Before I left, a sign went up in the elevator of the building I lived in, saying the office would be closed for the first several days in January, the housekeeping staff would be on holiday for over a week, and January rent would not be due until the 10th. When I came home on the 3rd, my building resembled a ghost town and my neighborhood was stripped down to survival mode, with many of the shops closed and barred.
Finding food was a challenge, my laundry pile took up a large corner of my bedroom, and the silence of the soi seemed vaguely apocalyptic. I felt uneasy about the coming months, which held two more New Year celebration that were far more traditional than the imported one of January 1.
And sure enough, in February, when Chinese New Year rolled around, my neighborhood revealed its Chinese heritage by closing up shop. This New Year had a more jubilant feeling to it than the first of the year, with lots of firecrackers, and ceremonial offerings of oranges and incense and full meals placed outside of homes and businesses, and oceans of people wearing red, which for a few days lost all political significance. And it didn't matter if my neighborhood had less food for sale than usual, because the Chinatown neighborhood was crowded with food stalls and lion dancers and red lanterns and people having a very, very good time. Just as everybody in New York is Irish on March 17th, everyone in Bangkok is Chinese when the lunar New Year arrives--even me--and I loved this particular out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new turning of the year.
The final New Year that will last the longest is the one that is truly Thai. Songkran is the holiday that has changed from a ceremonial bathing of Buddha statues and a respectful handwashing of older family members by their juniors to include a country-wide water battle. Plastic Uzis and Ak-47s have been for sale on my soi for the past couple of weeks and the most common conversational gambit is "Where are you going for Songkran?" "Straight into a wetsuit," is my interior response as I smile and say I haven't decided yet.
My plan is to stay home, sunbathing in the yard, watching HBO and my favorite DVDs that I brought from the States, venturing out for food in my oldest and least favorite clothes to find whatever nourishment is available, and preparing myself for a thorough drenching at least once a day. With any luck at all, the sun and the heat will have returned, and the barrage of cold water will feel good. At any rate, last year at this time, if I could have been in Bangkok, relaxing and enduring the collateral damage of Songkran, I would have been blissful--and this year, here I am, waiting to celebrate my third New Year in four months.