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 (wikipedia.org). 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!