In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age
of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this
financially independent lifestyle, they invite you
to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.
WET & WILD SONGKRAN
Billy and Akaisha
What a quandry!
Throughout Asia, people debate about where they are going to go and what
they are going to do for Songkran. It’s not an easy question, and it was
a real dilemma for us. Do we stay in Chiang Mai, Thailand or go to the beach?
Travel to Bangkok or perhaps Pattaya? Instead, we chose Jinghong, China.
By now, most of you in the western world haven’t a clue as to what this
water splashing holiday is. Let us explain.
Songkran celebrates Buddhist New Year. The traditional way this festive
time is celebrated is by sprinkling small amounts of water onto a friend
or family member to wish them good luck in the coming new year. This
cleansing by water also pertains to cleaning out one’s home, ritually bathing
Buddha statues and mentally beginning the year over, forgiving debts and
In Chiang Mai, things have gotten out of control, and now Songkran has
become a huge water fight party, similar on the scale of Mardi Gras.
Thousands of people flock to Chiang Mai for this event, and it can be a
bit overwhelming. The locals get out of town.
A FATHER PREPARING HIS SON
In Jinghong, China, population 40,000, things are more
quiet and traditional; exactly what we wanted. The water splashing
celebration in this town takes place over three nights and three days as
compared to Chiang Mai's ten day period.
Because the water splashing
part of the holiday was being stricly controlled, other sources of
The first evening, to get a flavor of these festivities, we went down to
the shoreline of the Mekong River where a night market had been set up. Fresh food lined the
outdoor restaurants, all under lights. You could have anything you
wanted; snails, grubs, brains, and oh yeah, fresh fish, chicken, tofu,
items wrapped in banana leaf, shrimp, and miscellaneous animal parts.
Our imaginations ran wild trying to figure out what these unrecognizable
It was a carnival atmosphere, with games like shoot the balloon, throw a
rubber tire over water bottles, knock down other jugs and win a stuffed
animal - the usual. One interesting item was a three dimensional video game whereseveral young girls jumped gleefully up and down on colorfully lighted foot
sensors that directed their game. They were having the time of their
lives, getting points on the board by their foot play, almost learning
how to dance and getting exercise at the same time. It was energizing and great fun to watch.
DELICIOUS AND DIVERSE OFFERINGS AT EVENING FOOD FESTIVAL
The next morning we wrapped important documents, camera, and belongings
in plastic bags for safe keeping. Having witnessed Songkran
before, we knew what was in store for us. We have seen impressive water
guns, cannons and pistols on sale in many shops, and wanted to be prepared. On the “big day” we will put a plastic
bag over our entire travel bag for protection. We expect to get thoroughly drenched.
Outside, the morning sun shone brightly. People are milling around everywhere now,
gathering momentum for the Water Splashing Festival, as they call it
here. There are vendors carrying scores of colorful balloons, traffic has thickened, and colossal
helium balloons are in several strategic locations to attract the
public’s attention. Culture performances, dragon boat racing, sand
sculptures, and cock fighting are scheduled throughout the day.
The town is certainly gearing up, with a feeling of celebration in the air.
People seem eager to smile.
BALLOONS ARE EVERYWHERE
Dragon Boat Races begin on the Mekong River this afternoon.
Meandering between the gathering crowd, we see 12 boats, easily 60 feet
long, each with crews of 50 or more, practicing their proficient rowing up and down the
river. All dressed up in their finery, each boat’s crew had a uniform to
distinguish them from the other boats, especially at a distance.
Everyone had a
specific well defined task. Each long slender craft had men at the
head of them who threw their weights forward on
certain counts of the gong’s beat to help the boat’s momentum.
Thrusting, rhythmic, suggestive, and effective! The men in the back
skillfully guided the whereabouts of the boat. The man in the middle
directed the pace of this rowing and the thrusting by his measured
beating of a loud gong. The crews in the middle were rowing their
BOAT RACES ON THE MEKONG RIVER
Sometimes these crewmen were all women, or all men,
with certain vessels mixed, the women taking their places in the center.
The male oarsmen all wore thick cloth headbands,
and the women, large showy flowers in their hair. When the rowing was
done for the moment, the women took out their umbrellas to shield
themselves from the sun. So dainty amidst all this sweaty work!
LADIES IN THEIR DRAGON BOAT ROWING IN TIME WITH THE
The entire city of Jinghong must have been down at the
river. We saw typical Chinese family life in celebration, and it was
On the second morning, the excitement was palpable. Many folks lined up expecting the street parade to start
at any moment. We waited and
waited and waited. The drums and gongs started and stopped on several
occasions. The crowd was told to back up 6 times by white gloved
policemen and women. Then we held our enthusiasm back some more. The
leaders of the parade who were in front of us were pairs of men and
women on motorbikes, with the head bike’s motor running. The man behind
him had a cell phone and he was speaking with someone…
ENDLESS WAITING FOR THE PARADE TO START
The expectation was interminable. Kids were bawling, getting
restless, but still, the crowd was well behaved. They were told to stay
put, and hold off they did. Being careful not to be offensive, we spoke
to each other in Spanish, noting that this kind of lengthy expectation
for a happy parade would never happen in the states. We would be chanting, singing, clapping some type of “Let’s Get It On” slogans or doing
Annoyingly, parents with small children would have the child finagle their way
into the front of the row, and then the parents would follow. They would
at first politely squat alongside the child, but then they would stand
up, and well, guess what? Now, they were in front of us! Over and over this
happened, with the crowd spilling into the street… They were asked to move back once more.
COLORFUL SONGKRAN PARADE
I looked at everyone and had the clear realization
that they were Communist, and so if they were told “X”, well then X it
was. No one thought to do anything differently, or out of line from the
group. They all acted as one.
Any displeasure was
pushed thoroughly underground.
Then, for no discernable reason, the parade at long last began. There
was zero clapping or release of pent up energy. In fact, there was very
little outward involvement of the crowd at all.
Few, if any of the
participants in the parade waved or smiled. Even the children looked as
if they didn’t want to be there. One darling child waved, and Billy took
her photo. There were representatives from many of the hill tribes, from
the military schools and from the local breweries and distilleries, and
both beer and rice whiskey were celebrated.
NATIVE TRIBES PERFORMING IN PARADE
Lots of color, rhythm, flash, and martial arts were shown, but somehow
it did not seem joyous. All visible enthusiasm was undetectable. Billy
clapped one time for a martial arts performance, and his was the only
response to the boy’s amazing flipping and contortions. The people
are very reserved here, and our western exuberance
stood out like a sore thumb.
The following morning was the wild water day, and people were squirting
chilly liquid from high power water
canons, but we, so far, had been able to out run, dodge, or quietly pass
action. I watched our front, and left, while Billy
looked on his right and behind, being careful
not to be ambushed. We were doing great, and almost to our
destination, when WAM! Out of nowhere -- a direct hit! High above from
a second story window came a full five gallon bucket of water, drenching us through and through.
From then on, we were targets, and everyone took advantage of us.
AKAISHA AND HER SAND SCULPTURE FRIEND
Once wet, one has to ask, “what does it matter?” If you’re soaked
through, you’re soaked through.
Filled balloons from 3rd floor buildings sailed down and splattered
below. Buckets with an endless supply of water were thrown at passersby.
These modes of water weaponry made the high powered water rifle nearly insignificant.
But not quite.
Billy dodged and ran between deliveries of gallons of iced liquid. I
on the other hand, with my walking sandals sopped and slippery, resigned
myself to my situation. Smiling ear to ear in spite of my condition, I kept one foot in front of the
other, careful not to slip and fall on the wet, muddy, and uneven
streets and sidewalks. Was this self torture or fun?
Some took pity on us and only pretended or threatened to shoot us
with water. Others most certainly were not influenced by our “wet rat”
look, and piled on with their soaking contributions. Pouring over our
heads and down our shirt backs, there were smiles everywhere. Young and
old, male and female, this was the most celebrated we had seen the people in Jinghong on our entire two week visit here. Police were stationed in strategic locations to be sure that things
did not get out of control. Their presence was really all that was
THE FAB FOUR READY FOR BATTLE
With our regular spot for internet closed due to this holiday, we were
at a loss as to where to go, and it was much too early for lunch.
Making our way to Mei Mei’s Cafe, a hangout for both locals and
foreigners, we sat down to watch the streetside antics, passing the
Someone mentioned a different internet having an upstairs
room, with a chance that it might be open. Eluding the water action as
best we could, we found our way to the cool, peaceful, top floor and
took a breather from the riotous activity below. Puddles formed
under our chairs from our soaked clothing.
With no place to have lunch, we returned to our hotel
room, where we made a feast with packaged soup, salted nuts, and
crackers… Sure hope the streets are clear by dinner time, we’re hungry! Hot showers were a comfort, and we wrung out our clothes to dry.
The Water Splashing was scheduled from 9 am to 4 pm. At exactly 4:05pm,
Billy went out for a beer, testing this theory. The streets are
abandoned. There are no crowds anywhere to be seen. Party’s over!
If you’re looking for a fun packed and diverse alternative to Chiang Mai for Songkran, try
Jinghong in southwestern China with it’s more traditional flavor and its one day organized
About the Authors
Early Lifestyle appeals to a different
kind of person – the person who prizes their
independence, values their time, and who doesn’t
want to mindlessly follow the crowd.
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