Taking inspiration from a combination of the USA's Daytime TV award shows, and the need for recognition for some of Bangkok's finest, the Ajarnies have been born. (Don't hold your breath more thought went into the name for the awards than the rest of the column this week.)
The Ajarnies . . . . . the first awards dedicated to needlessly glorifying the English teaching fraternity in Thailand.
Held behind closed doors in (the same city as) the Ballroom of the world renowned Oriental Hotel, the inaugural Ajarnies combined the thrill of a Monday morning teachers' meeting and the glamour of an upcountry Rajabhat Sports Day with the excitement of an over-rehearsed college graduation ceremony. In attendance were a host of celebrated mummified khunyings, liggers attracted by the open bar and free for all buffet and freelancers. The latter attending in the hope of attracting the attention of the aforementioned liggers rather than having any interest in the 12 karat rolled gold Ajarnie statuettes being given away as though they were 50 baht trinkets from a market stall - which, oddly enough, they were.
Taking heed from this years official slogan "Everyone's a whiner winner at the Ajarnies!" all attendees went home with no fewer than four awards each. This was partly due to the effort to save face amongst the hi-so set who'd had ‘guaranteed winner' clauses built into their invitation acceptance messages and partly due to a balls up with the ordering.
As followers of the local media may have noticed, the advertising build up to the "non-televised event of the decade" focused initially on a method pioneered by TA Orange, that of using abstract images to conjure up feelings of desire. The initial promo material consisted of a soft focus plate of cheese with the bulleted word ‘Dutch' over a mouldy piece of Gouda and the word ‘English' ( in bold Times Roman ) hovering above a proud, towering slab of cheddar. This resulted in a total of 2 applications for free tickets. The follow up ad, that was similar in using a plain black background, simply stated that there was ‘Free beer' and noted that ‘A few tarts might show up' then gave the location. This resulted in a rush for tickets the like of which hadn't been seen since The Nation Junior's last "Dinner with Biggs" party night.
All of which proves the success of the initial ads in planting subliminal messages in the audience's minds and in no way reflects on the fact that, in this county, people are only motivated when you can show that they get something for free or at a knockdown price.
Back to the "night of a thousand stars" although there appeared to be more stars on the Head of Security's oversized epaulettes than actually in the crowd. Incidentally many thanks to AUA for providing the security and ensuring that everyone, after being fingerprinted, retina scanned, DNA tested and having undergone a lie detector test, was seated within 5 and a half hours of entering the building. This wasn't altogether successful as it did result in a large number of the British-American contingent failing to gain entry as their answer to the first question "Where do you work?" always induced a response which sent the plotter haywire. Numerous, incorrect, negative responses to the follow up question "Are you an English teacher?" further reduced the numbers allowed through the doors. (Tip: Next year, spend at least a week rehearsing in front of the mirror: " No, I'm an investment banker.", " No, I work at the embassy.", " Actually, I'm a Nigerian drug dealer." Only then will you be able to beat the system and can step out into the brave new world conmfidently.)
Once inside, the near deserted beer garden was treated to a recital of last year's opening soliloquy from the Thai TESOL conference. Once those spontaneously applauding had been signaled to cease, it was time to open a veritable Pandora's box of fake sincerity and restrained loathing.
Pathum Thani's Shinawatra University won "Best of Breed" (A mix up at the engraver's.) for the third straight year. This was despite protests from the Chula contingent that a) the university hadn't even opened yet and b) the awards were in their freshman year. Needless to say the self styled ‘C.U. Crew' were rewarded for their poor sportsmanship by the issuance of IMLO orders and the surprise announcement that a cache of M-16s, 1.2 million Ya-ba tabs, 3 Burmese child prostitutes and a copy of ‘The Economist' had been found under the drivers seat of their minivan.
Moving swiftly on the visibly aging and ever desperate for work katoey host(ess) belted out a rather butch medley of the most saccharine "songs with good meaning" of the past 12 months before collapsing under a pile of garlands lavished upon him/her by adoring fans acting upon a well-rehearsed cue.
Sensing the now M.C.-less festivities were drawing to an abrupt end the following awards were thrown into the audience for anyone to grab.
Wisden 12th man of the Year - Khun Somboon, caretaker and, at times, caretaker manager at ECC, Mukdahan was the lucky winner.
Best Portrayal of an English Teacher in a non-speaking role - En-mass ward for 29,578 local winners located throughout the country.
Sanitation product of the decade - Honourable mention to Siam Computer, runner-up some place in Bang Na that closed in 1998.
The (until now unclaimed) Thailand Award for Innovative Thought - The anonymous M4 kid who asked "Why?" during a class at St Jude's Commercialised College and lived to tell the tale.
Miss Hyundai Accent ‘Laos Car of the Year 1995' Freshy Smile - Kirk the rabid Canadian, on behalf of ‘Nok' his girlfriend - until 3 am or 7 am depending on whether he coughs up the extra thousand - with a magpie-like attraction to anything that glitters and, from across the room, appears to be gold.
The Lifetime Achievement award went unclaimed - seemingly no one in the audience could muster the arrogance to claim it.