April 15, 2017

Songkran and Other News

Songkran is the Thai New Year. For a week in mid-April, everyone seeks relief from the blazing Thai heat by splashing water on each other.

Yes, a week-long water fight.

Last year, I got just a few buckets of water thrown at me while we vacationed in Southern Thailand. This year, we stayed in Chiang Rai. We experienced Songkran on a motorbike, which is a good (though dangerous) way to see the action.

Storefronts replace customers and products with huge barrels of water. They use small buckets and SuperSoakers to drench all passers-by, especially those on motorbikes. Green bottles of Chang beer line tables behind the barrels, and plastic glasses full of ice and Chang sit full-full, seating beads of water on the tables. Chang-filled young people wipe chalky white powder on each others’ faces and pour cups of ice water down the backs of their shirts. The water and powder symbolize a fresh start, a cleansing. It’s also the only time of the year when touching people of the opposite sex in public is acceptable.

We were absolutely drenched after just a few blocks of downtown. My bike helmet was smeared with white powder, and I was shivering with cold. In an unusual turn of events, this year’s Songkran has been filled with gusty cold thunderstorms that make it a little less fun to be wet. Most people will have a hard time believing that it’s even possible to be cold in Thailand, but let me tell you, it is. Even during Songkran.

Although it’s one of the happiest and most fun times of the year, Songkran is also a very dangerous time, which is why I ended every class last week with, “Wear your helmet and buckle up. I want to see you again after Songkran.” It’s a time notorious for traffic accidents. Alan and I saw first-hand some of the reasons why. I mean, even at other times of the year, Thai roads are dangerous due to the variety of vehicles allowed and the lack of enforcement of laws (and to anyone who wants to tell me that India, Vietnam, Pakistan, etc. are worse, that’s fine. I won’t argue. I’m just saying that Thailand is pretty bad in it’s own way). Stop signs are not observed at all, and the green light mentality extends into the first couple seconds of red light. Almost all highways are divided with a median, which means that the only way to get across the road is a super-risky U-turn. Anyway, anyway, anyway…back to Songkran. So merchants line all roads, including the so-called Super-Highway to throw bucket-loads of water on motorbikes speeding by, who then swerve from their usual position on the shoulder into traffic that is going as fast as 90km/h. Add a bunch of beer and cheap whiskey to that already bad situation, and it’s clear why so many accidents happen. What drives me the most crazy is that people don’t even wear helmets or seatbelts most of the time. It blows my mind (no pun intended) that people will go so far as to have a helmet in their lap (in case they spot a police check point), but not wear it. WHY?

Some statistics claim that 70% of the accidents during Songkran are with motorbikes, and most of the rest are with pick-ups. Kids and adults pack into the back of pick-ups, also armed with water guns and buckets to throw water on people en route. While it looks really fun, if this truck is involved in an accident, all of those back-riding passengers are at a huge risk of injury or worse. There was a public outcry when it was tried to pass a law against riding in the back of pick-ups. Especially in rural areas, impoverished farmers and workers rely heavily on riding in the back of pick-ups as a means of getting to and from their 12-hour work day. Needless to say, the law was not passed, and seeing the Songkran kiddos with their goggles and Hello Kitty buckets standing precariously in the back of speeding trucks makes me crazy.

Perhaps that’s enough rant about road safety. It’s sort of the ever-present problem around here. What has been really nice this year is to see some color return to people’s clothing. The Songkran outfit is shorts and a bright Hawaiian shirt. After six months of wearing only black, white and gray in honor of the late king, it’s so refreshing to see gem tones and neons again.

The countdown to America is getting much closer for the Orr-Lynch trio. Getting Egg to Bangkok is proving to be the most complicated part, actually. Pets aren’t allowed on flights out of Chiang Rai, due to several accidents and over-heating problems for animals in the cargo area of these flights.

We have to go to Bangkok a day early to get Egg checked by an official. That means we will basically have two days in Bangkok with our little guy in tow. Luckily, we have lots of practice. He goes everywhere with us. He’s out with us now at a coffee shop.

We’ve had the neighbor cat over for some play dates recently. Egg seems to love it. We will definitely be getting more animals when we are settled Stateside. We already have some names picked out.

Stay safe out there, Chiang Rai and beyond. Until next time...