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Monday 16 Apr
Bangkok, Thailand

Songkran in Bangkok

Songkran Festival
Bangkok, Thailand

What a blast! The Thais really cut loose and celebrate when the calendar hits Thai New Year (April 13-15) or Songkran. It's also known as the Thai Water Festival because of the signature celebration feature, a massive water fight without enmity. Why a waterfight? Well, two reasons, really. The official reason is that Songkran is a time when Buddhist monks would traditionally anoint followers with a few drops of water on the forehead and neck to provide a blessing for the coming year. The unofficial reason is that Songkran comes around during the very hottest time of the year in Thailand. As such, a water fight provides welcomed relief from the heat, and the festival has morphed from a staid affair to an enormous rite of drenching. It's all in good fun, and when someone dumps an entire bucket of ice water on you or squirts you in the eye with a super-soaker, you're supposed to take it as a compliment. Believe me, I got complimented plenty. Three straight days of being waterlogged. I don't think I was dry at all for that entire period. But, I gave as well as got, all in good fun. The only hostility I saw in three days of swarms and swarms of people was a drunken American kid of around 21 who wanted to fight someone for squirting him. Nice going, kid; there's a reason why Americans have a bad reputation internationally, and you're it. In fact, come to think of it, there's no way a festival that's this good-natured could happen in any major American city that I can think of without many instances of violence. That says something, I think.

The only downer of the experience for me was my inability to take any pictures. Some of you are probably saying to yourselves, "Thank goodness!" to that bit of news, but I'd like to have a visual record to look back on years from now. My memory isn't the greatest, as some of you know. Well, the swimming pool's worth of water I got hit with during Songkran would have done wonders for my camera, and I underestimated the degree to which the local shops would be closed during the Festival. In short, I never found a waterproof camera and decided early on not to let the lack of one ruin my enjoyment of the Festival one bit. I've been a slave to that camera long enough on this trip anyway.

Back to the action. I had a terrific time and met lots of cool people, some Thai, some farang (Thai for "foreigner"), some I never talked to, some who invited me for drinks. Really, it was just unbelievably cool and I was just as happy as could be for three solid days. Special thanks to Jan, Pou, Boi, and their other two friends whose names I've forgotten. We shared a tuk-tuk from Lumphini down to Songkran Central, aka Khao San Road in Banglamphu. Along the way, we got absolutely drenched by strategically placed gangs on the roadside with access to garden hoses. We'd shoot our water at anyone we could and when we ran out of ammo, we'd just pull over to one of the hose gangs and they'd gladly fill us back up. Rubbing clay or talcum powder on a drenched person's face and hair is another element of Songkran, and I gave and got on that front too. Wisely, I wore some super-cheap sunglasses to Khao San and people kept covering them with powder. I looked like some sort of white zombie almost all the time, but I must have had a perpetual smile on my face because four different people said the same thing to me, "I love your smile." Really, that's the greatest compliment one could get at Songkran, especially from a Thai.

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Roamin' Prof

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Traveling on the American taxpayers' dime, Professor Sigman is researching extensively across the globe in the name of East LA College philosophy. His motto of "better dead than Canadian" has proved functional thus far in the journey.

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