Man goes down and feels the burn

14 Feb 2019

Photography in Thailand is some of the most exciting we’ve ever experienced. For example, check out our Backstory on the Phuket Vegetarian Festival — it’s a spectacular opportunity for photographers.

Despite all the sharp blades, deliberate piercings and punctures, the tons of exploding fireworks, the vats of boiling oil and other hazards, serious injuries are surprisingly few. A few dozen visits to hospital each year are reported during and after the festival, usually involving the Masong (mediums) themselves for over-exuberant knifework, burns, firework injuries and the like. I find this amazing when you consider the close mingling of participants and spectators, and the presence of entire families at these events. It’s commonplace to see little children rushing about trailing a couple of kilos’ worth of Chinese firecrackers and a box of matches.

One evening we unhappily witnessed, from close range, what happens when things do go wrong. In a temple compound, the fire-pit was red hot and the crowds had assembled in the courtyard to see the Masong do their firewalking. Things went well as the mediums ran or walked across the blazing coals — until one of them tripped and fell face-first into the firepit. The photos above tell the story — and don’t worry, although he emerged somewhat crispy around the edges, shaking off red-hot cinders like a puppy emerging from a stream, his faith must have protected him because it appeared that the worst damage to his skin was caused by the burn of blushing embarrassment.

“It’s nothing. He should not have run. He was clearly not ready. His preparation was not good.”

I did feel that the poor guy, as he trembled and shook and slapped at his blistered skin in the aftermath, got rather short shrift from the organisers and crowd. Turns out that such falls are quite rare, and when they do happen, it’s a terrible omen: the firepit is quickly extinguished, the entire evening is cancelled and everyone goes home disappointed.

As one Veg Fest veteran unsympathetically remarked to me when I expressed concern over the fire-faller’s injuries: “It’s nothing. He should not have run. He was clearly not ready. His preparation was not good.”

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