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
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
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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