There are many things I do not know about many places and peoples around the globe. It is within the context of that confession that I claim Thailand’s Songkran Festival to be the BEST party on the planet. Songkran is the observance of this country’s traditional Lunar New Year and is also referred to as “The Water Festival.” (As I mentioned, way back in January, the Thai celebrate three New Years.)
This year was my forth immersion in the week long event. Naturally, the first time I experienced it I was completely taken by surprise and blown away by the confluence of energies and events. A few posts back is the story of part of that christening introduction. There are a few shots way down the line in my D.I. page.
It is possible to sit it out or hide out, but that has not been my preference. This year, it was Ponra’s choice, however. That shifted the chore of delivering the bamboo satay sticks to me. I made three trips to town through the festivities.
For my first run, we had quite a large package. I almost took the motocy, but managed to precariously balance the bundle on the handle bars of my bicycle and peddle bowlegged. It was awkward and steering was compromised. In addition, I miss judged the volume of air in the back tire. I made slow progress, which I thought of as good exercise. There was a shop en route with an air hose. I made it.
As I re-entered the flow, I slid behind another bicyclist. He was leisurely peddling and waving off the children who lined our path. Since it was the first day, he was spared and most didn’t dowse me, either. Maybe they thought he was my guard. On occasion I encountered playfully plaintive looks clearly saying, “We have ALL this water and here YOU are!” To those posies I shouted: Lay-oh tay “Up to you.” Even when they did splash me they seemed to exercise care not to get my bag wet.
That was pretty much the pattern all the way to the store were the bamboo got unloaded. Even those that did loose their loads usually did so in the polite manner of pouring it over a shoulder or splashing my legs.
Once the bag was gone … well, things escalated.
I was up for it. Songkran is a blast; although there are a couple of contentions. First and foremost, I do not like the people who put ice in their water; it is also annoying to be hit in the head, particularly if an ear gets filled. Regardless of the probability of encountering both, I went right through the thick of it on the way back to the village.
In addition to all the baptizing, which could be considered a tad aggressive, but is in essence a blessing, there is a follow up blessing. (Sort of an apology.)
Teamwork! One or two or three or four or more of each crew, humbly, with kowtowing bows, out stretch palms and beaming smiles, sensuously smear fragrant powder on cheeks; with occasionally a pat or two on the shoulders. I think this might be the most intimate and affectionate activity that the Thai culture accepts in public.
In the section of town I was riding through, the roads are fairly narrow. If cars were parked on either side, four wheeled vehicles would not be able to pass to and fro. During Songkran there are tents erected were any car would park. Two way traffic sporadically leap frogs; except for the presumptively immortal youth on their scooters. They are maniacs! I stayed to the side. Occasionally, I would be pinned in by a pickup truck and end up inside a covered area. (The coverings are much like banquet tents; only roofs suspended by four steel poles or an improvised version.)
In such situations, I found myself literally caught in a cross fire. Each pickup truck would have barrels and bombardiers. The powder puffers would jump out, scurry around and hop back in.
I couldn’t always see such a snaring dynamic developing. As in many aspects of many adventures, I forge ahead with confidence very appreciative of my innate response to impending or erupting calamity. I don’t know why, but I usually just fill my lungs, sigh and take it as it comes.
Anyway, bata bing bata boom, I was right in it. There was a little kid, maybe twelve, with a hose. He was laughing – hysterically intoxicated with power. Terror swept his face as I locked my eyes on his and yanked the hose from his hands. To his credit, he had a firm grip. The water pressure is much better in town. I soaked the crowd on the other side of the street. I soaked all the timid looky lous who thought they were removed from the fray. I soaked everyone the hose would reach.
That was my moment. Sadly, I had no partner to pat all with powder.
That was just before my turn out of town. The less traveled road only had a few stations of elementary age kids. I love the way they squeal! Ah … With delight, with delight! It is wonderful to slowly slide up next to their barrels and provide a non moving target. Usually, they are low budget crews. No powder and no ice!
A couple of days later I had to make another delivery. I took the motocy. As Ponra recommended, I went the long way along the main road, through the big hotel parking lot and around the bus station. The idea was to skirt through more commercial areas; and avoid the gauntlet which would soon be the parade route – the way I had gone previously on my bike. That worked well with the exception of a couple of inebriated middle aged males who had added ample ice to their barrel.
The motocy changed the experience. No water in my ears because of my helmet, which was good. Less good was that everything moved along more quickly and I was distracted from the reverie by all the attention I had to lend to where my front wheel was going.
I love the holiday! The minuscule amounts of annoyances are more than adequately washed away by the buoyancy of everyone’s effervescence. I completely forgot that there was an ominous foreboding in my future and surprisingly let Friday the 13th slide by unacknowledged.
Saturday morning there was an important service at the Wat. The sermon was outside under the big roof and a wide variety of food was served all around the periphery. (Which reminds me, I have yet to edit the video I collected that day, huh!) The food, as always, was wonderful. I enjoyed the service in spite of not understanding any of the words. Almost, none of the words. I can tell when the Abbot starts talking about me; which he finds most amusing. He revels in holding me up as an example of a good Thai man. That’s what Ponra says he says.
This year he decided I was old enough to sit with the village seniors and receive the blessings of the younger crowd. My wife was not supportive of his decision. I didn’t really know what he meant, so when the service concluded, I went off with my camera. I kept hearing my name over the PA system. Ultimately, I was corralled and ushered back to a row of chairs. I was delighted to be seated at the far end and next to a pal. (Friendship and bonding does not require understanding of words.) Anyway … I got to follow his lead or was more comfortable mirroring his actions because I trust him explicitly or implicitly or both.
What all us ole’ folk experienced was a procession of villagers with a motley collection of water carrying bowls, buckets or bottles. In the ideal, it would be a fancy gold or silver highly decorated bowl that could hold a gallon or five liters or so. The water in these bowls was mixed with perfume and flower peddles floated around. We, the recipients, sat with our hands cupped. In turn each person would kneel at our knees. As a small amount of water was poured “we” recited blessings.
And that my friend is all the reason I need (And I don’t need a reason!) to learn more Thai. About all I could say was: Have a nice life. May you live to be a 100 and all your days be happy. I was coached by a few who snuck in some English. When each individual pouring abated, whatever water was collected in our palms was returned to the giver’s shoulders; with a lot of patting on the back and sometimes on the head, but only on the young children’s heads. (PS: Don’t ever make the mistake of touching a Thai adult on the head! Oi!!)
So, that was that. Most just walked away and headed home. A few erased all evidence that there had been a gathering. It was impressive how quickly the only sign of a ceremony was a lingering pungent aroma and a large puddle.
The next day was the big parade. My wife and I were at odds about what we would do. I was up for more adventure. She wanted to sit it out. She had another order for bamboo and preferred to work. She seems to be ok with all work and no play; unless there is a concert.
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