It is possibly true of life anywhere, but life in Thailand seems especially full of contradictions: walking down the street past a company that sells tanks of oxygen (dozens of them standing upright, unrestrained) with a shrine in the midst of the room full of full tanks, three candles ablaze for good fortune, for example. Their fortune must be holding out as there have been no explosions and fires yet.
Sitting in traffic on a major street outside one of the most modern office buildings in all of Southeast Asia, there is a team of street cleaners: middle-aged women in heavy protective clothing with buckets of cleaning supplies, walking down the street cleaning phone booths, sweeping gutters, and removing posters.
When I arrived this morning, it was a bit chilly and the children were sitting in rows on the porch area having just finished their chanting and awaiting my arrival. They were all bundled up in their winter wear!
There was a small artificial Christmas tree set up on the porch with twinkling lights, decorated with small paper hearts. On closer inspection each heart had a hand written message from a student.
When I asked if she would like to try repeating all that in English, she smiled and declined the offer. Then she and another student officially gave me the Christmas Tree, khruu Somchai insisting that we pose like they were actually handing the tree to me.
Then the students sang a rather staccato version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
It was really sweet.
After lunch, Ajarn Yai and the teachers presented me with Christmas gifts (as well as one for Tod, which I’ll deliver when he returns from Chiang Mai): very nice porcelain bowls called ben jarong – a particular type of porcelain painted with five different colours. Very beautiful.
During the day, a number of different students presented me with Christmas gifts. I’ve made careful note of who gave me what gift so I can write proper thank-you notes. Gifts were very sweet, mostly candles and soaps along with a bunny rabbit washcloth. I’m thinking perhaps there’s a subtle (or not so subtle) message that I need to wear more deodorant!
What was especially cute was the way that gifts were wrapped: they used whatever boxes they could find (one was in a throat lozenge box!) and included the creative use of rubber bands by one students who perhaps had no cellophane tape at home. It was really touching and I think I’ll have to be teaching there for the rest of my life now.
At the end of the day, Ajarn Yai insisted that I take the tree home. I had really thought it was just a symbolic giving of it to me, not a literal one. So when Tawn arrived home from work this evening, he was treated to a Christmas tree in our living room.