Thailand’s Chinese-Thai Vegetarian Festival, “Jae”

Man pierced with stakes from beach umbrellas during Jae festivities in southern Thailand.
Man pierced with stakes from beach umbrellas during Jae festivities in southern Thailand.

I guess I lied about not covering the Jae festival parades. I thought I would just go shoot some pics and videos for my own private viewing but I’ve got to share some of these as they are really so bizarre and I’m still trying to come to grips with the whole concept of Jae as a vegetarian festival that originally was to celebrate the fact that a group of Thai carnies got well after a sickness that plagued them, by eating vegetarian food for a while. Here’s a good write up about the history of the Jae vegetarian festival in Phuket – where it started.

During this years Jae parade I saw piercings that were with metal rods a half inch thick. I saw them, meaning I was right there and watched them pierce a couple guys and one girl. The participants (piercees) didn’t seem to really feel the pain. Not one of them flinched their eyes as the rods went through their cheeks, or skin of the shoulders, neck and eyebrow areas. I used to wonder how people in the USA could get pierced multiple times in their face and even genitals… no more. It doesn’t even have an effect on me anymore, nor would it affect you after seeing hundreds of impromptu piercings some of them inches in diameter.

Why a Thai girl or boy would do this is still beyond me. I don’t get it. And, what happens tomorrow? The festival runs about 10 days I think. Today was a huge parade – and I wonder – are they going to have parades until the 7th of October when the festival ends? Do the girls and guys with the holes in their cheeks and all over the body keep the holes open so they can do it again tomorrow? Or, do new Jae festival piercees take their place? Do the same people that get pierced do it year after year? I did see a few guys with scars all over them -and guessed they were chronics.

I paid a lot more attention to the girls and older people this time compared to last year. There were many more girls with piercings this year than last from what I saw. Isn’t piercing the cheek dangerous because of infection possibility? That’s what everyone tells us – the mouth is the dirtiest part of the body and infection risks run high in the case of cuts.

I saw nobody using antiseptic as they pierced bloody and sweaty skin. They used bottled water. How do I know it was water? They were squirting it on people’s faces too – you wouldn’t want to do that with rubbing alcohol.

I saw more young teen males with piercings this time too – probably I was just looking more at what was going on – as last year I was just “Mun Hoo-uh Met” (dizzy headed / confused) about what was happening. I was really focused on the guys that were running the razors, hatchets, and machetes across their tongues and bleeding all over.

I saw some tourists stumble upon the parade and they were in shock. These were adults – twenty somethings and they just couldn’t get over it. This was my reaction last year. It was as if I’d happened upon the set of a Thailand zombie flick. There was so much blood everywhere and people out of their minds.

I saw one small Thai girl crying, I think the firecrackers were just too loud for her. During the 90 minutes I watched the procession I’m sure I heard 20,000 firecrackers go off. Easy!

So – if you live in Phuket especially, but other cities in the south also have some Jae processionals you can have a look at the goings on and decide for yourself whether you’ll be a Jae party-goer next year. I didn’t see even one foreigner (farang) in the entire parade – but I didn’t stay for all of it either. One could have watched all day because most didn’t return home until after sunset.

There’s still time to get to Phuket and witness the Jae spectacle if you’re dying to see it. Jamie Monk, What is Matt?, and myself had good coverage of it last year. This year Jamie has already broken the ice and had some great content posted.

The Jae festival is really a unique one. I say that because it’s the only time of the year when you can see entire groups of people – thousands – act un-Thai. The concept of face in the traditional sense is erased and a temporary set of standards is set in place during the festival…

During the festival it’s OK to spit blood down your chest. It’s OK to act like you are out of your mind -even if you aren’t.

It’s OK to yell WAK WAK WAK WAK WAK WAK WAKWAK. You’ll understand this if you attend the parade. Maybe you’ll hear it on some of my videos even.

It’s OK to drop 500 firecrackers at a group of parade walkers feet and walk away like nothing happened.

It’s OK to act like a chicken, monkey, pig, or bird… nobody will think less of you.

Maybe they’ll even think more of you? I’m not sure as I’ve not interviewed anyone that participates in this Jae festival routine. It’d be interesting if someone could get that on a blog.

Ok, there are still five days left if you want to check out the Chinese Thai JAE Vegetarian Festival in one of the southern cities. Phuket is THE place to go as they have a huge Thai-Chinese population and Phuket is where the Jae festival originated so many years ago.

More Jae festival photos:

Girls with metal rods through cheeks walk many kilometers in the heat during this parade.
Girls with metal rods through cheeks walk many kilometers in the heat during this parade.
Many people are holding the same pose with their fingers during the festival - is it something the Buddha did?
Many people are holding the same pose with their fingers during the festival - is it something the Buddha did?
This guy was serious about it, no dull blades for him. I saw the saw blade, it was sharp.
This guy was serious about it, no dull blades for him. I saw the saw blade, it was sharp.
This boy had 12 piercings that I could count and then one of the guys with the rubber gloves got the bright idea that he needed another in his throat. I have it on video - will put it up here on this page when I get to broadband inet cafe.
This boy had 12 piercings that I could count and then one of the guys with the rubber gloves got the bright idea that he needed another in his throat. I have it on video - will put it up here on this page when I get to broadband inet cafe.
Jae is as much about show as it is about the true spirit of the thing. Parade marchers try to out do each other. I saw a guy with a deer antler through this cheek, another with a bicycle frame, another with a rod 3 meters long, and of course the guy with beach chair poles through his cheeks in the photo at the top. You've really gotta see this if you live in Thailand or are visiting during Jae.
Jae is as much about show as it is about the true spirit of the thing. Parade marchers try to out do each other. I saw a guy with a deer antler through this cheek, another with a bicycle frame, another with a rod 3 meters long, and of course the guy with beach chair poles through his cheeks in the photo at the top. You've gotta see this if you're in Thailand.

If you post some photos or videos – let me know and I’ll link to them from this post.

My Jae 2007 experience (blog) >

Jamie in Phuket’s Jae schedule and photos 2008 >

Jamie in Phuket’s walk through Kathu Village (Jae related) >

wakwakwakwakwakwak…

Vern

PS: I have a 15 minute video compilation of the Jae parade that I’ll put up in a day or so at this post so if you’re interested, bookmark this page.

Author: Vern

I'm an American expat living in Thailand. I like to write informative pieces about life in, living in Thailand, including topics like: Thai People, Thai Culture, Nightlife, Technology, and I have published a lot of photographs, videos, and even books on Thailand that you can find at ThailandeBooks.com. There are many photographs of Thailand here - feel free to share with attribution (a link back to the home page). All written content on this site by Vern Lovic. Contact me at Google+.