Friday Photos #9: Old Town Festival

Photo ©2015 by Phuket News

My favorite local celebration is the Phuket Old Town Festival, now in it’s 16th year.  Held annually immediately following Chinese New Year, it’s three days of blocked-off streets, massive crowds, all manner of performances – cultural and musical – booths selling many different souvenirs and articles of clothing, and an endless variety of delicious food.  There is so much to see and do that I never fail to attend all three nights.  This year was a bit odd as the festivities began (with a massive parade) on a Thursday so as not to disturb the popular Sunday-evening Walking Street.

What follows are just a few of the photos I shot on Thursday and Friday night this week, explaining why I’m uploading these on a Saturday morning (“Saturday Snaps”?).  I shot a lot of video last night and will attempt to upload some of that as well (difficult, given the Internet speeds on the service I use).  My favorite was during the opening parade when a large ensemble of my students noticed me on the sidelines and simultaneously called my name.  I felt like a rock star!  I will be out again tonight – and will stay much later than during the past two evenings as I do not have an early class tomorrow.

Enjoy the photos…

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On Thursday, I’d finished teaching at Koh Sirae School at 16:00 and arrived home about an hour later.  After a quick shower, I walked over to the park for my first peak at the 2015 festival.  One of the reasons that I moved to my current home was so I could live closed enough to downtown to be able to walk (about five minutes) to any special events but still be just outside the “shut-down” zone to be able to use transportation to get to and from work.  It was pleasant to walk around the area without having to cope with the crowds.  I was also early enough to catch a few last-minute rehearsals on the main stage.

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After a quick wander, I made my way to my favored parade viewing position (at the intersection of Th. Thalang and Th. Sri Sunthorn, if you must know).  I particularly love the Old Town Festival parade as much of it is one huge wedding procession (many Baba-Nagoya get married around this time of the year).  They always look so lovely in their traditional clothing, particularly the young children.  There’s also a large variety of other “costumes” parading through the streets.  This year, there was a large cosplay contingent and even Batman and Catwoman were represented (although my father would probably have dubbed them “unauthorized agents”).  Sometimes, it can be a surprise to hear what tunes the marching bands decide to play.  I recognized the U.S. Marine Corps Anthem played by one (“From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli…”).

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In addition to the usual images of HRH King Bhumipol Adulyadej, his oldest daughter was prominently featured in this year’s parade.  Her Royal Highness the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn will turn 60 years old in a few weeks’ time and the nation is awash in a sea of purple as she was born on a Saturday.  The king’s official color has returned to yellow (Monday) following a few years of pink.  Like her father, the princess is – among many other things – an avid philatelist and will adorn several stamp issues in 2015.  She even painted the goat that is featured on this year’s New Year’s stamp.

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Of course, Phuket Town’s madam mayor (with the glasses) made an appearance.  She’s been the mayor for as long as I’ve lived here and she has a keen interest in local history, having initiated many of the recent improvement projects around town.

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The young bride and groom…

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The large wedding parties (“Friends of the Groom”, “International Groom and Bride Club”, etc.) were occasionally broken by groups of lady-boys, boys and girls in cosplay outfits, acrobats, stilt-walkers, and rather inept bicyclists.

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Over the past few years, my enjoyment at many local events has been hampered by several foreigners with large-lensed cameras who tend to block the view of other spectators.  They ignore the police barricades and wander aimlessly in front of those who are more compliant.  I always wonder why they have to be so close to the action when they have such a long telephoto lens… One of the worst offenders (and I have seen him numerous times over the past few years) actually pushed a police officer who asked him to move out of the way.  This is the photographer who took my photo that appears at the head of this article (via the Phuket News).  But he wasn’t nearly as obnoxious as “Facebook cop” who appeared midway through the parade.  He was asked by other officers (and many Thai spectators) to move as he was just standing there fiddling with his phone most of the time.  This policeman is present in almost thirty of my photos and never in a good way.  Here’s a selection:

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At least I still managed to get the shots I wanted despite the minor struggles…

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Usually, the arrival of the Chinese lions signifies the end of the parade.  But there was still more to come.

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I can never figure out why so many Thai men want photos with Thai Batman.  If I wasn’t a teacher, I might consider a selfie with one of the Japanese maidens, however.  Unfortunately, both of Phuket’s main iconic images – the old police station with the non-functioning clock tower and the old Standard Chartered Bank – are still enveloped in their green-coated scaffolding as they are cleaned and restored.  However, the Kasikorn Bank building was lit up in a shiny preview of what we can expect these buildings will soon look like.

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My favorite part of the Old Town Festival, aside from the food, is the music.  Every time you turn around, there is another performance assaulting or soothing your eardrums – from cool jazz to the latest death metal, it’s all here in full glory.

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Plenty of art is also on display.  Some of it’s a bit weird but interesting nonetheless…

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Whenever I need a break from the crowds, I dip into one of the temples or shrines that dot Old Town.  At this particular one, faithful were coating a lantern pole with gold leaf on Thursday night.

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The local VW car club didn’t have as many vehicles on display as in years past but I believe there were even more food stalls than ever before.  I didn’t catch very many main stage performances this year but the ones I saw were spectacular.  I simply was having too much fun just immersing myself in the crowds.

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I even got caught up in the selfie mania…

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…Maybe I need to get one of the long selfie-poles.  But I still wouldn’t touch this “only in Thailand” monstrosity with the ten-foot variety…

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See you at the Festival…


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