It doesn't really feel like Christmas in Bangkok. Certainly, there's the gigantic Christmas tree in Centralworld, the lights strewn about the walkways, and no one can ignore the Christmas gorilla, but for me, Christmas is family, my mum baking cheesecake, neighbors sharing dishes of tamales, and holiday music filling the house.
For Ethan, who admittely has less of an ingrained connection to this holiday, Christmas means snow, also absent in Thailand.
We are not going back "home" this Christmas, which is a first for me in many, many years. The break is short and my family is coming to visit us in January!!!
And, with the wedding looming, we have decided to go back for a few months this coming spring. It will likely be a shock to my system, but overall, it will be very good for me. (It's nearly been three years.)
For now, Christmas will have to be the holiday greetings the refugees offer, brunch with colleagues and a decent cup of coffee at Pla Dip (love this place), and our trip to Cambodia this weekend. We have a Christmas Eve dinner planned with friends before heading to sleepy Kampot.
Also, Christmas means another care package, this one filled with more dried fig from our tree, chocolates, and Trader Joe's baking goods. My parents are awesome.
Actually, it's not. But we did take an afternoon off to join a holiday celebration, where we made paper ornaments.
Children are so beautiful. It's obvious, no? I was struck that afternoon by their openness and happiness. Even as refugees recognized by the UN, the vast majority of these children are illegal and could be snatched up and locked away in detention just like that. (And they often are.) Yet, aware of this risk, they don't carry that fear in their faces or their laughter.
That fear is what I encounter every day at work. No matter what the country of origin, unaccompanied or with five family members, adult refugees speak of that fear and how it dictates their daily lives.
The first few times I heard their stories of flight and sat witness to the welled-up tears and then the sobs that grew violently heavy, gripping them, I was paralyzed in my seat. What do you say to someone who has just escaped a mob of religious fundamentalists who tried to burn down their family's home? "It will be okay," sounds incredibly patronizing in that context.
In that regard, this work has been challenging for me. Although I remain logical in that interview room, I take their stories home, whether I want to or not. Increasingly, I have dreams that resemble the stories I hear.
On Monday, a rare Thai holiday, we took a walk through Chinatown (littered with pomegranate juice vendors), up into Little India, through the sari stalls and fabric markets, and dead-ended at the Chao Phraya river, where we hopped on a boat taxi.
Over the past two weekends, Ethan and I have played host to three different visitors, all friends we met in Cambodia. We have another visitor this week. (I am envious of the numerous Cambodian holidays.)
As a result of these visits, I believe we may have an itinerary down pat - and it always involves at least one Bangkok market because one of the most enjoyable things about this city is its variety of markets.
This weekend, we went to Bangkok's famous weekend market, Chatuchak Market, also known as JJ Market, a sprawl of stalls and makeshifts shops filled with just about anything you can think of: vintage clothing and furniture, young Thai designs, trashy tourist finds, used books, and more importantly, food vendor upon food vendor.