A potted history
of Pattaya water hurling
What no Songkran?
By no means everybody is
disappointed by the prospect of this year’s holiday and watery Songkran
being postponed. The obvious justification, of course, is the spread of
the Corona virus although the water shortage may have played a minor
role in the unfolding drama. Many spoil-sport expats here are likely
quite happy about the City Hall abolition decision which is in line with
all other local authorities in Thailand that we know of.
Over the years, many have
campaigned for Songkran’s suspension or abolition. As early as 1997
Pattaya Mail carried a reader’s letter arguing that throwing
buckets of water on passing motor bike riders merely created extra
business for local mortuaries. He added that if this practice was
allowed to continue, Pattaya’s tourist market would be doomed forever.
Yes, so many seers have prophesied that scenario.
In 2005 there was much talk about
zoning. This would mean that people could throw water to their hearts’
content in specially-reserved areas (Buddha Hill was one proposal and
another was the then-deserted Jomtien 2 Road) whilst the residual
population continued peacefully and dryly in the rest of the city. The
matter was even scheduled to come up at a Council meeting before, sad to
relate, a military coup in September of that year sank all such debates
for the foreseeable future.
Early modern times
In 2010 another letter appeared in
the local press demanding that Songkran be abolished on the grounds that
mobile phones were very expensive commodities and not at all happy to be
dripping wet. In 2012 a speaker at an expat club demanded action on the
grounds that he had heard from a confidential source that the white
powder might contain arsenic whilst the ice water might have been drawn
from dirty sources too shameful to mention.
The changing scene
In spite of the failure of these
campaigns, Pattaya Songkran is not what it was once. In recent years,
the whole thing has been toned down. Ten years ago, the April water gun
bandits were lined up on Pattaya’s Second Road as early as 8 a.m. These
days, nothing much happens before lunchtime because the will to squirt
has obviously declined. The reasons are likely linked to the decline of
youngish western tourists and the advent of the imperious Chinese who
don’t appreciate street warfare of the liquid kind.
One day wonder
Indeed, by 2019, Pattaya Songkran
was more or less restricted to the single day of mayhem which is
invariably April 19. But even that solitary day seems to have lost
momentum. Last year, the 19th was
more or less an ordinary day for business at the immigration bureau,
whereas in the past very few visa extenders dared to venture into
Jomtien. Contrary to popular belief, the 19th has
never been a public holiday. But it used to seemed like one. No longer.
When we say that Songkran has been
postponed this year, what exactly does that mean? Nobody knows for sure.
Official celebrations certainly won’t be held, not even the gentle and
historic blessings of pouring water over the hands. But the government has
made it crystal clear that the whole holiday period has been postponed. One
assumes that there won’t be a trace of what used to happen on splash days.
If Songkran really is missing a
beat, sadly some of the humour will be missed. Last year, an elderly
farang was walking towards Jomtien’s beach road when an old lady
drenched him with a small bucket of ice water. “You stupid cow,” he
yelled. “Excuse me,” replied the lady, “I know the word ‘stupid’ but
what is ‘cow’? Sadly, the historical record does not reveal what was his
reply, if anything. Learning new language skills has never been part of
the Songkran tradition.
Believe it or not, water hurling
goes back a long way. Apparently, the ancient Carthaginians threw water
on their elephants just before a battle both to refresh the pachyderms
and to alert them to prepare to charge the enemy. Unfortunately, the
Romans soon learned what to do in response. They banged their spears on
their shields, made a terrible noise which caused the terrified
elephants to turn round and mow down their own side.
Off to Cambodia
But if you really want to ensure a
wet Songkran this year, there is always the option of Cambodia where the
water hurling has got wetter as Pattaya has grown dryer. The best bet
over there is Siem Reap. But nothing happens in the daytime. Drenching
time starts as the skies darken. Note: The Cambodian
authorities have since cancelled this year’s April festivities.