going to the southeast asian water festival in lowell was a last minute decision. i was already prepared to spend a lazy saturday lounging around at home when i saw the posting. featuring boat races, dance performances, and vendors selling all sorts of wares, it was an oppotunity too good to pass up; if i can't actually be in southeast asia, this was the next best thing. i quickly got dressed and headed out the door.
the ride up to lowell was half the adventure. i'd only been to lowell one other time in my life, and that was for a white stripes concert a few years back. from the maps it looked to be an easy route, take route 4 north starting in lexington, cutting through bedford and billerica until i got to chelmsford. there route 4 appears to end and it gets a little tricky but lowell was the next town over, how hard could it be to find? of course i didn't have all this information with me when i left, only what i could memorize in my head and most of that was quickly forgotten.
it was a great ride, going down roads i've never been before, exploring fresh territory. all was well until i got to chelmsford however. instead of following route 4 to the end, i got sidetracked and crossed over to route 110. i was on 110 for what seemed to be a long time before i arrived in a thickly settled city. i saw a brooks and went inside to look for directions. i had no idea where i was much less where i was supposed to be going. after consulting with a map, i thought i was way off course and somewhere in lawrence, just shy of the new hampshire border. i figured my best option would be to turn around and try to get back onto route 4. coming out i noticed a large cambodian supermarket (battambang market) next door. i must be close.making my u-turn, i noticed some signs that said "lowell." i'm not in lawrence, i'm already in lowell!
i then spent the next 20 minutes riding around, trying to find the right section of the merrimack river where the festival was being held. i knew i was close because i could see southeast asian people walking around the streets, but i didn't know if they were going to or coming from where i wanted to be. after a lot of back and forth riding, i finally saw a mass of people on the other side of the river. i went down a stretch of road until i came to a bridge and crossed over, finally arriving at the festival by 3pm.
since i don't have the money to do any traveling this year, i find that going to these festivals is the next best thing. the greek parade, the italian feasts, the dominican parade - they all allow me to take a peek into a culture i normally don't see. i'd go as far as saying the pride parade shares similar traits. the colors, the pageantry, the energy, the excitement. it also demonstrates just how diverse boston and its vicinities really are. of course this is all leading up to the biggest celebration of them all, the carnival parade that's happening next weekend (i seriously considered changing china itinerary last summer just so i wouldn't miss this one).
even though it's called the southeast asian water festival, most of the people there were either cambodian or laotian. i didn't really see any thai or vietnamese, much less burma and the indonesian/malaysian islands. cambodian and laotian flags flew from tents, angkor wat t-shirts and replica statues were on sale, as well as cambodian pop culture in the form of dvd's and cd's. there was also a myriad of food tents, most with long lines. clothing, toys, ingredients, even plants. buddhist monks set up tents in hopes of garnering donations. as for the folks there, it was an amazing place to people watch. my only regret was i arrived too late and most of the performances were already over. i was able to catch the boat race award ceremony, but i think there were only 4 boats racing or something and some of the winners didn't even bother showing up to claim their prizes.
i've heard that there are a lot of southeast asian immigrants living in lowell but i never knew to what extent until today. outside of the festival, southeast asian restaurants and grocery stores dot the city. there are also many southeast asian businesses, anything from hairdressing to insurance companies. i plan on visiting more often now that i sort of know how to get there.
even though there were all this delicious food for sale at the festival, in my infinite wisdom i didn't sample any of it, even though i was kind of hungry. on the road back, i passed by a few southeast asian restaurants. at the next one i saw, i pulled over to have an early dinner (by then it 5pm). here was the pho da lat restaurant, actually the second one (the original is in downtown lowell). the large aquarium by the entrance caught my attention, followed by the lovely young waitresses dressed in matching red blouse and black pants. i ordered the medium beef pho, which was actually sort of expensive at $7. it tasted pretty good however and i quickly wolfed everything done before leaving paying my check.
going back seemed a lot easier now that i knew the way. it look less than a hour; instead of going home, i went to the cafe, where earlier my mother had called to let me know they were making sheng jian bao. i wasn't hungry when i arrived but ate a few meat buns anyway.
after i finished watching the red sox game, i headed out to mcgrath's highway for the second annual project MUM ("meet under mcgrath"), where they transform the empty spot underneath the bridge into a dance studio. this year's theme was disco and even though the weather had an autumnal bite, there were still a lot of people already congregating below the bridge.
to my surprise, i bumped into jesse, who was there with her friend erin and erin's husband mark. they'd been there an hour already dancing the night away. erin and mark called it quits while jesse and i stayed a little bit longer to people watch.