About 'Film at Eleven'.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
| William Blake