When Pat invited me to join her and her friends for Songkran, I thought that we would be wearing matching t-shirts and going for a walk around the moat with our water pistols and shooting at passers-by.
I was totally wrong.
Instead, I unwittingly ended up on the loudest and possibly only float in the parade of vehicles around the moat: a replica Sydney Opera House being pulled along by a utility truck with music pumping. We danced and ‘played’ with water all day. I felt like I was on party central 2010 with dozens of young Thais and it was a little surreal that this was my introduction to Songkran – nothing short of the biggest bang possible. The float was actually a promotional vehicle for Eden Education, a Thai company which facilitates the placements of Thai students into institutions in Australia.
I had a fancy water pistol but as it turns out, nothing beats a good sized bucket and some upper body strength to hurl water at random passers-by – and I had neither! Given how noticeable our float was, we were an obvious target so it wasn’t surprising that I got absolutely saturated throughout the day – by the end of the night I was so drenched that it felt like I had been dunked in a pool fifty times over. No exaggeration.
Songkran is the craziest and most uninhibited celebration I have ever been to. When Thais let loose they go kind of wild. Tie-dyed t-shirts, Hawaiian shirts, straw hats, garlands, water pistols, and buckets, and none of their famous politeness – nope, everyone is fair game.
Throwing water is one the main activities of Songkran. In Thailand, Chiang Mai is the centre of the new year celebrations, and conveniently, there’s a moat that goes all around the old city – and, by the way, the yucky brown moat water got used A LOT. Ick. People buy enormous blocks of ice to keep the water they use freezing cold. I can’t tell you how many little girls gave me cold-blooded stares before they whacked me with ice-cold water from a small bucket.
So I managed to survive the first day of my first Songkran, stumbling home after I bought some snacks from the many food stands that had been set up as part of the festivities. It was really great fun having water fights at the start but to be perfectly honest the novelty wore off after a few hours. But I bravely went out again last night on the second day of Songkran and had a very different experience with a group of Aussie friends. We hung out at the reggae stage – one of the many stages set up throughout the city – and there were some great Thai bands who really tore that stage up. It was such a convivial atmosphere and everyone had a great time drinking beers and moving to the beat. As we were hosed down by guys standing on the stage, we all danced and danced until the sun went down. Thanks to Paul for getting me out of the house!
When I was on the float that first day, ‘Jai ho’ came on over the speakers and I recalled the A.R. Rahman concert in Sydney 3 months ago which ended with him singing ‘Jai ho’ while the fireworks went off. I felt so elated at that moment. Around that time I was hopeful about getting the job but there was no way for me to know what the future held: that I would be listening to the same song in the middle of Songkran celebrations exactly 3 months later. I love the surprising twists that one’s life takes entering into a new year – and in my case, my third new year this year.
Happy Songkran everyone!