Blessing Ceremony and Tour
[above – a video tour of the new stuff]
Changes at Lanna Muay Thai – Kiat Busaba
Starting just after Songkran (mid April) Lanna gym-owner Pom started taking a hammer to the renovations she’s been wanting to make for a long time. She started by having the cinder-block walls painted light blue, which opened up the gym space in a way I couldn’t have anticipated, like pulling the cloudless sky down to meet the wall that closes us in from the street. The men’s ring was recanvassed, the back wall had the metal sheeting that keeps rain out remodeled with wide semi-opaque plastic between sheets that looks as if it’s always under a sun-shower; Nook did some amazing work cutting/pruning some trees I didn’t even know were in the back, the bathroom got a new roof and some fancy blue and white tiles, there’s now green carpeting on the floor and a new weight machine, as well as the rearrangement of water-cooler and shelves and the frames that hold the hanging bags, all of which really opened the space up.
Once Thais decide to get something done they work with amazing speed. All of this was completed – including building a new structure for the hanging bags and putting new planking under the men’s ring for support – between training sessions over the course of just a couple of weeks. I’ve been writing signs in English and Thai for Pom as they occur to her and honestly I feel quite proud to be helping.
On Monday Pom invited everyone to come join in the blessing ceremony by local monks. My parents are visiting and we hurried over from breakfast. As we walked up the hot paved driveway you could see the long, vertical colored flags that are often hung for holidays – green, red, yellow, purple and red with gold animals printed on them. There were tall fans set up and a row of monks in robes that ranged in color from the nearly fluorescent-orange of tropical flowers to the brown of dry leaves in late autumn. They held between them a long white piece of string, running from one pair of hands in prayer – palm to palm – to the next and down the line until it reached up to a ball of string tethered around the posts of the gym. Candles flickered on a shrine to the far left with small images of the Buddha and the whole group of westerners and Thais who associate with the gym sat with our feet behind us, hands pressed together and facing the monks as they chanted. Their words are all the same, but they will pause and catch their breath or drop out and rejoin the chanting in shifts, so the voices are not quite in unison, which is far more beautiful than any harmony I’ve ever heard. Pom and Den sat in the very front of the rows of seated persons before the monks and next to Den sat his two-year-old son and Neung’s six-year-old daughter, both looking dutiful and a little lost in knowing how to sit patiently in one position but not understanding at all what was going on.
We each received a small bottle of water and a cup or bowl, which sat in front of us for the duration of the first chant. A dog that generally haunts the street at the far end, over a 5 minute walk from the gym by where I live, waltzed up the driveway and the dogs that live at the gym, having been quartered behind the gate for the ceremony, squeezed themselves under the gate and took action against the uninvited dog. There was a very loud scrap and some of the Thai boys jumped up to chase the dogs away. Den was the one who finally broke it up, the snarling and bared teeth a big blur to my left, and Big chased the gym dogs back behind the gate, closed it and put some sheet metal along their escape route, fixing it with a weight for good measure. The monks never broke their rhythm.
After the first stretch of chanting we were instructed to open our bottles of water and slowly pour it into the bowl or cup in front of us. That was it. You had to pour a little bit slow, but you should have finished pouring by the time whatever was being said was said because my husband took too long and Off motioned him to dump the rest in. The water must have been a conduit of some kind. A new chant began and ended, then we were blessed with a bundle of sticks which are dipped in water and shaken to splash droplets over everyone for good luck. Then Den took the bowl and the bundle of sticks and shook it over those of us in the back who only got a few drops, taking the time to whack both his nephew Boy and my favorite fighter (and joker) Big directly on the head with the sticks. Then we all got up, dumped our cups or bowls of water over the thirsty plants around the periphery of the gym and went to work eating the delicious spread of food that Pom had prepared. No blessing or celebration in Thailand is complete without a feast.
The gym is not just a gym – it’s a home, a living space, a work space and a gathering place. Seeing Nook and Den in what would be called their “Sunday Best” in the Christian world was remarkable, and seeing my trainers with their children and families in that space should not be remarkable at all but is nonetheless beautiful and meaningful. I see these people every day, twice a day, for hours at a time and for over a year now. There are few other examples in my life other than the family I grew up with for whom this is also true. If I were to go somewhere, I would miss them. The gym is my home and my family, not only in a sentimental way of choosing to feel emotionally connected to these people and spaces, but it is also my home and my family in a practiced sense, in the fact of repeating the act of familial duties and bonds within a space where it becomes recorded, ingrained, and ultimately permeated.