When I went to see a 2:30p movie at the Central mall, they told me that particular movie was playing in the “First Class Theatre” next door. I had no idea what that meant, until the guy at the counter told me it was 500 baht for a ticket ($14.70), which is standard for the U.S. but exorbitant for Thailand. But then my first class experience began… My own little movie escort prepared a drink and buttered popcorn in a big wooden bowl, put it on a tray and asked me to follow him (apparently snacks were included in the price). I followed him into a lavish theatre with giant plush lazy boys spread out in groups of two. There was a new blanket wrapped in plastic on my seat, like I was on a First Class flight, and the seat actually reclined with a lever on the side.
OK I could go for this. For some reason we haven’t been able to pull off this kind of luxury movie experience in the states, although several theaters have tried.
I was sitting close to the front and there were already several couples seated behind me, but there were no seats on either side of my group of two. The screen was actually pretty big, so I settled in and wrapped up in my blankie to watch the previews.
After the previews, the screen filled with the words “Please take a moment to honor the King.” I assumed it was going to be an Elvis tribute, but then thought it would be so disappointing if it was a tribute to Michael Jackson. I’m sorry but if you’re a “self-proclaimed” King of anything, you’re not a King. But then some cheesy music started playing over images of…. the King of Thailand. Oh right, this country has an actual king! How could I forget… his likeness is plastered everywhere – in shops, on the signs outside resorts, in the airports, on TV… And he’s not just a self-proclaimed King – he’s the real thing. I’m living in the Kingdom of Thailand, formerly the Kingdom of Siam.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej “the Great.” His name literally means “Strength of the land, incomparable power.”
My name means “small.” Thanks, mom.
And I’ll just say this… you don’t joke about this guy with any Thai person. He’s not treated like the half-wit in the White House… they actually revere him here, and disrespecting him is extremely offensive and could even land you in jail. He was in the hospital last week and 700,000 people showed up to sleep on the sidewalk outside the hospital and pray for his recovery (When I was at Cedars for a week with a stomach infection I had a grand total of one friend show up to bring me magazines).
So anyway, 30 seconds into the montage I had this feeling that something wasn’t quite right, so I glanced behind me to discover a wall of glaring Thai faces. The entire audience had been standing during the tribute, except for the fat white farang in the front row with his feet up and butter dripping down his chin. Doh! I scrambled to get up, spilling half my popcorn on my lap, and stood awkwardly staring at the screen with my hands in my pockets. The images and music just kept coming, and I suddenly became extremely aware that it might be disrespectful to have my hands in my pockets… So I slowly pulled them out and dropped them at my side for a few seconds, which also felt wrong, so I gently pushed them forward to clasp in front. I could still feel the eyes burning into the back of my head and beads of sweat began to form on my brow as I imagined the exit door bursting open and an angry Thai popcorn girl screaming “There he is, officers!”
CUT TO: Paul racing down the street clutching his popcorn with an angry mob of theatre goers at his heels. For this scene, let’s give them torches.
Anyway, the excruciating montage finally came to an end after a solid 120 seconds, and after carefully following the lead of the hostile audience members behind me, I collapsed back into my lavish velvet nest to watch, of all things, The Kingdom.
The movie was fantastic. The experience, not so much.