Today, is Canadian Thanksgiving, or Jour de l’Action de grâce. A day – since officially proclaimed in 1957 – where all Canadians celebrate the harvest and blessings of the past year. Out here in Bangkok the diplomat announced, that we were to attend the prestigious 22nd Thai-Canadian Chamber of Commerce Ball to celebrate the day.
Some weeks earlier the conversation ran along the lines of the diplomat telling me: “Don’t forget to wear a suit. It’s a formal occasion. Black tie and ball gowns. You did pack your suit when we left? I told you to.”
“Uh, why yes. Of course I did. What kind of British buffoon could possibly forget that? Oh look, is that an albatross outside?”
Oh Sh*t. I think I packed it. Never mind, it’s weeks away.
So last week meandered by with the casual indolence of a humid Bangkok midday until I checked the suit situation. Not good.
“Uh, will a pair of jeans – you know like the ones the Quebecois in Wakefield loved – and a nice shirt do?”
Did you know there is a genuine diplomatic glare?
“Perhaps not, then. Where’s the nearest tailor?”
So off I traipsed to get a suit (see last blog for the fabulous prices) and thus we found ourselves suitably attired – I have to say that the diplomat looked absolutely stunning. Well, she’s stunning most of the time, but this was extra-stunning. There are times I quite feel like Beauty and the Beast – and presenting ourselves with two good friends at the Four Seasons Hotel. I must digress here and highly recommend this chain to anyone who’s never visited. My first encounter with them was at a country estate in Hampshire, UK http://www.fourseasons.com/hampshire/ where a very brief spa overnighter resulted in me discovering a ballroom entirely given over to a bouncy castle and Wii; that I was pretty good at archery from 10yards when the sky behind me is on fire; that one must never ever stand under a swan neck fountain – which is designed to produce the power of a fire hose – and peer into the gloom of its funnel at the precise moment the youthful spa-aides press “On”; that it was Canadian. Of all these, it was the latter that surprised me least and, despite the fact it is pricy, anyone with kids should do this. Luxury and your children will love it. Seriously.
Anyway, back at the ball we walked on a small causeway across cool waters owned by a Greek nymph surrounded by lotus blossoms into the air conditioned atrium where we were greeted with champagne, wine, martini and a range of silent auction items. There were rugs from Persia, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Iran…jewellery that glittered – diamonds, emeralds, opals – crafted into earrings, necklaces, cufflinks…flights on various airlines all over Asia and one on a trans-Canada VIA trip of a lifetime….stays in a (what is the word for a group of hotels?) package of hotel chains…etc. etc. Oh and a hamper of Jelly Beans. All of these products were part of a silent auction where all bids were final and binding. So the kind of thing you walk round putting the name and email address of other people on.
Suitably imbibed with all these liquid refreshments and having met those we’ve come to know in a few short weeks plus some new introductions we all gyrated into the vast ballroom. Inside was a riotous confusion of autumnal colours. Russet, ochre, amber, gold – it was a burnished, shimmering taste of a pumpkin-orange, rustling, leaf-strewn landscape that, for a moment, made you pause and reflect on the nostalgia that autumn in northern Europe and Canada brings. I have to say that it is my favourite time of year, when seasons shift, when the dying summer gives way to winter in a defiant blaze of colours; a time of haunting, swirling mists; the silent drip, drip of fat droplets of water that fall with leaves that can no longer hold on to the arms of the trees that bore them; leaves that slowly, softly, like a memory of the snows to come, float gently down to put the forest floor to bed. It is a time when the air swells with the rich, smoky aroma of burning logs, when thick woolen sweaters are pulled on, when the chef turns to thick, hearty soups, and when tiny mammals race to gather their own harvests so they may be safe against the icy grip of winter.
Such was the moment when we stepped inside the ballroom. An assault of memories in a scant few seconds.
We glided to our table, to meet the eight others who would partake of this festive repast, and were seated to hear the opening introductions from our hosts. They were short, welcoming, touching on the generosity of those who had made the evening possible. Not short enough for a few tables who did not seem to understand that it is polite to listen to those who step forward, brave enough to address an expectant crowd; they chattered away rudely until a terse command lopped their twitterings. I had to silently applaud the irritation of the speaker who unsubtly pointed out what most were thinking. After all, if you are keen to accept the hospitality, food and drink of your host, you should also listen to their welcome. Call me old-fashioned but in a world where communication deafens our planet, there are times when the silence of autumn is more golden than the gaiety of conversant personalities.
I have noticed in Bangkok that food is served when it is ready. This can have the unfortunate effect of meaning some people either are forced to wait and let their food go cold whilst awaiting others’ meals or finish consuming them before everyone else. Slightly awkward decision making. For this evening it meant we opened with a nice shrimp appetiser, followed by some delicious pumpkin soup and then got a turkey (pre-sliced) delivered to each table. I should point out here that each table had a central rotating tray. With it was creamed mash, runner beans, red onion. There was not quite enough of each of the vegetables so we had to ask for more. Once everyone had nearly finished the gravy and stuffing turned up.
Oh. Tricky. Never mind. This was followed by the dessert which was a selection of dainty mouthfuls on a three tier tray – tiny pastry cakes filled with dragon fruit, custard, berries -, a pumpkin pie (not a sugar pie to the chagrin of the Canadians), a fruit crumble and a Thai specialty of sweets. It had been pointed out to me in one of the many gourmet food halls that are within a five minute walk of our home that these appetizing looking sweetmeats are, in fact, made of bean curd. Something that would catch the unassuming Westerner quite unawares when you expect a sensation of sweet rather than savoury.
Dinner was over. I was introduced to the concept of the “Canadian Prairie Fire” shot. Tequila and tabasco.
“Here, have four. To get the real appreciation of it.” encouraged the diplomat.
“Where’s the yoghurt?” Or better still, where’s a swan necked fire hose when you need one?
The musical evening commenced. We had a six-piece girl band playing covers of mainstream music. Beyoncé, Bryan Adams, The Cranberries. That kind of thing. I was treated to the opera of the (by now tipsy) revellers forming a circle and then a brave soul would plunge into the middle (a la Run DMC) to perform their version of “The Lawnmower”, “The Can-Opener”, “The Mail man”, “The Sprinkler”, “The Running Man” etc..
If you want an idea check out Ms Clarkson – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=873aSN8MHLg
The fact that everyone was so good at their chosen mock-dance clearly meant hundreds of hours practising in front of a basement mirror. It was kind of ‘You’re doing this to poke a little harmless fun at those who might dance like this, but in fact we’re seeing your best moves right here because you’ve practised’. It was brilliant to see. Here, surely, is what diplomacy is all about? Not quite because this was not an embassy dinner and therefore a lot less formal. This was Thanksgiving. Time swirled by in a heady rush of hilarity, companionship, the lawnmower, and good food and drink. Just enough time to pile into a taxi for a two minute drive home, check that Isla hadn’t kept the nanny up all night and slumber the night away.
I got up, bleary-eyed at 6am, readied myself for a tennis game I’d pre-booked but hadn’t quite considered the timing of given the Ball and then got a text at 7 to say the other person couldn’t make it.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?