22 June, 2016

Thai Kids On Songkran

Amy Cosgrove is a Kansas City native and recently graduated from the University of Arkansas with a BA in Communication and a minor in marketing. She is currently serving as a Fulbright ETA at Ban Bowin School in Chonburi province. Along with teaching 800 students ages 8-15 she enjoys leading dance club and playing American football with her students. Throughout her time in Thailand Amy has loved exploring her home province as well as other cities and neighboring provinces. She's enjoyed eating the food, experiencing exciting cultural festivals and has loved connecting with people both in Bowin and throughout Thailand.

They wait for this day all year. It’s the excitement of Santa Clause, Christmas Eve and Thanksgiving dinner all in one. People travel hundreds of miles to celebrate with their loved ones.

Kids grow up riding through town hanging onto the back of a truck or on the rear of their dad's scooter, soaking everyone in sight with their Hello Kitty water gun in hand. They play with reckless abandon. They're free, the way that kids should always be. And the best part, they do it side by side with their parents- who in turn get to be kids for the day as well!

It's the kind of fun where you play all day and crash into your pillow from pure exhaustion the moment you finish dinner. You quickly fall asleep, replaying the day’s excitement in your head like it’s ESPN’s Top Ten.

There are no teams and no rules. Everyone is your teammate and everyone is your target.

This long awaited holiday is Songkran, or Thai New Years.

My cousin, sister and I ready for a day of Songkran in Chiang Mai. 

This year I was lucky enough to participate in my first Songkran holiday. With my sister and cousin in tow, we made our way to Chiang Mai to join other Fulbrighters in the celebration. The city of Chiang Mai was electric with energy and excitement. Everyone was joyous, excited and very, very wet.

The first day we made our way around the city and celebrated at Taphae gate filled with people from all over the world. We stood in front of our hostel spraying every truck, car and scooter that passed by, occasionally getting drenched in ice cold water and dancing around to warm back up.

The second day we headed through the small side streets in the old city to eat lunch at my favorite shop. On our way we were stopped in our tracks by a group of little nuggets armed with super soakers. Once we turned the corner to see them we stopped, took our water guns out and then one little girl yelled “Bai!” meaning “go” in Thai, and they started charging. So we fought back and were swimming through the alleyway to the other side of the street.

After lunch we walked back the same way and were greeted again by the happiest of Songkran teams. We stayed of course, battling in laughter and dousing each other in water. We were immediately welcomed by their older siblings, parents, and aunts and uncles making our opposing teams one. They were having an incredibly joyous party with dancing, singing, eating and spraying people who passed by. The women were feeding us food and drinks while simultaneously pouring water down our backs in a kind way to wish us good luck. Everyone was excited to have us join them and it felt right- normal, and like we were part of the family.

We were seamlessly integrated into their Songkran team. As we’d see people approaching our territory we would rally the troops, grab the hose to refill our water tanks and go out in a full on sprint shrieking and screaming with happiness. 

This was our second interaction with our new friends.

Time flew by as we danced and played. One boy in particular was around 6 years old and had the best dance moves out of us all! To put it simply, he just had the most flat out swag I’ve ever seen.

Numerous groups of other foreigners passed by and asked me how I knew this family. I responded with a shrug and said I just happened to meet them that day and was having the most incredible day hanging out with them.

We continued to play all day long. Once our bucket ran out of water and the hose stopped working, we ran a few doors down to a guesthouse to refill. There were two backpackers from the UK there and they joined us for a while laughing as the kids made sure to soak them from head to toe. 

The Fulbright gang along with my family 

They also asked me how I knew the family and what I was doing in Thailand. I explained to them how I was a teacher and how these kids reminded me a lot of my own students. I told them how their family welcomed me so graciously into their home and how, well, I was having the time of my life!

One of them looked at me and said, “I’ve never met anyone so happy.”

I stopped a second and realized how incredibly happy I was. But “happy” doesn’t quite sum it up entirely. It was the kind of happy where you’re completely relaxed yet equally excited and high on life.

Later that night as we made our way back to our hostel and I couldn’t stop smiling. These few hours were among the top moments of my experience in the past eight months. I felt like I was right back in my hometown on 71st Terrace in Kansas playing kick the can until our mom whistled us home.

This is my cousin getting drenched by our new friends.

I'm so thankful Fulbright has given me this opportunity to immerse myself in Thai culture in a very authentic way. Before, I might have just walked right by that family and kept to the touristy hot spots for Songkran. However, but because of my time in Bowin, the confidence I’ve gained with basic Thai, and a huge appreciation for the kindness of Thai people, I was able to have a true cultural experience.

It has been far from a cake walk, but everyday is an experience paired with something to learn. I am learning how to figure out who I, Amy Cosgrove, am away from everything that's ever defined me- my family, friends, culture, language, and religion. But because I don’t have those safety nets, I am learning how to live the Thai way.

Looking back at all of the cultural blunders and miscommunications I've stumbled over in Thailand, I realize that I have been able to have an authentic Thai experience- meeting and investing in friendships- because of them. I’ll forever cherish those few hours spent roaming in pure bliss. But most importantly, I’ll always remember how I felt in that moment- free, accepted, and simply, purely and genuinely happy.

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