Let the water pour forth

Trip Start Dec 28, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Yeah baby here we go, another blog entry and to top it off, it's one of the last ones from the greater Asian continent.  Pretty soon, before you know it I will be back amongst the jagged snow capped mountains and watching as the eagles swoop around town before taking to the wilderness for the salmon runs.  I look forward to two things about Alaska and both of these things wear off very fast.....the first is the cool weather.  It's been so hot over here as of late that I just want to not sweat for awhile.  I always have this mental image of me getting off the plane in anchorage and my skin just sort of sizzling as if someone had poured water on a hot skillet and of course the large cloud of condensation coming off of me as I walked through the small terminals that make up the great Alaskan international airport.  Of course this doesn't happen in reality but it will be nice to not bake under the sun for a bit.  I'm sure this comes across as a bunch of whining to you who have just endured a cold and snowy winter but please understand that the way you feel about the cold and the oncoming summer is the same way I feel about the heat over here and the oncoming cool of Alaska.  The second thing I look forward to when I head back to Alaska is seeing a bunch of friends that I left behind back in September.  It is nice to see familiar faces and to share some jokes and catch up but as I said before, both of these wear thin so quickly and then all I am left with is being ass deep in work.  Oh well what can a guy do?  The wallet is just about empty and is in definite need of a recharge. 

I can't believe im in the middle of my fourth year traveling around and seeing shit.  I remember when I first started on this little journey of mine I would come across fellow travelers and we would get to talking and they would tell me how they had been on the road for a year and I was just amazed and impressed and holy shit that's so cool.  Well I would like to make a formal announcement here on my blog.  I came to a realization while sitting in a bar with a friend of mine on khao san road in Bangkok. He has been living in Thailand for something like 6 years and I stop and think and all my friends have been over here or various versions of "over here" for 4-5-6 years and that my personal journey was well into year number 4.  The announcement is that I no longer think of myself as a traveler of the world and a sightseer extraordinaire. I now see myself as an expat who has no intention of taking up the yoke of everyday American life (sorry grandma).  Of course this is my stated intention but I will be the first to say who knows what will happen 5 or 10 years down the road and maybe I will either have the urge to move back into American life or I may be forced into it due to circumstances out of my control but as of now im perfectly happy living in Asia and milking America for 3 months a year and then coming back to my home.
So it's been songkron over here for the last few days.  Songkron is the Thai new year and is also known as the water festival.  The water origins are based on the washing of the Buddha statues and also the ceremonial pouring water on the elders of the family to show respect and wish for health for the new year.  Modern places in Thailand such as Bangkok and pattaya have converted this into a reason to hold week long water gun fights that border on insane.  If any of you have ever been to mardi gras in new Orleans, picture the size of that crowd but all armed with water guns and you get some general idea of the situation.  The first year I was out here I was not really in the loop of the festivals and such and I was actually over in Cambodia and missed the Thai new year.  The next two years I celebrated for a day or two in Bangkok and then for a week over in pattaya (thousands of half naked wet girls is never a bad thing). This year I headed BACK up to ninny's village and celebrated a much more relaxed and traditional form of the holiday. 

Traditionally the new year lasts over three days although it has been stretched out longer some places like I stated before.  Up here in the village it indeed lasted 3 days and was not nearly as crazy and crowded as my earlier experiences.  The first days event began as a giant mobile speaker system (on a push cart) was wheeled out of the temple grounds that are in the center of the village. The speakers were blaring the usual fare of jubilant Thai instrumental music as it VERY SLOWLY began to roll down the main road. Everyone in the village came out and pretty much made a giant circuit around the village.  It all began rather calmly and peacefully but everyone who came out was packing at least one bottle of whiskey so soon it was a dancing mob of drunken revelers who slowly wound their way through the village, passing every house whose inhabitants would throw buckets of water on the celebrants and then join the parade. All in all it took about 3 hours to walk around the village but not because of the size really but because of the pace.  The little parade ended back at the temple grounds where people went and made donations and paid respect to the monks. By this time ninny was piss drunk but still making way under her own steam.  The crowd dispersed and everyone headed back to their respective homes to celebrate amongst family etc.  we all headed back to the homestead where ninny immediately made herself busy with the important business of upchucking into the bushes on the side of her house.  I went to get her some water and was gone maybe 5 minutes and then found her passed out cold in bed at 7pm.  When the girl parties she doesn't waste time but I have to admit it was a better outcome then on Christmas when she wanted to sleep on the beach at the bar on ko tao and it took me and a taxi driver to drag her back to the house where she upchucked and then passed out.....see a pattern?

The second day was mostly just water and fun and of course heavy drinking by everyone.  The kids love songkron for the water and squirt guns and not only having permission to douse adults but the encouragement to do so.  The adults love the new year just like adults everywhere else in the world because it gives them a reason to get together with family and get soused.  The third day everyone in the village made their way to the temple where there were various ceremonies and chanting by the 8 or 9 resident monks.  I didn't take part in the prayers being the devout atheist that I am and feeling that it would disrespect their beliefs to just pretend but I did partake in the ceremonial washing of the monks which just consisted of pouring water into their hands and over their head as they sat in a row of chairs. Everyone in the village stood in a long line and slowly took their turn at each monk.  There was also the washing of the Buddha statues and then all the elders of the village sat in a long line of chairs and everyone came and paid respect to them and poured water on them.  I think that there are some things that we could learn from the Thai's as far as respecting the elderly and showing respect to the generations above us.  All in all the ceremony took about 3 hours and was very interesting and definitely gave me a different perspective on the holiday.

One of the great things about living in Thailand is that we get to celebrate three new years.  The first of the season is the western new year  on January first and the thai's celebrate this just as enthusiastically as we do in America.  Despite having their own traditional new year based on the lunar calendar and occurring about mid april AND having their own year system (its 2551 here in Thailand) that is based on the birth of Buddha and not based on the birth of christ, the thai's still change the year on their calendars on the western new year and not their cultures holiday in april...a bit strange.  The second new year we get to celebrate is the Chinese new year.  There is a  healthy population of Chinese residents here in Thailand.  Bangkok has a very large china town and up north there are whole villages populated by Chinese.  Many came from the defeated army seeking asylum after the Chinese communist revolution.  This all being said, I think the true reason the thai's celebrate this holiday is that it just gives them an excuse to light off fireworks and get drunk which is the 2 great passions of the thai male lol.  And then lastly in mid april is the thai new year where there is more heavy drinking and the fireworks have been replaced by water guns.  It's a pretty good mix and can keep a guy busy buried in a good drunk for months if he wasn't careful.

So an interesting side story that is a bit convoluted so please try to follow along.  There was another farang (westerner) in the village for the holiday and he was from Switzerland.  Not a very friendly guy and not of any real consequence other then he was the catalyst that allowed me to hear this story.  Apparently a few houses down from ninny is a relatively wealthy family.  A large number of the family live in Switzerland and come back occasionally here and there and one of the girls had married this Swiss guy who was visiting the village for songkron.  Of course the father of ninny's baby is part of this family, I mean if you are going to enter a fucking rural ass soap opera you might as well go head first right?  Anyway, ninny mentions that the grandfather of this family has made very much money because of "whores".  When I ask her to explain she tells me how he arranges for girls to come from Thailand to Switzerland to work as prostitutes at a place behind a Thai restaurant in Zurich.  The girls actually sign a 5 year contract with this guy at which point they hand over their passports to him and agree that if they go to the police for any reason their family back home will pay the consequences.  All the proceeds from the illicit business go the grandfather and then he sends a small percentage back to these girls families.  So in every real sense of the word, the family down the street is into human trafficking.  I wonder how interested the Swiss embassy would be about all this?  Then again, it is particularly difficult to get a Swiss visa and this guy is getting them on a regular basis for these girls so there is probably someone on the payroll over there.  The whole thing is very weird and crazy to me but seems so normal under the warped glass of Thai sensibilities.

What else is new out here.........well not too much really other than just kind of wrapping things up for the season.  I finally found a place that sells British bulldog puppies and I will be making a stop there when I get back in September.  I've always wanted one of those fabulously ugly dogs so we'll see.  Ninny, the love and tormentor of my life is slowly building herself up into a frenzy of passionate longing as my departure date closes in without pause.  I think it would be accurate to say that she breaks down in tears about 2 or 3 times a day.  It's getting a bit tiresome because let's face it, I want to really just relax and enjoy the last few weeks of my "vacation" but what can you do?  I'll tell you the one thing that I won't miss about this place and that's the god damn bugs.  There is a huge variety of little beetles and little creepy crawlies that all seem to make it into bed with you at night and it drives me completely ape shit.  I just can't understand how ninny can get upset with me for petting the little family dog because "he is dirty" and then she has no problem with the various insect life that buzz and crawl around when its time to go to sleep.  Another example of this crazy shit is how thoroughly they wash dishes and keep things clean despite the "rustic" conditions and then when they end up eating lunch they always do it outside and amongst a cloud of flies that land and just hang out on the food they are eating.  I drew the line with this and eat lunch inside.  I can't stand having a good 40-50 flies just hanging out on my food, makes me sick and it just freaks me out.  Totally off subject and a bit wacky.....i found the most addictive video game ever for the Xbox.  It's the entire star wars saga but everything is made out of legos and is a bit wacky and crazy. I just read that they are making the same thing for the raiders of the lost ark trilogy so I'll probably pick that up to.  If people are ever looking for a fun game for the family this is it.....and its crazy addictive.

Well its about 3 weeks until Alaska so I'll probably have one more post before its time to board that big bird back to the arctic.  I'll try and find a way to make my summer postings more interesting but lets face it, talking about work is never as interesting as relating my life out here.  I hope you all have enjoyed this years little tour de neal although I haven't really done anything too adventuress as of late.  There is an inkling, a small murmur if you will, of Africa on the horizon and doing a few dives with the great whites off of south Africa but like I said, its just an inkling at the moment but we'll see what happens and maybe I can peak in for a month or two on the way back from my working life.  Anyway, hope all is well in your respective worlds and thanks for following along once again.  Stay black and strong and we'll get back to some interesting shit as soon as we can.
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