Today is the first day of, what I gather is, a week-or-so-long celebration of Thailand's Songkran festival. I don't know what this festival is about, or what historical event it purportedly celebrates, but a glaring component of the festival is that children (and adults) stand on the roadside and throw buckets of water at passers-by.
I have been told, for many of the tourists present in the country, Chiang Mai is the place to be for celebrating this festival; thanks to these Farang, Chiang Mai also attracts a higher than average number of Thai nationals to likewise partake in the higher than average revelry.
No thanks. Not interested. Not really in a position to go, either.
I would wager, due to the higher volume of current visitors, there aren't many rooms available in Chiang Mai; and if there are, they may only be available at the Travel Lodge or the Downtown Inn Hotel. Not only that, but according to what I read in the paper this morning, there are to be expected on average 50-60 road fatalities on each day of this week, and yesterday alone - the festival not having really started - there were 400 injuries and 29 deaths.
An emphatic double no thanks.
But as this is a Thai national holiday, a lot of my Thai co-workers are on vacation: visiting their home cities and villages; celebrating in what I gather is the true way to celebrate this holiday by visiting family. It seems like a sort of Thai Thanksgiving (a likeness that should be understood by any of my Canadian or American readers), even though it purports to be a sort of Thai New Years.
Our office is only 'officially closed' tomorrow (which is not to say I won't necessarily be here), so any of my colleagues who have chosen to leave have had to cash in some of their annual leave. I have other acquaintances who 'work' in Mae Sot whose offices/schools are closed for one or two weeks due to Songkran. Lucky kids.
As our office is open, I'm at work, dutifully working away at whatever it is I do here (though not right now - I'm writing this weblog entry).
Yesterday, one of my colleagues also still present informed me that should I encounter some children wielding buckets of water, I should just outstretch my arm, display my palm, and the children should retreat. I had an opportunity to test this theory after eating lunch today as I rode my bicycle back to my office from the intersection opposite the Mae Sot Hospital - not much more than 500 meters from my office, though in densely populated area from the hospital intersection. Today is a relatively sunny day - it's been overcast of late - but the street was streaked by water from the various shops I passed by, so it seemed I would have ample opportunity to test the theory.
To the first group of children I encountered - little girls, who stood with buckets of water at the ready, dripping wet hair and clothing, and smiles stretched across their faces - I extended my hand and watched both their buckets and smiles retreat. An emboldening first victory for me.
Cross 100 dry meters of cycling off the itinerary.
To the next group of children I encountered, 50 or so meters further down the road, there would be no repeating that first taste of victory. The ring leader of the group, who was awaiting my arrival outside my field of view on the opposite side of the roadway, had other ideas.
I outstretched my arm to the children, showed them my palm, and as the smiles began to fade, and the buckets began to lower in the hands of this second group, the ring leader - a man whose mustache made him appear to be older than I - came charging into the roadway and at the top of his lungs he announced his call to arms. As my head turned toward him, his bucket of water was the first to hit me, and I winced in his direction at the sting of its coldness. The water from that second group of children arrived less than a second later, rendering the front side of me soaked through to the skin from head to toe.
Further on up the road, as I approached a third group of children, it no longer mattered. I'd already been defeated and was soaked to the skin. I think they could sense my lack of conviction so their smiles weren't quite as big; but, apart from the absence of that initial shock I experienced care of the second group, their ice cold water still stung just as much.
Nothing beats spending the afternoon sitting at your desk in soaking-wet trousers.