Happy Holidays!

I'm leaving for the States today and probably won't be updating this blog for a few weeks. So I'll leave you with a view from a skytrain station, plus best wishes for a cheerful holiday season and happy and healthy new year!


The Office Christmas Party

My school held its Christmas party last night on a dinner boat cruise along the river. People seemed to be looking forward to it until they realized it fell during a 48-hour ban on alcohol due to local elections. I think the fear is that people will get drunk and vote for the wrong person. So that was the big talk in the teacher's lounge this week as names began dropping from the attendance list. There was still a sizable crowd—plus several flasks floating around for those willing to risk a $10,000-baht fine. People sure needed a drink after the director gave a demoralizing speech that was straight from The Office series and met with a room full of expressionless faces and an awkward silence (except for the sarcastic “Merry Christmas” muttered at our table.) What's funnier is that he wouldn't even begin the speech until every single seat at the front was filled, so there was an excruciating five, going on 30, minutes when no one wanted to leave their groups to fill in the seats. People slowly, begrudgingly, moved up until there were only two empty ones left and no one was budging. Finally, a couple of guys from our table gave in just to put an end to the pain and then moved back immediately after the speech, but in grumpy moods for the rest of the night. The whole evening was amusingly Office-esque. Other jokes from the stage fell completely flat. An older male teacher showed up stoned out of his gourd. The entertainment was karaoke with hired karaoke "fillers". There really is endless fodder for a comedy series about English teachers in Bangkok. I love it!

The day before was the last day of the term so one of my classes took me out to dinner, which is not unusual. Thais tend to be very generous gift-givers and will often give presents to their teachers on the last day. We went to an outdoor sidewalk-type restaurant that's common here. Because the alcohol ban was already in effect, our Heineken was served in a bucket. We ordered food the typical Thai way—many different dishes for everyone to share. Four of those dishes were innards. I was brave enough to try two but couldn't stomach any more (bad joke).


It's a Boy!

Benjamin Owen, nicknamed Ben, made his grand entrance into this world December 14 around 1pm (that would be Atlanta time—he was born on the 15th for me). He was 6 lbs. 14 oz. and 19.8 inches long. And look at all that black hair! Mama and baby are both doing fine. Congratulations Laura and Robert! He's a lucky boy to have you two as parents. Now I really can't wait to get home for Christmas!


So Bazaar

Went to the Suan-Lum Night Bazaar last night. It's one of the best markets in Bangkok—probably second only to Chatuchak. There are thousands of stalls selling handmade crafts, artwork and random oddities. It's a good place to go with a group because there's a huge food court/beer garden planked by a stage with live entertainment. This time it was a flamboyantly costumed dance troupe of one male surrounded by his entourage of women. I think Atlanta needs a night bazaar like this to revitalize downtown. If you run into Shirley Franklin, pass the word along.

By the way, one of the reasons I don't update this blog as much as I'd like is the spotty internet service in my apartment. I'm writing now from an internet cafe in the middle of about 30 teens-to-20-somethings—mostly guys—playing computer games. That's huge over here and most of the internet cafes are used for that purpose. Imagine the noise of all those machine guns and whatever else they're playing with, plus the guys yelling in Thai at the computers. It would be more comical if my head weren't pounding!

By the way, teaching “by the way” to beginner English speakers is not that easy.


King-Sized Birthday

The slogan "Long Live the King" is splashed on signs and buildings all over Thailand. It was my first impression of the country as my plane rolled past the enormous billboard at the airport. The message must be getting through because King Bhumibol, the world's longest-reigning monarch, just celebrated his 80th birthday.

Bangkok was a sea of yellow Wednesday as everyone donned the color to express their devotion. (Thais have a color for each day of the week, and since the King was born on a Monday—the yellow day—many Thais wear yellow every Monday and on his birthday.) The monarchy no longer holds political power but still plays a huge role in Thai culture. The royal anthem is played before every movie and three times a day on the radio and over loud speakers and everyone stands at attention. The Thai people have so much passion and pride for "my King" as many call him, they sometimes get teary-eyed talking about him. Anyone who has more cynical ideas about the royal family can only express them in hushed tones.

That night, restaurants in my neighborhood turned their TVs to the birthday celebration at the Grand Palace and patrons raised candles and sang songs.

Yellow candles flickered up and down the street.

The next night as I was teaching, loud explosions disrupted the school. Students ran out of their classes to follow the sound. Turns out it was a fireworks display and more birthday festivities. Coincidentally, I was teaching "I've never + present perfect" so I got to say "I've never heard fireworks that loud." Then we let out early and saw a really spectacular show!


It's Beginning to Look Somewhat Like Christmas

For a country that's 95% Buddhist, Thailand sure is getting into the Christmas spirit. Major malls and tourist attractions are erecting enormous trees with thousands of lights, such as this one at King Power. Many business establishments have decorated with strings of garland and lights. Color varies, but purple seems to be quite popular. I find this particularly amusing since Thais don't get a single day off for the holiday. (Lucky for me, my school is American/British-owned and closes for three weeks. I'm going back to the States to meet my new niece or nephew that's due in five days!)

'Tis the season for Oktoberfest as well. Open-air beer gardens with live music are springing up all over town. The "winter" nights--slightly cool and breezy--are perfect for knocking back pints outside, which is probably why they postpone the celebration for a couple of months. A group of us went to one the other night on top of a building and at eye-level to the sky train.

I think Thais must adopt every holiday they can for an excuse to celebrate and indulge their love of fun. And who can fault them for that? They celebrate three New Years: the one on December 31, Chinese New Year in February, and Thai New Year (Songkran) April 13-15. For their own, the country basically shuts down for a week and people run around the streets drenching each other with water. I've been advised by other ex-pats to get on the first train out of town, but my students love this festival.


Sure Beats the Hell Out of Logging

One of Sarah's friends hosted a party last night at his posh 29th-floor apartment with an incredible view of the city (drat, forgot my camera). The party was for a New York-based artist in town to show some of his work. I'm not sure if he sold that many at the party, but we all had a good time noshing on homemade Mexican food and swilling wine (I miss wine! It's really expensive here, plus it just doesn't go with spicy Thai food like a cold beer.) Beik (I'm guessing on the spelling) is one of the artists who first taught elephants how to paint in Thailand. Elephant art has become very popular amongst the collector set, some paintings even being auctioned at Christie's in New York for a couple of grand, raising a lot of money for elephant conservation. The piece to the left was painted by an elephant, not the guest of honor at the party last night. Beik joked that he's now jealous of the elephants because they make more money than he does. I would love to link to some of his work also, but it's not online yet.


Money Talks

So I was in a taxi yesterday when the driver rolled to a stop and was approached by a police officer. The two immediately starting laughing and conversing in a such a manner that I thought they were friends just catching up. The officer walked away and the cab driver drove on, still chuckling. He said to me, “I ran stop light, gave him 100 baht.”