The Adventures of Tom: January 2015
That’s it for another year. Christmas day has come and gone again and the New Year hangover is beginning to slowly ebb. I must admit the festive season was a bit of a result for me. I finally got that Aston Martin DB5 I’ve always wanted. My family and a selection of my dearest friends turned up at the airport to surprise me for a splendid Christmas dinner at Le Crystal of turkey, stuffing and perfectly roasted potatoes washed down with a few of bottles of 1961 Chateau Lafite. We all then piled into helicopters and headed for an exquisite private island in the Andaman Sea where, beneath a fireworks display that marked the beginning of a New Year, the girl of my dreams agreed to marry me.
Well, not really. Because the nature of magazine deadlines means that as I write this, Christmas and New Year haven’t yet happened. The birthday celebrations for the little baby Jesus are still more than a week away and the New Year a fortnight hence.
As I write, the brilliant Bing Crosby is crooning “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” The lyrics conjure Christmas card images of what the festive season should look and feel like. Chiang Mai doesn’t look or feel like Christmas, and however much the malls and bars try, a bit of tinsel and a raggedy old plastic tree with a bit of Hello Kitty frippery hanging from it will never make it so.
I’m not necessarily complaining. I’m pretty sure the rose-tinted nostalgia Mr. Crosby, Dean Martin and Michael Buble are evincing as they softly warble is a cleverly constructed recollection of Christmases I want to believe happened, but never really did. I’m positive that the walk my siblings and I were forced to partake in early on Christmas morn, before we were allowed to indulge in a bout of frenzied wrapping-paper-ripping, was rarely through a landscape of freshly fallen snow, children laughing as they whooshed by on their toboggans, carol singers and small crippled boys, being held aloft by reformed misers, declaring: “God bless us, every one!” I grew up in London so I’m betting the morning stroll was through grey surroundings and bloody cold – with a hangover on top.
As one gets older, one’s brain tends to favour fabricated nostalgia over the reality of undercooked turkey, ungrateful grumbling that the gift received from hardworking parents is not quite what was demanded, and the undercurrent of tension that is inevitable when a family is forced to enjoy the company of relatives for more than a few hours at a time.
I am lucky to be able to spend my Christmas and New Year in a place I love. It is the finest time of year to be living in Chiang Mai. The days are sunny and pleasant and it is just cold enough at night to be able to snuggle under a duvet. Thinking back, I was insanely jealous of friends who announced their family was spending Christmas in sunnier climes than the UK, and that is something I can now claim for myself.
Photos of Christmas trees, some resplendent in their decorations, some that look like they should already be out by the front gate in a pool of dropped needles for grumbling garbage men, are popping up on Facebook. All look better than the orange bush on my balcony I’m trying to delude myself into accepting as an adequate substitute. To give it its dues, that scrawny little tree has made a festive effort by producing a couple of orange “baubles” of its own.
The Christmas crooners have now been replaced on my computer’s speakers by the angelic voices of a choir singing a selection of popular carols. Although I am anything but religious, the sentimental pangs are back. Cold stone churches have always struck me as an odd choice in which to worship, but there is something exquisite about a candle-illuminated hall of echoing voices in December. Not sure where to find that in Chiang Mai. Perhaps I’ll pop out to a temple. After all, the proliferation of golden gaudiness at the average wat far outdoes the garishness of even the kitschiest decorations Christianity can come up with.
But as I said at the start of this piece, for you reading it, all of this is now over. Excessive indulgence has been replaced for most of us with a slight feeling of trepidation that comes with the beginning of every January. Will Thailand be able to top last year? What a year that was. So much happened. So much that I cannot reminisce about in this article for risk of attitude readjustment, something I may be in need of generally, but probably not at the hands of someone required to wear a uniform.
I am fairly sure of a couple of things though. Most of us will read news reports over the coming months that will make us exclaim: “What the buggery f%@k is going on?!?” We will all complain, at least once, about how hot the hot season is and how wet the rainy season is. Many of us are also likely to experience the joy of making new friends and sorrow at the loss of old friends. Thankfully, we live in Chiang Mai, and it has long been my experience that all the good things that happen here vastly outweigh the disappointing ones. After all, it’s Songkran in just over three short months!
We are all tentatively dipping our toes into a fresh New Year and Thailand’s uncertain future. Whatever happens over the next twelve months are unlikely to be predictable, boring or colourless; something I always dreaded would be the case as the festive season faded in the UK. The banal is something Thailand is useless at. To steal from Robert F. Kennedy: “Like it or not, we live in interesting times.”
I hope sincerely that all of you have a brilliant, glittering, gorgeous New Year.