Happy 2557!

Doesn’t seem possible, but it’s time again for the Songkran Festival celebrating Thailand’s entry into a New Year. This one is the year 2557. And today is the day for the “world’s largest water fight”. That’s a recent development – one which is very loosely based on the Thai tradition of a blessing given on New Year’s Day. Traditionally it is done by friends or family, and consists of a sprinkling of water (sometimes scented) on a person’s wrists and or back of the neck and a touch of powder to the forehead. This tradition is still carried on – in fact, as I returned from my pre-dawn walk this morning I met a lady who I see every time I walk – she takes part in a morning yoga class that is held out at the end of the Rawai Landing Pier which is also the terminus of my walks. Anyway, I saw that she was carrying a small container of water and as she approached me we exchanged “Sawadee pee mai” [Happy New Year] and she proceeded to sprinkle scented water on my neck. Now the “norm” for celebrating Songkran has turned into a melee. Certain areas have been designated as celebratory zones and in these areas – one is along the waterfront road here in Rawai (where I used to live) – you are allowed to get wild in your celebration. And by wild I mean you can throw water on people passing by in cars, on motorbikes, walking, whatever. And they can, in return, splash you as well. But it’s not only a splash as some people have armed themselves with “super-shooter” squirt guns, those with a business or home along the street haul out the garden hose, and the local municipal government places very large water barrels (by large I mean round,  four feet across and four feet high) along the street so you can reload. After “celebrating” this way several times over the 14 years I’ve been here during this time of year, I now stay comfortably dry and at home. My last “encounter” with the festivities was four years ago – I suddenly realized I needed some kapow (basil) for my parrots and had to walk the length of the beachfront road to the vegetable dealers at the Sea Gypsy Village. I made it – still dry – as far as where the road turns away from the beach where I got a small amount of water tossed onto my by an obnoxious farrang (foreigner) and continued on to my goal. It was on the return walk that I encountered a number (nearly 10) Thai friends and their families – all of whom proceeded to do the traditional blessing (well, a few used a bit more water than was strictly necessary) and so, by the time I reached my house I had to take my clothes off on the front porch as I was dripping water from head to foot. So today, my current home is a block off the main street and I can hear the shouts, screams and laughter from a distance and will spend a quiet dry day.

Now, after writing the above I was reminded of a saying “He had a photographic memory which was never developed.” And feel it’s most likely I have told most of you about Songkran before.

We have continued to work on improvements to the new place. Lately we had a roof installed over the backyard area on the western side of the separate kitchen. We will have this area for shell cleaning, grilling food, etc. A place where you can clean with a water hose.

This year I am sorry, but I will not be back for the annual family picnic, the shell club’s auction, etc. I had intended to do this again, but instead will be “reliving a bit of the past”. In 1996 Drew Skinner and I explored and collected on a number of the islands of The Republic of the Philippines. And we have decided, before we get too much older, to revisit some of the places that hold such good memories. We will meet in Manila on the 12th of July (I arrive at 0530 in the morning and Drew at 11:00 PM). We’ll stay a couple of nights in Manila visiting with shelling friends and then head south to the Visaya area, headquartering either on Cebu Island or on nearby Mactan Island (in the city of Lapu Lapu – named after the native headman who decapitated Magellan back centuries ago). From there we can go by fast boat (Ocean Jet, Super Cat or Weesan Express) to other islands such as Bohol, the Camotes, Leyte, Camaguin, Siquijor, etc. on day trips or to spend a night or two before returning to Cebu.  When I returned to the U.S. last May I was very pleased with the airfare I got ($1,270 round trip). This year I was pleased and amazed that I can travel roundtrip Phuket to Manila (5+ hours) for $218. Guess that’s the result of having so many new airlines competing for the market. And within the Philippines the airfares are now more reasonable than traveling by Superferry or other watercraft on long distance runs (i.e. airfare for 3 from Manila to Cebu is about the same cost as one way on the Superferry for 2 [including a cabin] – and the flight is 1.5 hours versus 23 hours on the boat).  Now if the typhoons deign to hold off or blow lightly this year Drew and I will be appreciative. We’re going to be accompanied by one of my Filipino “grandsons” Edward, who can help us in negotiations, being fluent in Tagalog and several of the Visayan area dialects.

This year we have continued to enjoy visits from people from both inside and outside of Thailand. Besides a number from Bangkok, we’ve recently enjoyed visits from people from Australia, Italy, South Africa and Bangladesh. When are you going to come for a visit?

We’re still planning for a get-together next April or May of people interested in mollusks (shells). Originally we had planned to form, at that meeting, the Conchological Society of Asia. And we still plan to do the basic things, but will have to wait to formally start the Society as to do so here in Thailand is impossible with all the paperwork, guarantees, hoops to jump through. So we’ll set up everything and then formally form the Society a year later in another meeting in another country. In doing some research I found that a group had planned to form a shelling club or society here back in the 1980’s and had run into the same bureaucratic muddle we have. Suggestions?

Well, the “wet” or “rainy” or (as “officially” called) summer starts the end of April. Phuket has had the driest “High” season in more than 30 years. We had almost no rain (other than one sprinkle) between 1 January and 1 April. My Filipino “grandsons” came for a three-week visit on 15 January and we had had no rain then for several weeks. The next night we went out for dinner to a restaurant about two blocks from the house. The night seemed clear. But as we awaited the serving of dinner it suddenly started to pour and it kept up as we ate and continued after we had finished. And we had neglected to bring an umbrella. Well, one “brave” grandson ran two doors down the street to the 7/11 and bought three “rain coats” and brought them to the restaurant. And, of course as soon as we all were dressed in our bright blue or bright yellow hooded plastic covers, the rain stopped. And, as I said, we then waited until 1 April for another drenching. It’s now two weeks after that and we’ve had two more downpours which lasted up to 30 minutes and a day-and-a-half of cloud cover and occasional drizzle. April is usually the hottest month here and the rains have been welcomed not only for our gardens, but they also cool the air for a while.

Well, hope you all have a fantastic year 2557 (or 2014)!

 

Will bore you again too soon with another email.