Water: Cultural Saturation in Thailand
By Jess Kroll
During the week leading to the water
festival one of my Thai friends insisted that I “play
water” with her. The water festival, or Songkran,
is a celebration of the Thai New Year occurring in
mid-April. During the festival all the people in town
come out to throw water on each other. It seemed innocent
The lengths of Songkran celebrations
vary by place. In Chanthaburi, where I lived, the
festival lasted only two days. In more touristy towns
like Pattaya it lasted as long as five. I envisioned
being a target and ruthlessly soaked for no reason
other than being a foreigner; I wasn’t too keen on
participating and hoped I could passively observe.
On the first afternoon when the
festivities commenced, groups of people lined the
streets armed with buckets of water, hoses, and squirt
guns. The object of the game, apparently, was to douse
everyone in sight, and avoid retribution. Trucks soon
overran the roads, their backs loaded with large tubs
of water and people eager to empty them.
I left my apartment in the early
afternoon to meet my friend to play water. I naïvely
assumed that by walking with my hands up and not making
eye contact, people would understand that this particular
foreigner was off-limits.
This strategy worked for about fifty
feet. Within seconds I was engulfed by a group, their
leader put his hand on my shoulder. While I pulled
away, another dumped a cup of water over my head.
Everyone in the group laughed and cheered.
I walked on. On the roads trucks
passed, loaded with barrels of water. They would screech
to a halt and yell, “Farang,” (foreigner) and toss
water at me.
After a few attempted drive-bys,
a truck stopped in front of me. My friend opened the
door, and I hopped inside for safety.
But it wasn’t until the night that
water games truly began.
Everyone was outside throwing water
on someone. When our truck stood motionless, others
would sneak right along side us and launch a volley
of water. We’d turn to retaliate but they where often
out of the range of our spray.
Garden hoses stretched out to the
sidewalk in front of houses, allowing trucks to reload.
On our second trip to such a hose I decided to leave
the safe confides of the cab and brave the front lines
in the back of the pickup. I was given a large bucket
to fill, which I could barely lift.
Suddenly, another mobile combatant
appeared behind us. We were refilling and our guard
was down. “Farang!” they cried out and turned all
their firepower toward me. I ducked down in the corner
of the truck bed. I frantically tried to throw my
large bucketful of water over my head onto the other
truck. The water made it as far as my head and the
other truck sped off into the night.
The night air was cold. Sitting
in the back of a speeding truck, covered in thick,
soaking wet clothes didn’t help matters. The Farang
became the primary target for every shot of water
that came our way. I was freezing. I tossed my bucket
into the water supply, knelt in the back corner of
the truck bed, and shivered. The sharp wind and chattering
of my teeth, where occasionally punctuated by the
shrill cry of “Farang!” and another drenching.
After a while, my friend looked
down and asked if I was all right. I stared at her
shaking, and flashed a pathetic smile. She stopped
the truck and escorted me back into the cab where
I was handed a small towel and told to warm up.
As I thawed, I stared out the window
at the people on the street playing water. They would
look through the window at me, yell, smile, and launch
water in my direction. My reflexes were limited to
involuntary quivering. Their smiles were taunts, evil
death grins pointed toward the helpless victim. I
looked away from the window and buried myself in the
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