One of the elements of Songkran is to go to elders and to show them respect. Many people go home and do this to their parents. How is this done? You fill a large bowl with scented water and petals. The elder sits in front of you and you kneel before them and wai (placing the hands together, like you’re praying, in front of your face – maybe up to your nose or slightly above) them. A chain of small flowers is then placed on or around their hands. Then you take a small cup full of water and pour it over their hands, saying what you’re thankful for, etc. as you pour the water. The elder, in turn, will give you a blessing. You can wai again and then stand. I could have any of these elements wrong but this is what I understood and observed and did.
This morning I went by song-theew to my church, unsure of what would actually happen today. I knew that the ‘activities’ would start at 10am. Not many were gathered, but to the few of us who were there, the pastor shared about what we’re going to do that day. I didn’t catch all of what she said but this is what I think she said.
“Many Thai people think that Christians don’t know about Thai culture, or that they don’t participate in Thai culture. Songkran is a good opportunity to show love to others. So that’s what we’re going to do today. There are several elderly people that we’re going to visit today and show love and respect to them. We will also pray for them. Some of them know Jesus and some of them don’t yet know Christ. We want to encouraged them. As we’re going around, we’ll also hand out tracts about Easter and invite them to come to the service on Sunday.”
So that’s bascially what we did. We started off with some neighbours beside the church and across the street from the church. The first lady had some food to give us, after we gave her respect and she blessed us. Many of the places that we went to did this. Hmm…
I’m very impressed with how Thai people (and many Asian people in general) show respect to their elders. I think that I have much to learn from this aspect of their culture. In the secular world in the west, there is a strange mentality that people must earn respect, no matter how old they are. In Thailand, you show respect to all people older than you. Even simply in how you address people older than yourself. You must always sit below the head of the eldest person in a room. Truth be told there is much that I forget to do here, as far as showing respect and other elements of Thai culure. I need to get better at this. There are many dos and don’ts in this culture and shamefully I sometimes just forget. It’s true. It happens.