It's dark and I'm heading "downtown" on Koh Lipe to pick up the kids from the Internet cafe. I glance up in the sky and see four orange balls glowing, moving slowly in formation. WTF? I watch for a few moments and go through my checklist of UFO debunks. Not a star, not a satellite, not a plane...
A few fireworks are let off behind the jungle growth, towards the beach, and I set aside the mystery and pick up the kids. Later we see the answer close up.
Vendors are selling circular pads of tissue paper, about two feet in diameter. Attached to the bottom by lightweight wire is a wax toroid, not unlike those installed under toilets to prevent leaks.
They are fire lanterns, and I'm pretty sure could be the next big thing back home. The circle of tissue unfolds into a two-foot tall cylindrical paper balloon; the wax ring is lit on fire. After a few moments, the flame heats the air in the paper sac, and it rises slowly and majestically into the sky. Montgolfier in miniature.
We buy one and head down to the beach. We light the wax and watch our lantern rise into the sky. It's a slowly-moving orange dot growing smaller as the wind moves it offshore. After about 10 minutes, the lantern starts to fall as the fire winks out. It disappears into the sea.
It would be a great fundraiser for Autism or the Cancer Society back home. They are so peaceful, and beautiful, rising to the sky- like the spirits of our lost loved ones moving to heaven.
But can you imagine the permits you'd need to get approval for this? Lotteries, Forestry, Environment, Wildlife Branch- not to mention city hall, the fire department, and insurance.
Things may be safer back home and cleaner, but we've lost some of our joy in playing with beautiful things. Maybe I'll just pull my own UFO prank instead.