I was in Hua Hin (Thailand) for the long Easter weekend.
As with most of my holidays, what usually make or break my trips is the people I go with. My cousin was fantastic and the two of us made the six-hour drive from Bangkok to the sea-side town of Hua Hin and back eating, catching up over the last two years, listening to music, and singing at the top of our voices (as girls are obliged to do).
Along the way, we made various stops for food and drink, varying from local roadside shacks serving way-too-hot-for-me curry chicken, to chocolate croissants and iced caramel macchiatos at what is apparently Thailand’s first drive-thru Starbucks. (Actually, I’ve never heard of a drive-thru Starbucks anywhere. Has anyone?!) At one stop, she showed me her own way of drinking Pepsi on a really hot day:
Walk into a 7-11. Pull a large plastic bag. Fill it with ice from the drinks machine. Buy a bottle of Pepsi. Pour the Pepsi into the bag of ice. Voila. I call it the super Pepsi drink..
I told her about the traffic accident a few weeks ago. She was horrified and said I need to go to the temple to do merit for this terrible event. I went along as I thought maybe it’ll bring the man, and myself, some peace. So on the last night, we drove to this temple in Bangkok where they run a charity providing coffins and funerals to the unclaimed dead and generally just people in need.
To my surprise, it was a busy place although it was quite late. You show up to a long desk, behind which sits several well-made up ladies in identical dyed light brown hair. You write your name on a pink slip of paper and again on another colourful sheet and give her the amount of money you want to donate.
Taking the papers with you, you turn a corner where there is a stack of polished light orange-brown coffins. You swab rice-pasty glue onto the back of the pink slip with a stick and walk up to the coffins, offer a prayer, and stick the paper onto whichever coffin you choose. I don’t know how to pray. but I hoped that the man is in peace and ok.
Then you pick up 10 incense sticks, go into the temple, light them up in a kerosene flame, offer your prayers to the main deity, then walk around the temple putting 3 sticks into the sandy pots in front of each of the other deities. Then you go out the front and offer one stick each to the lion statues on each side of the door.
I followed my cousin around the temple, copying what she was doing. I didn’t know who I was supposed to be praying to, what I was supposed to say, or who the deities were. I was wincing at the smokey fumes and trying to suppress my hand wanting to reflexively fan the smoke away. But I did try to think of the man and everyone I know who’s died, and I hope they are in peace.
I’m a questioner and skeptic and wondered who the deities were. Are they based on real people? Why are there so many of them in one temple? Do they have anything to do with funerals and the dead in particular? Or are they just general gods? So how many coffins are donated each year? Who builds the coffins? Is there a reason for them being in that colour?
I didn’t ask. Truth is, you don’t have to believe in anything to donate a coffin and a funeral. It’s just helping someone out.