The drums started early, distant but loud. Soon it seemed as though they were surrounding us with what sounded like a steady mantra chanted over loudspeaker and the sound of crackers, like paper tearing amplified a million times, something ominous was moving through Mae Sot. It felt like some Beatles "Tomorrow never knows" scene and so early in the morning, such confusing realities are difficult to awaken into. I knew that we had to go, Danielle had already left for beakfast, so I packed Abacus into her pram, confused that I wasn't ignoring her morning loud talking. We followed the sound of the drums, like the lost children of Hamlein. We could see the trail of smoke of where they had already been and soon we were amongst the prosession of booming drums and crashing symbols and the spark pierced smoke of firecrackers, whose noise tore holes through everything else. Men in faint olive coloured Chairman Mao style suits with blue medical masks led the yellow t-shirted youth through the town, some who played on mobile drums, some who led and carried a giant dragon, snaking through the streets, some pasting up new gold on red Chinese scripts on the threshold of the stores, some setting off the crackers which hung from the shop awnings, almost to the ground, while a short buddha with a large mask danced through the stores, chasing away the evil spirits within, using his red fan and a lion faced dragon sidekick. As they moved down the street, the police stopped all the traffic at an intersection, while the Buddha and his dragon danced at the crossroads, in a playful game of submission. All the time the drums kept a steady rhythm and the mantra spoke out from a flatbed truck and the crackers boomed and ripped themselves to shreds, as well as the air around them. And about this time I looked down at abacus and saw she was screaming, I hadn't realised how loud it was until I noticed i couldn't hear her at all. I ran to take refuge down a side street and waited for the prosession to pass us, like frightened evil spirits. As they moved on, we came back out, but the crackers weren't done yet and Abacus face once again burst into silent scream, so we retreated again. A nice old Chinese man came up and put some cotton wool in her ears and we left through the residual smoke, through the shopowners sweeping up the red scraps of cracker paper, back to the guest house, with a feeling that we'd experienced something truely ceremonial. The people embracing their costumes in distorted movements which abandoned their semblance to human form, the totality of the towns involvement, it reminded me of some medieval village and I knew instantly that Chinese New year was my favourite holiday, it felt like something had happened, that we were prepared for a new year.
Later, after Abacus was calm, we went to the cafe to chillax, she was almost asleep, but the parrade was far from over, it was now coming back from the opposite way it had been moving when we had fled. We hid inside the cafe, but the giant dragon rested outside its doors and then the Buddha and his smaller dragon came inside to rid the evil spirits, we hoped they didn't notice us, the cowering spectres in human form. And then they let off crackers outside the door. The thin glass was not enough to keep the sound from unsettling Abacus, who might never get used to the sound.