This past weekend my city, Udon Thani, celebrated its 121st birthday. Since the Thai’s look for any opportunity, large or small, to throw a party this was the perfect opportunity to dance, set off some fireworks, set up a festival and disrupt traffic.
Saturday morning I went with a couple of my coworkers to watch a couple of the other girls participate in a huge Thai dance. They had women from many of the surrounding cities (Udon Thani is the name of the province as well as the name of the city which is the capital—like counties and the county seat) gather together in the street to perform traditional Thai dances in an effort to set a world’s record. People were there from the Guinness World Records to witness the event. They’d anticipated just over 5,000 participating but the rumors were they ended up with over 20,000. It was beautiful madness. The streets were a sea of orange.
We have three large traffic circles in Udon; one with a clock tower, one with a fountain and one with a statue of Prince Prajak (25th son of King Rama IV, born back in 1865.) The event took place in the five streets feeding into the statue circle, orange spilling out in all directions like spokes from a wheel. It was quite an impressive sight.
Later that night there was a fun street market filled with food and wares of all sorts. One of the girls I’m here with decided that she would try her luck at panhandling. People here are fascinated with ‘farangs’ (foreigners) and will constantly stare, giggle and even ask to take our pictures. We’ve commented more than once that if we made people pay even 5 baht (the equivalent of about 15 cents) we could easily make enough money for dinner. So, she made herself a sign and she walked around the market propositioning people for photos. She ended up making 30 baht and gaining a new hat and making a lot of people laugh. We followed up those escapades with a fireworks show over the lake in the park.
The next night there was another dance performance. This one was even more traditional. The dancers dress up in elaborate costumes (demons, monkeys and such) and the dances often tell a story of some sort. It’s sort of like a cross between ballet and hula in my brain, every once in awhile you’ll get full body movement (usually from the men) but often it’s very small steps, turning in circles, and lots of slow, graceful hand movements. They performed out in front of one of the nearby temples which made for a dramatic backdrop all lit up under the black sky (though killer for getting any sort of decent photo.) It was a lovely way to spend an evening.