MIDWEST MONKEY: Loi Krathong

Jasmine An shares her notes from the field in her monthly column Midwest Monkey.


Last month, Thailand celebrated the Loi Krathong (ลอยกระทง) festival. Krathong are small boats made of banana leaf or bread that often hold a candle, incense, and sometimes a coin, fingernail clippings, or other offerings. Loi Krathong, which means to float krathong, is celebrated on the night of the full moon of the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar, which this year also happened to coincide with the supermoon. My neighbors said that floating the krathong down the river is to ask the river’s forgiveness for using its water and also to let the last year’s bad luck float away.

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Loi Krathong at the Ping River, which runs through Chiang Mai city, has become somewhat of a tourist destination. However, this year, our neighbors called my partner and I over to the little canal behind our house and put us to work making krathong to sell to the neighborhood. Instead of fighting with the crowds in the city, we got scolded by neighborhood grandmas over our ugly krathong (our first attempts weren’t pretty) and afterwards got to watch our (improved) handiwork float down the stream back toward our house.

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Standing on the bamboo dock after releasing my own krathong, I watched the little lights bob away. This was just a week after the US presidential election. If that little chunk of banana stalk I’d wrapped in leaves and covered in flowers was really carrying away 2016’s bad luck and misdeeds, I was beyond grateful, but also surprised it was still floating.

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In the midst of those dark thoughts, one of the most magical moments of the holiday happened around dusk, when the entire neighborhood lit candles around their houses to ask for blessings and protection. Our next door neighbor called my partner and I over and helped us light candles and place flowers from her bushes around our house as well.

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Standing in the driveway together after lighting the last of the candles, I felt momentarily at rest, a rare occurrence since November began its implosion. After days of constant fury / fear for my friends and family in the States, it was good to pause for a moment with people who had welcomed me into their lives and watch our small bit of the world glow softly, at least for a night.

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Jasmine An is a queer Chinese-American who hails from the Midwest. A 2015 graduate of Kalamazoo College, she has also lived in New York City and Chiang Mai, Thailand, and she studied poetry, urban development, and blacksmithing. Her chapbook Naming the No-Name Woman was selected as the winner of the Two Sylvias Press Chapbook Prize. Her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in HEArt Online, Stirring, Heavy Feather Review, and Southern Humanities Review. Her soulmate and forever muse is Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. As of 2016, she can be found in Chiang Mai continuing her study of the Thai language.

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