A new year brings many things — new hopes, new dreams, new goals, new resolutions, and much more. I had hoped to start 2019 (or 2562 by the Buddhist calendar used in Thailand) with a new stamp but it wasn’t to be. Thailand loves to issue stamps on dates when the post offices throughout most of the nation are closed. That is, except for Bangkok and other select (but never seemingly announced) locations. Twice, I was able to obtain New Years stamps on New Year Day when the Phuket Philatelic Museum sold them on the date of issue. This year, I duly walked (it’s in the neighborhood) in 90-degree Fahrenheit heat only to find the gates closed and locked for the entire Thailand Post compound in the provincial capital of Phuket Town. The Philatelic Museum was a construction site — the roof gave way during a monsoonal storm earlier this year and they took the opportunity to refurbish the entire building (today was the first time I’d seen the newly painted exterior) — and the multi-storied “new” post office next door was quieter than I’d ever seen it.
Yet, my friends in Bangkok were enjoying visiting multiple post offices obtaining official and unofficial cancellations and a variety of pictorial chop-marks on their covers and New Year cards (which are a whole lot less expensive than imported Christmas cards when you can find them). So, unfortunately, as I post today’s article late in the evening of January 1 I have been forced to illustrate it with a version of the stamp downloaded from Thailand Post’s Facebook page. I plan to make a run to the post office tomorrow after my classes in order to obtain a few sheets and first day covers and replace the images. It was either take this route or choose a different topic altogether. I wanted to stick with the Year of the Pig despite the lack of a stamp (I happen to be missing the 2007 Thai stamp). I did come close to using the New Years 2019 souvenir sheet issued back in November; it pictured various Thai desserts and would have caused a lot of research I didn’t care to do today. Yes, I am starting out 2019 rather lazily.
I wanted to start the year by mentioning that change MIGHT be in the air as far as the A Stamp A Day blog is concerned. Let me explain the process I have gone through most days since July 1, 2016, when the blog debuted:
I tend to do EVERYTHING associated with that day’s article on the actual day. While I do have a calendar listing potential topics made as much as a month in advance, often I don’t decide on the actual subject until the particular date arrives. Sometimes I find that I don’t have a stamp that fits well with what I want to write about (my short list usually contains stamps I’m reasonably certain that I own but when I look, it’s just not there). Occasionally, the stamp is in such poor condition that I would be embarrassed to include it on the blog (that hasn’t always stopped me, however!).
Once a stamp is matched to the topic, then I do the research (I like subjects that have only one Wikipedia page but sometimes I have to visit a number of pages or there isn’t even a Wikipedia article for it) and find non-stamp images to illustrate the article (this can be the most time-consuming part of the process, next to inserting the images into an appropriate place and writing the captions, crediting the original source whenever I can).
The majority of the text in the ASAD articles come from Wikipedia entries under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. However, these aren’t always usable in their current form. I may have to flesh out the information from other sources (other Wikipedia pages are preferable) or they may have been poorly written or badly translated. I usually change British spellings to American ones and transpose miles and kilometers as well as other measurement conversions. Occasionally, I have to abandon a topic due to insufficient information.
Finally, I need to write something about the stamp itself. I like to include technical details such as printing method and perforation gauge as well as who printed the stamps and how many were issued. While the Scott catalogue is my initial source (most of the time), I usually refer to the Stanley Gibbons catalogue and the online Colnect catalogue as well. I discovered the latter just a few months ago and it’s been especially helpful in getting Scott (and, failing that, Michel) catalogue numbers for stamps issued more recently than contained in my physical catalogues. I usually buy a complete set of the Scott worldwide (A-Z) catalogues every six years but missed out last year so my current set is dated 2013.
I’m planning to buy the U.S. Specialized and Classic Specialized catalogues very soon so a A-Z replacement probably won’t happen until around Christmastime (and will be dated 2020). Not only are the price of the catalogues expensive, but shipping is often even more expensive than the books themselves! At any rate, sometimes I get lucky and find out the designer and/or engraver of a particular issue. What I love is finding the stories BEHIND a particular stamp issue and I do have some older philatelic literature that helps with U.S. releases from the 1920’s through about 1938.
Yes, this is a lot of work done in my free time each and every day for the last 918 days. It has become a full-time job where the only compensation is the joy I feel once I am satisfied that the article is complete enough to hit “PUBLISH”. I am thankful that my work schedule isn’t demanding or stressful (I’ve been teaching for so long that it’s really automatic — I don’t require much lesson preparation time and my only concern when asked to substitute for an unfamiliar class is finding the classroom). However, my days are planned around my teaching (and administrative) schedules and the self-imposed demands of A Stamp A Day. I do find myself planning all other activities around these.
One solution is shorter articles. I’ve tried that. The blog began with posts that were so brief that they make me cringe when I look at them. If I had time, I would go back and expand each and every one (and add images; so many look “naked” to my eyes now). I only recently added a daily word count column in my articles spreadsheet (necessary so I don’t repeat any topics or stamps; the WordPress search function misses out on a lot of items) so I can’t state an average article length for the entire history of the blog. I can state that last month, December 2018, the entries in this blog contained a total of 86,232 words; that is an average of 2,782 words per blog over the course of 31 days which doesn’t sound too bad. I consider a “short” article as being one less than 3,000 words and a “brief” one at below a thousand. The longest article in December, by the way was the one about Apollo 8 at 9,722 words and there were several between 5 and 6 thousand in length (that does include the words in the captions, if you’re interested).
Yes, let’s see if I can lower the average word count a bit more and avoid ANYTHING over, let’s say, 4,000 words. That would be a nice start.
The blogging was somewhat easier when I didn’t have any classes outside of the language school and those that I had were in the afternoon or evening. I would arrive at work each morning, do a bit of admin work and then get started on that day’s article in the air-conditioned (and quiet) comfort of my office. More times than not, I would finish before my first lesson of the day. At the start of this school term at the beginning of November, and the loss of a huge governmental contract, we had to terminate quite a few teachers. We inadvertently lost a few more under a tightening-up of immigration policy following the appointment of a new official and are still struggling to find qualified teachers with the proper paperwork to satisfy the increasingly stringent rules. It doesn’t help that some of our contracts are with schools that are quite remote and in neighboring provinces as well. It is difficult to find teachers (qualified or not) who want to drive to two or four hours each day, or even to move to some tiny town with no “Western-style” infrastructure. Thus, I have been helping out by teaching in a variety of places far removed from the routine of the office (and rarely is there either air-conditioning or a decent internet connection). On most days, the ASAD process begins once I’ve returned home after a long and hot day. The articles have consumed my evenings over the last two months (even on the rare day off such as yesterday and today).
Once I get started on the process, however, I do enjoy it. I know that I cannot procrastinate too late each day or I won’t finish by midnight. I just find a way to do it no matter how I feel. It gets done. If I want a day off from A Stamp A Day, however, I have to plan ahead and just put together double (or triple) the number of articles on a given day. That’s what I did in late November 2017 when I traveled to Bangkok for a few days.
I am proud that I have not missed a single day on this blog since I started A Stamp A Day on July 1, 2016, and I really do enjoy learning and sharing the information I find about the subject matter portrayed upon the stamps in my collection. I do need a break, however. My plan is this:
- Continue as usual until article #1,000. By my reckoning, that should happen on March 23 of this year. I will experiment with shorter articles during this period. I also want to include a section of “other events” on each particular date with a brief summary of each that interests me (sometimes there are multiple subjects that I would like to include on a given date).
- Change to a WEEKLY publishing format (preferably on Sunday as this has become my “guaranteed” day off each week with my newly renegotiated contract). I could change the name of the blog to “A Stamp A Week” (ASAW) or “Stamps A Week” (SAW), or similar, highlighting a main stamp (with a semi-detailed article accompanying it) and perhaps a sidebar post of other notable events from that week for which I have appropriate matching stamps, along with a brief summary of each. This makes more sense than my original idea of “A Stamp A Month” (ASAM). How could I choose just one?
- If there is something else very, very interesting during the course of the week there MIGHT be more than one entry.
I think a weekly format will not only be much easier on my daily life but will give the poor followers of this blog some time to actually read the articles! With the wealth of information contained in any given article, it must be akin to cramming for a series of final exams when the instructor keeps changing the course content. Personally, I like looking at the pictures (and I only proofread as I go along; I never re-read the full articles once they are published and only occasionally will read the first couple of paragraphs only if I tried to convey some personal experience rather than doing a Wikipedia edit).
Well, nearly two thousand words and I have yet to come to the topic of today’s article. That must be a new record. It is a New Year, after all. Let us hope that this is not a precedent that will be repeated!
The Chinese zodiac is a classification scheme that assigns an animal and its reputed attributes to each year in a repeating 12-year cycle. The 12-year cycle is an approximation to the 11.85-year orbital period of Jupiter, the largest planet of the Solar System. It and its variations remain popular in many Asian countries including China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Bhutan, and Thailand.
The Pig (豬) is the twelfth of the 12-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar. In the continuous sexagenary cycle, every twelfth year corresponds to hai, and is commonly called the “Year of the Pig” 豬. There are five types of Pigs, named after the Chinese elements. In order, they are: Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth. In the Japanese zodiac and the Tibetan zodiac, the Pig is replaced by the boar. In the Dai zodiac, the Pig is replaced by the elephant. In the Gurung zodiac, the Pig is replaced by the deer.
In the Thai language, the word for “pig” is moo (หมู) and the word for “year” is bpee (ปี). However, the Year of the Pig is usually called bpee goon or bpee kun (ปีกุน); goon or kun is Thai for “small” or “tiny”.
According to the myths, the Pig was the last to arrive when the Jade Emperor called for the great meeting. Other sources said that Buddha called for a great meeting when he was about to leave the Earth. The Pig came in last. Legend has it that just as the emperor was about to call it a day, an oink and squeal was heard from a little Pig. The term “lazy Pig” is due here as the Pig got hungry during the race, promptly stopped for a feast then fell asleep. After the nap, the Pig continued the race and was named the 12th and last animal of the zodiac cycle. Other sources say that given his very stout form, he was just too slow a swimmer, and thus he could not do anything against the other animals.
The natural element of the Pig is Water. Thus, it is commonly associated with emotions and intuitions. Yet, given that along with the elements (called the Celestial stem), the animal zodiac (called the Earthly stem) follows a cycle, each of the elements affect the characteristic of the same Earthly stem. However, the Pig is yin, and thus only the negative aspects of the elements can be attached to them, thus only five kinds of Pigs are found in the zodiac:
- 乙亥 (yǐhài) – The Wood Pig
- 丁亥 (dīnghài) – The Fire Pig
- 己亥 (jǐhài) – The Earth Pig
- 辛亥 (xīnhài) – The Metal Pig
- 癸亥 (guǐhài) – The Water Pig
While Thailand does follow the Chinese Zodiac (and celebrates Chinese New Year due to the large Chinese-Thai population) and a version of the Gregorian calendar for conducting business amongst foreigners, the government and Buddhist organizations follow the Thai lunar calendar (ปฏิทินจันทรคติ — patithin chanthrakhati, literally, “Specific days according to lunar norms”). Also called the Tai calendar, this is a lunisolar Buddhist calendar. It is used for calculating lunar-regulated holy days. Based on the SuriyaYatra, with likely influence from the traditional Hindu Surya Siddhanta, it has its own unique structure that does not require the Surya Siddhanta to calculate. Lunisolar calendars combine lunar and solar calendars for a nominal year of 12 months. An extra day or an extra 30-day month is intercalated at irregular intervals.
The Thai solar calendar (ปฏิทินสุริยคติ — patithin suriyakhati), Thailand’s version of the Gregorian calendar, replaced the patithin chanthrakhati in 1888 (or 2431 BE) for legal and commercial purposes. In both calendars, the four principal lunar phases determine Buddhist Sabbaths (Uposatha), obligatory holy days for observant Buddhists. Significant days also include feast days.
Note that the Thai and the Chinese lunar calendars do not directly correspond. Thai Chinese likewise observe their Sabbaths and traditional Chinese holidays according to solar terms, two of which correspond to one lunar phase. These also move with respect to the solar calendar, and so it is common for Thai calendars to incorporate both Thai and Chinese lunar calendar-based events.
Mundane astrology also figures prominently in Thai culture, so modern Thai birth certificates include lunar calendar dates and the appropriate Thai Zodiacal animal year-name for Thai Hora (โหราศาสตร์ — horasat). The Thai Zodiac is similar to the Chinese, though the Dragon is replaced by the Naga (งูใหญ่), and in Northern Thailand the Pig is occasionally replaced with an Elephant.
- Year of the Rat — Bpee Chuat
- Year of the Ox (Bull) — Bpee Chalu
- Year of the Tiger — Bpee Kahn
- Year of the Rabbit (Hare) — Bpee Toh
- Year of the Dragon (“big snake”) — Bpee Marong
- Year of the Snake — Bpee Maseng
- Year of the Horse — Bpee Mamia
- Year of the Goat — Bpee Mamae
- Year of the Monkey — Bpee Wog
- Year of the Rooster — Bpee Raga
- Year of the Dog — Bpee Jor
- Year of the Pig — Bpee Goon
To keep the years in sync with the seasons, Thai lunar years may add a day to the 7th month or repeat the 8th month. Therefore, years may have one of three lengths — 354, 355 or 384 days — yet retain a nominal length of twelve months.
- The 354-day-long years consist of 12 “normal months”, and such a year is called a “normal-month year” (ปี ปกติมาส — bpee pakatimat).
- The 355-day-long years add an extra day to the normally 29-day-long 7th month; such a year is called an “extra-day year” (ปี อธิกวาร — bpee athikawan).
- The 384-day-long years repeat the 30-day-long 8th month, thus keeping the month count at 12. Nevertheless, a year of 384 days is called an “extra-month year” (ปี อธิกมาส — bpee athikamat).
The Thai lunar calendar does not mark the beginning of a new year when it starts a new 1-to-12 count, which occurs most frequently in December.
The Thai solar calendar determines a person’s legal age and the dates of secular holidays, including the civil new year and the three days of the traditional Thai New Year (April 13-15), which begin the next Twelve-year animal cycle. Should the holidays fall on a weekend, it also accommodates these as well as some of the principal lunar festivals with a compensatory day off (วันชดเชย — wan chotchoei). April 13 of the solar calendar occasions the beginning of the traditional Thai New Year (เทศกาลสงกรานต์ — Songkran) and is the day that a year assumes the name of the next animal in the twelve-year animal cycle; Thai Chinese communities may observed the name-change earlier in accordance with the Chinese New Year.
The Thai names of the months were borrowed from Khmer, which were in turn borrowed from an unknown Vietic language. In the modern Thai calendar, months (เดือน — duean, meaning “month” or “Lunation”) are defined by lunar cycles. Successive months (or lunations) are numbered from 1 to 12 within the Thai year. As in other Buddhist calendars, these months have names that derive from Sanskrit, but for the most part are only known by Thai astrologers.
Two successive lunations take slightly more than 59 days. The Thai lunar calendar approximates this interval with “normal-month” pairs (ปกติมาส — pakatimat) that are alternately 29 and 30 days long. 29-day “hollow months” (เดือนขาด — duean khat) are odd-numbered (เดือนคี่ — duean khi); 30-day “full months” (เดือนถ้วน — duean thuan) are even-numbered (เดือนคู่ — duean khu).
To keep the beginning of the month in sync with the new moon, from time to time either the normally “hollow” Month 7 takes an extra day, or an extra “full” Month 8 follows a normal “full” Month 8.
Months 1 and 2 are named in archaic alternate numbers, with the remainder being named in modern numbers.
- Month 1, duean ai (เดือนอ้าย), begins the cycle of counting the months anew, most frequently in December, but does not signify the beginning of a new year. ai, an archaic word in Thai but not in other dialects, means first. An odd-numbered hollow month, it is 29 days long.
- Month 2, duean yi, (เดือนยี่, from archaic ญี่ meaning 2) is an even-numbered full month.
Months 3–6 use the modern reading of Thai numerals, as do all remaining months and alternate between 29-day hollow months and 30-day full months.
- Month 7, duean 7 is a hollow month normally 29 days long in years of 354 days, but adds an extra day (อธิกวาร — athikawan) when required for 355-day-long years.
- Month 8. duean 8 is a 30-day full month.
Athikamat (อธิกมาส) is the extra month needed for a 384-day-long bpee athikamat (extra-month year, ปีอธิกมาส). Month 8 repeats as เดือน ๘/๘ or Month 8/8, variously read as duean paet thab paet (เดือนแปดหลัง).
Months 9–12, “duean 9–12”, complete the lunar cycle.
Months divide into two periods designated by whether they are waxing or waning:
- Waxing: khang khuen (ข้างขึ้น), the period from new moon to full moon, is always 15 days long.
- Waning: khang raem (ข้างแรม), the period from full moon to new moon, which is 14 days long in hollow months, except when Month 7 adds an extra day, and 15 days long in full months.
A week is called Sapda/Sappada (สัปดาห์). The term is defined by the Royal Institute Dictionary (RID) as a 7-day period beginning on Sunday and ending Saturday. When referring to lunations, however, it is the 7-, 8- or (rarely) 9-day interval between quartile lunar phases; that is, from one วันพระ to the next.
While solar-calendar weekdays have names, lunar-calendar days number sequentially from 1 to 14 or 15 in two segments depending on whether the moon is waxing or waning. For example, raem 15 kham duean 12 (แรม ๑๕ ค่ำ เดือน ๑๒) means “Waning of the 15th Night of the 12th Lunar Month”.
Kham (ค่ำ , evening) is considered to be the evening of the common day that begins and ends at midnight, rather than of a day that begins and ends at dusk. Past practice may have been different.
Whew! I thought telling the time using the Thai method was difficult to learn. I think trying to read one of those red-and-white calendars in the temples will be impossible for me to use with any degree of accuracy.
Spread around Thailand there are twelve temples which are considered important pilgrimage sites for each of the twelve years. On their 12th anniversary birthdays, people will go to the temple corresponding to the year of their birth in order to make extra special merit. My birthdate of December 5, 1965, puts me in the Year of the Snake so I should make a pilgrimage to Wat Jed Yod (also known as Wat Photharam Maha Wihara) on my 60th birthday (2025). The temple is located outside of Chiang Mai City on the northwest on the bank of Mae Khan River. Lanna people believe that to get them into prosperity, they should visit the Phra That (Temple of their Zodiac birth year), just even once in their lifetime.
Not only was I unable to obtain the first stamp of 2019 today (not only in Thailand but in the entire stamp-issuing world), but the one website (in English) on which I can glean technical information is unreachable today. Perhaps they are updating it for the New Year. I assume most of the details are the same as previous stamps in this particular series. Started in 2015 with the Year of the Goat stamp (Scott #2841), each of the annual 3-baht stamps feature a “royal hand sketch” by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn (มหาจักรีสิรินธร), Patroness of the Royal Thai Philatelic Society. The layout of the stamps was designed by Mr. Udorn Niyomthum of Thailand Post and printed by Thai British Security Printing Public Company Ltd. Colnect states that the 2018 release in this series (Year of the Dog) was printed using offset lithography and is perforated 13¼. The stamps are available in miniature sheets of 10 stamps, which is standard for most Thai issues.
An exhibition of the Princess’s artwork in Bangkok during the recent Thailand 2018 World Stamp Exhibition included her paintings for the remaining seven animals in the series but, oddly, didn’t include the initial Year of the Goat design.
I mentioned that this stamp is the first to be released in 2019 anywhere in the world. I searched through quite a few nations’ annual stamp programs while doing research on new issues for Philatelic Pursuits and couldn’t find any others scheduled for January 1. Spain has three different (all unrelated to the New Year) due to be released tomorrow, January 2, Next to be issued will be two sets by Norway and a Year of the Pig release by Jersey on January 4. The United States won’t issue their Chinese Zodiac stamp until January 17, following Japanese custom by calling it the Year of the Boar.
As mentioned earlier, there are other commemorations on this date of January 1:
- the birth dates of Paul Revere (1733), Betsy Ross (1752), and Pierre de Coubertin (1863)
- Charles II was crowned King of Scotland in 1651 while Victoria was proclaimed Empress of Ireland in 1877
- the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was proclaimed in 1801
- Ellis Island in New York Harbor began process immigrants into the U.S. (including my father’s father) in 1892 while Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay became a U.S. federal prison in 1934 (I’ve visited but never stayed there)
- the City of Greater New York was created with four out of the current five boroughs in 1898
- the first American college football bowl game (the Rose Bowl) was played in 1902
- the Euro currency was introduced in eleven nations in 1999
I own stamps that would have appropriately illustrated any of the resulting articles had I chosen something else other than Thailand’s Year of the Pig stamp, despite my not yet being able to obtain the stamp. I think that next year, I will take a brief holiday and spend New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day 2020 in Bangkok with the main purpose of obtaining the Year of the Rat stamps and then running around to all the post offices for the various pictorial postmarks each will offer. I’ll probably stumble across a few real live rats on the streets while doing this!
For your information, today’s article has a word count of 4,911. So much for brevity….
Happy New Year! (Sawatdee Bpee Mai!)