LiBeL Column

Graduation Day

Columns from The Nation newspaper

More from the cultural sensitivity files

If you grew up in a land where birthdays aren’t exactly major gift receiving events, Christmas is just a time for sending compulsory cards to beloved teachers and New Year is a nationwide wet t-shirt contest; then you’re entitled to get over excited by the notion of a day when presents of all shapes and sizes and banknotes ,of the purple & grey varieties, are lavished upon you.

There are two such occasions the average Thai youth to look forward to one a certainty the other a mere possibility. The wedding day ain’t a certainty, love and luck play too big a part. This is especially true for the average studious female students who spend their days poring over books and evenings helping out with the housework. After leaving university, getting a job, working hard to save some money, it’s time to look for a suitable husband. Only then do they realize that the majority of bachelors of a similar age have a ‘marry me you marry my moped and mates from the karaoke bar’ attitude. And so the dream of a perfect ‘Elle’ wedding day stays on the shelf.

The other alternative is, however, a cast iron certainty – Graduation Day. You don’t even have to make it to university to take part in the ritual. Every private school from Kindergarten level onwards treats it’s leavers to the graduation experience on a variety of watered down levels.

Of course these are all leading up to the ‘big one’ – university Graduation Day. Take your average western graduation ceremony, multiply the significance to the participants, the time spent preening and rehearsing and the amount of make up ladled on by participants by a factor of ten and you have some idea of the social importance of such an event.

Casual observers have many different ways to ascertain the importance of a social function. One oft cited method is the ‘Khunying factor’. Whereby the number of menopausal well connected female guests with beehive hairdos and bleached faces – the embalmed look is most desirable – indicates to the party goer just how damn honoured they are expected to feel to be within 100 metres of such a gathering.

With respect to successful attendance and participation in a graduation ceremony is directly proportional to the length of time spent in the beautician’s chair. Having allowed a top make-up artist or enthusiastic gay friend, depending on budget, to work their magic the goofy, plain Jane is transformed into radiant butterfly or at least that’s the theory. In practice it often turns out that the make-up artist is really a frustrated plasterer with an insatiable L’Oreal obsession. And so the butterfly is smothered under quantities of gunk that even Coco the clown would consider overkill. Prior to the economic slowdown things were different of course. Old hands still remember the anti talcum powder & mascara hoarding messages put out by the first Chuan government and the great blusher shortage of ’91 which resulted in 70% of Chula’s new alumni being photographed in right profile only.

The end result of the makeover is akin to a pale faced, pink blushered, blue eye shadowed, red lipped death mask with a fixed Joker-esque grin. The effect having been achieved and a final coat of varnish having been applied, it’s time for the photo call to commence. The aim of this exercise is to have as much footage of the proceedings in both video and still format as humanly possible. As a benchmark, the number of times Princess Di was captured on film during her lifetime is used.

If you hark back to the dullest moment in your entire childhood, it was probably when you were carted round to cousin Linda’s new semi in order to watch relatives politely nod appreciatively though the wedding pics and listen to your Mum commenting “Ohh, she does look a picture!” and chirp the odd “You must be proud, Joan” as album after snow white album of almost identical photos is brought out for the enjoyment of the assembled masses. The only person AWOL from proceedings is the new groom who’s later spotted drowning the dregs of the cooking sherry in the kitchen, as your Dad attempts to console him with ” Just wait till you have kids.”

Quadruple that feeling of boredom and factor-in the way Hitler must have felt having been cornered in his bunker in April 1945 you’ll have an idea of the emotions that lie in store when graduation day photos are brought out.

As a guide, Inappropriate behaviour whilst viewing graduation pictures includes such comments as ” Whose the Katoey?” and ” Jesus H.!” when looking at a group photo which brings a Tammy Faye Baker fanclub meeting to mind. “How much?!!!” when told that the money spent on the trip to the beautician’s would feed an Isaan village for a month. And ” Yowza!. She’s alright, eh?” whilst looking at the tarted up Asian Barbie, previously referred to as Nong Sao by the graduate, who’s perched, unrecognized, on the chair opposite.

And in case you’re missing him Dwight is currently seeking clarification of a couple of major points before embarking on his Asian adventure. The most recent being : ” About how many women there in these prostitution bars have the deadly aids in your opinion”