Bangkok Phil

Bah humbug

spending Christmas in Thailand

December in Bangkok gives you a lot to be thankful for. The oppressive humidity hits an annual low, the traffic can be considerably lighter, especially towards the end of the month, and there are often lighter teaching schedules for Bangkok chalkies. Then why is it the one month of the year I probably look forward to least and feel at my most morose? The answer is of course - Christmas and New Year. It's a period of time to get misty-eyed and nostalgic and experience the unwelcome burden of homesickness. You'd think it would get easier after living eighteen years in Thailand but let me tell you it doesn't. I was fortunate to be brought up by parents who always did Christmas up right and made it a magical time of year for us kids. Decorating the tree, pulling crackers over the Christmas turkey, watching an old John wayne movie on Xmas eve, and jostling elbow-to-elbow with last-minute Xmas shoppers. I loved every single minute of it. Even the relatives who I didn't particularly like, who would drop by on Boxing Day for a 'small snifter' Every moment is still a cherished memory.

I think teachers are divided into two camps at this time of year. Those who say 'bah humbug' and continue working as usual, and those who make a token effort to recreate the festive spirit in the comfort of their apartments - as difficult as that may be. Some might even be lucky enough to find the time and the money to escape to the beach for a few days. After years of treating December 25th as 'just another day' I now find myself with a house and a wife and I do everything possible to recreate some of the memories from those childhood Christmasses. It's tough though. There's something very weird about decorating a Christmas tree when it's ninety degrees and blazing sunshine outside, and there's a definite sadness about watching your partner open a modest pile of presents and then have to rush off for another day at the office. I make the usual Christmas Day phone calls to Mom and Dad, my brother, my three aunties, and my only living grand-parent. They're always pleased to hear from me but they too seem to be going through the motions. It's almost as if once the children have fled the nest, the magic of Christmas is gone forever.

But at least they cook a Christmas dinner. I gave up on mine years ago. I'm not one for stuffy hotel dining at 2,000 baht a head complete with hordes of screaming kids and besides, I've had some bad experiences in Bangkok down the years. One year stands out in particular when my wife and I (we were not married at the time) walked the length and breadth of Sukhumwit Road popping our heads into every hotel to see who did a Xmas lunch. At every single establishment we were told to come back at 6 'o' clock. But I wanted a Christmas dinner now! To cut a long story short, we ended up in the Hard Rock Cafe in Siam Square and got the last two seats next to the toilets. Between mouthfuls of turkey and cranberry sauce, we got to watch a steady procession of males emerge from the bathroom wringing their hands and doing up their zippers.

Christmas can be an endless source of conflict in private language schools between teachers and Thai staff or management. Basically the teachers don't want to work and the Thai staff do. It starts off as a casual "are we going to close at Christmas?' asked by a teacher in the first week of November, and then leads to a threatened strike by the middle of December. I've found from experience that Thai management will often succumb to teacher pressure and close their doors for a day or two but it's often done begrudgingly. Students very often cancel classes anyway so in some cases it's not a big issue. However, to finish with a brief and not particularly funny anecdote, I was working at a private language school in the early 90's and every teacher (and there were a good fourteen of us) was adamant that he / she would not work on December 25th. Well, all except one - the teacher that needed the money. There's always a teacher that needs the money. And work he did. We gave him the keys to open and lock up and he came in to work on Xmas day to teach five hours while the rest of us walked up and down Sukhumwit in search of a turkey dinner.


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