Anyone with an internet connection is unlikely to have been able to avoid becoming aquainted with Australian director Baz Luhrmann’s hit single from the 90s “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”. The song and video, which begins with the line “Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97: Wear Sunscreen”, makes regular outings across social media. The words were originally and erroneously attributed to author Kurt Vonnegut and a commencement speech he never gave at MIT. In fact they first appeared in a column entitled “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young” penned by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich. Although Schmich concedes that the piece might not have become the sensation it did without being linked to the Slaughterhouse Five author, Vonnegut later said: “What she wrote was funny and wise and charming, so I would have been proud had the words been mine”.
What’s your point? you are understandably asking. Well, I recently received the video on Facebook and thought what a smashing idea it would be to tweak the nose of copyright infringement and translate the piece so it would be relevant for Chiang Mai. So here goes.
Ladies and gentlemen of the city of Chiang Mai: Smile.
If there is one cliché worth living by in Thailand, smiling is it. The benefits of smiling have been proved to make life a whole lot better whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.
Enjoy the cool season. Oh, never mind. You will still complain that for two weeks of the year driving to work in the morning on a scooter is like riding a snowmobile in the Arctic. But trust me, when the temperature hits 40 in April, you’ll look back at the cool season and try to recall just how fabulous it was curling up under a duvet. You are not as bad at karaoke as you imagine.
Don’t worry about the wildlife. Or worry, but know that worrying about a snake turning up in the shower is about as effective as trying to catch a huntsman spider under a bowl. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind like the gardener at your school finding a bloody great king cobra under the porch at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday.
Try not to do one thing every day that scares you.
Don’t walk around the city in nothing but a bikini or swimming shorts. Don’t put up with those who walk around the city in nothing but a bikini or swimming shorts.
Don’t drive too fast on the Superhighway. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. It’s not a race and that’s a bloody dangerous road that is.
Remember to get to immigration on time. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
Keep hold of your passport. Throw away your traffic fines.
Get a massage.
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what to do with your life. The most interesting people I know in Chiang Mai haven’t got the faintest idea what they want to do with their lives. No, really, not the faintest idea.
Get plenty of Khao Soi.
Be kind to your flip-flops. It’s bloody irritating when they break.
Maybe you’ll adopt a soi dog, maybe you won’t. Maybe a stray cat will adopt you, maybe it won’t. Maybe you’ll end up with both. Maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken at Spicy at 2 AM after too much Sangsom. Whatever you do don’t dance the funky chicken at Spicy at 2 AM, or allow others to do so either. The choices you make after Sangsom are questionable at best. So are everybody else’s.
Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. But not in public. That sort of shenanigans can get you into all sorts of bother.
Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it than a karaoke bar in San Khamphaeng.
Read the directions, and follow them. God help you if you have to ask someone for them later.
Do not overanalyse Ladyboy shows. It will only make you feel confused.
Get to know your neighbours. You never know when you’ll need help breaking into your own apartment.
Be nice to your landlord. He is the one who turns your power and water back on and is the only one who is going to give you your deposit back in the future.
Understand that friends come and go, especially those here on holiday for two weeks. Work hard to encourage friends and family to come here on holiday because it’s flipping expensive the other way round.
Visit Adam’s Apple once, but leave before it makes you hard.
Visit Foxy Lady once, but leave before it makes you soft.
Drive to Pai on a motorbike.
This line, unfortunately, has to be redacted as I have very little interest in being whisked off for attitude adjustment.
Respect your elders.
Don’t expect anyone else to support you at the bar. Maybe you are sat on a stool. Maybe you are standing on your own two legs. But you never know when either might give way.
Don’t get a tattoo while you are drunk or by the time you wake up the next morning you will have a permanent reminder that you got a tattoo when you were drunk.
Be careful when asking for directions, and be wary of those who supply them. Directions here are a source of confusion. Dispensing dubious directions is a way of saving face, baffling the person asking for them and making sure he or she ends up in Lamphun rather than Panthip Plaza.
But trust me on the smiling.