The Buddhist festival of Loy Krathong, full moon November 22nd
I have copied and pasted the next paragraph just to give little bit of background:
The history behind the festival is complex, and Thais celebrate for many reasons. The main rice harvest season has ended and it’s time to thank the Water Goddess for a year’s worth of her abundant supply, as well as an apology for polluting the waters. Some believe that this is the time to symbolically ‘float away’ all the anger and grudges you have been holding onto, and including a fingernail or a lock of hair is seen as a way of letting go of the dark side of yourself, to start anew free of negative feelings. If your candle stays alight until your Krathong disappears out of sight, it means a year of good luck.
I went to the border, to the Friendship Bridge (Thai/Myanmar) to watch hundreds of these little rafts being floated down the river. the atmosphere was typically Thai, very crowded, thousands of people, hundreds of motorbikes, tons of street food, loud music, lots of colourful costumes, flowers and lights, plenty of fireworks. The night of the full moon is always important, but this one represents the successful end of the main rice harvest and it is only right to give thanks to the goddess and spirits of the water for the abundance. Buddhist festivals revolve around the phases of the moon, and it is forbidden to drink alcohol on the night of the full moon, which is when most festivals takes place. Yeah right! I can’t say I saw much evidence of abstention myself, but the atmosphere was joyful and celebratory and I didn’t see any signs of conflict or fighting such as a gathering like this might lead to in the UK.
Many people are upset or angered by the other aspect of the “lantern festival”, namely that the floating candle powered lanterns, made of paper but also wire, have to come down to earth again eventually, and the wire frames can cause quite a lot of damage to livestock as they land in fields where cattle and other animals are grazing. As far as I know, it is now forbidden to launch these lanterns in the UK, but here, especially in Chiang Mai for example, hundreds of them can be seen lighting up the sky during Loy Krathong. They do look very pretty I have to admit, and each one carries at least one wish from the person who launched it. It is a good opportunity to let go of negative feelings and anger, to make a symbolic commitment to a more positive outlook, and I’m all for that!
Whatever the ethics/issues of all this, we had a brilliant evening, and I’m really glad I had the opportunity to go along.
Sweet Bread and Salty Toothpaste
And now for something completely different. I refer you to the above photograph of a bunch of bananas and a jar of vegemite. What a find! The whole Marmite/bovril/vegemite thing is so very British/Australian that the rest of the world is left scratching its head over our obsession with it. Personally, I happen to love Marmite, and, courtesy of friends (thank you Fweddie and Amanda for your gifts) I have a supply back home that will probably last me for three years. However, that doesn’t do me any good here, so finding this little beauty was rather exciting.
Now I am willing to try almost any food, from almost anywhere, so I am certainly not a “picky” eater. However, I do not have a particularly sweet tooth so I am starting to struggle a little with the amount of sugar that appears to be compulsory in Thai food. (Not so much in Burmese food though). The above jar of vegemite has so far been tried out on: Sliced wholemeal bread- fairly sweet but not intolerable, sesame crackers – more like digestive sweet biscuits, white bread roll – more like a brioche/cake, on its own on a teaspoon – a little too much even for me! Nothing daunted I am persevering, and enjoying the challenge.
The bananas have made an appearance because I wanted to let non-Thailand residents know that the bunch shown above cost 10 Baht ( about 25p) and that you see them for sale absolutely everywhere. I bought these from outside a florists shop, but it could just as easily have been outside a motorbike maintenance yard. The fruits themselves are small, stubby and very dense. They also taste delicious and are a great source of energy. These ripen in about 3 three days, and I don’t always get around to eating them all, but at that price I don’t feel too bad about chucking the last few out.
You can, of course, buy a longer, yellow, cellophane wrapped version if you want to pay 11 Baht for one banana from the 7/11 store.
So, most things come with a hefty dose of sugar, apart from the toothpaste. After trying a “home grown” brand, that tasted of lemongrass and salt, I bought Colgate the next time hoping for a bit of minty familiarity. Nope. It’s like cleaning your teeth with a mouthful of seawater. Guaranteed to bring on a gag reflex. It’s no big deal though, just one of those quirky things that remind you you are in a different place! (The temperatures holding steady at about 29/30 most days isn’t enough apparently).
Cultural Exchange Visit
Mae La students will be welcoming students from Harrow International School, Bangkok next week.
The dog is Buddy, who belongs to the Principal of PhuTaw College in Mae La refugee camp. He welcomes me when I arrive, and usually escorts me back to the gate when its time to go. He often joins us in the classroom too.
At the end of next week we will be bringing our Mae La students out of the camp and in to Mae Sot for a weekend. They will meet up with a group of students from Harrow and have a couple of days’ activities and socialising before the Harrow students return to the International School in Bangkok and our students return to the camp. We’ll be swimming, eating a “family” dinner (for around 50 people!) and doing various other things with the young people, who will hopefully exchange ideas, experiences and “culture” with each other. I’m looking forward to it, even though it looks like being an exhausting week end.
This has been a long post! Very briefly then, I will probably be travelling to Kachin State in Northern Burma for a few days to meet up with staff in the newest MEP venture up there. Pretty isolated and only recently opened up to Westerners, the staff have a lot to contend with. I’m hoping to fly there for a few days in December.
New Year will hopefully be spent in Krabi – the tourist resorts in Southern Thailand, blue seas, white sands etc etc so a complete contrast there! However, news of these visits will no doubt provide material for future blog posts. For now, I reckon I’ve earned a bit of a break so I’m off to the Queen Palace Hotel to see if the pool is now fixed. Temperature is now 32 and a nice cool swim would be a treat.
Til next time folks,