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  • Susan Brown

The Festival of Lights

Floating lanterns lit up the night sky, making an amazing panorama of beauty above Chiangmai.  I wished I could take time to look at it.  I was far too busy trying to keep up with all the kids.

It was the light festival, or Yi Ping, that is celebrated each fall in Thailand.  Anyone can buy a special lantern made of lightweight material.  A fuel cell is attached to the bottom.  You light it and when the lantern is full of hot air, it rises into the sky.

Wending your way through throngs of people who are lighting lanterns while you are hanging on to two kids and trying to keep another 13 or so in your vision is an exciting venture!  I was thankful we had several adults along, so I was not the only one watching the children.

But then I saw him.  Petumpahn (otherwise known as “Bang”) was by himself, looking around as if for something lost.  His “buddy” was gone.  Each child was told to stick like glue to his or her buddy.  Now someone was lost.  Brother Anond was up ahead, leading the pack, and I, fighting panic, tried to find out who it was that was missing. At the same time I had to keep the rest of the group in sight, or I would never find them again.

My tongue felt stuck to the roof of my mouth.  I could think of no words in Thai that would help me find out who was missing.  Finally I said, “kap khray.”  That means “with whom?”  He looked at me with a blank, puzzled expression. Well, that didn’t work.

I could barely see Paul up ahead. (I’m thankful that he is tall.  Here, he is tall, anyway!)  I annexed Bang and dragged all three at panic-driven pace through the crowd to catch up with the others. We managed to flag down Anond.  He questioned Bang about his missing partner. Turns out he was a young teen who ditched his little buddy and went with the older teenagers instead.

I, at this point, decided that I did not like Yi Ping and wanted to go home. The music was deafening and the crowds claustrophobic.  But then we arrived at the children’s section where they had a few fair-type rides and booths.  Bro. Anond gave each child a ticket for the inflated bouncy booth.  The rushed in and began bouncing and going down the slide.  The look of pure joy on their sweet faces was even more beautiful than the sky full of lanterns.  For these kids, these types of treats are rare, and they enjoy them to the fullest.

After the bouncy ride, the kids rushed to the fishing booth.  For 20 baht (31 baht = one US dollar) they were handed three fish nets and a cup.  They knelt by a big trough of goldfish.  If they could catch a fish before the flimsy nets broke, they could take it home. Unfortunately, we had several good fishermen.  We have no aquarium, no fish food, and no place to take care of fish.  I suspect that the cats have dined upon goldfish by now.  I can’t help but think this cruel, but no one asked my opinion, and their tiny suffering is over by now.

The last ride was a ferris wheel, which they also enjoyed.  Then off to buy dinner. Some foods would have looked at home in our state fairs in the US.  Others were strange and exotic.  One group of kids chose corn with sugar and cream.  After the lady ran out of cooked corn, we headed on to another booth in a distant row.  No danger of losing the group now. Supucket and Arlong didn’t get the first round of dinner and must have been hungry.  They each had one of my hands and they towed me along at a jog through the crowds. They were not letting Brother Anond get away.  At least, not before they got their dinner.

The second group had noodles with chicken, which they ate with a single chopstick.  Lots of slurping, but they got it down.

We could have had poached partridge eggs or any number of rice dishes. I opted for egg rolls, which Paul and I shared.

Time to head back, but this time we did have a child go missing.  Sarah, Brother Anond’s adopted daughter, was nowhere to be found. He was worried, but thought she had gone to the bathroom.  He told us to take the kids back and he would meet us at the car.

Again we struggled through the crowd, trying to avoid holes in the pavement, lanterns that failed to rise and were burning on the ground, motorbikes wending their way down the thronged road, and various other dangers. At last we made it back to the trucks. And there was Sarah. She and Nittipong had decided to come back to the truck and had done so without letting us know.

I was really angry — with myself.  We hadn’t missed Nittipong!  Major “grandma” fail.

They shouldn’t have gone off by themselves when they had specifically been told to stay together.  However, Nittipong paid dearly for his sin. Even without knowing the language it was obvious the other kids were razzing him unmercifully about going off with Sarah.

We packed the kids back into the trucks and headed home.  Our truck was full of sleeping people before we got out of Chiangmai.  As I helped the little girls to bed — wiping sticky faces and insisting they brush their teeth — I was thankful to have them here safe.  Would I have chosen to take them on this outing?  Probably not. But the fact is that they enjoyed it immensely.  The lanterns, the rides, the food — all will make up memories for these kids.  I’m glad they had the opportunity to enjoy this ancient Thai tradition and to do the special things kids with families take for granted.

But I’m glad it will be another year before Yi Ping rolls around again.

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