Big O’s hostel is owned and run by Big and his family (mom, dad, sisters, brothers, wife, and baby). Today was Big’s birthday, as well as the big lantern releasing day, so the family decided to celebrate. They, so kindly, invited Tori and I to have dinner with them. Then they invited a few more people, then a few more, and eventually: the entire hostel was welcomed into their family meal. Before I knew it, we were helping make kebabs of chicken, pineapple, tomatoes, and onions with the whole family.
Laughing with everyone, listening to music, barbecuing, twinkle lights and decorations set up in the background, I felt like we were a big family.
We ate and laughed with new friends, enjoying the wonderful food. Big’s mom made a special homemade dish and Big threw a few streaks on the grill. Big’s dad sneakily lit off fireworks in the driveway, startling me and a few others. He giggled at himself. As the food slowly disappeared and the fireworks were all lit, we all loaded on a Taxi to the Nawarat bridge.
We started our trip in Chiang Mai partially because we wanted to see the the lantern lighting festival, so we had some amount of expectations and excrement going into the big day. Yet, nothing could compare to the gaping-mouth-amazement I felt when I stepped off the taxi. The sky was moving. The night was on fire. The stars were mobile. Everything was alive. 1,000 of people covered the streets, releasing lanterns the size of your upper body. The lanterns were on fire, filling with hot air, slowing rising to join their brothers in the sky. Fireworks were going off. The moon was full. Everywhere I turned something was better than I imagined.
We bought lanterns and joined the crowds, helping one another open the massive paper devices and light them on fire. Eventually the lanterns pulled up, asking to be let go. We released them one by one, proudly watching as they floated away to infinity. Next we went to the river to release our “boats”: flower arrangements decorated daintily with two candles and small incense. The river filled with these little lights, floating away with the current.
We walked across the bridge and bought the world’s best coconut ice cream. Then, we did nothing but watch. We watched the fireworks, the lanterns, the flowers, the moon, the people, the happy, beautiful festival.
The milky way was in the streets of Chiang Mai today- and we were creating the stars. I cried because it was so beautiful. I cried because I was so happy. I will never forget today, because it was perfect.