Holidays Overseas

My dad just sent me an email asking if I was doing anything special for Christmas. I was just thinking about this topic the other day and had been considering writing about spending holidays overseas so I told my dad I would go ahead and write the blog post as I think it might be interesting to share.

First off, you have to distinguish holidays in western countries and living here in Thailand.

When I lived in Europe we share many of the same (Christian) holidays. Christmas, Easter, and so on. So you typically have close friends who invite you over for meals and you enjoy the common festive spirit of the holidays. However, your British coworkers aren’t big on celebrating the 4th of July with you or Thanksgiving so you do sort of lose something.

In Thailand that is 90% Buddhist (and the rest being mostly Muslims in the south) it’s entirely different. They decorate up the town with plastic snowmen (in a country where most people have never actually even seen snow) and fake Christmas trees but it’s a farang (foreigner) holiday. Banks and government buildings are open on Christmas day (when it’s on a weekday). If you’re Thai it’s no different than any other day of the year unless you have a farang boyfriend, husband, or close friends who observe the holiday.

That’s a very Thai thing though. They don’t mind celebrating our holidays or even our religious themed holidays as long as the holiday is fun. Christmas is fun. Valentine’s Day is fun. St. Patrick’s Day is fun. Cinco de Mayo is fun. Halloween is fun.

To some degree, and I was also thinking about this in depth the other day, Bangkok is really an international city beyond what anything else most people know. As one frequent and well known commentator on Thailand recently said “I said Bangkok approaches what Paris must have been like in the 20s and 30s when writers and characters from around the globe hung out in bars ready to talk about their lives and life in general without the constraints of political correctness.”

All of the foreigner expats here (tourists are a totally different story) sort of share this common bond of seeking an experience you can’t find back home (wherever your home might be). Everybody that’s here has followed anything but the safe or the common path in life. People from all walks of life and all corners of the world mingle without social or any other kinds of barriers. We’re all foreigners in a strange land so there’s no benefit in barriers.

On any given day you can be sitting somewhere chatting with a Saudi, a Pakistani, a Brit, an Aussie, an Italian, a Cambodian, a South African, an Israeli, and so on and so on. You get a much different perspective on the world hearing so many different stories.

So how do us farangs celebrate Christmas here in Bangkok? I can’t speak for all but many of the bars and restaurants here that cater for farangs are also owned by farangs (strange, eh?). They usually have big feasts and such and try to replicate the Christmas spirit as much as possible.

Even for Thanksgiving there are two places that consistently put on a feast, Moonshine and Bourbon Street. Others do as well and many “international” hotels will put on some sort of buffet but both of the previously mentioned places are owned by Americans and go out of their way to replicate the American experience as much as possible. My first Thanksgiving here I went with some friends to the Holiday Inn on Silom for their Thanksgiving buffet and found that it was mostly sushi which is why I don’t place a lot of confidence in “international” buffets anymore.

I can’t say much about the Bourbon Street feasts because I haven’t been yet but they are always packed and reservations are highly recommended. In fact, if rumors are true, they had so many people wanting to come for Thanksgiving that they served their buffet Thursday (Thanksgiving for my non-American friends) and Friday just to accommodate everyone who wanted to gorge themselves on Turkey.

I’m more familiar with Moonshine’s offerings because I went there last year for Christmas, this year for Thanksgiving, and I know the owner and his wife. The owner, Mitch, takes pride in importing authentic American food on events like these and his wife Wassana, who runs the kitchen, knows how to cook the hell out of some farang food. Typically on Thanksgiving and Christmas they throw a free buffet. All you can eat and they’ll keep making food until the last person collapses. All they ask is that you buy some drinks and tip the staff generously. Seems like a good deal.

So to answer my father’s original question, that’s what I’ll probably be doing on Christmas day. My girlfriend and I will exchange Christmas presents in the morning and we’ll probably head down to Moonshine for a Christmas dinner of turkey and ham and we’ll see some friends, exchange some Christmas well wishes with each other, and then we’ll probably head home.