This week heralded in the long-awaited Water Festival. Also celebrated in Thailand, this is one of those religious festivals that has become a byword for lavish, hedonistic party time.
In most villages there is a special stage area set up; ours uses the fabric reserved for monk ceremonies and gaudy tinsel to spell out ‘Happy Thingyan.’ I do like the use of tinsel for any celebration; I think it is underused in the west, reserved only for Christmas. Young people, mainly men go from village to village to drive past the area where the girls stand and dance behind huge buckets of water. If a pretty girl is spied on all of the boys descend on that village and lob water at the unsuspecting victim.
In our village the staging area is about 30 feet long by about 10 feet wide. There are three big canoes filled with water and another 6 huge black buckets filled to the brim with water. This is where the girls stand. Behind this arena is the hut where the generator is hard at work pulling water from the river while booming out rave music on an over-amplified speak system. Each canoe and bucket has several small plastic mugs bobbing on the surface which the girls use to return the favor of drenching whichever boy is within firing range.
I went along 3 days out of a possible 5. The first day was a family event where we stood under the shade of a tamarind tree and watched the hedonism. I thought it looked rather fun. I was reminded of the brutal water fights we would endure as children in the time when England had warm summers. we watched for around 30 minutes before retiring to the cool of our house. The following day my student was on ‘bucket duty’ of filling the buckets for the young men who came to throw and filling the canoes to keep the girls in water.
Everyone has decided that on account of my dancing and having been in the village for long enough that I am part of the general village life. I get a lot of people smiling and dancing at me now whenever I go the market or the teashop. I think that the reserved and cautious air has been obliterated by my shaking and swaying; after all, those hips don't lie and it was fun to be involved!
NEH Director of Studies and Teacher Trainer