Um… first thing.. I apologise for the pictures, they were taken on my phone :)
I don’t consider myself to be particularly superstitious… I do avoid walking under ladders for some reason, and only ever half put up my umbrella inside… but that’s about it. I don’t even really believe those two, so I don’t know why I do it really. However – there’s no getting away from superstition in Thailand, it goes hand in hand with tradition and has pretty much seamlessly integrated itself with religion.
Every day when I go into work, I have to take a huge step up into the building (and that’s an undue amount of effort in the morning). This is because, when the owner of our school was told by his medium to knock down the steps in front of the school as they were hypothetically allowing money to roll out, he did. And then replaced the reasonably spaced apart steps with a huge platform, angled slightly in towards the school, so that money would stay in.
The other day I went to work to witness the Thai staff all standing barefoot in front of an altar-of-sorts, with lots of wreaths of flowers, fruit, incense burning, and flower petals scattered around the school. This itself is not bizarre, and I cautiously slipped past them as they prayed and chanted, and went up to our staff room. About half an hour later we were urged back down again by our lovely HR lady – so us farangs waited and stood there unsure of what to do as not much was happening anymore. Everyone seemed to be waiting with baited breath for… something.
After a while it became apparent that the lady some people were crawling over to was ‘the medium’, and as she was highly revered they were making sure they were physically lower than her when they were near her. And my boss explained what was happening – the medium had told all the staff at the ceremony, that for good luck (I think, and maybe making merit*?) everyone must empty their pockets and change their money into coins. Then they would scatter the coins around, and share the money, people would then go around and pick it up. But why were we all waiting for so long? Ah, here is the clincher. The owner of the school had had 40,000 baht (just over £800) in his pocket that morning! So we were waiting as it all got changed into 1, 2, 5 and 10 baht coins and brought back to school.
We all got ushered outside to the entrance, all ready with out plastic bags, cups, anything to hold as many coins as possible. In front of us were all the people throwing the money…. and they were off, scattering it left right and centre, under tables, on chairs, in the corridors, up the stairs, in rooms, around computers, and we followed them, painstakingly searching, frantically picking up coins and filling our bags, all of us wishing we had longer fingernails to lift the coins with.
I’ve never witnessed anything like it! We counted out money at the end, and I think certain numbers in the ranking of who picked up the most meant something… I wasn’t quite sure. Extra luck perhaps? I managed 350 baht, hey that’s a new pair of shoes, or a massage! Actually I made a rather poor effort. Most of the Thai staff collected a lot over 1000 baht each. Not bad for a morning…!
*Merit making is a very common religious practice, similar in many ways I suppose to the idea of ‘karma’. Namely, by doing good you will receive good, be that happiness, wealth, prosperity etc, in this life or in your next life. I think there is more to it that that, but this seems to be the main reason for Thai people (to my understanding). They make merit by going to the temple, giving alms – food and things – to monks, and other things.