13.02.2009 34 °C
Valentine day is here in Thailand in a very big way - roses, chocolates and pink balloons everywhere.
Throughout our travels we have been caught up in numerous celebrations. We began with the state funeral of the King's sister in Bangkok in November; we launched candlelit krathons, (lotus blossom boats), onto the river in Ayuttaya to celebrate Loi Krathon; we saw the dawn procession of saffron-robed monks through the streets of Luang Prabang in Laos; and we celebrated Christmas with the Muslims of Malaysia. Births, marriages and deaths are all celebrated with enormous zeal here. One funeral we witnessed in Luang Prabang necessitated the closure of the road for three days while mourners feasted and drank under a massive makeshift marquee of tarpaulins. Throughout this time, the gaudy coffin was the centrepiece - illuminated like a Christmas tree with strings of flashing coloured lights. In Bali we followed funeral processions like this one, where dozens of casket carriers lurch erraticatically down the road in the hope of shaking off the evil spirits.
Each morning we found the streets of Vietnam littered with dollar bills. Grieving relatives believe their loved ones will go to hell unless they give everything away before they are buried, so, as they raucusly process with the coffin on the back of a gaily decorated truck, they throw away thousands of dollar bills - all fake. Note that they never throw the real stuff - we know ... we checked.
In Bangkok we found ourselves in the midst of a graduation throng when every university student, together with hundreds of friends and relatives, celebrate simultaneously at the King's Palace.
And today we joined a joyous procession as young boys preparing to become monks were led through the streets by dragons and costumed dancers.
Wherever we have been in South East Asia we have witnessed elaborate ceremonies. These people certainly know how to enjoy themselves - even in the midst of poverty and grief