The Southeast Asian New Year (more specifically the traditional new year of Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos) is in mid-April, based on the lunar calendar. Its origins are rooted in Hindu traditions, but nowadays, the holiday is deeply woven in with Theravada Buddhist rituals. (Also, nowadays, a lot of hardcore partying occurs during this festival. Alcohol, drugs and all that jazz, especially in cities.)
Earlier this year, I went with Alvin to the Songkran festivities in LA’s Thai Town, taking the 302 Metro line to the event. There were a lot of food stands, a lot of craft stands, and a lot of ‘traditional’ activities as well.
This Burmese commercial, for another festival, depicts the practice of veneration, minus the commercial content.
One of the major merit-making activities to perform during the New Year is to venerate the Buddha and to venerate one’s elder family members. The Burmese venerate their parents and grandparents by kneeling on the floor and bowing thrice, much in the same way they do to the Buddha. I suppose it reinforces a rigid social hierarchy much in the same way vassal states “venerated” the central power in pre-colonial times.
I bathed a Buddha statue at one of the stands, for myself and for my parents~ There were also several Thai temples who set up stands, with monks chanting nonstop.
There were some traditional crafts on display there as well. A woman at one of the stands was stringing together flower garlands called malai. The only reason I even remember this word is because the Burmese equivalent is almost identical, as both words have etymological origins in Pali, an Indian language. I picked up pretty desk calendars from the Thai Tourism booth as well. Singha Beer also passed out cute headgear.
An overwhelming number of the food stands were selling the same exact items: satay, papaya salad and pad thai (and more unusually, orange chicken). The preexisting Thai restaurants nearby offered a superior and perhaps more “authentic” selection. The items were a overpriced too. DISLIKE.
We got chicken and pork satay kabobs, as well as a Thai sausage on a stick. I personally thought the meat was too dry. And no complementary peanut sauce.
Another favorite: payaya salad. From the way they were making it, it looked to be made in the Isaan (Northern Thai) style. I didn’t like how monstrous the cabbage slices were. But it was sufficiently spicy and tasty. We also shared a grilled banana sticky rice dessert. It looks sort of like Chinese zongzi (粽子) or a miniature version of Vietnamese banh chung (side note: Nicole, I will never forget those blissful moments I engorged myself on the banh chung you brought back to the dorms), but the sticky rice is much finer (almost pureed), and the inner filling is sweet.
Disappointed in the food stands and the long lines, we decided to eat a complete meal at Sapp’s Coffee Shop, a pretty well-known landmark also on Hollywood Blvd.
P.S. Thanks for the photos, AC.
Thai Town Songkran Festival
Thai Town, Los Angeles, CA