I have been back a couple of weeks now from my great Asian trip and am still chuckling and shaking my head at the memories. Firstly, over Christmas, my husband Daniel and our four children visited my family in the Philippines, after which we traveled around Japan. Then as Daniel and the kids headed back to Canada, I flew to Bangkok for BangkokEdge, a festival of culture, arts and ideas, which I had been invited to sometime last October, in collaboration with the Canadian Embassy of Thailand. It was a happy coincidence that I was already going to be in Asia around that time, so to avoid jet lag, they flew me in from there.
I confess I didn’t know what to expect when I was first asked. How did the Canadian Embassy even hear about me? Then a few days before my flight to Thailand, I received an email with instructions that I was to be picked up by a driver and taken to the Shangri-La, a 5 star hotel on the Chao Phrya River. I started to worry. What if this was a case of mistaken identity?
I arrived in Thailand, which is like the Philippines’ much richer cousin, as evidenced by the less chaotic airport and trafficked roads. Tourists who say if you can drive in Bangkok you can drive anywhere, ain’t never been to Manila, that’s for sure. Manila is like the Wild West next to Bangkok.
I gave my driver a Menthos candy which he seemed to appreciate. Throughout my trip it helped that I had just come from Japan because I was smiling and bowing all over the place and I think Thai people really appreciate politeness in foreigners.
I arrived at the hotel and was attended to and brought to my room, which was on the 19th floor and had a magnificent view of the river. I read my welcoming instructions from both the Canadian Embassy and BangkokEdge, looked out the window while eating some fruit from the complimentary basket and felt a bit like Mr. Incredible when he first boards the fancy plane to take him to Syndrome’s island.
Then I took the train to meet up with Sue, an incredibly nice, hard-working and conscientious person from the Embassy who had been corresponding with me regarding this trip. We were 5 people staying at the Shangri-La and I found out I was the lone Canadian representative (the others were there courtesy of the Portuguese and Malaysian embassies).
Sue told me the Canadian Ambassador was planning to attend my talk and would be at the reception party for guest speakers (dress code: casual chic) the next evening. The reception would be held at Chakrabongse Villas and hosted by Narisa Chakrabongse, the festival director and a great-granddaughter of King Rama V.
At this point I made a conscious decision to stop worrying about meeting these VIPs and just relax and enjoy myself. My being there all felt so surreal already that whatever happened, I might as well have fun! And I did.
My talk and workshop went quite well. Although I was the only comic book artist at this event, I felt I belonged because it was a festival that highlighted Asian culture and identity. The best part was meeting not just audience members but all the people from the Embassy, the festival organizers, the other guest speakers, and having some great conversations with everyone.
Surreal moments and highlights:
– Playing “Blasphemous Rumours” (or as my brother likes to say, “Devil music”) at full blast during my talk.
– Signing a book for a nice, unassuming gentleman, chatting about our mutual love of Tintin, him telling me he’d love to try doing what I just did but that all he can draw are cars, me telling him I’m sure his cars are a lot better than mine and to just keep at it, and him turning out to be Jaguar’s Head designer of Advanced Design.
– Answering a Thai monk’s translated questions about how my book can relate to Buddhism, and then later thinking he’d taken my phone, which was sitting on the bench, by accident (he didn’t). Much bowing and apologies followed.
– Attending a Thai rock concert given by the band of a much loved musician (Hugo Chakrabongse) who also happened to be the great-great grandson of King Rama V etcetera and so on but forgetting all that while dancing alongside his proud mum.
– Spending 3 days having breakfast, taking the speedboat and just hanging out with Marina, a political activist and speaker and altogether lovely, interesting woman, chatting about our families and life in general, not realizing till I was back on the plane and reading the book she’d given me that she was Marina Mahathir, daughter of Malaysia’s longest serving Prime Minister, and recalling that I’d actually said to her, ‘so I guess your family is quite political?” This would be the equivalent of someone spending 3 days hanging out with Chelsea Clinton and then saying to her “Duh…so I guess your family is quite political?” Super cringeworthy, but at the same time, kind of funny.
– Chatting about my admiration for Harry Kane and going on about my dislike albeit grudging respect for Cristiano Ronaldo to a man I later find out was the Portuguese Ambassador. Oops.
– Going on a rant about billionaires to a guy named Roque, saying how the world is basically screwed due to human nature, how the growing sense of nationalism and tribalism is down to leaders blaming immigrants for everything when the trouble is mostly the extreme inequality in standards of living, how Ignorance allows Greed to flourish, how even if western billionaires develop consciences and realize they have to share the wealth, there will always be the Saudis, Russians and Chinese who just don’t care and will never care, and so to stay competitive and keep the balance of power, the Western billionaires have to keep getting richer off the backs of the poor, which is why we are all screwed but even if I know it will never stop snowing, all we can do is keep shovelling, and having Roque tell me I am very bleak and me saying I’m just being a realist, and having Marina tell me later that Roque runs a foundation for the billionaire George Soros. Double oops! I really had no idea. Good thing I knew the festival director was descended from Thai royalty or with my luck I might have gone on a rant to her about the Monarchy.
– Eating breakfast at the hotel and most likely never encountering a breakfast buffet like that again!