Saturday, 12 April 2014

Songkran - Singapore Style

Credit: SGAG

Waterless Songkran festival in S’pore will feature Mango Sticky Rice without rice

Organisers of Singapore’s first-ever Songkran water festival, Celebrate Songkran 2014, to be held on April 12 and 13 at the Padang, said that the event will not feature any water activities.

They justified the bastardisation of the traditional Thai festival by not featuring any water because Singapore needs to save water and it is PUB’s idea.

This has prompted Singaporeans from all walks of life to suggest that the Mango Sticky Rice dessert delicacy sold during those two days at the Songkran event would be better if there was no rice and only served mango.

Waterless Songkran - chicken rice without the chicken

For those who do not know, Songkran is a festival made famous in Thailand because during the festival, everyone sprays water on everyone else. In Singapore, we celebrate Songkran by hosting a “Water Conservation and Water Heritage Exhibition”.

I’ll be honest. I have no idea Singapore had a “Celebrate Songkran 2014” festival planned and after hearing this news, I wish I had continued my ignorance. What in the world was the Singapore Tourism Board thinking when they decide to hold a foreign festival in Singapore and then cancelled the most fundamental part of the festival?

I’m all for conserving water but what’s a Songkran festival without water? That’s like chicken rice without the chicken! Water conservation and the Songkran festival do not go together. If Singapore want to conserve water, then just cancel the Songkran. After all, who want to eat chicken rice without the chicken.

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A Songkran in Singapore without water: Is there any point?

Is this going to happen? NO

Firstly, what is Songkran? From my shallow understanding, it's considered the new year (just like what Lunar New Year means to us) for people in Thailand, Mynamar, Cambodia, Laos and some minority tribes in China. Traditionally, during this festival, people visit temples and cleanse Buddha images with water in order to bring good luck for the new year. This gradually transformed into a crazy festival with everyone hurling water at everyone else to celebrate the new year. Tourists from every corner of the globe flock to different parts of Thailand during this event to experience it. In Mandarin, Songkran is called "泼水节", which translates literally as "Splashing Water Festival".  Suffice to say, no matter whether you are cleansing your Buddha images or throwing water at everyone you see, the spirit of Songkran revolves around 1 element, yes, you guessed it, water.

This controversy first caught my eye when I read an article which talked about some officials in Thailand's Culture Ministry threatening to sue Singapore over the organisation of their very own festival. My first thought was, "Why the big deal? Even though it might purely be a marketing event, at least it helps to showcase Thai culture, especially the Songkran culture to more people, surely that can't be a bad thing."

Besides, if anyone wants to REALLY experience what Songkran is really about, they will DEFINITELY choose to come to Thailand, no matter what Singapore can offer, so it's not really a threat to tourism as well. A couple of nights ago, I mentioned to my wife that it would be almost impossible for Singapore to close a couple streets to allow "water-fights" to take place for 2 whole days. Before I knew it, the bombshell was announced, Singapore's Songkran is to take place, dry.

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I have to laugh when I heard that Singapore will hold its own “Celebrate Songkran 2014” festival at the Padang open field opposite Singapore’s City Hall. In my opinion it is nothing more than a blatant attempt to try to cash in on the festival itself by the Singapore Tourism Board. Songkran is a festival that welcomes in the Lunar New Year and is celebrated in many countries but famous in Thailand for the uninhibated celebrations with water a plenty.

Just as the Grinch stole Christma now Singapore is trying to steal Songkran, chasing visitors to attend its own version of the traditional Thai New Year water festival. No doubt the Singapore Tourism Board realised that at this time of year tourism figures go down as many people all over the world and even from Singapore head to Thailand during this period for the festivities. So they decided to jump onto the bandwagon in what has got to be the most dismal failure ever. So much so that I would advise the organisers to quietly quit their jobs to save themselves from further embarrassment.

Yes, Singapore will celebrate Songkran but there will be no water pistol fights, celebrity dunk stations, or really, any kind of water fun at Singapore's first Songkran water festival on April 12 and 13. The organisers of Celebrate Songkran 2014 at the Padang have taken heed of the national campaign to conserve water and dropped the water-based activities.

No water splashing allowed at Songkran festival

The whole point of traditional Songkran is to get soaking wet, as dousing is symbolic of washing away bad luck. It’s also the Thai New Year, usually accompanied by Buddhist activities such as prayer sessions, as what took place back in 1999 during Singapore’s first open-air Songkran near Paya Lebar MRT. In 1988, Songkran was held at the now defunct Big Splash, where other than getting wet and wild, participants would be expected to burn joss sticks and bathe statues of Four Face Buddhas. Otherwise, Golden Mile Complex is the place to be if you want to mingle with Thai workers ringing in their New Year with water fights. It’s a religious festival, not an excuse to get fashionably drunk and watch Far East Movement.

No wonder Thailand’s Ministry of Culture, Ms Yupa Taweewattanakijbaworn, had reportedly (according to the ST article) threatened to sue festival organisers for ‘undermining the values’ of the Thai festival, not so much that we’re cutting out the real star of the show for conservation reasons, but because we’re twisting the agenda to suit our needs and flying in entertainers, turning it into yet another outdoor pop music festival that’s really a B-grade cousin of the F1 megaconcerts, headlined by a band who’s not even Thai to begin with. How would you feel if Westerners adopted our version of Chinese New Year, but just went around eating dim sum, making fortune cookies or ‘lo hei-ing’ over meatballs and spaghetti instead of yusheng?

The ‘CelebrateSongkran’ website continues to run misleading images of drenched people with Supersoakers, oblivious that the banning of water activities has, in a manner of speaking, rained on everyone’s parade. Conservative Christians who refuse to fold paper ingots at their grandmother’s funeral should not attend by the way because of its religious (i.e ‘paganistic’) origins.  Yes you can’t have water fun because your God forbids it.

Celebrate Songkran 2014, The Largest Water Festival Celebration Party in Singapore!

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Songkran festival goes dry

There will be no water pistol fights, celebrity dunk stations, or really, any kind of water fun at Singapore's first Songkran water festival on April 12 and 13.

The organisers of Celebrate Songkran 2014 at the Padang have taken heed of the national campaign to conserve water and nixed the water-based activities.

Instead, they will host a Water Conservation and Water Heritage Exhibition in conjunction with national water agency PUB.

Singapore's 1st Songkran water festival goes dry

Children soaking one another with water guns at a Songkran event in Sembawang last year. This year's festival at the Padang will not feature any water-related activities. Instead, there will be a bazaar, carnival, muay thai tournament, music festival, and exhibition on water conservation and water heritage.

Wet activities cancelled as part of national campaign to save water

BACKGROUND STORY - The Bangkok Post reported last Wednesday that the director of the surveillance bureau at Thailand's Ministry of Culture, Ms Yupa Taweewattanakijbaworn, had threatened to sue festival organisers for undermining the values of the Thai festival.


Earlier there had been a fair amount of conflict over the decision to have a Songkran festival as Thailand authorities criticised Singapore for stealing their festival and not respecting the diverse traditions and values behind it.

Singapore was accused to profiteering and trying to copy Thailand's festival just to gain tourism.

However it seems that the diverse culture is not the only things that is going to be missing from Singapore's festival as there won't even be any water play.

Only in Singapore: No Songkran

Last week's big plans now cancelled

It's hard to imagine this could happen anywhere but Singapore.

Authorities were supposedly appalled at advertisements for "Asia's biggest water festival (outside Thailand)" and have told organisers there will be no water-throwing, no water pistols, no public drinking.

Instead, the Lion City's first Celebrate Songkran will be a more typical Singapore holiday.

No intention to sue organisers of the Singaporean Songkran Festival

Contrary to some news reports, the Thai Ministry of Culture has no intention of suing the organisers of the upcoming Singaporean Songkran Festival that is supposed to take place for two days next month.

The Songkran Festival will hold a “H2O Music Fest” featuring both Thai and international artistes, a Muay Thai exhibition as well as a carnival. Known as the “Largest Water Festival in Singapore” where one is “bound to get wet”, the event is hosted by a few private companies with no collaboration with any Thai authorities.

Distortion of tradition? Tension arose when many netizens on Thai forums and websites were unhappy because of the commercialised nature of the festival to be held in Singapore,\. They said that the Singapore event will make it lose its true meaning. A Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) executive said earlier this week that she might consult several other state agencies to “see if legal action could be taken to protect Thailand’s cultural heritage.

S'pore's 1st Songkran water festival goes dry

The Bangkok Post reported last Wednesday that the director of the surveillance bureau at Thailand's Ministry of Culture, Ms Yupa Taweewattanakijbaworn, had threatened to sue festival organisers for undermining the values of the Thai festival.

Thailand's Songkran festivities are an attraction, drawing more than two million visitors from countries such as China, Japan and Australia in April last year. It is also celebrated in Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, and by ethnic groups and tribes in China, Sri Lanka and India.

In Singapore, which has more than 50,000 Thais, celebrations are often held at venues such as Golden Mile Complex. The first level of the mall is sometimes transformed into a dance floor, and celebrants splash each other with water - sometimes from several storeys above.

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Stealing our Songkran?

It can't walk and chew gum, but Singapore thinks it can just waltz in and pinch Thailand's famous water festival.

This Songkran there is no need to come to Thailand. Singapore is holding it instead.

Singapore has announced a two-day event called Celebrate Songkran this coming April 12-13. It’s going to be a gala event with displays of muay Thai, authentic Thai handicrafts and some real-life Thai singers performing such as Film Rattapoom and Four-Mod.

Suit eyed for Singapore Songkran

A Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) executive said on Tuesday that she plans to consult other state agencies to see if legal action could be taken to protect Thailand’s cultural heritage in the wake of a Singaporean plan to hold a “Songkran” festival in the city-state next month.

TAT Deputy Governor for Tourism Products Vilaiwan Twichasri said she would hold talks with officials at the Department of Intellectual Property, Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Culture to study intellectual property provisions on the issue.

If the law allows, TAT could take legal steps to prevent member states of the Asean Economic Community from conducting and organising traditional cultural activities based on Thai arts and culture, such as Songkran and Loy Krathong festival.

Songkran - New year traditions

New Year celebration, Rot Nam Dam Hua, a traditional way to celebrate with elders. Most Thai people go back to their hometowns to meet their elders

Monks receiving blessing at a temple inBan Khung Taphao

New Year (Songkran) Celebrations in Pattaya (2013)

Some children having fun at the Bangkok Zoo during Songkran

Water throwing along the western moat of Chiang Mai, Thailand

The most obvious celebration of Songkran is the throwing of water upon others. Thais roam the streets with containers of water or water guns. In addition, many Thais will have small bowls of beige colored talc sold cheaply and mixed with water which is then smeared on the faces and bodies of random passersby as a blessing for the new year. Sometimes this talc is mixed with menthol. City officials close off many sections of the street thoroughfares for the festival disallowing all vehicular traffic save for ice trucks and fire engines which also partake in the watering festivities. These sections typically have makeshift gates manned by police who separate men and women in case of the need for a body search arises if it is suspected that prohibited items are brought into the main watering areas.

This protocol prevents the possession of weapons, drug paraphernalia, glass items, or other prohibited items specified by city. It is very common to have groups of Thais post themselves at the side of roads or corners of intersections with garden hoses or large new plastic trash cans filled with water (typically ice cold) that is used to drench sidewalkers and random vehicles (taxis, cars, motorcycles, tuk tuks) that come within watering range. Although rare, unruly or inebriated individuals are known to throw ice cubes at passersby, an activity frowned upon by all.

This sort of festivity, however, was not always the main activity of this festival. Songkran is traditionally a time to visit and pay respects to elders, including family members, friends, neighbors, and monks. The songkran festival is counted as a new life festivity in which many around the world take part in, but mostly focused in the country of Thailand.

Besides the throwing of water, people celebrating Songkran as a Buddhist festival may also go to a wat (Buddhist monastery) to pray and give food to monks. They may also cleanse Buddha images from household shrines as well as Buddha images at monasteries by gently pouring water mixed with a Thai fragrance (Thai: น้ำอบไทย) over them. It is believed that doing this will bring good luck and prosperity for the New Year. In many cities, such as Chiang Mai, the Buddha images from all of the city's important monasteries are paraded through the streets so that people can toss water at them, ritually 'bathing' the images, as they pass by on ornately decorated floats. In northern Thailand, people may carry handfuls of sand to their neighborhood monastery in order to recompense the dirt that they have carried away on their feet during the rest of the year. The sand is then sculpted into stupa-shaped piles and decorated with colorful flags.

Some people make New Year resolutions - to refrain from bad behavior, or to do good things. Songkran is a time for cleaning and renewal. Besides washing household Buddha images, many Thais also take this opportunity to give their home a thorough cleaning.sed in the country of Thailand.

The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people, by capturing the water after it had been poured over the Buddhas for cleansing and then using this "blessed" water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulder. Among young people the holiday evolved to include dousing strangers with water to relieve the heat, since April is the hottest month in Thailand (temperatures can rise to over 100°F or 40°C on some days). This has further evolved into water fights and splashing water over people riding in vehicles.

Nowadays, the emphasis is on fun and water-throwing rather than on the festival's spiritual and religious aspects, which sometimes prompts complaints from traditionalists. In recent years there have been calls to moderate the festival to lessen the many alcohol-related road accidents as well as injuries attributed to extreme behavior such as water being thrown in the faces of travelling motorcyclists.

The water is meant as a symbol of washing all of the bad away and is sometimes filled with fragrant herbs when celebrated in the traditional manner.

Songkran is also celebrated in many places with a pageant in which young women demonstrate their beauty and unique talents, as judged by the audience. The level of financial support usually determines the winner, since, to show your support you must purchase necklaces which you place on your chosen girl.

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