Water Festival in Bangkok
There is something about landing at Bangkok Airport that is special…..at least to the male members of our family. This was the country where, twenty years ago, we negotiated and landed our first large international contract. During the ensuing several years much our professional energy, frustration, and joy was centered around this exotic country a half a world away. Over a three-year period we drilled two hundred water wells, installed pumps and underground pipelines, and delivered the first year-round water supply to a group of Thai villages that can now grow three crops a year instead of just one.
While I had made only one trip to Thailand during that period, Dad had taken many trips and had stayed for weeks on end during the contract negotiations with the upper levels of the government. Younger brother, Dee, moved to Bangkok after the project was well under way and stayed through the successful completion of a project that we have always considered to be the crown jewel of our many entrepreneurial endeavors. Now twenty years later, after delivering underground water to this country, we were arriving just in time to celebrate Song Kron, the annual water festival.
As our Singapore Airlines 747 touched down Dee and I breathed a sigh of relief. We had just finished off a stressful week of work in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Going from Saudi Arabia to Thailand is like slipping out of a three- piece suit and tight shoes and into a soft cotton tee shirt and sandals. It was time to relax and reconnect with old friends and old memories. We had talked Dad into joining us in Thailand and his flight from the states was scheduled to arrive a few hours behind ours.
Our project manager back in the old days had been a big Texan named Larry. During his stay, he fell in love with Thailand and had eventually found a way to get back to the “land of smiles.” We hadn’t seen Larry for many years, and we were looking forward to a reunion with him and some of our former Thai associates, all of whom promised to be waiting for us at one of old watering holes in the Pat Pong nightclub district.
Since our last trip, several miles of a new elevated toll
road had been completed, and we made it to our hotel in
less than an hour, which was a new record. Our pal Larry
was waiting for us at the hotel and helped us get checked
in using the special rate that he had negotiated for us.
Dad arrived on his Korean Airlines flight about two hours after us, and he also made it to the hotel in record time.
We visited with Larry and a few of the expatriates that we have met and gotten to know in previous trips. The bars and restaurants in the area were in the process of covering with plastic anything and everything that needs to stay dry. The reason……Saturday and Sunday was the Thai new year and everyone was gearing up for the annual Song Kron celebration.
Dee had done his best to plan our schedule so that we could
be in Bangkok for Song Kron. He had been through one
celebration back in the early 80’s and assured me that I
would not believe it unless I saw it for myself. Friday
night found the ex-pats plotting strategy for the following
day like it was the D-Day invasion. Our commanding leaders
were Mark and Ian. Mark is an American who is six foot
tall and weighs close to 280. Ian is an Australian and
slightly smaller. Both have lived here for many years.
They had already collected several weapons, the principle one reminded me of a WW II flame thrower. Mark had arranged for this weapon of destruction. It contained a 5- gallon container, which he could strap to his back like a backpack with a hose leading to a pump tube and nozzle.
With one quick pumping motion Mark could send a large stream of water spewing onto a target thirty feet away.
Ian had acquired several squirt guns, but “squirt” is hardly a descriptive word. Water Cannons is more appropriate. Dee and Larry and I pooled our money and sent Dee out into the open market to find an arms dealer who could equip us with the latest in high tech weaponry. He returned with a couple of machine gun looking affairs and a water bazooka. At noon on Saturday, we dressed for combat……old shorts and tee shirts, which could never be worn again, and aqua sport slippers, which holds a grip while soaking wet.
After extensive reconnaissance Mark and Ian had already
decided where we would locate our base of operations. They
chose a small open air bar about fifty yards from the hotel
entrance. From this position we were able to conceal
ourselves behind the wall of the Chicken Delight
restaurant, where we were hidden to oncoming traffic.
There was a faucet close by to refuel when the ammo got low, and there was a three-foot wall to duck behind if we began taking too much incoming fire. We negotiated a truce with the troops in the open-air bar across the street, and then we were assigned our positions and battle responsibilities.
Our weakest point of exposure was from the sidewalk behind
us. Enemy troops could use a flanking action and attack us
from the rear via the sidewalk, so Larry and I were
assigned to cover the rear of the battle group by parking
ourselves on the barstools closest to the sidewalk. From
this position we were to try and intercept snipers and
suicide bombers who might try to attack us from the rear.
We were both armed with machine guns plus a small pistol to use during the 20-second reloads. Dee was assigned to various guerrilla activities and was available to support Mark and Ian on the forward lines in case of heavy face to face combat with incoming tanks (pickup trucks with barrels in the back and several people with buckets). Mark and Ian added some spice by purchasing several large bags of ice to give our ammunition a little extra bite. With our sophisticated weapons we expected to be able to hold off any assaults with more traditional style arms like buckets, large plastic glasses, and water balloons. The problem is to avoid those dedicated members of the enemy who insist on using chemical warfare (talcum powder mixed with water that gets smeared onto your face and hair).
The battle plan was to hold our position as long as possible while annihilating anyone unfortunate enough to enter our killing zone (motorcycle riders, pickup trucks, casual pedestrians). We had hoped to be able to hold this position for a couple of hours and then advance to the entrance of the Cosmos Restaurant (home turf) and set up a defensive perimeter around the entrance. The battle began in earnest about 1:30. Our first ambushes were masterpieces. The first group of motorcycle riders never knew what hit them as they wandered down the narrow street right into our sights. At point blank range Ian and Mark opened up with the water bazooka and the icy flame thrower. After wiping out numerous enemy troops we began to take some hits from the rear and Larry and I had our hands full fending off these attacks. Both of us were bloodied with talcum powder by troops pretending to be friendlies until we turned our backs, only to be smeared with the gooey white paste. The most frenzied action would occur when the pickup trucks would try to penetrate our defenses. They would drive straight into our killing zone and try to match us in fierce face to face combat, but, with all of us stepping up to the wall and aiming the icy ammo at their face and eyes, we were always able to outlast them, although we sometimes took heavy casualties. I was the first to take a serious hit when I took a round of incoming laced with yellow dye. This is against the Geneva Convention’s rules of water warfare, but in war these things do happen.
Bloodied and battle weary after two hours, we decided to move our base camp to the entrance of the Cosmos. We tried to determine when the coast was reasonably clear and started our advance. Mark, large target that he is, did not hear my warning in time and took a direct water balloon hit from an upstairs balcony. We all returned fire and covered him as he limped to safety. We located some allies positioned on an overhead cross walk. They were equipped with water balloons and a garden hose. Together we set up a deadly killing field in front of the Cosmos. We were the ground troops and they gave us plenty of air support from above.
At the end of another couple of hours we declared victory
and headed soggily back to our rooms to take warm showers
and find more disposable clothing for the party Saturday
night. Randy, another American ex-pat, owns one of the
local bars and had invited us all for a Saturday night Song
Kron party. The party was similar to New Year’s Eve in the
states except that no one went home dry. Randy had his
stereo equipment and DJ enclosed in plastic, and of course
the cashiers’ operated under a clear plastic canopy.
Drinks were served with plastic bags over the glasses with a hole punched for a straw. I don’t know what the water bill is in Thailand for this festival, but I am glad that it is celebrated at the beginning of the rainy season so that they can replenish the city’s water supply.
As the party began to wind down, which occurred sometime prior to daylight, Dad, Dee and I were all glad that our hotel was within walking distance. We were glad that we had gotten to participate in this most unique and happy celebration. We were glad to be together and surrounded by old friends, and we were especially glad to be back in the “land of smiles.”