Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival - Part 3 - Conclusion

After spending time talking with some of the other visitors to the Festival, we headed over to the grandstands directly opposite the grandstand.  Once again Duang and I had a discussion regarding whether or not you needed tickets or pay money to sit in such a prime location for the night procession.  We asked a man and his wife who were seated in the bleachers if it were necessary to have tickets or to pay money to sit in the bleachers.  They assured me, Duang was already convinced, that it was not necessary.  I had Duang wait while I climbed the bleachers to find an optimum location.  From watching the previous night's procession, I had some ideas for better lighting, perspective, and locations to minimize the interference from the scaffolding supporting the overhead canopy.  After three unsatisfactory selections, I settled on the fourth location.  Duang joined me at the last row of the bleachers slightly to the left where we had sat the night before.  We ended up sitting next to an off duty policeman and his family.  They asked me if we had similar Festivals in America.  I told them that we did not have a candle festival and that in America many people complain about having any religious celebrations involving the government.  I told him that we had a Rose Parade in January with floats that are made out of flowers, seeds and plant materials.  I pointed out that for seats like we were enjoying, people would have to pay money - big money.   I estimated that seats across from the grandstand would cost $100 each.  I have since done research and the cost is actually $88 each.  The policeman explained to me through Duang that the Police and government pay for everything so that the people can enjoy the festival for free.  The Thai people took full advantage of the free festival.  As so often we observe at events in Isaan three and sometimes four generations of families attend the events.

After settling in at our bleacher location, I decided to go to the bathroom at the Wat behind us.   I knew that once the bleachers had filled leaving and returning would be very difficult.  One of my guidelines for our travels is "Eat where you can.  Go to the bathroom when you can.  If you ignore both opportunities,  The Wat had many buildings inside of its perimeter walls and I knew that one of them was a public restroom.  Duang remained in the bleachers to retain our prime FREE seats and to guard my backpack of camera gear.  As I entered the Wat's grounds and turned left I was very pleasantly surprised - several groups of young women were preparing themselves for night procession.  This was my main objective for the evening - to have the opportunity to photograph the dancers up close and in good light.  After using the restroom, I rushed back to Duang, retrieved my backpack, told Duang where and what I would be doing, and returned to the young women.

The dancers were university students that performing various traditional dances during the processions.  Some of them were finishing their dinners while others were applying their make up.  Some of the young women were being assisted with their make up by Kathoeys (Ladyboys).  The women were quiet and beginning to mentally prepare for the evening's performance.  As so often happens here in Thailand, they started posing for the camera - my camera.  I informed them with my very limited Thai and pantomime that they needed to ignore me and just be themselves.  I especially made a point of informing them that I did not like the "V" gesture with their fingers.

After a while, my favorite group from both the night before and the morning procession formed up.  They started to rehearse and warm up for the evening procession.  It was very interesting as well as entertaining to witness their grace and take in their beauty as they went through their preparations.  As o often happens here, the people were pleased to have their photographs taken.

I moved on to another group of university women who were also preparing for the evening's performance. Some of the woman were going to dance the "Fawn Leb", a very special dance that involves very graceful movements of the hands with the movements accentuated by long fingernail extensions.  I had previously seen the Fawn Leb performed with brass fingernails but these women had fingernail extensions with red pom-poms at the ends - something new.

While I was photographing this group of dancers, Duang showed up to get me to return to our bleacher.  She was concerned that if I delayed much longer it would be difficult to climb up through the crowd to our places.  I returned with her and got teased by the policeman about my wife having to come get me because I was spending too much time with the young women.  I suspect that was also the second reason that Duang came and got me.

The night procession was similar to the procession the night before but lacked the merit making aspect of offering candles to the Monks.  Fortunately there was also less rain than the night before.  Although we had seen the dancers and floats the previous night, we thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment.  The parade concluded around 9:00 P.M. so we were able to stop and have a pizza for dinner before they closed.

The next morning we left Ubon Ratchathani for our home in Udon Thani, six hours away.

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