Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tis the Season

The holiday season has definitely come full force to Bangkok. It looks as though Christmas has exploded all over every available public space – the sky train is covered in tinsel and holiday cut outs, the metro blasts Christmas carols at all hours of the day, and there are enough Christmas lights to light up New York City.  To say nothing of the giant mall complexes, which far outstrip any holiday display I have seen in the states, where seven story tall Christmas trees are surrounded by a plaza full of larger than life decorations, ranging from giant snowmen to cups of instant noodles twice my height. If I thought Thailand would have a problem with shameless commercialism, the last month leading up the Christmas has dispelled any doubts. Despite being a mainly Buddhist country where the overwhelming majority of the population doesn’t even celebrate Christmas, holiday sales abound, at least half the Christmas decorations incorporate blatant sponsorship (to say nothing of the decorations completely devoid of any holiday spirit and simply coasting on the opportunity presented by all the Christmas cheer, i.e. giant cup of noodles mentioned above), and even the most minor shopping mall has a major section devoted to all that wonderful and useless Christmas crap people buy for ridiculous amounts of money to put out for one week every year- you know, $60 ornaments, $100 nutcrackers, that short of thing. Not that my family would actually know anything about that, seeing as my grandmother’s obsession with Christmas, which manifested itself in hundreds of holiday sweaters, enough Christmas bears to fill an entire stairwell (literally), and boxes and boxes of decorative knickknacks, completely turned my own mother away from such ridiculousness. We get the tree Christmas Eve, let all our young little Jewish friends decorate it, and get two days, max, before we chuck it out our window to the sidewalk below for the garbage man, remembering to look for passing pedestrians every three out of four years. It’s mostly picking out the tree that matters to us anyways, since we always try to find the tree no one else is going to love. We’ve had a tree with a total of four branches, another that didn’t come higher than my knees, and one that the ex-convicts who run the Christmas tree lot (the best part is they remember us every year… which I guess is a good thing as I’d be more worried about being on their “bad list” than Santa’s anyways) carved into a palm tree. However, I recognize that my family’s holiday traditions are just a tad bit unorthodox, and while I would expect other people in the States to swarm to these giant Christmas displays and ornament sales, it’s still a little shocking to see hundreds upon hundreds of Thais flocking to them. At night, trying to walk through the Central World plaza, one of the major shopping malls in Bangkok, one must maneuver through a sea of flashing cameras, attempting to avoid ruining someone’s picture, which is literally impossible as every single person is taking one. As I’ve said before, the stereotype of Asians with their cameras is dead on, but this is beyond ridiculous. People are dressed up in their number ones, girls with full hair and makeup, just to come and pose with some impossibly large Christmas decorations. Clearly, the most popular date option for the last few weeks has been taking your girlfriend to this plaza and telling her she looks like a super model all night while you take her picture. I might not speak Thai, but I could definitely tell all the boys were flattering the pants off (pun intended) the girls, and in some cases, lady boys.  I wasn’t really sure whether or not to giggle at or feel pity for the very burly looking (five o’clock shadow and all, although it was attempted to be covered up with about five pounds of foundation) lady boy I saw the other day hobbling along in his miniskirt and four inch heels, practically limping to get to the next decoration and pose for his picture. The only thing Bangkok seems to be missing in the way of holiday cheer is the mall Santa sitting child after child on his lap and asking what they want for Christmas. But seeing as most kids in Thailand don’t believe in Santa, and won’t be celebrating Christmas, let alone getting some presents under the tree, I can see why this isn’t included.

Perhaps the craziest thing about all these holiday decorations (and people, I keep referring to Christmas because as of yet, I haven’t seen a single menorah or dreidel, let alone a “Happy Hanukah”, in any of the displays) is that not only do Thai’s not celebrate Christmas, they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving either, so there isn’t that pre-determined date for the madness to start. For some reason, this means Thai’s start decorating in the beginning rather than the end of November, and this holiday hoopla goes on for a full two months before Christmas. Although I didn’t spend the holidays here in Thailand (instead of enjoying the beaches a few hours drive and a few hundred baht away, I flew for twelve hours and spent nearly two grand to go enjoy the beaches in New Zealand), I had to laugh when I heard jingle bells still ringing through the metro as I went to work one morning in early January. Christmas decoration are still bountiful all around the city more than a month after the holiday has passed, and I have a sneaking suspicion most of it will probably continue way into February as well. I mean, it is still winter then, at a whopping 35 degrees on a daily basis, so why the heck not.

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