Chinese New Year 2015 fell on 19 February, at which point I was still living and training in a Muay Thai gym in Bangkok. Me and my friend Hannah decided to take a day off from training and headed to Chinatown to watch the festivities. We expected parties and parades with dragons and fireworks. We couldn’t have been more wrong.
The day started out promising enough. There was a great festive atmosphere and we spent the morning wandering through Chinatown’s maze of alleyways, tiny streets and little covered markets. The markets sell everything from jewellery and clothing to various unidentified animal parts and were often so narrow that we had to squeeze past each other in single file.
Finally we made it to the main street where we assumed the party would be happening later in the day. It certainly looked as though it was going to be an impressive parade – there were barriers down both sides of the road and the street was full of police ushering people this way and that. After an hour or so of wandering we decided to get ourselves a prime position at the front of the barriers lining the road. And we started to wait.
The police were really getting vigilant now. Nobody in the crowd was allowed to wear sunglasses and we were all instructed to put our cameras away. Still nothing happened. After about 20 minutes of waiting, all of the police officers turned to salute as a convoy of cars drove down the road and pulled into a little side street. The Thais started cheering and the crowd seemed to be getting increasingly excited. Still me and Hannah had no idea what was going on. Another 10 minutes later and the cars drove off. Nobody had gotten in or out of them. Much of the crowd started to disperse at this point. Perhaps they were tourists who, like us, had no idea what was going on and decided not to waste anymore of their day. A wise decision! Me and Hannah on the other hand decided to stick around. A not so wise decision!
After a while of standing in a crowd in the searing hot Asian sun I started to get a bit irritated with anything and everything around me. The crowd was getting bigger, I had people pressed against my back, hands reaching around me on all sides to grab on to the barrier and absolutely no room to move. And just when I thought I had sacrificed pretty much all of my personal space I felt a movement down by the bottom of my legs. I looked down to find an elderly Thai lady with no shoes on crouched in between me and the person next to me (and believe me there was not much space) holding on to the railings for dear life.
I was no longer coping well with the situation but still we waited some more. Over an hour in I felt a tapping on my shoulder and turned around to see an elderly lady looking back at me. She seemed to take a keen interest in speaking to me, starting asking where I was from, what I was doing in Thailand and trying to teach me bits of Thai and Mandarin. It was her that informed us that we were actually waiting to see the princess. The royal family is very well-respected in Thailand so no wonder people had turned out in droves to see her. We’d now been waiting over 90 minutes and were hungry, dehydrated and in rapidly deteriorating moods. I decided to let the elderly lady take my space at the front of the barrier at which point she immediately stopped showing any interest in talking to me anymore.
The final straw
More time passes. Hannah made the executive decision to get supplies and went off in search of food. I stood there waiting for her for another 20/25 minutes being slowly squeezed into an even smaller space. The elderly Thai lady was now stood on my foot and using her right leg to push me further and further out of the way. Thankfully, Hannah returned with two cans of Chang beer and a couple of very tasty barbequed beef skewers. My mood immediately improved. However, the next time I looked around I saw Hannah frantically searching her pockets and bag to try and find her phone. She had left her phone in her pocket and as she had been walking back through the crowd somebody had pickpocketed it. We decided to retrace her footsteps to see if we could find it.
So, after more than 2 hours of waiting, I gave up my precious and heavily fought for spot near the barrier and we started to push our way back through the crowd. We didn’t get very far before we reached a standstill – the police had now blocked the pavement off. Despite the fact that there was nowhere to go people continued to try and push past us and I once again found myself being squeezed into an ever decreasing space. I was now thoroughly miserable. There was nothing else for it but to crack open the Chang, amidst many a jealous look from the surrounding Chang-less people we were sharing our small space with. Another 30 minutes of waiting later and we managed to find a way out. We were free!!! Total wait time = 2 and a half hours. Total parades seen = zero. We decided to drown our sorrows with some Pad Thai and more Chang (of course).
We’d just finished eating when suddenly there was a big commotion and a lot of cheering and shouting. This must be the procession! We looked up to see perhaps 5 or 6 buses full of people drive past. Nothing else – no dragons; no parade. A man stood next to me pointed to one of the buses and told me that the Thai Prime Minister and the Cabinet were in it. The front bus had the Princess in it but we had been too slow and missed it. So after all that waiting we didn’t even manage to get a single glimpse of the princess. Within seconds of the buses passing, at absolute lightning speed, the barriers were cleared away and the street vendors started setting up their stalls. And so that was that. After two hours of waiting, a lost phone and numerous violations of personal space there was no parade, no dragons, no parties and we didn’t even get to see the princess. There was nothing else for it but to head back to the gym. And I guess that’s karma for skipping training.