14: No Ho Ho in festive free LopBuri

Ebenezer Scrooge would have felt at home here. To say that the people of LopBuri don’t really celebrate Christmas is to say that the Sahara is little bit sandy, or that Roman Abramovich has a little bit of spare cash hidden away for a rainy day. It is perhaps the biggest understatement ever committed to print, and the shining three foot plastic Christmas tree in the Big C superstore doesn’t help.

There again, why should this nation of 95 per cent practising Buddhists spare a second thought to the supposed 2005th birthday of Jesus Christ? Even less consideration should be given to the market driven shopping frenzy that the Western world now perennially embraces on the yuletide run up. Christmas is now so very far removed from the religious celebration it once was; I recently read a story of the pope in Rome expressing his concern that some of the Italian capitol’s historically religious junior schools have decided to drop the nativity scene from there festive celebrations, instead opting for the inoffensive safety of Cinderella.

I come from a large family who happily gets together each year to eat at least three fun-filled turkey dinners, usually followed by two weeks of spitting feathers eating turkey sandwiches (with stuffing or without?) I also come from a generation that couldn’t escape the bright lights and child-focussed advertising Christmas brings with it. So much so that now I have come to expect to see snow spray adorning already frosty windows, I expect to see competitive neighbours striving for the most decorative "Christmassy" display. I expect to hear the cheesy Christmas classics (Wham, Wizard, Slade) and I also expect to hear the excited laughter of children who will still leave an already too fat Santa Claus a mince pie, and maybe even a carrot for his tireless glowing friend, Rudolph.

Perhaps this has been the strangest thing in the build up to Christmas day, I have been working right up until Christmas Eve and have taught about 360 children of various ages from 5-12 and everyday, in every lesson, the single most excited person in the room has been yours truly. One class even requested that we should stop making Christmas decorations and playing party games and get on with the text book! Naturally I refused.

My youngest class, 5 and 6 year olds

My eldest class, 10-11 year olds

I believe myself to be culturally sensitive enough to realise that Christmas bares no relevance here, and all my Christmas games did have some English learning involved, all except my favourite game; one free lollypop to the child with the best "ho ho ho Meeerrrry Chriistmasss" Santa Claus impression!

Santa and guitarAfter finishing school on Christmas Eve I went to a party which covered both the birthday of the principle’s Mother (the school is very much a family run affair) and the fact that New Year was closing in. Here I had to perform two English songs (Eric Clapton-Wonderful tonight and Green Day-Turning point ((time of your life)) for the Thai teachers and family. This followed our relative success of playing "Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer" to the students two days previous, complete with antlers and a lipstick red nose.

Christchurch, BangkokI woke up the following day sweating in the heat of the 6.00 am sun, certainly a first on Christmas morning. I was delighted to have received a DVD sent from my family bearing Christmas messages and one or two jokes which may or may not have come out of a cracker. I hopped on a mini-van to Bangkok and attended an English morning church service (the first time I have done so on Christmas morning) after which I actually did feel like it was Christmas and not simply another day. Ironic that breaking the habit of a lifetime by attending Christmas morning church actually captured the habitual Christmas spirit for which I was looking.

The rest of the day was spent eating, drinking, chatting and eating some more in the Irish X-change in Siam, central Bangkok. The turkeys and Chefs had apparently flown in direct from Dublin and for the price I should think they could have afforded it! Never-the-less the food was delicious and the company even better. I wore a silly hat, ate a mince pie and felt rather less homesick then I had done in the morning. Two hours later I am on a sleeper train bound for Surat Thani, a port on the East coast, after which I will catch a ferry to the beautiful tropical island, Ko Pha-Ngan for seven days holiday. It has been a Christmas very different from the usual but I have enjoyed getting away from the glossy tack now associated with the festival in England, I have missed my family and friends a little, but I find it easy to console myself safe in the knowledge that I will soon be relaxing in a hammock on a beach sipping cocktails and soaking up the sun!


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