Kylie Millar

Thailand's month of mourning

This is when Thai culture can really catch us unaware

Thailand has entered a month of mourning following the death of His Holiness the Supreme Patriarch, Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara Suvaddhana Mahathera. The Supreme Patriarch is the head of the order of buddhist monks in Thailand - the most important monk, as chosen by the King ( The usual period of mourning for a highly ordained monk is 15 days, but in this case it has been extended to the full 30 days usually reserved for the death of a royal - showing how truly important he was to the King and the nation of Thailand.

So what does that mean for us foreigners? How will this period of mourning affect us?

Firstly, today we were informed that we should try to wear black at school, or at least to avoid bright colours. I say informed, it was more of a by the way... as we left for lunch. It would be nice to be told these things properly, as I really don't want to offend anyone! I have effectively been wearing a rainbow for the past three days, unaware we were in an official period of mourning.

Stood there in my fuschia pink shirt and floral skirt I started mentally thrashing through the rail that holds all of my teaching clothes. Pink, orange, green, red, orange, pink, purple... I need to get myself some new mourning teacher clothes it seems.

Local bars have shortened their opening hours (in Hat Yai that means closing at 1am as opposed to 4, 5 or 6am). Sales of alcohol will be limited and probably further affected as the funeral preparations take place (a standard funeral in Thailand is 4 days long so you can imagine that the head Monk's funeral will take up most of the month ahead).

A big party that a lot of foreigners were going to this weekend has been postponed until the end of next month - the organisers may not be Thai but they have common sense and cultural sensitivity. Big shows that had been planned for Loy Kratong celebrations in the middle of the month may be toned down, fireworks cancelled and all generally excessive activities are to be avoided.

It is difficult to find ourselves in the position of being a foreigner in a different land at a very sensitive time. I don't want to make any mistakes or come across as disrespectful so I am google searching as much as I can right now. Bangkok Post have some details but no one can seem to agree the official dates of mourning, so I guess I will just play it safe for the whole of November.

It is interesting to see how differently things are done here to how they are back home. We might get a token bank holiday so that everyone can watch the funeral being televised on BBC (who here remembers watching Princess Diana's service?) but I reckon a month of mourning would interfere with the economy too much for the UK government to give it a second thought!

For more of my reflections on life in Thailand visit my personal blog.


Are Thai Muslims wearing black for this deceased monk? I kinda doubt it. So why should foreigners from other faiths wear black for a Buddhist monk that they know nothing about? Cultural respect works both ways, right? Or is it all one-sided? I find it difficult to respect one culture when that culture doesn't even remotely consider mine and insists in imposing their culture on me! Wear black? Yeah, if I'm in Saudi Arabia because it's the LAW! Cultural sensitivity is not about wearing black elsewhere. It should be a personal choice. I've been criticized for wearing black in Thailand because Thais don't like that color. But they don't mind dressing up in it to the 9s when the occasion suddenly arises. I think it's funny that you are wearing bright colors while they don their dreaded blacks. It's an honest mistake and you should be apologizing. Just say, 'I'm not Thai and I'm not Buddhist. I'm a foreigner and I don't understand all this.'

By Lisa, (6th November 2013)

How many farang teachers in Thailand get Christmas off?

By Adam, (5th November 2013)

Have to agree with Adam and John above. I have been here for 2 years and am yet to meet anyone who comes close to following or knowing about Buddhism.

When the Thai's give up drinking, cock fighting, stealing, prostitution and materialism, then I will wear a black shirt.

By Timmy, Chonburi (3rd November 2013)

I don't see why this should be of relevance to non-Buddhists.

By Adam, (31st October 2013)

This is another one of these occasions where culture puts an authoritarian spin on a country. Dress codes teachers are supposed to follow while more than half of the students wear whatever they want (private language school in any case). Of course only the teachers will be blamed for disrespecting Thai culture, not anyone Thai who doesn't wear black.

Btw, isn't it a bit hypocritical to impose a dress requirement for a religious leader while most of the country doesn't even follow the main precepts of this religion, or philosophy, anymore?

By John Brown, Bangkok (30th October 2013)

Amusing blog Kylie. Thailand is a country of costumes and the death of some monk gives rise to yet another excuse to go 'to shopping.' But it might well be worth the effort to visit Wat Bowonniwet where thousands are flocking to 'pay their respects.' Maybe I'll win the lottery if I pay my respects to the head monk and pray for a good lottery ticket.

By Guy, bkk (30th October 2013)

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