Sawasdee Pee Mai Khaa.
If you remember, this means happy new year in Thai. If you remember that, maybe you'll remember that I said I'd get to use this phrase 3 times in a year. The third and most important time is here. This weekend is Songkran, or Thai New Year. The year is 2550 and it's a wonderful time to be in Chiang Mai.
My city is known for its festivities at this time, which traditionally include splashing a small handful of water on people and Buddhas to cleanse them and wish them good luck. Somehow this turned into everyone throwing water at everything that moves in all out warfare. This can be clean water, dirty water (most often), coooold, water, and water mixed with baby powder. It's quite the spectacle. As I understand it some other things associated with Songkran are wildly colourful shirts (like Hawaiian shirts at home), lots of alcohol, going home to visit family, and going to the temple to pay respect to elders, monks, and Buddha.
Today I went out and 'played water' with some friends and it was so much fun. We were literally soaked for the whole afternoon. I plan on continuing this weekend. The official day is Friday, and the partying goes on all weekend. Unfortunately the holiday, like our new year, is also known for the many accidents that result when you combine drinking, driving, and throwing water on people when they don't expect it.
I am going to try to get a waterproof disposable camera to document this very exciting time in Chiang Mai. For a bit more information you can visit this guy's blog.
Also I'm not sure if anyone has heard about the YouTube/Thai King melodrama, but it's been an interesting few days for media censorship in this country. After a Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years in prison last week for spray painting a picture of the king some people decided to upload video of their feet on images of the king. This is a bit more complicated than I'm making it seem, I suppose. The Swiss man had been living here for 7 years and the day he chose to desecrate the most beloved man (god?) in Thailand was the king's birthday. The first thing I saw when I landed in Bangkok was a huge yellow sign that said "Long Live the King" in Thai and English. It doesn't take most people 7 hours to figure out that you don't disrespect the royal family. It happened in Chiang Mai and a good source (ok, a bartender at the Irish pub) told me that he was an alcoholic and that when the warden of the prison came to see him before he was sentenced the man tried to punch the warden in the face. Smart move, surely. I digress. Some people (I assume in the west, but I'm not sure) uploaded these videos against the king to prove something about free speech and now the government has blocked access to YouTube. Actually it's more like they promised the ISPs that they'd suspend their licenses if they didn't block access.
I guess now they're in negotiations to censor but not block entirely the video sharing site. Of course the incident with the Swiss man was minimized in the Thai newspapers. The YouTube story has involved more international interest and it's been on the front page for a few days.
I have no sympathy for the Swiss man. You come here and you play by their rules. No one asked him to move here. The YouTube thing, on the other hand, I think is a bit ridiculous. The internet isn't one of those things you can pick and choose content for (tell that to these guys) and even though I know there's (mostly self) censorship in Thai media this seems to be going a bit far. Granted after the coup we're technically still under martial law and you don't hear me complaining. It's funny that YouTube is the political issue that stirs my attention...
So that's what's new in my wet little corner of the globe. I'll see what I can do about getting pictures of Songkran. In the meantime, there are some really great pictures online.
Take care everyone, and enjoy your return to spring-like weather. April is warming up quite quickly here, but luckily we have a moat full of water to throw at each other.