The Songkran puppeteer dangles buckets, super soakers, cups, bowls, bags ensuring not an iota of dryness exists on any human, animal or inanimate object within the Nation. There lives a majestic hero of all holidays in hills of Thailand, where it’s completely acceptably to walk up to a complete stranger and pump a stream of water into the back of their unsuspecting head and they cannot have you arrested for assault. A national holiday where buckets of ice water are dumped onto the heads of farang by truckloads of passing Thai people crowded around a garbage can housing a small glacier radiating more frigidity than a mail-ordered Russian bride.
After each pot of frost water dumped on your head, you pray for that follow-up bucket of unusually warm and disgustingly dirty river water fetched from the moat surrounding the city center. But when you’ve somehow found yourself on the other end of an icy bucket, some rubber band deep inside holding together puzzle pieces of sanity and morality snaps and triggers a feeling of superhuman all-encompassing power combined with a sadistic need to find the perfect douche bag deserving of a frosty pail to the dome.
This power flows through the veins of human people transforming them into members of the Songkranian cult whose main principles are: nowhere is safe, I don’t care if you have a cell phone, I’ll aim for you not the baby and one in the eye is worth five in the chest. Speaking for myself of course, I sensed a demon being released during this inexplicably glorious holiday. A Songkranic Sprite prowling the streets of Chiang Mai, bucket in one hand, beer in the other and a chronically bursting water gun dangling around my neck—a twelve year old boy’s ideal notion of jewelry.
We combined Phuket teacher forces to form a Songkran squadron fit to man gunners and bushwhack camouflaged through dense jungle in hostile territory. To my fellow comrades and I, this festival was no holiday indeed—it was full scale, no holds barred conflict zone. We gained position outside a local clothing shop with a handy bar out front. The women working the shop brought us homemade necklaces, papaya salad and even permitted our soaking wet bodies to slog between aisles of expensive looking dresses and use their toilet.
Quickly, this spot became out territory and turf wars waged between our shop and the pub next door. I continued to scamper off throughout the day, back to where I discovered barrels of ice water that a kind Thai man permitted me to use in exchange for a small fee. The fee being that during the amount of time it takes me to fill up my gun and bucket, he continuously pours buckets of icy water on top of my head. Sadistic as that sounds, I understood his logic and took the painful torture in stride, because everyone knows pain is progress—especially in Songkran.
A parade pushes through the streets filled with euphoric Songkranians, high on the authority of water warfare and exquisitely dressed men and women undergo shots to the face, buckets to the dome, hoses to the skull and continue marching along like tiny nutcracker soldiers, poised beyond temper tantrums resulting from lost contacts or temporary water blindness.
The next day, we opted away from our usual spot and took a quiet back road by our friends’ hotel, where more than ample amounts of dry and irritable tourists attempted to scurry about undetected. We called ourselves the Soi Dogs and even pleading and bribery could not save you from our rapid fire. (Short bursts between friends). We all saw very dark places arise within ourselves, Heart of Darkness type places that arrive when obsession trumps realism and artillery of any kind is involved. Especially when the strolling strangers cease walks and one must succumb to turning on one’s companions.
My favorite (and most painful) Songkran moment occurred when this particularly dark cavernous fraction inside of my gangly blonde exterior fills with the excitement of battle and animal instincts took hold. A Thai family stood ready for contest beneath a tailgate tent. My backup were caught with empty tanks and refueling their arsenal… I was left to my own devices.
I give my gun a few intensely serious pumps, crouch to assault position and as an eerie wolf-like howl inadvertently escapes from my lips I sprint by this family squirting each one in the forehead counting in Thai with each casualty. “NUNG, SONG, SAAM, SEE…” and as I blast my last trophy and begin to utter my favorite number (and general Thai word) “HAAAA—“ I quickly turn to face forward, but I couldn’t reduce velocity in time. WHAAAAAAAAM. Immediately I run face-first into this pole, practically A Christmas Storying my tongue against the metal.
My fallen enemies explode in laughter as I cut my losses and realize I’m walking away without a shred of dignity and with a large lesson in instant Karma. I creep along smiling and cataloguing this moment into the section housing Karmatic headaches involving squirt guns.
But regardless of dark demons, cold buckets and big headaches, we blasted, poured, laughed, shouted, danced, chicken-winged, drank and stomped our way through flooded streets during the greatest holiday known to man. Sorry Santa, Buddha’s got you on this one.