Happy New Year!

Thailand doesn’t run it’s calendar in the same way that we do in Europe. For a start, today is New Years Day, called Songkran – I’ll explain a bit more about that in a minute. The other thing that is curious about the Thai calendar, from our perspective at least, is that it is 544 years ahead of us. While the western world is happily ticking along in 2004, Thailand has just moved from 2547 to 2548. It looks weird at first, to see announcements for events to be on ‘3rd March 2547’ or whatever, and I thought at first that tax discs on Thai cars would last well beyond the cars! However, I have found a silver lining to this confusion. My passport says I was born in 1965. So now, in Thailand, I’m officially 583 years old – I’m less worried about having a bit of grey hair now!

Anyway, Songkran, the Thai name for New Year. Every Songkran, Thailand goes mad. The traditional way to greet/bless somebody for new year is to sprinkle them with a little bit of water while you’re wishing them a Happy New Year. But tradition doesn’t stand still in the face of progress, and now everybody tries to cover as many people with as much water as possible. It started with the waiter dousing the cook with a bucket of water at breakfast, and quickly escalated to the cook throwing the guest house manager in the pool. When we went out, the street was in full-on-Songkran mode. Every few yards somebody was standing beside the road with a barrel of water, and something to throw it or shoot it with. Hosepipes, water pistols, buckets, even squeezy bottles are legitimate weapons. Having been in Thailand for Songkran before, we knew to arm the children with water pistols and swimming costumes – and they joined in the festivities like everybody else. (I also knew to cover the camera with four plastic bags, because I didn’t escape the water for a minute. But I did find the safety of a shop doorway to take a few snaps of the mayhem.

Since last time we saw it, Songkran has also invented a knew WMD (Weapon of Mass Drowning) in the form of pickup trucks, loaded with a barrel or two of water, and as many revellers as you can get in. They drive around the roads, splashing everybody on the roadside, as well as every vehicle going the other way or overtaking. As this is one of the hottest times of the year in Thailand, it’s quite refreshing once you get over the initial shock. But another new tactic was really shocking – the addition of tons of ice cubes to the barrel, to add a icy shock to the water. The fun goes on all day, with most Thais boozing through the day too, on their own local brand of whiskey being the favourite drink. This results in Songkran getting rowdier, and wetter, and the roads end up totally disrupted by water-whacking-roadblocks, and frequent accidents. Most of them are either caused by drink-driving, or riders being washed off mopeds!

The children loved the day, once they got over their initial hesitation to cover people with water, and the highlight for them was soaking two policemen on a motorbike (Thai policemen are usually very aloof and unapproachable, so it was a bit of surprise to see a couple of them getting into the spirit of things).