Loy-Loy-Loy Krathong

Instead of Bonfire night or Christmas day, Thailand has Loy Krathong.

P1020477

It’s a lunar festival celebrated annually on the night of the full moon (in the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar, according to Wikipedia). I suppose you’d call it a water festival. People buy make these beautiful boats of folded flowers and banana leaves, stick a coin or note on it, light the candle and incense nested in the centre and float the whole shebang off into water with a prayer.

The government complex at the end of our road has a little lakelet so we wandered over to see what was going on. EVERYTHING was going on: market stalls, lights, music, a big, precarious carousel and an enormous old projector showing madcap Thai drama. People were everywhere and there were krathongs a-plenty.

Floating a krathong has a little, quiet slice of reverence that comes with it. You get the candle lit and the incense burning and wait your turn to step carefully to the edge of the water. You place your krathong in the shallows, gently, and give it a gentle push. You watch the breeze mess with the candle flame as it glides and dips. Then you watch it float away. There’s a moment of contemplation there, if you let it in.

But then it’s back to real life. Loud and raucous. TV camera out documenting the event. Food stalls everywhere. Clothes. Traditional Thai dress, dancing and – of course! – the old Loy Krathong song! Nothing like it.

Fury

I’m furious.

I’m furious because, if you’re a millionaire, “I accidentally fell and accidentally penetrated the potentially unconscious teenage girl on my sofa” is a legitimate and successful defense against a rape allegation. I jibber incoherently in my disgust and outrage.

I’m furious because the Independent’s internet campaign for donations to the Great Ormond Street Hospital – a British children’s hospital – features exclusively pictures of white children / families.

I’m furious because I’m SICK of Western tourists coming to Bangkok who seem to think it’s fine and dandy to support the sex trade and the exploitation and degradation of Thai, Laos, Cambodian and Burmese women. You think paying to watch a woman shove razor blades into her vagina is lolzfun entertainment? Would you pay to see that in your own country, or is it only OK because the women you’re watching don’t look like you?

I’m furious because of this RIDICULOUS image entitled 10 Things Guys Wish All Women Knew which showed up uninvited on my Pinterest feed and turned me into a spitting, lava-churning volcano of rage and bile.

Allow me to translate:

10 Bits Of Sexist Bullshit Massive Misogynists Wish All Women Believed

1) We are more comfortable talking AT you rather than WITH you. If you want an honest conversation then the problem is your neediness rather than our reticence.

2) We can’t be fucked to remember things. We expect you to do this for us. It’s far more convenient having another human being spend their mental energy updating us on our lives, rather than expending that energy ourselves.

3) We can’t be fucked to concentrate on more than one thing at a time. Society doesn’t require us to multitask.

4) We do not think you are more important than this video game/ sports match / cooking programme. We want you to know how little we think of you so that you don’t waste our time by interrupting us. Our down time is SACRED and cannot be touched. Your downtime is a frivolous luxury and does not follow the same rules.

5) We don’t particularly mind whether or not you are unhappy, as long as you don’t display annoying outward signs of unhappiness and/or expect us to do anything about it.

6) If we ask you what is wrong, the only acceptable reply is “Nothing”, which means we can get back to our video game/ sports match / cooking programme and pretending to be oblivious to your hurt/irritation/anger etc so we don’t have to deal with it. It also means we can deny accountability in case you mistakenly expected us to display any interest whatsoever in what you had to say – “Well, you SAID nothing was wrong”.

7) Having successfully silenced you over weeks, months or years of ill-veiled disinterest in your emotional experiences, we also want you to know that you expect too much from us; you expect the impossible; you are UNJUST; WE are, in fact, the victims here. And, just so you know, this attitude is an attitude of LOVE, and you DO want to be loved, don’t you? Good. So be grateful.

8) We will make no effort to clean up our act. We are not the problem, you and your absurd idea about being in a mutually respectful, loving, supportive relationship are the problem.

9) We haven’t bothered to find out what you are interested in, but presumably it’s handbags. Because wombs carry thing and women are basically walking wombs. IT’S SCIENCE.

10) Stop talking. We are neither listening nor interested.

 

RAGE and DISGUST have led me to make another charity donation, this time to Rape Crisis (in response to #1 on my list of rage-inducers).

Take that, world.

December privilege

[selfpity]

December.

It’s a hard time for immigrant-me, far from home and in a country that doesn’t celebrate the holidays I find most meaningful.

The pangs of homesickness start on Bonfire Night. My skin misses the bitter night air; my ears, the woosh and pop of the fire, sparklers sizzling, the gunshot clap of firewords, the crackle of light in the sky followed by the ‘ooooohs’ and ‘aaaahhs’ of the crowd. I miss the smell of wood smoke, of spent fireworks, of onions from the burger vans. The boozy scorch of home-mulled wine in the throat and flashes of light skittering across the sky across the sky. I love the excitement, being wrapped up in warm clothes against the cold, the glow of the flames on the faces in the crowd.

And it kicks off the anticipation of Christmas. The train tickets get booked, cards get made or bought then written and forgotten, the bargain eye comes out on the prowl for deals on the edible Xmas essentials.

I love Christmas. I love twinkling lights, glinting tinsel, plump baubles dangling from the tree. I love spending a run of days mooching at home with the family, no work, just exchanging gifts, wearing paper hats and poor taste Xmas jumpers, arguing over Monopoly, dominating at Charades and stuffing down my stepdad’s delectable Xmas cooking. There is no other time in the year we dedicate so much time and effort to enjoying ourselves in every way possible: sights, smells, loving and feeling loved. No other time of year welcomes my terrible puns with such tipsy enthusiasm. Sure, the university canteen where I have lunch sometimes has had an xmas tree up since 1973, but refusing to take the tree down does NOT create the year-round festive cheer you might imagine.

It’s not the same for any of us, this year. I’ll be here in Bangkok, work as usual, teaching on Christmas day (to the surprise of some who might not connect the fact that Buddhist countries generally don’t shut down for Christian holidays). My mum and stepdad will be with J’s parents, staying in the hills of Northern Thailand with the Karen community J grew up in and with whom we spent Xmas last year. My sister and little brothers will be at my mum’s in Chester. My sister will cook (she makes a mean roast) and they’ll sleep and eat and drink and argue and laugh among themselves.

Writing all this, though, I am struck – how is it possible that I sometimes forget? – how absolutely and shockingly privileged I am. I think of the Christmasses I’ve adored and it’s breathtaking. I’ve always had shelter and safety. I’ve had family around me, and visited still more. I’ve had more food than a sensible person should eat, and gifts I wanted but didn’t need. I’ve been in an atmosphere of excitement and joy and had the security of those feelings extending from the past into the future. I’ve had the time and resources – the luxury – of dedicating myself to indulgence and enjoyment. I am extremely privileged.

I think of those people, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, whole countries, continents, who have none of this. People who are at home and unsafe, or who have no home, or who have but were forced to leave. I can’t help to call to mind, suddenly, Warsan Shire‘s explosively powerful and blade-sharp poem, Home. Read it. Read everything she’s written. The woman is a wordsmith.

I donated to Refuge this month, on a day I was feeling particularly pathetic and sorry for myself. Time to go again, methinks. I’ll be donating to UNHCR this time. I’ve the time, resources and inclination, and it is a good reminder of the absurdity of my self-pity, about how it mesmerizes you, dulls your brain into long swathes of selfish and self-serving thoughts and  behaviour. I am not how I feel, and how I feel is not me. I am more. I can do more. And I choose to.

[/self-pity]

 

the truth about pineapples

Fruit. Veg. It’s confusing out here. One minute you’re strolling along a quiet, shady lane in the park and the next you’re confronted with a load of enormous green dildos hanging from the sky. Except they’re not hanging from the sky, they’re hanging from vines, and they’re not enormous green dildos, they’re the eye-wateringly shaped vegetable known as gourds.

Yeah. Gourds. They’re a Thing. They’re like cucumbers, if cucumbers tasted like armpit-flavoured celery.

Fruit and veg out here isn’t what you imagine it to be. I mean, it’s incredibly varied and utterly delicious and everything, but it’s just not quite what you EXPECT.

Take pineapples. I discovered the truth about pineapples last Christmas. There we were, driving on the road to Chiang Mai quite innocently, when this pineapple-shaped monstrosity appeared along the road. Not being one to pass up an opportunity to admire gaudy fruit-shaped statues, I convinced James to stop so we could explore. It was some kind of weird pineapple-themed rest stop. Because… y’know… pineapples.

James got out, ordered a cha nom yen, and my eyes were snagged by a field, rows of small, spikey-leaved explosions planted at regular intervals along farrowed ground. I wandered over and stared for a second before my sun-fried brain (look, it was the middle of the day, ok?) suddenly realised what I must be looking at.

“Oh!” I said, actually exclaiming out loud like some badly-written Thai drama version of myself, “Pineapples grow underground?

I’d never bothered to wonder before this how pineapples grew. I suppose I’d assumed they grew on trees like coconuts. Come on, palm tree leaves look a lot like pineapple leaves.

My other half had meandered over by this point. He stopped beside me and stared at the plants in front of us.

“What are you talking about?”

“Pineapples,” I explained, surprised and pleased by my revelation, “they grow underground. I always thought they grew on trees! This is so weird!”

It was as if the world had been off-kilter, but now it was balanced. Everything made sense.

The Other Half, who grew up in Thailand and so knows better, stares at me. Stares a bit longer. Then starts to smile suspiciously, like I’m making fun of him.

“I’d just never thought about it before,” I explain, feeling the new knowledge push back the boundaries of reality in my brain, basking in the warmth of my newfou…

James starts laughing.

I scowl.

“I can totally see how you’d think that!”

He continues laughing, which I appreciate not a lot at all. I turn up the volume on my scowl. Add some narrowed eyes. Inexplicably, he doesn’t burst into flames.

I venture to ask him what he’s on about.

“Pineapples” he explains, helpfully. “I see why you’d think that.”

Not exactly over-endowed with patience in my daily life, I take an extremely long, extremely deep, extremely slow breath in.

“What,” I ask in my most patient voice, “do you mean?”

“They’re not like potatoes,” He tells me, as if I hadn’t realised the difference, “They grow on top of the plant”.

You what? Pineapple

Clearly that’s ridiculous.

In fact, the only thing that could be more ridiculous than the idea of pineapples growing on top of the leaves of these weird, spiky plants is the fact that this is ACTUALLY HOW THEY GROW.

In real life. Like, this actual reality.

Longwood_Pineapples

Never mind that bananas grow upside down, with the neck at the bottom and the bottom pointing towards the sky. Never mind that jackfruit hang down from tree trunks like uncomfortably swollen and dangerously spikey tree scrotums (and taste like perfumed condom-fruits). Never mind that dragonfruit come from creeping cactuses and durien… well, imagine the most wonderfully fragranced flowers you’ve ever experienced. Imagine meadows and meadows of them. Imagine them in the sun. Decaying. Cloying. Rot-warm and sickly soft on the inside, flowery cum custard.

Imagine that.

But never mind it. That’s nothing. Pineapples grow, absurdly, on giraffe stalks in the middle of bushes.

Did you all already know this?

42% more pizazz

I’M BACK, AND BETTER-LOOKING THAN EVER!

That’s kind of a joke. Not the “I’M BACK” part – I really am back from the massive, accidental 3-month-and-some blog hiatus. It’s the “BETTER-LOOKING THAN EVER!” part I’m on about. Did you notice? The Adventure Book has a new format, courtesy of getting bored and wanting something with a bit more pizazz to brighten up my life.This theme, as well as almost being my name as said by a Thai person, has approximately 42% more pizazz than the previous theme.

Of course, art imitates life. I, too, recently gained a new format, and I, too, am now 42% more pizazzy than previous versions of myself. What am I talking about? THIS:

20150309_151317Reader, I dyed it. This is the latest, greatest and most long-lusted-after offering in my (recent) run of dip dyeing my hair. Luxuriously sea green. Ain’t it great?

That’s all that’s going on for now. Let me know what you think about the new theme and tune in next time for more REAL updates about The Great Thaiventure!