Cameron Welsh in Thailand

Cameron Welsh 2

Thailand Rocket Festival by Santo Chino on Flickr

Month 10 (June) – Kutchum & Phana Rocket Festival, Kevin’s mum visits and School Show

The beginning of June was very hard for me. The 2nd is my little sister Victoria’s birthday. Being a very close family made it difficult to be separated from them for such a long period of time in the beginning although I managed to cope just fine after a while. However on days like those where you should be celebrating with your nearest and dearest I did find it that extra bit difficult. A Skype call never will quite be the same as sharing the experience in the moment although it was the best alternative. It was great to see and speak to my whole family for an hour or so and find out what they had been up to as I had not properly spoke to them in a few months.

June brought on the rocket festival all over Thailand with towns holding it on different weekends. Another pair of PT volunteers (Ocean and Cissy) stays in the town of Kutchum and they invited us to come and visit Kutchum so that we could see their project and it also fell on the week of their rocket festival. The Rocket Festival was one of the events that I had been looking forward to the most when I had first come to Thailand. I had done a little bit of research into the main festivals that Thailand holds every year and this one sounded the most exciting. So we set off after school on Friday and made the relatively short trip to Kutchum where we were met with by the girls. Our first impressions of Kutchum were that it is bigger than Phana as it has a Tescos which is a rare sight to us! It seemed to be very similar to Phana in which the locals were extremely nice, everything branched off the main road and it was very traditional. The girls lived on the school campus which was new to me but was something that I found to be fascinating as it meant there were always school kids running around their house. Comparing projects is always interesting to me as the experience that can be obtained differs greatly depending on your location and the environment that you are placed in so I always take notice of the similarities and differences in projects.

On the Saturday it was the parade through the town. The girls had to dress up in traditional Isan attire and get slathered in make-up; even we boys could not escape the make-up part as we could a light coating. The girl’s school was the last group in the parade so we had to stand in the scorching sun for a few hours waiting. I was sweating in just shorts and a T-shirt so I daren’t think what the girls must have been going through in their thick outfits! Each group were also dressed traditionally and put on a show with marching bands and Thai dancing which were then judged by a panel. In the evening the whole road was lined with giant stages that were competing in loudness blaring out Thai music with people dancing and drinking in front of them. It was a really cool vibe and we got to join the girls host to go for a meal and have a few drinks.

Sunday was the day for all the rockets to be fired into the sky. We arrived in the town and immediately noticed that all of the stages that had been set up last night had been taken down at a frightening speed. Thais are very good at setting up and cleaning up after events. Unfortunately for us the field that the rockets were to be fired from was quite far away and we had no way to get there so we just had to relax and watch the rockets make their way up into the sky from afar.

The following weekend it was Phana’s Rocket Festival. So we really did get the best of both worlds as we managed to see both our own festival but also another town. We thought that it was only fair that we invited the girls from Kutchum to come to stay and join us at our celebration. Kevin had left a few days earlier to meet his mother as she was coming out to visit him for a few weeks. The plan was the same as the previous weekend in that the parade was on Saturday and I got to be a banner holder as one of our primary schools was putting on a show. It was a very proud moment as I had witnessed them practice and perfect the routine over the last few days. The next day Kevin arrived in Phana with his mum which was nice as I had only met her for 2 minutes in the departure lounge of Heathrow previously. She was eager to find out about all of our adventures and I had no problem relaying them all as we have had many! So we all went just outside Phana to where the rockets were being fired. Every now and again you could see streaks of smoke from rockets that had already been fired and the noise from them lifting off grew more intense.

We arrived in a clearing that had turned into a mud bowl with the rain and was filled with all the locals from in and around Phana. Our first sight of one of the rockets took my breath away; it was about 15 metres long and as thick as a large body. It was carried through the crowds by about 8 men and then erected on a large wooden ladder construction. Once attached it was sparked by a loose electrical wire and would go whizzing off into the sky. The noise was absolutely incredible! The first one that was lit when we were near I was not expecting and it made me jump out of my skin! It sounded like a jet fighter was taking off centimetres from my ear.

The men were in the process of getting drunk and some who had already reached that stage were covered in mud from falling in the massive pools. Although gambling is illegal in Thailand it seemed that a blind eye was cast over this event as nearly everyone was betting on how long the rockets would stay in the sky. There were children running around and if this event was held back at home Health and Safety would have a field day! It was probably extremely dangerous having rockets fired from this close range but it was a really amazing spectacle!

Near the end of June Samakki School was having a parade on anti-drugs and alcohol and then a schools show in the afternoon. Every year group was to put on a show and we found out that the oldest year was going to do a traditional dance and we asked if we could also do it with them. So in the week leading up to the show every lunch time was dedicated to learning the moves after many missed moves or placed at the wrong time! The parade was really nice as each class had done a few posters and we got to marshal to make sure no kids were in danger of getting run over by a car! The show itself went really well (a lot better than I had envisaged) and all of the pupils watching loved it as they got to see their foreign teachers dance on a stage!

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