Freeze a jolly good fellow

No fan of crazes like Pet Rocks or the 'Macarena', this one sent a chill down my spine

TWO DAYS PRIOR TO THE EVENT
Monday, Aug 18, 2014

How I despise fads. I've always felt fleeting surges of popularity are degrading, and attack my sensibilities when I can muster them up.

As a child I shunned Nerf Balls. Pet Rocks? They were for losers.

When The Newcastle Song shot to the top of the charts (as quickly as it then disappeared), I'd change the radio station the moment it came on.

Adulthood was the same. I never danced the Macarena. I never bought Sigue Sigue Sputnik's single. I never got a mullet, unlike my friend Stuart whose pics to this day we bring out on boring rainy nights when there is nothing on TV.

Fads, crazes, flashes in the pan — and yet where did I end up? In the faddiest, craziest, flashiest-in-the-pan country on Earth.

Thais just love a craze, and here we are in the internet age where crazes are as ubiquitous as som tam.

Remember planking? Oh yes, we all did that, didn't we? Except for me. I found nothing entertaining about making yourself as rigid as a Russian having sex, then posting your pic on Facebook.

That fad originated in Australia, but there have been myriad local ones as well.

We had the pub-piab phase, which was a polite way of sitting with your legs tucked neatly to one side; that roared through cyberspace like a meteorite.

There have been many others, but they do not warrant the dignity of digging them up here.

Call me cantankerous, a curmudgeon or any other word that starts with "c" (but preferably more than one syllable). I'll just distance myself from those little crackles and pops of popular culture. I have better things to do with my time.

ONE DAY PRIOR TO THE EVENT
Tuesday, Aug 19, 2014

So there's this new fad.

It's called the Ice Bucket Challenge, and it entails pouring a bucket of ice water over one's head. For charity.

Well actually, not even for charity. You pour the water over your head to avoid making a payment for charity.

That charity is for research and funding for those afflicted by Lou Gehrig's disease, or ALS, which affects your nervous system.

I could have almost tolerated this mind- (and body-) numbingly stupid act if it somehow was linked to donating for a cause, but here we are photographing and filming ourselves to avoid donating, not to mention wasting precious water. Talk about blatant self-aggrandising!

It started in America, the second most faddish nation on Earth. Actors, politicians and business-folk have been pouring water over their heads in order to draw attention to themselves. I have watched their videos with derision.

It turns out these people still donate, but I don't get it. Just donate, for god's sake, and spare us the dramatics!

In Thai there is a saying: Pit thong lang phra, or placing gold leaf at the back of the Buddha statue. It means doing good deeds without trumpeting your act to the world; true selfless acts.

Shouldn't that be what donating is all about?

I have always flinched when big companies make donations to charities with the aid of a massive mock-up of a cheque that is handed over before the cameras on stage, so that their alleged charitable act turns out to be a free exercise in PR, not to mention a tax deduction.

Does the end justify the means? Do we have to put up with such ridiculous rituals in order to secure funds? Apparently, yes.

In the end this Ice Bucket Challenge is no different to companies handing over super-sized cheques for the benefit of free publicity.

Incredibly it's been less than a week and already this craze has hit Thailand. All sorts of faded or fading actors, actresses and emcees have kicked off the craze, jostling for the spotlight.

And being Thailand, the craze warps into something different that completely ruins the whole point of it; you don't have to donate to ALS. You can donate to any charity of your choice. Big businessmen have done it, and one son of a former prime minister even called on Prime Minister Prayuth to pour a bucket of water over his head.

Apparently, once you pour water over yourself, you then have to name another THREE people to do the same thing within 24 hours, or risk humiliation.

I found this out on Tuesday afternoon at 5pm, three days after the Ice Bucket challenge started ripping through Thailand.

THE EVENT
Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014

My worst fear is confirmed. "Hello Khun Andrew? It's Teera here," came the deep and familiar tones of Thailand's favourite nightly news anchorman.

I had seen him at the radio station we both work at two nights before; perhaps Teera was interested in learning some English course with me?

"I'm just calling to let you know I've been called out to do the Ice Bucket Challenge this afternoon," he said.

"Yesssss?"

"Well I have to call out another three people to do it, and I'd like to ask you to be one of them. Is that OK?"

The nice house of cards that was otherwise my perfect Wednesday morning collapses around me.

"Hello? Khun Andrew?"

"I'm here. Yes, yes, that's fine," I hear myself say, though god knows where those words came from. My own mouth?

As I write this, it appears we are containing the Ebola virus in Africa. But the Ice Bucket Challenge? It is ripping a swathe through the modern world, and not even Andrew Biggs and his Scrooge attitude can stop it.

And so, dear reader, that is how I came to request my staff at my school to find a bucket of water, fill it with ice and pour it over my head.

It is strange that when I ask for any other task to be done, I often have to wait for an eternity. For the bucket request, my staff snapped to life and had it ready in just under 60 seconds.

With a bald head and black shirt, there is no point in showing both before and after pictures, since I look exactly the same in both. But of the experience, let me just say this; I now know how a brass monkey feels.

I could have just donated and be done with it. What the hell. Sometimes ya just gotta get up and dance.

POST-EVENT
Thursday, Aug 21, 2014

As I send this column off to the Bangkok Post Sunday, the Prime Minister has yet to pour a bucket of ice water over himself. Actually, he is yet to be named Prime Minister, but we'll ignore that.

Yes, yes, I'm pathetic. I'm not a man of my word. Throw all those allegations at me.

I'm even choosing to redirect my donation to a local charity, namely, the Operation Smile Thailand charity that helps underprivileged kids with cleft palates. You can donate there, too, at thailand.operationsmile.org and, for those unwilling to go near a bucket, you can donate to ALS at alsa.org.

As for my three call-outs …

I have been instructed to call on upstanding members of the expat community in Thailand.

Thus I cannot avoid William Heinecke, the expat community's glowing success story, and for whose Minor Group I have worked for many years doing speaking jobs (which I assume will be terminated as of this second).

The second is my esteemed Australian government representative here, the Ambassador His Excellency James Wise, a very affable man even under a shower of ice.

And the third? Well it can only be Operation Smile's ever-smiling Therese Beauvais, right?

You have 24 hours. Pics of all three to be printed here next week. And now please excuse me, as it appears I'm coming down with a cold.

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