One of the great things about Christmas in Thailand is that it can still be completely ignored. Whereas avoiding Songkran requires adopting a strategy of pincer movements like a military operation, giving Yuletide a wide berth just means barking a few orders for shopping to the missus and firing off a few salvos of mock good cheer should the neighbors think you give a damn.
Going out into the shopping malls can be a different kettle of pla of course, though, armed with a Tottenham Hotspur bobble hat to ward off the arctic temperatures of +32 degrees C and a few earplugs stuffed in to counter the pain of Frosty the Snowman and Winter Wonderland blaring incessantly in the malls, one is invariable safe.
At least there is not the slightest pretense to treat Christmas in the tropics as anything more than consumerism with a capital C. Which is great news meaning that Ebenezer Rooster does not have to pretend to be out because carolers are the last people who will be coming round. If anyone does mention God or, heaven forbid, Jesus on Facebook they can always be unfriended.
By which point readers are probably thinking that life at Rooster Central makes paint drying look like a enjoyable holiday activity or a visit to Guantanamo Bay great family fun. Not a bit of it! I only said that Christmas CAN be ignored, not that I necessarily do.
No ghosts of Christmas past will be visiting this switched on cookie and Mrs Rooster has never complained of being treated like Mr Scratch-it as she calls him.
For Rooster growing up in a semi-detached in the suburbs of outer London in the 60s and 70s, Christmas was always memorable. With six mostly older siblings and lots of relatives my younger brother and me were showered with presents and sweets. If you could survive the “smog” of the living room smoke on Christmas morning you might even live to play and eat them.
Christmas began in earnest about two weeks before the big day with the publication of the TV Times and The Radio Times that gave the TV listings on the three channels available. With careful planning it was possible to watch TV happily from dawn to dusk.
The adults only spoiled things temporarily with ghastly intrusions like “The Morecambe and Wise Show” or that Windsor woman burbling on about family values and the Commonwealth at 3pm on the big day. At least it was only 15 minutes before the Wizard of Oz or Ben Hur broke the monotony.
There was no need for any religion in our house. None of us saw the need to be anything but devout atheists long before it became fashionable to do so; when Christmas Songs of Praise came on we could always do some Spirograph or throw a few mince pies in the direction of the television vicar.
My father, who had few days off from the French bank that was his daily life, usually spent Christmas in outside as he was a very keen gardener. One year he was cutting branches at the end of our long garden on the big day and when my mother repeatedly called him for lunch and he failed to come and carve the turkey a search party was reluctantly gathered.
He was found with a broken leg in the slushy snow. Mother said, with a wry smile, that we were all awful for fighting over his portion of sprouts and Christmas pud after the ambulance had seen him off to Farnborough General.
We always drank something I believe is still called Pale Ale, liberally diluted with home made orange squash for us little ones. (Little did the adults know that my brother and I had raided the drinks cabinet before they even got up).
We pulled crackers and I pretended to understand the saucy jokes that came out of them while tolerating the itchiness of the paper hats we all thought were so important to wear round the table.
Christmas was about being happy at all costs.
We had a system of stocking presents, big presents and tree presents. The stockings were filled by Santa and I swear I saw him once out of my upstairs window. This put off any notion that he was not real until I was in my teens. Anyway who cared if he was real or not – so long as the presents rolled in.
Big presents were those that cost at least a pound given by my parents, working siblings (who expected me and my brother to be holiday slaves in return) and assorted relatives across the Home Counties. Tree presents adorned the massive and real fir tree that was always a gift from the school we attended because my mum was a much respected and hard-working chairwoman of the PTA.
Boxing day continued with left-overs and more sweets and presents. In later years as new interests kicked in it became the day to go and see Spurs or enjoy all the race meetings. But when I left England at age 20 and headed East that was the end of Christmas as I had known it.
The only time I have been there for Christmas since was in 2011 and that was memorable for two reasons – the sheer misery of the occasion and the sheer elation at Kempton Park for the fifth victory in the King George of the legendary Kauto Star.
Despite Kauto Star I vowed never to leave Thailand again at Christmas.
Of course, having not one but two families of children to bring up over the years it would have been churlish if not downright unpleasant to deny my own kids some of the pleasures of Xmas just because I had developed Bah-Humbugitis over the years.
But thankfully it could all be accomplished at a take-it-or-leave-it pace and with the blessing and lack of pushiness of my Thai spouses who were happy to leave most arrangements to me.
With the first wife one always knew it was Christmas around the 24th of December when she had located my secret stash of Bailey’s. Drunk, she would put on a rumpled give-away red and white hat that had been in the family for generations and start intoning the tune to “Ginger Ben” or its cousin “Ginger Ben Lock”.
Any visitors to the house were plied with booze and food whether they wanted it or not as greetings of “Melly Clitamat” rang out.
The first wife – Phee Toy who was twelve years of Christmas my senior – was always appreciative that A) I bought the children presents and B) made a token effort to put the Scrabble board away and be a bit more sociable to friends and neighbors. And I appreciated it that by about 6pm on the 25th Christmas was thankfully over for another year.
After a hiatus of a few years Christmas Day is back being a permanent fixture in the Rooster household. The needs of two and five year old daughters has seen to that. Just like when I was a kid their stockings (okay, long football socks) will overflow with gifts and the trees (yes we have two, one each) will be surrounded by “big presents”. But there the similarity will end. Both will be off to pre-school and kindergarten for the final day of the Thai school year on Tuesday.
We shall cook for neighbors, friends and family later in the day before preparing for a nice trip to the beach for a few days come Boxing Day. When everyone shall expect Daddy to revert to his usual selfish self and plonk himself in front of the hotel TV for matches from the English Premier League.
Christmas successfully negotiated for another year.
The lead-up to the festive week on Thaivisa gave us the usual run of stories from happy to sad, sublime to ridiculous with a smattering of the patently absurd sprinkled on like Christmas glitter.
Leading the way was undisputed “Man of the Year” Lt-Gen Surachate “Big Joke” Hakparn. Mind you his status as Rooster’s “MOTY” is hardly a great accolade when you consider that Barking Prayut, Prawit the Wally Watchman and tourism minister Wearysak The AWOL were his main competition in 2018.
This week BJ outdid himself by claiming to anyone that would listen that there were now zero foreigners on overstay. He did this while in the same breath telling up he had rounded up another 500 Light Fingered Lagosians. A Phuket news outlet referenced his interview with the Bangkok Post in which the reporter failed to ask any interesting questions. Though perhaps it really was handed all on a press release – BJ is a busy man-of-vinyl after all.
Consequently we were just fed the usual platitudes and the British and assorted pensioners got no answers as to whether they are really welcome in Thailand anymore. The reporter had tried to extract comments that BJ’s crackdowns were racist in nature. For this the newshound had quoted a couple of unnamed and outraged “expats”. What utter drivel.
There was no pretense at getting a scoop and BJ was allowed to get away with saying absolutely nothing and leave the premises, if indeed he was ever on the premises to begin with.
I know I am employed by Thaivisa and as such my opinion might be suspect, but in my view the clientele of Thaivisa get a much better news service – and certainly much more varied and interesting items – from us compared to the Bangkok Post. Alan Dawson has his moments but bangs on and on about the political situation and Taksin while Andrew Biggs writes well and makes some pertinent comments….for those surgically attached to slippers and a pipe.
(Note to self: cut and copy above and send to TV boss in support of New Year salary raise……….)
One story that rumbled through most of the early part of the week was that of the death of a 30-something British man who The Sun said had died near a red light district in Bangkok with the hotel safe open. Seeing as everywhere in Bangkok is next to a red light district and his being British would suggest he had no worthless Brexit pounds to put in a safe, I surmised the truth must have been closer to what emerged next day.
To wit, he just died from alcohol poisoning and was abandoned by his mates who wanted to Carry On Drinking. It was the only scenario that seemed to fit the facts despite the nonsensical burblings of Thaivisa conspiracy theorists and assorted Thai bashers who wouldn’t accept the truth if it were thumped into them by an RTP truncheon.
“Brit Drinks Himself to Death” seemed the sad yet inevitable conclusion to the erstwhile “mystery”…..
Not that the RTP are renowned for their excellence when it comes to investigation. I really enjoyed the video of “top brass” in Chonburi poring (or should that be pawing) over a car believed to have been used by a gold shop robber. The scene of crime officers had rubber gloves on but at one point in the video the chief plants his fingerprints all over a rear door.
So much for leading from the front but then, who cares about evidence when you’ll get a confession at the reenactment soon enough.
The Thai cops also admitted this week that plans to introduce “Smart Driving Licences” on apps negating the need to carry round hard copies, were not to their liking. The head of a committee tasked with making changes to traffic rules suggested this aspect of Thailand 4.0 might be a bridge too far and encourage criminal elements.
This was “RTP Speak” for “how on Buddha’s earth are we going to be able to maintain our revenue stream for the Policeman’s Ball if we can’t take in licences for a week”.
If this wasn’t funny enough several other stories pointed to the buffoonery of the BiB as they attempted to put on a straight face and address the inevitable carnage of the upcoming festival of “Seven Deadly Days of New Year”.
Putting aside the notion that the Seven Deadly Days are just the same as any on Thai roads, just a bit busier with less U-turns, we were told that this year Brands Essence of Chicken would be replaced as the panacea to end road accidents with…..wait for it…..Nescafe.
Yes, 100,000 cans of coffee will be distributed to motorists so they have a better chance of staying awake all the way to the morgue.
Meanwhile, Dr Thaejing of the Don’t Drive Drunk Foundation was all over the news this week suggesting that designated drivers at state and private New Year functions should wear his stickers turning down booze. The public were urged to download the stickers if they could print them off and could even phone the good doctor for extra supplies.
He stated that 300 people would die in accidents this year from December 27th to January 2nd. Methinks he was being a tad optimistic that his stickers might make a blind bit of difference. If he had got the 300 figure from a “mor duu” he should sack the fortune teller and send him to an inactive and alcohol-free post.
Top ratings on the Xmas titter-o-meter were reserved for the PR show of force at Icon Siam on Tuesday when 1,500 officers and their masters joined a huge “let’s inspire confidence in tourists” bash.
Up on stage was Big Joke flanked by the even funnier head of the tourist police and a BMA misery guts who looked like the Grinch that Stole Christmas. Resembling a lemon that had not been squeezed was Minister for Tourism and Sports Khun Wearysak who spouted his usual interminable platitudes and smiled his best Harvard grimace.
BJ looked a bit embarrassed to be in such company especially as he was later pictured tugging his forelock with the man he clearly hopes to replace in the not too distant future. No, not Prayut or Prawit but none other that RTP chief General Chakthip Chaijinda.
Also on stage, along with Santa’s dolly birds, was something that caught Rooster’s beady eye – a wide-eyed puppet dressed as a smiling cop. This was a manikin used in the infrequently seen drama “Hun Lakorn Lek” or figure controlled by three black-clad puppeteers.
All that was missing from the hilarious scene was the suggestion that the puppet was BJ and that the puppeteers were the politicians.
Thursday continued with another senior policeman who clearly needs to go back to the RTP range as he is only able to shoot himself in the foot. This one was Region 1 chief General Amphon Buarapporn who Sanook quoted as saying that he had never heard of a case of a Thai ripping off a Thai.
As the translator of the story I was tempted to just ignore the comment on the lines of the commander having clearly lost the last of his marbles. But in the end when he reiterated that in his experience it was always foreigners doing the scamming of his country folk I thought…in for a penny in for a baht.
The story actually concerned a blackmailing internet scammer preying on widows and wealthy former civil servants looking for love. But the forum treated it as much as manna from heaven as a pre-Christmas gift. Unrestrained, and deserved, bashing reigned though I doubt Amphon will lose any sleep over his comments – he probably has no idea what he is saying after too long on the eggnog.
Top accident of the week was the tragedy that befell two 75 year old pensioners who emerged from a Toyota showroom and promptly slammed straight into the central barrier. Gran in the passenger seat died while granddad will forever regret the moment when he mistook the Yaris’s accelerator for the brake.
As the year draws to a close we are reminded that another 12 months has passed with nothing whatsoever done to improve the Thai roads. A case in point were not just the myriad accident stories this week but that of the tour bus driver who had his son on his lap while transporting a busload of people. He was fined 5,000 baht and banned for a month.
Multiply both by a power of ten and you might get closer to what the real penalties ought to be.
But as if the national disgrace of the roads were not enough, terrible goings on into the probe of a young girl’s alleged gang rape in Saraburi hit the news. And Paveena Hongsakul indicated that rape reports to her organization were up 21% year on year with many rapists being close family members of the victims.
A pertinent reminder that at a time when many think about “goodwill to all men” we might spare a thought about the children this festive season. I certainly will be doing just that.