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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Songkran in the Village

Songkran began yesterday as with most days in the village, but the only difference was the loud music that rung through my bedroom windows in the morning. It seemed that the entire village decided to turn on their stereos at once and at nearly full blast. I noticed that everyone plays their own type of music ranging from sappy K-pop styles, to traditional Issan music to oldies and even English songs that I've never heard of.  Surprisingly, I think I am now able to tell all of the Thai types of music apart. In an aside, regarding Thai country music, I can draw a parallel to American country music.  When it's played, it is unmistakeably rural and those who like it are considered to be from the countryside and all of its supposedly negative connotations. (I saw a commercial to prove this). Good for the village to have their own music, in my humble opinion!

Before leaving the house, I put on my Songkran shirt, a pastelly-light red/peach flowered shirt traditionally worn for the occasion. In the US, this shirt would be called a Hawaiian Shirt. I had mentioned this to people in previous trips, but no one seems to know where's Hawaii. All everyone seems to know is that wearing one makes for a more festive mood. I settled into the store at around 8 a.m. and then all of a sudden I hear Buddhist chants in come through the village loudspeakers.  I couldn't identify whether it was in Thai or some other ancient language, but I could tell it was Buddhist due to its rhythm.  This went on for nearly 30 minutes with everyone going about their business for the day. 

As the day began, a small procession of families in pickup trucks trickled through the main road in front of the store. Most were on the way to the "big city" Kamphaeng Phet City, to participate in the water-splashing fun. Some were on their way to the local Budhhist temple. I, however, was busy filling water balloons, eager to use them later in the day on some of the kids down the road.  Each pickup that stopped by purchased items such as blocks of ice, used to cool the water that they would splash onto others, delivering a stunning sensation.  Some other items included packs of powdered yellow dye and small bottles of cologne that were mixed into the water. Bags of white powder (cassava flour) were bought to mix into a paste.  The paste is applied to someone's face and while applying it to a stranger's face, the person would say "Khor tort krap" which means "sorry" but in a good way.  My wife said it was a chance for boys to touch pretty girls' faces. Ah, they're all the same!

The family store sold all those supplies and business was brisk that day.  The only item wasn't sold was the water to fill the huge water urns loaded on the pickup truck.  I love drawing parallels, as I can remember that I begged my mom to give me a few dollars to buy packs for firecrackers for Chinese New Year and the Fourth of July.  Over here, kids ask their parents for a few baht to buy more powder, water pails or cologne,  really different but all in the effort to have more fun.

The blazing hot sun was high in the sky until until 4 p.m. That was when I changed, ventured out and decided to splash some people.  On Monday, which was the day before Songkran, some kids decided to start the splashfest early.  I brought some water balloons and launched them at the kids down the road.  They landed with a thud in front of them and all the kids noticed that it was probably launched by that big, fat guy down the road.  I sat down to sip some water but all of a sudden a group of six of the cutest kids, came upon me, pail in hand and some with waterguns, inundated me with water.  I was soaked from neck to toe and I was sure payback was sweet, especially since I surprised them with my long range weapon.

Two of the mothers of the kids came by on Songkran and asked me to join the fun at one of the water-splashing roadblocks set up in front of their house. I was first hesitant because my wife wasn't with me and I hardly spoke Thai.  I was convinced though by two girls who splashed me the day earlier. They grabbed my hand and we walked down the road, arriving at a newly formed pond.  The water was left running the entire day and a small pond formed.  People with jumping up and down in it, dancing, egged on by the loud country music blaring from huge speakers rigged in front of a tent.

When I arrived, I was greeted by pails of water and a hose aimed directly at me.  Now everything was wet and I was in total submission. I carried my water pistol sidearm, but that was nothing against pails of water being thrown in every direction.  Sensing my doom and otherness, the villagers were kind to me and offered me a huge glass of Hong Thong whiskey.  I declined with a nod and a smile and later, they offered me the one thing I could say in Thai which was water.  They pour me cup after cup of water and Pepsi, which kept me fueled for an hour. 

The kids were really fun and most knew my name because of my wife's 7 year old cousin. She joined us and just the day before, she had introduced me to all her friends.  An interesting thing that happened during all the fun was that the kids were teaching me a Songkran ritual.  I had heard in the past that the youth poured water on their elders hands during Songkran, and there is supposed to be a symbolic meaning to this.  The children filled my pail with water and asked me to pour water on their hands, all the while asking me to repeat after them, which I did. I had no idea what they asked me to say, only that after I poured water on their hands, they took whatever remained in their hands and poured it over their heads.  I thought it was very cute and hope I wasn't duped into saying something inappropriate.  Regardless, it was really cute!

The kids also made strong efforts to communicate with me.  Some of the kids knew rudimentary English, such as "What's your name?" or "Where are you from?"  These appeared to come from the older kids, maybe 9 or 10.  The younger ones, I played a game where I was doing  a repeat after me exercise, pointing out body parts. I also did a charade with animals.  All the children, about 8, got it and were playing along. It was quickly interrupted by an adult with a hose who didn't want the festivities to end with learning! I'm kidding of course!

The final notable activity was when I was asked to dance by the kids.  Apparently, a common type of dance here, which looks to me like a hip-hop, jazz fusion is done along with Thai country music.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to mimic their smooth movements, therefore, I decided to do what I knew which is "the robot" and faux Michael Jackson moves amusing most, but horrifying some. I think I earned a few sprays from the hose for doing it!  Was it a sign of approval? I hope so!

Early evening came and went. I returned to the store a sopping mess, leaving a trip of dripping water behind me.  I quickly changed and recounted my adventure with my wife.  She told me she was sad that she couldn't join me for all the fun, but I'm sure she was glad she was still dry and still looked like a civilized human being.  When it was all done, I had some of the best fun in my life. The village kids, their parents and extended families, knew I was a familiar face at the store, but never asked me to participate in anything.  This was their chance for to reach out.  Although I wished I knew more Thai, we still communicated, and I tried my best to use as many hand gestures that I learned through my years of teaching to get my points across.  I was able to do it and it was much fun when we connected. I hope I have more of these experiences before we leave!

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