This past week was full of celebrations for the community of Thailand and myself. The Thai New Year, also known as the Songkran festival, was April 13-15. My personal celebration was my first birthday outside of the US.
A new year brings about many reflections of the past and aspirations for the future. Many Americans celebrate a new year with setting a New Years resolution. Thais participate in the world’s largest water fight.
For Thai culture, Songkran is a cleansing of the past and wishing good luck to others for the future. The word Songkran derives from the Sanskrit language meaning “the passage of the sun from one Zodiac sign to another.” This means that there are technically 12 Songkrans each year, but the significance of the commonly referred to “Grand Songkran” is when the sun leaves the sign of the Aries to enter the sign of the Taurus. This particular event was also closely related to the Vernal Equinox in history. The specific date of the Grand Songkran would change based on astrological calculations, but is now set to April 13.
The most famous aspect of this holiday is the throwing of water on each other and the smearing of white chalk. The throwing of water was originally part of a ritual of cleaning images of Buddha with “blessed water.” After cleansing the Buddha, people would throw this blessed water on each other as a sign of paying respect and bringing good fortune. The smearing of chalk originated from the chalk that monks use to mark blessings and is now another way Thais use to wish good fortune to one another.
All-in-all, it seems as if Thais like to have some fun while wishing the best for everyone in the process.
Now that you have some background on the Thai New Year, here is some of my personal advice: Come to Thailand and participate in this amazing event at least once in your lifetime!
The Songkran festival is a week long celebration, but due to the current drought, the water fight was limited to three days. Key word: “limited.” A three day water fight was one of the most fun experiences I have ever been apart of! To be honest, I don’t know if my hands could have handled another day of firing my water gun. My index finger felted bruised by the second day because I was “gun happy” during this festival.
My parents and grandmother came out to visit me in Thailand on April 6-18, meaning I was fortunate enough to have them by my side during the Thai New Year celebration. We were in Railay Beach in Krabi Province on April 13 and flew to Chiang Mai that night to be at the heart of the festival. Krabi gave us a good glimpse of the massive celebration with people on the side of the road using hoses to spray cars, families and friends in the back of pickups trucks ready to dump a bucket of water on passersby and the occasional person hiding behind corners ready to sneak attack you with a water gun. As fun as it was to see it all as we drove to the airport, we were itching to be a part of the action and couldn’t wait to be in Chiang Mai.
The second day of Songkran, April 14, was huge in Northern Thailand. There were crowds of people with squirt guns and buckets everywhere. By mid-day we found our spot by the East Gate of the Old City, which was where majority of the crowds were and you couldn’t go five steps without being splashed with water. I don’t think I could ever put into words how much laughter we shared while running behind red taxis to squirt the people hiding inside, becoming like family with the owners and friends of the Blue Mango restaurant and watching little kids and non-Manchester United supporters pick on my dad by over-dousing him with water.
If you know my family, you know we’re all just kids at heart. I couldn’t have imagined a better group of kids to be in a water fight with!
After three days of non-existent dry clothes, the water portion of the celebration was over for the Songkran festival. On April 16, the four of us put on our backpacks and began our next adventure to my favorite little town, Pai.
Studying abroad can be tough sometimes. You tend to miss your family, your friends, and the little things that make home so special. When it comes to your birthday, the last thing you want to do is spend it alone. I am the odd-ball fortunate soul that had family with me while abroad to celebrate my 22nd year of life.
My parents had asked me where I wanted to spend my birthday and – of course – I chose the hippie town of Pai since we were in Northern Thailand. I couldn’t wait to show them the town that I had previously fallen in love with. They were amazing troopers and were happily willing to go to the Pai Circus School hostel, which was where three of my study abroad friends were also staying.
The night we arrived, Pai Circus School was having an open mic night. We listened as people from the hostel played guitar, sang their own songs, read poetry and played instruments the type of which I had never seen before. Back at home, my family has a music room (which is technically my dad’s office) that we have jam sessions in. One of biggest things I have missed about home was the jam sessions we would have, so whenever I hear live music it would remind me of my family. During the event, my dad – our main guitarist back home – told me to tell the announcer to put our name on the list. This immediately got me so excited, yet nervous at the same time because I had never played in front of a crowd before.
When our turn came up, my dad grabbed the guitar and I grabbed a plastic tub – the closest thing they had to a drum – and he told everyone what we usually did at home and that we wanted people to join in with us. We had my dad playing the guitar and singing, three drummers, someone playing a hang and another person with a maraca-like shaker instrument. It turned out this was the best crowd to play in front of because when we started playing our second song – “What I Got” by Sublime – we had a hula-hooper performing, a group of people up on their feet dancing and lots of people singing along. The sight of a bunch of strangers coming together over music was such a beautiful thing and made my heart so happy. This was definitely one of the best birthday presents I could have asked for.
The next day was my birthday so we woke up, dabbled with acro-yoga in the morning, went to a vegetarian restaurant for breakfast, hung out by the pool during the day and then roamed around Pai and ate street food until bedtime. To have my parents and my grandma by my side the entire day was like a dream come true. I feel so unbelievably fortunate that some of my family members were able to fly across the world to celebrate my day of birth with me.
It absolutely blows my mind that I am now 22 years old. I feel like it was just yesterday that I was celebrating my 21st birthday. On a bigger scale, I feel like I was just a freshman in college moving into the dorms. Even though we all hear our parents say it, I’ll tell you again, appreciate every moment you have in college because it goes by in a blink of an eye.
As a new year brings about reflections of the past, I have tended to get down on myself for not accomplishing the goals that I wanted to reach. Recently though, I’ve realized that although I didn’t reach some goals, I grew in ways that I didn’t see coming. This past year I have learned a lot about myself and the world.
Out of the past 12 months, I have spent five and a half of them in countries outside of the US. I have seen things that have made me cry on the spot and others that have made my heart smile.
I have met some of the most genuine human beings that have shown me the utmost kindness, even though we didn’t even speak the same language.
I have made lifelong friendships with people that I only spent two weeks with.
I have tried foods that I never thought I would eat, and liked them.
I have gone out of my comfort zone multiple times when all I wanted to do was crawl into a ball of safety.
I have faced challenges that I never thought would end and would get the best of me, but instead I developed a growth mindset in order to adapt to my circumstances.
At the end of the day, I have learned that there is so much to be grateful for in this lifetime. I have learned that the key to happiness is accepting where you are in life and making the most out of every day. Do not compare what others have that you lack, but instead be grateful for what you have today and strive to attain whatever it is that you want in a healthy manor.
I truly believe that the purpose of our lives is to be happy and help others. We are all human beings exploring the same beautiful planet and it is our duty to take care of our home for the benefit of all species. Even though another year has come and gone, I am so excited to see where this next year takes me and what lessons lie ahead.
Tiffany Geer is earning a bachelor’s degree in communication at San Diego State University. She is blogging from Thailand for the 2016 spring semester.