Thailand is a country that likes to celebrate
It is also a country that is very good at hyping up rampant commercialism and so Valentines Day is the ideal opportunity for the two things to come together and make oh so sweet love.
Balloons bursting with love you messages and heart-shaped pillows and flowers leer at you from the side of every street. Even the areas surrounding the Skytrain ticket offices suddenly explode into commercial hubs of all things gooey and sentimental. And these goods dont just sit there. They arent packed away and brought out again in a hopeful way the following year. No, they leap off the shelves and into the willing arms of boys and girls, men and women all around the country.
I have never thought Thai people a particularly romantic race. Eminently practical, extremely good at choosing the down-to-earth option; once a year they turn into budding Romeos and charming Casanovas. One could be very cynical and postulate that the media campaign and retail industry is just doing its job very well. However it isnt all about purchasing power.
Every year on 14 February a mass underwater Valentine’s Day wedding ceremony is held in Trang province in the south of the country. Couples leap into the depths in order to declare their love for each other and the place has now received a well-earned nod in the Guinness Book of Records.
Bang Rak in Bangkok is a district with a poetic name.
Bang Rak literally translates as the District of Love and due to this title, every year hundreds of couples queue up patiently from 4am in the morning to register their marriage. There is an annual roundup to count marriage registrations in each district on Valentines Day and unsurprisingly Bang Rak wins the gold medal year after year. Also unsurprisingly, another district with a name which roughly translates as Separation does not fare so well. This year Valentines Day fell on a Sunday when municipal offices are closed. Not in Bang Rak.
They were open by popular demand and doing a thriving trade.
Perhaps I sound cynical, but I come from a culture where Valentines Day has become a hackneyed and clichéd joke. Even growing up some years ago I knew to make fun of what the day represented and never sent a serious Valentines Day card in my life. But Thailand has kept its innocence in this regard. Love is celebrated; with cards, with messages in newspapers and magazines and long, involved call-outs on local radio stations. Love is not dead it seems.
Recently I discovered all too well that it is alive and kicking in Thailand.
This year I was ceremoniously presented with two stuffed red hearts (cloth, not real alas) from the very serious Director of a Schools District after I had finished a training session with 35 teachers. I then received three email Valentines Day cards from work colleagues, two of them female.
I felt slightly worried about this until looking closely at the address list realised they had been sent to everyone in the office.
Love is obviously meant to be spread around and given freely.
So as you can see, I am learning to appreciate the Thai attitude to the day and to love. It is as much about telling friends and family how much you care (not to mention work colleagues) as it is about romantic gestures between girlfriends and boyfriends. It is a chance to buy something cute and entertaining and pass it on in order to receive a smile. And most of all, it is about enjoying and reveling in . love.