South East Asia :: March - June 1995

Subject: About 'Film at Eleven'.
Date: April 17, 1995 11:03


20:33 Saswasdee Guest House; Bangkok-Thailand :: 14 APR 95

I didn't have to make much of 'Film at Eleven' up. The celebration of New Years here is a seriously fun experience, well, to a point. The episode is one characterised by warmth and the intent is to have fun and not the kind that comes at other's expense. Among the unwritten rules? Drenching of Buddhist monks is verboten, though you can sprinkle water on their hands, if they offer them. There is no water-bombing of businesses, unless the owners or patrons of the business become participants. Thus the inches of water many bars are now floating on. Also, food colouring is reserved for those dressed for it. A couple of times when an over-exuberant youth trained a stream of red water on me and Katrin, an older brother or friend would sternly bring them to their senses.

There was a lot of playfulness involved though it never got to the extreme of rough-housing, even under the influence of much Sang Thip, Thai rum-like whiskey. Well, the men did have a tendency to become a little more intimate with Katrin than completely necessary. But, men are such pigs anyway.

More often than not, the water and talcum come as gentle anointings, a welcome into the community, like a Lei and a kiss in Polynesia. It's best, and easiest, to take the dousings as they are intended; under the loving conditions, it's not even a matter of grinning and bearing it. Moving targets tend to get the shotgun treatment. Of course, the most satisfying way is to become a participant. Carry a little 'ammo' of your own. Freshly chilled drinking water costs no more than 8 baht and a few drops go a long way toward a sense of 'fair play'. It's most enjoyable, though, when you give as gently as you get.

Even if it's supposed to be in good fun the results are walking about town in soggy clothes, paying for things with soggy money, and being regularly anointed with soggy talcum paste while being unable to record any of the events with camera or video, for fear of soggy equipment. The sense of novelty, fun and participation lasts about a day. Then you're constantly on the lookout for the next dousing, crossing the streets when your side looks pretty wet up ahead. Even in Teyva®s, every step goes SQUISH. It gets a little old when you're trying to visit Buddhist temples that request a certain level of decorum from its guests. Soggy just ain't welcome. Besides, being soaked to the bone for two days straight is just physically uncomfortable.

15:08 Saswasdee Guest House; Bangkok-Thailand :: 15 APR 95

All in all, though, it's a great experience and a warm, wet welcome to Bangkok. From the accounts I've heard, this brief exhibition of overt friendliness should represent the peak of emotional exhibition during the visit. Most travelers I met who just entered northern Malaysia from Thailand couldn't stop commenting about the friendliness of the Malays in comparison with the more taciturn experience of Thailand. Hopefully, there'll be some hang-over of the boisterous exuberance displayed these last several days here in Bangkok.

I've never seen anything so nutty and carried on for so long.

Traffic crawls through Khao San road. In the beds of pickup trucks, oil drums and plastic produce boxes serve as reservoirs. Often eight or ten revelers pile on with scoops and water guns, and in some cases, drums. From these parties on wheels emanates rhythm and song. The drummer holds the beat steady and strong even under a deluge and the rest sing as they return fire.

Motorcycle assaults require a sacrificial driver and the 'arms specialist' seated behind who dispenses water or talcum from a small bucket or trains the high-pressured water cannon on the flat foots. The 'gunner' is partially protected from assault by the driver who takes the brunt of any return fire. This pairing can weave through stalled traffic to launch sneak attacks on the unsuspecting flanks of taxis, pick-ups and pedestrians.

The most ridiculous thing to appear is the Mercedes convertible, with the roof down. Think about it. There's enough water flowing to fill all the swimming pools in LA. Twice. More water than November rainfall in Vancouver.

Perhaps it is that Buddhist repose that keeps the whole thing from degrading into a drunken riot. I'm sure that's what would happen in any city of the West. Vancouver after Game 7. Toronto when the Blue Jays won the World Series. Or the alcohol sodden revelries that plague New Year's Eve celebrations all over North America. It's not that there's any lack of alcohol here. The Sang Thip flows easily and the locals offer their Thai whisky or beer to you with or without an accompanying dousing. It just never gets 'out of hand'. Indeed, the only sign of this appears after 7PM when the Thais begin to thin out on Khao San, leaving the drunken travelers to whoop it up. Afterall, the night is young.

While Khao San is the wildest scene going, a more intimate experience is to walk the narrow alley ways and along the canal-side food stalls. On Khao San and other major routes, unbridled release of emotions seems the primary characteristic motivating the goings on. PARTY! In the more subdued environments off the beaten track is where we receive the gentle and personal anointings. Here it is less about the fun of getting wet rather than the intimacy and community of participation.

Certainly, you get thoroughly wet here as well, as do Katrin and I. Thai faces are genetically engineered for grinning and the broad smiles beseech us, as if saying, "Come, isn't this wonderful?" They welcome us into their midst and lightly pour ice water over our shoulders, or caress our cheeks with white-paste. "Happy New Year" say those who know the English words.

There are two gifts I give in return: I offer my cheek or shoulder to their ministration and, when I have some, pour a little water over them too. They appreciate the gestures equally. And I wear the water and talcum as a wet badge of belonging. The mark of participation earns smiles and nods of recognition everywhere we go. I feel that behind each smile are the words, "ahh, one of us now."

One gets no less thoroughly soaked in the alleyways than standing between two fully engaged pick-ups. At one point Katrin and I step quickly and quietly past a large group intent on the matter of getting themselves soggy and, but for one straying eye, we are home free. Instead, we are coaxed by smiles, soft words and gentle hands to twin plastic thrones where the contents of at least one tin of talcum and a small lake are emptied upon us. Undoubtedly, we could insist on a stay of 'execution', however that would mean no less than the rejection of a gift. Behaviour unbefitting a welcome guest. When I motion that some of the talcum found its way into my eye, it is the one who spotted us and lead the coaxing who calls a temporary halt and turns the hose so I can rinse. That inconvenience taken care of, the dousing continues with accompanying offers of Sang Thip. We take leave of our new friends with the same smiles, waves and wishes of "Happy New Year" that we give all those whose interest is in the spirit of the holiday as much as in the pure fun of the festivities.

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --

It is right it should be so;
Man was made for Joy and Woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro' the World we safely go.
Joy and Woe are woven fine,
A Clothing for the soul divine.
  graphical element William Blake

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