Thailand has a number of big holidays including Loy Krathong in November. Loy means "to float" and krathong is a small boat made of banana leaves and flowers. Paper lanterns are also lit and sent floating off into the sky. In the evening, people set their boats afloat on a river as a symbol of letting go of any negative feelings they may have including anger and guilt. Thus it is a happy day. My school made it a very happy day.
My first time I came to Thailand was to become engaged to Nee. We celebrated by going to a beautiful garden called Nongnooch Garden in Pattaya. We were there New Year's Eve so we got to join the celebration. Toward midnight, I saw lanterns flying into the sky one after the other and I was mesmerized. I wanted to know more. But it would be 8 years until that happened.
The lanterns are called Kongming or komloy lanterns and are quite simple. They are paper bags hung upside down with a small piece of wax-soaked fiber, probably banana. You stretch out the lantern, hold it over your head to light it and then set it back on the ground to let the air inside heat up. There is a metal ring at the base that holds the flame and gives you something to hold for the next step.
I was walking home from the grocery store the night of Loy Kratong and had been enjoying the random fireworks and lanterns going up all around me. I kept wondering what it was like to set one off. Next to my apartment is a small noodle shop owned by a nice young couple whose daughter is in one of my classes. I saw the daughter and a few of her friends out front playing with lanterns and they called, "Teacher Roy! Do you want to light some?" They couldn't speak much English and I couldn't speak much Thai but with the help of her dad, little and big brother and the three girls, we were able to set several lanterns off into the sky.
We had to take the lantern up by the ring from the ground and raise and lower it several times. One managed to catch fire and went up in a small blaze of flame. Others we were able to give them a little push up. They would rise maybe just a few feet over our heads, hesitate, and then rise far up into the heavens. A few got caught in the telephone wires overhead but they rolled along in the breeze until they could free themselves and off the went as well.
I felt like a small boy playing with fire. The girls laughed each time we sent another up and kept trying to talk to me. Oh, that I could understand. And then it was over. One of the girls said they had to go and so I headed back home. This time, though, I was happy to have done something so unique to this American in the wilderness.
I see I have been writing this blog for a year now. I read my first entry and reminded myself of where I came from and thought about where I am now. Each day has been filled with both challenge and joy. Since arriving in Thailand I have gotten sick several times, taken antibiotics at least three times now, tried to ride a motorcycle, figured out how to ride a songtaew, eaten food that sets my body on fire, learned how to teach English, discover I enjoy teaching and, most of all, I have made more friends then I have had since I was a child. Each day my doubts about Thailand become smaller like watching the lantern shrink into the sky.