Anticipation

You know that sense of mounting excitement as the most important Festival of the year approaches – such as Christmas when I still lived in the UK, or Dassain in Nepal?  The sense of anticipation intensifies, shops get busier, preparations are increasingly visible and conversations are more and more dominated by plans and tasks for the coming festivities.

In this part of the world, many countries are celebrating Water Festivals and New Year.  As the weather becomes more hot and oppressive, the temperatures continue to rise and the air becomes heavy with the moisture of dreamed-for rains  and the exhaustion and tetchiness which the season nurtures.  The trees start to display their spectacular colours, with the purple jacaranda and bright yellow laburnum flowers already signalling the approaching change in seasons.

Jacaranda in the morning sunlight

Jacaranda in the morning sunlight

In Myanmar we celebrate Thingyan, the Water Festival from today, with four days of watery mayhem followed by the Myanmar New Year.

I love the air of anticipation as Thingyan approaches.  Everyone is challenging the unbearable heat and making their plans for the festival time.  Friends and colleagues have a spark in their eyes, as they pack up and head to their home communities or prepare for the festivities in Yangon.  This year in particular, there has been a proliferation of plastic blossom of the Padauk tree, which is the traditional symbol of Thingyan.  Little pots have been on sale at the traffic lights, sprigs adorning walls, windows and doors, all cars have a spray or two on the dashboard and even the shopping centre and airport have impressive displays!

Padauk displays abound

Padauk displays abound

A flowering of the Padauk on Tuesday sparked great excitement and I was gifted some sprigs on the way to work by a woman who runs a little, wooden betel stall at the end of my lane. 

Tuesday's fresh padauk blossom

Tuesday’s fresh padauk blossom

 

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The streets are filled with vans and trucks, packed with speakers blaring out raucous music and and youngsters dancing happily.  The length of the main roads beside the Lakes are a scene of frantic activity as pandals or stages are being erected against the clock , workmen hammering the wooden planks together and smart young folks hand out flyers for their pandal, advertising best packages of music, entertainment, refreshments and most of all – the number of hoses and powerful water cannons (firehoses with enormous force!)

Thingyan advertising

Thingyan advertising

 

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Building the pandals

Building the pandals

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As we packed up on Friday to leave for the Thingyan break, we were all doused, albeit gently, with sprigs of leaves and sandalwood water just to make sure we received Thingyan auspicious blessings, while other colleagues either sprinkled us with water from water bottles of were waiting outside with waterguns.  No one went home dry, nor was anyone drenched.  Unlike the days of the festival itself when you cannot avoid being soaked to the skin if you set foot out in the street!

Pre-Thingyan Sunset

Pre-Thingyan Sunset

Thingyan is a wonderful time of celebration and release and a very special experience.  However, this year I decided to slip out of the country on the eve of Thingyan, to find a space of tranquility and rest, and relative dryness while the festivities are at their peak!

A very happy Thingyan Water Festival to you all!

Starfish, scars and soakings

We are splat bang in the midst of Water Festival Mania in this part of the world.  In Thailand Songkran is celebrated, with massive waterguns, tubs of water and young children with little bowls of water – all aiming to soak you!

In Myanmar, the Thingyan celebrations last at least four days and ensure a total drenching, with the aim of cleansing the sins of the previous year.

It is all great fun, but it does get a bit wearing after a few hours of not being able to venture outdoors without being absolutely drenched through and through.  So I toyed with the idea of heading out of Bangkok, to a jungle retreat perhaps, or to the beach?  The beach certainly appealed as did the allure of starfish hunting in the ocean.  However, I found it rather difficult to make a solid plan.  Getting out of Bangkok is not difficult, but does require at least knowing where you are intending to head.  I did not particularly feel like taking a flight somewhere, and howfing my bags on and off of buses with a fairly fresh surgical would did not appeal much either.  A train journey would do the trick, though again I would to be clear about where I was heading and have accommodation sorted.  I also had an appointment with Dr P a week after the surgery so would need to be in town until then.  And although the wound was healing well, let’s face it, it is still a laceration and was very tender.  I was not convinced that it would be entirely wise to dunk it in the ocean and pursue random starfish!

I saw Dr P on Wednesday, and he was very pleased with the healing.  But the surrounding skin was pretty inflamed and angry.  Happily he felt that the dressing was no longer needed and after a brief consultation I was sent off into the great outdoors to get on with healing.

With a few days before my return to Yangon, I made a few enquiries, and looked at a few options but many places were fully booked as folks head out of town for the holiday.  And then one friend advised me that travelling out of Bangkok would probably be pretty stressful.  Transportation is pretty booked out and the main destinations would be very busy.  So I decided to settle on staying in Bangkok and lying low for Songkran, and take up residence beside the lovely little pool at our apartment.

As it turned out, that was clearly the best decision because I returned back to the apartment to a number of messages and the news of two massive earthquakes off Aceh and a tsunami alert.  It was good to be in contact immediately with family after our 2004 experience.  And I have no words for the relief and gratitude that a major tsunami was not triggered.

So no starfish hunting this time, although I did visit Ocean World which does have a starfish department.  That will “tide” me over for a while