Monday, November 29, 2010

The Big Tour Part 1: pre-departure

Obviously, we've been back in Chiang Mai for several days. But why haven't I written about our exciting big tour? Well, we've been up to our nipples in indexing, which is also the reason why our big tour was only about half as long as I wanted it to be.

What is this mysterious substance "indexing" you ask? Indexing is an activity, not a liquid, as I implied in that nipple-filled analogy in the previous paragraph. Indexing is coming up with a list of subjects in the book we're editing, and then finding all of the pages each of the subjects is referred to on.

As you might imagine, poring in minute detail over a book we ourselves wrote and consequently have already read every part of at least a dozen times in the last few months is extremely stimulating and enjoyable work; I think I've found my new life's calling: writing non-fiction books on not-particularly-interesting topics and then reducing the immense wisdom they contain to an alphabetized list and a series of numbers.

But who's complaining? It's a job I can do in Chiang Mai in November, therefore it is by definition a good job.

The tour; but before you can understand the tour, you must understand the condition in which we left on the tour, and for that you must be told about the day and night before we left for the tour.

The date was November 22nd, 2010; those were heady days. A little rebellion called the Tea Party was washing across the United States in a wave of confused hysteria; the Calgary Flames had just lost a historic game to the Detroit Red Wings and were about to lose a historic game to the New York Rangers.

And in Chiang Mai it was the second-last day of Loi Krathong, their crazy flying-lantern-and-fireworks festival. The festival is described as happening "on the second-last full moon of the year", but that's nonsense. It might end around then, but the festival fever builds for weeks as Thais set off more and more fireworks, light more and more lanterns and get drunker and drunker.

For weeks, the city outside of the hotel room where we worked (Erin earnestly, I intermittently) had sounded like a war-zone. We had toured the lantern displays and unsuccessfully tried to set off a couple of flying lantern-balloon thingies, but we hadn't had much to do with the festivities so far. But on the second-last night of the festival, we decided to fully take part. And we did, in a big way.

First of all, Erin made a couple of floating candle-raft thingies with the nice lady who runs our guesthouse. The idea is to send the raft down the river along with all of your troubles. The raft is made out of a chunk of banana tree covered in banana leaves and flowers.

Then we went down to the river with a few Americans we met and released our little floating candle raft thingies into their natural habitat, the Mae Nam Ping river.

And we set off a few flying lantern-balloon things as well.

The below photo can only give you the tiniest idea of just how magical and truly dangerous the festival is. There are thousands of people setting off these lanterns all the time. They twinkle in the sky like moving clouds of stars. And sometimes things go wrong.

Almost all of the lantern-balloon thingies take off successfully and burn themselves out before fluttering gently to the ground, where they become litter in the treetops and farmers' fields. However, with a large number of tourists who don't know what they're doing taking part, and a large number of crooked locals selling inferior or defective lantern-balloon thingies to the tourists, you're bound to get a few faulty launches, which sometimes result in a lantern-balloon thingy gently falling flaming-ring foremost into an extremely crowded street.

Then you add in a crosswind that catches the lantern-balloon thingies of locals and tourists alike and pushes some of them into nearby treetops where they begin small conflagrations, and causes others of them to partially collapse and start descending flaming-ring first into the very crowded street. Fortunately, even in the dry season, the foliage in the area is very damp. All of the treetop fires we saw were very minor. People's heads are less damp than the foliage, but they come down pretty slowly and they're easy to catch by the non-flaming rim, so we didn't see anyone get hit by a falling flaming lantern-balloon thingy. I imagine it did happen to someone, though.

We launched our lantern-balloon thingies (successfully, all) and got the hell out of there before any flaming rings descended on our heads while we weren't looking. Our yankee friends all bowed out and Erin and I went to a bar very near our hotel, where the locals and tourists, staff and patrons, were all going a little crazy. Firecrackers were being thrown around willy-nilly and people were getting very drunk. Actually, at first most of the firecracker-throwing was being done by Erin and me because everyone else at the bar had worked out most of their firecracker enthusiasm in the big firecracker fight that had broken out a day or two before, but they soon recovered their enthusiasm.

The staff of the bar, all of whom were Thai and most of whom were very drunk, decided that they would close the bar and we would all, staff and patrons together, walk back down to the river and launch floating candle-raft thingies and drink much more beer. So we each took a beer to go and drank it while slowly progressing down the street and throwing firecrackers everywhere we thought needed a firecracker. Then we stopped to get more beer, and I think more firecrackers as well, and resumed our progress to the river.

Things get a little hazy from there. I lost Erin for a time, and spent awhile walking with a middle-aged American gay man who had a bad limp and couldn't easily keep up with the party. We found everyone, we drank another beer on the river bank, and then I thought I lost Erin again but she'd only gone to find somewhere to pee. Then five of us were in a tuk-tuk and the driver asked for too much money and one of the bar patrons paid it anyway, and a waitress who was with us got mad at him for paying. I'm not sure where we were going, though. I remember more firecrackers and probably another beer...

Then it was past 3 AM and we went to bed.

What does this have to do with the big tour, you ask? Well, this is why I slept until 1 PM the next day, why we didn't start our first day's riding until 3 PM, and why we rode so slowly that day.

So how was the tour, you ask? Wait until tomorrow. My typers are tired. I'll find a way to drag myself from my indexing to write the rest of this story.

No comments:

Post a Comment