A while back, someone wrote about a negative experience attending a Thai-style wedding. Since I attended a Thai wedding ceremony a few weeks ago and had a wonderful time, I figured I would share my own experience.
About a month ago, my girlfriend and I were invited to attend the wedding of a Thai friend's son. I had never been to a Thai wedding before, so I was both surprised and honored when presented with the invitation. It arrived in a pink envelope and was accompanied with a request for my girlfriend and me to sing and play ukulele. I had not sung since I quit chorus after my first year of high school, so, naturally, I was somewhat fearful of singing in front of hundreds of Thai people I barely knew.
I was also unsure of which song to sing. The only English language songs Thai people usually like are from Top 40 lists. Since my music tastes differ significantly from those of typical Thais, I was unsure of what to do. I ended up settling on Eight Days a Week by the Beatles. Scrubs fans reading this might recognize this song as the song that Ted and his band sang at Carla and Turk's wedding.
When we actually arrived at the wedding, it looked like we were in for a disaster. I had not been to a wedding since I was nine years old and was not looking forward to sitting in a room for four hours. We arrived to the ceremony late and we realized my girlfriend had forgotten her ukulele. Luckily, Thai people are forgiving and do not take life too seriously, so no one was significantly annoyed.
The ceremony was beautiful and we were greeted with open arms. The food was warm and delicious. Unfortunately, there was no whiskey, but nothing is perfect. The bride and groom, along with the groom's parents, gave a speech in Thai and then the guests at the wedding were given free rein to sing and dance on stage. There was even an interval towards the end of the ceremony where my girlfriend and I were able to drive back home and pick up her ukulele. About 4 hours after the ceremony had started, and nearly everyone outside of the groom's family had left, my girlfriend and I sang on stage and fulfilled our end of the invitation.
The experience got me thinking a lot about tradition, and how we do not have the same level of ceremony in the United States. I think we are at a loss because of this. There are no significant rites of passage in America. In addition, most weddings and holiday celebrations seem trite, clichéd, and banal. Our lack of cultural tradition leaves a void. Now, I do not think all of Thailand's customs are wonderful. In fact, many of their traditions, beliefs, and superstitions are antiquated and asinine. Some leave impressions that are borderline elitist, feudal, and racist. However, I think that the Thai emphasis on tradition is a good thing.
When I was traveling in Chiang Mai several months ago, the city was celebrating Asarnha Bucha Day. My friends and I were walking around and looking for things to do, but everything was closed. We asked a local Thai man if certain places were open, and he replied with something along the lines of "No. You should relax and do nothing. It's a holiday."
The Thai peoples' focus on doing nothing may have to do with Buddhism or their inherently lazy disposition; however, to many Thai people holidays are sacred and should be spent with friends and family. One should spend holidays with one's family doing nothing besides enjoying the company of loved ones.
In the US, holidays are just an excuse to go shopping, be gluttonous, and spend extra time on lawn maintenance. The only non-religious holiday that is taken at all seriously by most people is Thanksgiving. I sometimes think that if we were less cynical and, like the Thais, placed more value on ceremony and the company of others, as well as less value on commercialism and celebrity gossip, we would all be more satisfied.