I hate Loi Kratong !!!
It's Loi Kratong Day in Thailand today, a day when foreigners usually oooh and aaah about how beautiful the river, and the kratongs that are floating in it look. Foreigners who've been in the country around this time, normally say that its the most beautiful out of all the Thai festivals that they've seen. I've been here for 3 Loi Kratong days now. The first was great but, since then... I've hated it!!!
There's 2 main reasons why. Firstly, it reminds me of my friend, and former room mate Ricky. It makes me wish that she was still here, makes me think about how and where she died. It makes me hate the fact that, when I found her lying on the floor, there was little I could do to help her.
Loi Kratong was the day that I first went to her (and what would later become my) room. We were both studying a TEFL course together. I'd been to BKK before, for work, but like most of the other students on the course didn't really know my way around the city that much. She'd been here for almost 5 years, teaching English and, having told us how beautiful the festival was, suggested that we go to her riverside apartment block and watch the parade of boats, and people putting their kratongs in the river from there.
We studied in Siam, and after class took the skytrain to Satorn. The Klong San Saeb canal boat would have been quicker, but some of the other trainee teachers had hoped to see the sunset over the Chao Phraya river and take a look at Wat Arun too. A couple of our students had talked about the festival earlier in the day, and Ricky invited them to come along with us.
It was dark when we got to Satorn. The boat pier was already packed and when the little orange express boat pulled up, already full, we knew that there was no way any of us were going to be on it. Someone suggested we ask about chartering a long tail. 700 baht to take the lot of us to Banglampoo, expensive now, but, to a foreigner at the time, less than a pound each.... extremely cheap...
Once the price had been agreed, around 14 of us piled into the boat. Nan and X, the 2 students that had come with us, had, to our amazement never been in a longtail boat before. The were as awestruck as we were by the speed and deafening noise. I meant to take some pictures, but we were going too fast, and I was worried the spray would damage my camera. When we arrived at Banglampoo boat pier, it was already jam packed. We offered the driver 100 baht to take us to the next one along, by Ricky's riverside apartment block.
Once there, we dumped our bags, found oursleves a couple of beers then walked down to Th. Phra Ahtit to buy our kratongs. The street had turned into a mini-flea market. Almost every empty piece of pavement had a mat or table on it, filled with bright green kratongs. Each kratong contained a couple of joss sticks and a candle and also had a few flowers placed inside. They looked like they had taken hours to make. The banana leaves carefully folded, and pinned into place. They all looked beautiful. So delicate.
At each stall, there were groups of people, sat on the floor, making new ones to replace the ones that had already been sold. The street was awash with colour. The kratongs, plus hundreds of people, usually couples choosing which one they wanted to buy.
We brought our Kratongs, and, since the riverside around Th Phra Ahtit was crammed full of people, decided to head back to Ricky's apartment block instead. One of the security guards had a strange metal pole, with a big wire disc attached to the bottom. It looked like a longer version of something that you would find in a chip shop back home, like it should be used for frying greasy fish cakes, not for putting kratongs in. Apparently we were meant to take it in turns and use it to float or 'loi' our little kratongs. It's actually a lot harder than it looks. It's quite heavy to hold, and even when you dip the fish frying looking thing under the water, so your kratong supposedly floats away, the kratong itself refuses to budge.
Mine overturned and soon disappeared under the boat pier. Someone told me that it was very unlucky... but it was lucky for the little guy swimming in the water, waiting to take the coins out of it. He got them right away.
Once we'd floated our kratongs, we went pack to Th Phra Ahtit to take another look at the street. It was gone 10.30 and the street was as crowded as it had been before. Kratongs were still being made and sold. I remember taking loads of photos (though I have no idea what happened to the film... After Ricky died, I tried to find it... as I remember her looking sooooo happy on the photos that we all took that night, but never did. I guess it got lost somewhere amongst the stuff in my old room or a photo developing shop around Khao San somewhere.)
The restraunts, bars and coffee shops were also jam packed. We ended up heading to what was to become a familiar haunt, the 'joke pochana' on Samsen Soi 2, and had a great dinner together. Afterwards, a couple of people took taxi's back to their guesthouses in Siam. Others carried on drinking and crashed on Ricky's floor.
Listening to our lecturers the next morning wasn't easy. Teaching practise, that afternoon was worse still. That night was probably the first time we trainee teachers really bonded as a group. Before then, we'd been out drinking and ate together but it was pretty much small talk. 'What we thought of our lecturers, where we'd travelled to, what we'd done before deciding to do the TEFL... etc etc..' Afterwards, it was like we all had something in common with each other. I knew who my friends were. Mo, Ricky, Misty, an american girl who lived in my guesthouse, Panyone, 1/2 scottish, 1/2 Phillipino and a south african women, living in a rented room on the same soi as my guesthouse, who I've since lost touch with and who's name I've long since forgotten.
I have great memories of that night. So, why do I hate Loi Kratong so much? It makes me miss her, makes me hate the fact that she was stolen from us before her time... Makes me wonder what life would be like for both of us, had she come back here (and moved on to Korea like she had planned) and had I stuck to my original plan (leave my job, which at the time was going disaterously... backpack around for a bit and see what happens...) It makes me realise how much her company was one of the reasons why I enjoyed living here so much, in my first couple of months.
The other reason why I hate Loi Kratong is that it makes me feel really lonely. Loi Kratong is a very romantic thing. The candles floating in the river look beautiful and, when Thai people go to float their kratongs, most take their boyfriend or girlfriend to the river with them. Couples... Sickly sweet, smiling, loved up, hand holding ones are everywhere. It's one of the few times when I'm made to feel very aware of the fact that I'm single, and that, lets face it, my chances of meeting a 1/2 decent bloke here are pretty slim.
For the past 2 years, I've spent Loi Kratong with my friend T, and a couple of her friends. She doesn't really see them that much throughout the year but, since she lives in a riverside apartment block, they always seem to appear around Loi Kratong time, to say hi and to catch up with each other. The 1st time, it was OK. I didn't really know them, and couldn't understand what they were saying. They spoke to me in basic English, and asked the usual questions 'do I like Thailand?' 'Where have I been?' 'What have I done.' It wasn't the most exciting night out I'd ever had but it was pleasant enough.
Last year though, it was awful. I could understand much more of what they were saying when they gabbled on to each other in Thai. And... all they talked about were shoes, shopping and money, 3 topics that I have absolutely NO INTEREST in whatsoever. It was incredibly dull. I could see why they were all still single. T and her friends, being Thai are all, for their age, stunning beautiful but, (assuming they were interested in dating farang guys...) most western men would probably be turned off by having to sit and listen to more than a couple of minutes of their inane chatter. I had to put up with over 3 hours of it. Serial boredom...
I'm supposed to be doing the same thing this year. Plans to go upcountry have pretty much fallen apart and, for some stupid reason, when T asked, I agreed to it almost instantly. I'm still not sure whether I'll go or not. A nice night in with a DVD seems a better option.
There are other reasons why its not the greatest time of year. I live in Pinklao, a couple of minutes walk away from the ChaoPhraya river. Normally Loi Kratong means traffic chaos. Phra Pinklao becomes one big traffic jam, and to make things worse, the boats are usually pretty full too.
The actual tradition itself is, to a westerner pretty strange. I can understand why people want to pay respects to, and apologise to the river. After all, in the past, rivers and canals formed the main transport links between towns and villages. Bangkok was once seen as the Venice of the north. Where I live there are still loads of tiny klongs dotted amonst the smaller sois, that were, for whatever reason not filled in. Most aren't really worth looking at (and some of them really stink...)
But, I'm not sure how, filling the river with polystrene (yeah - I know that in the past people used banana stalks) really shows how much you respect it. Last year, after Loi Kratong, the riverside in Pinklao was filthy. There were big piles of polystryene foam on the steps leading to the river... Some had floated down the river and somehow or other got stuck there. But others.. as soon as someone floats a kratong here, a kid dives in the river, and tries to take the coins out of it. Once the kids have pulled it apart and got the money, they dump the 'empty' kratong by the riverside. It was days before someone thought to clean them up.
So all in all, my guess is its not going to be that great a day today.
It's gorgeously sunny outside. I'll probably take a walk and find some breakfast in a bit. Also one of the girls who works in the building where I live has offered to show me how to make a kratong. That should be fun... more fun than watching everyone release them into the river later... for sure...
|Create Date : 24 พฤศจิกายน 2550
|Last Update : 24 พฤศจิกายน 2550 13:25:40 น.
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