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泼水节 – Or, how I got wet in Tengchong, Yunnan

1 May

Happy May Day!  China, like most other countries, excluding the US celebrates International Labor Day on May 1st, so today is a public holiday here.  Instead of talking about Labor Day though, I thought I would talk about another celebration, one that I experienced on my recent trip to Tengchong, Yunnan in the middle of April.

When I went to Tengchong,  I went one day later than my colleagues as I had some things that I needed to finish up.   One of the things I have learned in the last four years is that when you are in management you have much more flexibility than you may initially think.  I simply told the coordinator that I would come a day later and pay the difference in plane tickets and he arranged it all, didn’t even ask any questions.  Understanding that cultural difference has made my life easier as of late.

When I landed at the airport a very nice driver was sent to pick me up.  I originally was worried that I wouldn’t be able to recognize him, but he recognized me right away – as the only foreigner in the airport.  We got into his car and took off towards the scenic spot where I was supposed to meet up with my tour group.

He started asking me if I wanted to see any of the other sights in Tengchong which I declined as my flight was already over an hour late and I was ready to meet up with my team.  He initially said ok and then talked my ear off for the next 45 minutes.  It appears that I was the second foreigner he had ever been sent to pick up and the first one that he could talk to.  The other gentleman was either African or African American and had some serious communication problems (and stomach problems) according to the driver.  He started asking me about politics, about my life in Shanghai and I couldn’t help be in a good mood with his honest exuberance in the car.

We started to drive by a square with a large gold statue of a woman and the driver pulled over.  There were people all over the square and they had small florescent pails of water.  It appeared they were running around trying to get each other wet.  I asked the driver what was going on and he said it was a “po shui jie 泼水节” or water festival.  That day was the first day and it was a three day festival.  The purpose of the festival is to get others wet and if you get wet you shouldn’t be sick for the rest of the year.  He proposed we drive through the plaza and take a look.  At that point, I agreed – so we slowly drove forward – windows open to see the festival up close.

At first it was fun to be an observer – I snapped photos and saw lots of folks getting wet.  Then, almost before I knew it, a group of young men started running towards the car and threw a whole bucket of water at the window.  I and my camera both got wet as the driver quickly rolled up the window.  There was nothing I could do, but laugh – so as I laughed and tried to dry off my camera I gave it to the driver and asked him to snap a photo of me.

At least I shouldn’t be sick this year!

Enjoy the photos and let me know if you’ve ever celebrated (or participated in) a festival that is not your own.

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