A haircut in Thailand



I was only looking for a haircut. But the sound of a crowd in the darkness drew me away from my search for a barber's shop.

Milling on the grounds of the Wat Luang temple was a crowd of several hundred people. Around the side was a shooting gallery, knick-knack stalls, and the stage of a Shan theatre group. In the middle a roundabout span around, powered by a fan, keeping seven kids at a time in smiles. To the right, a large stage hosted a junior karaoke competition. A patient mother stood to one side as her daughter, with backpack on, laboured through the words of the Thai national anthem. Everyone clapped afterwards.

Wat LuangOver everything and everyone, the main chedi of the temple rose into the smoky air. It was lit beautifully with fairy lights.

But what was it all about? I followed smoke to find seven torches flaming behind the chedi. They lit a large area of grass. Groups of three or four people, and a scattering of monks, crouched together in one section. They were peering and prodding at small holes in the ground.
I introduced myself and soon had an enthusiastic, if slightly drunk, guide who gesticulated wildly to explain what was going on. The inverted aerosol cans (with a hole punched in the centre of the base) were home-made fireworks. They were being carefully wedged into the holes in the ground, before being lit in about an hour's time. On being lit, with something long and skinny, but not a match, they would spray up into the air (quite a long way up and with some force, judging by his arm movements). Each spray would resemble the new growth of bamboo at this time of year. It was a competition: each group was trying to create the biggest and longest golden spray. I took a step back.

LanternsWhile I waited, families and young couples lit hot-air lanterns which floated up into the sky to join the many others drifting across northern Thailand. The Shan theatre group sang and flicked their wrists under the fluorescent lights. After each song the performer received garlands of flowers. The shooting gallery was popular as boys to grown men aimed cap guns at bottles of whisky between teddy bears.

The crowd began shifting behind the temple to the firework ground. Golden showerThe grass was clear now, except for two figures crouched over the flame of a match. The light of a sparkler lit their faces as they carefully pushed it down into their can; a tiny golden spray became a whistling, roaring, spectacular golden eruption of hot sparks which arced high into the air and down over the crowd. The globs of hot material felt like they were burning through my shirt and my scalp, but no-one around me seemed to mind. Instead, they cheered and laughed with the jokes of the compere as he judged the success of each firework.

After twelve firework bamboos over an hour, my head felt like it'd had the haircut I was looking for.


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