One of the most entertaining (and wet) festivals I’ve ever been involved in is called Songkran. Songkran is celebrated from April 13 to 15 (The New Year period) and consists of free-ranging people armed with buckets of water or power soakers. No matter who you are, where you are, or how much you duck you cannot dodge a blast of water.
My introduction to this really fun fest was when I walked out of my bungalow and stood beside the road to catch the Baht bus for work. A ‘lao-lao’ (literally – fast-fast) truck passed me but as it passed several passengers leaned out and pasted me with water. In the background, I heard Nang go into hysterical laughter as I stood, dripping, with my mouth open. My first reaction was one of rage, but, then I remembered Nang warning me several days ago.
Fortunately, the Marine utilities I wore dried off pretty fast in the heat. Plus, the driver of the bus didn’t allow any water-throwing while in motion. Now I understood why everyone was dressed in tee shirts, shorts and thongs.
I made it through the main gate of the base and stood my watch. On my way home, I stopped by a friend’s room in the barracks and changed into my gym stuff. Leaving the gate, I was primed to have some fun.
The next transportation to come by was another lao-lao truck. I hailed it, dodged the water, and climbed aboard. These trucks were a standard Toyota pickup, but was fitted with seats and a canvas cover in the bed. This one had a big vat of water and spare buckets. I joined in the general merriment as we waterbombed everyone along the way.
When I got home (thoroughly soaked) my friend Phupit, the taxi driver, Nang, and two other girls were ready to go out and soak some serious butt. They’d located a pickup and filled a big plastic tank in the back. Armed with huge water-soaker, pump-action squirt guns we headed for the center of town. This video was taken in Bangkok but can give you some idea of the chaos during this New Year celebration much better than I:
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The one good thing I liked to eat you can’t really get here. That’s a nice juicy steak. Very expensive restaurants can get it from Australia, but the little mama-sans and their charcoal braziers haven’t a chance. What you can get, and is surprisingly good, is a water buffalo steak. One weekend, myself and several of my neighbors planned and executed a block party. Celebrations of all kinds always drew hordes of kids, and this was no exception. To this end, we bought two hundred hot dogs to grill on our backyard grill. We had two halves of a fifty gallon drum lying flat and covered with a cast-iron grill.
While we held off the kids with their hot dogs, we grilled a mountain of buffalo steaks marinated in teriyaki sauce. Everyone on our street came to the event bringing lots of side dishes. On my street alone, there were quite a few retired US servicemen and their families. Add to this a bunch more active-duty types on their weekend, and we had a real party.
An actual Singha beer truck parked at the end of the street (since it was too narrow to turn around in) and we schlepped seven cases of beer down to be dumped into galvanized tubs filled with ice. Add to that about six cases of assorted soda pop for the kids and a huge pot of green tea for those who didn’t drink either beer or soda. We stayed away from the bottled napalm I previously mentioned.
By the time dusk arrived, lights had been strung and several local bands began tuning up. One such band played professionally at one of the bars called The Golden Horse. They were hugely popular and when they started their set everyone listened. Their specialty was the current rock being played in the ‘70s; mostly from Deep Purple. They did a version of “Smoke on the Water” that couldn’t be distinguished from the original group. Well, maybe you could if you were half in the bag.
The bands playing American favorites were interleaved with pick-up bands of local Thai talent. They were very good also. One such band played a special tune that was composed just for our party. It was done in the Mor Lam style I described in a previous post. Somewhere I have it on reel-to-reel tape and I will find it sometime.
Parties, as opposed to festivals, run until everyone poops out. Ours ran from Friday evening until Sunday morning; sometimes waning, but never completely stopping. I don’t think I got more than three or four hours of sleep during the entire period. We made a lot of friends during that time. Nothing untoward happened because we’d also hired four off-duty Thai cops as security. Nobody messed with them. Tired, but happy, we just relaxed in the bungalow Sunday evening.
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My tour of nearly thirteen months was coming to an end. Nang and the housegirls were quite somber as they went about their duties. Packers came and boxed up what items I did have to ship to California – my next duty station. It was going to be very hard to leave this place. I’d had so much fun and made tons of friends, but it was time to get back to my own family.
The morning of my last day, Nang hired four Monks to come and hold a brief ceremony. It was touching to see all the girls sniffling as they tied yarn around my wrist. This is a sign of respect and friendship. By the time they and my neighbors had finished, I had a huge knot of threads on both wrists; and a lump in my throat. I stood, made a small speech, and bowed over the food I’d given to the Monks and then walked out to the taxi for my ride to the air base and my flight home.
I haven’t been back since, but I would really like to do so. I made a lot of friends over there.