Up and down the street Songkran is raging. There’s a water fight the likes of I’ve never seen before. I’ve got a pistol bigger than anything I’ve ever seen in the UK but it’s like I’ve brought a melting butter knife to a tank fight. The street is awash with people. Riotous colours from all across the rainbow clash, struggle, part, and crash together in a watery maelstrom. Overhead the sky is cerulean, the sun blazing down causing steam to rise. Figures dance in and out of the mists like ghostly shapes. I can hear singing, shouts, squeals, laughing, crashes, thuds…and more. Every so often a bag of something whistles overhead. Lands with a thump, spilling its white contents across the road. One lands close and I look at it.
“Flour” confirms the Diplomat. I look at her, look at myself. We’re ready to go. This is Songkran and the water fight is joined. She’s got a water machine gun almost as big as her. I have a pistol and a smaller repeat action blaster. Two say “Angry Birds”, the other has Mickey Mouse smiling at us. Our reservoirs are brimful of water. We cautiously step out of the gates of the apartment block, sawadee-ka ing our guards. It’s like stepping in to a storm. A hail of water is lashing down, people are running along the street, streams of water easily twenty, thirty feet long ejecting from the nozzles of their weapons. About 100m away is a farang, stripped to the waist, roaring incoherently, covered in blue and red paste. His inchoate personality is raging water everywhere, indiscriminately. Against him some fifteen teenagers calmly standing to squeeze off long shots or hurl buckets of water in his direction. The shop doors are mainly closed, tuk-tuks and taxis are being used as cover. Every so often heads bob up, water is sprayed, heads bob down. A jerky symphony that Handel might be proud of. I feel a push in the small of my back. It is the Diplomat, impatient to hold Langsuan from the oncoming hordes.
“Let’s go!” and she’s off and racing into the street, laying down a stream of covering water for me to scuttle behind. I fire wildly, high, over the heads of some people who duck. Screams of laughter. I glance down and find I am already standing in a puddle of water. This is a bit like paintball. I dodge across the street, slump down behind a broken wall. Dribbles of plants plaster wetly against me. I glance up, take a breath, then rise to my feet.
Shoot, Shoot shoot. Water everywhere. It is mechanical, a repeat action. A pump of the water chamber, a squeeze of the trigger. More careful now, selecting my shots. Double taps to people I can reach. Ignore the water wounds I am taking. But we’re taking too much fire, it is a losing battle. The horde will sweep over us, past us, through us leaving us forlorn puddles of diplomacy. I look across the road for the Diplomat. The inchoate, bare-chested farang is down in a puddle being blasted repeatedly by gleefully dancing kids. His hands are over his head in surrender.
“Where’s Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist and The Professor?” I yell, ducking beneath the whine of a water balloon passing over head. There is a wet explosion behind me.
“Left the state!” shouts back the Diplomat, risking a glance over her barricade on the other side of the road. Water bullets are peppering the overturned tuk-tuk in front of her.
“The Ginger Diplomat? Les Quebecois? Heck, where’s anyone?”
“Fled the country! Except The Polyglot!” At this point the Diplomat stands and sprays her water cannon in a wide arc, one handed like Schwarzenegger in ‘Commando’. “He’s over at Silom fighting a rear guard retreat! It’s just you and me here. We’re all Canada has left!” Blat! Blat! Blat!
Whhuummppp. A torrent of water from a cannon that’s advancing steadily up the street obliterates the Starbucks sign. Oddly, the vehicle is also emitting a blaring wail of some some local Thai radio music.
I roll to my left, tear a neon green and yellow pistol from my left hip, start squirting in rapid fire mode. People are hit everywhere. Wet T-shirts cling to every crevice. Keeping my head low I make a break for it, hurtling across the road for the safety of the 7-11 doorway. I nearly make it, skidding at the last second in a puddle of water that’s also got flour mixed into it. It’s become an ice-rink. Even as I fall I manage to twist in midair and loose off a couple of shots before barreling into the shop in a sodden splinter of crashing pallets. I’ve still got all my skin.
“I’m okay!” I bellow in the direction of the Diplomat who is off and running. A magnificent sight as she nails people left and right, streams of spray and water blasting into hapless combatants. She’s wearing a T-shirt with a giant red Maple Leaf in the middle. It should be a target, but it’s not one anyone can hit. Behind me is a roar. I turn, guns at the ready and see a giant red cat…I see a what? A faint groan.
Oh dear. This is a dream isn’t it? Merde.
I crack open an eye. It’s Sunday morning. We’re into Songkran weekend. The Diplomat is up. I blearily roll out of bed and venture into the living room. Out on the balcony, the Diplomat is sitting, playing with Isla. One of our water guns is lying on the table. A mug of Cooke’s Finest steams on the table.
“Morning.” I bend to ruffle Isla’s hair as she happily gurgles “Dada!” “Seen anything?”
“Not a thing,” bemoans the Diplomat. “The streets are empty, not a person to squirt. Pack o’ lies, this Songkran water fight thing, eh.”
I pat her disconsolate shoulder. “Maybe later on things will pick up. We can go to Central World. Take a look.”
“Maybe.” She nods and goes back to keeping a vigil for anyone, anything to hose down with H2O. I take Isla off for another glorious episode of The Tweenies. I lie. I’d rather somebody shoot me with a water pistol and put me out of my misery than have to listen to Jake whine on again for another minute.
So, for those not in the know (and I certainly wasn’t before moving out here) Songkran is a word derived from Sanskrit which means astrological path. That means it is a festival, celebrated in Thailand, as the traditional New Year’s Day. It is from April 13-15 and falls at the end of the dry season (not that we’ve had much of a dry season in Bangkok if I am honest). Whilst the festival is meant to deal with the use of water to cleanse people, to wash away the sins, cares and worries of the past year, to begin anew, it has developed into a party and a water fight in many countries. Here in Bangkok, Silom Road is closed off for a few days and a wild street water party starts. Not the kind of thing to start using tasers at, as I was reliably informed was the case last year – an action that resulted in some very unpleasant violence. On the whole, you should only go if you are prepared a) to get soaked, b) to party with everyone, c) aren’t likely to take offense at some of the shenanigans. Perhaps not a festival to take a pushchair to, but if you’re carefree, adult enough…then go enjoy yourself.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?