musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Dashing Through the Weirdness

I breathe a sigh of relief tonight, for I have managed to work another Christmas Day in my bookshop without resorting to violence or verbally haranguing some clueless nimrod for wishing me a “Merry Christmas.” Why is it that so many people in Thailand — both Thais and foreigners — assume that all Westerners gleefully celebrate Christmas? I’m not a Christian and I don’t celebrate Christmas, yet even living in Thailand it’s almost impossible to avoid the holiday weirdness.

 All of the shopping centers and department stores in Bangkok have been flaunting their horrific Christmas decorations since late October. If that’s not bad enough, many of these places also delight in playing Christmas music. It’s also impossible to avoid gaudy holiday decorations and spindly little trees in restaurants, banks, and supermarkets all around town. My apartment complex, however, didn’t put up a tree this year. I wonder if they are still upset that I set fire to last year’s tree.

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Is there some regulation that all employees in these places must wear Santa Claus hats? Really, it’s beyond ridiculous. This is Thailand, the welcoming kingdom of peaceful Buddhists and sexy go-go dancers. Why all the Christmas stuff? Even in the hospital where my friend is being treated they have Christmas decorations on every floor. Last time I checked, the population of Thailand was comprised of about 95% Buddhists, and most of the rest are Muslim, so what’s with all this Christian crap?

As you would guess, it has nothing to do with religion and all to do with being festive, or just being silly, and no country in the world does silliness better than Thailand. In fact, there are universities in Thailand that offer advanced courses in silliness. It’s that much of an art form. So when there is a chance to dress up, decorate, and do some shopping, hell, the Thais are going to go wild! And they do. I almost dropped by Foodland tonight to pick up a few things, but the thought of having to face a gauntlet of smiling Santa Claus hat-wearing cashiers wishing me a “May-ree Crit-mat!” was too much to deal with, so I walked straight home.

The Christmas overkill is not unique to Thailand. Go to any Asian country (well, maybe not North Korea) and you’ll see similar scenes of decorated malls and grinning people wearing Santa hats. Even in Malaysia, which is mostly Muslim, they aren’t shy about trotting out the Christmas decorations in full force. And when I was in Mandalay last month I saw several shops selling Christmas trees and other Santa crap. Man, you just can’t escape this nonsense. But hey, I guess it all has to do with marketing, right?

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The main problem, though, is that it’s a major Christian holiday, and that religious creepiness is always rearing its ugly head. Just last week some nutjob Christian — looking and sounding like an alcoholic Swede — wandered into my bookshop and started passing out those odious religious tracts. These fliers, though, were written in Thai, no doubt urging the recipient to repent and accept Jesus as their savior. I told this creep to get the hell out of my shop. He made some remark about “Jesus is coming soon,” so I retorted: “Well, it’s sure taking him a long time, isn’t it? What’s he been doing, masturbating to photos of Lady Gaga? No, wait a minute, didn’t I read that the Astros signed him to play shortstop next year? Or maybe that was another Jesus. I always get those Hispanic guys mixed up.” He kept babbling more Jesus voodoo, and I just smirked and added “take your fantasies somewhere else, dude, we don’t want your kind around here!”

My Cambodian friend Chiet was in the shop at the time, and he stared at the paper the creepy Christian had given him and asked me what it was. “It’s a new brand of toilet paper,” I told him. “But it’s a bit on the rough side, so be careful if you use it.”

 

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