So for the past couple of weeks or so I have been working on an entry revolving around our school. You know, how the educational system compares to that of the West, how the teacher-student dynamic operates in the context of cross-cultural perspectives, how our students eat ice cream on hot dog buns and the other important, everyday struggles we have learned to cope with over the past couple of months. However we received something in the mail the other day and I felt compelled to put that entry on the shelf and focus on a Christmas entry, which makes a little more sense now that I think about it, but hindsight is 20/20, right? What could I have possibly received in the mail to convince me make such a drastic decision, you ask? Well
You see, soon after Alison and I had settled into our town in Thailand we agreed that this year for Christmas we would not be exchanging presents. With our intentions set on saving money coupled with the fact that we share one motorcycle and live in a town without shopping centers, we had decided that our gift to each other was to spend Christmas together and go on a trip for New Years (we are heading up to Vientiane, Laos for a long weekend this Friday). Thailand is a Buddhist country after all, and as such does not celebrate Christmas-at least not like we're accustomed to in the West. All Alison and I really wanted this year was a chance to Skype with our families on Christmas Eve or Christmas night, buying into the fact that this Christmas would be different from those we've experienced in the past.
Yet as December began to wash over us and the temperatures in our town began to drop we found ourselves following through with many of our typical holiday traditions. We hung lights outside our apartment, watched our favorite Christmas films (Home Alone, Love Actually), and even started listening to holiday-themed music at an unhealthy rate. It began to seem that despite our original intentions of "not really celebrating Christmas this year" we had found ourselves stuck in what could best be described as holiday-spirit limbo. If it wasn't an actual moment then it was the accumulation of moments that forced us to admit that we would, in fact, miss Christmas this year. And it wasn't the fact that we would miss having gifts under the tree (or a tree, for that matter), nor the lack of lights or snow. In fact, we wouldn't even miss the Christmas food. What it all boiled down to was that we wouldn't be able to experience the emotions and sense of love and happiness that comes with spending the holidays surrounded by friends and family. OK yeah, we would miss the food, too. I must have gotten carried away there for a second
As the 25th neared we had come to the terms with the approaching reality that Christmas this year would amount to sharing a bottle of wine from the local 7-Eleven over a bowl of fried rice, with the Home Alone soundtrack softly playing in the background. Thus, you could imagine our joy (and surprise) when I received a text from a teacher the day before Christmas Eve telling me that there's "a very, very big box" with my name on it in our office.
Upon first glance of the battered, travel-weary box the morning of Christmas Eve my honest, initial reaction was "how the hell are we going to get this home on our motorbike?" Fortunately one of the teachers took our dilemma to consideration and offered to bring it to our house in the back of her truck. Promptly, I grabbed the first few boy students that I saw and had them carry the box down several flights of stairs for me and load it up.
Leaving school early (it's mid-term week) Alison and I raced home and punctually sliced open the box which had been taking up half of our floor space all day and took a look at the contents it protected. What we expected was a lot of packing paper and a few wrapped boxes, but by the time we took everything out what laid before us was about 30 gifts from more than 25(!) different people. Overwhelmed by the generosity before us, we took a collective deep breath, cracked open a beer and put on Christmas music in order to create the appropriate backdrop for the gift-wrapping slaughter that was about to ensue.
What we found inside could not have been more perfectly random, unexpected or necessary. Bedding, pillows (which immediately replaced the Monster's Inc. pillow I won at a carnival and had been using for weeks), alcohol, Louisiana spices, easy-to-cook gumbo, a French press and Community Coffee, candy, Easy-Mac, a tub of Xmas popcorn, a painting, wine glasses, socks, bags, soap, toothpaste, candles .the list goes on and on.
Looking at the collection of objects and gift-carnage scattered about our tiny apartment after the last present had been opened we felt jaded, dizzy, and accompanied by an odd sense that we had just done something wrong, unnatural or even illegal. But to be honest, what we really felt was love and gratitude. Words cannot explain our emotions looking at all of the names of people who took part in trying to bring a little Christmas to us in all the way in the rice fields of Thailand, nor would they do justice. Each and everyone one of those involved in this absurdly far-fetched undertaking mean the world to us and have helped breath some life into our daily routines, as we will certainly think of them when using, eating and wearing the contents of that obscenely fat box that was waiting for us on Christmas Eve. To be sure, the gesture alone was enough. And from across the world and the bottom of our hearts we'd like to thank you all for truly making this Christmas one we will never forget.