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31 December 2005

the maximum overdrive

tomorrow, the first day of a new year, for me another chiang, rai, on my route to the east, to laos. my morning mission: secure a bus ticket from mai to rai. i stopped in to ask the slick owner of the pun pun, john, if he thought there might be scheduling chaos due to the new year holiday. he was fairly certain the schedule would remain intact but thought i might have a problem securing a seat on what would most likely be a heavy travel day in the kingdom. when i arrived at the bus station after a twenty minute walk, i had no problem purchasing a 158 baht ticket for an air conditioned bus departing chiang mai for chiang rai from a woman whose smile beamed friendliness. i examined the ticket as i walked away from the counter loving thailand and discovered one minor problem... the bus wouldn't be leaving for 543 years. i'd been scammed!

i took a tuk tuk downtown, ate some breakfast, and spent the afternoon walking the old city waiting for the new year's celebration to begin near the tha phae gate. the evening show kicked off with less of a knee to the nose and more of a glancing swipe to the calf. five dancers might have benefited from a few extra days of rehearsal. the host's hat hung precariously on his head. i had high hopes for the band when they took the stage but quickly readjusted my expectations after the first few chords and i realized they were simply a backing band for what would become a string of thai soft rock singers [cringe], one after the other performing energy sucking stand in one place hand slapping the thigh songs. the band mix was off; the bass cranked to a dull thud which overpowered the drums and guitars. this simply was not the maximum overdrive [31k audio wav : source] i'd hoped for.

i left the tha phae gate to grab some dinner and when i returned discovered a new act on stage... a three piece slapstick act which included a man wearing a dress and clown makeup. curious. two more men, one carrying the other, wearing a dress and clown makeup, joined the first three. lots of slapping and feigned beatings while a sixth man stood to the side at a keyboard and hit boom-crack drum samples in time with the slaps and beats. still curious. i looked around and saw that most of the thais in the audience were laughing while most of the western tourists had 'what the hell is this?' looks on their faces.

the sky began sparkling with tiny hot air balloons and soon there were new constellations. the most beautiful. i left the square again to watch everyone launch their flaming balloons and when i returned, a new singer was on stage with her band... a young thai pop singer who tried her best to involve the crowd, running from one side of the stage to the other. i got the impression that she was a fairly well known singer in thailand as i saw many locals singing along. a traditional thai band owned the stage until 2345 when the mayor (just a guess) made a speech and several city officials (another guess) came up for the final countdown.

midnight hit and the square erupted in a giant fireworks display. similar to the diwali festival in india, it seemed like some of the fireworks were exploding just a little too close to the onlookers. i hung around for another half hour while a series of men and women took to the stage sporting various zebra print oddities in a mock fashion show before taking off for the pun pun.

posted by paul on Sat 31 Dec 2005 at 00:00:03 est (-05:00)

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