19: Coming up smellin' of roses
I never know quite what to expect from the traditionally Western festivals while in Thailand. Christmas was just another day in LopBuri except for a spray-painted Christmas tree on a wall of the Big C superstore. The sweaty winter temperature did little to help inspire the yuletide festive spirit. Christmas is of course based on a celebration of Christ so it is quite understandable that it is just another day in Buddhist Thailand.
Saint Valentines Day too is steeped in Christianity, with Saint Val himself being a priest in the time of Roman Emperor Claudius II. As the Roman Empire descended its might upon the world, it is said that Claudius needed his best men dressed from head to toe in shiny Roman armour, a shield in their left hand and a sword in their right. He was of the impression that single men were better soldiers than those who were married so he ordered that all marriages in the Roman kingdom must stop. Perhaps he thought that married men were lovers, not fighters. Our starry-eyed hero priest Val of course refuted this order and began marrying loved-up young couples in secret. When Claudius found out, he was not a happy bunny, and subsequently slung Valentine in prison. While in jail Saint Val managed to cement his place in history by sending the first ever Valentines card to the daughter of his jailor, it was of course signed; from your Valentine. Claudius had no time for love or amour, he gave the order and Valentine was thereby executed on February the 14th. It doesnt matter now that this is only one of a number of Saint Valentine stories, or that certain historians believe that these stories were constructed by the church in order to convert a previously pagan festival to a Christian one.
The day began well, I gave my girlfriend a lovely selection of tacky gifts (the only type available in Ayutthaya where we had been for the weekend) which included a candle shaped like an extremely fat woman in a bikini, and a mobile phone holder shaped like a strawberry. In return I received a candle and some chocolate footballs. Bliss. At school I had prepared some Valentines based activities for the classes. The younger children made Valentines cards (most of which were addressed to either teachers or parents) and the older children did a reading comprehension based on the (fabricated) history of the festival of romance. Two minutes before the start of afternoon classes, in typical Thai fashion, we were told that the classes were in fact cancelled and that instead the school were putting on a Valentine show, oh, and we had to make a speech from Kings college about Valentines Day. Thank you.
The show was very good and included singing, dancing and acting by the students. Thai people have a tradition of presenting those on stage with a flower or small gift, as you can imagine with a room full of 600 students on Valentines Day, this went a little bit over the top. At the finish of the show the room erupted and for a short time I thought the students had finally had enough of me and were attacking in force! I soon realised however that they were actually sticking things to me, not only me but all of the teachers, the rest of whom were actually thanking them! I followed suit and this sticky onslaught continued for a good half hour, it was complemented by my being given more roses than I have ever seen. For a short time I feared for my life, imagine the embarrassment, death by flowers.
After arriving home it took a very long, very hot shower to remove all stickers not to mention the pungent aroma usually reserved for Bangkoks gaudier inhabitants!
The end of Valentines Day heralded the beginning of some serious work for the students of Jindaratana and, unfortunately, for their English teachers. We have finally finished the seemingly unending task of test preparation; the feeling of relief is not so great when coupled with the knowledge that the tests will soon have to be marked!