'Oceans of diversity': Crowds flock to second annual Thai New Year Water Festival at Carroll Creek

·4 min read

Aug. 30—Downtown Frederick seemed especially sleepy Sunday afternoon. People wandered lazily down Market Street beneath a blanket of thick white clouds, clutching coffee cups and tugging dogs past the open doors of restaurants.

Then, just before noon, a small parade erupted along Carroll Creek.

Propelled forward by music blaring from a portable speaker, about a dozen people dressed in traditional Thai clothing danced joyfully down the red brick path, their laughter mingling with the pounding sound of drumbeats and the crackling of beef kabobs roasting on a nearby grill. A trio of serious-faced little boys helped keep the rhythm on kraps, or clappers made from wooden sticks bound together.

Four months after it is traditionally celebrated in Thailand, Songkran — a festival that rings in the Thai New Year — drew crowds of people to Carroll Creek Amphitheater Sunday afternoon for a day of music, dancing, food and fun. Lines wound around white tents set up along the creek, where vendors sold smoothies, bubble tea, lo mein, fried rice and Thai ice cream.

Manasvi Srisodapol, Thailand's ambassador to the U.S., roamed the area, chatting with Frederick residents who had come out to the event.

"In Thailand, we hold our festivals in April, the hottest month of the year, as an occasion to rejoice and enjoy before the hard work begins," he explained. "As you wind down your hot summer month, we are pleased to bring some Thai treats and performances for you to enjoy as part of our cultural diplomacy."

Songkran first came to Frederick in 2019, after local restaurant owner Jib Phakam suggested bringing the festival to the city. Phakam, who runs Summitra Thai Cuisine and Lazy Fish, said he wanted to give back to the community and share the culture of his native country with its residents.

Although last year's festival was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Phakam hopes it becomes an annual tradition in Frederick. This year's festivities were made possible by the support of the Asian American Center of Frederick, the Downtown Frederick Partnership, Wat Thai Washington, D.C. — a Buddhist temple in Silver Spring — and the Royal Thai Embassy, Phakam said.

"I hope everyone enjoys our festival," he said, smiling as he added, "and be prepared to get wet."

Water plays a major role in the Thai holiday. When it is celebrated in Thailand, people tote buckets and squirt guns to rowdy street parties, where they splash each other in giant water fights.

To bring this aspect of the festival to Frederick, Phakam sloshed water from a plastic bottle onto the shirt of one of the performers, Chuaychai Thiamsomboon, during the opening ceremony. He also sprinkled Frederick Mayor Michael O'Connor, Frederick County Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer and other officials attending the festival as they danced around the amphitheater in a miniature parade.

Later, four monks sat in a row on the stage and offered a blessing to the festival and those in the audience.

To further the Asian American Center's vaccination efforts, the Sunday festival also featured a tent where Frederick Health Hospital staff members offered shots to attendees. Angela Spencer, coordinator for the center's vaccination program, wandered throughout the crowd with a big red sign, encouraging people to get vaccinated if they hadn't already.

"I'm a walking billboard today," she said.

Her efforts seemed to be working — since she started her position with the Asian American Center in June, she estimates the organization has helped give some 1,500 vaccinations. She immediately perked up when she saw someone pointing at her sign.

"Yeah, you can get vaccinated!" she called after them. "And it's free! It's free, it's free!"

Elizabeth Chung, executive director of the Asian American Center, glowed with excitement over the success of Sunday's festival. Helping bring Songkran back to Frederick furthered the center's mission of providing cultural enrichment to the community, she said. The city is growing, she added, and it's important that residents accept and appreciate each other's differences.

She beamed as she noted how many different races and cultural backgrounds were represented in the sprawling audience packing the amphitheater.

"Look around at the oceans of diversity," she said, gesturing at the crowd. "Look at that."

Follow Angela Roberts on Twitter: @24_angier

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