All that stuff I can’t tell anyone who has any responsibility over my life. They won’t want to know I kinda sorta endangered it.
Nothing really of note the first day, except the intensest version of post-culture shock-culture shock I’ve ever known to be. Mostly because Thai society tends to lean toward the polite and conservative (ladyboys aside), and what I saw begin that day…was very far removed from anything describable by the words ‘polite’ and ‘conservative.’
See, Songkran is the world’s largest water fight. (I’ve had someone try to explain, in her PC way, that it is not a water ‘fight.’ It’s water play. You just play. This is bullshit. You’re aiming for targets out there, most of them moving, and swiftly, and accuracy is part of the business–and, most and foremost, you fire only if you’ve the guts to receive. Because they will get you back. And chances are they’ve got ice, and you don’t. Prepare yourself.) Basically, the entire country loads up onto the back of pickup trucks–I didn’t know this country had so many, nonetheless that everyone seems to own one, if only in reserve for these three days–and, with buckets of water strapped on to the truck and some small plastic bowls (oh, that’s where the big trash can went. No joke, the thing’s gone.) they all ride around the cities, causing mayhem, slowing down for small children to soak all in the back, smacking those riding public transport in the face with a big splash of water (it hurts, trust me), filling up at one of the hydrants (something like a billion liters is diverted from the countryside every year for this…sorry, farmers. This probably doesn’t end up helping the rice shortage too much–after all, it’s not like it’s gonna rain yet…) and all basically heading to the same place, if you’re in the same city as me.
Most cities do have a main area to play Songkran, as they say here. Mine is the gigantic and beautiful park, along the…something side. North…East…West side. Yeah, sure. Along this road there are tents set up every two feet, with someone selling food, beer, beer, beer, or shoes under them–in case you’re hungry, bored, or lost your shoes, which wouldn’t have been too hard. Then, of course, the local bands get a go at it. This year, there was one that played covers of every popular rock song in the country, and stood on giant coolers and rocked out next to speakers 8 Thai people big. On top of this all, there were giant hoses running out of the lake that pumped out powerful streams of water every 20 feet or so.
It was fun. And there’s not an ounce of sarcasm in that.
The first day was handled appropriately, as we were driven around by an intrepid host mother. We did our waiting in traffic to go down by the park, and got smeared by baby powder–
Ah, oops, forgot. The use of baby powder, most often known as relatively painful Prickly Heat powder that’s technically supposed to be soft baby powder, originates somehow from a Thai custom of beautifying people on Songkran. There’s also something about respect for your elders (the only elder I saw was wearing a very low tube top and dancing on a table) in there too, but I can’t remember the details. In modern society, girls and boys, but most commonly boys, rub baby powder on the cheeks of girls they think are pretty.
At the park, down this particular road, boys had been pumped with things like beer and whisky; thus, ‘rub baby powder on cheeks’ took a few extra definitions. For example: pinch her cheeks, touch your cheek to hers, kiss her cheek, hug her, try to drag her to your truck, offer her whiskey, when she says no try to pour it into her mouth (‘it’s better if we do this anyway,’ says one man in Thai), tell her you love her/happy/thai new year/what’s up, guuurl (said with emphasis to the black girl of our little foreigner gathering)/whatever couple words you know in English/ask her where she’s from, is she happy or funny?/grab her chest.
At least that’s what I’ve found ‘rub baby powder on cheeks’ to mean. And I’m a second place holder at a Thai beauty contest. (‘If she were Thai, she’d have been first.’ Also see: ‘If she were Thai…well, she’d be a funny looking Thai.’) Thus, a white, blonde, moving target.
This is all from our intrepid little walk down the street on the second day. We walked with Thai friends and a fellow falang man to keep us three girls safe, but this is Songkran we’re talking about. One of the most quiet and sedate and conservative cultures has come out to play, and honestly, despite the occasional 15 boy pile up (‘Falang falang falang! Here! Here! Hey everyone!’) which I had to be physically dragged out of, it was the most fun thing I could have ever imagined in my entire life. And, let’s face it–who doesn’t like the attention? Because here you are, walking along, and suddenly you have 15 boys running up telling you how pretty you are and fighting each other to be able to touch your face. Even though you can’t see anymore, your face has numbed to the Prickly Heat, and yet is very cold and mentholated, and you’re crunching down on powder (your tongue feels chilled too), you know that it’s only happening because they think you’re pretty, and because that’s definitely alcohol you smelled.
Anyway, the second night was most definitely the best ever, because my friend’s host sister and brother’s friends caught up with us near the band. They danced like absolute dorks, and they watched out for us, and we spent the night singing Bodyslam and Retrospect and Big Ass and jumping up and down and laughing at the ridiculous dancing and getting splashed by a nearby hose. Hats switched heads nearly every song; I think I wore three or four different ones during the course of an hour or so. A cute boy payed some extra attention to me, and I was able to converse with him in his language and not mine. It was the stuff of teen movies, albeit one with subtitles, a parent’s worst nightmare, and some of the best times I’ve ever spent in this country.
Final evaluation: Songkran. Better than Christmas.
Thank you, Thailand.