Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Water, Water Everywhere...

Songkran, or Thai New Year, is a holiday that grumpy old people love to gretz about. Life as we know it comes to a screeching halt and is replaced by people brandishing water artillery and pots full of dirty water that comes from a gigantic plastic garbage can and buckets replenished at that same source. Two days ago, the best-selling item on Silom Road seemed to be plastic pouches for cameras, cell-phones and currency, presumably water-tight and all in brilliant flaming Crayola colors.

The small children on my street began their dress rehearsal for this festival two days early. Luckily I had already bought their friendship with Hello Kitty stickers and they let me pass by without saturation. I rewarded them the next day with gummy hamburgers and hotdogs, which mollified everyone of them except the baby. Never underestimate the brute determination of a two-year-old brandishing a garden hose.

"Come with us to Taling Chan," my friend Mrs. Nupa invited me. The outing fell on the first official day of Songkran when my life stretched in vast emptiness for the next three days, so I was delighted to accept--even though I wasn't sure of what the event would involve. There is a floating market at Taling Chan but only on weekends so that couldn't be our destination. Would we bathe Buddhas at a temple? Visit a family home in the country? It seemed rude to ask so I resorted to the indirect approach.

"When we go to Taling Chan, Mrs. Nupa, what should I wear?" She looked puzzled.

"Will we go to a temple in Taling Chan?"

"Maybe, if there's one on the way," she replied, still looking confused by my inquisition.

"What clothes should I wear to be polite?"

"Your usual ones," she assured me, "Yes, black is okay." But I knew Songkran was a time to wear bright and blazing colors and went off to find something in aqua, which seemed appropriate for this particular holiday.

We ended up at the Floating Market which was open for Songkran and Mrs Nupa’s husband immediately arranged for a canal boat ride, which is one of my favorite things to do. As we got in the boat, small children viciously bombarded us with waterfire and a man handed out plastic bags to all who wanted them. Mrs. Nupa tucked our handbags inside a plastic shroud, tying it tightly, and I considered getting one for my shoes, which were already soaked. I gave a brief and longing thought to the horrible flipflops that I'd bought on the beach at Samet, and then shrugged. Shoes are cheap in Bangkok.

We sped away from the small snipers and entered a world that's a century behind the one we live in. Houses bordered the edge of the canal, flowers and trees softened the banks on either side, and temples gleamed ahead of us. "Water on the left," the boat's helmswoman warned and handed out little buckets which were rapidly filled with canal water. And as we passed the temple grounds, we were hit by a wall of water, hurled by men, children, and very old ladies.

For two hours, that was our existence--throwing water from tiny beach buckets and being inundated by cannonades of water from the porches of houses, bridges that spanned the canal, other boats as they passed by, and from the sacred sanctuary of temple grounds. And it was fun--cold, soggy, and laughing, everybody on our boat was having a fabulous time, although a very little girl, wrapped in a towel like a baby burrito with a plastic bag tied over her hair, wasn't always sure that she was.

At the end of our journey, we dried as we ate riverine food--fish, cockles and shrimp--admitting to a strong urge for naps as we drove back home. I slept for two hours after a restorative warm shower. This morning my fingertips are no longer puckered and waterlogged but the sense of happiness remains. Sawatdee Phi Mai, took khon, happy Thai New Year to everyone in the world.


Amanda said...

sounds like a fishy heaven, I can hear the laughter as I read (with a towel over my head!)Brilliant.

janet brown said...

Thanks,Amanda. Breathing easier with that towel, I hope?

Kim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kim said...

You are one of the finest writers I know ... I just wish I had a smidgen of your natural ability!

janet brown said...

Kim, that's odd because I feel the same about you--and I so miss your lila essays. Again someday maybe????

Dr. Will said...

Happy to hear you didn't hide inside like most of the grumpy expats!