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Image: Thailand
  Photo: Jenny Solomon
Image: Thailand
  Photo: Edward Karaa

Playing 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 enough.

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 tiny towel.


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