A Year in Bangkok – The Royal Ploughing Ceremony

13 05 2011

Lovely old picture of the ceremony.

It was the royal ploughing ceremony today, Friday 13th which seems unfortunate. This ceremony, which is hundreds of years old, takes place inBangkok’s Sanam Luang or the royal field and marks the start of the rice planting season. Sanam Luang is an interesting spot. The big weekend market, now at Chatuchak used to be held here and it is also the traditional site for royal cremations. There is a huge kite flying competition here earlier in the year and it is also a popular site for political demonstrations. Okay, we had a military coup a few years ago and some killings at last year’s demonstrations but Thai people are technically free to express their views. I constantly hear our western leaders bleating about democracy which is a great shame. I never thought I would say such a thing, but I had no problem with the coup. The ousted prime minister (and friend of the west) needed to go and this was the only way the Thai people were going to be free of him along with his alleged vote rigging and human rights abuses. How would you like your teenage son to be shot because he might have a joint on him? And the official line on these shootings? People wouldn’t be shot if they were innocent. I think the west pushing Thailand into a quick return to democracy was a shame because it happened too quickly and we’ll end up with everything being the same as before. However, when did a few human rights abuses ever bother the western governments if no oil or other valuable resource was involved? Unlucky for you though Mr Gadaffi!

Traditional old picture of the ceremony.

The royal ploughing ceremony starts early in the morning. I haven’t got to see it yet as I always seem to be working on that day so have to make do with watching the highlights on the evening news. It is presided over by the king, although due to the king’s health,  it was the heir apparent today, and oxen literally plough the field for the rice to be planted. The oxen are also offered seven kinds of food and their choices help the royal astrologers make predictions for the forthcoming year’s rice harvest. For instance, the oxen chose rice and grass one year which apparently bodes well for good harvests and sufficient water supplies for the year. At the end of the ceremony, people can collect the rice that has been sown. Many people believe this is lucky and will make their own fields flourish so collecting the rice can be a bit of a stampede.

Ploughing the field.

Sometimes, my brain seems to work a bit like a grass hopper. Ploughing and oxen have made me think of directing traffic. What’s the connection? I have no idea. It seems to me that Thai men love to direct traffic, especially if they also have a whistle to blow. Yes,Bangkok is full of the sounds of whistles. Every apartment block, every supermarket, every hotel, indeed almost every building is served by a man with a whistle and very often a smart uniform and ……. wait for it……..black wellington boots. It is the job of this lucky person to guide people into and out of their parking spaces using a series of blasts on the whistle. There is a secret code for these whistle blasts but only the whistle blower understands the code and, to make it more confusing, each whistle blower seems to have his own code. The drivers do their best to ignore the whistle blasts, probably the best thing to do when you don’t understand the code. There is another whistle blower at the entrance or exit to the car park. His job is even more satisfying as he gets to halt the main traffic flow to allow drivers to enter or leave the building. He does this by emitting a series of whistle blasts in his own secret code then leaping into the street, arms flailing as he stops the traffic. This is hugely entertaining when two whistle blowers in neighbouring buildings are at work. With really skilled whistle blowers, it can be almost as good as dueling banjos. But not having a whistle or a smart uniform doesn’t stop a dedicated director of traffic. Motorbike taxi drivers for instance seize any excuse to start directing the traffic and you often see them leave their stands in order to direct a bit of traffic. If there is a traffic policeman already doing it that doesn’t deter them, they just position themselves about a metre away and get busy directing the traffic that the policeman is already directing. I saw a great one the other day. A guy stopped his motorbike near a busy junction, in the middle of one of the two lanes leading into the junction. He turned off the engine and then proceeded to direct the inevitable traffic build-up around the obstacle he had just caused. He looked as happy as a sandboy.

Choosing

Strangely enough, I once saw an advert for one of these guys in one of the English language publications here. It included the lines: “Do you like to blow in a whistle as loud as you can? Do you think you could do it all day, every day? Be a guy that blow in a whistle! The job consists in blowing in a whistle at cars.” Maybe I’m in the wrong job.

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