My Bun Account
I have recently received a substantial amount of "bun", which is similar to a currant bun, only it benefits my bottomless and hence never full "merit account", instead of my stomach, which is much more easily satisfied.
Thais spend a huge amount of money in keeping their "bun" account in credit. This is called "tam bun", and almost always means that a substantial amount of cash, relative to the donor's income, is donated in various forms to the yellow robed monks, who never give anything in return except a chant. Part of the deal is that they don't even need to say thank you, as the giving is its own reward. "Tam bun", otherwise called merit making, is a huge industry. I wonder how many tens of millions of baht are "invested" everyday?
A friend, in order to generate copious amounts of "bun" for himself, his parents, uncle Tom Cobbly and all, decided to become a monk for a short term. I went along to see what it was all about.
Everything started in the local wat with a splendid amount of food, which was devoured by a multitude of Thais who apparently hadn't eaten for about a week or so, so great was their capacity to render a mountain of poultry, fish and rice into molehills of chicken bones, fish bones and empty plates. What did surprise me was the number of whisky bottles being emptied. It was all accompanied to the raucous racket of a small group using an array of percussion instruments in an attempt to put conversation out of question. The Thais seem to have developed the tonal patterns of their language to such an extent that enables communication under the most arduous of aural onslaughts in discos, karaokes, cinemas etc., where the volume is controlled by the on / off switch.
At some hidden cue there was a general movement of raucous racket makers, people and whisky bottles towards another part of the wat, located some sixty steps above us. It was now the middle of the afternoon and baking hot. At the front a few people started jigging up and down, with occasional demonic screams, these were mostly the whisky swiggers, they were followed by the percussionists, who were in turn followed by the recently shaven yet-to-be monk, and then the rest of the crowd. The pace of the procession was determined by the whisky wielders, who decided to have impromptu jigging sessions every few steps. After about ninety minutes we finally completed the necessary three clockwise circuits around the temple. Most people were showing signs of heat exhaustion, quite a few were quite drunk, one drunk had to be assisted to a position in the shade, where he lay comatose for the rest of the afternoon. I noticed that the jiggers had jigged with absolute precision timing, the end of the last of the three laps coincided with the end of the last bottle of whisky.
At the top of the steps there now followed a pre-ordination pep-talk from some old geezer. One of the jiggers had by this time commandeered a large parasol previously used to keep the sun off the recently shaven and shiny pate. His eyes were a remarkable red, possibly brought on by substance abuse other than the whisky, jigging and sun. Unfortunately he failed to notice that he was at the top of the steps, and during an extra little jig he took a step backwards and fell down the steps. He looked a bit dazed by it, but managed to stand up. I bet he felt it the next day.
Next almost all of the women trouped into the wat and most of the men trouped off to find another bottle of whisky or just lounged around, out of the sun. I joined the women. Then followed the actual ceremony. As this was in monk language, it was impossible for me and probably the other listeners to comprehend. However, and this is crucial for avid bun collectors, at sporadic moments you had to grab hold of a bit of the next person's clothing to catch the bun current as it flowed through us all. Unfortunately I did miss a little, being too slow at times, my attention drawn by the increasing agony of sitting on a hard floor for two hours. This was noticed, however, by the lady next to me, as she grabbed my jeans at the relevant moments, ensuring that I received my share of the bun and did not interrupt the flow of bun to those behind me.
Long after I felt that I would never be able to use my legs again the ceremony drew to a close, I was expected to stir my legs into motion and crawl across the floor with my little pre-packed basket of goodies for the monks. I noticed that it contained such items as soap, toilet paper, toothbrush and toothpaste, ten paracetamol tablets and obviously no shampoo. I think I may have accidentally stumbled onto the secret of kneeling for hours. A strong dose of paracetamol beforehand. I will experiment with this next time. However certainly personal hygiene as well as moral hygiene are paramount to monks.
Suddenly all the bun giving and collecting was over and it was time to have our photographs taken with the newly emerged monk. Who had, during the proceedings, metamorphosed from white into orange. He looked very seriously the business and disappeared off to his gut. Now, this being Thailand, the rest of us went to a restaurant and had some more to eat and drink. And this being Thailand and I being Farang, the bill came to me.
Unfortunately I must admit to failing to take advantage of crediting my merit account with additional bun, as getting up at six in the morning to donate more paracetamol and toothpaste is a little too much to ask.
And in any case, my bun level must be already standing at an hysterical high.
(PS After just ten days the new monk came out of the temple. I asked him how it had been. Boring, was the answer. Apparently after the early morning stroll he went back to his gut and spent most of the day asleep. But, on the positive side, he received over 20,000 baht, a small mountain of food and gained a lot of face and bun for himself and family)
This sounds like a ceremony where someone is ordained as a monk, as opposed to an action of merit making.