Entry: Loy Krathong Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I know it's been another little while, and I apologize for that (again). The reasons are numerous and boring, but I've been a little busy with a few things - most notably getting married. I'll be sitting down someday soon to write something long and tedious about the ceremony itself, but until then, here are a few photos of the day, just to make you wonder and ask obvious questions :






There are about 80 or so more, and you are more than welcome to flip through them HERE . Be forewarned, however - until I get around to writing up all the ins and outs of the ceremony, the photos may be a bit confusing, re: strange headgear, forehead markings and handcuffs made of string. This may be a good opportunity for you to compose your own narrative, based solely on what you glean from the s[l]ideshow...


Until I figure out how to explain all of that, here's some stuff that's happening right now :


I got up for work today, and found that I didn't start sweating 2 minutes after I got out of bed. The season has finally descended which I will call "Autumn" or "Winter" or "not 100 degrees with scattered scorchiness and air that's like trying to breathe soup made of Jungle and tepid puddle-water". In short, I'm not in shorts. This is, one hopes, the first of about 30 precious days a year that are actually comfortable, and in which we're not in constant danger of being flooded out of our homes, swarmed by Dengue Fever-carrying mosquitoes, or wrung dry into our own clothes by the Constant Pounding Heat. The relatively cool weather means the end of the rainy season, which is best described by Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump – the part in which he describes the many types of rain in the similarly precipitation-besieged Vietnam. I'm not really making this temporary clearing in the Jungle sound very wonderful, but it's still home, and I still like it, contrary to any honest opinions about its environs.


I'm sitting in the living room of our large, comfortable and surprisingly cheap apartment on the eighth floor of a converted hotel on the Western edge of Chiang Mai. Looking out the window, I see Doi Suthep, a big nice-looking mountain, and spread out in front of it I see a largish open 'park' sort of area, covered in brittle crabgrass and sprinkled with big trees which provide shade for the half-dozen songtaews (red pick-ups with seating in the back - roving gypsy cabs, piloted by surly men who spend their days (supposedly) taking anyone anywhere, any time - the fare for this service directly proportional to the shade of one's skin) that are always there, peopled by drivers who are sleeping when they should be cruising the city, refusing to take people where they want to go.


Songtaew Park, as it's come to be known in our family, is currently sporting several fluorescent lights on sticks, set up for the Loy Krathong Festival - a yearly exercise in removing the eyebrows and fingers from celebrants by way of cheaply-made and overly loud illegal firecrackers and poorly deployed bottle-rockets. Several (about a dozen) locals are actually killed [read : dead. no more living. vital signs absent.] during this time, mostly due to massive burns from the aforementioned cheap fireworks, drinking formaldehyde-based beer and whiskey until they stop breathing, or falling off an over-packed bridge into shallow water. The focal point of this mayhem is the Nawarat Bridge on the glorious(ly filthy) Ping River. We went last year, in much the same spirit as I suppose a Senator from the late 60's might have toured a battlefield in Da Nang - it was spectacularly unsafe, we definitely didn't belong there, but we wanted to Have Been There. We escaped unscathed last year so, (probably much like that Senator considering another fact-finding tour) we decided to skip it this year and stuck to one of the calmer observances available to the Loy Krathong attendee.


Imagine a 6-foot paper condom. Now imagine a wire 'x' across the open end of that Brobdignagian prophylactic. Affix to the center of that x, a ring of cardboard and wax. Next, set fire to the wax/cardboard ring, and allow the condom to fill with very hot and smoky air. Hold onto the whole rig until you feel it starting to gently tug upwards, and let it go. Now, watch (with your mouth kind of soft-headedly hanging open) as your 'kom loy' floats gently up into the stratosphere to join literally hundreds of other such paper-and-wire hot-air balloons-cum-unbelievably dangerous flying fire hazards. The stated reason for this bizarre yet strangely calming ritual is that you are supposedly attaching all of your bad luck and depressing defeats to the balloon, and sending them off, smoking and glowing orange into the night. Once in awhile, the paper of the balloon gives in to combustion, and you can watch as it bursts into flames and plummets in slow-motion to land on something probably flammable, and likely important to its owner. The day after a kom loy-floating party, the landscape is dotted embarrassingly with the smoke-scorched leavings of everyone's bad luck – like giants had gathered for a party, after which there are going to be some uncomfortable silences and apologies not easily delivered.


Sara and I floated two kom loys and then beat a hasty retreat from Songtaew Park, before we were killed dead by exuberant 10 to 55 year-olds with artillery shells disguised as firecrackers. We went to a local bar filled with its usual assortment of defeated-looking 52 year old men and their bored 20 year old temporary girlfriends, and drank to our sudden lightness after sending our bad luck over the horizon. I like kom loys, and I like even more that this practice is not only legal, but encouraged by all authorities who really should know better.


The other Loy Krathong ceremony we lived through last year and decided to skip this year is the floating of the krathong. (You may have noticed a theme here – 'loy' means 'to float'; either on air as in 'kom loy' or on water, as in 'loy krathong'). All relevant information, background, history and pictures of chubby schoolchildren can be perused HERE. Be sure to read the descriptions of the day written by the children – my favourite is Anon's. The reason we didn't want to float our krathongs this year is that the best place to do so is at the Ping River, and you're literally going to take your life into your hands for the dubious pleasure of putting a few coins in a floating banana leaf, setting the obligatory fire on it, and watching it bob a few meters downriver, where poor children with little regard for tradition or chemical burns from the river water will wade in, steal the coins from your krathong, and fling it distractedly back into the water – no way is your wish coming true then. I'd rather let the German tourists jostle for position on the bank of a stinky river and shoot underexposed video of each other getting angry when poor children take their wishmoney. I'll slip a few baht to the next hill-tribe family I see on the street, and put off being shot to cinders by roman candles for another time.


There are a few things to write about, and I'll try to get to them – more 'things I see every day', a full description of our strange wedding ceremony, and reflections upon waking up to find I'm living in a police state.


Until then, may your krathong float away unmolested by the needy, and may all your bad luck drift off slowly into the night…





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May 28, 2007   11:30 PM PDT
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