FS5: The importance of culture

The weekend starts off like this. There is a heighten mood of anticipation for what there is to come, despite the sleepiness (to me) of the village. Announcements are made through the loudspeaker early ish in the morning, the sound muffled and vibrating throughout the thick, dusty airwaves. The party doesn’t start till about 3, then someone changes the time in the afternoon and says it’s at about 230. We are anxious and don’t want to miss it, it’s a once in a life time opportunity, so we hang around but we can’t sit still.

We’re don’t understand much, if anything, about this festival. It’s a confusing beginning. A pick-up truck is in the front and it inches slowly on the half paved half mud road. On the back there is a huge rocket, about 2m in height, colourful and bright. Pink, I think. Our truck, carrying a tree like structure with notes stuck unto its ‘trunk’ like a tree goes behind this truck. I think it’s going at about 3km/hour tops, it rolls and jerks to multiple stops. We walk much faster than it. My buddy tells us this festival is dangerous, and I can’t understand why. It’s only much later, perhaps the next day, which I understand. It’s the language, it’s because people are drunk (even in the heat of the day, and it’s early afternoon – they have been drinking since before noon).

The music is deafening, it’s a live band on to of a huge music truck; it’s perhaps two and a half stories high. I am amazed at how the players aren’t tired, the singer especially, it seems like she is singing non-stop. But I think that they do take shifts; there is another male? They blast the music. Someone asks for a translation of the songs and it’s actually quite hilarious.

They sing about adultery: having a crush on your neighbour’s wife. They have a song which literally goes ‘vagina, vagina, vagina’. But also pop music, and a song which goes ‘ah biang, ah biang, ah biang biang biang biang biang’, supposedly imitating the sound of thunder. It’s all just really bizarre to me. (Tomorrow, we’ll ask our hosts what they think about the lady boys we saw during the parade and the festival. The lady boys were dancing raucously and erotically, wearing hot shorts, lots of make-up. Some actually were pretty good dancers. This ‘sex’ culture is very different from where I am from: there is not so much erotic dancing; we do these sorts of things in the cover of dark like in clubs and at night, there is a greater focus on touching, rather than showing off good dance moves. Anyway, I found it quite, surprisingly that they didn’t approve of these lady boys. I can understand if the Thai people are conservative and don’t approve of transgenders, but hello, this is a festival which talks about sex so openly, everyone participates in drinking and everything, the lady boys are not the only ones who dance raucously; I’m actually more uncomfortable with the old drunken men who try to pick up girls. The lady boys are in their own little circle and don’t disturb others. But I suppose they feel that these lady boys are a disturbance to the equilibrium: the festivals were not celebrated like that before and including them in would ‘take away the meaning of the festival’? Just my speculation).

I think about other things as well: the importance of culture and why should we keep it? There have been articles written about how we need to understand the root of the festival/the culture and meaning behind it; in understanding these things, we won’t feel like it’s such a despicable thing, we can enjoy it and appreciate it.

But I think that while there may be meanings to doing these things (there might be logic, the reason may be flawed – I really must come up with a better word for these two nuances), it doesn’t mean that it is correct (it’s like I can understand WHY a poor man steals but it doesn’t make it ‘morally right’). it’s nice to have culture, and I think it’s dangerous to excuse our wrong doings just because it was always done and it’s ‘heritage’/tradition etc. thinking about Paul and his letters to the different groups of churches: he tells them to set themselves apart from all the pageantry but they find it difficult to because it is ingrained so deeply into them, their lives, their socialities, families etc. basically, I question how ‘right’ this festival is and what should be done to improve it (if we should).