The German Maibaum Tradition

The thrill of living in a new country is always unparalleled. Once you get a hit of this drug called travelling, you’d never really get tired of the highs it brings you. When you invest time and effort in getting past the anxiety, the fear of the unknown, the battle with unfamiliarity, the feeling of being a stranger, you will have a bucketload of endless discoveries to make. And there is no joy more fulfilling than that.

Germany has been similar to me in terms of the journey I make in every new country that I live in, but the familiarity of the process of learning – be it a new language or a local tradition you had never heard about, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

One of the most heartwarming traditions here (to me), is the Mai Baum. I went to bed on the night of the 31st, and when I woke up on the 1st of May, there were birch trees in every other garden decorated with colourful crepe paper, and a bright red wooden heart with a lady’s name on it.

I later found out that Maibaum is a tradition going back to the 16th century, and that I had just witnessed the 21st-century version of it. In the modern-day version of it, a man in love with a woman buys a birch tree, decorates it and writes her name on her heart, and then has to wait till the lady (and her family) are asleep before leaving it in her balcony or garden. They have to then guard it overnight so that other men in love with her or just mischief makers who are looking to make a quick buck steal it from where it is.

I heard that in the countryside, it gets a bit more exciting. The boy has to not only buy a tree without raising suspicion, and decorate it so no one sees it, he has to also sneak up to her roof overnight and place it there. If he is so unlucky so as to have his tree taken hostage, he has to buy it again from the treenapers!

The exciting part of it being brought to the present day is that now even girls can participate in this tradition. Every 4 years, it is the girl’s turn!

Do you have a labour day celebration like this where you’re from? I’d love to hear about it!

The Subtle Art Of Blending

Bangkok green spaces! #parks #thailand #skytrain

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If you’ve come here for a makeup tutorial, I’m afraid you’re going to be very disappointed – not just at my serious inability at the art, but also at this post’s lack of anything useful. I’m talking more in terms of our ability, as humans, to blend into whatever situation/geographic location/circumstance we are thrown into.

I’m coming up to two years in Thailand and I walk the roads that once cause me anxiety like its something I’ve always done. I am able to hail a cab and direct the driver without breaking a sweat. I walk past monitor lizards like they are neighbourhood strays. I add P’ (polite prefix that means brother or sister) in front of people’s name and end my  sentences with a ka, even when I’m travelling out of Thailand. I have blended in so much that I don’t even break a sweat at 37 degrees heat, I know the corners of the skytrain to squeeze into during rush hour, and I carry flip flops and an umbrella in my bag because duh, how could you not?

Humans have an ability to adapt to anything, and to do it without even realising it. When I went home for a short break home a few weeks ago, I casually mentioned something funny P’Thor did or that the mister’s favourite student is Boeing. It took me a while figure out that the looks of confusion and the extra jovial laughter was because they still think of Thailand, its quirks and culture, as strange.

I didn’t even bat an eye-lid when I found out that Boeing’s younger sister is called Airbus. I just nodded. It’s now a completely normal name to me. In my new world, evening markets are a norm, mom and pop ramen shops are around every corner, just next to a 7/11. Cats say me-o, trains make a ‘poon poon’ sound, and saying ka does not make you an imitator of crows! I am at ease with people in various stages of transition, and am never confused about what pronoun to use for whom.

Funny this transition from strange to familiar.

Thai Spirit Houses

No I don’t mean bars or breweries although there are plenty of both here. While it is tempting to hit one to deal with the stresses of everyday corporate life (CORPORATES ARE EVIL!), I am talking more about a little cultural phenomenon I almost overlooked. It is so easy in the daily grind to forget that I am actually living in a foreign country and while I have moved here for work, 90% of the appeal of moving to Bangkok was the opportunity to travel and explore more of a culture that is alien to me.

One of the little discoveries are Thai Spirit Houses. Every building – house, mall, giant condo, market – has a miniature house-like structure that is draped in flowers and surrounded by incense. You will know these to be Spirit Houses when you see a couple of fruits and opened bottles of cola with straws lain in front of the mini building. Inside the building, you will sometimes spot statuettes, figurines of humans, dancers and gods. I just assumed they were little external prayer houses.

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Curiosity getting the better of me, I soon found out that Spirit houses aren’t Buddhist tradition as I originally thought. The practice goes back to pre-Buddhist times when people believed that all land is occupied by spirits of our ancestors. In encroaching their land and building your own structures, you are rendering them homeless and as such, are probably bringing bad luck to yourself.

To counter this, everyone builds a miniature home for the spirits in the corner of the property so that the Spirits can continue to live on the land but also have proper shelter to spend their days in comfort. The house is built on a prominent spot and a lot of people build it so that the shadow of whatever structure would soon occupy the land will not fall on the Spirit house. In addition to this, people leave the spirits food offerings. If the cola bottles are anything to go by, the Spirits seem to have an affinity for Strawberry Fanta!

When the room land-mates of the Spirit House decide to build a new mini-house, a colourful ceremony is conducted so that the Spirits may travel to the new house peacefully. At the end of the ceremony, the old house is discarded near a temple.

There is just something about this simple tradition that has really captured my imagination. If I ever settle down in one place and own a house someday, I might have a Spirit House of my own. Would you?

 

Just Bangkok Things

I have come across some really bizarre things in my month in Bangkok – enough to know that there is never a dull day in this city. Here are a few things that make Bangkok what it is –

Dry Ice Drink at Steam Pug Bangkok
Smoky Drinks
AIS Scratch Card
Scratch Cards for Mobile Phone Top Ups
Makura Cat Cafe Bangkok
Caffiene and Cats at Cafes.
Rod Fai Market Bangkok
Vintage Bikes at Hipster Markets
Seacon Square Bangkok
Food, so much colourful food!
Secon Square Bangkok
Roosters in Malls
Brewtopia II Bangkok
Nerdy Craft Beer
Brewtopia II
Freaky Graffiti
Seacon Square
People colouring themselves black to represent tribals (no such thing as politically correct here!)
Rod Fai Market Bangkok
Aliens – not immigrants, we are talking about the x-files variety
Rambutans
Hairy, juicy fruits
Quirky Eats Bangkok
Mmmm Pork
Artbox Bangkok
Fish Ice-Cream anyone?
Seacon Square
For all your knife needs. Not dangerous at all!
Chatuchak Market BTS Bangkok
This sort of sunset every night!
Gateway Ekkamai
Erm, yes.
Art Box Bangkok
For when you need to mainline alcohol – the Doctor’s Order. A drip bag cocktail!
Chatuchak Weekend Market Bangkok
When your mantelpiece is missing phallic shaped art!
Artbox Bangkok
Markets! So many markets!
Love at First Sit Bangkok
Toilet Lorries. Beats concert loos any day!
Chatuchak Weekend Market
I don’t even have the words for this!

Stay tuned for more in the series! 😀

The World is One Nation

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I know this blog has taken somewhat of a ‘subtle’ negative tone over the past few months on account of life handing me too many lemons but this Friday, I went for a really nice birthday meal.

It was an Italian restaurant run by a Japanese couple in the IT hub of India who served us complimentary French sparkling wine. It has all the makings of a ‘walks into a bar’ joke but it just filled me with such warmth.

Life is pretty darn okay.