POSTCARD#96: A village near Hat Yai: I’m at the wedding of my nephew in the South of Thailand, the only foreigner in the family… nothing for me to do in an event that’s complex and requires all kinds of engagement… mindfulness. I just watch the proceedings, pleased with this sense of generosity in everybody just being here. I have M, my Thai niece with me and she corrects me if I get it wrong. We set off from the groom’s house in a long convoy of cars, a 20 minute drive, then stop on the highway and walk the last 200 yards along the path to the brides house. Musicians up front with Glong Yao drum, cymbals and reed pipe; an eerie, almost discordant kind of wailing song. I wonder how it must feel like for the bride, waiting in her childhood home, and here comes this haunting, archetypal sound of her future husband’s clan calling to her – getting nearer and nearer and louder and louder until it fills the small room she’s in. I’m thinking of tribal things, fertility rituals and magic that changes the course of karmic events. For me, there’s only this; the sense that the ceremony is heavy with meaning; perhaps too, something about belief I used to think was real a long time ago.
The sad truth is that in the West, divorce is about as common as marriage – religion got deconstructed; the story we believed in came to pieces. No myth to feel connected with, except perhaps the myth of no-myth. In a sense, we’re all married to the economy, worship the consumer god, seek refuge, gratification, fulfillment and consolation in the purchase of goods and services. What’s left over after that, in terms of ‘belief, we have to figure out any way we can.
It’s different here, divorce is rare, maybe it’s the prevalence of ritual that – come what may – locks the marriage into this unbreakable bond. The marriage date is selected by an astrologer, taking into account all of the every-day catastrophes and natural disasters, about which most Western folk are happily unaware. Any begrudged spirits are appeased so that a date can be selected which is completely surrounded by joyful blessings and good fortune – the belief that the spiritual world is real is what causes it to be so. I feel like I’m watching a different movie, maybe more meaningful than the cultural movie we watch in the West, maybe I’m drawn towards this version more, now that 30 years have gone by – or maybe it’s too restricting for me and I’m on the outside looking in. Maybe that’s okay too.
Lengthy ceremonies for many hours, Buddhist monks chanting, holy markings made by an elder’s fingertips dipped in special paste and pressed lightly on their forehead, and a sacred cord sai monkonor is placed on their heads [see below]. They kneel with their arms on a decorative pillow, palms together in the ‘wai’ position, and family members take turns to pour water over their hands.
It was a long day for me sitting outside the house under this huge pink canopy. My niece M came to join me later, and I was facing away from the main group so I make a face of bored weariness for her and she laughs. Do the face again Toong Ting and I try to do it again, but can’t get it right. Do same face you do before Toong Ting! She insists. So I try all kinds of grotesque weird faces, a whole anthology of faces that go on and on until I’m thinking I’m going slightly mad, and she laughs a lot, but obviously tired. Somebody had to take her home. It was a long day for the couple too, when I saw them eventually, they looked exhausted, although the bride was strangely wide-eyed and alert – I was astonished, something about a kind of awareness that takes place at the end of something endless….
‘The fact that we can never “fully know” reality is not a sign of the limitation of our knowledge, but the sign that reality itself is “incomplete,” open, an actualization of the underlying virtual process of Becoming.’ [Slavoj Zizek]