Saturday, February 26, 2011

Raining Strawberries and Flowers

It seems that in the past weeks I have been attending increasing numbers of festivals. After sampling a wide range I can say with some authority that there are more similarities than differences between the differing celebrations. The venue and the occasion remain unique. The food stands however, do not. It is perhaps comforting to know that you will always find piles of noodles in varying widths that can be heaped with bean sprouts, peanuts and sugar. There are without question always stands frying tiny pink splayed sausages and others with vats bobbing with silky meatballs. There are also, the same variety of souvenir stands – Lana woven bags, frilled and bowed shirts, odd wooden plaques, and overlarge key-chains. It is as if the same vendors are on constant rotation between towns.

What changes is the theme, at least a few more stands of a particular item, or in some cases a profusion of one particular item. In Bo Sang it was Umbrellas, In Sappong it was Strawberries, in Chiang Mai it was flowers.

But my intention is not to dismiss festivals with a “seen one seen them all” attitude – though I might feel this at times. Instead I continue to seek out and happen upon festivals, specifically in search of the quirky idiosyncrasies.

To offer an example – when TaReva and I drove out to Chiang Dao (72 km away from Chiang Mai) we found ourselves in the midst of a local Winter Festival with all the usual trappings and in addition: beauty pageants, fried toast on a stick and the most bizarre pet stand I have, and probably will ever see. It consisted of a wall of pastel colored cages each containing a miniature bunny that could fit into my palm. Not weird enough? Now put small baby doll clothes on all the bunnies.

In Sappong we perused a whole roadway of stands selling exactly the same strawberry products made by exactly the same company: dried strawberries, strawberry jam and locally produced, vinegar tasting strawberry wine.

The Chiang Mai flower festival is not complete without a flower parade with massive floats composed of flower creatures, flower maps, flower temples, flower elephants, flower kings. There was even a bevy of Indian Princesses pulled in a fleet of rickshaws… I am still confused about their presence.

Then of course there was Chinese New Year that turned Wararot Market red and gold. There were more beauty pageants – this time with three year olds and there were lion dancers balancing on poles.

And then there was one of those moments that I have had on a number of occasions where I am strikingly reminded that I am not in Cambridge anymore. Walking up the line of food stalls and souvenir stands, Lauren and I spied a dragon dance – an impressive many legged, electronically lit body that bobbed and swayed above the heads of the crowd. But terrestrial dancing and swerving were not enough so up it went, wrapping itself around a pole. All of this could have been viewed in a chinatown in the states, but this feat was still too tame for Chiang Mai. And so lets add fireworks into the dragon’s open mouth and set them alight so that they shower the gathered crowd below with sparks!

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