Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Great (One) Moment

Alternate title for this post: "Lantern Fest (Part Two)."  I like "A Great (One) Moment" much better, though.  I have been known to call myself The Great One from time to time, although I've done this less in recent years.  Am I getting less narcissistic?  Probably not...have you read this blog at all?  As for WHY it's a Great Moment (other than the fact that I have been waiting ALL YEAR for last night)...  That guy, Buddha - he sure had some great timing.  Did you realize that he was born, achieved enlightenment, and ascended to his final nirvana, all on the same day?  In different years, obviously, but still!  I didn't realize until I started researching last night's celebration that some Buddhists celebrate the three together, a day called Vesak Puja for a lot of the world, and Duichin ("a great moment") in Tibetan Buddhism, which is the religion a lot of Mongolians practice.

I found out about the Duichin Day celebration here last fall, after Fire Marshall took some pictures of sky lanterns being released at the state circus.  Let me go on a little birdwalk for a moment - Disney has restored my faith that there is more magic in this world than we give it credit for.  Did you watch Up?  (Technically, it's Pixar, not Disney, but work with me here).  The place that Carl is trying to get to, Paradise Falls, is based on a real, honest-to-goodness mountain in South America, Mt. Roraima.  And those lanterns Rapunzel watched for each year on her birthday in Tangled are real, too.  Fire Marshall's photo proved it, and when I found out that there was a big celebration with them, but not until May, it seemed like the wait was going to take FOREVER.
As a matter of fact, this school year has gone by ridiculously fast.  I can't believe that nearly all of my friends are leaving me in three and a half weeks.  But on the bright side, Duichin Day finally arrived.  I learned from InfoMongolia last month that it was supposed to take place on the 25th, and so we all marked it on our calendars but didn't hear anything further about it that was solid until Thursday (this is one of the annoying things about living here - a lot of times it's hard to get information about what's going on), in spite of my best efforts.  Tickets were 12,000 tugrugs and the event would take place at the central Naadam stadium.  The next day we went and bought tickets - supposedly they had some for sale at the door, but we decided we'd rather not chance it, and it was a good thing.  A colleague who tried to do so got shot down.  Of course, there are worse things that could have happened - there were lanterns for sale outside the stadium and you would have had nearly as good a view from out there, although you would have missed out on the chanting, prayer, and meditation, which turned out to not be that bad a way to kill time while waiting for dark to fall.
After the prayers and meditations, it finally started to get dark, and we all got to light our torches, which was not only pretty but helped warm us up (because by then it was definitely starting to get cold.
Meanwhile,  people had started to set off smaller, colored lanterns on the outside.  Watching them drift up, two or three at a time, also helped to pass the time and build our excitement.
FINALLY the time came for us to set off the big lanterns.  I already sent one up back during Chinese New Year in Harbin,so I kind of knew the drill, but these were much bigger - it took at least four of us to inflate it.  I'm sending some home for the Princess and my fam to light this summer, so let me take a few minutes to explain how you do this.  If you're not interested, feel free to skip ahead.  Basically, a sky lantern is a little hot air balloon made out of tissue.  At the bottom, there's a wire that runs across the diameter, with a little loop to attach a small block of paraffin.  You need to fold the loop to go through the hole in the paraffin, then bend the end on the outside of the wax so it holds it securely.  THEN you set the wax on fire.  It takes a little time to get it going, at least when you're only working with a lighter (the torches did a MUCH faster job of it), and as I've looked through my photos it seems that you should hold your flame under the hole.  Once the paraffin is burning, you lower the lantern close to the ground so that the hot air can't escape, and wait a while so that it gets enough hot air to float.  Gradually raise it up as high as you can, and then finally, let it go.  If it bobs back down, catch it and hold it for a little while - it's not supposed to do that and needs more hot air so it doesn't catch anything (some guy's hair, a tree, your car, the nearby hillside, ahem, Dad) on fire.
This was on such a huge scale, it was amazing.  In Tangled, Rapunzel calls the lanterns stars, and when you see it in person, with so many lanterns going up at once, you can understand why.  I've seen people set them off up here, probably from Zaisan, and in ones or twos they are not nearly so misleading, and I have to say, I think the white ones are much more beautiful than the colored lanterns.
According to tradition, Buddha descends to bestow spiritual blessings on the world at Duichin, and along with our tickets we were given a sticker to write a wish on.  If you look closely at the lantern in the middle, you can see the stickers outlined against the lantern.  I spent some of the time waiting for the lighting thinking of my Dark Lord and Master.  After my second Lotus Parade in Seoul, he mentioned that he shared the same lunar birthday as Buddha.  If you know him, you might be able to imagine what sort of inference he was hoping we would draw.  Well, I don't know about enlightenment, but according to InfoMongolia's blurb, "at this time, great expansions of consciousness...become possible," and if there was any period of my life that expanded my consciousness, it was the three years I spent working for him, so maybe there's something to that.

After we'd wandered out of the stadium, bought some lanterns of our own and contributed to the overall mayhem (I mean, really - so many people setting flaming lanterns into the sky at the same time is just a recipe for disaster.  It would SO not fly in any city in the states and I am surprised Fire Marshall didn't hurt himself cringing at the overall atmosphere), we set off for home.  It was a nice night, so Geek and I decided to walk home.  PE, Engrish, and Five were tired and took the bus, and for the first time ever, there was traffic going UP Zaisan.  They still managed to beat us home, but possibly only because along the way stopped to see a smaller celebration taking place at the Buddha park.  People were setting off lanterns there and from the top of Zaisan, which was really nice to watch when I got home.

I almost didn't go to church today, because I wanted to publish my blog before Fire Marshall did.  In the end, I decided I had to go, and as I was walking to the bus stop I came across the wreckage of last night's parties, looking like - well, I'll let you make your simile for what a sad, deflated sky lantern on the ground looks like.  And of course, this made me wonder where our big lantern had ended up, and if the person who found it might be able to read English, and what they would think of our wishes.  Anyways, it truly was a Great Moment, and well worth the wait...the best things usually are.

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