The Phuket Vegetarian Festival

By Amy McIntyre

Warning: Not for the squeamish!
October 8th – 16th, 2010

When I first heard about the vegetarian festival, my initial thought was that it was a food festival. I thought we would walk around a lot of food stalls and be shown how to grow your own vegetables. Ha ha ha, take a look at the following to see what it actually involves.

It is believed that the vegetarian festival and its accompanying sacred rituals bestow good fortune upon those who religiously observe this rite. During this time, local residents of Chinese ancestry strictly observe a 10-day vegetarian or vegan diet for the purposes of spiritual cleansing and merit-making. Sacred rituals such as walking barefooted over hot coals and ascending ladders with bladed rungs are performed by entranced devotees known as “Ma Song” at various Chinese shrines and temples.

Brittney’s and my look of horror as we realise what the festival actually is.

Mah song are the people who invite the spirits of gods to possess their bodies. At the temple they undergo a series of rituals to protect them for the duration of the festival, during which flagellation and self-mutilation is practiced.

The festivities include a procession of mah song wearing elaborate costumes who pierce their cheeks and tongues with all manner of things, including swords, banners, machine guns, table lamps, and flowers. While the face is the most common area pierced, some also pierce their arms with pins and fishhooks. Teams of people accompany the mah song to keep their wounds clean and to help support the heavier piercings. It is believed that while they are possessed the mah song will not feel any pain. They can also be seen shaking their heads back and forth continually, and usually do not seem to be aware of their surroundings.

Any one hungry for a vegetarian meal?

Although I wasn’t expecting anything like this for the festival, I was right about all the food stalls. Most restaurants serve only vegetarian food. And there were many stalls, although after watching all this and smelling the smells of incense mixed in with sterile none of us had much f an appetite! If you ever want to take part in such fest ivies, here are some of the rules you are supposed to follow…. oops!

10 RULES FOR THE VEGETARIAN FESTIVAL

  1. Cleanliness of bodies during the festival
  2. Clean kitchen utensils and use them separately from other– who do not join the festival
  3. Wear white during the festival
  4. Behave proper physically and mentally
  5. No meat
  6. No sex
  7. No alcoholic drinks
  8. People mourning others should not attend the festival
  9. Pregnant ladies should not watch any ritual
  10. Ladies with their period should not attend any ritual
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Victoria's Four Year Testimonial

by Victoria Biggs (October, 2006 – October, 2010)

My experiences with Super English have been extraordinary. When I took on the job as English Teacher four years ago I had no idea how many wonderful, challenging and resume-pampering experiences lay ahead of me. I have compiled a list of my unique work experiences at Super English. I want every prospective teacher to realize that if you work hard to excel and advance at Super English you will have boundless professional opportunities.

First: the Teaching!

  • Creating lesson plans and teaching Kindergarten classes. Age ranges from 3-5. The class sizes varied from 25 students to 55.
  • Creating lesson plans and teaching regular Prathom classes (Grade school: Grades 1-6). With class sizes ranging from 12 to 55 students.
  • Creating lesson plans and teaching English Program Prathom classes. With EP classes you see the students every day for one hour.
  • Creating lesson plans and teaching regular Mathyom classes. (High School: Freshman through Senior.) With class sizes of 40 to 55 students. Government and Private schools.
  • Creating lesson plans and teaching EP Mathyom classes. You see the students for one hour four times a week.
  • Creating lesson plans and teaching conversational and professional English to nursing staff at both a government and private hospital.
  • Creating lesson plans and teaching at a private language school (Super English!) Age ranges from 4 to 18. Class sizes from 6 to 16. I taught one particular level for 3 years. I saw those kids for one hour every day for three years. I really got to see the fruits of my labor and that felt great.
  • Teaching at day camps for Prathom students held at private schools with 200 students in attendance.
  • Teaching at day camps for Mathyom students held at a government school with 150 students in attendance.
  • Teaching at Super English camps.
  • Teaching at overnight Thai English teacher’s camps. 30 Thai teacher’s from all over Southern Thailand in attendance.
  • Teaching at an Autonomous Learning Seminar for Thai English Teachers.
  • Teaching a Parent’s class to help them improve their children’s English ability.

Second: The Management!

  • In my four years with S.E I have managed over 40 teachers! (An average of 11 teachers per year is needed to teach classes. Over 95% of these teachers completed their contracts!)
  • Managing teachers from countries all over the world. (Canada, America, England, Scotland, Australia, South Africa…)
  • Managing teachers in both personal and professional aspects. This management position is unique because it is our job at Super to make sure that teachers are comfortable in a foreign country. (From where to eat, to where to buy tampons, to how to teach a class of 55 students.)
  • One of the most interesting aspects of managing at S.E is a chance to do cross cultural business dealings. It is very interesting to learn the differences between Thai and Western concepts of professionalism. A unique opportunity to really begin to understand Thailand.
  • Super English teachers teach from the youngest of children (about 3) to adults in a professional setting. I have trained teachers for all of these age groups and varying class sizes. Being a manager at S.E really keeps you on your toes!

Third: The Fun Stuff!

  • Organizing a Christmas show every year. We put on the performance in front of about 400 Thai teachers. The videos are online.
  • Playing teacher’s game of basketball in front of 4000 screaming Thai students. (I assume they were screaming for me.)
  • Organizing monthly cultural events. From cooking classes, to boat trips to Thai sport excursions. – Creating themes for staff parties. And deciding what liquor goes best with the theme!
  • Creating appreciation songs and skits for teachers that have done a great job. Always entertaining and a unique bonding time with your staff team.
  • Going on holidays (completely separate from work) with your staff team. It is always amazing to be a part of a close knit group that manages to play and work together in harmony. (It is an even more amazing feeling to know that you are the leader of this group!)

Managing and teaching in a foreign country offers many interesting and unique work experiences. Yes, your time in Thailand will inevitably be incredibly fun, but if you are willing to give a little extra and become a manager, then the fun is balanced out with a very educational management experience that will prepare you for any other feasible management position. Management with Super English gives you the opportunity to learn to balance work and fun, private and professional, in an understanding and compassionate atmosphere. I feel much stronger as a professional and even more importantly my management experience has helped me to become a more compassionate, patient and understanding human being.