Although the calendar tells me that Christmas is almost here, most of the normal cues that I have grown to expect are missing. There is no cold weather or even the slightest chance of snow as temperatures still range from the mid-90s during the day to the pleasant 70s at night. There are no farms where you can choose and cut your own pine, spruce, or fir trees, nor are there lots in the city hawking freshly cut trees and wreathes. There are no Salvation Army bell-ringers at the entrances to malls and shopping centers raising money for the less-fortunate. There are no parents taking their young children to the malls to get that terrified photo with Santa Claus.
Likewise, bakeries are not baking Christmas cookies or yule logs, and I have yet to see my first offering of egg nog, with or (sacrilegiously) without liquor. The TV is not showing Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Bells of St. Mary’s, White Christmas, or even National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. (I must admit, however, that I am very grateful to not have to even think about watching Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer and listening to Burl Ives.) The theaters and playhouses are not staging The Nutcracker or Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and the symphony orchestras are not offering Christmas Pops concerts (R.I.P. Marvin Hamlisch and thanks for the great ecumenical memories of a Jewish conductor leading the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s Christmas concerts) or Handel’s Messiah. I also do not expect to see any carolers roaming the sois of Krung Thep.
Christmas trees, however, are EVERYWHERE. During my recent trip to Cambodia (96% Buddhist), Malaysia (60% Muslim, 20% Buddhist) and Singapore (80% non-Christian — Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Taoists), I saw many Christmas displays, often quite elaborate. On my daily jaunts around Bangkok and in Thailand (95% Buddhist), I see not only Christmas trees but also snowmen, angels, nutcrackers, Santa and his reindeer, and even the occasional, but rare, nativity. I also hear Christmas music in many, perhaps most, hotels, malls, and restaurants. Now a person more cynical than I (if such a person exists) might suggest that this is purely about retailing, but I prefer to see this as the universal appeal of Christmas and all it represents. That and the fact that Asians love to have their pictures taken and, really, what could provide a nicer background?
People that I meet at work or socially inevitably wish me a Merry Christmas (not the dreaded Happy Holidays) and ask how I will spend the day. My apartment building has a Christmas tree set up at the main entrance and the staff collected presents and donations to give to 70 children in a nearby orphanage for Christmas.
Below are Christmas-related pictures that I took during the past few weeks in Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand
Cambodia & Malaysia
Christmas on a Great Street
There is a three-quarter mile stretch of Orchard Road in Singapore — basically running between the Orchard Road and Somerset subway stations — that is as well-decorated as anything I have seen in the U.S. or Europe. This stretch of road is called “Christmas on a Great Street” and it is regularly included on top 10 lists, e.g., Frommer’s and Lonely Planet, for Best Holiday Lights.
As my friend and I walked down Orchard Road to see the lights and take in the spectacle, we came across four young contortionists busking on the sidewalk. I was astounded by how seemingly effortlessly they were able to flex their bodies. Do not try this at home if you wish to see the New Year!
Johnnie Walker & Sons Voyager
At a dinner on Thanksgiving Day, I met the head of Diageo (Thailand), and the following week I received an invitation to attend a party aboard the Johnnie Walker Voyager when it docked in Bangkok. The Voyager is a three-masted sailing yacht that began a five month expedition in Shanghai in September. Before arriving in Bangkok, it made port calls in Taipei, Hong Kong, Manila, Ha Long Bay, and Hanoi. The ship will next visit Singapore and Mumbai before heading to Europe.
The purpose of the voyage and parties is to celebrate the brand and Johnnie Walker Blue in particular; to introduce Johnnie Walker’s new triple malt blended scotch, called the Odyssey; and to recreate the Around the World travel guide published by Johnnie Walker in the 1920s. The Odyssey is bottled in a handcrafted, crystal decanter that will swing back and forth as the ship rolls but will always end pointing up. Although it retails for 37,000 baht (approx. $1,200 per bottle), sales were quite brisk at the party.
The evening began with a reception in a huge air-conditioned tent where Johnnie Walker Blue Label flowed like water. After a fireworks display over the yacht, guests were allowed aboard for a beautiful, gala party. I ran into several people whom I knew from previous functions in Bangkok, and I met several new people as well. The only downside to the wonderful evening was that I had to go to work in the morning.
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2012 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.