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Slow economy boosts Festival crowds

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Slow economy boosts Festival crowds | Thaiger

PHUKET: Slow times in the Thai economy and higher unemployment have had an effect on the Vegetarian Festival, with the number of people going to Chinese shrines for free vegetarian meals sharply up on last year’s figures. Partly, shrine spokespeople said, this was because they could save money. But it was also because believers felt that by taking part in the festival and taking food from the shrines for their families, they could improve their fortunes and their prospects. Wanchai Chantham, coordinator of the leading Jui Tui shrine on Ranong Rd said, “As of today, more than 15,000 people have registered to take meals at the shrine [compared with about 13,000 last year]. The majority are from Phuket, while the rest are mostly Thais from other provinces, and tourists from Singapore and Malaysia.” Those who register with the shrines make donations in cash or in kind, but this year many more simply came for the meals without registering or making a donation. “We have had people donating anything from 10 baht up to many thousands of baht, and taking meals with us for the entire nine days of the festival. We don’t mind if people give very little; we realize the economy is not good and, in any case, their intent is to help the shrine,” K. Wanchai added. He said he believed that many more people joined the festival on the first day (October 17) than in previous years because they could get free meals at the shrine and because this year the food on offer was different every day. Normally people join in either for the entire nine days or only for the last three days. “Our menu was more developed this year. This was also the first year that hotels were involved in providing free vegetarian food for people,” he noted. “We’ve cooked between 2½ and 3 tonnes of rice a day, both for people to eat at the shrine and to take home with them,” he added. “We cook 100 kilos of ‘kanom chin’ in the morning and it’s all gone in an hour.” Jare Kaewliporn, secretary of the small Sui Boon Tong Shrine in Patipat Rd, agreed that demand for food had increased dramatically. “We could tell from the increased number of food pails that the number of people coming for the food was up by about 30% on last year. “Part of the reason, we believe, is economic; everybody has to economize at the moment.” A spokesperson for the Bang Neow Shrine in Phuket Rd, told a similar tale. “A lot of people came for food this year; about 6,000 people registered but many more came without signing. They can save a lot of money because they can take as much food as they like, enough for the whole family.” Tomorrow (October 25) is the last day of the Festival, climaxing in an assembly of all the shrines at Saphan Hin at midnight.

 

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