Where do all those colorful paper lanterns come from during Yee Peng?
If you’ve been reading my previous posts about arriving into Chiang Mai for Yee Peng’s sky lantern festival then you’ll have known how I discovered the lantern maker. I may have taken a long time to actually venture in, but now that I was inside the temple (wat) and I was glad I’d entered.
In a semi-circle around a golden statue of The Buddha were a group of young monks on the floor surrounded by colorful sheets of paper, tinsel, wood sticks and lanterns. Before me was a man with a huge prideful smile. He was the man teaching the monks how to make the colorful paper lanterns seen in Chiang Mai during Yee Peng.
Meet Toi the paper lantern maker
If ever there was a more prideful welcoming teacher in Thailand it was Toi. Welcoming me into the temple workshop Toi asked if I wanted to join the monks in learning how to make a paper lantern. I gratefully declined at first. I was more interested in what he was doing at this stage.
Toi unleashed a wide addictive smile at my question. Most other people would have left me with a note of sarcasm or annoyance. Not Toi, he held out his arms to the room as if he were embracing the fact with pride.
“We’re making paper lanterns!”
“Do they know already?” I asked.
Toi grinned and nodded enthusiastically, “They are learning. Come and watch and I’ll show you.”
There was no need to say more. I was soon in among the monks learning how to make a colorful paper lantern.
How paper lanterns are made for Yee Peng
It all starts with a bamboo stick. Toi held up a handful of long thin bamboo sticks that had been cut by slicing the main stick. The bamboo is then placed at a right angle with another and some reed is then used to tie them together. This continues until there is a full square.
Using the square as a base more sticks are attached around the edges using reeds until there’s a rib cage of sorts. More circles or angles are added building the lantern into a shape that the person making it wants.
Next up small sheets of colorful paper tissue are added and stuck on with paper glue. It’s up to the lantern maker what color is used and how many colors to use.
Toi made a specific point that he repeated throughout his teachings.
“Let them think for themselves.”
Indeed during my whole visit Toi always urged the monks to come up with their own designs, shapes, colors and decorations.
Cutting shapes to decorate the paper lanterns
Of all the tasks Toi was teaching the monks this was the most intensive and interesting. It involved creativity and knowledge. The simple act of folding tinsel multiple times and then using a scissors to cut shapes into it. After that one opens up the tinsel and a series of decorative cuts would appear and a monk smiles widely.
It was great to see the monks who had never done this before look on amazed smiles at their creations.
With each smile unleashed by a monk Toi smiled back and cheered to the group. He had a long loud laugh that couldn’t help make you smile as well.
Toi then proceeded to tell me that these young monks were from remote villages and this would be one of the skills they could bring back there.
It might seem strange to some – paper lantern making a great skill for a remote Thai village? But do appreciate if you are the only one who knows how to do something somewhere then you have a unique commodity. Besides who doesn’t like paper lanterns?!
Aside from that Lanna is celebrated all over North Thailand so being able to make paper lanterns can really work to your best interest.
Moreover as Toi pointed out it helps the monks become creative and independent in thought.
They learn to be creative and think outside the box by themselves
If those aren’t good teaching principles for monks, I don’t know what are.
Watching Monks make paper lanterns for Yee Peng
As the afternoon continued more monks arrived at the temple. Some were shy, others have clearly been before. They all participated. Toi encouraged more than just participation though. He encourage individual thought.
He always cheered when a young monk came up with a new design. While at the same time congratulating a new monk on his first few simple paper cuttings.
I asked Toi how long he’d been teaching monks to make paper lanterns. The answer was as hopeful as one expected. He’d been teaching monks to make paper lanterns all his life.
When a teacher is more than a just a teacher
As evening set in I thanked everyone and said my goodbyes. Yee Peng was nearly here yet as busy as Toi was he still took the time to walk me out with some of the monks.
He showed me the garden with pride. Fresh cuttings and grafts were pride of place. Then it was over to another buildings ornate walls. And finally to the gates of the temple.
Looking up Toi explained how the monks and not he will decorate the gates for Yee Peng. He would guide them, but the ideas would be their own. It was only now I asked Toi about what he does when not making paper lanterns.
The answer was better than I’d hoped.
Toi was the caretaker of the Wat. A man of many talents and a teacher with a greater gift than any student could hope for. He taught his students through paper lantern making how to think for themselves.
Revisiting the Lantern Makers
At Toi’s invitation I came back to watch the monks at work putting up their paper lanterns around the gates for Yee Peng. Indeed it was the monks that were doing everything from bringing out decorative plants to running electrical cables though bamboo frames to light the lanterns.
From lantern makers to electricians and from gardeners to designers the Monks had learned a lot through their teacher.
It all paid off too. On the night of the parade Thai television crews set themselves up right outside the gates where the monks lanterns were displayed for all the nation to see.
And their teacher Toi? Nowhere to be seen. Like any good teacher Toi left his monks to see all the smiles of the people outside looking up at what they’d created in the days beforehand.
This is an additional feature article about the Lantern Makers of Yee Peng
If you’d like to read about my experiences at each of the three festivals over Yee Peng then here they are:
- Day one: Sky Lantern Release at Mai Jo University
- Day two: Loi Krathong (water lantern release)
- Day three: Yee Peng Parade
Or, here’s a full travel guide to Yee Peng
Planning on booking a hotel room in Chiang Mai for Yee Peng?
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