Chok Chai

A merchant once said, “My spears are so sharp they can pierce any shield!” and, “My shields are so strong that nothing can pierce them!” A customer then asked, “What happens when one of your spears strikes one of your shields?” –Han Feizi (paraphrased).

Yesterday was Thai day. While the students celebrated by visiting a local temple, I was busy being driven around Pak Thong Chai and Korat by Pen, one of the teachers at Bunditnoi who has been helping Hannah and I get our work permits. So I missed the school-time celebrations.

BUT. After school, our manager Kru Kai arranged a trip to the nearby town of Chok Chai. We went with Yoyo, the art teacher, who was already in Kru Kai’s infamous truck when Hannah and I got there (Ben couldn’t come due to a commitment at his college). We drove around Pak Thong Chai for a few minutes looking for a kind Cambodian man named Chan, Bunditnoi’s new conversation teacher (he started on Monday). Once we found him, we were off!

Kru Kai dropped us off in Chok Chai and proceeded onwards, unable to join us because she had to take an exam at her university.

traditional

Thai girls in traditional dress at the Thai Day festival.

The Thai day celebration in Chok Chai was a large festival—with carnival games, fried dough and fried bugs, the works—that was focused on displaying five enormous candles.

Oh my god. The size of these things! And they weren’t simply tall, cylindrical candles. Each one was carved with all sorts of creatures and scenes from the Buddha’s life, as well as likenesses of the king and the eldest Thai princess (the favored of His Majesty’s three children). The candles were carried into the parking lot on five massive floats. When you get up close to them you can see parts of their construction—some of the biggest sections were melted onto the rest with wax, while many small details were attached by hammer and nail.

Candle

This is one candle.

According to Kru Kai, there is a candle competition in Korat every year, presumably to judge which candles are most beautiful. The candles from Chok Chai have won every year for the past decade.

One of the fascinating things near the candles was the ladyboy dressed in a red dress, a blonde wig, and extreme makeup who would approach everybody taking pictures and try to photobomb them. She would always say “Hello” to any farangs that passed—when I passed her by she even kissed her hand and tapped my cheek with the kiss.

3 Heads

A three-headed elephant: the end-piece of the second candle.

King

Bhumibol, Rama IX, King of Thailand and Wax.

After taking many pictures at and around the candles (and dancing with the Thai people who hung out near them) we moved on to find food. The people of Chok Chai had set up a sizeable market as part of the celebration.

When we passed the fried bug stand, Yoyo tried to get Hannah and I to eat some. We both had to say “Kim lao” (Already ate!) several times before she would let up.

How do I describe Yoyo? I already know that anything I say will not do her justice, but I must try because she is a significant part of life at Bunditnoi. There is a famous paradox: “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?” Yoyo happens. She is both the unstoppable force and the immovable object.

Her English is good enough that she can hold a steady conversation, and yet she will often dip into Thai and expect us farangs to keep up. Furthermore she will often ask us to repeat a phrase in Thai, with the intention of teaching us the language, but then neglect to tell us what it means in English. No amount of questioning will get her to switch to English, and she’ll soon move on to a new phrase.

Hannah & Yo

Hannah and Yoyo in Chok Chai

In the past couple of weeks Yoyo has had three jobs at Bunditnoi: art teacher, music teacher, and conversation teacher. She began as the art teacher and very quickly started to help Ben teacher music. When Kenny, our original conversation teacher, was fired a couple of weeks ago (blog post on that to come), Hannah and I took over his classes for one day and then Yoyo took them over from us. This week Chan started up, although I believe he and Yoyo teach conversation together.

As such, one of Yoyo’s most common phrases is: “I busy too much!” Some other good ones are, “I can/cannot!” and “Don’t serious, be happy.” I am a fan of the latter; Hannah has taken to saying “I cannot!” just like Yoyo does.

Last week she showed up at our house after school, insisted on cooking us dinner, ate with us, and then left. When she needs to get your attention, she’ll give you a slap on the shoulder.

At one point Yoyo insisted she was fat—this is the farthest thing from the truth. To prove her wrong I grabbed my belly and said, “Yo, look at this.” Chan (quite the jokester, I have learned) leaned over and remarked, “Wow! You have a baby!” For the rest of the night I had to be careful lest I damage my budding fetus. It was a great time.

There is much more to the enigma of Yoyo, but as I said before, I cannot really explain her in a blog post.

After eating dinner we returned to the Chok Chai candles, and we watched a famous Thai singer perform her concert, and we watched some chefs prepare a giant wok full of Pad Thai. When it was ready the dish filled one huge basket and two platters. When it started to get dark we rode the Ferris wheel—this was shorter in height than most Ferris wheels in America, but the ride was much longer.

Ferris

View of all five candles from the Ferris wheel.

The rest of the night included waiting impatiently for a snake charmer to reveal his pets, watching a group of Thai dancers perform in the space between two enormous candles, and listening to some more Thai music. All in all, a great time!

More on everything to come.

Be dareful!

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2 thoughts on “Chok Chai

  1. Those candles are amazing – I’ve never seen anything like them! The detail in the intricate carvings is incredible. Wonderful that you got to experience yet another local tradition. The Thai people seem to go all out with their celebrations – the colorful, ornate traditional dress, the food, the festivities, and in this case, the larger-than-life candles. Thanks for sharing, once again, great stories and great photos. Also, Yoyo sounds terrific 🙂 ! Love and hugs from NJ.

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