SONGKRAN MEMORIES

Sturmfrei(adj.) – the freedom of not being watched by a parent or superior; being alone at a place and having the ability to do what you want.

 

As I’m writing this, I’m green with envy for all the people who are in Chiang Mai right now. It has been 2 years since I went on a trip to Chiang Mai to celebrate the Songkran Festival and since then, I’m still hung up about it. I guess getting over all the fun I had would be out of the question.

It’s 10am and from this posh coffee shop I watch as cars speed up right in front of me and I start to wonder why they’re all dry? I wonder why only a few people are strolling on the sidewalks when the sidewalks and the streets should be packed, shoulder to shoulder. People in office attires, some even in coat and tie carrying suitcases of pages and pages of reports I assume. Shouldn’t they be in beach attires carrying water pistols and buckets of water? From afar I see a huge “M” and it got me excited! To some, this “M” is nothing but a fastfood chain where they can grab a quick 20-minute lunch but to me it is a major landmark because when I walk towards it, I know I’m not gonna be there for a happy meal. I walk in that because when I get there, I know that I’m gonna be right outside Tha Phae gate where the party is at.

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Tha Phae Gate

Everything’s a bit weird. Except maybe the sunny weather.

I’m getting a surge of flashbacks. They’re all coming from Songkran memories that have been stuck in my head like chili paste in Pad Thai. A burst of childhood memories  fantasies came rushing in as well.

I think it’s safe to say that water was the best toy we had when we were little. There’s just too many things we can do with water. I remember I used to pick up the hose and gladly volunteer to water the plants. It seems righteous but I had the hidden agenda of playing with it. I’d cover the end of the hose with my finger to see how far I can make the water go or fold a part of the tube to make it stop. Sometimes I’d pretend to be Egon of the Ghostbusters and shoot ants with the my unlimited ammunition. And sometimes when I ran out of ants, I start aiming at people. It was all fun and mischief until out of nowhere, I hear my mom’s voice screaming “Stop playing with the water!”. Yes, I’ve heard it one too many times, water is not to be wasted and worse, I could catch a cold. But mom’s warning came in a bit late as my feet were already coated with mud, shirt dripping with water and me trying not to shiver. I just wouldn’t stop until all my fingers and toes were wrinkled to the bones.

Fast forward to almost a quarter century later and I’m still the same carefree kid playing with water but this time, all inhibitions were washed away and flushed into the river. And to top it all off, I don’t shoot at ants anymore. I got myself thousands of worthy targets.

This sums up the whole water war thing

This sums up the whole water war thing

Tha Phae Gate was no longer just a gate with empty streets like when I first saw it the night before. It became a fortress again like it once was. This time protected by water warriors of  locals and tourists. The only difference is, there are no allies and no enemies. It was a melee, a free-for-all water war. It was pure mayhem! A convention of thousands of people from all over the world that share the same sinister motives as I do. We engaged anyone who came in our sights. We waged war against everyone else, and there was nowhere to hide, not even indoors. This went on for 2 more days. On top of that, there was a party in every corner of the city. DJs playing the latest dance music in the English world and some of their own. I never thought I’d still be “LSSing” on a Thai dance music 2 years later but hey it has a really catchy beat and easy to learn dance steps. Don’t believe me? Check the song called Kreng Jai by Raptor. I didn’t understand a single word of the song but I still danced to its beat anyway

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Wat Phra Doi Suthep

On the second day of Songkran, I decided to take it easy and explore the more spiritual side of the festival. I didn’t just go for the party and the beer and everything in between, I wanted to understand how this became one of the grandest and arguably the best festival I’ve ever experienced. So I rented a bicycle and went around town to visit different temples. I probably visited more than 5 temples throughout the old city that day and by the end of my temple hopping tour, I seriously considered converting to Buddhism. That thought just came about by reading descriptions in front of Buddha statues explaining all his different poses. It just made a lot of sense to me.

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Dry…as of the moment

On my way back to the guesthouse, it was back to getting soaked. This was the first time someone poured a bucket of ice cold water on me. It stung at first and I was pissed but then I realized that this was a different kind of bath. It wasn’t part of the water war. Instead, a guy most likely in his 50s stopped me from one of the less-crowded sidewalks. I didn’t notice the bucket he was holding so I politely stopped my bike and leaned towards him in the hope of hearing any English word that he might utter. But he didn’t say a word. He just put his hands together as if to pray, placed his thumbs on his forehead and gave me a little bow before pouring the whole bucket of water over my head. I could feel bits of ice fall on my head and it was so cold that I held my breath for a good 2 seconds. He just smiled and I left. It wasn’t until I got to the next corner of Rachadamnoen road that everything sunk in. Then it hit me, he gave me a blessing out of mutual respect before he poured the water for spiritual cleansing or at least that’s how I understood the gesture.

And about the freezing cold water? I don’t really know. Maybe he did it to awaken my senses, or maybe he figured out that I was close to getting a really bad sunburn after hours of biking under the scorching sun, or maybe it was just a playful twist to this lifelong tradition. Whatever it is, that little encounter summed up my whole Songkran Experience. It wasn’t just about the fun, the chaos, the mayhem, the dancing and the alcohol. It was about the NEW YEAR, and the NEW YOU. It was about cleansing and most of all, coming into the new year as a blank page – A clean slate!

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