The monsoon rain is coming and so is the Thai New Year. How will it be different this year?
The rising temperatures in Thailand – exceeding 40 degrees in the northern regions – with the hint of thunderstorms in the air can mean only thing. The Thai New Year is approaching – it will occur on the weekend of 12th-13th April this year. The New Year occurs when the monsoon rains are due to start and are marked by the water-sprinkling festival known as Songkran.
Traditionally, Songkran was marked by people throwing water over each other to celebrate the arrival of the rains which would flood the paddy fields and help the rice to grow. Every year, an orgy of water-blasting equipment is used to drench passers-by in acts of more or less wanton violence. People particularly like to drench young women to set up impromptu wet t-shirt auditions. Many consider it appropriate to grope the women as well as cover them with water. Others, perhaps the same people, also think it fun to mix white powders in the water which is difficult and irritating to remove afterwards. Every year, there are stories of some people mixing acid with the water and unfortunate victims being taken to hospital with burns.
According to the government, this is all very un-Thai in nature and wholly abhorrent to Thai women in particular. This seems not quite to be true since there are many thousands of such women who enjoy the shenanigans every year, being pleased to become outraged (not in the case of more serious assaults, obviously) by improper suggestions. Still, the government will again attempt to stamp this out. This year, the campaign is to be led by the a group of young women known as the Girly Berry Band, who purvey some kind of modern pop music which I have never heard but no doubt they are very musical and talented. The women are known for their stage costumers, which feature the dreaded “spaghetti strap” tops and display of midriffs and other areas. Band management has found it necessary to announce that the women only wear these clothes on stage and off stage they are always very modestly dressed and indeed behaved. Well, they will have the chance to prove it by dressing in Thai silk costumers and being televised sprinkling water decorously over each other and respected guests in what is being described as the “authentic Thai” way.
There has always been a strand of xenophobia in Thailand’s response to the rest of the world, especially the western world. This is not unique to Thailand, of course, and considering the way that the western world has treated the rest of the world a stance of acute suspicion makes a lot of sense. However, this can become foolish. Recently, a government minister, responding to complaints of bedbugs on trains, pointed out that they must have been introduced by foreigner backpackers, since they never wash and Thai people do not suffer from bedbugs.
Most of the time, this kind of thing is just amusing knockabout stuff and need not be taken seriously. Yet there are times when the willing spreading of lies about foreigners in support of maintaining spurious “traditional” values can be sinister.