Warning: Some of the photos are a bit gruesome, but I've added them to the bottom. Scroll down below the text at your own risk!!!
22.10.2009 - 26.10.2009 30 °C
One of the things I’m enjoying most about Thailand is the chaos. Take for example the traffic, it seems to be out of control - cars don’t stop at traffic lights, mopeds ride on the wrong side and weave around moving cars piled high with children, pets and furniture and pedestrians stroll out in front of speeding buses – but still it all seems to work itself out and as of yet I haven’t seen anyone hurt or flattened. Most areas of Thai life seem to work in this way and I’m definitely warming to it!
A few weeks ago we went to Phuket vegetarian festival. Those who didn’t do their homework and travelled to Phuket with hopes of tofu stalls, kindness to animals and a peaceful hippy vibe would have been disappointed as vegetarianism took back shelf to the locals impaling themselves through their faces with any available item, varying from a machine gun to a child’s tricycle. As gruesome as this seems it does have some kind of background and they do have a reason for doing this to themselves, I will explain now (caveat: some information is correct where as other bits may be incorrect or just plain lies). It all begin in 1825 when the governor moved Phuket’s principle town to its current location because he envisioned it would one day make a better city to host many Tesco stores and 7/11’s. At the time the area was covered in dense jungle and a fatal fever struck down many of the locals. By co-incidence a travelling Chinese opera was visiting and they all came down with the fever, thankfully the Daily Mail wasn’t in circulation at the time or else there would have been mass hysteria around the world about the next swine/ bird or crab flu about to strike. To combat the fever the opera company ignored their doctor’s instruction of a lemsip, and lots of sleep and instead kept to a strict vegetarian diet for 10 days to honour two of their Gods; Kung Fu Panda and Mr Myagi. At the end of the 10 days their fever reduced and they packed up and went back to China. The locals saw that the vegetarianism stunt worked, so for ten days a year they abstained from meat in honour of Myagi and Panda, and also observed other rules such as not having sex, not eating chocolate biscuits and ordering their children to set off as many crackers humanly possible, preferably at tourist’s feet. This is where I get confused of the link between this and the sticking the rods through your face, but it seems that the Thai people have pimped up the Chinese version with the appearance of Ma Songs, or entranced horses. These are the devotees who the Chinese Gods ‘enter’ during the festival. Whilst possessed they manifest supernatural powers such as being able to stick machine guns through their heads, walk on hot coals, pour boiling oil on their heads, walk along razor ladders and endure endless hours of Enya on loop, all without feeling any pain. Now, I don’t want to be a non believer, but I did see quite a few of them look like they were in pain, but I guess it’s a little too late to bring that up once the pole has been stuck through your cheek and you’re claiming some kind of link with God, so they just had to put on a brave face and look a bit mental/ possessed for the crowd. It’s interesting and backs up the theory that certain elements of religion can be seen as a mental illness. If one person claims that an invisible person who lives in the sky talks to him (Jesus excluded, he definitely wasnt crazy and could really, honestly, definitely (maybe) walk on water too...) and also sticks poles through his head to ensure that people won’t get the flu then he would be locked up in a Mental Home, but if several people do the same then its religion and OK.
Either way it was an interesting insight into human behaviour, we certainly are an odd lot. Crowds were out in the city wearing white to pay their respects to the devotees and everyone from toddlers to old ladies stood patiently at the edge of the road praying to them as they lurched by with umbrellas and other items hanging from their faces. It would have been pretty awful if it had of appeared to be faked for the tourists, but in fact it was quite the opposite, the locals seemed to thoroughly believe it, the participants believed it (evidently because they were the ones piercing themselves) and the atmosphere of the festival was one of serious worship, apart from some of the odd items they chose for the processions.
Definitely not a festival to miss if you're not too squeamish!