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Fake festivals add to the froth

Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel AsiaBangkok pours cold water on Singapore’s attempts to hijack Songkran.


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by Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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Audi splashes passerby - another way to get wet during Songkran

There are oither stylish ways to get wet

WHEN I heard about The Hunger Games (a story of teens battling to the death in some dystopian future) I immediately recognised this to be a frivolous rip-off of my own childhood when I would race my brother to the fridge after school, to wrestle over the last scraps of Cadbury’s. My father’s passion for things Gandhian and the horrifying maxim (at least for kids), “less is more”, ensured the fridge remained resoundingly empty, forcing my brother and I to forage elsewhere, often at the mercy of kind aunts who mistook our ravenous appetite for a fondness for their recipes when in truth we could have ravished an old sock if it was sufficiently steamed.

No one likes to be ripped off. Everything from basmati rice to the Shangri-La name is up for grabs and the fight to hold on to what is yours gets keener by the minute. People have been stealing stuff for years. It is edifying to note that India rubber actually came from South America, Kiwi fruit is Chinese gooseberry, and tandoori chicken is the national dish of Britain.

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Unfortunately American Indians do not carry Indian passports despite the fact Columbus discovered and meticulously named them and all the islanders en route after a modest navigation blunder in his search for the East. This means India is actually USA. Americans then should be handed Indian passports offering them wondrous freedom from kidnapping and extortion. Then there’s Paris Texas. And Delhi California.

Into this highly charged situation – as nations and citizens navel gaze to discover their true identities while speaking to their inner children in multiple languages using Google translate – comes Singapore. It’s a quiet sober place. Too sober for some perhaps, but the island Republic is shaking off that staid image. And what better way to make a splash, than with water?

{Christmas is a universal franchise now, up for grabs by anyone plotting a fiendishly expensive menu with a candle and a nouvelle sliver of turkey...

So it is that Songkran, the water festival of Thailand has been gussied up and willy-nilly relocated to the Padang in central Singapore to the accompaniment of gut-vibrating music courtesy the H2O Music Festival. A Thai newspaper reports, “Singapore is organising its own Songkran festival to compete with the one in Thailand.”

Sugree Sithivanich, deputy governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, is adamant that tourists will pick the real McCoy. “Our festival is real tradition,” he says. We couldn’t agree more. The Phuket News adds, “Singapore’s event is described as the largest water festival celebration party outside of Thailand,” clearly oblivious to the over one billion Indians who just celebrated the advent of Spring with their very own water festival of Holi on 17 March, 2014.

Celebrating Songkran runs 12-13 April in Singapore, a combination of water revelry, music festival, carnival, parades, and Thai kick boxing, at S$35 per day with VIP admissions at S$75 per person. Several DJs and top acts have been invited from Thailand and an impromptu night bazaar set up. Meanwhile, in Thailand Songkran is celebrated 13-16 April without the hassle of entrance fees and VIP passes. You get to chew gum too should you wish.

While the rival event is being staged by a private company and not under government auspices, it does bear stating that each year during the Songkran weekend, local Thais already celebrate with gallons of water at the Golden Mile complex. Wet and wild is not unusual for the island, which sees occasional foam parties on Sentosa. This is good, clean, hygienic fun for the young and restless whose irate mothers are perhaps behind the spectacular soapsuds on the sands. Nothing like giving kids a good wash, especially in the sweaty tropics.

The hallucinogenic and riotous Holi – Festival of Colours has toured USA for a while with entertainment and powdered colours catering to Indians and a growing number of non-Indians from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City, and spanning several months from March till June. Okay, they didn’t steal it. They just imported it, repackaged it, and stretched things a bit to turn it into a universal celebration.

Christmas is a universal franchise now, up for grabs by anyone plotting a fiendishly expensive menu with a candle and a nouvelle sliver of turkey. Nothing wrong with dreaming of a “White Christmas” but when it starts snowing on Orchard Road where traveller palms rustle in the heavy humid air, things are worryingly more mutant than merry.

So back to the water fight. Thailand or Singapore? If you want to get sprayed there are plenty of options. Watching an average Korean TV drama will have you drenched in minutes as spectators sob their hearts out – life rafts recommended. Or, if it’s fresh water you crave, you can simply shower at home for free, everyday, no entrance fee – unless it’s Christmas. For the most fun, however, head to Bangkok’s Khao San Road for a jolly good hosing. And do let me know if there’s food in your fridge.

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