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Wai Khru krabTeachers are very highly regarded in Thailand.  The most important event at schools throughout the country is the Wai Khru.  This is always held on a Thursday towards the beginning of the academic year because Thursdays are considered to be an auspicious day for teachers.  Our school held Wai Khru ceremonies for the English Programme this past week.  It was my first experience of this truly memorable event.

"Wai Khru" is Thai for "pay respect to the teacher."  The students present their teachers with flowers or jasmine garlands, thanking them for teaching them in the past and also to gain merit and good fortune for the future.  The students actually prostrate themselves at the teachers' feet in what is called a krab — the most polite way to show respect.  It's similar to lay people making an offering to high monks which says a lot for how Thai people feel about teachers.

Our school had two Wai Khru ceremonies in the English Programme — one in the morning for the Kindergarten and another after lunch for lower Primary through Mattayom 1 students.  They each began with the school band playing a song for teachers and the students reciting several prayers.  The teachers and school administrators were seated in a line of chairs across the length of the assembly hall.

The flower presentations began when a boy and a girl representative from each class in turn approached the center of the line of chairs walking on their knees.  They then presented a flower arrangement they'd made the day before to the school's manager and principal.  The flowers used in these arrangements are chosen for their symbolism. Dok Ma Khue (eggplant flower) stands for respect because when the tree blooms it's branches bend down in the same way a student pays respect to his teacher.  The Yam Puek (Bermuda grass) flower stands for patience and perserverance; it actually appears wilted but it is very much alive.  And Khao Tok (popped rice) is symbolic of discipline because the rice is placed in a pan together and heated up to become popped rice.

The students prostrated themselves, presented the flowers, gave a wai to the school manager and principal, and then proceeded along in front of the row of teachers' chairs while remaining on their knees.   The flower arrangements were passed along the line from teacher to teacher until eventually there was one sitting in front of each of us on a knee-high bench.

Next, each class in turn lined up and approached the row of teachers.  They did a krab at our feet, presented us with their individual flowers brought from home, waied us, and then proceeded back to sit on the floor of the assembly hall.  Most students gave us the Dom Kem flower which means "needle" in Thai.   It's symbolic in that the students believe it will make them sharp-witted and brainy.  Many of these flowers were presented in an arrangement with incense sticks and a candle.  Together with the flowers, they represent the Triple Gem (ratanatri) of Buddhism — the Buddha, his Teachings (Dharma), and the Community (Sangha).

We each received so many flowers (there being some 800 students in the English Programme) that once we received them we would hand them to student volunteers behind us.  I kept a particularly beautiful arrangement to give my wife when she picked me up later in the day, surprising her immensely.

Wai Khru ended with a speech from the school's principal and the band playing a song for HM the King.  It truly was a remarkable ceremony and I felt somewhat humbled to be on the receiving end of so much respect.  I did videotape portions of the event from my vantage point in the row of teachers; although I'm still without a camera I hope to post some photos taken by some of the school staff later in the week (the picture of the students doing the krab at the head of this entry is from a post by Richard Barrow on the Praknam Web Forums).

The only detractor to the afternoon was the intense heat — our school's assembly hall/canteen aren't air-conditioned and the three or four large fans brought in for the ceremony just couldn't cope.  It was quite a trial for students and teachers alike to sit there sweating for some two-and-a-half-hours.  Still, I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.  My first-ever Wai Khru really did make me feel like a part of something special.

[Cross-posted on my Thai culture & news blog at Baan Jochim Phuket.]