Out with the Rinse
Feeling jinxed? Had a run of bad luck lately? You must make your way to the laidback southern China city of Jinghong. There they have an excellent cure for misfortune—a bucket of water in the face. Apparently, there is nothing like a good drenching to wash away the blues and this city of black and white pagodas and yellow robed Buddhist monks becomes a frenzy of water dunking every April as the locals grab buckets, basins, and bottles and soundly soak whoever crosses their path. From a distance, the city’s streets and square take on the appearance of an anarchic fountain with white arcs of water stretching across the air before descending into peals of screams and laughter. Everybody is fair game, so don’t go expecting to avoid a soaking. There are no wet blankets at this shower party. The good thing is you can retaliate by grabbing the nearest receptacle and throwing back.
Traditionally, friends and neighbors sprinkled each other with drops of water to wish them luck for the New Year: The 3-day festival takes place during the local Dai people’s New Year party. Then somebody realized it was much more fun to saturate and be saturated in turn. Girls huddle and scream as youths attack them with water. Even the monks join in and jump in the river or nearest fountain. Buddha himself gets wet during a ceremonial bathing in the Mekong river. While all this happens, homemade bamboo rockets scream into the air and tiny, magical hot-air balloons float through the sky before being consumed in their own flames. Candle rafts float away down the river and small bean bags known as love pouches are thrown at whomever you fancy; catch one of those in the face and you know you have an admirer.
There is lots to admire about the province of Yunnan itself. Scenic valleys and fertile hills lead to lush paddy fields and tropical jungle. Here the people are more laidback than their northern cousins and the pace of life much less frenetic than Beijing or Shanghai. The people themselves are different, made up of several minorities, the most prominent of which are the Dai people. Their fun and relaxed attitude is more in line with their Thai, Laotian, and Burmese neighbors. The area has become a popular tourist destination with lots of trekking and biking possibilities in the surrounding area. Of course many come for the New Year’s celebrations which run from the 12th to the 18th of April. As well as the water party, an amazing dragon boat race takes place on the river with each craft holding 50 rowers, pilots, dancers, and drummers. An extravagant parade rolls through the town with colorful floats surrounded by traditional dancers. On the final night a massive fireworks display takes place on the riverbank opposite, distracting tired and wet revelers with an awesome display. —CO’M
When to go: Apr.
$$ New Tai Garden, 61 Minhang Rd., Jinghong, Yunnan 666100, China ( 86/691/216-5199). $$ Yunnan Aviation Sightseeing Hotel of Xishuangbanna, 6 Menglong Rd., Xishuangbanna, Jinghong 666100, China ( 86/691-214488).