I’ve been messing around a lot with Adobe Illustrator. It’s an incredibly irritating piece of software if you’ve grown up using nothing but Adobe Photoshop – everything is counter-intuitive! What does that symbol even mean? Why can’t I just combine the two things, why is this so hard! But I’ve passed over some kind of learning curve and am now having a lot of fun with it. It’s a very different method of drawing and making illustrations than hand-drawing stuff, but it allows allows me to try some new things.
So. In Illustrator, I made a lot of holiday-themed pictures of drones. I’m thinking of selling whimsical drone stickers on an Etsy account, or something. I still need to figure out if I’d be able to at least break even.
Have some drone holiday cheer.
You have no idea how difficult drawing Santa was in Illustrator. My resentment for Santa has mostly passed but it was touch and go there for a while.
I think this Inspire is actually kind of fetching with the hat, but my aesthetic is weird.
In the arena of art that doesn’t somehow involve a flying yet benign robot, I drew some animals who aren’t enjoying the holidays. Holiday ennui knows no species.
It’s the holidays, and I want to talk to you about a very, very annoying Christmas song, one that nevertheless has a special, perverse place in my heart thanks to my time in Cambodia.
It’s called “Last Christmas,” and was created by those British songster scamps “Wham,” who you’ve probably never heard of outside of the context of awkward oldies stations if you’re under 30. Watch the hilariously dated video, which features people with big hair and even bigger beaver-fur bonnets (I guess that’s what they are) cavorting in the snow. There is infidelity and lots of glaring and confusingly rosy tans. It is a poem to 1985, which is, admittedly, a year I didn’t even exist in.
If you’ve spent any time in Cambodia, you probably have a slightly uncomfortable memory linked to Wham’s “Last Christmas.” The song may be a slightly embarrassing relic of the Time of Neon-Colored Windbreakers in the US, but in Cambodia, it remains a beloved holiday favorite. And you remember hearing it, at some moment when you didn’t expect it. Probably a moment that caused you bit of retroactive shame.
That’s because “Last Christmas” is everywhere, and it’s essentially impossible to escape during Christmas – especially if you spend a lot of time hanging out at bars. (Which, if you’re an expat, you almost certainly do). You’re ordering your fourth drink or so on the holiday, you maybe didn’t call everyone you should have called, your life choices are shown to you in stark relief – were these the right tones? And then on comes “Last Christmas.” End scene.
I cannot adequately explain why “Last Christmas” has permeated so deeply into the Khmer consciousness, and I’ve never heard an entirely adequate explanation from a Cambodian person. There are even Khmer covers, with impressively high production values and videos that feature great bales of probably dangerously chemical fake snow. I have been told the sickness has permeated into Vietnam.
It doesn’t matter if it’s not actually Christmas, I should add. If you’re in Cambodia, “Last Christmas” will make its inevitable, ambiguous appearance regardless of the season, or in fact, even the time of day. It’s kind of like the gentle to-and-fro of the tide. Accept it, or go mad.
I’ve noticed the closer it gets to 3:00 AM, the more likely people are to dance very badly to “Last Christmas.” It’s a regular fixture on the essentially immobile playlist at Howie’s Bar on Street 51 in Phnom Penh. If it goes on the playlist, I will probably have to go home and cry.
Since, I am a bit sentimental about “Last Christmas,” as objectively terrible and dated as it is, despite the number of times I’m heard it in the middle of August. I’m back in the states this Christmas, and whenever the song comes back on, I’m filled with nostalgia for the Cambodia version of the holiday season. The elaborate displays at the Nagaworld Casino, with Vietnamese and Chinese tourists in business suits snapping appreciative photos.
Slightly sloppy but endlessly good natured holiday parties. Cambodian parents buying tiny-sized Santa suits to torment their children with. The occasional burst of fake snow emanating from a friendly-minded bank.
Fake trees on the back of tuk-tuks. Being wished “Happy Merry Christmas” all the time, said as a single phrase. Delightfully warm weather on Christmas Day, and maybe a trip to the beach. And of course, finding yourself at a particularly disreputable hostess bar at 4:00 AM, filled with some combination of affection for humanity and mild, nagging self-questioning. But you’re pretty happy anyway.
If anything fosters an entirely appropriate sense of affinity for your fellow man despite it all, it’s an expat Christmas.
I did a photo-essay on Christmas in Cambodia last year and had a rather fabulous time doing it. The melancholy-expat blues have whomped over over the head this year and my heart wasn’t quite as in it in 2011, but hoping to get a few decent shots tonight and tomorrow to reassure myself I’m not a total bum. Anyway, enjoy.
My second Christmas in Cambodia is coming up in a few days. I thought I’d be going home for the holidays this year, but other responsibilities intervened, and now I’m spending another December 25th in Phnom Penh.
Christmas is just a day, and furthermore, a religous holiday celebrating a religious belief I don’t adhere to – but my family’s secular Christmases are always pretty good fun. I mostly miss cooking inordinate amounts of unhealthy food and uncorking a lot of high-end champagne, under the all-powerful and all-encompassing pretense of It’s the Holidays, Dammit.
Shut up and drink your champagne and eat your prime rib, your left-overs, the candy your parents were kind enough to hide in your stocking even you were well past your sell-by date and should have known better.
There was also the drive-into San Francisco either a couple of days before or after Christmas – this a tradition I am fully in favor of, crowds in Union Square and overpriced household goods be damned, in the grandest tradition of smushing one’s face against the Williama’s Sonoma display and complaining about the fact that the department stores have done a lousy job with their blow-out display windows for a while now, which can be blamed on the recession.
Back in the days when I used to want cooking goods for Christmas – having had no kitchen for a year and a half, it’s a bit more of a hazy concept, like a sort of vestigal limb, if a skill can be called “vestigal.” These San Francisco holiday visits would usually end in Chinese food somewhere in the vicinity of Chinatown, which had red and gold trim and was sort of Christmasy no-matter what time of year it was, what with all the sparkly lights.
Feels a lot less like Christmas here this year than last year. Not for lack of trying on Cambodia’s part. Even as compared to last year, the decorations and the tinsel and the trees and the Santa outfits and everything else are all stepped up. Santa visits children outside the Canon store on Sihanouk, I swear to God the gigantic inflatable Santa on Monivong is BIGGER this year, and seemingly everybody has got a Christmas tree in their shopfront or restaurant.
The religions meet, intertwine: people loop colorful lights around the family spirit house. Christmas is a secular holiday for me and it is a secular holiday for Cambodians: this I understand. What do Cambodians do on Christmas? According to a few people I have asked, about what my family does: “We get together and we eat a lot of food, and we drink a lot. We give presents.”
It is a congenial holiday. I just got around to listening to Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole today out of a rather faded sense of duty. I seem to be forgetting the words but it is likely I will re-learn them.