17 February 2011

Full Moon Festival

Hoi An celebrates the full moon every single month and last night I got to join in the festivities.

Strolling in the late afternoon along the river walk, I passed people busily setting up make-shift stalls of colorful luminaries. Yo can buy one or as many as you want. As soon as it gets dark, you light the candle inside and send it on down the river. Or better yet, you take a ride in a boat and set it out in the middle of the river.

Farther along the way, I paused in front of a group of Buddhist monks and followers lighting incense and intoning prayers at the river’s edge. I closed my eyes and let the sounds and smells and prayers envelope me in a spiritual embrace.
As the light of the day slowly faded away, I ate a meal of tasty steamed fish in a café just a few meters from the river, and watched as more lantern vendors set their wares out on the sidewalk, and more people appeared on the street.

Walking past all the riverfront activity I decided I really should buy a little floating lantern to send out with all the others. I was deciding who I should buy from when I happened upon a group selling lanterns to benefit a children’s home.

One of the young women working at this booth told me I could now walk over to the edge of the river and place it in the water. That was not going to happen. Except for the candlelight and minimal electric light from the silk lanterns strung about, it was darn near pitch black. It would just be my luck to fall in. She kindly offered to place it in the river for me. She also handed me a fortune which I read and then placed inside the lantern. When the candle burned down and ignited the fortune, it was her hope that it would come true for me.
The area by the water was starting to get a bit too congested especially since it was so dark. I headed to the next lane up from the river which was adorned with colorful lanterns. Shops were open and all of them had placed offering tables out front, brimming with fruit, lucky paper money, incense and other items.

I stopped in front of a young man playing the most beautiful traditional music on a very simple wooden flute. Further down the street several other musical groups began to appear and fill the air with sweet sounds.
A small bridge crosses the river inlet and it was packed with people enjoying the view in all directions. I walked across, stopping to look down on those who had boarded boats for an evening cruise to deposit lanterns in the river. Depending on the level of the water, there is often not quite enough head room for those passing under the bridge. I watched as passengers quickly flattened themselves to avoid major injury.

On the other side of the bridge there are numerous, permanent stalls that sell silk lanterns in every shape, size and color. At night, when they are all lit up, the street becomes one fabulous land of enchantment. On Full Moon nights, everyone seems to be there to marvel at the spectacle and take pictures in front of the brilliant displays.

Everything winds down at about 10pm which seems reasonable. After all, it will only be a few more weeks until the next full moon and the whole affair begins again.