Saturday, April 19, 2008

Wet 'n' Wild

For the past week Pattaya has been in the throes of Songkran, which is the Thai New Year. It's actually supposed to be celebrated from April 13-15, which was at the beginning of this week, but for some reason, Pattaya celebrates on the 19th. Of course, this just means that the wet T-shirt contest lasts for an entire week. Last Sunday we were doused with water as we walked down Beach Road, and our faces were smeared with a white goopy paste as we passed the restaurants, shops, and bars. Any time we've left the property this week we've been at risk of being sprayed with hoses and water guns. Actually, on Thursday I got a bucket of water in the face as I rode my bicycle on the way to the orphanage.

Today was the official celebration at the orphanage, and BG and I were honoured as guests alongside the other teachers and administrators. Everyone was dressed up in their most colourful clothes, and all of the children wore traditional flowered Songkran shirts. BG had his own "falang" version: neon green with orange and yellow fish, with bright orange fisherman pants, while I was a vision in Easter-egg pink and aqua. The ceremony was brief but beautiful; there was a simple speech, and some traditional Thai dances performed by the orphans. Then the children lined up to pour scented water and flower petals on our hands; in turn, we tied strings around their wrists to wish them good luck for the upcoming year. We were given garlands of marigolds to wear around our necks as well. It was beautiful: Simple, peaceful, and moving. The respect that the children showed to their elders was impressive and not at all like the experiences we've had with them in class!

After the ceremony, mayhem descended. The orphanage and Redemptorist Centre are located on the main highway into Pattaya. It's normally four lanes of fast-moving traffic, but today cars crawled by, as the sidewalk teemed with people and huge barrels full of water. Pickup trucks with containers of water drove by, and the people in the back sent cascades of icy water onto the heads of pedestrians. As we walked, we were met with greetings of "Happy Songkran" -- more goopy paste applied to our faces, more buckets of icy water thrown down our backs. (The Volunteer Coordinator's pleas to the ladies to avoid white T-shirts and PLEASE wear a bra were finally understood.) The sidewalk was flooded. Kids danced in the water as street vendors prepared snacks and beverages for the Songkran-weary. BG was a vision in his throbbing neon outfit and ten-litre super-powered watergun (and something has dyed him orange! He looks like Jessica Simpson with a bad spray tan.) The party will likely continue well into the night, but I'm hiding out in our room, dry and cool, away from the insanity of the Thai New Year.

p.s. I know pictures of the Biggest Water Fight on Earth would be awesome, but with someone else's camera. Ours is triple-bagged, Ziploc style. Sorry.

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