A Christmas Present In Thailand

christmas present

When I first arrived in Thailand years ago, I promised myself I wouldn’t get locked into a relationship, for many reasons. I had travel on the mind, and there were so many cultural differences, not too mention the lack of a common language.

A couple years and some language lessons later, however, and there was God, laughing at my well-intentioned plans. I found myself madly in love with a tiny, painfully-sweet Akha woman from the mountain regions surrounding the Northern Thai city of Chiang Rai.

Thais are known for going by hilarious nicknames rather than the long names given by their parents; it’s not uncommon to meet someone named Frog, Small, or even Fat (all in Thai, of course). So it was that I ended up in a serious relationship with a woman named Cake – yes, the kind that sits in a dessert case.

I really can’t complain about my years with Cake, though things didn’t work out in the end. But as anyone who has been in a long-term intercultural relationship can attest, there was no shortage of miscommunications.

The incident that stands out most occurred one year with the arrival of the holidays.

It was Thanksgiving, and we had a big dinner with friends from all over the world that night, to bring a bit of holiday cheer to the tropics. The boys and I planned to hit the pubs after dinner. Since Cake didn’t drink, I drove her back to her apartment on my motorbike.

When we got to her place, she insisted I wait while she ran inside to get a present she had waiting for me. Thais don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but being the thoughtful person she is, Cake wanted to do something special to make me feel at home.

The Akha tribe is famous for their uncanny crocheting skills. I knew she’d been making me something, but I wasn’t  sure what to expect.

Imagine my surprise when I unwrapped the package to find…A white and pink scarf. With little pink frills coming off the ends…

I waited for her devious tinkle of laughter but instead only got this expression of complete sincerity beaming back at me. “It’s awesome!” I lied. Cake glowed with pride.

Now, I consider myself an open-minded guy, but I grew up in a little redneck town in the hills of Northern California, where men simply don’t wear pink, frilly scarves. It was out of the question.

A few days went by and Cake began inquiring why I hadn’t worn my “awesome” new accessory. The jig was up.

What could I do? I sat her down and explained as gently as possible that, while I was beyond appreciation for her gift, men from my neck of the woods simply didn’t don pink scarves. “Babe, this is really cool work, “ I assured her. “If you made me a scarf of any other color, I promise I’d wear it. Often!”

It took some convincing, but Cake finally accepted it was nothing more than our cultural gap showing itself.  Believe it or not, she did make me a new one. And even let me pick the color. And even though I wasn’t much of a scarf guy, I lived up to my word.

But the fun wasn’t over.

With Christmas coming up, Cake was determined to outdo herself and make up for the cultural blunder. I was eager to play along with whatever she made. “I’ll love it,” I told myself. “After all, I already know it won’t be pink.”

I went to pick Cake up that Christmas Eve to meet friends again for dinner, and she was brimming with excitement. There was no waiting this time – we were halfway down the street when she insisted I pull over the bike and unwrap my present.

Set on bearing whatever came, I paused for a moment, took in Cake’s big Thai smile, breathed deeply, and tore off the wrapping paper.

It was actually pretty neat!

A knitted, fitted cap in multicolored beige tones and light browns – it was something I might have bought myself back at home (the colder part of California).

“Wow, this is awesome,” I exclaimed, meaning it this time. I went to give her a hug.

But Cake pushed me back. “No, no,” she said.” Look!”

As I watched, she reached out and turned the cap around. Right on the front, across the forehead, she’d spelled out a giant word.


In purple beads.

Big purple letters as tall as my fingers.

**An author and freelance writer who habitually embarasses himself in various locations around the world, James Druman often writes about the realities of living and traveling abroad. You can connect with him on Facebook at http://facebook.com/jamesdrumanauthor/.