The moon is full and illuminates its brilliant, milky, whiteness through passing clouds. I follow the stream of motorbikes and cars to Naiharn Lake to join with others to celebrate the 12th lunar month of the year, Loi Krathong, with a small offering of thanks to the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha, and, hopefully, to bring good fortune for the year ahead.
Many Thais and farang gather at the edge of Naiharn Lake, releasing circular banana leaf crafts of various sizes adorned with flowers, incense and candles, flames flickering in the breeze that skims the water. Many gently splash their crafts away from the shore, carrying their personal items of hair and nail clippings, to ensure their good fortune and trying to prevent the craft returning and bringing with it bad luck.
Krathong or no krathong, my life so far has been filled with so many blessings. Tonight, I am happy to watch couples, families and friends gather in this simple ceremony, offering something small of themselves to something infinitely bigger and hoping for blessings to be returned. Tonight, I turn my eyes to the skies and the partially hidden stars. I plan to send my own little light up to greet them and shimmer for a few moments in time.
We unfold the white, paper tube and attach the burning coil to the wires at one end as lightning flashes around us. The lantern is of simple construction but it is huge. It is almost as tall as I am when it is sitting on the ground. We light the burning coil in different sections until it stays fully alight. And then carefully maneuvering the lantern in the breeze so that it doesn’t accidentally catch alight, place it on the ground to allow the flame’s heat to expand the air trapped within the tube. Impatiently, we wait. We tug the lantern upwards to see if it is ready to fly but it settles back down on the ground and we trap it to the ground using our toes so it is not swept sideways with the wind. We move our feet and again tug it upwards, but it returns to the earth.
Farang and Thais stop and watch this motley crue of three Italians, one pirate and an Aussie girl, trying to get the lantern aflight. A well-meaning Thai lady comes over and touches the balloon.
“Okay, okay” she says in her soft Thai drawl as she holds onto the second syllable longer than the first.
We heed her advice and lift the lantern up into the breeze. It takes flight at 45 degrees instead of the 80 degrees necessary to clear the pine trees between the lake and the beach. Within seconds, it is firmly lodged in the closest pine tree and the lantern catches fire. I cannot help but laugh as people stop to take photos of our lantern bonfire. Others groan wondering if the tree itself will catch fire. It doesn’t.
We are indeed lucky for we have more lanterns. We repeat the process of setting up and lighting the lantern. This time, we wait a little longer for the air within the lantern to heat and for the breeze to temporarily cease before attempting take-off. We lift it up and offer it to the sky which gratefully accepts it and draws it gracefully upward. I watch our lucky lantern rise up and away, its light growing smaller as it moves away from us into the night sky. And as I watch it, I feel all the hopes and dreams held within my heart, in all stages of growth and even those yet not even articulated to my conscious mind, rise up and away with our lantern, offered to the universe for incubation and fruition. I watch until I can no longer see the light of our lantern and then we join the party on the island in the centre of the lake.
The sky is illuminated with light, man-made and natural as fireworks and lightning crackle and sizzle. Oblivious to the approaching storm, we follow the path past food vendors, straight to the beer garden where we buy cold Heineken straight from the tap and sit down to watch the end of the Miss Rawai competition. Gorgeous, Thai girls stand on stage in a line, smiling in their golden, sparkling traditional dresses. The competition comes to an end at the exact moment the first drops of rain land upon us. We take shelter beneath some sturdy tarpaulins, just in time, as the rain has now become one constant, massive waterfall. We wait for the rain to pass. And wait. And wait. And wait.
As the ground beneath our feet becomes mud, then puddles then a miniature lake, it becomes obvious that the rain is not going to stop any time soon. I pull a few chairs together and lie down, curling into the foetal position as best I can in an attempt to keep dry and warm, and wait for the storm to pass. And wait. And wait. And wait. I watch the sections of the tarpaulin buckle under the weight of the water that it catches and cannot escape faster than the fresh rain falling. I hope it strong enough to withstand the weight, stay upright and keep us dry.
Two hours pass and I am gently nudged out of my short sleep. Finally the rain has stopped and we can ride our motorbikes home. Wearily, I drag my feet through giant puddles on the way back to the bike, grimacing as my leather shoes become saturated with muddy water. And I can’t help but wonder, what if our first lucky lantern had cleared the trees…..