It is Songkran, the official Thai New Year’s. Even though the Kingdom uses the western calendar and celebrates the new year on January 1st, the Songkran festival is still near and dear to the hearts of Thais. Related back to the court astronomers of centuries ago, who determined that the sun is at its highest over Siam at this time of the year, Songkran is a time to bathe the Buddha images in a ritual cleaning, to pay respects to your elders by pouring water on their hands (left), and of course a time for fun and mischief as Thais young and old playfully splash each other with water to abate the 40-degree heat.
During Songkran, it seems like 90% of Khrungthep’s population leaves town to head back to the provinces. The city really is empty, a virtual ghost town as I drive the streets. For the locals, there is still plenty of opportunity to splash each other, with fathers putting arming their children with large plastic water guns and then driving them around the neighborhood on a motor scooter so they can soak passers-by.
Likewise, groups of people set up soaking supplies on the curb: a large barrel of water, often with a block of ice floating in it; buckets; water guns; hoses. Nobody bothers to clean their cars this week as they will just get messy again.
This year I notice that the splashing seems to be a bit more playful and less antagonistic than last year. It had gotten to the point where people were malicious, smearing dirty water and talcum powder onto the face and into the eyes of others. No doubt it is still wild down in the backpacker enclave of Khao San Road and the entertainment district of Nana, but the rest of the city seems a little calmer. Maybe last year the behavior was just a release from the frustration of living under the Thaksin government, and people are more relaxed this year?
Since it was Songkran, Tawn had the day off work. I didn’t, so directed him to other activities while I had a productive day writing training documents for my employer. To celebrate the day, though, I did prepare a nice lunch of salmon en papillote. This is a tremendously easy and effective technique for cooking, borrowed from the French. The particular recipe was from Martha Stewart Living, January 2005 issue, and included sliced potato, baby spinach, a small serving of salmon, and a caper-garlic butter. Very tasty and a good way to cook using only a little fat.
Above, the stacked ingredients. Below, folded into mezza-luna shapes.
Above, the finished product! Below, dessert of a baked half Asian pear with star anise and honey.
Tawn went over to his parents’ in the afternoon and ended up staying for dinner. After having accomplished quite a lot with work, I decided at 6:00 that it was Friday, a holiday, and gosh darn it, I’m not’ going to stay cooped up in the apartment any more. With such determination I took a taxi down to Siam Square (I’d walk to the Skytrain but didn’t want to get splashed!) and watched the Hong Kong cop movie Confession of Pain.
From directors Andrew Lau Wai Keung and Alan Mak Siu Fai and writer Felix Chong, who brought us the fantastic Infernal Affairs series, Confessions is a well-made movie that gives me some hope that Hong Kong cinema, which has been largely anemic since the beginning of the millennium, may yet be on its way to recovery.
Hei (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and Bong (Takeshi Kaneshiro) are a pair of cops who each carry deep wounds from the past, Bong’s from the suicide of a girlfriend and Hei’s from witnessing his family’s murder as a child. These painful events drive both men in different ways, towards what they think they want, only to reach a point of conflict because they disagree on whether one should take the law into one’s own hands.
The challenge here is that the film was released in Thailand in the original Cantonese/Mandarin soundtrack with Thai subtitles. No English. So this was a good opportunity for me to test my ability to read Thai quickly (better than I expected) and to weigh the film on the merits outside of explicit dialogue. From that standpoint, it held up very well. Leung and Kaneshiro pair superbly with a great chemistry. They last appeared in the same film in what is my favorite film of all time, Wong Kar Wai’s 1994 Chungking Express, although the pair shared no screen time in that film. Cinemaphotography is brilliant, a cloudy and stormy Hong Kong capturing the melancholy of the overall film, which was tied together in a clever score and very tight editing.
Sadly, like Infernal Affairs (remade by Martin Scorsese), Confession of Pain has already been picked up by Warner Brothers with Leonardo DiCaprio mentioned as a possible star. There’s no way that the remake will do justice to the original, nor improve on it in any way. Why bother? Just release the original and let American audiences – gasp! – read subtitles.
This morning I plugged Tawn’s camera into my computer to see what pictures he had taken that I could share with you. He has started his own blog, by the way. Kind of a counterpoint to my perspective of life in the Big Mango. Here are a couple of pictures he took in Kansas City that I thought I’d share:
Top: Jenn and I give a lift to “freeloader” Emily. Lower left: Ava is happy while out at Sweet Tomatoes restaurant with her uncles and grandparents. Lower right: Emily plays with Uncle Tawn’s pocket square.