As Christmas approached i felt the presence of ghosts from the past: frosty mornings and purple hands, light snow (if we were lucky), a decorated tree and a crib, robins eating crumbs at the back door, grandmother in her chair talking about the good old days and no one paying attention, the cats curled up by the fire and piping hot heavy food at every meal – all that made the Dickensian winter scene for one who grew up in the upper latitudes of the northern hemisphere.
Perhaps i should’ve gone back to celebrate.
Two of my new Singapore friends came up to Bangkok for Christmas. They timed it nicely to arrive on Friday, 20th, the day i got holidays. We spent the first weekend in town and i showed them around. They’d never visited this den of iniquity before and were interested in seeing as much reality as possible so the first night i took them to a bar in Patpong which stages a live sex show, very live. They were disappointed and didn’t enjoy it much and neither did i. Live shows are only as good as the enthusiasm and talents of the participants and on this occasion the men and women performed with little interest and no passion, it was all far too perfunctory to be stimulating. It’s the height of the tourist season, or should be at any rate, and i expected the bar to be jam packed but it wasn’t; fullish, yes, but nothing like the crowds of old, and these days that’s typical of most places of entertainment..or what passes for entertainment.
Singaporeans have two preoccupations, eating and shopping, and on saturday we went shopping and my guests bought gifts and souvenirs for family and friends back home. They enjoyed the shops very much as most things, even if they’re not always top quality, are cheaper here than in Singapore. On saturday night we were at a dinner party hosted by Earle, an American working for one of the government ministries. He rents a house with a garden and as it was a cool dry night we were able to eat outside.
Sunday included a trip to the flea market where there was a lot to view but very little of quality to buy but it was worth the visit even if a major section of the market is disturbing – far too many animals in small cages.
By sunday night my guests had had enough of the city so on monday morning we took a train south and three hours later rolled into the sleepy town of Hua Hin, the resort where i often go at weekends. Well, not so sleepy actually as the place was crawling with Swedish tourists all speaking hurdy-gurdy and looking like burned yetis. We stayed at Verity’s beach house which gave us direct access to the sea. Verity, a good friend i’ve made, has a ‘country house’ as well so we weren’t causing her inconvenience but of course it was nice of her to offer us the beach house in the first place. It was bliss there and we had four days of peace and quiet away from the madness of Bkk. We didn’t do much and that was the intention, spent the evenings with Verity, Robert, a Canadian who works in a bar till he ‘can find himself’, and Jim, a senior citizen from West Virginia who has now made Hua Hin his retirement home. We talked, had a few drinks and played a lot of scrabble.
January, the depth of winter in Europe and America, is the cool season here. We’ve had a few unusually cold days and a couple of nights at New Year were almost icy. I never thought i’d feel so cold in the tropics and on two nights at least i could’ve done with a warm coat.
When my Singapore friends flew home i returned to Hua Hin to celebrate the arrival of 1992 with my scrabble pals. We sat outdoors in Friendship, our adopted haunt and watering hole, and watched the fireworks display at the Sofitel, the best hotel in town. This year the show was less spectacular than last but still worthwhile.
Just as the fireworks ended and we’d wished one another health and happiness a fatal accident took place under our very noses. Two nurses on their way home from duty were riding their unlit motorcycle across the road when they were flattened by a speeding and equally unlit Bedford truck. It was no contest. One of the women died on the spot and the other a short while later in hospital. The second woman might have had a chance had not the locals rushed out and gathered around her and begun shaking her violently (in an attempt to bring her round?) which caused her to bleed more than she was already bleeding. We didn’t intervene because we weren’t supposed to but i’m sure such practice isn’t at all correct and i feel the poor woman’s chances were cancelled by literally shaking her to death. The accident put a complete damper on festivities and all went quiet after that. Those two women saw little of 1992, five minutes at most. The truck driver didn’t stop, they never do after an accident, and Jim pointed out the law here is such that stopping at the scene of an accident isn’t taken into consideration and isn’t interpreted as a sign of good faith or of innocence. Staying at the scene isn’t worth the driver’s while so he continues on his way.
The Christmas lights on the hotels, banks and offices were as good as last year’s but despite the glitter and hype and the almost constant singing of ‘Ginger Ben’ in supermarkets and shopping malls, it still didn’t feel like Christmas. What’s Christmas supposed to feel like? Hard to define but easy to detect its absence. For me, it’s back to bare branches, robins and Dickens.
At school we’ve begun the second half of the academic year, the shorter of the two halves psychologically. After New Year, the rest of the year up to may seems to move much faster than the august to december stretch. The worst is over, every teacher feels. Right now, i’m busy applying to centres of learning in Singapore and hope to do interviews in february.
Chinese New Year will be the next big celebration and this year it falls on the first four days of february and for three days at least this city will become virtually deserted as everyone moves out to return to family and loved ones. I wouldn’t dream of travelling as the world and his mother become mobile; i’ll stay put and enjoy ease of movement in the city for a change. I’m not going to repeat last year’s painful behaviour when i ended up with JJ (he of the ‘beautiful people’) and his friends in Chinatown drinking brandy till the wee hours and suffering an excruciating hangover for two days after.
Clive, my Gandhi friend, passed through in early december en route to London and Edinburgh and spent a week with me. Since returning to the UK he’s landed a job on yet another ship, he’s freelance these days, and his letter yesterday tells me he’s now afloat in the fjords of Norway and off the coast of Finland and about to be covered in pack ice. Not his kind of scene.