Songkran Part II: Washing Grandma

In the morning, the water still wasn’t working so we we had to shower old-school. There’s a huge tub of water that they fill when the water is working. From the best I can make out from my girlfriend’s explanation, the entire neighborhood is on one incoming water pipe. If other people are using the water there’s not enough in the pipe to get to you. So you open up the faucet and wait until everyone else is not using the water and then fill your little basin.

So you take a bowl and pour it over you until you’re nice and wet and then lather up with soap. Then you rinse off using the bowl again. Surprisingly washing your arm pits and your undercarriage is a lot harder than you might imagine using this method.

After freshening up, my girlfriend’s friends Jib and Nuey showed up. I know both of them from Bangkok. In fact, Jib was the cashier at my Thailand Friends pool party. Anyway, they have a truck and want to go play Songkran on the main stretch of road through Phetchabun. We jump in the back of the truck which has two 50 gallon barrels full of water and about five or six other girls of various ages.

We head down the main drag of Phetchabun and it’s packed. I think the max speed is about 2 or 3 mph. Both sides of the street are lined with people throwing water at the cars going down the street and at each other.

Just like yesterday, the second anyone notices there’s a farang everyone stops what they’re doing and starts dousing me. Water guns, hoses, bowls, and just about anything that can deliver water was used to soak me head to toe. I didn’t dare take my camera out in the midst of all of the splashing but this guy on Thailand Friends has some excellent Songkran photos that should give you a taste of what it’s like.

It got so bad that some of the girls asked me to sit inside the truck because they couldn’t get any action. One Thai guy walked up to the back of our truck and was putting white powder on us and was just about to wipe it on my girlfriend when he saw me and stopped in mid-application and wiped it on me instead. I think that was the one that broke the camel’s back. After that I wasn’t allowed to sit on the tailgate anymore.

We made our way through the center of town and then up a road to a lake where we had lunch. It was a beautiful place to relax but now that I wasn’t being continuously assaulted with water I started to notice that it was hot. Really hot.

Bangkok and Phuket are horrendously humid. If you have an iced drink more sweat forms on the outside of the glass than liquid in the glass. But Phetchabun is more like Los Angeles hot. It’s about 90-something degrees with no humidity.

No matter how long I’ve walked around in the hot sun in Bangkok or Phuket I’ve never even gotten any color let alone getting sunburned. Here in Phetchabun the two hour ride in the back of the truck had me a nice shade of pink. I pulled up my sleeve and everyone got a good laugh at the farmer’s tan I was rocking.

We took the same route through town on the way back but I tried to stay covered up as much as I could. I could tell by how pink I was at the lake that this was going to be a nice lobster red by the time I got home.

Back at the girlfriend’s place I changed into some dry clothes and started to catch a nap. My girlfriend came in and asked “Do you want to shower grandma?” Since I could safely assume that she wasn’t asking me to wash her grandmother I thought perhaps she was asking if I wanted to take a shower in “shower grandma” which is quite a common way for Thais to indicate a possessive noun as that’s how you would say it in Thai grammar (e.g. sister her or car me). I responded, “No, you go first and then I’ll shower.” She left in a huff.

You have to understand that Thais are compulsive showerers. At a minimum they take a shower in the morning and another before going to bed. The clinically obsessive, like my girlfriend, take one every time they do something that causes them to break a sweat.

So, my first thought is that her huffiness is because she thinks that because we’ve been outside all day that I’m sukapok (dirty). Whatever. I’ve just had several hundreds gallons of water dumped on me this afternoon. I’m not dirty.

A few minutes later she returns and stands in the doorway with her fist dug into the arch formed by her hips cocked to the side. I’ve seen this stance before and she doesn’t even need to say anything for me to know she’s frustrated and/or angry. I respond the only way a guy knows how in these situations. “What?”

“Do you want to wash grandma?”

Her tone indicates that the only acceptable response is “Yes, right away!” but I’m stupid so I ask “Wash your grandmother? What are you talking about? Do you want me to help you wash her?”

“I don’t know how to explain it to you in English. I don’t know the right words. Just come!”

I may be stupid but not that stupid. I follow her outside and her whole family is gathered around and there’s grandma seated in a chair, fully clothed I might add, soaking wet. There’s a large bucket filled with water and flower pedals at her feet and a bowl next to the bucket.

Ahhhhh! Shower grandma. I get it now.

I take the bowl, dip it into the water, and then pour the water over grandma.

Afterward we sit in a semi-circle around her and one by one each person sits before grandma and she ties a white string around your wrist while she chants something in Thai. My girlfriend later told me that grandma wished me good luck and success in my business. I’m also told I have to wear the string for three days.

After the “washing grandma” ceremony, we go to Nuey’s home about 2 miles away. I think I made it three steps off of the back of the motorbike when one of Nuey’s relatives shoves a glass of Thai whiskey in my hand and tells me to drink. My girlfriend tells me “Don’t drink it. You’ll be mao (drunk).” I actually take that pretty seriously because my girlfriend knows I can hold my drink so for her to warn me means this must be some pretty potent stuff. I try to hand it back to him but he insists. My girlfriend keeps walking ahead so I down the shot to a huge roar from the men and then catch up to her.

As with any party, copious amounts of food have been prepared so we chow down. Pretty soon Nuey’s dad is over and he starts asking me questions in Thai. The ones I understand I respond to but Nuey was on hand to translate what I didn’t catch. He seems pretty fascinated with me. Pretty soon the Thai whiskey is brought over and I get another warning from the girlfriend which is echoed by Jib and Nuey. I do the shot anyway. I give him a bottle of Heineken.

We left pretty early. I was dead tired. The flying-peeing frog kept me up most of the previous night so I was out as soon as my head hit the pillow. For all of the warnings about the Thai whiskey . . . I can’t even say I felt it.

I don’t hear any frogs the entire night . . . where the hell did he go?