The big issue: The war on Songkran

The big issue: The war on Songkran

People shoot water at each other on Silom Road, Bangkok, in last year's Songkran. (Photo by Narupon Hinshiranan)
People shoot water at each other on Silom Road, Bangkok, in last year's Songkran. (Photo by Narupon Hinshiranan)

As predictable as an April 13-15 holiday, as certain as the groans of, "Oh, not Songkran again", as inevitable as the run on water guns at the toy kiosks, here come the Fun Police to try to shut down the Thai New Year or, even better in their view, make it miserable.

Usually, the shutdown shouters are on about conservation and, “At least do it like the older generations did, with just a tiny bit of lustral water poured over the hands”. Their problem is that this is not the way the older generations did. They loved the buckets and hoses, maybe more than today’s energetic young crowds because it was the biggest diversion of the year in a world without smartphones and Facebook.

But this year the fight between the water tossers and the others has an edge. This year, the “tsk”s are louder, the lips a bit more pursed and the frowns much deeper. This year, there is a drought, and water actually is in short supply and anyone who splashes out at Songkran is wasteful.

Sure. Not to mention that Christmas and New Year have become a spending orgy on gifts and Children’s Day has way too many military displays and wat fairs have dancing girls. You first. You give up all of those, the water tossers will listen about the drought carefully.

That doesn’t make the anti-tossers wrong. Water really is more precious than usual. El Nino is not at all naughty; he’s downright nasty. Farmers in particular are hurting. And if no one one at all tossed a single cup of water on his unsuspecting spouse, this would save some water. The waterworks folks say usage triples during Songkran, so — evaporation and rain aside — total prohibition would theoretically save about a week of water.

A couple of weeks ago, a reporter for a daily newspaper asked Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, if it would be possible to just call off, or at least tame, the water throwing that’s three and a half weeks in our future.

“It’s extremely difficult,” he said.

Yes. But that won’t halt the dual-track efforts to try to shame water tossers and to throw unexpected, often strange regulations at them, because they are just having way too much fun. Calvinism in Thailand, now who would have predicted that? (Answer: The ladies of Chiang Mai who were topless until a century ago.)

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration started the 2016 Songkran weirdness. Water throwing in the City of Angels Great City “will be allowed” for just three days. People “must stop by 9pm” each of the three days. What a great rule. Question: Who is around to oversee those phrases in quotes? Also, what is the penalty for, say, upturning a small pail of water over a Bangkok city official at 10pm?

Korat. Second Greatest City in the land. Gateway to the great Northeast. The Royal Irrigation Department “ordered” people to restrict the splashing because the Lam Takong Dam is low. What does that mean, to restrict the splashouts?

Chiang Mai hasn’t joined the campaign against water-throwing (yet) but the Rose City long ago decided that Songkran without new restrictions just wouldn’t fun for rule-makers. The city fathers banned see-through shorts known to young people who think they are hilarious as X-ray Pants.

This year’s official Songkran theme written by Chiang Mai’s glower-masters is, “Protecting the image of Lanna culture”. Therefore, Chiang Mai fun police have been instructed to keep an eagle eye out for attractive young women whose clothing appears suggestive when soaked with water. Is it politically incorrect to write that many people would apply for that job and work for free?

The Fun Police are out to play. As the Bangkok Post Sunday reported seven days ago, National Funbuster and Alcohol Control Office Hellbringer Samarn Futrakul was furious about all that illegal beer-popsicle making that’s going on.

The reporter didn’t know it, but Dr Samarn was warming up. He is tanned, rested and back in action against Demon Rum. Two days after his great beersicle bust, he headed back to the Lumpini area and uncovered organised gangs (aka booth attendants) in the act of breaking a law that was passed 66 years ago and never enforced. Who knew pre-mixing drinks is illegal?

The Funbuster Hellbrings know. Apparently it is thanks to the wisdom of the forward-looking field marshal and prime minister Plaek Phibulsonggram, who outlawed the scourge of lao pan in 1950. That makes it possible for Dr Samarn to try to raise Thailand from its current immoral, drunken state. Pre-mixing drinks is an offence.

Still, after all the scolding and pursed lips and tsking and finger-waving, Songkran will be Songkran, as surely as New Year’s gift-giving and children pretending to shoot machine guns in January. The question is whether anyone will feel guilty about it.

Alan Dawson

Online Reporter / Sub-Editor

A Canadian by birth. Former Saigon's UPI bureau chief. Drafted into the American Armed Forces. He has survived eleven wars and innumerable coups. A walking encyclopedia of knowledge.

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