OK, lets rewind a little. We had been invited to a diplomatic event. A fair few countries here celebrate their National Day with an evening “party” showcasing the traditions – national dress, national foods, national singing, national photos…all sponsored by non-national partners (in this case Fly Emirates). This event was the Swiss National Day. Who could possibly pass up the chance to access the finest chocolate and cheese event in Bangkok, coupled with Yodeling?
“Will we hear Christopher Plummer belting out Edelweiss? Do you present me or do I introduce myself?” Nervous inquiries to the Diplomat as we inched ever closer to shaking hands with the Swiss Ambassador and her entourage.
“He’s Canadian. That film was set in Austria. I’ll introduce you. Hush.” was the reply.
Oh. I glanced down. Suitably dressed (excuse the pun) given the glittering guest-list of diplomatic talent sweeping into this party in either tailored suits or fitted gowns. Must have been over 500 people, most of which had pulled up in an impressive array of polished black Mercedes with blacked out windows. They all had flags waving at the front of each bonnet, their number plates providing me with my usual guessing game. To explain – diplomatic cars have a unique number plate in Thailand. Each has a number associated with it the plates are issued either to members of diplomatic missions, international organizations or United Nations specialized agencies. The top left has a letter denoting the status (“ท” for diplomatic agents, “พ” for members of special embassy agencies, “ก” for consular agents, and “อ” for international organizations or United Nations agencies). Plates issued to diplomatic agents are black on white, those issued to honorary consuls are black on gray, and others are white on light blue (we’ve got the latter). In Canada’s case we have lucky 13, 57 for Holland, the US is 86 etc.. We saw a few 92s and couldn’t work it out. Vanata? Venezula? Vietnam? A google search shows a lack of answers.
Anyway, before we found ourselves in the queue we had decided to walk from home to the function at the hotel. As we entered through the rear of the hotel next to the khlong, the Diplomat stopped abruptly.
“I say, isn’t that the fertility shrine, eh?”
We had stumbled across the Chao Mae Tuptim shrine, a phallic shrine behind the Swissotel Hotel on the southern bank of khlong Saen Saep. As we had some time we decided to venture in. My first impression (lacking my spectacles that I apparently should now really use for distance vision but never quite get round to doing) was that I had entered a forest of stone mushrooms. It swiftly became apparent these were phalli, all clustered together as offerings placed by various couples wishing to secure the blessing of fertility by Chao Mae Tuptim – a female spirit, a tree goddess. Of course, the site attracts both women from across the Golden Peninsula and giggling farang reverting to a schoolboy mentality. Visitors wishing to get pregnant leave offerings at the spirit house penis statue draped in cloth, surrounded by candles, I have subsequently read that the air is heavy with the scent of jasmine, lotus and Chinese incense but on that evening the stench of the klong overpowered everything (as they usually do).
The Diplomat and I moved on, clambered up a twisting staircase and emerged at the front of the hotel (which has an awesome pool if you’re ever looking for a place to stay in Bangkok). We sashayed into the long foyer and patiently found ourselves in the aforementioned queue. Once past the handshaking against a huge poster backdrop of the Swiss Alps we entered the large ballroom and were assailed by the hum of conversation and the intoxicating miasma of hot cheeses. Raclette anyone? I practically hurled myself towards the nearest table. Breads of all kinds with which to dip into fondue cauldrons of all gloopy tastes. The heady, pungent aroma of cheese became the oxygen of our lungs; people swooned everywhere. Good cheese in Bangkok is very hard to find and usually incredibly expensive. Thai people just don’t get why anyone would want to eat curdled goat/sheep/cow milk, let alone leave it out to get mouldy.
The fondue party is a force of cuisine all by itself and the Swiss have it down to an art. In fact, I cannot put it any better than Messrs Goscinny and Uderzo in “Asterix in Switzerland” did:
By the end of the evening, dozens would have found themselves in the lake. Before all that, the rampage of cheese was also followed by the other fine Swiss product – chocolate. A fountain was there for you to swirl fruit into; a house of chocolate was putting a vast table under some serious pressure – Hansel and Gretel would have succumbed immediately. I tried to reach for the chocolate cup to take a bite out if it only to be hauled in by the Diplomat
“Those are for show!”
Really? I tried not to let my disappointment show.
It was not a long evening…but my first introduction to the diplomatic function. Eating and drinking takes second place to the polite conversation, the networking, the quick updates on matters of government: both political, trade, and consular. Waiters glide noiselessly to offer champagne (that had been out in the heat too long, unfortunately), removing plates and glasses as needed. With practiced aplomb everyone shuffles into place as the Ambassador takes centre stage, speaks of the pride of her country, references the 1291 Federal Charter, moves easily between the four languages of Switzerland, even reads out in good Thai. Everyone is accounted for, everyone put at ease. Being diplomatic is a gift; it is hard work…and this lot are very good at it. We even had some yodeling by a young Swiss National. National anthems are sung, applause is polite.
Here’s some photos (the ice sculpture is the Matterhorn):
We were not there too long, but I enjoyed seeing this world of the diplomatic National Day…and especially that fine cheese. I’ve been satiated for a while and didn’t drop a single piece of bread. No stick for me in Asterix’s world 😉
I’ll leave you with some singing…
Oh…and if you want to hear Edelweiss then go for it – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFHujvkacNY
Is this what diplomacy is all about?