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Post 291: Ya Mo Thao Suranaree

Ya Mo Thao Suranaree. It’s not a place, She’s actually an historical figure and I’ve probably murdered the translation and spelling of her name. Anyway, back in 1826 Ya Mo (Grandma Mo) set in place a rebellion against invading Laotian forces and was instrumental in giving back to Nakhom Ratchasima it’s freedom. In the centre of the City, close to the Chumphon Gate, her statue takes pride of place and is adorned with flowers and offerings from the good people of Korat who are undivided in their devotion. "Thao" means Lady and "Suranaree" means Brave, but "Lady" as a title rather than a simple generic term. Thao Suranarre …. "The Brave Lady".

In Thailand they enjoy their celebrations, they do more festivals than a promising Indy Band, but aside form the main events at Songkran and Loykrathong, this one seems to be the most fun. The square is a heaving mass of people, the entire population of Korat has turned out to honour Ya Mo. The smell of blossom and incense is so strong that you feel it rather than smell it. Everybody is smiling and I’m pushed towards the front where blessings are being given to all who wish to receive them. I resist the temptation. I’m an innocent bystander and in most categories, I’m already the luckiest boy in the world and I feel blessed enough just to be here.

Prayers are being chanted and all but one of the crowd join in with the appropriate responses. It’s not a religious ceremony and it’s hard to compare it to anything that I’ve ever seen in Europe. It’s just an absolute barrel of fun and the atmosphere is contagious. The crowd begin to circle the base of Ya Mo’s statue carrying offerings of food, flowers and drink. A rhythmical beat from the drums and it soon turns into the worlds largest and longest conga, but nobody is pissed. After several circulations, the beat changes and spontaneous dancing breaks out. WTF, nobody knows me here anyway, go with the flow .. mai pen rai

On occasions such as this, there are two things that usually amuse and annoy me in equal measures. The first is the obvious outsider who considers himself to be culturally cute and altogether down with the local movers. Normally he’s already become a caricature of the image that he wants to portray. If the local tradition is baggy clothing, then his will be baggier, if colourful then his will be the loudest, if beards are worn long, then his will be the longest. But tonight there is only me. I’m the only Farang in a crowd of thousands and to be brutally honest, I‘m down with nobody and culturally clueless as to what‘s happening. But you know what? I really don’t care .. mai pen rai

The second thing annoys me much more than it amuses me. The middle-aged middle-class fortune teller. Usually, but not exclusively, female. The interfering Auntie who sits and gives advice to those who seek it, and to those who don’t, on every subject that she knows absolutely nothing at all about. She probably speaks English and is of an age where 'Respect' in Thai culture is almost guaranteed. Her clothes will usually set her apart from the others and She’s so full of self-importance that there’s little room for anything else. These 'Aunties' give life changing advice based upon the look in a persons eyes or their favourite colours and numbers. Perhaps I’m being unkind, or perhaps I’m just a realist from a very different world, but if your favourite number is 9, does it really mean that you should abandon your dreams of becoming a Nurse and become a Nun instead? Or if you once wondered how snow would feel against your face, should you really leave your family behind you, move to Lapland and marry Father Christmas? The scary thing is that the people who take this advice actually act upon it and then call it 'Destiny' …. mai pen rai

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