Frequently when walking along the sois of Khrungthep, one encounters things that make you stop, scratch your head, and wonder, “What is that all about?” One of Thailand’s more advanced efforts to discourage smoking among the populace is a restriction on the display of smoking advertising or paraphernalia, including cigarettes themselves. Retailers can sell cigarettes, but the packages must not be visible to the public. Instead, they are allowed to put up signs – specific ones designed by the government – that say “Cigarettes Sold Here” along with a health warning.
Walking down Sukhumvit Soi 12 on Sunday with Aaron, we passed a small convenience store that had just such a sign in the window. Above it was a hand-lettered sign that read, “Frozen Green Peas Available Here.”
What does that mean?
Is it some sort of commentary on the owner’s feelings about the government’s paternalistic restrictions on cigarette advertising and display? Or are frozen green peas a difficult commodity to find in that area and carrying frozen green peas lends this retailer a special competitive advantage?
Wednesday was Valentine’s Day, a holiday that is well-celebrated in Thailand for all its commercial potential. Tawn explained that it is filtered through a uniquely Thai lens: since “status” and “face” are such important concepts in this hierarchical society, the purpose of Valentine’s Day especially for young women, is to receive large bouquets of flowers that they can then carry with them the whole day, showing off in a peacock’s tail feathers-like way that they have a very loving boyfriend. A bit like having the biggest rock on your engagement ring, but more prominent and preliminary.
Since they have a farang teacher (me), the teachers at Bangkhonthiinai School thought it necessary to celebrate Valentine’s Day. When Tod and I arrived, a table was set up and each of the children in turn queued up to present us with a rose, a flower, a gift, a card, a candy, etc. It was very overwhelming, especially when you consider that these children do not have a lot of money. We wound up with three over-stuffed vases, which Tawn make good use of once I returned home.
Above left: Students lining up with roses and other flowers; Right: The sum of all the flowers Tod and I were given
As part of the day’s lesson, Tod and I worked with the vocabulary surrounding Valentine’s Day – “flowers,” “chocolate,” “roses,” “cards,” etc. – and the sentence construction of “(I/you) give (a) _____ to (you/me)” and “(I/you) receive (a) ______ from (you/me).”
With the older students, we had them line up with boys on one side of the room and girls on the other, the lines meeting at the front of the room, and they practiced these sentences as they gave a rose, a vase of flowers, a card, or a chocolate to each other.
Left: One student gives flowers to another while Khruu Kobfa (“Teacher Kobfa” – Tod’s given name) looks on.
We also practiced the question and answer patterns: “Who would you send a Valentine’s Day card to? / I would send a Valentine’s Day card to _____.” and “What would you write in a Valentine’s Day card? In a Valentine’s Day card, I would write, “_________.””
Afterwards, we practiced saying and writing the various greetings and endearments you would use for a Valentine’s greeting “Sweetheart” translates literally into Thai. “Mon petit chou” does not. Finally, we sat down to write Valentine’s card, using some cards that Ken had brought back from the United States. (Note to Ken – I learned Tuesday that you can buy Valentine’s Day cards in bulk at MBK Shopping Center. Who knew?) The younger children had goofed around too long with their spelling test so only had about 30 minutes for cards. The older children had about an hour.
It was fun as the children are very effusive and draw pictures and add stickers to decorate their cards. Hopefully there are some happy mothers, fathers, siblings, friends and sweethearts out there. When I asked the younger children if any of them had a “tii-rak” or “fan” (literally, a “one that I love” or a “boy/girl friend”) many enthusiastically said they did. When I asked the older children, most of them blanched and made a face of disgust.
Wednesday evening Tawn and I met up at the Esplanade and had Japanese food at Wasabi Restaurant and then watched a sneak preview of the new Drew Barrymore / Hugh Grant movie, “Music and Lyrics.” It was witty and well-written except for the problem that the romance between the two characters just didn’t feel plausible. But we enjoyed it nonetheless.
Interesting thing, though: In one scene of the movie a younger pop singer who has asked Hugh Grant’s aging 80’s pop star character to write a song for her, is performing a concert. Her stage is done up in a vaguely “Asian” theme with a mishmash of Hindu and Buddhist iconography. (The film actually makes a brief critique of western artists who appropriate symbols from eastern religions.) There is a large Buddha statue in the background and Buddha imaged on the dancers’ shirts. But – and this is what’s interesting about it – the film was censored and the Buddha images were digitally masked, much in the same way that certain parts of an adult movie might be masked with these large pixels.
Interesting because the mis-use of Buddhist iconography is prohibited by Thailand’s film review board, espcially since in this case the young pop star is prancing around in barely more than a bikini. There was an incident back in 2004 when the Thai government demanded that Victoria’s Secret remove a photo showing a scantily-clad model in a swimsuit with an image of Buddha on it.
Contrast this with one of the previews for an upcoming Thai language comedy called “The Bodyguard 2” in which we see the main character shoot another character in the chest three times. The scene shows the fake bullet wounds exploding in the man’s chest. They do look a little obviously fake, but it is still quite graphic especially for young viewers. That is okay, however, but we had best not show the Buddha statue onstage with a scantily-clad woman.
No judgement. Each culture has its own values.
(Worth noting, too, that smoking on movies and shows airing on Thai TV is similarly masked.)