Sunday, June 1, 2008

VFN Celebrates the Flower Festival

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This picture is completely unrelated to the blog post. I just wanted everyone to say hello to the adorable little lizard that shares our shower. To appreciate how tiny he is, compare his size to the size of the drain holes.

(Anybody who wants to complain about the bluriness of the photo, especially considering the high class quality of my sweet macro lens, can imagine themselves squatting in the shower of a Thai bathroom. It was a little uncomfortable. I also had to manual focus, and the little guy kept moving because I was scaring him.*)

*I actually have no idea if this lizard was a male or female. He just seemed boyish to me.

Colleen and I were lucky enough to be in Chiang Mai for the Flower Festival. It is a holiday honoring the Buddha. We went to the Wat (temple) in Chiang Mai that is at the very center of the city.

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These are the amazing people we spent the evening with. The girl in the orange shorts work for Boong, our travel agent. She and her friends took us to the festival and helped us understand what was happening and what we were supposed to do.

In addition to being super helpful, they were also very fun and friendly. It almost felt like they weren't being paid to hang out with us. :) (They all studied tourism in college, so that might have contributed to their excellent customer service.)

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(Please avoid any smarmy comments about how bad my hair looks or how sweaty my face is. I know. It is OUTRAGEOUSLY hot and humid here. My poor little Alaskan body can barely handle it. Thank you.)

Note to readers: please get used to the shirt in the above picture. I only brought three shirts on this trip, so you're going to be seeing it a lot.

Outside of the Wat, there were stalls lined up selling flowers, candles, birds, and other tokens. We bought a basket of goodies as our offering to the Buddha. The candles had our birth day written on them. Since I was born on Sunday, I got the Sunday candles. The ladies who sold us the goody buckets were very concerned that we get the right candles.

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(This is not the best picture. I'm sorry. Our guides said it was appropriate to take pictures, but I was trying to be mindful about the fact that these people were participating in a sacred ceremony. I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible. I didn't want to be obviously about my picture taking because I didn't want to desecrate the experience for any of the local people.)

We took off our shows and took our goody buckets onto a platform where we kneeled down. Then we lit our candles, made a wai (that's the gesture with your hands in praying position), and said a prayer silently. The woman in the above picture is on the same platform and going through the same process.

We left the platform and placed our flowers on little stands that were all around the temple. We also rang lots of big bells for good luck.

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There were also smaller candle stands around the temple that people used to make offerings.

It was amazing. There were so many people there, and I really enjoyed watching them. I spent a lot of time standing at the side of the platform watching the locals make their offerings. A lot of incense was burning, so the air smelled really good. The temple was beautifully lit up. The flowers were gorgeous. It was a wonderland for all of my senses.

I've read about Buddhist festivals and ceremonies and watched some on YouTube and National Geographic, but it was a new understanding to be able to participate.