Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Krathong Hawker

2009 was my first year in Bangkok. Trying my best to be as Thai as possible, I made it a point to join into the festivities of Loi Krathong and the celebration of King's Birthday.There wasn't any doubt that the latter left a much bigger impact and inspired me to write this post, which is now the undisputed most-read article on my blog.

This year, both Loi Krathong and Father's Day fell on Sundays, so I insisted my wife joined me in both occasions as I knew it would be an experience of a lifetime. That said, I am still not exacty sure what Loi Krathong was really about, aside of the fact that its date varies every year depending on which day the moon is at its fullest, and that Thais will bring their whole families along to release boats (aka Krathongs) into the rivers to send away their past sins as well as bring better fortunes to their futures.

Can you see the sins floating away? They will eventually be stuck somewhere for poor cleaners to clean up.
This year, however, I was given the very unique privilege to follow my staff Rit and his wife Om to become Krathong hawkers! That is to say, we make these little boats from banana tree branches, banana leaves and assorted flowers, and sell them to be released into the rivers!

The 2 of us beaming with Om, who was surprised at Li Li's speed at making Krathongs
The ladies were responsible for the manufacture and beauty of the Krathongs, while the guys took care of the rest, including sales. It wasn't easy at first as I failed to sell many Krathongs and got some friendly mocking from the gang, but eventually I warmed up and did a decent job, selling quite a few to pretty young Thai ladies!

Our small but steady Krathong stall
Our Krathongs, not too shabby eh? 30baht each, anyone?
At the end of the day, business was great, and we sold more Krathongs than expected (albeit after dropping prices from 30baht to 20baht). I really think we contributed positively to Rit and Om's night and hope to get their invitation again next year.

From my experience as a roadside hawker, I had my revelation of the day, which can be explained from this picture below:

This slipper-stall was our neighbour, and despite our great sales efforts (including big discounts) and flawless craft-work, the interest we generated could not compare with theirs. It was shocking for me to see 2-5yr old girls' eyes glowing with delight while browsing through the colourful slippers one-by-one. Their mesmerised gazes then falling on their parents who had no choice but to part with hard-earned cash to remove slippers swiftly off the racks onto their daughters' feet. This fateful night, I understood the universal truth of life: Women are BORN shoppers. They are destined to become shopaholics, like it or not.

Anyway, the night couldn't possibly be complete without releasing Krathongs ourselves, so we made our way into the temple to do so.

The special Krathongs we made for ourselves, no incense for me though

Li Li with our mega-size Krathong
Photo of the night: What does Loi Krathong mean to Thai people?  Rit's expression says it all.
While we were having the time of our lives, a tragedy happened in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where the same festivities turned into a horrifying stampede which took hundreds of innocent teens, turning joy into a day of national mourning and regret which will never be forgotten. I could feel my heart wrench as I flipped through the massive coverage of the mishap on Bangkok Post over the next couple of days.

Supposedly good days could turn fatally bad in an instant. Let's live everyday to its full and treasure the ones around us, because they deserve it.

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