Songkran in Nondu
April, 2001 from the rice farming community of Nondu, Thailand.

I went to Nondu, a small village of about 500 homes, about 100 kilometers East of Nong Khai, for Songkran the traditional Thai New Year. From the vantage point of my room across the street from the Nong Khai bus station, I could see trains disgorge large numbers of holiday travelers as they returned home from Bangkok. Nong Khai is the connection point for dozens of busses carrying people to their home towns for the holidays. Songkran to Thais is what Christmas is to many Westerners.

The usual trip to Nondu is by bus for about 80 km to the town of Pakad,then by tuk-tuk over often poorly constructed and poorly maintained roads for the remaining 20 km or so. Dreading the three hour ride, probably standing, in a packed local bus, I arranged to rent a car from a local transportaion company.

Having never driven a car in a country that drives on the left-hand side of the road was an adventure.It should be sufficent for now to say that I feel lucky to have made it to Nondu and back without a serious incident.

On the road to Pakad, hundreds if not thusands of people lined the roads with huge squirt guns and buckets of water. I frequently had to slow and sometimes stop the car while, ahead of me, people on motorcyles were stopped and doused with water and their faces smeared with baby power or rice flour. As the car approched Nondu, its maroon color had been obscured by coatings of rice flour smeared on it along the way. The roads were also patrolled by pickup trucks, people with water buckets and squirt guns in the back, splashing pedestrians and motorcylcists as they passed. Sometimes trucks approaching each other on the highway from opposite directions would splash each other in what was vaguely reminiscent of jousting.

As the last streach of potholed, undulating brick road drew up on the small village of Nondu,the car was stopped by half a dozen senior-aged women with powder-caked faces, wearing brightly colored clothes and clearly in a festive mood. One had a megaphone in her hand and hooted and hollered in Thai as the others laughed. I rolled down my window and one lady pushed a basket of money inside the car, demanding in Thai, that I deposite twenty baht (about 50 cents). Things like this were usually (in my limited experience) to benefit the local temple, so I complied, and she pinned a small hand-made flower on my shirt. I jestured to my cheek and she planted a kiss - all women giggled wildly. Recovering from that, she shoved the basket through the window again, demanding another 20 baht. I complied again,and she pinned another flower on the other side of my shirt, and she pointed toward her lips and said "Joob" (kiss). I puckered up and got a light peck on the lips. This brought an even more hysterical reaction from the mob of grandmothers. I drove another 50 meters and parked the car.

After a little visiting and chatting with my host, we went for a walk. We didn't get more than a half-dozen meters before I was drenched and smeared with powder. We went to see some of my host's friends. At some of their homes, all-our war erupted as buckets of water flew and powder was smeared. I was armed only with baby powder, which I smeared on the cheeks of people I encountered, and when I could get my hands on a bucket or even a cup of water, made use of that too. I was a mess - soaking wet, my face, hair and clothers caked with wet baby powder. This was pretty much the way everyone except the very old people looked. Several times, my clothes began to dry, but before long, I was wet all over again.

While everyone from children to us upper-middle-aged people were violently throwing water around, older people were treated with great respect. They were approached politely and water gently poured down their backs or over their hands to cool them off.

At many stops, there were drunk men who insisted I join them for a sip of this or that. Besides some pretty nasty-tasting wiskey, I was treated to some sweet flourescent yellow traditional home-made rice wine, which was actually pretty good, but very strong.

On the second day, I spent most of the day sitting on the porch of my host's house. Several times throughout the day people would come onto the porch, sometimes singly, sometimes in pairs or lager groups,drunk or not, and politely ask me to put down whatever I was reading or writing, as they poured cold water down my back, and sometimes over my hands. I think this kind of gentle, respectful treatment is reserved for us older people.

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