Letter 8 to Son No.1 (Chiang Rai)

Rashi Guest House, Chiang Mai
December 26th 1985

Today is Boxing Day for Christians throughout the world, including Thailand. As the main religion here is Buddhism, the Christian community celebrates with church services and present giving on Christmas Eve, as they do in much of Europe, but many Thais still have to work on Christmas Day.

I could have been confused. I have spent a Christmas in France, but generally I’ve celebrated the festive season in a somewhat traditional English way – lots of food, good company, old films and a circus on TV, and the giving and receiving of presents. (I hope everyone received the special cards I had printed in Singapore  from one of my photos, and that your present fits.)

My Christmas this year was been fairly quiet. We found a delightful guest house in Chiang Rai, some 100 kilometres north of here. Six four-roomed houses, two storeys high, surround a large green area. The family who run the place have chickens, dogs, cats and turkeys roaming free; all remain uneaten and happy.

For the evening of Christmas Eve, the family arranged a barbeque for all the travellers staying there. Pork kebabs roasted over charcoal were delicious. And yes, I’ve stopped being vegetarian here, otherwise I would have difficulty in finding anything to eat outside the cities. The father, a local headmaster, shared a bottle of Thai whisky which made us feel happier, though not drunk. That and the fire warmed us all up because it was still cold outside our unaccustomed attire of sweaters and socks.

The night before this, a large group of friends of the family, connected with the local church and YMCA, came carol singing. We all recognised the tune of Silent Night, though I couldn’t readily translate the Thai words which were sung in beautiful harmony. And so the spirit of Christmas reached us.

On Christmas Day, M, a friend from Lambeth whose holiday dates happily coincide with the Thailand section of my travels, and I were joined by Patric and Ebba who live in the hills of south France. Ebba is 71, spends six months every year travelling so she can get insights and inspiration for her paintings. Until her husband died three years ago, they used to travel together and earned their living through their art. So Ebba had many fascinating tales to tell.

The four of us had a very good meal together in Chiang Rai’s most expensive restaurant. Turkey with a variety of tasty vegetables, including such rarities on my travels as carrots and potatoes, followed by fruit salad, cheese cake, and the best fruit cake I have tasted since those my mother used to make. It was all worth every baht of the 90 (c.£2.40) we each paid.

Compared to India, Thailand is a comfortable country to travel in, and I’m not just referring to the trains and buses. Although the language is totally indecipherable to me, I have managed to pick up a few words and phrases such as the numbers, ‘hello‘, ‘how much?‘ (which translates as ‘how many numbers?‘ and ‘thank you‘. When accompanied with a friendly smile and appropriate gestures, this limited vocabulary usually enables a level of communication which is sufficient to get by on. Of course, English is fairly widely understood, but it is so much nicer to try a little of the local language as it shows a willingness to be part of the community.

In Chiang Rai, M. and I generally ate in a Thai restaurant which had a large display of fish and meat dishes to be eaten with rice They also have a range of delicious desserts such as bananas cooked in coconut milk, sweet potatoes (yams), tapioca and sweet glutinous rice. Any country which enjoys puddings and cakes is ok by me; it means that they have time for the nicer things in life.

At lunch yesterday we were given a small present each. Beautifully and individually wrapped, it was a Trebor sherbert lemon. For me, it was also a nice touch of nostalgia …

(… even though Trebor is no more.)

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About Jakartass

A Brit Abroad
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