Christmas In Bangkok
The Archives Section of Jake Needham's website is one of my favorite places to go and reflect on his writings on Thailand – but I must disagree with his opinion of Christmas in Thailand – or, as he calls it, "Christmas In The Tropics".
Christmas in Bangkok is my very favourite time of the year and my favourite place to be. Yes, it seems incongruous at first appearances due to the fact that Thailand is a Buddhist society that does not celebrate the birth of Christ – but whatever the reason for them taking the trouble to celebrate the season, the fact is that they do it so well. Jake still calls Central World the "World Trade Center" – and so do I, except for the fact that I spell Center" as "Centre". It will forever be "World Trade Centre" for me.
My first taste of Christmas in Bangkok was a truly magical experience that I can never forget – the decorations, the Christmas trees, the light displays and the music playing in almost every place one frequented. Sharing that time with a special person probably influenced my feelings and made me more receptive to be celebratory, even if the reasons for the Thais creating this mood were based on commercial issues of product sales. I really don't care what their reasons were (or are) – I just love what they do to make Bangkok a magical place where I wish I could be, always.
As I write this, I am not in Thailand just now but I am looking at some of the photos that Stick ran in his Sunday Night Column on 21 December 2014 – and I still feel as if I am there. I would have been there for that Christmas/New Year period, having already booked and paid for air fares and hotel accommodation – but health issues dictated that I had to cancel out and claim a refund on Health Insurance. The Company gave me a full refund – even the tax component of the air fare. A good reason why you should always make sure you take out Health Insurance.
My first Christmas in Bangkok was 2004 and I will never forget that time as I am looking at the photo of the forecourt of Central World (World Trade Centre) in Stick's photo from December 2014 – and recalling how it looked back in 2004. It's not that much different – except, of course, for the reconstruction that was needed for the damage done to World Trade Centre in 2010, during the confrontation between The Red Shirts and The Army, when Ratchaprasong was occupied by warring factions. To even think of that having happened, makes me sad.
Back to 2004 now and I recall the Beer Garden Festival had already begun when I arrived. It normally starts in early November and runs through to around the middle of December – at several venues in Bangkok – but I have always attended the venue on the forecourt at World Trade Centre. With three or four bandstands operating, usually cranking out music at the same time and at full volume, you certainly cannot ignore what is happening. I just love it and normally stand watching for an hour or two, before deciding on which enclosure to enter to settle in for food and drink. If my Wanjai is with me I usually tell her to decide which enclosure to choose for us.
Amarin Foodhouse on Chidlom was normally my choice of restaurant for the main evening meal, as the service was always good and the view down onto the trafiic on Chidlom and all the light displays created a magic environment of people hurrying to get to their destinations on foot or by vehicle. I often wondered how the vehicle chaos managed to sort itself out into some kind of order – but, regardless of my wondering, it did so. There was always the constant arrivals and departures of Tourist Coaches at The Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel and, looking down at the congestion on the arrival area, I marvelled at the skill of the coach drivers in being able to manoeuvre in so small an area. Sitting there with my Wanjai and watching all of this happening, while we shared that precious time together, was just the most wonderful feeling I have experienced.
When I compare the feelings of Christmas back home in my country, I have to say that those feelings do not even come close to the feelings I always have at Christmas time in Bangkok. But hey, I feel that way about Bangkok at any other period of the year, so to be in Bangkok at Christmas is really the icing on the cake for me.
Steven Prestwick (now deceased) – former drummer for Cold Chisel – wrote the song "Flame Trees" and I sometimes have felt the sentiments expressed in the lyrics of that song when I have since been in Bangkok on my own at Christmas time. You know, although I still love Bangkok at Christmas time, it is not quite the same for me as it was in 2004.
Just a few short extracts from the song:
"We share some history, this town and I
And I can't stop that long forgotten feeling of her
"Oh the flame trees will blind the weary driver
And there's nothing else could set fire to this town
There's no change, there's no pace
Everything within its place
Just makes it harder to believe that she won't be around
"Oh, who needs that sentimental bullshit, anyhow
You know it takes more than just a memory to make me cry"
I think that we all need that quiet time to reflect on memories that played such a large part in our lives – they were part of what made us who we are now.
My last Christmas in Bangkok was December 2013 but it was spoiled for me by the unruly demonstrations by the PDRC – the so-called People's Democratic Reform Committee and their supporters. They conducted rolling protests throughout Bangkok, disrupting the lives of countless tourists and residents and destroying the livelihood of countless Bangkok small businesses.
However, I will not allow that inconvenience to darken my enjoyed memories of past Christmas periods in Bangkok. My Bangkok Wanjai was with me in 2013 just as she has been since 2007 – and that was really all that mattered to me. We had a nice large suite at Baiyoke Sky as an upgrade at no further cost and the stay was as enjoyable as it always has been. The management went to extra effort to make the Christmas spirit alive in the hotel, by erecting a small stage on the Lobby level to present a Christmas pantomime with songs as well by some young performers. The management had no reason to go to that extra trouble to make the Christmas spirit more alive – but they did it anyhow.
My friend Khun Loong keeps telling me that the friendly smiles have gone out of Thais – and I hear it from others and also read the same sentiments in some of the Stickman submissions. I don't believe it at all. The Thais on the street are just the same as I remember when I first went to Bangkok in 2000 – they are just as friendly and willing to stop and chat. Hey, I even stop and chat with touts. But, somehow, they all seem even more friendly over the Christmas season. Thais love any excuse to party and I guess they see Christmas as one long party season – but, whatever their reasons, I just hope they never change what they do now.
This year – 2015 – is rapidly slipping away and Christmas will once more be upon us. I will do all that I can to be in Thailand for December, once more – but my only problem will be trying to decide whether it will be in Bangkok or if it will be in Chiang Mai. Somehow, I have a feeling that I would like it to be in that little bar on Kotchasarn, in Chiang Mai. I guess only time will tell – but it would be nice to go back to roots and to where so much began. Lots of unfinished business there.