Thailand’s Chinese Vegetarian Festival, “JAE”

A teen girl with a pierced cheek participates in the Jae Festival in Thailand.
A teen girl with a pierced cheek participates in the Jae Festival in Thailand.

Thailand’s Jae Festival is not for the weak minded. If you decide to catch some of the festivities read this first to prepare you. My introduction was meeting the parade on the street in Krabi in 2007.

This is what happened…

“Jae” Chinese Buddhist Vegetarian Festival Parade

Yesterday was October 14th, 2007. I had just eaten some “Pad see-yoo” and was going to drive around town and see if I couldn’t come up with something interesting to photograph since I hadn’t taken any good photos in about 3 days.

I had no idea that in less than 5 minutes I’d be taking photos and videos of the most bizarre things I’d ever seen in my life (I think, I must do some mental reconn, but I think this is the most bizarre if I’m not counting ping-pong ball shows in Waikiki’s red light district… I digress…)

I decided to follow a truck full of Chinese-Thai people dressed in white for the Chinese Buddhist Vegetarian festival called, “Jae” or “Jeh” or “Jah” or “Ja” or whatever you prefer. I had heard that at the end of the week there would be a massive party at the Chinese temple and I’d be able to get some good photos of guys putting skewers, swords, knives, bicycle frames, and other metal and non-metal objects (antlers of deer)through their cheeks, neck, lips and so on.

I had attended a night parade on the last day of this festival in Surat Thani the year before. It was quite cool and I got some great photos, though I’m not sure I put any of them up on the site. I will find some and do just that shortly.

Anyway, so I followed this truck full of sweet Thai people and they stopped at a parade that was taking up all of what I call “2nd street”. In every town in Thailand I just call streets 1st, 2nd and 3rd ever since I spent the first 2 months in Patong and they have beach road, 2nd road and 3rd road. Remembering names of streets is not that important to me.

So – there was this HUGE parade. Immediately I saw guys and girls with crazy piercings. Their cheeks were skewered through – both sides with long metal rods, swords, spears, metal of all sorts. It was nuts… but, while that was nuts what some of the other guys were doing was even more bizarre…

They had a plastic holder for a straight edge razor that resembed a toothbrush I guess one might say. They were rubbing the razor back and forth over their tongues to make it bleed and letting the blood roll down over their chests. Quite a scene.

I was initially a bit cautious about getting close to these obviously deranged / possessed guys that were swinging swords, spears and all kinds of pointy things any which way their instincts told them to. But, I quickly got over that because I needed to get some great photos and videos.

What did I see?

  • I saw guys cutting their tongues with straight edge razors.
  • I saw guys cutting their stomachs with hatches, razors, and swords
  • i saw guys running a sword up and down on their tongues
  • I saw a guy with a deer skull with antlers… an antler was through his cheeck.
  • I saw a guy with a modified bicycle frame with part of it going through his cheek.
  • I saw a few girls with metal rods through their cheeks.
  • I saw a guy with two hatchets (small axes) that was hammering the blade into his forehead with the back of the other hatchet.
  • I saw a guy that was pierced with about 6 metal rods that went through his lips, neck and skin near the shoulders.
  • I saw guys with spears piercing through both cheeks.
  • I saw groups of guys sit on the street in a circle and have a tongue cutting ceremony.
  • I saw grown men and women act like monkeys (they were supposedly possessed).
  • I saw girls act like infants.
  • I saw guys swinging swords, spears, Molly Hatchet blades, and everything else – wildly in the air as if they were fighting off demons.
  • I saw approximately 500 people that were truly out of their minds.
  • I saw little kids of 2 and 3 yrs old watching the men cut themselves from as close as 2 meters away.
  • I saw a little boy of about 4 years old run after his mother crying and trying to offer her some water to cool her down as she walked in a trance like a Buddha – and then she pushed him away from her when he got close.
  • I saw men and women dancing beneath thousands of falling firecrackers that were going off over their heads, and under their feet, all around them.
  • I saw guys grunting, squealing, and making wretched sounds that I’d call animal-like or demon-like.

The whole parade was a freakshow. There were normal people yes, and they outnumbered those that were out of their minds, but the purpose of the parade I guess is to show that the gods – I don’t know what gods since there aren’t really gods in true Buddhism, but the gods protect these guys as they are hurting themselves… they supposedly feel no pain.

It was about 90 degrees F (38C?) not sure of the conversion, but it was hot. The metal blades that were going through the cheeks of the people had to be sprayed with cold water every few seconds or minutes because the metal was heating up a lot in the sun.

I shot all video on my memory stick before I even shot one photo. It was just great for videos.Then I shot 10 photos on my camera’s memory before deciding to go home, dump the content and clear the memory stick so I could return quickly. I did, and glad that I did as I got better (more bloody and disgusting) photos the 2nd time.

So, the Jae Chinese Buddhist Vegetarian festival is really something that you wouldn’t want to miss if you come to Thailand in October.

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+.

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