cards with a bit of royalty-free music and transitions between the very few still photos I included).

The fireworks began in earnest around 8:30 pm and don’t let up until long after midnight. By 9:15, the first procession (Baan Bang Nieow Shrine) appeared out of the thickening smoke from the south. There was a bit of a lull and then another appeared from the same direction. Then more in quick succession. And then another in the circle from another direction. And on and on and on again.

The smoke burns the eyes. It’s important to remember that most of these fireworks are powerful, made either in China or Thailand which have no regulations on the strength or safety involved. The rest are homemade which are worse. I always keep an eye out for the large cooking-oil tins that are filled with fireworks. Somebody will drag one out to the middle of an intersection, open the lid, and throw in a lit joss stick. There is a BIG explosion and plenty of shooting pieces of cardboard and red paper as cars and motorbikes attempt to maneuver around the flaming box.

People fling lit firecrackers, “bombs”, and huge rolls of fireworks at anything that moves (vehicles, other people, the few curious dogs that venture out, etc.). This goes on for hours and hours before the first of the processions.

The processions themselves feature the faithful carrying an idol on a kind of sedan chair. These idols (the Emperor Gods) are packed with gunpowder and other incendiaries. Spectators do their best to fling lit firecrackers or joss sticks onto the shrine to cause the big explosion. Most fail but end up hitting someone’s back or fizzling out in the street. Those that hit their mark explode spectacularly — people get hit in the arms, legs, or stomachs with shrapnel of one form or another (you can hear me yell “Holy Crap!” at one point early in the video as something really big hit me square in the center of my belly). It doesn’t take long before the roads are covered with ashes and red fireworks wrapping paper. Most years, these just spontaneously combust into large flames but, luckily, the periods of heavy rain kept the piles pretty damp this year.

One year, I got a firecracker that hit me on my eyelid. I still have the scar. I usually spend hours after returning home trying to get all the ash and red paper from exploded firecrackers out of my hair so this year I remembered to wear a hat. The ubiquitous white shirts and pants soon turn grey; best to throw those out afterwards. Most of the shrine-bearers march in the processions covered by thick blankets and have all manner of head coverings. The heavy rain did not deter anyone from fully participating; my umbrella soon had tiny holes burned in the canopy.

I used to delight in taking newly arrived teachers out to “experience” the Grand Finale. Perhaps Surin Circle is not the best place for the uninitiated to first observe Vegetarian Festival. I never explained beforehand what it was like, other than saying that the only thing you could compare it to would be a Baghdad Fire-Fight without getting shot. However, the last year I attended before COVID-19 restricted everything, we witness a lot of violence including two teenagers getting shot. The ambulance, once it made it to the clock tower in the center of the roundabout, opened its rear doors to put the victims inside and spectators proceeded to throw lit fireworks inside! I kept expecting the ambulance to explode considering the oxygen bottles they typically carry.

I thought I would give the craziness a pass this year but my girlfriend — still trapped up north — encouraged me to go, reasoning that two years off due to the pandemic would bring out more families. While the crowds were much less than three years ago, mostly due to the inclement weather, there were still a fair amount of yahoos. Plenty of families as well but the parents were encouraging their kids to act like hooligans for the most part, copying the older men who had no respect for anyone’s safety. In year’s past, groups of spectators would sort of watch over each other if things got too wild. Nope, just lots of indiscriminate firework tossing, often dropped necessitating quick jumps out of the way. There’s a reason baseball isn’t played in Thailand — nobody can throw for shit!

As a result, I headed home much earlier than usual. I arrived back at my apartment around 11:30, after spending only three hours in the thick of things. The first couple of years that I attended the Grand Finale, it would start to clear out around three or four o’clock in the morning with stragglers from the waterfront finally straggling through Phuket Town around dawn. The last two or three years before the pandemic, some areas are being hosed down not long after midnight with most processions finishing up around one a.m. For the first time ever, I did not suffer the following day with still-ringing ears and bloodshot eyes. Those symptoms were gone by Wednesday morning.

Now that you’ve read all about the Grand Finale, and if you have a half-hour to spare, please take a look at my video record of the night which I have uploaded to YouTube. It’s only the third video on my channel started last November (please, do not feel that you need to watch the two previous “Shaky Cam” productions; they are simply aweful!). Also, let me know if you would like to see similar “around town” videos in the future. I think I am ready…

Collecting

My interest in philately is starting to increase once again and I found myself searching through stamps and covers several times over the past week. As so often happens, a search for a certain item led me on a different path. I ended up writing about three things I came across — my meager collection of Sudan stamps portraying a camel postman, a cover I received earlier this year from Pakistan, and a miniature sheet from Germany featuring contemporary design.

This morning, I began going through my storage bins of covers and postcards looking for something else (I can no longer remember exactly what) and ended up deciding to once and for all sort these into some semblance of order. I am separating all of the U.S. material out and doing the same for Thailand and Germany. All foreign postcards are going into another stack and I am finally getting around to picking out all of the American Bicentennial first day covers from non-U.S. entities out of the mixed bins. Along the way, I keep finding items that I want to research and write about.

Blogging

I didn’t blog at all here on my main site this week but I did post three articles on My Collections, all were stamp-related. As mentioned above, my interest in philately is once again increasing so look for a lot more on the subject very soon. I am already thinking about a short series on Christmas stamps, for example, and have plenty of items that I would love to add to My Collections. Some of this might be better suited for A Stamp A Day; that really depends on how much time I want to spend on research and composition. I have also earmarked more than a few postcards to blog about on Postcards To Phuket. Hopefully, this will all come to fruition.

Latest Posts on MY COLLECTIONS:

Listening

As I mentioned earlier, this was a “music” week. Since last Sunday, I listened to 446 songs from 68 different albums (some 40 hours of music). Artists played were Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Steve Hackett, Peter Gabriel, Genesis, Roger Hodgson, Maria McKee, Sarah McLachlan, GTR, Eagles, Arc Angels, and XIXA. Needless to say, it was a fairly rocking week. The Genesis-related material was a result of continuing to add that part of my collection into MusicBee. I have now finished adding the group material (203 albums — obviously, most of those are bootlegs — 2,803 total songs) and am now continuing through the solo works. This includes albums, singles and live recordings from such members as Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, and Anthony Philips as well as bands involving many of these guys like Brand X, GTR and Mike & the Mechanics.

I also discovered a bit of “new” music as well. Adding in a few live recordings by Arc Angels (originally formed in the early 1990s by the rhythm section of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble plus Charlie Sexton), I discovered the follow-up group Storyville. I’d read a review quite some time ago for a Calexico release that mentioned another band from Tucson called XIXA. I finally got around to seeking out their music and was quite pleased that I did.

I plan to take a break on music adds and tags this week as I want to concentrate on other endeavors.

Reading

I read a chapter in Black Earth City by Charlotte Hobson this week. That’s all. I really need to make an effort and read some more in the very near future.

Eating

Being on holiday, I decided to splurge a bit more on my meals this week. I ordered from Food Panda quite regularly, mostly hitting the chains. That began with a rare breakfast last Sunday with pancakes, sausage and English muffin from McDonald’s. I ordered a small meal from KFC one night, got some Thai food from the market on another. There were also deliveries of grilled chicken, pepper steak and spaghetti.

But the absolute highlight of the month thus far was the “taco table” from a new Mexican place in Central Festival called La Taqueria. Despite a lengthy delay in receiving the latter which finally arrived ice cold (the driver took the wrong order and refused to return to the restaurant), these were beyond a doubt the best tacos I’ve eaten outside of Mexico itself. Authentic in every way, the selection included two tacos made with carne asada, two pollo asada and one al pastor taco along with some really awesome salsa roja, salsa verde, and a much-too-small serving of guacamole. Due to the order mix-up, I also allowed to keep two orders of onion rings and two orders of fried chicken balls for free.

Loving

The week before last, Kanchana didn’t manage a single video-call but she really made up for it this week with multiple calls. In fact, there were five in one day alone (well, she tried to call a sixth time but I’d gone up to the market to buy some dinner). We didn’t talk at all about when she thought she would return to Phuket; a week ago, she said she would be back soon but I fear things have changed once again. We are both strong people and seem to be weathering the separation well. In many ways, I feel we are closer now than ever before.

Photo of the Week

“Drunken People Crossing” – This sign was on the southern portion of the beach road in Patong a few years back. I couldn’t find it on my last visit to the area in June or July 2022.

I hope the week to come is just how you want it to be. Cheers!

One thought on “Sunday Summary #8

  1. Pingback: Sunday Summary #10 | Mark Joseph Jochim

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