Every major funeral service teaches lessons about life and culture. That was especially true of the cremation ceremonies for the former abbot of Wat Kiew Lae Luang in San Pa Tong District of Chiang Mai Province last week.
The venerable abbot died in 2557 (2014) and his body has been waiting an auspicious time for cremation ever since. It must be a good time for such ceremonies because there have been two of them last week and several more soon to follow. I am certain that many factors are considered, but in the case of Kiew Lae Luang and Kiew Lae Noi supernatural ones are not included. Those two villages eschew veneration of ghosts and other supernatural beings. There are no spirit houses or shrines and no spirit ceremonies (we understand) in those two villages, which set them apart from most other villages hereabouts.
The actual cremation ceremonies began on Monday, February 1 with a community evening service much like other funeral services, but inside the vihara (assembly hall) of the temple compound. This was the final service for the abbot inside the temple with which he had been associated for many of his 82 years.
Meanwhile, for several days, a cremation structure befitting the eminence of this abbot was being constructed in the city of Lampoon under the supervision of a monk who specializes in this sort of structure and tradition. During the week before, the components of the structure were transported to the cremation grounds next to the temple and school in Kiew Lae Luang. The final assembly was completed on Sunday, January 31. The structure was made of a wooden framework covered with a skin of woven fiber and spectacularly painted. The structure is a Nok Hasadeeling, a mythological bird five times as large as an elephant with an elephant’s head. This nok (bird, not elephant) is considered the most feared and vicious creature in Thai mythology. (See the picture at the top of this article).
It is understood that in former times this mythological bird structure was used for the cremation of Lanna and Lao royalty. The fact that monks of a certain status are given this honor equates them with royalty. However, after the incorporation of Northern Thailand into the nation of Siam, royalty were cremated in Mount Meru (temple shaped) structures.
On Tuesday, there was a ceremony and procession to move the body in the casket from the temple to the cremation grounds and to install it in the cremation structure. After appropriate chanting and a eulogy the casket was removed to a vehicle for the trip across the street. It was pulled by a hundred monks and novices as well as hundreds of villagers. Then the casket was hoisted by man-power into position at the top of the temple-like tower on the back of the bird. During this ceremony the head of the bird was animated by fellows inside the structure moving the head, flicking the trunk and flapping the ears. It was supposed to be imposing and a bit intimidating, but the activity of the scores of workers was distracting from that effect. Eventually the casket was in place and that processional event ended.
On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday the faithful came to the temple in the evening for chanting services and to listen to sermons. Both preaching and listening to sermons on Buddhist Dharma are meritorious. On this occasion, however, some of the best-known preachers in the region were recruited to teach. On the final evening there were three sermons going antiphonally. Throughout the week people in the village provided food for guests, monks and for themselves. It was a week of eating as well as chanting and preparation for the big event.
The actual cremation took place on Saturday, and was divided into two distinct parts. As custom expects, the Palace in Bangkok provided a gift of fire for the cremation. With a police escort befitting royalty, the makings of the fire were brought to the cremation grounds and presented for use with ceremony and short speeches. This was the official cremation ceremony at which a large number of monks (more than 80) chanted, and government officials from far and near participated. In other circumstances actual fire is presented, brought in a lamp to light ceremonial logs which simulate the cremation that may actually take place in a modern gas-fired crematorium nearby.
As darkness deepened, about 6:30, the cremation ceremony resumed with the second part getting under way. Again there was a funeral sermon chanted, and the eulogy was repeated. As this was going on a team of workers was climbing over the structure checking and getting the preparations ready for the incineration to follow. The scale of the anticipated fire was emphasized by the presence of four fire trucks parked at strategic locations. When everything was ready and all the workers and monks had left, the fireworks began. First there was a long line of areal bombs and fireworks. That ended with a rocket screaming along a wire toward the Nok Hasadeeling. Fireworks brought the structure into fierce action as flaming wheels whirled strings of sparks cascaded, and the bird made a symbolic journey into mythic time and space through skies filled with stars and forests of flowering trees past waterfalls, all represented by fireworks. In a simulated flash of lightning the pinnacle of the tower on the back of the bird was ignited. The bird’s eyes glowed and then blazed. And soon the entire structure was engulfed in fire. The platform was the main fuel. As that burned, the rest of the towers and more distant parts of the structure caught fire. Everything that collapsed tipped inward adding to the inferno (an engineering feat in my estimation). Nothing was spared.
At some time the actual body of the monk had been removed from the casket in its place of honor high overhead, and was now exposed amid the flames in the center of the cremation platform. It would be cremated to bones during the night, which would be gathered for interment back in the temple, perhaps in a chedi to be provided by a temple patron at a later time.
Throughout the week the abbot's robe was suspended overhead. Everyone wondered whether it would catch fire or not. In this case it did not, indicating, some say (and others deny), that the monk will be reincarnated. If it had burned he supposedly would have "gone on". Since the robe did not burn it was expected to be cut into small valuable squares of orange cloth to be treated as venerated objects in homes of the faithful.
**NOTE: Several of the pictures accompanying this article are taken by art historian, Dr. Rebecca Hall, who came to Chiang Mai specifically for this cremation to gather information, impressions and photographs as part of her research on Northern Thai Buddhist funerals. She has previously written the following articles on this subject "Onward toward Heaven: Burning the Nok Hatsadiling" and "Materiality and Death: Visual arts and Northern Thai Funerals." Her book in preparation is one we eagerly await.
The Henry Luce Chapel on the Mae Kao Campus of Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand is, as it was planned to be, the identifying structure of the university. The chapel was constructed with a generous comprehensive grant from the Henry Luce Foundation at the urging of the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia (UB), also a major beneficiary of Luce funding. One stipulation of the grant was that the university must choose from a list of architects of international renown provided by the foundation. For example, Tunghai University in Taiwan chose I.M. Pei. Payap University requested the services of Ed Sue Associates of Oakland, California, based on his experience in Asia, including his accomplishments in Hong Kong and a year he spent in Thailand as a teaching volunteer at Bangkok Christian College. Ed was told that the building should clearly be “Christian and Thai”. He succeeded in designing a chapel that is “Christian and modern”.
From 1974 to 1983 Payap College was located on two in-town campuses. During that time undeveloped land was acquired east of the city through a grant from the American Schools and Hospitals Abroad program of U.S. Aid for International Development of the United States State Department. As that land and four buildings were being readied for occupancy, Dr. Amnuay Tapingkae, first President of Payap (1976-1985), learned of the Luce Foundation program to provide chapels for UB institutions. Dr. Konrad Kingshill, Vice President for Development, was assigned to work with Ed Sue to see the construction through to competition. Move to the Mae Kao campus, completion of the Luce Chapel, and Payap College’s elevation to university status all happened in 1983-4.
Main features of Ed Sue’s design were energy efficiency, flexible utility, classical elevation of attention upward, and a sense of community intimacy reflecting the theological mood of the 1970s. However, the building, Ed told us, was also to evoke the image of a lotus on a lotus pond. The chapel was built in the middle of a small pond, accessible by an imposing bridge. Ed insisted that accomplished the mandate to make the chapel “Thai”.
The chapel was made of concrete pillars and pilings that managed to be both substantial and spacious. From the outside the main feature is the roof and a steel and glass tower suggestive of a spire surmounted by a tall cross. In fact the entire structure was attached to a pyramid of 4 massive concrete beams meeting high overhead in the center of the ceiling. A second implied pyramid fractions the roof lines and rationalizes peaks in the cardinal directions. From inside, the space appears to be a wide flat floor with a sunken middle area and a geometric bowl above. Seating for 500 is on three sides of an octagon that dissolves into a square in the center. The fourth side, opposite the main doors, is a platform on 2 levels. Seats are on steps descending toward the center. Under each seat, at the back, is a vent so that cooler air from the water below rises up and is deflected through louvers in the tower. Furthermore, walls on 3 sides of the room are simply shutters, allowing maximum ventilation. Ed’s intention was for there to be little need for air conditioning, artificial lighting during the day, or sound amplification. He succeeded with two out of his three goals. (Acoustics are bad inside, since the bowl-shaped pond below and the bowl shaped ceiling above focus outside sound in the chapel.) The lower floor is covered with teak parquet. Furnishings, including pews, are teak. The heaviness of the stark concrete beams is mitigated by substantial lighting fixtures of teak that seem to float in mid-space, repeating the horizontal lines of the teak seats and horizontal alignment of the shutters all around the walls. The visual effect is white vertical lines and ceiling leading upward to a clear glass tower with a view of heaven above, and earthy-brown horizontal lines on three planes.
Furniture consists of the pews attached flat to the concrete steps, a large pulpit and smaller lectern, and a communion table, all of teak. The “chancel” furnishings are moveable to allow for various arrangements, depending on occasion. Mrs. Josephine McLean, an artist from New Zealand who spent a decade with her husband at Payap, designed bas-relief wood carvings for the pulpit and lectern and for a pair of double front doors, each with a set of traditional symbols with Thai flavor, representing the four Gospels.
The first worship service in the chapel was in 1984. It was refurbished last year, after 30 years of use, by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.
I have spent my life listening to the sounds of Christianity crumbling. Creak, crack, crunch … chunk by chunk the world-wide church is splintering first here then there. Nothing world-wide will withstand the collapse in the end.
I hasten to say Christianity is growing. Membership is increasing and there is not the least reason to believe this trend will falter. It is the world-wide-ness of Christian organizations that is ending. That is what I find sad – and disappointing because I felt recruited for and called to a role as a Presbyterian in helping the Ecumenical Church grow. [The picture accompanying this essay is from 1980 at the crest of my expectations for the world-wide church.]
This week it is world-wide Anglicanism that we heard cracking. The North American Episcopal Church has been formally “suspended” from world Anglicanism. The idea that there is a world-wide Anglican community is now in jeopardy. Episcopal bishops and the presiding bishop (the North American primate) no longer have a voice or vote where it matters in Anglican councils.
Unity is a lost priority.
When I was a seminary student in 1962-1965 I was closest to Dr. Lew Briner at McCormick Theological Seminary. He was one of the Presbyterian observers at the Second Vatican Council. Heated by hopes raised in Rome, a first step toward reunification was to unify forms of worship built around a “Common Lectionary” patterned on liturgical reforms of Vatican II. We Protestants would raise our worship forms as Vatican II was modernizing Roman Catholic liturgies. We would meet them in the middle. Meanwhile, Protestants in North America, Canada, Australia and India (and nearly everywhere) developed united, re-united, or uniting churches. An ongoing Consultation on Church Union helped member denominations in the USA design worship books and plans for merger. There was enthusiasm for forms that would be compatible world-wide. As Dr. Briner’s enthusiastic protégé, I drafted a worship textbook for our seminary in Thailand based on the concept that worship would soon be what was being discussed in Rome and in all branches of the World Council of Churches. If Evangelicals didn’t want to get on board this fast-moving band wagon they would be left behind.
Then Rome balked. The common lectionary was rejected. The Roman Catholic Church decided not to revise the calendar of readings very much. Before long, unification actions were outnumbered by splits and defections, small at first but then much larger. Simultaneously, former mission churches achieved mature independence, not only with regard to funding and leadership, but independence of theology and tradition based on “relevant history”. Few of these emerging mission and independent churches and movements wanted anything to do with unity. The Ecumenical Movement was going to have to be sustained by older churches, but then the compelling reasons for making the effort began to fade and at the same time revolts began to fester. The united, world-wide missionary effort faded, and with it went the idea that it is better to work together than to build churches competitively. Every couple of decades brought a new cause for revolt: feminist issues (e.g. women pastors) split churches, presumed communist leanings or social liberalism aggravated large sectors, and now we have gender and sexuality as a presenting issue for further fractures.
During these decades of decline in the hope for detente and reconciliation I have become convinced that Christian church leaders have been myopic about what it is all about. As recently as yesterday I read an Anglican scholar’s summary of the decision in London, saying that it is all about conservative Southern Hemisphere versus liberal social views, as if this is exclusively a church issue. We have all talked about church schisms that way. It’s the church splintering over something, of course. So we look no further. Now I want us to look again.
The trend has been toward cultural localization all over the world at the same time as there is economic globalization. The “issues” leading to revolts have supplied energy to incite separatist action, but the ISSUES behind the issues are the same pressures that have split countries, ended empires, divided societies and accelerated ethnic eradication efforts beyond counting since the end of “World War I/II”. I believe THE ISSUE springs from a crisis of identity and meaning. The more economic globalization there is the more cultural localization emerges.
The name of this localization is tribalism. It is on the rise again.
The two years following the Battle of Hogwarts were very hard times for many a magical household. That was especially true for families who had lost members in Voldemort’s year back in power when Death Eaters and bands of Snatchers rampaged the magical world trying to purge all Muggles and Mudbloods.
Few were more hard-pressed than Tira Kitner and her granddaughter Maggie. Both of Tira’s sons had been killed along with all their families, sparing only little Maggie who was now ten. They had lost everything. They survived in a highland hut above the village of Gilfenning, just a fair broom-ride from Hogwart’s Castle.
As the shortest day of the year passed and Christmas came and went, the weather grew more severe. Maggie was now old enough to share her grandmother’s struggles as well as anxieties that the dour Scottish matron did nothing to hide. Of the necessities for winter they had little, little oats for porridge, hardly enough wood for the fire to last another week, none of anything else.
Then began first bright glimmers. A few days before Hogmanay two people from Gilfenning made their way up to Tira and Maggie’s hut with a proposal.
“We are going to revive the ‘old way’ a wee bit,” they explained. For years Gilfenning was one of the few places in Scotland to end the year with the burning of the Clevie. To that custom they wanted to add another vague tradition from the distant past.
“Make us a Sun Goddess, will’ye?” Ailie Gordon asked.
Maggie was mystified but Thira was alarmed. Anything that drew attention to the ‘old way’ was going to arouse suspicions. But Ailie produced a picture from the Inverness Courier of “the Catalonian Sun Goddess” used in a Hogmanay parade in Edinburgh.
“If they can do it down there, we can do it up here,” Ailie declared.
The picture placated Tira a little, but she said, “Why do ya come ta me?” She tried to keep the fact she was a witch a secret. Had they found out? Was trouble on the way?”
“Who knows the old ways better?” was the only answer Ailie would give. “Tell us what you need.”
“Just some flour for paste and some strips of cloth.”
Ailie and her friend left a bag of oatmeal “as a down-payment”.
Within two days the sun goddess image was ready for delivery.
Meanwhile, preparations were underway for the burning of the Clavie. An oaken whiskey barrel was sawed in half and securely mounted on a pole. It was split apart and stuffed with twigs and splintered wood doused in coal oil.
As far as the villagers knew this was just one of many ways of sending off the old year with fire. In other places burning balls were hurled, torch parades were held, and bonfires were set. In larger cities fireworks were colorful. Some brave and foolhardy fellows breathed fire or twirled spectacularly burning batons. The Clavie was spectacular enough for Gilfenning. After it was lit, the parade wended its way to the top of Gilfenning Ridge led by three strangely dressed sisters carrying the Sun Goddess.
The whole parade could be seen from Tira and Maggie’s hut, but Tira merely stood in the shadows and huffed at this imaginary magic.
The ruckus was still going on when Tira and Maggie were startled to hear a male voice call from the path to their door.
“It’s a brigand!” Maggie squealed.
“Brigands don’t announce their coming,” Tira retorted. “But if it’s after midnight it’s our ‘first footing’! Light the lamp and see who it is.”
At Maggie’s invitation a tall dark man stepped into the circle of lamp-light. He was followed by two younger versions of himself, all dressed for the chilly New Year’s night, not in tartan wool but distinctly wizardly attire, complete with peaked hats.
Tira held her breath. Yes! The first foot across her threshold on Hogmanay night was a tall dark man. Their luck had turned! Tira could hardly keep from smiling.
The dark stranger said not a word but set a bag on the table in the middle of the room before waving a stick in his hand at the glowing fire in the hearth causing it to blaze brightly again as if an armload of kindling had been thrown on it. One of the pair with him unpacked the sack, bringing out a bottle of whiskey (not the local Gilfinning kind, a mellower brand in a triangular bottle with a name that was very well known). Then came a ‘black bun’ stuffed with rich candied fruit and sweetmeat, a small symbolic sack of coal, one lump of which the other young wizard tossed onto the hearth producing a magically warm, multi-colored flame that would go on burning throughout the winter, and a heavy package of shortbread.
Tira was beside herself. Not in decades had she seen such an auspicious thing as this first footing and set of gifts, and never had it happened to her. These were the traditional Hogmanay promises of a prosperous New Year.
“I would not object to a slice of the black bun,” the tall man hinted, removing his hat. In better light, he was seen to be younger than Tira had first thought. Maggie scurried to cut the bun into six pieces for the five of them. Tira regained her wits as well, and opened the tall green bottle, tipping a splash into each of the two glasses she owned, offering one to the stranger.
It was such a night and such an occasion that normal social formalities were foregone, but not forgotten. Tirathought of asking the names of the visitors and all the customary banter to become acquainted, but it felt wrong to interrupt this quiet event that seemed so fraught.
Laughter and cavorting on the ridge were still going strong, but it no longer intruded into the hut where the dark stranger said, “Now for the last piece of the black bun,” as if it was special rather than simply left over. He handed it to Maggie. She was unsure what to do with it. Her hesitation ended when she was told, “Eat it carefully.” The reason was immediately clear when her bite produced a substantial gold coin. There were three others in that slice.
“Now, two final things,” the stranger said. “Do you know of Hogwarts?”
“Maggie misunderstood. “Tonight is Hogmanay,” she said.
“Hogwarts,” the stranger repeated. Maggie lapsed into embarrassed silence.
“It’s the witch school,” Tira replied, making it clear she had not been there.
“I am a graduate, a year ago. My name is Dean Thomas and I have news. Next month you will be eleven, Maggie,” Dean said, as if Maggie might not know. “On September first I will come back here to take you to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, if you would like to go.”
Rather than pleased, Maggie was alarmed. “Oh, I cannot leave Grandma here alone,” she protested.
Dean smiled for the first time. “Tira Kitner, your wand has been recovered from the scene where your family was massacred.” He drew the knobby shaft from his sleeve. “And with this and the help of these two,” he indicated his helpers, “you will produce brooms.”
Thea did not need to be told what kind of brooms. It had been the craft of Kitner women all the way back to Poland.
Tirastreaks would soon be the most sought-after magical brooms in Europe by those who could afford one.
And now for something familiar: a traditional Nativity scene, complete with Mary and Joseph in traditional dress and the baby Jesus grinning in his sleep in a manger. All of this watched over by adoring cows and befuddled shepherds.
On the surface it looks like something a cartoonist whipped out in a few distracted minutes to respond to the season. But those familiar with news media in Thailand recognize the style as that of one of Thailand’s best known editorial cartoonists of the past several decades. He was better known for his subtle barbs than nuanced gentleness. Sentimentality was not his forte. What could have inspired him to give us a Christmas card? Perhaps that is not important.
Let’s consider context. Here in Thailand pastel sentimentality is the Christian Christmas preference. Our “lively and spirited” Christmas celebration this past weekend at Payap University was presided over by a serene background picture of a more romantic nature. I think it is true that if nature is allowed to run its course, a Thai festival will be festive rather than serene. Only those in the front rows, even at funerals, are uniformly quiet. A bigger crowd will be attracted to a lively event than a contemplative one. Thought-provoking movies disappear from theaters more quickly than action-packed ones.
Sanuk everyone will tell you, is the key to pleasing a crowd in Thailand. Sanuk has a broader scope of meaning than any single term in English can convey, although it’s supposed to be translated “fun”. My favorite dictionary lists the following meanings of สนุก entertaining, enjoyable, gay, amusing, cheerful. A traffic accident will draw a crowd and no one will admit that it is fun or include it in a list of sanuk events, but they come to see the event unfold. A bus breakdown is not sanuk until the stranded passengers turn it into a picnic.
Our Christmas celebration at the university would not have been inherently sanuk without the enjoyable, amusing costumes and festivities before and after the worship service that bisected the lively parts. Dr. Esther Wakeman’s Christmas sermon on love was rescued from becoming a tedious interruption by her preaching in a way that was entertaining. She related to the congregation, most of whom were not Christian, by referring to aspects of shared community life.
That is also what the Thai cartoonist did. His characters were familiar. The Nativity was automatically re-positioned right into the midst of Thai culture. The characters hovering in the background are where the action is. They are arrested in motion. They have 7 expressions of amusement, bemusement, and curiosity. They are both like and unlike stereotypical Thai farmers; but they are familiar. Thai people looking at the cartoon identify with the shepherds, and recognize the cows. They have a look about them that makes us expect to see them again, more shaven perhaps, in some future cartoon.
And that’s the amazing thing. This is acculturated. It inhabits Thailand. It is a cartoon, so it is sanuk. It is by this identifiable Thai cartoonist, so it is Thai. It is an illustration of the Nativity narrative, to be sure, but we (particularly if we are Thai) relate to the observers in the scene, the ones looking on; their scope of attitudes catches our attention and reflects our attitudes.
This strikes me as a profoundly accurate theological point of view. We are drawn to Nativity celebrations as observers and given the task of forming our opinion about the scene before us.
So, from Thailand, Merry Christmas wherever you are. May your Christmas celebration be sanuk and your connection to the Nativity meaningful
Silinart Chumsri was a first year seminary student in the Thailand Theological Seminary (TTS), from Nakhon Pathom, when I met her in August 1965. She was a leader in her class of ten students. She was more mature and determined than most of her class mates. In fact, she was on a dual track toward a career in education as an alum of Witialai Kru (the Teachers College) as well as a theological education student leading to church work.
With her academic background Dr. E. John Hamlin, principal of the seminary, chose her as one of two students to try to get a joint degree program started with Chiang Mai University (CMU). Eventually, selected TTS students were allowed to attend classes at CMU and their teachers offered a personal evaluation of their achievement, but they were not given CMU grades or credits. Dr. Hamlin’s idea was to gain national recognition for TTS students’ accomplishments, as their degrees were already being accepted internationally through accreditation of TTS degree programs by the South East Asia Graduate School of Theology. During her fourth year at TTS Silinart was posted to Huay Kaew Church on the edge of the CMU campus to serve as student pastor; I was installed as pastor of the church in order to be her field education supervisor. It was my first official role as pastor, but Silinart did the real pastoral work.
By the time Silinart was ready to graduate there was major progress toward the establishment of Payap College, which would solve the problems of student recognition that Dr. Hamlin had been trying to work out with CMU. Ajan Silinart began her career as an educator at the Christian school in Fang and then became head of Vichianari School in Lampang. As late as 1979-80 she was still a candidate for a master’s degree at TTS (by then renamed the McGilvary Faculty of Theology of Payap College). She had written her thesis but then dropped the project when her responsibilities increased and it became apparent that a master’s degree in theology would not be applicable to her position as head of a school.
For the next decade Ajan Silinart was head of the Women’s Department of the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT) where she was tireless in advocating feminist points of view in opposition to the overwhelming male dominance of the church at all levels. There were a few women in church leadership, including Ajan Prakai Nontawasee who was the first woman to hold national office in the CCT. When women became eligible for ordination, Ajan Prakai and Silinart were ordained; (with Ajan Moree and Dr. Kamol Arayaprateep) they were the first, as I remember it. The transformation of church structure in the 1990s led to the Women’s Department being downgraded into a Christian Home and Family division, indicating a bias about “where women belonged” that infuriated Ajan Silinart and her colleagues, and also meaning that there was no longer a designated way for women’s particular issues to be raised and advocated.
At that point, Ajan Silinart was recruited to help with the Christian School in Udorn and with churches in the Isan area of the country. She finished her professional career doing this.
Meanwhile she was still an advocate of improved circumstances for women and for retired church workers, especially those who, like herself, were unmarried and had little or no family support. She was a fearless pioneer and prophetic voice right up to the point that declining health began to take its toll. I heard not long ago that she died and her funeral was held back home in Nakhon Pathom.
Robin could not go home for Christmas. He could never go home again. He no longer had a home. The morning he had been taken from his family’s Council Housing flat to platform 9 ¾ in King’s Cross station was the last time he saw his family. His father had made it quite clear that if Robin persisted in accepting the absurd invitation to go to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry he was never to try to contact any members of the family again, nor was he to let their neighbors know where he was going and especially what he was “trying to become”.
“But I am a Wizard!” he protested. He had been sure about it ever since his letter from Hogwarts came on his 11th birthday. “It’s who I am. I didn’t choose to be this way. I am not deliberately trying to shame the family. I’d quit if I could.”
His father refrained, this time, from slapping him for his cheek. But his tone was threatening when he sneered, “I do not want to hear another word out of your filthy mouth, you ungrateful … [censored].”
This was the last row Robin had had with his father and, measured against earlier ones beginning on his birthday on the Ides of March, it was icy and formal. Still, it shut off Robin’s last hope of reconciliation. He was frozen out of the family. There was nothing left to do but leave.
There was no doubt that Robin Astor Havorford was endowed with magic. It fairly oozed out of his fingertips and blazed in his brilliant blue eyes. But that did not help him like it. After nearly a year at Hogwarts Robin had contemplated running away to live on his own as he knew other boys had done. He knew one or two of them and that is what had dissuaded him. Their lives were wretched. What they had to do in order to survive Robin would have quickly found impossible, and he knew it. So, he could not go back home and he could not find the courage to take to the streets. Besides, he was in Hogwarts and that was a very long way from London where the only streets he knew were.
Following the Battle of Hogwarts in which legendary Harry Potter had defeated Lord Voldemort in single combat, relations between magical people and Muggles had improved. In fact, Robin’s whole class had been born several years after that, and it was not part of their shared experience. Hogwarts students of all types went back home for Christmas with their families. So as Christmas came again there were only a handful of students who were not leaving Hogwarts for the holidays. Not a single Hufflepuff was going to keep Robin company in the Hufflepuff common room behind the vinegar barrels.
After collecting papers at the end of Enchantment class Professor Verbal dismissed his students with a jolly, “Merry, merry Christmas!” But as they were rising he added, “A word, Mr. Havorford, if you please.”
“I wonder if you would consider a change of plans for Christmas. I am told you have signed to remain here, but if it is not too much of an imposition I’d appreciate your accompanying Victor Okonjo and me to Attlee Castle for Christmas. Victor’s family has gone back to Nigeria and it’s too far for him to join them, so I have invited him to come home with me. I imagine it would be more comfortable for him to have a Hogwarts colleague.”
Taking Robin’s silence for agreement, Verbal continued, “You’ll take the Hogwarts Christmas Express. I’ll see you there.”
At King’s Cross station, Victor and Robin were surprised to be met by a driver dressed in livery and then they were led to a vintage Bentley Continental Flying Spur for a luxurious ride north. Robin’s family had never owned a car, nor had Victor’s. Until they were getting into the Bentley Robin had never thought about Virgil Verbal’s life outside Hogwarts. The teacher had blended into the Hogwarts scene and hardly seemed entitled to another lifestyle. One aspect of a person’s identity often overwhelms other possibilities that way.
The driver, whose name was Gerald, took the A-12 north past Ipswich to Lowestoft, and then took a small road to Attlee Castle. They arrived after dark, which made entry into the Anglo-Saxon castle less dramatic than it would have been earlier in the day.
Gerald handed Robin and Victor over to the Attlee house elf, Ranklin. House elves keep Hogwarts in running order, but seldom appear in view. Neither Robin nor Victor had ever seen an elf. Robin was startled to be greeted by a naked, hairy being barely three feet tall with large ears and a bulbous nose.
“Greetings, young masters,” Ranklin croaked, his voice divulging that he was far older than he looked. Just recently Ranklin had learned of the illustrious lineage he shared with elves and dwarfs, going back to Roman gods. After that, he declined to be burdened with wearing servants’ rags and, except for rare occasions, shunned either the starched black and white attire of a butler or the silk toga he had had specially made for his liberation celebration. Liberated though he was, Ranklin was devoted to Attlee Castle and its residents, whom he now thought he outranked, noble as they were.
The next morning, the day before Christmas, Ranklin came to fetch Robin and Victor. “Master would like you to join him for breakfast in the solarium.”
As the boys followed the ambling elf, it was clear that Attlee Castle was both modest and ancient. It had been built as protection against Viking raiders, so it was strong rather than elegant in any sense. Robin thought it looked like a small version of the Tower of London. Over the years two wings had been added to accommodate Attlees, Verbals and their frequent guests with more comfortable quarters.
“Today we will go Christmas shopping,” The Lord Verbal said by way of greeting his students. “I hope you slept well. Your tower room was the bridal chamber for the first Lord Verbal and long before that it was the prison for a few days for Viking chief Harald the Horrible, who unwisely tried to pillage the countryside without reckoning on our having acquired certain ‘extra abilities’.” Noticing the boys’ gaunt, amazed expressions, he asked, “You did sleep well, didn’t you?”
“Oh, yes!” the two quickly responded.
“I have no money,” Robin confessed as he remembered the plan for the day.
“Nor do I,” said Victor, “except a few Knuts and one Galleon,” which he couldn’t imagine spending around Suffolk.
Verbal chuckled. “You will see how accommodating people are here along the North Sea.” Looking at the boys over his handful of scone and strawberry jam, the professor informed them, “Robin will buy something for a very old woman, and you, Victor, will buy something for ME!” Before the boys could repeat their protest, Verbal said, “I will loan you the money for these things and you can pay me back at some future date in Pounds, Euros, or Galleons.”
As they were cruising along in a silver Rolls Royce that Robin began to suspect was not just painted silver, he asked, “Who is the old woman I am to buy a present for?”
“Ah, that is a long story I will let her tell you, but I will suggest to you she adores Dutch chocolate covered cherries.”
After that, Robin’s shopping was easy. He also found a soft wool scarf for Victor, who was constantly shivering despite his repeated English winters. Finding his little loan of a few pounds scarcely depleted by these two purchases he decided to get some chocolate for Gerald and Ranklin as well as Professor Verbal. Even then, his wallet was only a little lighter. Victor had the same experience.
Meanwhile, Gerald and Verbal were off gathering Christmas crackers and festive decorations for the Yuletide table.
As dusk came, Virgil bundled the boys back into the Rolls and took them to a cathedral several miles from the castle. On the way Victor commented, “I didn’t know wizards went for this sort of thing.”
The professor winked conspiratorially, “Why, some of the greatest wizards can be found wearing surplices and copes … white under-robes and colorful capes,” he explained.
The event on Christmas Eve was “Nine Lessons and Carols”, an English tradition that “should always precede the coming of Father Christmas,” Victor enthusiastically asserted.
The Lord Verbal was recognized at the cathedral doors and so he and the boys were ushered to a pew of honor which provided everyone the chance to see them process, but also gave them the best seats to view the choirs and clergy.
At one point Robin leaned over to whisper to Virgil, “Is that man the Chief Warlock?” The man certainly seemed awesome enough to be a great Wizard. But Virgil identified him as a mere Muggle bishop.
After the candles and incense, the pipe organ and trumpets, the boys’ choir and the massed choir, as they were leaving through a tower where change ringing was regaling the countryside, Virgil confided, “Really, lads, our wizards could do with a bit of pageantry like this, don’t you agree?”
Ranklin did not need to arouse the boys the next morning. They were awakened by aromas flooding the castle, and by the thought of Christmas.
Clearly the guest list was expanded as Robin and Victor realized when they emerged into the great hall wearing new jeans and jumpers that had been laid out for them by unseen hands in the night. The great hall was small by Hogwarts standards, although it had a fireplace large enough to roast an ox and tall narrow stained glass windows with occult patterns that seemed to melt into different shapes as the sun passed by. The hall had been transformed from its somber stone with oaken trim into a holiday venue. A round table in the center would seat twenty when dinner was served. Meanwhile, early guests were making do with tidbits and heated drink. A trio of musicians strolled about playing an instrument with several strings, a pipe apparently carved out of a wooden vegetable, and a one-headed drum with a rattle and bell.
The boys felt shy among strangers, none of whom seemed close to their age except a small person of indeterminate age, sex, and ethnicity, who zoomed hither and yon engaging everyone in snippets of conversation, apparently unconcerned about continuity.
After a while, Ranklin, for once clad discreetly in a large wrap-around apron, escorted an aged woman adorned (rather than simply “dressed”) in a violet velvet gown spangled with glittering silver stars set with colorful jewels. She wore a matching turban on the side of which perched a small gold bird with sapphire eyes and rubies on its breast, which tended to preen itself when no one was looking. She carried a staff that served as a walking stick and resembled a scepter. As if on signal, Lord Virgil emerged from his chambers and glided over to her as she was being seated on a gilded bench with cushions and a bit of canopy overhead.
“Welcome, Dame Agatha and merry Christmas,” Virgil called as he got close enough to bestow a kiss on her cheek and get one in return.
Dinner was served very soon after that.
Poppers popped and everyone retrieved a party hat. Then a parade of waiters recruited from young, out-of-work fishermen from Lowestoft, carried in a boar’s head (or facsimile), a large roast goose, tureens of potatoes and parsnips, green, yellow and red vegetables, mountainous molded salads, purple wine and much more.
Conversation was limited to those seated on either side, and tended to take second place to the feast. Only after the flaming pudding and final round of beverages, when the waiters retired to their own repast in Gerald’s decorated garage, did the party resume its native informality.
For starters, Lord Virgil proposed a toast to Dame Agatha Vegford-Freelander Astor, “the most fearless witch in Suffolk and all of Anglo-Saxon England!” The guests were on their feet instantly raising glasses and nodding toward the grand dame. In response to their cheers, she hoisted her staff and discharged a shower of confetti and streamers.
By now it was clear the guests were composed of witches and wizards with any stray Muggles being totally initiated, as the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy had been gradually relaxed.
Games began as well as a type of dancing, never seen elsewhere, that must have come from about the time of Harald the Horrible’s capture and disposition.
Under cover of the festivities, Lord Verbal spirited Robin into a side room where he was surprised to find Dame Agatha waiting alone beside a small table that held two wrapped gifts, one which Robin recognized as his box of Dutch chocolate covered cherries. So, Robin realized, this venerable woman was to be the recipient and this meeting was what Professor Verbal’s invitation to Attlee Castle had been all about. He had little time to ponder this plot.
Addressing Dame Agatha, Verbal introduced Robin, “This is Robin Astor Havorford, whom we were discussing.”
“How do you do, Robin? Come sit by me here,” the old woman patted the armrest of a chair beside her, and added, “We will be fine, Virgil,” dismissing him.
“Tell me about yourself,” she ordered.
“There is not much to tell,” Robin responded. In his agitation, his Cockney accent showed itself. Robin heard it and reddened.
“I know more about you than you might imagine,” Dame Agatha confessed, “but I would like to hear it from you.”
Bracing his feet on the floor, Robin launched himself into the deep. “I am a wizard,” he admitted, only slightly emboldened by the knowledge that Dame Agatha was “the most fearless witch in Suffolk and all Anglo-Saxon England.” “I am the only wizard in our family, ever,” he added.
“You are wrong about that,” Dame Agatha filled in a moment’s hesitation. “But tell me how you first knew you were empowered with magic.”
“I did not know what caused strange things to happen, nor did anyone suggest they were not deliberate acts of a delinquent,” Robin quoted his teacher’s conclusions, often reported to his parents. “They would never believe me when I denied trying to do those things, and they didn’t listen when I said I hadn’t meant to do them. Then on my eleventh birthday the letter from Hogwarts was dropped on me by an owl. Then I understood. When I showed the letter to my father he got mad. He said things I cannot repeat.”
“I have heard them all before, I’m sure,” Dame Agatha conceded.
Robin took her nod to mean “continue”, so he did. “I got another letter when I had not replied to the first one. And then a young woman I had seen a few times in the neighborhood spoke to me on my way to our flat and told me she’d come on September first to take me to the train. ‘What about the school supplies, the wand an’ stuff?’ I asked. ‘It’s taken care of,’ she said. And so I went to Hogwarts.”
“Was your family happy about that?” Dame Agatha asked, showing great gentleness that hinted she already knew the answer.
“We fought about it many times,” Robin admitted, holding back a sob.
She let him recover and then persisted, “How do you feel about Hogwarts now?”
“I was sorted into Hufflepuff.”
“As was I, a century ago.” It was unclear if she was jesting about the date or telling the plain truth. “Go on,” she coaxed.
“I do not want to be a magician, a wizard, or anything!” Robin retorted. “I want to be normal! I want to be cured!” After a moment, “I want a family.”
Dame Agatha straightened herself minimally. “Now it is my turn to tell my story,” she said.
“I have no memory of my mother or father,” Dame Agatha began. “There was a war going on. There is usually a war, it seems. But this one surrounded me. I supposed, after that, I was an orphan. My family never appeared and I could remember nothing before the war. All my life before that was a blank. I managed to survive by theft and larceny. Does this surprise you? The one thing I wanted most was the thing I had least, family. Of that I had naught and nary. I had strangeness, however. Strange things happened to those who proposed to abuse me, little waif that I was. At age 10 I was the size of Ranklin, but hairless and skinny. I had no family, no roots and no history. I had never been to school longer than a few days. I had cunning, speed and stealth, but I had no future, nothing but a very narrow, unpleasant present. I had no days, nothing as long as that, only moments at a time. But into that brevity an owl came one day bearing a letter all sealed and lovely, which I could not read. You know what it said. They all say the same thing. But I had no more use for the letter than I had for any memory of my past. I needed meals not mail. Not a week later the strangest woman I have ever seen stepped out of a shadow and pulled me into an alley between two buildings. Her hold was frightfully strong and she called me by name. ‘Aggie,’ she said, snappy and demanding. ‘We’re going to eat,’ she said. That got my attention. ‘Now you can run or eat. Decide,’ she said. I decided, ‘why run when you can eat … if she’s telling the truth.’ She was. We ate and then one thing led to another and in a couple of weeks I was on the train to Hogwarts. I was intending to find out what I could steal and then get away. But Hogwarts is not a place you can steal from and get away. My stealing came to a sudden end, as you can imagine.
“It was there I met Edward Astor. He was an exceptional wizard, two years ahead of me. Ah, the stories I could tell you about our walks around the lake, into Hogsmeade, adventures.” She seemed lost in a dream for a moment, then snapped out of it. “He was no good at Quidditch. But he made up for it in … in other ways.” Her pale cheeks flushed. Robin pretended not to notice. “We were married, of course. At first it seemed impossible, he being Sir Edward Astor from a noble, landed family, until we found out who my great grandparents had been. Minor nobles, but noble at least, with a coat of arms and all. They had thrown out their second son, my father, when he was found out to be magical. Wizards were not allowed. I later learned my father and mother had been killed in the Yorkshire Elvish Uprising.”
She paused and asked, “Have you ever wondered about your middle name, Astor?”
“Your great grandmother was my husband’s sister. Back in her time witchcraft and wizardry were horrible crimes. Any hint of such would cause scandal and exile. People’s names were erased from ledgers and forgotten. Only your mother did remember that somebody back up the line was named Astor and she liked the sound of it. Fortunately. That’s how we found you.”
“Then you are my great-great aunt,” Robin gasped, counting on his fingers.
“After a fashion. My husband was your great-great uncle. But the main thing is we had but one son, who was killed in the war. Not Grindelwald’s war or Voldermort’s war, Hitler’s war. There are a few nieces and nephews but none to my liking and none magical. You are the first wizard in three generations, since Effring Astor, your mother’s mother’s mother. Do you know what I am about to propose?”
“I dare not guess.”
“Clever lad. Well, caution first. I propose we get to know one another. As I am alone these many years, and you are newly disinherited, perhaps we can become family, one quite old and one very young. What do you think of that?”
“Intelligent, too. We can try it out and see if it fits.”
After that the Dutch chocolate covered cherries seemed trivial, but Dame Agatha was delighted, and Robin was enthralled with a dress robe that was the envy of Hufflepuff and Hogwarts.
Ceramic lions could be better guardians of property than watchmen or guard dogs, particularly if intruders might be of the invisible variety.
Our friend and barber, Sunit, has just constructed a wall along the highway side of the property he and his sister share. He decided to mount guardian lions on the gate posts into the compound. A Buddhist priest from the neighborhood came with an assistant to “activate” the lions and initiate this new form of protection.
The process began with the priest seated in front of the four small statues, which were Chinese in character (rather than Burmese or Khmer), whereupon he lit incense sticks (but not candles, I noticed). The choice of Chinese figurines was to maintain a distinction between these lions and ones guarding the gates of temples. It is unseemly and inauspicious for private individuals to appropriate temple symbols.
The priest performed four sets of actions.
First he chanted from a script he had brought – indicating that the chant was prescribed but not frequently enough used that he had memorized it. His chanting was largely in colloquial Northern Thai language with Pali verses inserted a couple of times. The chant was a charge to the lions to perform their protective function for the houses and residents so they would have good health, prosperity, and safety from intrusions natural and supernatural. The chant ended by the priest producing a small sword about six inches long and a tiny one both of which he inserted into a glass of water infused with special pieces of tree bark. He used thrusting rather than stirring motions as he was holding the smallest knife and chanting. He told me later this was to “penetrate” the water with the extraordinary power of a Buddhist saint who used to own one or both of those knives and for whom the knife was now a surrogate. This turned the water intonaam-mon [see: http://www.kendobson.asia/blog/august-16th-2014 ]
Second, he inscribed 4 pieces of gold-colored foil, using an ornate wooden stick with a sharp point. Each of the pieces of foil was etched with a square box and then subdivided into either 9 or 4 squares. The squares were inscribed with numbers in old Lanna script. The nine squares were filled with numbers 1 through 9 in order, but the placement was in a special order which was the same for both pieces that contained 9 squares. Number 9 was in the place of honor in the middle. The priest told me that the 9 numbers represented 9 syllables in a verse calling for blessings from the Triple Gems of the Lord Buddha (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha), which he had intoned in a whisper as he etched the numbers in place. The two pieces of foil inscribed with 4 numbers represented “the heart of the lion”, the priest said, referring to an appellation of 4 syllables which he had chanted as he inscribed them. When he had finished, he chanted quietly (i.e. khathaa) while holding the 4 inscriptions close to his lips and then he solemnly blew on them.
Third, he turned his attention to the 4 gold and red painted statues. With a felt-tipped gold marker he wrote gold number nines on the chests of the four lions and then a more elaborate number on the bases between the front legs of each figurine. Then, using sprigs of leaves and flowers, he anointed the lions with naam-mon three times, and finally caressed each of their heads with his two hands. He was handed a cup of white lime paste [see:www.kendobson.asia/blog/summoning-prosperity] to which he added a few drops of naam-mon, without bothering to stir it. The preparation of the lions ended with him daubing a spot of paste onto the forehead of each lion. I think it might have been more spots if there had been room.
Fourth, the statues were placed on the gate posts. A bucket of cement was ready. In turn, the top of each post was covered with a finger-thick layer of cement. One of the foil inscriptions was placed in the middle of the cement and one of the lions was firmly set on top. Great attention was paid to the alignment so they were exactly straight and precisely centered. There was no chanting or ceremony as this was being done.
With that the project was complete.
Very few houses in our area have their gate posts adorned in this fashion. Electric lights are more common, but the majority of houses with front gates have nothing atop their posts. Perhaps Sunit was inspired by the incidence of several traffic accidents nearby on the new highway, resulting in at least two deaths, one of which, before the road was even finished, was right in front of his house.
The culture of village people of North Thailand, no matter which ethnic sub-group, can be called RICE CULTURE. For centuries life has been geared to rice: when it needs to be planted, how it is handled, and what to do in the meantime. That may have already changed. Let’s consider how rice is being harvested this year.
Our rice was harvested today. It was transplanted 105 days ago from seedlings a month old. That’s 4 months total. This year we have two crops from our field. Everybody around here counts on two crops a year. The actual harvesting this year was entirely mechanical for the first time. [See the picture of the rice harvester in action]. It took less than half an hour for our 2 rai [.8 acre].
We can say that rice harvesting requires two separate actions, cutting the plants and threshing the grain. Last year may have been the last time those actions were done separately. As in the past, for a millennium at least, the rice was cut by a work crew [see the picture of the crew cutting the rice by hand]. Getting it done this way is called long khack ลงแขก (literally “descent of guests” [friends, relatives, neighbors] but the phrase is usually used for calling out a work crew for planting or harvesting rice). Work crews were the oldest way of cutting rice. Until recently the grain was separated out of the heads by beating bunches over the lip of a big harvesting basket, on beating it with cudgels on a sun-baked mud floor, or by having hooved animals tread on it. In former times, still within memory, this was a community effort with important social opportunities.
Mechanical threshing machines removed a lot of the effort. That’s how our rice was threshed last year and several previous years. It was cut by hand and threshed by machine. This year the harvesting and threshing were done at once. Back home in Illinois the machine that could do both cutting and threshing was called a combine.
The next two steps in preparing rice are drying and storing the grain. The final step is to “mill” it, to grind the husk off so it will be ready to cook. This year the rice we just harvested was immediately delivered to an establishment for drying, although it would be cheaper to spread it out in the sun. That takes labor and attention. A sudden downpour of rain can spoil everything. The rice could have been sold today at a price depending on its moisture content and type of rice. But our rice will be kept for the extended family to eat.
Essentially every step in the harvesting process this year is being done mechanically for the first time. It could all be done by one laborer with the full range of equipment. But that is too expensive for our limited acreage, or even for a village-size cooperative. The fellow with the combine can harvest a lot of rice in a day, and his window of opportunity is at least two weeks long. A drier can accomplish the task in a few hours. Every village or two gets by with a single mill that can mill a sack of rice in a few minutes. One mill for every 3 or 4 hundred households seems to be enough.
The introduction of mechanical equipment has made harvesting less labor intensive. Last year cutting the rice for our 2rai took 10 people about 2 hours. Then the rice was transported by truck to a central threshing operation, which required another couple of hours, with about 15 minutes to feed our shocks into the threshing machine, operated by 4 men.[See the picture above of the threshing machine blowing away the chaff.] Each stage of mechanization reduces the amount of physical labor. This year one man did it all in 30 minutes.
It won’t be long until every aspect of rice production will be mechanized. This year we saw a rice transplanting machine for the first time. It was on TV, not yet here in our valley. But even here rice does not have to be transplanted. Seed can be broadcast onto a muddy field under perfect conditions. It’s being done that way more and more in the central part of the country. It’s only a matter of time before we will have planting fully mechanized, too.
Life on the farm is no longer rigidly geared to the phases of rice production. Rice for a whole clan of 20 people or so can be planted in a day, left for about 4 months and harvested in a day. Memories will be all that’s left of the year’s major social events when the whole village was busy, when boys met girls, when men courted eligible women around the threshing floor and grew adoring and desperate, and developed life-long friendships.
If there is any one thing that shows village culture vanishing, changes in rice harvesting might be it.
Taylor Potter’s mission houses from the early 1960s are remarkable departures from the stately brick and teakwood mansions of the previous era. They were far less pretentious, more functional and practical. They were statements of the intention that the Thai Church would be served by missionaries and not run by them. Moreover, the mission houses were generally tucked into corners of property and on spare lots, rather than at the front gates and in the center of things. Still (perhaps above all) the houses Taylor built were comfortable and efficient. They were designed to be relatively maintenance free and to operate with hardly any hired staff. There was no hierarchy among these houses; none was larger or more elegant than another. All of them blended into their comfortable place under the great shade trees missionary ancestors had planted. The houses were uniformly two stories tall, with maximum ventilation, and frill-free design. The houses encouraged the residents to be that way, too, to fit in and function without creating a heavy imprint on either the environment or society.
After the Second World War the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church USA began to send missionaries back to Thailand to resume work that had been interrupted by the occupation of Christian institutions, and to carry on the main missions of church-building, education, and medicine. Older missionaries returned if they were able, and new missionaries were recruited for innovative undertakings. After China was closed to Christian missionary work a new supply of experienced workers was diverted to Thailand, more rapidly filling leadership and support roles than would otherwise have been possible.
With regard to buildings and homes, the first task was to reclaim and repair what already was there. But the postwar mission force was soon larger than it had ever been, especially in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. As a new generation of Thai leaders began to fill key positions in schools and hospitals the houses that had been built for missionaries were often relinquished and missionaries were put into temporary quarters or new houses. Schools and hospitals not only restarted or recovered, they almost all expanded. Building projects the Presbyterian Church undertook continued for 25 years. In many cases the Presbyterian Church cooperated with sister missionary organizations to keep from duplicating and overlapping.
The Rev. Taylor Potter was both a clergyman and an architect. As such he was uniquely suited to consult and supervise mission construction. Although many of Taylor’s designs were unique, as was the Thailand Theological Seminary Fine Arts Center with its hyperbolic paraboloid roof, and his new plan for First Thai Church of Chiang Mai with semi-circular moveable seating, his design for new mission houses was duplicated many times with modest modifications.
Taylor’s idea was to utilize time-honored environmental adaptations to semi-tropical weather and pests, while accommodating modern tastes and needs. A typical Taylor design featured a maximum of windows for ventilation and light. These windows were rolled to one side for storage in pockets, often 2 or 3 layers thick. Windows downstairs were floor to ceiling. Upstairs there were waist high walls with windows above for breezes from as many directions as possible. Another Taylor design was to put the screens on the outside so they didn’t have to be negotiated to open or close the windows. The windows were of glass, rather than thick wooden shutters of older houses. All the houses were 2 stories tall with open stairways (not boxed in). Kitchens were small and efficient compared to earlier homes. Gone were the wide front porches that could rarely be used because of sun, rain or mosquitoes. Most of the houses had 2 large bedrooms on the second floor with an open area in the middle that could either be a third bedroom, a family area, or a storage space. Outside the kitchen some houses had an extra room for food preparation or laundry that might have an enclosed sleeping area for a cook or domestic staff to use. The houses were always elevated for moisture protection, mounted on posts usually a meter tall (not built on concrete slabs as soon became the plan for houses built of concrete). The houses were all wood, throughout Taylor’s era, before lumber became too expensive.
Taylor was known for his creativity and persistence. Even when he had to teach builders how to do such things as laminated beams, standardized windows, steps mounted on metal supports, and inset lighting fixtures, he supplied on-site supervision to get the jobs done as he had designed. So far as I know, all his innovations have survived except the pocket windows with screens on the outside. No subsequent builders have picked up on that.
In his 15 years or so in Thailand, Taylor was in charge of 47 building projects, he once told me. His comments and help were provided for many other building programs in addition. He was a clergy member of the sixth district of the Church of Christ in Thailand and pastor of Wattana Church for a term. After he left Thailand he was pastor of churches in Alaska and Hawaii. When he retired to Huntington Valley Pennsylvania he and Don McIlvride were the driving force behind a partnership between Huntington Valley Presbytery and the CCT’s 5th District in Nan. Taylor returned several times to consult on church and school building projects.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.