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Saturday, April 18, 2009


Mahasarakham Songkran celebration

Thailand has been in the world news once again in the last week with protests coming to a head. These protests coincided with Songkran, Thai new year, which this year was a five-day weekend. Here in Mahasarakham I was oblivious to what was going on in Bangkok for several days. This is how it all looked to me.

The university organised some celebrations on Friday commencing with a parade. They sure love their parades here in Mahasarakham. Many of the floats could have been for any celebration with people in various forms of traditional dress. Some were specifically Songkran, a utility/pickup with barrels and revellers throwing water on the onlookers.

Outside the gymnasium there was a talent show with singing and dancing. Awards were given by the university president. Later people queued to wash a Buddha image and then to pour water respectfully onto the hands of elders from local villages. As the afternoon moved on there was a local band and dancing and some revellers got around to throwing a lot of water around. But generally it was kept for those who'd come to enjoy that aspect of the celebration. I caught up with some old friends, made some new ones and generally had a good time.

My biggest challenge during the day was keeping my camera dry. It survived. I'll be uploading the most interesting of my Songkran pics to my flickr page (see sidebar). Hopefully they'll be there by time you're reading this. If you read it some time after I post it the photos will have moved back through the photostream. You can find them quickly by searching 'songkran', alternatively take your time and enjoy the newer photos on the way.

After that I knew it would be pretty quiet around Mahasarakham. On Saturday morning I took a sorngtheau into town specifically to buy a Bangkok Post, so I'd have something to read over the long weekend. I tried two paper shops and found none. At the second I asked if they had the Post and was told 'mai ma', it didn't come.

At lunch time I went out to get something to eat. There were very few eating places open and those that were had few customers. Sunday I took a longer ride on my bicycle to buy some fruit and got wet several times by Songkran revellers. Apart from little pockets of people with barrels of water the area around the university was unusually quiet.

Before I went out for lunch on Monday I got a call from Nathanon. He was ringing to check where I was and if I was OK. I had not watched any TV over the weekend and until this time I knew nothing about what had been going on in Bangkok. I turned on the TV to catch up. Bangkok was big news on the BBC. I also watched a few Thai channels but with my limited Thai I wasn't able to discover much more than I got from the BBC.

To put it in perspective, yes it was probably worse than what was going on last year. It might have affected me if I was still living in Bangkok and needed to go into the city. I often used to catch a bus from Victory Monument to get home and that was one of the areas targeted by the protesters. It looked pretty bad for people living where it was all happening but for those who live out in the suburbs where I did I expect there wasn't a lot of change provided they stayed close to home.

In Mahasarakham there was nothing happening so far as I could see. In fact Mahasarakham couldn't have been much quieter. I went into town again on Tuesday morning and this time I did manage to buy a Bangkok Post. The reason I couldn't get one on Saturday was that the roads out of Bangkok had been blocked by the protesters.

On Wednesday I took a look at the TV again. Thailand had ceased to be of interest to the BBC and the Thai TV stations were showing the Songkran revellers. The protesters had deprived Bangkok of four days of celebrations. It looked like they wanted to make the most of it for the one day left.

When I woke up Thursday morning I had a text message from an unknown number saying that the holiday had been extended for two more days. I figured this was a gimmick from the phone company so took no notice. But on my way to the office Thursday morning I noticed that the campus was unusually quiet. The office was locked and the guard advised me to come back on Monday. The quietness has continued since but at least I've stayed dry.

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