Remember

At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

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On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month many millions of people around the world stop whatever they are doing.

Stop to take a moment from their hectic lives to pay their respects to the fallen. To those who paid the ultimate price to ensure that our busy lives can continue day by day with hardly a beat missed.

The 11th November 1918 saw the signing of the armistice treaty that officially brought an end to World War 1.

One year later in the grounds of Buckingham palace King George V hosted the first service of remembrance to commemorate the signing of the treaty and this became a national tradition. Two minutes silence is observed, the first minute is a time for reflection and give thanks for those who sacrificed so much, and the second is a time to draw your thoughts back to the living, to those who were left behind, the families who lost so much.

In 1939 the traditional armistice day services were moved to the closest Sunday to the 11th in order that production for the next Great War would not be interrupted. This continues to this day, although in recent years the focus has once again shifted back to the day itself.

 

RBL Paper Poppy
RBL Paper Poppy

Inspired by the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ written in 1915 by Major John McCrae,  the poppy has become a symbolic item worn by many as a mark of respect for those who perished and those who still serve. In the United Kingdom, remembrance poppies are sold by The Royal British Legion (RBL). This is a charity providing financial, social, political and emotional support to those who have served or who are currently serving in the British Armed Forces, and their dependents.

This year is the 100 year anniversary of the commencement of world war 1 and there have been many events organised in commemoration of this. By far the most striking is an instillation at the Tower of London titled ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red‘,  designed and created by Tom Piper and ceramic artistPaul Cummins   There are 888,246 ceramic poppies that cover the lawns of the tower, one for each of the British and commonwealth lives that were lost in the conflict. The last of which was placed there today by a 13 year old army cadet.

The many people that I know that have seen it have all been moved in different ways by the piece, I have only seen it in photographs, but have been similarly moved. The sheer scale of the piece brings into sharp focus just how many lives were lost.

Photograph used with kind permission of Michael P Mulcahy of Innercitylifelondon
Photograph used with kind permission of Michael P Mulcahy of Innercitylifelondon*

 

There has been much controversy in recent years about the political nature of wearing a poppy, but for me it is not a political statement, but a personal one. It gives a focus to my thoughts and I have a deep and emotional attachment to it.

During my life as an ex-pat it has become quite a mission to secure my remembrance day poppy. Although the poppy is a recognised symbol in mainland Europe, actually finding one was nigh impossible.

When we lived in France it was a simple matter of asking my mother to pop some in the post, but the mail delivery here in Thailand has proved to be somewhat hit and miss. And last years were hastily cobbled together from craft paper and pins. This year I was a little more organised and made crochet poppies to wear.

Crochet Poppies
Crochet Poppies

This morning I made sure that my hustle and bustle was completed in time for me to head to a local park where I could spend a contemplative few minutes in the tranquility of the flower garden alone with my thoughts. But it turns out I was not alone. There was an elderly gentleman who approached me as i meandered along to the coffee shop. He stopped me and in very broken English told me I looked sad and asked if I was ok. In VERY broken thai I told him I was fine and we sat and had a conversation only made difficult by the language barrier. My thai lessons are going well but I’m not yet up to discussing the geo-political nature of global conflict, so I did the best I could to explain why I was here and what my wooly poppy was for. It took a while, but the understanding in his eyes spoke more than words. When we parted he took my hand and said;  “War is bad, you remember- is very good”

 

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Jer Gan Mai

 

*I am a huge fan of this exceptionaly talented urban photographer. Please take a moment to look at the work of Michael P Mulcahy at Innercitylifelondon.

 

Loi Krathong

November the 6th was the full moon day of the twelfth month in the Buddhist calendar. It is a very special day, particularly in the Lanna kingdoms in the North of Thailand. It is the festival day of Loi Krathong.  Now as with any good Thai festival (particularly one that falls near a weekend) it has extended itself from one day ( the day of the full moon) , to 3 days of parades, contests, sky lanterns and, much to my dogs dismay, extremely loud fireworks.

The origins of loi Krathong are to be found in the ancient Hindi religious texts some of which have been wholeheartedly embraced by the wonderful mish-mash that is thai Buddhism. The basic idea is that you give an offering to the river goddess to thank her for life sustaining water and apologise for any harm you may have caused to the water.
The name itself is a literal instruction for the event. Loi meaning ‘to float’ and Krathong which is ‘a basket that floats’. So during loi Krathong you should float a basket that floats.
The simple krathongs are made from banana tree stems wrapped in banana leaves and decorated with flowers, incense and a candle. It is also traditional to put something of yourself in the basket so the goddess knows who exactly the offering is from. Locks of hair and fingernail clippings are the preferred items of choice. The baskets are made and filled, then taken to the riverbank, lit and launched and your offering of appeasement to the river goddess is carried downstream. ( Quite how launching hundreds of thousands of floral tributes, that will soon become nothing more than litter, into an already polluted waterway is seen as an appropriate apology for polluting the river is up for debate, but not right here or right now).

My very own Krathong
My very own Krathong

The process of making a krathong has developed into a true artform. I am rather proud of the one I laboured over today in my Thai culture class, but as pretty as it is, it pales into insignificance when put beside just about any other one you can buy from the numerous vendors throughout the city. To watch the nimble fingers manipulating the banana leaves into such delicate,  intricate and beautiful sculptures is a joy to behold. And that’s even before they start getting fancy with the flowers. But a Krathong can also be as simple as a banana leaf ‘boat’ with a single flower inside. There are also now some made from a dough like substance filled with fish food that breaks down in the water and feed the fish as they go, which I think is a rather splendid idea.

Small Person and her 'fish food' Krathong
Small Person and her ‘fish food’ Krathong
Launching my Krathong into the Ping River
Launching my Krathong into the Ping River

Over the years the festivities have of course grown and have become a major tourist draw. Despite Thailand’s many problems, over the last year in particular, which has seen a vast drop in tourist numbers it has been estimated that an additional 200,000 people will be in this city alone for the festivities.

Of course Chiang Mai has an additional draw besides the Krathong.
In the northern or Lanna kingdoms of Thailand we have the YI Peng festival as well. Ye Peng (  directly translated from the Lanna language it means ‘second full moon day’ ), is a festival of light. The origins are rather hazy but most scholars agree that this was again taken from an a incident Hindu ceremony which was incorporated into Buddhism many centuries ago. As Chiang Mai was the ancient capital of the Lanna kingdoms it is a focal point for the celebration.
During Ye Peng people will decorate their homes and businesses with khom fai and khom thew which are small decorative paper lanterns and lanterns on sticks illuminated by small candles. This is a time for making merit at the temples and offering your hopes and prayers to Buddha for the coming months.

 

Loi Thew
Loi Thew

But the main attraction are the khom loi, hundreds of thousands of paper lanterns released into the night sky. The main spiritual purpose of the lantern release is one of cleansing. It is said that you speak all your troubles and woes as the lantern slowly inflates and as it takes off into the sky, so does your burden. Whether your troubles really do float off into the distance is I suppose a matter of opinion, but for one night at least it is a soothing thought.
It is a sight that I will never tire of seeing and one that I find both mesmerizing and deeply moving. I once again feel blessed to have been a small part of it.

Up up and away.
Up up and away.
Let your troubles drift away
Let your troubles drift away

Jer Gan Mai.