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stop-bullying

Toronto

Yesterday was the Thai new year ending the celebrations that begin with the Songkran festival which runs from April 13-15.  But since this year Songkran officially began on a Monday many places including Ban Phai got an early start on Saturday.

Songkran (pronounced So-kraan) is primarily a water festival that involves pouring, spraying or throwing of water at people or dunking them in water.  Basically, you try to get people wet any way you can.

People strategically position themselves in one of two ways:

Stationary - Usually placed in front of their home or place of work.  These locations have the widest array of weaponry available to them including small plastic buckets, water hoses and plastic water guns (the Super Soaker kind). They often have a collapsible wading pool oo large bin of some kind for dunking. A high traffic location not claimed by anyone else may also be used.  Has the advantage of a constant supply of water but you are limited to the targets that wander into your firing range.

Mobile - The back of a pickup truck with a large plastic rain barrel in the back. The weapons of choice here are buckets and plastic water guns. This has the advantage of allowing the occupants to hunt down their victims wherever they may try to hide but you are limited by how much water you can carry and have to reload periodically. In North America a pickup of locals in a rural town roving around town with guns looking for a fight might trigger banjo music and images of Deliverance but here it's much more benign.

Regardless of positioning of the participants the activity is pretty much the same. Using small plastic buckets, large rain barrels (as a reservoir), water guns and hoses, water is poured, thrown or sprayed on people as they walk or drive by on their motorbikes (if stationary) or thrown on people (if mobile). If the victim is a pedestrian know by the stationary attack unit they may be dragged into the wading pool for dunking. Stationary units may attack other stationary units and may be subject to the aforementioned dunking if you stray into the range of another stationary unit.

One overriding rule is that falungs (the Thai word for foreigner) are a preferred target. Think of it as a water-based role playing game and falungs are worth double bonus points and an extra life. So being one of the few westerners in town I got more than my fair share of water including a dunking at the hands of an adjacent unit.

Another technique to get the maximum impact of the water is to have blocks of ice in the reservoirs. Now in 35C temperatures that may sound refreshing but believe me not when it's a bucket of water poured down your back.

Another activity in the festival is the dusting of people with talcum power or wiping it on their faces for good luck. Generally this is done to members of the opposite sex. Being a falung had it's drawbacks here because the ladies in town were quite wary of me. Juy had me ask permission before wiping the talcum powder on them and while most agreed there were some that were too shy or nervous so I just wai (a Thai gesture of respect where your hold your hands together in front of you and bow slightly) and let them pass.

Apart from the water and talcum powder party the traditional aspect of Songkran is family. In particular, showing respect to your parents and elders both living and dead. For Juy's family that involved a ceremony at the temple for her father and sister who have passed away which Juy's mother and her brother Pu performed.  The other ceremony took place at a family dinner that I'll talk about later

So here's how Songkran played out for us.

Saturday started off slow but by the afternoon everything was in full swing and we had already been doused several times especially on the narrow sidestreet Juy lives on as there is barely enough room for a single vehicle which left us nowhere to hide from the water bombers. Later in the afternoon Juy and I went to a computer shop owned by a friend of hers and made sure that everyone who passed was properly moistened and powdered. Even the staff at the KFC next door was dishing it out. And of course no Thai party would be complete without the requisite cooler of beer. Very Canadian of them.

Sunday we took a break from the festivities but that didn't save us from once again being victims as we made our way around town.

On Monday Juy's brother Pu arrived from his home in North Thailand. Juy raved about how good a cook he was and to show me he prepared a chicken soup with basil and what they called Lao spaghetti. I watched carefully as he effortlessly carved a chicken with a meat cleaver and in only 30 minutes had made a soup that any restaurant would be proud to serve. After filling up on soup by Chef Pu we headed back to the computer shop for another evening of Songkran.

Tuesday was spent mostly saying clear of the water. After three days of being wet it felt good to be dry for a change.  That evening we headed of to Juy's for a simple family dinner of BBQ fish and a soup of chicken, cabbage, something spinich like and rice noodles.  The soup was prepared in the middle of the table while we ate the fish.  After the meal came the ceremony of respect I mentioned earlier.

Juy's mother sat in a chair as Juy and her brothers, Chai and Pu, in turn would kneel down in front of her and pour water, scented with herbs, in her hands as they wished her luck and good health in the coming year. When it was Juy's turn I was invited to kneel with her and hold her elbow as a way for me to pass on my good wishes as Juy spoke. Afterward Juy performed the ceremony for her brothers and Chai's wife as her elders.

Not wanting me to feel left out Chai insisted his daughters perform the ceremony for me. As a westerner being unaccustomed to the ceremony it was a bit uncomfortable but Juy assured me it was OK so not wanting to offend I agreed.

Having spent most of his time in town with Juy's mother Pu was feeling a bit stir crazy so later that evening we all went out to a local hangout that has a pool hall, a karaoke bar (of course) and an outdoor live band.  We listened to the band for a few hours and talked with a few people who stopped by to say Hi to Pu.

The final day of the festival started early for us. Juy and I had promise to buy Pu's daughter Fon a dress for Songkran so we picked her up and headed to the market at 7am to avoid the water. On our way back we stopped at 7-Eleven for ice cream and took her back to Juy's home. We were both tired and happy to be dry so we spent the rest of the day out of firing range.

Starting in 1941, Thailand moved the first day of their calendar to coincide with the Gregorian new year.  However, on the traditional Thai calendar yesterday was the first day of the year 2552.

Happy New Year.