There is a fireworks factory, conveniently labeled in English, right down the street:
We weren’t kidding about the frequency of fireworks here. Here are some of last night’s, the occasion of which was uncertain: maybe they were because no alcohol can be sold this weekend because there’s (ostensibly) an election next weekend and people need something to do; or maybe because Chinese New Year is at the end of the month. Either is a good enough excuse.
One of the saddest of American assumptions is that fireworks are for once a year, the Fourth of July. This is a terrible mistake. Everybody could really be having fantastic fireworks every single night. These ones, as far as we can tell, seem to be celebrating the fact that it’s Sunday night.
(One might imagine that in a city full of protests, some of which have been attracting thrown grenades lately, there might be some hesitation about setting off loud explosions. No.)
Yesterday was Loy Krathong. Loy Krathong is a Thai holiday that comes on the night of the first full moon after the rainy season. The rainy season doesn’t seem to want to go away – it rained yesterday morning & much of Saturday – and the country is still officially in mourning for the death of the hundred-year-old Supreme Patriarch – but Loy Krathong happened anyway. I wish I still had M. L. Manich Jumsai’s Understanding Thai Buddhism at hand so that I could quote his astonishingly convoluted explanation of the history of the holiday, but I am on thin ice with the Neilson Hays Library, so I had to take that back. Once upon a time, he says, one of the minor wives of one of the kings of the country was Hindu; everyone made fun of her for this; but then after the rainy season she made a boat out of flowers and candles and put it in the river, and everything thought that was a good idea and the custom was immediately taken up. Wikipedia claims that this story is nonsense.
But basically the idea is that in thanks for the rain you throw a lot of garbage in the river. You make a little boat out of flowers, candles, and incense, and then light the candles and put the boat in the river. Here you can see the King demonstrating this. Like the King, we were in Hua Hin, where we were trying to go to the beach; that didn’t work out especially well, though the hotel we were staying at offered a make-yourself-a-krathong session on Sunday afternoon, so we did that while waiting to go back to Bangkok:
And here Kim shows off the finished products:
Mine, on the left, is about Adolf Loos’s “Ornament and Crime”; hers is about Idaho’s troubled twentieth century. Those constructed, we went back to Bangkok, which took a long time because everyone was coming back to Bangkok from Hua Hin. At the Chatrium, the staff was lowering the lit krathongs into the water, which you might be able to make out here:
The river was extremely choppy so most of the candles went out quickly; theoretically, you’d see a lot of lit krathongs floating down the river, but that didn’t really happen. There are a lot of boats. The boat that you can see in the upper left is not actually on fire; it’s just lit up. There are also a lot of fireworks, many set off from boats. Last week we had the best of both worlds, when a boat setting off fireworks briefly caught on fire; but then it seemed to be fine, and it wasn’t in the paper the next morning, so I assume everything worked out. Also:
My phone really can’t take photos at night! So I need to explain that those are not stars – Bangkok is far too bright for that – rather, they’re floating lanterns or khom loy. Besides throwing things in the river, people also set these alight. There aren’t as many in Bangkok as there are further north in Thailand; they’re actually illegal because they end up setting a lot of fires. The Chatrium has not yet burned down.