Last Thursday (November 29) was probably one of the highest points since I have been here. But to get to there, I have to back up. I started off the week on a low. Last minute, my coworkers convinced me to drop my trip to Bangkok to celebrate Thanksgiving and join them in a parade. It was a bit of a disappointment. The floats were beautiful and reminded me of the Rose Bowl parade (lots of natural banana leaves) but since I knew I was missing seeing my friends and eating Mexican food, it was a bit of a disappointment. Then Monday, I had to stand in front of 400 students and speak English that they probably didn’t understand a single word. Next, I couldn’t find my coworkers as we were doing last minute reminders to vote. In the afternoon, my English lesson with the 3rd and 4th graders did not go well at all—in short, it wasn’t the best day I have had.
Oh well, we all have those days and now they are becoming less frequent and less intense. Tuesday was the start of the festivities in Baan Tak. It started off early in the morning with ceremonial speeches. Then it went on to the boat races—there were 90 boat races in all. That takes a long time. They were racing from 9am to after dark 6 pm. It was fun just to hang out. The races were within walking distance from my house, so I was able to go back for an hour nap.
At night, there was loud music playing. There was a stage and tons of people, but the people dancing looked like they were stripers, so I went home (I have learned not to trust Thais when they say there are going to be “dancers” at the party).
The next day was just as busy. I did not understand what was going on at the office, but they were running everywhere. At night, that is when the real Roi Gatong began. It started with motorcycle stunts. When the motorcyclists were practicing, they were not wearing helmets, but during performances, they did. This seemed a little counterintuitive to me. Next it was on to picture taking. Thais love to take pictures. The celebration started with chants in front of the Buddha altar asking him to bless the Roi Gratongs. [Roi Gratong is a holiday all about giving thanks to the river]. The Roi Gratongs themselves are made out of carefully folded banana leaves. Then you light the candle and incense on your roi gatong and send it down the river. It is supposed to represent your wish. That’s when the magic started happening. Suddenly, lantern after latern was being lit off from the sandbar in the middle of the river. One after another; hundreds of them. Then candles in coconut shells began floating down the river. Some other presentations were starting, but I just stayed by the river. I could have stayed there forever if not for some teacher from who-knows-where started pestering me about teaching English at her school. Then I decided to go to the bridge to get a closer look at the lanterns. I met up with some of my teacher friends and we lit a lantern together. It reminded me of the Disney movie Tangled. I tried to take pictures, but it is very hard to capture the feeling in a frame. Finally you just have to give up and live it. When I returned to my tessaban friends, they were having a beauty pageant on stage. The contestant’s introductions contained their name, grade, height in centimeters, and their weight. Not the usual introduction. Also, these weren’t the usual candidates either. I had been expecting there to be a beauty pageant because earlier that day people were playing with the crown,-but it was a 5 year-olds beauty pageant. All the kids were dressed up as Thai princesses. It was quite entertaining to watch. It even had a talent portion, one girl hulla-hooped, some other sang, others danced. The winner did a very good rendition of Gangdum style. Lastly, fireworks and then I went home.
So, I technically thought that was the end of Roi Gratong.
Turns out, my province celebrates Roi Gratong one day longer than the rest of Thailand. The next day at work, one of my coworkers was asking around for some man to give her a ride to Tak. I got to go along, too. There was a big performance in the amphur mueang by the river and there a festival to walk through. People were taking pictures and lighting lanterns all over. It was absolutely magical, I can’t fully describe it. I did not watch the performance, but walked along the fair with some of my Thai friends. At the end, we got like 6 huge lanterns that were free and left over and lit them off. If you ever get the chance, light off these lanterns. It is one of the coolest feelings and makes you glow with joy.