The Day Before the Rocket Festival in Nondu
May, 2002

I expected it to be quiet today since rice planting season is upon us. Good theory in general, but it didn't apply to today. It turns out that tomorrow (Saturday) is the local rocket festival and today was a day of drunken celebration.
The rocket festival is an annual event. in which different Grooms (neighborhoods) build and compete with hand made rockets. From what I've seen, the rockets look like giant pop bottle rockets. The engines are made of PVC pipe (up to 10 cm in diameter and over 1 meter long having been observed) with a bamboo tail. I heard several people were killed making and launching rockets last year. competition is village-wide and this takes place at about this time of the year all over this part of the country.

The idea is for the rockets to be fired into the air from the middle of a rice field and the one that stays up the longest wins. Last year, they shot so high into the clouds, I lost sight of most of them, and they would take a minute or two to come down. The winning Goom gets a sum of money to pay for a small party

As I mentioned, today was a day of drunken celebration and people wore their best clothes and went among their neighbors houses drinking and talking. It seems everyone was having fun. -alcohol being used liberally. Loud music blared from sound systems set up at people's homes. Bad day to try and catch an afternoon nap.

At about 4:00 PM a procession which seemed to be made up of the majority of the residents wound through the village. In the lead were two young boys in a traditional costume and with their head freshly shaven, being carried in the back of a pickup truck with monks and some others to the temple, where they are to be ordained as monks tomorrow (Thai men are expected to serve as monks sometime early in their lives. A typical stint is 3 months.). Behind them were 20 or 30 elementary school girls dancing in traditional garb, then a mob of less descript people, many quite inebriated, dancing, followed by a couple dozen older women in different traditional dress.

All this to the accompaniment for amplified classic Isan music played by electric guitar and drums (it was yours truly who corrected the battery connections and diagnosed the missing fuse to help the playing get under way). A katoey (ladyboy), perhaps 18 to 20 years old, danced among the young girls. He/she is quite shapely and danced very well, at least compared to the young girls.

As we paraded through the streets at less than a snail's pace, the sky opened up and released a tropical deluge. I put my umbrella on the cart carrying the amplifier to keep the electronics dry. There were a few other umbrellas among the crowd, but it didn't matter -everyone was drenched. The procession wound around the town and stopped for a while at the town center where the young girls danced for the crowd. That's where I left the activity to seek some peace and quiet, and change into some dry clothes.

I guess everyone is quite tired this evening as its it very quiet now. Tomorrow morning will be the the rocket competition. Glasses of whiskey being passed around, warm watermelon slices, and old men dancing to the sound of Isan country music blaring from huge loud speakers. Oh, and some rockets being launched too. May the best Groom win.

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