Songkran Part I: No KFC, No Peace!!

Monday afternoon I had some people over my place. Someone mentioned craving some KFC and I went online and placed an order. About ten minutes later I received a phone call from a very polite man who sounded a bit nervous. I don’t know if it was because he’s not used to speaking English and is unsure of his language skills or if it was because of the news he had to deliver.

“Uh, Mr. Bill . . . we cannot deliver your order. Your apartment is in the middle of the protests and they close the roads so we cannot get to you.”

I told him I completely understood but he insisted on apologizing about four or five more times before he let me off the phone.

Now the red shirts have crossed the line. Blare your insane ramblings 24 hours a day, litter up my street with empty water bottles, but dammit, don’t mess with my KFC!

I was glad I was going to be leaving Bangkok for a few days. Maybe KFC delivery will be reinstated by the time I return.

Tuesday morning at 5am we had booked a van to shuttle us to Phetchabun. Knowing that there was absolutely no way we were going to get up at 5am the best course of action was to find a watering hole that would stay open until 5am.

And that’s just what we did.

I can’t say I remember much of the ride up. The five hours it took us to reach Phetchabun were spent in dreamland as images of beer bottles danced in my head. Our first stop upon entering city limits was the neighborhood noodle shop for breakfast.

After breakfast we went to my girlfriend’s home. I had met some members of her family in Bangkok so I wasn’t a total stranger but nobody speaks English and my Thai really isn’t good enough to hold a real conversation so after the hellos and introductions to the her family that I had not met before we crashed in her bedroom.

If you’ve never been to Thailand you really have to understand that we’re out in the sticks. I mean, I had to ask, and it was not insulting, whether or not my girlfriend had a squat toilet or a western style toilet in her home. Fortunately (for me), her place is quite modern by local standards with air conditioning (only in her bedroom) and other conveniences that we take for granted.

I mean many homes are nothing more than old, weathered, two by fours nailed together and some tin roofing. Back home you would call it a shack and there’s no possible way it meets any sort of building code ever written anywhere. Here that’s just how people live. It provides basic shelter and that’s all they need.

Out here you can probably build a pretty nice pad for about $30,000 – $40,000. It’s not going to get you on MTV Cribs or anything but you’ll have two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, and a couple of bathrooms. If you’ve got mad money you can spend $100,000 or $150,000 and have what are usually rural Thailand’s version of a mansion.

I woke up around 1pm and my girlfriend was gone. I considered getting up but quickly dismissed that foolishness and fell back asleep.

Around 3pm I finally dragged myself out of bed and sent my girlfriend a text message letting her know I was up. I strolled outside and sat on the patio with her grandmother. We exchanged smiles and she said something to me in Thai that I didn’t understand. As we both sat there in the surprisingly not uncomfortable silence I watched as the next door neighbor, an older woman, walked outside topless and hung some clothes out to dry.

The girlfriend arrived, her cheeks painted in white talcum powder (part of the Songkran tradition). She said “Go grab your gun!!! We can play Songkran now!!!”

I went back in the bedroom and grabbed our weapons. Outside I filled them up with water and my girlfriend got her motorbike ready.

At first we just cruised her soi where several of her relatives live. I know it’s part of the festivities but I couldn’t bring myself to shooting unarmed civilians. My girlfriend on the other hand had no such reservations and doused aunts, uncles, and any other relative whether they threw any water or not.

There was a lady in the back of a pickup truck who had a big barrel of water. She would throw a bowl full at cars, bikes, and people walking by. We stopped to chat with her for a few minutes and I noticed that hiding behind the barrel was her small daughter. The child was absolutely petrified of this white skinned freak and hid behind her mother. She almost broke down in tears when I waved and said “Sawadee khrap” (hello).

Out here, there aren’t a lot of us whiteys. As we traveled up and down roads, sois, and expressways I would often hear someone shout of “Farang!” and everyone in their group would stop to see the farang. Small children were especially excitable at the site of a farang. I used their amazement to my advantage and would give them a good blast from my water gun while they were still in shock of seeing a white guy.

Splashing/spraying a farang seems to be a highlight of their day. Several times we would pull over to let someone pour a bowl of water on us and they would completely ignore my girlfriend and dump their entire load on me.

I had asked my girlfriend how many people live in Phetchabun and she said it was close to a million. I asked how many farangs live there and she said “Lots!” I asked how many was “lots,” to which she replied “maybe one thousand.” So, I guess in Thailand 0.1% is “lots.”

Throughout the day the girlfriend would drive by one of those previously mentioned rural Thai mansions and say “Baan Farang” which means foreigner’s house. Most of the people who can afford the sick homes out here are foreigners.

At one point we passed a pickup truck and one of her relatives was in the back along with four or five other people. We pulled a u-turn and they pulled over on the side of the road. As soon as we pulled up several people jumped out of the back of the truck and came over and smeared the white talcum powder all over my face while the rest poured bowls of water down my shirt.

I’ve always avoided being in Thailand during Songkran. I know many expats who basically lock themselves indoors for the three days in an effort to avoid getting doused. Some leave the country to get away from it.

But I have to say that it’s not as bad as I imagined. I mean, I wouldn’t want to have to have to work during Songkran and have someone pelt me with water but if we’re talking about being on holiday and you’re specifically going out to get wet then it’s a lot of fun.

After another nap we wake up the girlfriend’s uncle and ask for him to give us a ride into town so we can get some food. Forget about food stalls lining every street like they do in Bangkok. There’s nothing out here near her house.

We saddle up the aunt, uncle, their kid, myself and my girlfriend and head into “downtown.” I picked up the tab for everyone’s meal which came to a whopping 115 baht ($4 USD).

Later after we got home I notice a frog in the bathroom. I had noticed a gecko earlier when I had napped. In fact, the gecko was hard to miss because he kept making this sound like someone tapping on the bedroom window. It kept thinking that one of my girlfriend’s friends or relatives was trying to get her attention but later I figured out it was coming from that lizard on the wall.

But the frog was in the bathroom. How the hell did he get in there? I tried to get a few pictures of him but he did a super-jump over me and into the bedroom. My girlfriend said to be careful because they try to pee in your eyes and if they do you’ll go blind. Whether that’s true or not or a local superstition isn’t important because either way getting peed on by a frog isn’t something I’m down with.

As I lay in bed that I night I can hear the frog in the room. First I hear him land on a plastic shopping bag with a loud thud. Later as I was about to forget about the flying, peeing frog I hear his thwap on the tiled floor next to the bed. Great, he’s hunting me.

I didn’t sleep well.

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