Coloured lights twinkled through the smokey haze as more fireworks exploded overhead. The dragon had twisted and spiralled its way up a pole until it's head now hovered a good 15 metres abocve the crowd. It spits fire and sparks from its mouth, causing many people to pull coats over their heads to protect themselves from the embers showering from above.
Every year the Thai city of Nakhon Sawan, some 240 km north of Bangkok, ushers in the Chinese New Year with one of the most colourful celebrations in Asia.
The Golden Dragon of Nakhon Sawan and its troupe of dragon masters is highly respected throughout Thailand and perform before members of the Thai Royal family every Year. The approximately 200 people responsible for this spectactualr display are members of the Pak Nam Pho Market Residents' Committee, and range in age from 10 to well over 50.
The dragon is powered by 185 young men from the Committee and cause the 56 metre long dragon to writhe and swirl in a frenzied dance throughout its performance.
With no interruption to the rythem of the dance  young men race under the dragon and take over from exhausted dancers who are then able to get a few minutes rest. In this way the dragon can dance through the streets of Nakhon Sawan at the time of the Lunar New Year for more than 8 hours without ever losing its vigour.
The dragon first appeared in Nakhon Sawan over 40 years ago, and in the ensuing years there has never been a shortage of helpers in town.
"Each year, as the Lunar New Year draws closer," says Committee leader, Surachai Wissuttaken, "more and more boys come and ask if they can help with the dragon. I have to tell the very young ones to come back when they're older, and sometimes they get pretty upset about it. But I don;t have any choice - it's just too dangerous for them."
But there is an occassional exception to the rule.
Nongnart Khuanrakjaroen explains about her 10 year old son Songyot, the youngest member of the troupe.
"I don't know why, but Songyot just fell in love with the dragon the first time he set eyes on it. He certainly wasn't big enough to do any of the work - but as long as he could just be around the dragon he was happy."
Songyot now playes the cymbols with the small orchestra that beats out the music that accompanies the dragons frantic dance.
"Sonyot didn't choose the dragon", the boy's mother continues, "I think it was the dragon who chose him."
All associated with the dragon express the same feelings of enthusiasm and affection. On one hand, the dragon - and this one in particular - is traditionally associated with good fortune and good luck. On the other hand, there's a tangible buzz that comes from bringing this mythical creature so vibrantly to life. "I've worked with the dragon for four years now," says one 16 year old boy. "Sometimes we are paid for our work but I don't do this for money."
Many companies, from small local workshops to large international companies sponsor the work of the Committee . Their financial support and the enthusiasm of the Dragon Masters ensure the Golden Dragon will continue to delight many people.
This story follows the troupe of Dragon Masters who bring the mythical Golden Dragon of Nakhon Sawan to life every year at the time of the Lunar New Year.


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