Life in TransitA Digital Nomad in Asia

Songkran 2012 on Khaosan Road

A girl gets a face full of water and clay as she asks for a water refill during the Songkran water festival on Soi Ram Buttri in Thailand.

“Protect me with your big gun,” was Annelies request as we prepared to traverse the gauntlet that was Khaosan Road.

Indeed, just outside the door to my guesthouse, there was a war going on. You could not make it a few steps without getting shot, either as a target or colletaral damage.

This was the water festival called Songkran unfolding on Khaosan Road.

Songkran drew crowds from across the globe to celebrate what was also the Thai New Year with the locals.

Being sprayed by water was a symbol of being cleansed and starting your year off with a clean slate. It also served to cool the masses who came out on what are some of the hottest days of the year in Thailand.

You also found yourself being covered by white clay smeared across your face as the locals wished you well.

I danced the night away with a group of locals at night and visit temples with Annelies during the day. We tried some really great “keropok” (shrimp crackers) at a variety show and delicious “otak otak” (barbecued fish cake) at the temples.

It was great to see people young and old celebrate as we walked around the Khaosan / Grand palace neighbourhood. Even in the poorest areas of town, where kids might not be able to afford water guns, we were doused with buckets of water and sprayed by hoses. After one group of little girls thoroughly soaked Annelies and I, their grandmother came up to smear us with clay.

Despite being a peaceful celebration, people brought howitzers to the water fight. On occasion, I would get shot in the face, blindsided by a jet of water with a feeling akin to getting punched in the eye.

I however am not one to turn the other cheek. I answered those shots with a cannon of my own.

I saw a group of guys line up firing squad style like a gang from a gangster movie to gun down a group of locals. The “gangsters”, with their howitzers, far out gunned the locals with tiny water guns including the adorable umbrella gun. As the locals ducked and under the intense water pressure, the gang moved in for the kill shooting already cowering victims at point blank range. The expression on their faces matching their movie counterparts.

This was not a water fight. It was a water festival. I had tried not to shoot people too close with my cannon of a water gun. If kids shot at me, I always tried to return fire to their feet.From that moment on, I made sure any water launched at a person was not more than a trickle. Unless of course I got punched by water first.

I found myself wishing North America could have such a fun festival. Yet I recalled the aftermath of the Caribanna in Toronto and the gang style “execution” of the locals mentioned before and concluded this would be a bad idea for North America. The ordanance fired in those circumstances would be highly likely to end up being of a more solid variety.

But the festival was quite the success in Thailand where being well is defined more by “sabai sabai” than by “winning”.

We tried to wish everyone a happy Songkran. While it is the thought that counted, “Happy New Year” just wasn’t the same as wishing people in their native language. I later learned to wish the locals “suk san wan Songkran”.
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