2. The Spirit of Christmas
Watching a stout young fellow in Central department store rigorously polish his baubles and grapple with a bulging sack the other day, I was reminded of the first time I dressed up as Santa and spread the spirit of Christmas.
I had been sent up from Bangkok in the late fifties to take charge of an underperforming nipple clamp factory just outside Mae Rim and after a long and arduous journey north, I was immensely relieved to finally throw my bags on the floor, mix a gin and tonic and collapse on what was to be my bed for the next few months.
I woke to the sight of my enormous manservant standing rigidly to attention.
“Boonlert! What in bloody blazes are you doing?” I roared.
From the bizarre series of grunts and moans that seems to constitute a language for the natives, I worked out that Boonlert was saying something along the lines of: “Oh great white master from the West, we simple savages run around half naked all day in a spiritual wilderness. Can’t you please burn our temples, brainwash our children and generally instill a pernicious sense of guilt and damnation?”
I rose slowly, poured a small pick-me-up and walked over to the window. As I gazed out over the filth and squalor of the village, it occurred to me that the fellow must be referring to Christianity.
“My dear chap,” I said “I think that is a thoroughly splendid idea. Let’s bring Jesus to the masses!” And with that we settled down to toast our new venture.
Finally running out of ice, we marched down to Sinotwatra’s silk shop to get some supplies. We emerged several hours later with myself dressed in a jolly red suit and hat and my enormous manservant nailed to a bamboo cross with knitting needles stuck in his head and a banana skin covering his wedding tackle.
Grabbing what was left of the gin, we headed off to the village hall where I sat on the headman’s chair and Boonlert kneeled on the floor. After several minutes, a small savage, who could have been no more than nine years old and naked as the day he was born, poked his head around the door and stared at us.
“Ignorant beggar” I muttered to myself, then “Ho ho ho, young shaver! Come on in, all are welcome. Why don’t you come and sit on Santa’s knee?”
But the snotty-nosed little fuzzy wuzzy just stood there, looking blankly at us.
“Right, Boonelert grab him!” I hollered, and with that my trusty manservant leaped up and charged after the heathen child. Boonlert snatched the kid – as best he could, hands nailed to the cross and all that – dragged him over and flung him across my knee. I looked deep into the savage’s eyes, and for a moment, beyond the crust and flies, thought I could actually see his soul.
“Say I love Jesus!” The child stared at me with such insolence that I found it hard to control myself. Nevertheless, I know how to deal with children having met one in Burma once, so I reached into my sack and pulled out a piece of dried mango. Holding it up in front of his greedy eyes, I repeated “Say I love Jesus!”
The child responded with a hearty “I rub cheeses!”, and thinking that good enough I flung the mango behind me and let the brat run after it.
Throughout the course of the afternoon, we must have welcomed the whole village to the joys of Christianity, and in so doing not only gave a tremendous boost to the dried mango trade, but also ensured that the spirit of Christmas would live on in even the most Godless of lands.
Citylife, December 2004