This time last year I was disorientedly released from a week long hospital visit. I’d barely stepped onto Thai soil before feeling a bit like Sigourney Weaver when an alien bursts out of her stomach. It wasn’t an alien, thankfully – just a redundant appendix. One week of Thai TV and dreaming about all the food I couldn’t eat later, and I hit the ground running into teaching. It was only the next day that we were told to stop the teaching (phew) and celebrate “Loy Krathong”. Not having the faintest idea what this was or knowing the school to be any different, I genuinely thought that girls of all ages dressing up in gold from head to toe and kids giving tributes to a giant paddling pool was going to be a regular sort of thing.
Between then and now I’ve had time to learn about Loy Krathong. It traditionally falls on the night of the full moon in the twelfth lunar month – which, to our gregorian calendar, fell this year on the 25th November.
Loy Krathong roughly translates to “to float a basket”, but there’s a lot more to this day than that suggests. Naturally, the students and teachers of schools all over Thailand wear the more extravagant side of traditional Thai dress. Some of my own students (especially in the older years I teach) became unrecognisable. Teachers wear lace, layers and silk, taking the everyday pride of appearance to a new level. It’s quite common now for schools to hold beauty contests for students to enter; even children who are relatively babies will wear gladrags, false eyelashes and heavy golden headwear – and that isn’t just the girls.
One of the strongest memories I had of last year’s Loy Krathong was watching the Directing Brother of the school drop a beautiful tribute full of flowers into a industrial-sized paddling pool. A krathong, or basket, is traditionally made of banana leaves or more modernly, bread or styrofoam. This is quite a touching moment. Smiles spring on all faces from such a small gesture. It showed that a sentiment still lies at the heart of tradition.
The evening of Loy Krathong was, for me, bringing the festival back to its roots. From the school, we take to the lake – I could write love songs about the lake, it’s such a wonderful place. Away from the chaos of Korat’s spanned out concrete jungle, Bung Ta Lua is a space of serenity that on the everyday evenings, people will go to as a place to hang out, exercise, cycle, paint, drink, eat, gossip, or to spot the best sunset in the city. Not much in Korat beats seeing the sun turn red and go down over the palm trees whilst floating in the middle of a lake in a kayak with some friends. I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of it.
The circuit of the lake is normally a healthy amount of busy as people make rounds of the 3km tracks. On the night of Loy Krathong, temporary clothes and food stalls, music stages and game vendors set up all around the edges. After floating their baskets into the water, families might linger on to spend the entire night browsing what’s going on and grazing titbits from allover at the pop up seating and on the grass. This was one of my first memories made of Korat and I remember thinking that with sheer luck, I’d found something special. A year dissolved somewhere between then and now and I wholeheartedly feel the same way that I did back then.
On the same day, a lesser-known Indian festival took place, and Korat’s (very) Little India celebrated the following weekend. down a couple of alleys, a simple Sikh temple hides behind a row of shops near the city’s central monument. The evening was very simple; many sat around a large room, listening to a handful of songs and people got up to play instruments or sing. The language was Punjabi and many of the friends I’d gone with didn’t understand a lot of the meaning (neither did I, but that’s a little bit more obvious to say). It didn’t feel necessary to understand the songs, because the atmosphere was something that could have been universally felt. A prayer was made and a small token of sweet dough and flowers was given to all in the room. We ate and I was introduced to some Indian playground games (which wasn’t the best idea to play on a full stomach!)
As we prepared to leave the temple, a Sikh gentleman spoke to the children of the group, drawing his finger from north to the centre of a wall, east to the centre, then south and west. Later, I came to know he explained that though the world hosts people of different faiths, beliefs and religions, they are all trying to reach the same goal and the same god. Some may be Christians, some Sikhs, some Muslims, but they are not trying to relate to different gods. The paths taken to get to this point may vary – people follow the path that is right for them, but we will all find ourselves striving to be in the same place. What he said was, “we are one”.