Walking into Island Lake Ramsey County Park in Shoreview last Saturday was a lot like walking through a Bangkok street market.
There were the food stands, along with arts and crafts vendors, and even a portable Buddhist temple for the faithful. Music and dance performances drew crowds in good weather that seemed to enhance the interest. “Neither too hot, too dry nor too wet,” just as the description of Thailand read in the travel guide promotional booklet at one of the booths.
The Festival of Thailand was bigger, indeed, than event its first event in 2007, said Cathy Solheim Thungkaew, president of the Thai Association of Minnesota. There were more vendors and activities, and more people other than those “mainlanders”, but also Laotian and Hmong who had shared similar culture with Thai society.
“I love the generous spirit of the people,” Thungkaew said of Thai people. She, herself, is a Caucasian who fell in love with Thai culture, its country and its people, when she spent almost two years volunteering in the southern part of this “Land of Smile.”
Thailand is a Buddhist country. Around 95 percent of the total population believes in Buddhist teaching, said Kamonchat Chatpaitoon, a second year student at University of Minnesota. Chatpaitoon, who volunteered for the Wat Thai Temple booth during the event.
The booth was set up like a mobile temple, that says when people visited the booth, it was like visiting a temple.
The entertainment featured various classical and folk dances from several regions of Thailand. Just as in Thailand, the traditionally choreographed dances were accompanied with live music and singing during the festival. The Khim is a stringed instrument that is played with a small hammer.
“The dancing is capturing,” said George Rinkanya, who opened his handmade jewelry booth across the stage.
There were also Muai Thai, or Thai boxing, demonstrations that were ongoing throughout the day. Muai Thai is a ancient self-defense martial art, which has becomed a popular sport in Thailand and internationally.
Many people came to the festival for different reasons, but most of them are Thai food lovers. Dan Lippka of Eden Prairies is one of them, and said he often dines on ethnic cuisine with his Hmong and Laotian colleagues. He said that he and his wife, Pathy, stopped by the festival to have a meal and really enjoy the food.
“It doesn’t hurt, it’s a nice cool day outside,” said Lippka.
Greg and Tan Moser came to visit the Royal Thai Consulate General, which comes up from the Chicago office to offer consulate affairs services during the festival. It is a convenience that saves area residents a trip to Chicago to take care of such services as passport renewal, visa applications or registration for nationality or tourism purposes.
Parichart Wallen, vice president, Thai Association of Minnesota, said the reason of organizing this festival is to help Thai families in Minnesota to come together and help nurturing younger generation about Thai culture. She said it is also a chance for others to experience Thai cuisine, arts and culture.
Wallen said she also hopes that more Thai community will volunteer and be part of this growing tradition.
The mission is also one of the driving reasons why Glen Ple-Plakon said he helped to co-found the Thai Association of Minnesota may years ago. He realized that it was already late for his own two children that were raised in America, but he wanted other families with children to have a place for them to learn about Thai traditions and culture.
Now, with the resources, Thai Association of Minnesota hopes to be able to preserve Thai youngster knowledge about the country.
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