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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fourth Postcard from the Kingdom of Thailand

Songkran, the Thai New Year, is a collective period of 72-hour insanity embraced by the entire nation once per year in April. During this period, all productive labour is stopped and the whole population takes to throwing water over one-another, together with smearing each other with white chalk, for no obvious purpose although there may be a pseudo-religious connotation because even the Buddhist monks do it. After the third instalment of these essays from Thailand, I went out in the evening with my new friend M— and her father and son, to discover somewhat to my surprise that she is a K-pop singer. For those of you who aren’t sure what this is, it is a sort of dancer and singer to traditional Thai and other music who dresses in a mixture of the provocatively overtly sexual and the provocatively infantile, wearing clothes appropriate for both escorts and children at the same time. Shen then proceeded in what seemed to be an otherwise very nice restaurant where I enjoyed a plate of offal with chilli sauce to get into a water fountain full of foam bubbles and to sing and dance for hours while the customers got very excited. As for myself, the experience was one of bewilderment but it gradually dawned on me that I am forming a relationship with some sort of at least semi-famous person in Thailand who everyone knows because of her unusual style of dancing. Probably she is one of these people with a social media account and a hundred thousand likes to her videos but since it all seems to be in Chinese I haven’t quite worked that all out.

The next day M-- commanded me out of bed at 7am and I went on strike. We had been eating offal and insects and watching her dance in the fairy liquid until 1.30am and she and I had not got to bed until well past 3am. Nevertheless off she went at 7.30am, explaining that she had three of these shows to perform all day, the second day of Songrak. I finally caught up with her for the second of these shows, where she was standing with a colleague similarly so attired singing and dancing on the back of a giant truck that slowly moved through village streets as everyone splashed water over one another using hose pipes of bowls or barrels or anything they could find for the purpose.

It was so blisteringly hot that there was some relief to this, at least until the truck (preceded by a mobile Buddhist temple pulled by a tractor, also covering and being covered in water) broke down by getting stuck in a village pothole. By this time all my clothes were soaked and I was covered from head to foot in white chalk. I politely asked if M—’s father could drive me to the airport to catch my flight to Bangkok, where I imagined the madness would be turned down a notch. The darling actually took a break from her duties, dressed in this eccentric way, to drive me to the airport herself and suddenly I was in a world of normality, albeit still very wet and trying to dry myself under the airport air conditioners. Everything suddenly seemed normal.

That was, until my taxi driver from Bangkok’s second airport to my hotel in town just dropped me abruptly at a set of police gates and I realised that the whole of the city centre where my hotel was located had been turned into a Police zone for the celebration of Songkran. The one group of people who seem to take Songkran very seriously are the Thai Police, in accordance with their habit of taking many things very seriously. People were being searched and taken away amidst the gallons of water and chalk splashing over everyone, but miraculously with my giant rucksack I entered through the metal detectors established as a cordon unimpeded. I was probably only drenched with water and had chalk smudged on my face about 10 to 15 times in the 50 metre distance from the cordon to my hotel door, and the friendly manageress welcomed me back as though everything was normal. Only it was not.

The key to going outside your front door in Sonogram is not to carry anything with you except clothes that are already absolutely filthy and that might dry off in the sun, although being drenched with ice cold water in the evening as the temperature cools off becomes rather less amusing than during the day. Your mobile telephone, money and any other essential valuables must all be in watertight containers of various sorts and these are obligingly handed out. I thought I would get myself in the mood by purchasing a 2 litre pump-action water pistol that I slung over my shoulder rather like an assault rifle on a guard at a Ukrainian military checkpoint. After a while I realised that owning this item was pointless as it only invited still more water to be tipped poured or drenched over you with a hosepipe and eventually it got lost in a pile of hundreds of such things that you were obliged to leave outside a nightclub as a precondition of entry. I treated myself to a curry in a normal restaurant that just continued to operate amidst all this mayhem outside. After a while I couldn’t take it  anymore and I went into the nightclub precisely because there had banned water pistols. Instead they were filling the nightclub up with fairy liquid foam that was gradually rising to the ceiling amidst much whooping and laughter, and the floor of the nightclub was about three inches of soapy water, hence ruining what is left of a pair of thoroughly dilapidated previously decent shoes after a day of Songkran. At the time of writing they are under my hotel’s air conditioner as I ponder what to do with the day.

By about 1.30am I couldn’t take it anymore - a very early night in Bangkok - and I tramped off home to strip off my drenched wet clothes. I was awoken at 7.15am again by the sound of Songkran coming through the sealed windows of the hotel - endless noise, music, hubble and bubble and I have no idea what is going on out there. I am contemplating what on earth to do with the day at the time of writing, because it seems to me that all normal activities other than getting drenched with water are essentially out. Can I even make it to the shop next door for a coffee without being drenched? I doubt it but I have determined to try. I have looked out of the window and it is barely Midday and the hot baking streets are virtually riotous. At the time of writing there are gangs of people roaming the streets aggressively brandishing assault rifle size water pistols in groups. It looks like a scene from Mogadishu in the mid-1990's.

There many things I have not mentioned about my experience of Songkran so far. There was a huge fight in the street involving over a hundred men: I would classify that as a riot: and the Police came to break it up. An unknown woman in a nightclub came up to my, grabbed my genitals, and then told me I have a penis the size of her wrist. (I think she meant this is a compliment.) A girl slipped and fell on the soapy floor last night and cracked her head open, leading to ambulance people and a further sense of carnage. People who spray one another with water 24 hours a day go slightly insane and of course a large number of them are extremely drunk. I’d like to sit with a good book today but the book would be drenched within five minutes. I can’t even read the news on my mobile telephone (unless it’s in my somewhat bar hotel room) because it would be drenched and malfunctioning. Perhaps they tone down Songkran on the third and final day? Alas there is no evidence of that. I fear I will just have to rough it through until tomorrow.


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