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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

JINGHONG, CHINA

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

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 grievances.

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 merriment flourished. 

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 items were!

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 hearts out.

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 GONG

The entire city of Jinghong must have been down at the river. We saw typical Chinese family life in celebration, and it was heartwarming.

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 the wave.

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 the

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 needed.

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 time.

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 mayhem.

About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.

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