Don’t Touch the Cobra

Don’t Touch the Cobra

This was the advice I received from the Buddhist nun, Ajarn Sundara, who visited our school. It was in response to my question about how to deal with a recurring thought.

‘Thoughts are like cobras in the mind. If you don’t touch them, they won’t hurt you.’ As odd as this might sound, it actually did make me feel better. Now when the thought comes, I don’t ignore it, but tell it kindly that I know what it is, and that I have no use for the thought anymore. To keep investigating it is like poking at a cobra. If I don’t bother with it, it will go away eventually. I have poked and prodded this serpentine nagging in my mind for too long now. 

I sense that the cobra is in the process of slowly slithering away. Without the cobra plaguing my mind, things are becoming clearer again. It feels like there is more spaciousness and more freedom to just be.

thumbs_IMG_5327Offering rice to Ajarn Sundara on Makha Bucha Day at Panyaden School.

 

Soaked and Smile Lines from Songkran

Soaked and Smile Lines from Songkran

Splash! Songkran is here! It’s Thai New Year and one of the funniest holidays I know.  Its origins are of cleansing Buddhas and paying respect to elders and monks. Now it’s more like the whole country is in a huge water fight and the center of it all is Chiang Mai.

Some friends of mine asked if I wanted to ‘play’ Songkran with a bunch of people. They had a truck (a purple truck :)) and would be driving around the moat with us throwing water and getting water thrown on us. There would be some adults and also some children. It sounded like the way to do things. It is the hottest time of year in Thailand and the end of the dry season – let the water throwing begin!

Preparing for Songkran in the back of the purple truck before we left

You can see us throwing water, but might not be able to tell there are not only several bins filled with water, but also a baby pool filled with water in the back.

Buckets, squirt guns of various sizes, and lots of water comprised our artillery. Our water had delicately scented flowers to keep with the cleansing tradition, despite the water guns.

We were prepared for the fun as we left and headed to the old city.

This cute little girl in the white dress was an indefatigable water thrower.

Songkran is a holiday for all ages.

I quickly realized that although people of all ages were participating, to my mind the best age to be would be somewhere around 10-12 years old. Luckily, we had some kids representing those ages in the truck. Songrkran is a good time, but it’s a better time when it’s spent with kids.

Best age for Songkran? 10-12.

Regardless of all the sitting in traffic and the water throwing, people were peaceful. My friend commented that in England people would be fighting. I agreed and added the US too. Can you imagine any US city with a big water fight and people not getting angry? I cannot. Here in Chiang Mai the only people I saw getting upset were the foreigners.

Songkran water shooting with smiles. It looks like it’s raining in these pictures. It isn’t. In fact it’s been very dry. All the water shown is from people throwing or squirting it.

Carefully pouring the motorcyclists going by, though not everyone is so careful

3 on a motorbike getting splashed on Songkran

Does it look dangerous? (I mean the water throwing on moving vehicles – 3 young people riding a motorbike without helmets is the norm here). Yes, well, I agree throwing water in the face of a motorcyclist is not a very wise idea. It happens, as do accidents, but the general vibe is one of fun.

As if there was a fire, people banded together to get water out of the moat.

It’s a crazy celebration, but all in good fun or sanuk the Thai word for fun.

The Fahrenheit forecast for the Songkran weekend. It was 88 at 10 am.

After riding around in the back of the truck and getting drenched for hours, even though the forecast was balmy, I actually got cold. I decided to ride inside the truck for a while, which was the only safe place to take pictures. This video shows a 25 second snippet of what was happening outside:

Most of the Songkran festivities fall within 3 days in the middle of April. Besides throwing water, it is also Buddhist cleansing ceremony. I poured jasmine flower infused water over my Buddha images and brought lotus flowers to a wat in Chiang Mai. Supposedly this will bring me luck for the ‘new year’. {FYI – the current year in Thailand is 2555, which began on January 1. The Buddha was born 543 before Christ, hence the calculation. I can write 2012 or 2555 as the date, but when dealing with the Thai government it’s 2555.}

Classic water throwing of Songkran

throwing moat water – keep your mouth closed

My friend Alana and I thoroughly soaked on the third day of Songkran.

…and Alana getting splashed with ice cold water

It’s good fun, but by the end of the third day, I was ready to be dry again. Overall, I laughed so hard, I’m sure I added more smile lines to my face.

สุขสันต์วันสงกรานต์ – sook san wan Songkran – Happy Songkran!

Loi Loi Krathong

Loi Loi Krathong

“Loi loi krathong, loi loi krathong, loi krathong is here and everybody starts to cheer…” This is a song my students have been learning to sing in both English and Thai and play on the xylophone in music class. I had read about this festival and seen pictures before, but I cannot think of a better way to see and learn about Loi Krathong firsthand than at Panyaden School in Chiang Mai.

I figured my students knew a lot about Loi Krathong from celebrating it and from learning about it in Thai history class, but thought a little reading comprehension activity in English couldn’t hurt. OK, and admittedly, I wanted to know more about the holiday. I got the information from Wikipedia, slightly revised and edited it for my students, and then made some reading comprehension questions below.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loi_Krathong – my source for the following edited version:

‘Loi Krathong takes place on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. In the western calendar this usually falls in November.

Loi literally means ‘to float,’ while krathong refers to the lotus-shaped receptacle which can float on the water. Originally, the krathong was made of banana leaves or the layers of the trunk of a banana tree. A krathong contains food, flowers, joss sticks, candle and coins. Modern krathongs are more often made of bread or styrofoam. A bread krathong will disintegrate in a few a days and be eaten by fish and other animals. The traditional banana stalk krathongs are also biodegradable, but styrofoam krathongs are frowned on, since they are polluting and may take years to disappear. 

A krathong is decorated with elaborately-folded banana leaves, flowers, candles and incense sticks. A low value coin is sometimes included as an offering to the river spirits. During the night of the full moon, Thai people will float their krathong on a river, canal or a pond lake. The festival is believed to originate in an ancient practice of paying respect to the spirit of the waters. 

Thai people celebrate Loi Krathong to honour the original Buddha, Siddhartha Guatama with light (the candle on the raft). The act of floating away the candle raft is symbolic of letting go of all one’s grudges, anger and impurities, so that one can start life afresh. People also cut their fingernails and hair and add them to the raft as a symbol of letting go of the bad parts of oneself. Many Thai believe that floating a raft will bring good luck, and they do it to thank the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha.

Yi Peng

Loi Krathong coincides with the Lanna (northern Thai) festival known as “Yi Peng” (Thai: ยี่เป็ง). Many Lanna-style lanterns (khom loi (Thai: โคมลอย), literally: “floating lanterns”) are launched into the air where they resemble large flocks of giant fluorescent jellyfish gracefully floating through the sky. The festival is meant as a time for tham bun (Thai: ทำบุญ), to make merit

People usually make khom loi from a thin fabric, such as rice paper, to which a candle or fuel cell is attached. When the fuel cell is lit, the resulting hot air which is trapped inside the lantern creates enough lift for the khom loi to float up in to the sky.

The most elaborate Yi Peng celebrations can be seen in Chiang Mai, the ancient capital of the former Lanna kingdom, where now both Loi Krathong and Yi Peng are celebrated at the same time resulting in lights floating on the waters, lights hanging from trees/buildings, and lights floating by in the sky.’

How well will you do on the reading comprehension questions about Loi Krathong?

1. When is Loi Krathong celebrated? __________________________________________

2. What does Loi Krathong mean?

Loi –  ________________________________________

Krathong – ______________________________________________________________

3. What is a Krathong made of? _____________________________________________

4. What does a Krathong contain?  _________________________________________

5. Why shouldn’t we make Krathongs from styrofoam? __________________________

6. What  do Thai people do on Loi Krathong? __________________________________

7. Who is honoured for Loi Krathong? __________________________________________

8. What does floating the Krathong in water symbolize? ____________________________

9. Why do people float khom loi in the air? ____________________________________

10. How do khom loi float in the air? __________________________________________

Whew! You passed! So, now you get to see it in action:

How to make an environmentally responsible krathong – with banana stalks and leaves

Kru Ota helps add banana leaves

A final flowery product

Kru Jeab and her krathong

Kru Aor’s vision of cobalt and plum

Since hiking down to float Krathongs in the river wouldn’t be safe, we did the next best thing – float them in the pool.

Ready to float your krathong?

They float!

Homemade komloys created in math class. What a cool way to teach circumference!

Teacher Robert lets it go!

Getting ready to light another math class  komloy

Waiting for the komloy to fill with hot air

komloy + math class = fantastic

Now I know, some of you are surely thinking, wait a second, kids are holding a flaming paper object?! Is that safe? Well, not entirely. To give them credit the kids know not to touch the fire. When the komloy float, it’s not a problem. Sometimes though the hot air isn’t strong enough to fully lift the komloy before it gets let go, and if wind blows, they might get stuck in a tree…or on the school roof. Yes, that happened. The fire was put out in an instant and no damage was done. Also, the rainy season just ended and it’s pretty tropical here anyway. It’d be difficult to start a big fire. If komloys do come down, they are made of biodegradable rice paper and bamboo, so no damage is done. Usually they float so high, you never see them again.

And here is Teacher Robert voicing what many are probably thinking:

Afterwards, we took the krathongs back out of the water so kids could take them home and float them with their families.

Post pool krathong pose

This is the one I made

Back at Nugent Waterside, the place where I was staying, we celebrated too.

Jessica with my krathong in the foreground

Banana stalk and bread krathongs – the one in the back is hard dyed bread that the catfish devoured instantaneously.

Off to float the krathong

More komloy lift off…

I guess I just don’t ever get tired of watching these…

In the US, it’s just post Halloween. I’d take a couple weeks of Loi Krathong over a day of Halloween. Since I’m here now, that’s just what I’m doing.

Komloy Festival – The One I’d Been Waiting to See

Komloy Festival

It’s October 29th and again, the 15 days on my visa are up. I need to head to the border to renew my visa for another 15 days…again. Yesterday, before heading to Wat Doi Suthep with the Panyaden staff, I stopped by Kavil Guesthouse to buy my ticket for the minibus to the border – this time at Mae Sai, Thailand and Tachiliek, Myanmar. I was told to be there on Saturday morning by 6:45 am.

I was barely awake when I arrived and cute Noi, who works there said, “This man, he ask about Panyaden School.” His name was Armando. He was from Puerto Rico and traveling through Thailand and Laos with his 6 year-old daughter named Iroko. She was still sleeping while Armando and I talked. My minibus was super late, and I can honestly say I was rather pleased because I spent about 90 minutes in an interesting conversation with Armando. What an interesting person!

I opted for a seat further back in the minibus when my front row window got a bit scary with the driving. Otherwise, the border crossing was uneventful.

I arrived back at Kavil at about 6pm. I saw Iroko and asked where her dad was. I invited them both to go see the Komloy festival at Mae Jo University, but that we’d need to leave…like now. Just then, Armando appeared and we were off to go find a songthaew, and next thing we knew the 3 of us were headed to Mae Jo University. Perfect timing.

Komloy are giant floating lanterns lit off for good luck. They are flat like a hula hoop and made of a bamboo circle and covered in paper that inflates with hot air. On the bottom is a waxy wick the size of a hockey puck, this is lit and then you need to wait until enough hot air fills the lantern and it floats gracefully into the sky.

I lit one of these off at Wat Chedi Luang to ring in my 30th birthday years ago. It was impressive with just one. My birthday is in March, and I heard that on Loi Krathong, in November, thousands of these get lit off at once. Tonight, at Mae Jo University, was that night: 10,000 fiery lanterns aloft at once.

Armando and me

Lighting the komloy

The first floating komloy of the evening…but definitely not the last

Iroko and Elizabeth lighting the komloy

Making a wish and letting it go

…Iroko’s wish…

…Armando’s wish

Armando y Iroko

In this case the pictures and videos do the talking. I was delighted to be there with Armando and Iroko. It was a positively magical experience and my companions made it even better. These videos do better than words to capture the experience. Please watch on full screen mode. Sorry about the sideways action. Enjoy!

The pictures, while interesting, cannot begin show how absolutely stunning the evening was. Finally, I got to be a part of this amazing festival. Pure magic!

Thank you Mae Jo University, Armando, Iroko, all of you who let go of lanterns, and big thank you Thai people for having this festival. It is a sight that was more spectacular than anything I’ve see in a long time. No words can express my feelings here. Armando said something along these lines, “In other parts of the world people are celebrating death this time of year (Oct. 29), here they are celebrating life.” Iroko rode elephants in the morning and was here in the evening, it was one of her favorite days of her life. Although we are a lot older than her 6 years, Armando and I agreed that they were some of our favorite moments too. ¡Que maravilla! One is never too old to experience wonder. Lots of love!