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Recently, you commented on how much you enjoyed Chiang Mai Thailand. I too found this to be one of the most wonderful places I've ever had the good fortune to visit. In particular I wanted to share an experience I had in a small town, Bo Sang, just a short drive away. I've never felt so different, yet so at home at the same time, in my life.

The manufacture of the hand-painted umbrellas and fans that you see in markets all over Thailand is the primary source of jobs in Bo Sang. Every January they set aside the third weekend for the Umbrella Festival. The whole town gets decked out and hangs beautifully colored umbrellas on every available surface. The streets are prepared for a parade which concludes with the crowning of the Umbrella Festival Princess.

We arrived early in the day, so we could wander about the town and take in the sights. We started at the umbrella factory, where they manufacture and paint the umbrellas and fans. There was a 20' tall red umbrella in the square out front and a band of distinguished older Thai gentlemen playing traditional instruments. As musicians ourselves, we were highly amused when a young boy brought big cups of beer for the band. Just like home.

We then wandered down the street which was lined with people selling food and various flea market type items. Again, we were struck by how much it was just like a Fourth of July celebration back home. The food might look and smell a bit different, but they had Thai variations on the sno-cone, hot dog, and even knock off sunglasses.

Then came the parade. Thai women in beautiful costumes, Thai clowns, and my personal favorite, a Thai boys drum corp. 15 or so boys in blue playing Thai drums, dancing in convoluted patterns, and playing to beat all hell. They were having way too much fun, and it was infectious. The topper though, was when the custom hot rods drove by. That's right. Here we were, about as far away from home as we could get, literally and figuratively, and we watched men in baseball caps drive their hot rods in the home town parade. I know it's odd, but I felt such a connection at that point. These folks were just like my neighbors back home.

The culmination of the parade was the crowning of the Princess at which point they released balloons into the air. These were rectangular paper balloons about five feet tall with a basket underneath holding a small fire to heat the air inside. Trailing from the basket were strings of firecrackers which popped and banged as they soared out of sight. Perhaps it's a bit cliche, but my heart flew up with those balloons, and I watched them soar up into the sky until I couldn't be sure if I was actually seeing them or not. Just like when I was eight years old, back home, on the Fourth of July.



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