A Feast for the Senses – A Traditional Thai Wedding

Yesterday two of my dearest friends, Chorthip and Tim, married in an all day extravaganza. I was blessed and thrilled to be involved in both the smaller and intimate traditional wedding ceremony and the classy, Great Gatesby-esque reception of hundreds.

The morning started hot and muggy with me changing into my silk skirt of glimmering gold and a rather flouncy blouse with a ruffled collar in the back of a van. (Yes, me, in ruffles.) I was joined by three fellow farangs to help represent Tim from the States, the guys in these ballooning pantaloons in jewel colors that ended mid-shin and rather military jackets. Bridget and I could have been twins in our costume, only she wore blue, I wore gold. Everyone wore glorious fabrics, despite the heat!

The couple of the hour arrived shortly after us – Tim in gold jacket and deep brown pantaloons, Chip festooned in swathes of gold silks and bead work. Stunning. Her hair and makeup so perfect, she was a living porcelain doll! Only with a better laugh.

The setting – a lush green garden with frog-croaking lotus ponds inhabited by a “Grandpa Koi” (in the words of fellow farang James), a rather stern, slow moving fellow. The house is a traditional teak wood house, lofted up on stilts with plenty of room for an outdoor lunch below, without getting soaked by a monsoon downpour. It was once the home of the late prime minister and intellectual M.R. Kukrit and feels worlds away from the city.

About 7 am the ceremonies began, with a solemn blessing by the monks. The saffron-robed monks lined up in the garden pavilion by age, all holding a line of string, and chanted as Chip and Tim made offerings to Buddha. After several rounds of chanting that began to lull me into deep serenity (or maybe that was the heat), Chip and Tim presented them with rice. We adjourned for coffee while the monks ate a meal, then returned for the conclusion, the couple shuffling on their knees past each monk as they anointed them with water.

A brief break for relatives to mob Chip for photos and the festivities began in earnest, this time a less serious, but highly symbolic and elaborate series of rituals. I joined the groom’s procession, carrying a gift of incense buried under a tower of fragrant flowers, as we followed a rambunctious troupe of drummers. Chip’s relatives held “gates” of string across our path, running Tim through a series of “tests”, mostly just teasing, as the gentleman standing in for Tim’s father handed each relative envelopes of money. Upon reaching the pavilion, we handed off our gifts to the family and Tim headed back out into the garden to find his bride. Another series of gates, this time female relatives intent on some lighthearted fun! As Chip’s brother translated, Tim sang love songs (a Mozart aria!), the US national anthem, and said various things in Thai. Finally (because the wedding planner gave a time warning!) Tim claimed his bride, perched on a pedestal and beaming.

So many rituals, I lost count. Relatives mingled and caught up on news during intervals. We sweated and fanned ourselves. The couple made more offerings, gave more gifts, served their parents tea. My favorite ritual was the water blessing. Tim and Chip’s heads were adorned with rings attached to each other by a string, their hands each clasped over a vessel of flowers. Starting with the elders, we all took our turn pouring water over their hands and giving them our blessing.

Lunch a relaxed meal of fabulous and spicy food. Curries. Duck. A dessert of taro in coconut milk. An aunt gave us her homemade dried mango rolls. Like a grade school fruit roll-up only a thousand times better!

The evening brought on a bash of grand style at the Intercontinental Hotel, one of Bangkok’s posh hotels. I exited the elevator into the reception hall outside the Grand Ballroom and knew already I was in for a classy soiree! Everyone mingled in lush ballgowns and crisp suits. Two ice sculptures sandwiched a ribbon bulletin board of photos of Chip and Tim over the last ten years, from our days in college until now. Everyone got a chance to pose for a professional photo with the bride and groom.

And the ballroom! A rose petal-lined catwalk ran from the stage down to the most enormous cake I’ve ever seen. At one end, tables surrounded the runway, and the other a huge assortment of fresh foods awaited our nibbles. Thai food of all varieties – curried, steamed, deep-fried. The freshest sushi I’ve ever tasted. Melt-in-your-mouth mini pancake-like tarts. Ice creams and cakes and dessert cocktails. Waiters circled with glasses of wine. A live band performed, the singer a rich voice that mellowed the room.

The highlight was Tim and Chip’s “entrance.” Chip was a piano major, so she began to play the piano, then Tim – a drama major and an actor – entered singing “Some Enchanted Evening” as he slowly strolled through the crowd to join Chip at the piano. Um, wow. It’s safe to say no other friends will top their entrance. Ever.

Thai receptions seem to be a lot of pageantry. The couple telling their story on the stage. Strolling the catwalk as the bride’s princess ballgown shimmered under the lights. Cutting the cake with a huge sword as everyone took pictures. Lots and lots of posing for photos.

I enjoyed the food. I savored the companionship of the small contingent of us from the States and meeting new people. But mostly I relished the smile on Chip’s face while she danced with Tim to their song. Ten years, from our freshman year of college until now, and they have finally tied the knot.

Tim and Chip, thank you for including me in your day. I love you guys.

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About chronictraveler

Chronic Traveler starts as a dream, one that I thought I had lost, but that has slowly changed into a mission to realize and live that dream every day. In December 2007 I became seriously ill and the doctors did not know what was causing my illness. I had to stop teaching as my life tumbled into a never-ending nightmare of doctors, hospitals and tests. Finally, in May 2008 I was diagnosed with a chronic condition - fibromyalgia. I was only 26 years old at the time. I have had to give up teaching, and now work part-time at a performing arts center as I learn how to manage my condition and improve my quality of life. What helped me through the months of uncertainty and sickness, and continues to inspire me, was a new focus on what truly mattered to me: family, friends, gardening, the arts, and especially travel. I have always fed my soul by traveling, ever since I first stepped off the plane at age 16 in Kathmandu, Nepal to help with an orphanage's building project. Meeting new people and experiencing how they live and how they view the world infuses my life with a richness I was so afraid I would lose when the doctor first said, "You have fibromyalgia". This blog is my story, as I begin to forge a new path. I am embracing my life as it is, with the fibromyalgia pain and fatigue, and learning to do what I love regardless. It may mean I have to go slower and take more naps or breaks! But I am determined to learn how to travel and experience the world, and hopefully what I learn will help others like me who believe their medical condition stands in the way of their travel dreams.
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