It is always a scary moment – when you go into Central or some other emporium and Rudolf the Led Nose Leindeer comes on over the loudspeaker. And despite 35 degree heat outside everyone is invited to walk through this ‘winter wonderland’.
When you know that Christmas in Thailand is once again being thrust upon us.
Years ago before there was such a thing as a shopping mall in Bangkok you could completely avoid the so called festive season. Thais barely knew the term Melly Clitamart and the whole thing could be joyously sidestepped or completely ignored.
No one bothered you with revolting mulled wine, mince pies actually had meat in and the icing on the cake was that all the shops were open and the buses were running as normal. No ice, no sludge, no Wizard of Oz, no Christmas message. No one had a day off or even imagined December 25th had any significance whatsoever. Bliss.
For me that was the case in my first ten years of residence in the kingdom – until the children came along that is. Then the guilt trip started setting in:
Didn’t I always love the magic of Christmas as a child? Wouldn’t I be denying my “luuk khreung” children a basic human right by pretending it didn’t exist?
Reluctantly I had to admit that the answer to both questions was “yes” – now to come up with a strategy to make the pain of Christmas as slight and as fleeting as possible.
In the early 1990s I set about my BHS – “Bah Humbug Strategy”.
Key was deciding which attributes of Christmas to adopt in the tropics and which ones to reject outright.
Parties, mixing with others, socializing – rejected.
Having a nice Christmas day lunch – accepted. Turkey if you could get it was too expensive – Chicken was fine and tastier anyway.
Being a devout atheist there was no need for any religious nonsense to spoil the material nature of the occasion, otherwise known in my childhood home as the true meaning of Christmas.
So naturally presents for the kids was in. But seeing as there was no competition with other children and they would only get them from dad anyway, there seemed no need to be extravagant. Just wrap up their normal sweets and throw in a plastic toy or two.
Job done – this Asian Christmas lark was beginning to look like a piece of cake – without the cake of course, that would be well OTT.
With a bit of luck, given that the children got up about six am, it could all be over by about 8am and we could then head down to the pool for a normal kind of day while mum grappled with the intricacies of adding boiled water to Bisto and Paxo stuffing granules.
Then, suddenly, I came over in a cold sweat. What about a Christmas tree? What if the ghost of Bob Marley or whoever it was visited and decided I was some kind of latter day Scrooge who needed punishment for his meanness?
Reluctantly, again, I decided it was time to head off to Imperial World, Samrong to see if I could get a tacky tree that would satisfy the kids and relieve those symptoms of guilt.
I had heard that there were such things as plastic Xmas trees and armed with the image that these could be recycled every year like decorations from my youth I set off in search of one.
At the department store, the only one in the Bang Na area at the time, there were three; I felt rather like Goldilocks as I decided which one to choose. The little one seemed a little too little. The big one too big, not to mention exorbitantly priced at about two hours of English teaching.
So the middle one it had to be. Now my Thai language ability was already quite good so I expected no problems from the sales assistant who I eventually located and beckoned over with a culturally acceptable hand gesture.
Soon I would be the proud owner of a middle sized plastic tree and it would last half a century at least. Easily 2045 before I had to fork out for a new one.
I explained my needs for a middle sized “ton clitamat” to the sales assistant who smiled benignly somewhat in the manner of Santa’s elf. He said nothing.
A little perplexed that my Thai tones might have been a way off I repeated my request slowly and assuredly, and added a festive smile to put him at his ease.
Again he said nothing. Again he did nothing. But worse was to come – he broke out into peals of high pitched laughter.
OK – one more try, still in Thai of course: “Look, I need one of these ton clitamats to go, pretty please na khrap…”
This time he gave me a startled glance then turned on his heels and ran off leaving me high and dry and very tree-less.
But not for long. He soon returned, this time with his supervisor in tow.
“Oh, sawatdee khrap, “ I said, still persevering with the vernacular and now addressing the supervisor. “Em, your guy here was serving me then he..er…just ran off. All I wanted was a medium sized ton clitamat.”
“That’s quite alright”, she said. “He just didn’t understand what you wanted and was embarrassed”.
“It must be my bad Thai,” I offered, “but you understand me, right?”
“Of course,” she said “and you speak Thai so clearly. The thing is, he is only here for the Christmas season on work experience from a special local school while we are short staffed.
“Oh……and he’s stone deaf”.