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Posts Tagged ‘Songkran’

Songkran

Songkran (Photo credit: Lim CK)

The dread Songkran holiday began today. Although originally a festival welcoming in the new year at which time a person gently poured fragrant water over the Buddha images to cleanse them and bring good luck, it has turned into a loathsome frenzy in which gangs roam the streets drenching each other and the unwary with buckets of water thrown from the backs of pick-up trucks, or expelled at great velocity from hoses and giant water guns. I hate it.

Today also was the Little Masseuse’s day off and she wanted to spend it “looking around” at the temples near the royal precinct. She often enjoys her days off just “looking around.” I frequently join her. Sometimes we go to the mall and just, you know, “look around.”

English: People in a tuk-tuk get targeted duri...

People in a tuk-tuk get targeted during the Songkran festival in Thailand

We set off and thought we already were rewarded with the good luck that was to be ours for our pious intent to visit the temples when the driver of the courtesy vehicle for the hotel next to our apartment agreed to drive us the half mile or so to Sukhumvit the main road where we would catch the bus to the Royal Palace area. Alas, the vehicle was a converted Tuk-tuk, those ubiquitous three-wheeled vehicles that patrol the streets of Thailand. It was open on all sides. We had gone no further than about 20 yards when the vehicle became stuck in traffic and was immediately surrounded by hoards of revelers who drenched us with water from just about every possible means of violently propelling a liquid.

Soaking wet, we got on the bus to take us to the temple compounds. As I sat and thought dark thoughts about the crazed revelers I could see filling the streets as we passed, a woman of about LM’s age approached her and began bragging about the two-legged mobile ATM that she had also snagged and asked LM if she did not also think he was handsome. LM insisted that I turn around and look at this handsome American and so I did and saw a tall emaciated bald individual slightly younger than I with a sepulchral look and washed out blue eyes to whom I would not apply the word handsome. I thought it somewhat endearing that these two middle-aged Thai women at their age and appearance were so pleased with their ATM’s.

We arrived at the Palace area and stopped at a shrine in the middle of traffic round-about. LM purchased some orange carnation-like flowers in a wreath and some joss sticks from a table at the side of the shrine. She laid the flowers at the base of the shrine, poured some water over them from a nearby bucket, lit the joss sticks and dipped her head in prayer. While she prayed, one of the attendants at the table that sold the flowers picked up her floral offering and returned them to the table for resale. I have always marveled at how miraculous it has been that throughout history religions could create flourishing economies out of nothing but belief in the unknown and unknowable.

We then walked over to one of the temple compounds themselves. On the way there I realized that I had left my wallet in the apartment and told LM that whatever we spend today it was going to have to be on her.

We walked on a bit further when suddenly the sole of LM’s shoe fell off so we had to attach it with rubber bands scrounged from those lying on the sidewalk that had been thrown away. They had previously secured plastic bags in which the sidewalk vendors sold various liquids. LM was obviously frustrated and annoyed and said to me what amounted to “why is it that my ATM has to be so often out of money?” Why indeed? I often ask that question myself.

Upon arriving at the Temple grounds LM purchased some more of the orange flower wreaths and disappeared into a temple building while I waited in front of another building in which a traditional Thai dance accompanied on traditional instruments was in progress. The dancers were dressed in elaborate brocade costumes complete with the tall spiked golden headdress. I guessed that they as well as the musicians were all in their 50′s or more but were proficient enough in bending back their fingers and toes and rolling their eyes to attract a good number of camera-wielding tourists eager to preserve their efforts for all eternity in electronic pixels.

We then went to a group of large open-sided tents where LM sat me on a park type bench, all wood slatted and wrought iron, and went off on a tour of the flower and sundry tables. I sat facing into the tent. I could see the backs of a large number of kneeling Thais and through the other side of the tent, I could see a construction site.

LM arrived back carrying what could only be described as a small-sized metal pizza dish on which were more of the orange flowers, some other floral bulbs whose name I do not know, some more joss sticks, a bit of brightly colored gauzy material, a few packets containing gold leaf, a bottle of what looked like clarified butter and a larger bottle of something that looked like olive oil. She asked me to hold the pizza plate while she took one of the wreaths and some joss

English: Picture of Chinese Joss Sticks - Joss...

sticks and joined the other Thais where she knelt before a low table on the other side of the tent and deposited the flowers, that were immediately gathered up by the attendants. She lit the joss sticks and placed them in receptacles full of sand. They too were quickly gathered up before they had a chance to burn all the way down. I was curious about what they planned to do with half-burned joss sticks but was too shy to ask.

LM returned and beckoned to me to follow her. We walked to another building. It was a small temple surrounded by a little plaza encircled by a polished stone balustrade. I was left to lean against the balustrade and guard the pizza dish while she took the rest of the flowers and disappeared into the building.

Looking around me I noticed, in addition to the hundreds of worshippers and piles of empty pizza dishes, a number of objects that looked quite phallic like. On several about waste high platforms, a four or five-foot column rose from the center of each. On the top of every one was a representation of the ubiquitous floral bulb whose name I do not remember and refuse to look up in Wikipedia. Around these poles people were affixing the gold leaf, tying the diaphanous fabric or pouring the clarified butter on them.

When LM returned she joined in pasting her gold foil on several of these phallic-like objects. She then wrapped one with her gauzy colored fabric and began to pour some of the clarified butter on to another one of them. She stopped, called me over and asked if I would pour it over the top since I was tall enough to reach. I gladly accepted the assignment and happily began pouring the contents of the bottle over the tip of the glans. Noticing my exuberance LM pulled me away warning me against pouring out the entire contents on just one.

Anyway, after emptying the contents of the bottle on to several of the columns, we abandoned the pizza dish and taking the remaining bottle of what I thought was olive oil went to a pavilion that had a number of lamps burning. Into each LM poured the contents of the bottle until it was empty.

Having completed our temple duties, we decided to return home. But first LM purchased some more flowers. There were not “flowers” as we think of them in the West, composed or brightly colored and delicate petals. They looked more like green patties of play-dough on a stick, embedded with acorns. The image of floral beauty inculcated into our consciousness by the romantic and mostly drugged poets of the 19th Century apparently was not carried over to Thailand. They are also edible, LM mentioned.

And so we set off for home. After a long bus ride, I took a short trip the final half mile to the apartment on the back of a motorbike where this seventy year plus body clutching the play-dough flowers in one hand and straw hat in the other prayed that a gang of Songkran thugs would not attack while I was in such a precarious position. The driver, either understanding my concern or sharing my dislike of the water wars, maneuvered through back alleys and deposited me at my apartment building safe and dry.

So to all of you, I wish you too, a happy Songkran and may the penis of your choice be covered on gold, tightly wrapped in gossamer and bathed in clarified butter.

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