It was a bit of anti-climax kind of day at the start. I saw the parade and the lifting of balloons. I saw the ‘finished’ work of Toi and the monks at Wat Bupparam. So this is going to be just a slow day, watching the progression of the middle of 3-day festivity. I made a slow start of it and went to the market. Sunday. The porridge guy I was having breakfast at in the market was not there. Had he already sold out and went home, or does he not work on Sunday? I found a noodle stand nearby. Went to Wat Bupparam to find Toi and the team added even more details to the works. Looking up, I see strange shaped lantern soaring in the wind. I head down to Ping River to see what’s happening. Somebody was telling me there would be a big balloon competition at the municipality office ground.
Loy Kathrong is a time of grieving, reflection and letting go. Watching the incense floating down the river and out of the view, and even the lit lantern lifting up into the sky, have a very strong visual impression on people who cannot let go of the loss. The activity of letting the lantern up into the sky is a tradition that has run through in this region of Lanna (short of Lan Na something… about the land of thousand rice fields). It has always been practiced, and the competition in modern days is just another way of giving young people opportunity learn how to let the balloon fly.
It was a lot of work, lifting one of those complex-shaped balloon. There was a lot of patching up as they unfold it, everyone running around with sticky tape checking where the leaks are, some guys holding down the balloon with the pink ribbon tape, some guy in charge of the fan to blow in the air, yet another in charge of the torch, and one holding dump towel to extinguish when it was out of balloon, and oh, yes, some guy in charge of fire-cracker wired planes (brings good-luck to those who catch it as they land).
Back to Wat Bupparam to photograph this gorgeous again…
Then I met this girl who has got a few retro-style cameras dangling in front of her. Lindsay is a photographer from Canada, and the works she showed me on her small iPhone screen, she’s got very interesting style going on, in abstract impressionism of sort in the domain of mountain biking, for example!
A bit more of details Toi came up with last night. He is some artist!
I was just hovering about, and was ready to go out to get lunch at 2pm. Toi and I were standing outside on the street. On the left of me cars and bikes constantly passing, on my right were people passing or stopping to photograph the decoration at one of the gates to Wat Bupparam. Toi was telling me about how it is about the giving that makes life complete – you may chase money and more material but there is no fulfillment. You give, and people enjoy what you give, share pictures, talk about them, come back to the temple… you get that pleasure out of it. His eyes are deep and glowing. No foggy bits in there, I see blue-ish ring in his eyes.
Then somebody was standing behind me, which shocked Toi. Instantly the conversation was over and we were drawn towards this gentleman. He is the top monk of Chiang Mai that Toi had worked closely with over the years. He actually grew up beside the man, helped him out in many ways, drove him around, and now working at this temple upon the monk’s request when the temple did not have anybody to look after it. Toi introduced me to him. The monk came to see Toi’s work for this year – this is the temple he himself used to call home for a long time, and it is personally his favourite. Despite recently being weak and hospitalised (only discharged a week ago), he came down to have Toi show him this year’s work. And he and Toi have asked me to photograph him – the man who would normally not enjoy having photos taken. What a moment!
His name is Phathepvisutthikoon (pronounced like ‘pra-te-vis-ti-koon’). He is the top monk that oversees 1,350 temples in Chiang Mai province. At 89 years old, he has been a monk at the age of 13 and have been one for 76 years now. According to Toi, he eats 4 bananas each day (breakfast and lunch) and that has kept him healthy and strong.
Look how proud and happy Toi is!
Obviously, I forgot about the hunger. But that was just the perfect example – when you let go of expectations, a day may bring miracles.
And miracles – more of them to come. I was sitting at the high level of the towering temple (envisioned by Phathepvisutthikoon in his dream) in the breeze. People come up the steps, take the shoes off and pass me into the chamber where various images of Buddha are seated into 3 walls of the room. Toi came up and sat next to me – this is his favourite spot – and we were talking about which one is from what country. Then he spotted two girls in bright and fresh traditional Thai outfit. They look like they came straight out of bureau of tourism or airline website. Pink and purple, perfect hair-do, and pretty. Toi said ‘Chinese’. ‘How do you know?’ ‘Experience, of looking at people.’ ‘Experience, of looking at girls, you mean?’ We laughed. He said he actually spoke to them earlier before coming up here. So he’d cheated. He yelled at the girls in English to come up. The girls came up, went inside the chamber. Toi followed them in. In a few minutes, he sticks his head out of the door and beckons me to come. ‘Photographer, do you want to take photos of these pretty girls?’ So I went, couple of shots in front of the golden Buddha. Seeing me direct girls where to sit and legs this way and that, other visitors started to jump in. When many cameras point at the model, they don’t know which one to look, so I let the lady to my left shoot first. She’s had her shot and quickly got out of the way. A few quick shots. Really pretty girls! Toi leads us downstairs – you MUST have a photo in front of Toi’s masterpiece. Wu Tian and Carol are from Guangzhou in China – Steven, maybe I need to come visit you soon!
Of course, that was only mid afternoon. The evening came. I photographed more people lifting their balloon lanterns. I even helped one group lift one they bought in exchange for photos taken. I also helped the monks of Wat Bupparam lift one with the boys. It was all-in-all an amazing day. Check out my Facebook page for more photos. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the blog and photos on Facebook. Like Toi said, this is my giving. It would be a bonus to take a little pleasure out of it. Every Like click makes me happy, truly.
I’ve just checked out of the comfortable hotel (peak season – no vacancy for tonight) and now moving to Wat Bupparum. Toi has offered me a corner suite (it’s got a fridge and toilet!!), but I don’t think I get an internet connection in there. I’ll work with Toi to print some of the photos of the head monk. Then we’ll see. I am to stay a night, but maybe I stretch that into two nights to see the temple in ‘normal’ day. Then I’ll head off to Chiang Rai and onto Laos. Still got close to 2 weeks before I can ‘check in’ to China without extended visa. Of course, that is a card I can play – go to Kunming and pay for 1-month tourist visa. How much trouble could that be? China is indeed a huge country… but I just don’t think I can make such a connection as I have so far in this town. The place I KNOW I will come back to. Anyhow, I may not be online for a while, so don’t be alarmed even if you don’t see any more updates on this adventure for a while.