Letting go and lighting the way at the Yipeng Lantern Festival

SAMSUNG CSC Over time we become attached to people and places, beliefs and burdens, things and trepidations because they become our markers for meaning. A point of reference for us to gauge who we are.

But what happens when we evolve? Do our attachments hold us back or enable us to grow? Letting go is one of the hardest things to learn. 

This was how I felt after releasing 1 out of 3,000 paper lanterns, which lit the sky on fire when I went to the Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai last year. What started out as something to check off my bucket list became an exercise in letting go. Yipeng5It all happened so fast.

My journey to Chiang Mai started as a spur of the moment decision. I’ve always wanted to attend the Lantern Festival, but I wasn’t available for the international festival date. Luckily my sister who was already in Thailand messaged me the local date, which was happening only a few days away!

After some internal debate about the cost I ended up booking anyway just one day before my departure. And even though buying 4 airplane tickets for a 2 day trip and sleeping overnight at the airport might not be practical, I knew that once-in-a-life-time experiences never are.

Afterwards, every moment leading up to the festival was about waiting.

We waited underneath our makeshift tent of scarves, in the scorching sun, for more than 6 hours. SAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSC We waited until the procession of monks indicated the start of the ceremony. Yipeng3 Even when the speakers blasted, “Do not light your lantern until we give the signal,” we waited some more.

Our patience was growing thin so we passed time by chanting along with the monks while shifting our weight between kneeling positions. Then finally the loudspeaker blasted the signal. We could finally spark our lanterns. SAMSUNG CSC I was so engrossed in the moment of trying to light my lantern that I almost forgot to look up at the sky. But when I did I was speechless yet overcome with awe and rapture. YiPeng One-by-one the lanterns floated into horizon, like messengers of goodwill delivering our wishes to the universe above; a surreal sea of floating lanterns; a sky burning at the seams with positive energy. I felt so alive witnessing gratitude and hope multiplied by the thousands of wishes floating in the sky.Yipeng4 Me? Well, I held onto my lantern long enough to channel all the people and places, beliefs and burdens, things and trepidations that no longer mattered to me into the fire. Yipeng2 Then I let go not only of my lantern but also of all the parts of my life that don’t serve me anymore. Because I realised that if we don’t let go, hope will never be free to light the way. And if I didn’t let go, I wouldn’t have felt so alive.

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A ‘glocal’ Thanksgiving

A holiday tradition is rooted in culture, heritage and religion. Catholics and Christmas. Muslims and Ramadan. Americans and Thanksgiving. Back then these traditions used to be celebrated in silos, compartmentalised by upbringing, limited to the country of birth and the generation who passed down the practice.

Now enter the age of the internet and social media, mobility, cheap and interconnected flights and the burgeoning desire to experience the world. Tradition is no longer preserved through lineage, from the past to the present, grandfather to daughter. It’s perpetuated laterally through the networks of foreigners and locals who are interacting. More people are getting exposed and the result is a new generation celebrating glocal (global + local) tradition. These are rituals adopted and experienced while living abroad and traveling.

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I am a Filipino, but since moving to Singapore I have celebrated holidays I would otherwise not have been able to do before. Last February I got a red packet for Chinese New Year. Last month I flew to Chiang Mai, Thailand to take part in the buddhist Yi Peng Festival or Festival of Lights. This weekend I will have Thanksgiving dinner with my friends, despite a majority of us growing up as catholic Filipinos/ buddhist Singaporeans who don’t usually celebrate Turkey Day.

Yi Peng Festival, Thailand

Yi Peng Festival, Thailand

Thanksgiving might be a Western holiday, but gratitude is a universal value for many cultures. Since I normally write my list of gratitude for my year end review, here are 4 things I’m thankful for about living abroad instead. What are you thankful for?

Expanding vocabulary 

Every country has their local vernacular. There are nuances in language and behaviour that you can only pick up by living somewhere for a long period of time. Words not only have a definition but a context. Aside from learning bits of broken Singlish, I realised that two people speaking in English might not necessarily understand each other.

Ex. ‘Take away’ and ‘take out’ both mean to have your food packed, but are mutually exclusive. Each phrase only has meaning in Singapore (take away) and the Philippines (take out).

What I’m thankful for: Learning how to understand, adapt and communicate with people in various contexts. 

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House warming’s and potluck

For me this has replaced clubbing and going out on the weekends. Going over to a friend’s house is nothing new, but the vibe feels more personal when someone has their own crib. The helper is not preparing the food. Someone is cooking and everyone contributes drinks and food. This is a new experience for Asians who don’t typically move out until they get married.

What I’m thankful for: The friendships that grew stronger from playing Cards Against Humanity at someone’s house. 

Accountability

It’s harder to slack off and take your job for granted when your salary pays the bills. You become more accountable to your life, the roof on your head, the food on the table and ultimately the good or bad decisions you make.

What I’m thankful for: Professional and personal growth because of how much living abroad challenges who you are and tests who you want to be.

Tioman, Malaysia

Tioman, Malaysia

Travel

When you live in Singapore South East Asia becomes your playground. It’s easier to take weekend trips to neighbouring countries where the flight is cheap and the cost of living is lower. If the regional air pass from Air Asia pushes through, and I can fly to 10 different locations in S.E.A. in one month, I’ll never be in Singapore on the weekends anymore.

What I’m thankful for: Being able to travel around the region effortlessly (thank you Changi!) 

Discernment 

The stakes are higher when you live abroad because you’re on your own. So you learn how to trust your gut and filter through your real friends.

What I’m thankful for:  Family who are always there for me. Old friends who will always keep me grounded. And new like-minded spirits who make Singapore feel less lonely.