07.04.2011 Thingyan – Expectations
So Thingyan (pron. tin-jan) is almost upon us. It is the annual Water Festival and VERY important in the Myanmar calendar, closely followed by the New Year which is, rather handily, the week after. It’s all to do with moons and Buddhism.
This year it all kicks off on 12th April when everything closes for 4 days of public holidays. The following week has another 4 days for New Year so, in effect, everyone has two and a half weeks off, result! But when I say everything closes I mean EVERYTHING. A kind of siege mentality has set in, as evidenced by day-long ‘rush hours’ all week, when everyone is stocking up and shopping madly, much as we do for Christmas I suppose. In fact Amber told me today that the nearer to the start of Thingyan you leave your shopping the more expensive it becomes, as the markets hike their prices by 50 or even 100%.
Most expats are leaving the country and we were advised of this some time ago. Hotels and flights particularly get booked up months in advance. However, due to our visa hassles (see separate post) we are stranded. Even flying up to Ngapali Beach is out for us as you have to have a passport to travel. Technically, even driving up to the nearest beach resort, about 5 hours away, is also a problem as they could stop us and check our ID – Alfie and I are currently overstaying our visas, even though the extension has been confirmed and is in the endless paperwork pipeline. We have heard of people being kicked out for just this reason.
So, here we are, stuck in Yangon for the Water Festival. All sorts of dire warnings have come our way, apparently it is chaos and bedlam for days on end. The only time the Burmese are allowed to gather publicly, they make the most of it by staying permanently drunk for days on end (I find this so hard to imagine as they are generally such a sedate and dignified lot). And then there are the soakings. Traditionally pouring water on each other is a good omen but it has of course got out of hand in recent times, so that now the shops are full of not just water pistols but water bazookas and rocket launchers and apparently the festivities centre around the lake so that they can literally drain the lake water for canons and all round drenchings. Incidences of eye, ear and stomach infections rise exponentially at this time, not to mention all the RTA’s as a result of drunk driving (and bless them, most Burmese males can’t drive at the best of times). Foreigners, children, old folk, even babies – no-one is exempt from the water blasts and I for one have decided to wear a bikini if I venture out. With a matching bazooka of course!
Of course we will have to venture out, just to see what the fuss is about. We’re not far from Kandawdgyi (pron. kan-dodgy) Lake and it’s quite a sight we’re told. However, one or even two days is probably enough, four days and even a week seems like overkill. Stock up on chocolate and DVD’s one lady told me.
So, watch this space to see if our expectations were met and if we survived the dreaded Water Festival!