Make Valentine's Day really romantic this year!
The Biker's Diary
Tuesday, February 12, 2013 2:50 AM
This year, as in all the years since we have moved to "the farm," we will be away on Valentine's Day. And every year, we get a reminder that we must be lucky to have such a fun holiday on our cultural calendar.
That is a sharp contrast to some other parts of the world. I read a newspaper article with a dateline of New Delhi, India, in which a group of women called the "Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women" had been organized as a "provocative response" to Hindu extremists. Those extremists, calling themselves the SRS, or Army of Lord Ram, had attacked young women drinking in a bar in southern India. The women had been chased, slapped and kicked in the attack by these "guardians of traditional Hindu values." They were "briefly detained," but soon released; the resulting publicity caused a woman in New Delhi to start this new group.
The organizer of the group used Facebook to appeal to Indian women to send in their underwear - specifically panties - which would then be sent to the attackers as a "special gift" for Valentine's Day. At press time for the article I read, the Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women had 20,000 members and the underwear was flowing in "thick and fast."
The extremists, however, were undaunted, warning that "any shops buying into the Valentine's Day market would face attack," because that holiday was seen as "a part of Western culture corrupting our Indian culture." The group's leader was quoted as saying that it "welcomed the gifts," and in return it would send back pink saris, a symbol of Indian culture.
Another country was heard from in an article from Khartoum in North Sudan. There it was the Muslim clerics who were urging youngsters "to boycott Valentine's Day...it is a Western institution that could lead couples astray."
One Muslim preacher said, "Valentine's Day comes from Western countries. I call on Muslims not to imitate Christians," and the money spent on the lovers' holiday would be better spent encouraging young people to marry.
Thailand's culture is over 90 percent Buddhist, and while it takes a more laid-back view of Valentine's Day, it is not immune from anxiety surrounding this holiday.
When we were there last year, an editorial captured well some of the tension generated around the 14th of February: "Today is Valentine's Day. Actually no reminder is really necessary. It is almost impossible to miss the celebration of Cupid, the god of love. Thailand has not just adopted this very Western occasion, but has almost made it an institution."
It went on to point out the large number of weddings that will occur in Bang Rak district, because the name means "community of love." And there will be skydiving weddings and underwater weddings.
The editorial last year went on to say "And, of course, what would a traditional Thai Valentine's Day be without the noisy, widespread warnings from our guardians of the state about what our enfants terribles are plotting to do?"
The writer called it an "annual one-day orgy of youth condemnation." It starts with the Culture Ministry weighing in with "disapproval of such a non-Thai holiday - even though it is not a holiday, and as if love is a type of foreign disease."
While there is still some concern about what might happen on Valentine's Day, there is far more publicity enticing customers to buy the usual flowers and chocolates, and make it a romantic occasion. But lovers everywhere look for something different.
In the entertainment section of that same paper, another writer suggested a change from the usual same-old, same-old candlelight dinner. He suggested four "unconventional places around the kingdom that were commissioned in honor of romance....make your honey melt..." by visiting one.
Of these four, the two most romantic histories were behind first the Chedi Phra Si Suriyothai, a grand pagoda housing the ashes of Queen Si Suriyothai. The reason: "Behind every great man is a woman who bravely perched atop an elephant to fend off an invading Burmese army." It seems that in the 16th century when the Burmese attacked the then-capital city of Thailand, this queen was worried about her husband's safety on the battlefield. So she disguised herself as a soldier and fought with the troops.
At one point the King's elephant lost its footing, and as a result the King was about to be stabbed by a Burmese general. However, the queen "swooped in to defend her husband, and received the fatal blow instead." The King built the memorial as a "symbol of eternal devotion." That's pretty romantic.
The other one is Bangkok's Neilson Hays Library. Jennie Neilson Hayes came to Thailand in 1881 as a missionary and in 1887 married Dr. Thomas Heyward Hays who was chief of the Royal Thai Navy Hospital. Jennie was very involved in promoting reading and bringing English language books to Bangkok until she died of cholera in 1920. Dr. Thomas contacted a famous Italian architect and together they designed this library that would "represent the passion of Jennie Neilson Hays, complete with a grand entrance."
We've already been to visit the pagoda, but not to the library. So a stop there is on our list of things to do while in Bangkok. Of course we won't make it there right on Valentine's Day. Instead, we will be at the beach, again listening to our friends sing beautiful love songs during their annual "gig" for Valentine's Day at a beautiful beach resort. That's romantic enough for me!