banana tree stumps, fireworks, and beauty competitions: loi kratong 2009

i keep waiting for things to calm down here. i keep waiting for a boring day, for a day when i might just miss the usa, for a day when all i want to do is go to bed.

but it's just not happening. every day has been beautiful in some way. oh, god, i sound so lame when i say crap like that. whatever.

today was loi kratong (often spelled loy kratong, but since romanizing thai words is all a phonetic guessing game anyway, i decided i'd like to spell it l-o-i), which meant no classes, an introduction speech from us farang in front of the entire school, and a traditional thai dance put on by us farang ourselves.

oh, yes, friends. we did the dance today. after hours of practice (hmmm...that's actually a generous term for how much serious practicing we did), we took the stage and shook our groove things like nobody's ever seen. here, i'll set the scene for you.

more than three thousand thai kids are sitting in the gymnasium, enjoying the loi kratong assembly and festivities. when i say "enjoying," i mean screaming their heads off any time one of their classmates gets on stage to sing. these kids are easily excitable. after maybe 20 minutes of other performances, our dance leader tuk signals to us that it's our turn, and we line up in order with our partners.

a word about what we look like: bizarre. we've all got our thai costumes on, which for girls means a red jacket with a black wrap around skirt and a scarf-type deal wrapped over our shoulder, and for boys means a neon green shirt with a bright red sash tied around their waist.

as soon as the thai students see us farang walking toward the stage, they go wild. i've never seen an entrance like this at a school, much less for me. we felt precisely like rock stars.

we got on stage, the music started, and we messed up the dances about 80 times. the girls went in when we were supposed to go out, nobody faced the outside of the circle when we needed to, blah blah blah. but we (farang and students) were all cracking up way too much to notice. i know somebody took a video, so i'll try to let you know when that comes in to play.

oh, we gave little introduction "speeches" earlier in the day (speech=two sentences, one says where you're from, the other says how excited you are to be here), but they weren't really a big deal. especially in comparison to the rest of the day.

so on loi kratong, the big to-do is to make a "kratong" (which means something like boat) out of some trunk from a banana tree, the banana tree leaves, and a crap ton of beautiful flowers. then you stick a candle and some incense in it, take it to the river at night, and float it ("loi") in the river. in the afternoon, bird, who's another one of the thai teachers, brought us some kratong stuff and helped us make our own. at the end of the day, she told us to go to this one wat where everybody in town goes for the loi kratong fest.

around 8 pm, seven of us found a taxi (hrmm...don't think of a car when you read this. more like an enhanced motorbike with a tiny, open trailer), showed him the piece of paper bird wrote the name of the wat on, and hopped in. when we got off, we were greeted with fluorescent lights, firecracker noises, and enough kratongs for the world. look at pictures. i can't say that enough when i talk about thailand. my words are a petty excuse for explaining how incredible things are here.

we found our way to the river and set off our kratongs, which is supposed to bring good luck and health. you can write the names of whomever you like on a piece of paper and stick it in your kratong, and legend has it that the buddha will bring all of those people good luck and health. (of course i put your name on it.) you also put a finger nail (which i forgot) and a piece of your hair in the kratong to bring good luck to yourself.

with the kratongs headed down the river, we were content to hang around the festival and soak it in. the guys (ian and sam) got all pyro-happy and found some fireworks. these things aren't regulated here whatsoever (the fireworks, not the boys), so people were setting them off pretty much everywhere. getting hurt potential was at about 78%.

on our tuk tuk ride back, we were all so giddy from such a phenomenal day that we couldn't knock smiles off our faces. now i'm going to bed way later than i planned, and i meant to upload more pictures for you, and i meant to watch that episode of glee, but i don't even care. i fucking love this country.

p.s. i forgot so much stuff. i meant to tell you about the beauty contests, the flying lanterns, the general thrill of tuk tuk rides, and more specifics about kratongs. but this is already a novel, so i'll hold back. i'll save the stories for another time.

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