Thai festival draws big crowds, big cheers

Online Poster

Online Poster

By Nate Sandstrom

A beauty pageant that featured singing, lip-synching and a cooking demonstration headlined the Loy Kratong (pronounced “la gra-tong”) Festival sponsored by the Thai Student Association held at the University YMCA Sunday afternoon.

The pageant featured students from the University as well as Eastern Illinois and Illinois State Universities. Contestants energized the audience during the first round of the competition by singing Thai and other songs as the audience clapped along. The most popular performance was by a contestant who lip-synched a version of “I Will Survive,” which she repeated at the end as others who came to the festival joined her in dancing along.

Salisa Tangtiphaiboontana, junior in LAS, played the khim, a Thai musical instrument, during the pageant. She is studying at the University as part of an exchange program with Thammasat University in Thailand.

“I got nervous, but it turned out well,” she said.

The festival also featured many other activities such as games, dancing, musical performances and the making of Kratong, a lotus-shaped vessel that floats in a body of water. Traditionally, a Kratong is made of banana leaves or the bark of a banana tree and can contain joss sticks, coins and candles, said Parn Chanitthikul, sophomore in business.

Festivalgoers constructed Kratong at the event using Styrofoam bowls and colored paper.

“Where are we going to find a banana leaf in a corn field?” joked Vara Siraprapasiri, a librarian and alumna of the University.

Loy Kratong is celebrated during the full moon of the 12th lunar moon of the Buddhist calendar, which usually falls in November. “Loy” means to float and “kratong” refers to the water-bound crafts.

The tradition is more than 700 years old, said Tim Mahrt, sophomore in LAS. For many people, the holiday is a spiritual celebration to thank the river. The Kratong also symbolized floating away peoples’ troubles or bad luck, Chanitthikul said.

“The river is a very important thing in Thai culture,” said graduate student Meng Preedawiphat, pointing out the importance of both Loy Kratong Day and the floating markets, where people gather on the river with items such as fruits, vegetables and flowers to sell them and barter with other traders.

Graduate student Rick Moss came to the Loy Kratong Festival because he is interested in Thai culture and once vacationed there for more than two weeks. He said he was impressed by Thai boxers and enjoyed many of the tourist attractions as well.

“The temples were really pretty and the floating market was cool,” Moss said.

Chanitthikul said this was the second year the Thai Student Association put together the Loy Kratong Festival. She said about 50 to 60 students attended last year; however, more than 100 came to the festival this year. Visitors of all ages attended the festival and came from other campuses including Purdue University. Chanitthikul said his father flew from Thailand to attend the event.

Mahrt said the association is hoping to make the festival an annual event at the University.

Chanitthikul and Mahrt are active in both the association and Thai-American Insight. The Thai Student Association focuses on students and Thai-American Insight works within the larger community to inform people of Thai culture, they said.

“We go out and try to have fun,” Mahrt said of the association.

Siraprapasiri, who frequently helps the association, said they hold potluck parties at the beginning of each semester to help students get to know each other.

Mahrt said they are also trying to organize classes teaching Thai language at the University. He said he hopes the classes can begin this spring, but they would not be for credit.

Siraprapasiri, who would be teaching the class, said they need to work out issues like where and when to hold the classes, but said she is excited to get started.