Tuesday, March 14, 2017

#27: participate in a cultural event / festival in another country

Time: End of November-ish 
Place: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Level of excitement: 12/10 

I had planned an entire 17 country, 4.5 month trip around this. So on a scale of 1 to light my hair on fire...I was ready to set my braid ablaze. 

(Ironically, that came dangerously close to happening; like within millimeters/milliseconds- but more on that later.)

So there it was. I had a slight serious obsession with the floating lantern festival, aka Yi Peng. It all started with seeing endless photos of this fairytale-esqe festival the previous year on Instagram. 

Perhaps it was the romantic notion of sending a wish into the endless night sky, maybe it was the beauty of partaking in the addition of more stars to vast darkness for one specific enchanted night, or, could it be that I had a tiny bit of a pyro hiding within?

Let's say choice 1 & 2.

Turns out I had chosen one of the most elusive festivals to engage myself in, naturally. To avoid an onslaught of annoying tourists interested in setting the sky aflame while simultaneously wreaking havoc on the city, Chiang Mai decided to hold the exact date of the mass lantern release like a golden secret. My skills of reading a Lunar calendar may have lacked but my research on the internet skills more than made up for it. I had deduced an approximate few days that it would likely occur and made certain our itinerary would put us in Chiang Mai during that time. Fingers crossed. 

We stayed in a tiny hostel with a duct tape "knob" on the bathroom door, and where I employed a hair tie to close the curtains. But, we were across the street from 50 cent pineapple fried rice Thai lunches, and mere steps from the Peng River, where alllll the lantern action would occur. (Aside from the scheduled mass release at Mae Jo University outside of the city that we had no intention of fighting our way into.)

First up was Loi Krathong, meaning Light on Water: a peaceful tradition where one can send a floating banana leaf adorned with a candle, chock full with their prayers, hopes, and worries of both past and future away. Basically sending your problems or another's problems up-stream.
Talk about loaded.

Because of the Lunar Calendar for 2015, Loi Krathong just happened to fall within days, hours really, of Yi Peng, making for a dynamic duo of beautiful danger and hopeful wishing. So, thanks, moon. 

After purchasing our banana boats, we lit candles using some matches we found on the street. It was a miracle they worked. We scouted out what seemed to be a reasonably uncrowded spot (if at all possible) on the banks of the river and did what we thought we were supposed to do for Loi Krathong

1. Light candle. 
2.Think of worries and hopes. 
3. Push floating device a total of a few inches away. 
4. Watch as, like life, our problems do not want to leave as they float back towards the bank. 
5. Take big stick and encourage banana boat to get the F down the river. 
6. Almost fall in river.
7. Think "that's good enough, yes?"
8. Wipe sweat from forehead entire body since it's humid AF in Thailand.


For me, Loi Krathong was the appetizer before the main course- Yi Peng. Not to take away from the meaning, beauty, or cultural significance of Loi Krathong in any way, but I was literally jumping out of my own skin with anticipation. 

Let me at those lanterns. 

The next day was the day I had been not so patiently waiting for. And guess what? There was a parade. Guess what else? It was a sh*t show. 

Ok, these were pretty bad a*s 
THERE WERE TOO MANY PEOPLE. TOURIST OVERLOAD. And, although I was technically also a tourist, I didn't like to associate myself with them. Booths skirted the streets, Thai food permeated our nostrils, and fireworks were the suspenseful soundtrack accompanying our walk to the river to see about the lanterns. 

The river banks were littered with people, lanterns, and those screaming sparkler firework thingys. (Pretty sure that's the technical name.) The lanterns came in three sizes and were available at every inch down by the river. I obviously longed to launch the largest one they had. 

We paid for our lanterns and purposely made our way down the river a bit, away from the scary screaming balls of fire that seemed to be going off into the river every half second. 

I yearned to feel whimsical, and there's nothing more whimsical than making a wish. I was whimsically wishful. In that brief moment of zen before lighting my humongous lantern, I soaked it all in- I was here, in Thailand, launching my own lantern! 

And then I was hit by a firework. 

Abruptly jarred out of my Buddha moment, I dropped my lantern and match while the swirling sparkler tried with all it's might to light my long locks afire as KJ looked on in horror.

I screamed like a girl. Go figure. Oddly enough I matched pitch with the screaming sparkler, so no one really noticed. Frantically shoving the offending fire away from my stomach and braid, I looked down at my lantern, now on the ground. I. Was. Pissed. Off.

My gaze of anger was quickly directed to the source of said sparkler. The culprit was a Thai teenager who had released the ball of spinning fire into a person, namely me, rather than the river we were standing adjacent to. Somehow I wasn't burned. All eyebrows in tact.

A half-hearted apology was made, and I was left shaking. KJ and I exchanged looks of disbelief. I was worried about the lantern that had been discarded moments before in a rush of panic. It was fine. So was I. But damn, that was close. I touched my braid and wondered how many seconds it would've taken to transform into ash. I figured about 4, that sh*t burns fast. 

In all seriousness, I was shaken up cocktail style. I also needed a cocktail. As a self-proclaimed hairspray addict, I took a moment to thank the heavens that Thailand did not sell hairspray, or I would've been toast. Literally. 

The drama aside, I was not going to let the fact that I had almost combusted stop me from releasing my lantern. 

Inside the lantern is a ring of flammable-ness beckoning to be ignited. The tricky part is holding the lantern up so it can appropriately fill with hot-fire air. They are basically hot air balloon babies. 

Two people would be ideal to do so, and making sure not to release it too early; otherwise, the lantern will come back down- and that's when it can get real dangerous. 

I'd like to say the rest of the evening was just as I had envisioned- Majestic and mythical. But that would not be the truth. The actual releasing of my lantern was a pretty cool glory moment, sure. It floated all the way up into the sky, dancing with the others until it was just a speck of light, my wish mixing in with the rest of the world's.

I was however, still on edge. The popping and squealing of the continuous sparklers, fireworks, and God knows what else exploding- left me a tad jumpy. We relocated up to the bridge in hopes that it would be a safer location. 

Here's what I know about the festival:
- it's super dangerous.
- it was not, at all, how I thought it would be.
- it's super dangerous.

I'm not just talking about the 'being slammed by a sparkler' incident. 

I'm talking about the lanterns not being released correctly, subsequently falling back down into crowds of people and cars, inducing screams.

I'm talking about lanterns being released into power lines and getting stuck in trees. Lit AF.

I'm talking about the roads, including the bridge we were standing on with thousands of others, not being closed off to traffic.

I'm talking about fireworks. Regular sized Fourth of July type fireworks being set off in the MIDDLE OF THE GD STREET. THAT WE WERE WALKING ON! 

During our walk back to the hostel, (which, at this point seemed like a welcomed safe haven of duct tape and mismatching sticker tile pieces)we encountered another close call. 

On a side street, in the midst of at least 10 others, one of those fireworks I mentioned? Yeah it was set off mere feet away, sans warning, scaring the ever living sh*t out of everyone. 

I was over it. Sometimes, a travel experience is not at all what it seems, and this, this was one of those times. It was time to tuck my disappointment into bed. 

I no longer wondered why the locals dislike the festival so much. I'm with the locals. 

**participate in a cultural event/festival in another country? CHECK! Almost lose my braid and sh*t my pants? CHECK, CHECK!

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