Monday, April 22, 2013

Songkran 2013/2556 - California Style

A child receives blessings for the coming year

While San Francisco and "Thai Town" in the Los Angeles area hold more extensive Songkran festivals - with parades, floats and elephants to soak you, no less - I wasn't in the mood for any more of a soaking there than I've been willing to book in Thailand, so I didn't make an effort to attend any of them this year. I did my usual ritual of prayers, candles, incense and meditating, took a shower in lieu of a public soaking and called it a holiday by 08:00.

Detail of one of the beautiful and ornate fruit and vegetable carvings

However, a friend called a while later, saying that his home town of San Jose (about an hour South of San Francisco) was holding what they were billing as their First Annual Songkran Festival, so - somewhat reluctantly - I went and hoped for the best... or driest, whichever.

My worries on the drive there about my camera were, for the most part, baseless; it was a sane and delightful day. I came home with a little bit  of white paste on my face and got a few spritzes from standard squirt guns wielded by giggling kids there, but there were no buckets of water.

A small part of the festivities

Although it only covered an area in total of perhaps two city block lengths there was something for everyone: traditional crafts booths, a variety of food stands (primarily Thai, thankfully), a Muay Thai competition/exhibition, some commercial establishments represented (insurance, cable and phone providers, banks - that sort of thing), a couple of health-related booths, bouncy houses for the kids and a number of other things.

Even though fighters wore protective gear, there was a medical team on duty

There was also an enclosed beer garden where people over 21 could enter and have snacks, enjoy cold Chang beer (one of the sponsors) and share some restrained water splashing. All in all it was a well-planned and well-run event, suitable for all ages.

Water bowls for the blessing ceremony

One of the special areas was a tented spot where one could receive blessings and good wishes from a line of seated monks. In a much more traditional style than the "water cannons" version of the holiday you removed your shoes, accepted the small bowl of water handed you by the volunteer and joined the line of kneeling folks moving along the line of monks.

Pouring a small amount of water from your bowl onto the outstretched hands of the monk you bowed your head and received your sprinkled blessing on your head. All wished you well for the coming year, saying "Good health to you," "Happy new year," "Good fortune in the year ahead," - that sort of thing. Being a warm and sunny afternoon the cool sprinkling felt good, and, being a human being with shortcomings, I'll take any good wishes sent my direction to help balance things out!

Fruit carving at the OTOP booth

There was a booth promoting the crafts association OTOP (One Tambon [district] One Product), which you'll run into in many places in Thailand itself, and another for the TAT (the Tourism Authority of Thailand). The TAT booth was distributing shopping bags, rolled posters of and brochures about Thailand.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand booth

Miss Songkran contest - one of the interviews

There was also a beauty pageant to elect a Miss Songkran 2556 that featured lovely ladies in traditional dress, being interviewed and answering questions as you'd expect at such a contest... "If you were to move to a country to promote Thai culture, where would you choose to live?"

A contestant answers a question

Miss Songkran contestant mingles with the crowd

Part of the Miss Songkran audience makes the most of the shade at the old California Theater

Although it was billed as being open from 10:00 to 17:00 some of the cultural activities began to shut down by 15:00, but the rest of the festival ran the distance.

Two members of the TANC stop to smile

Here's hoping there's a second festival next year. To all who put time and effort into this one San Jose's first Songkran festival yesterday (apparently a lot of that by the Thai Association of Northern California) - nicely done!

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