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Time to keep your head down, may be?

It’s the end of the month soon and while I hope against hope that people high up in the food chain here,  get bored with playing this tiring old chess game and that the  media with the sad happening in Haiti, learnt to master the art of communicating real issues. January is ending with the same greyness as last year.  We, Thais, are living our very own Groundhog Day.

Even the weather has turned bizarre with grey fog and intermittent rain showers,  making  me feel like recoiling back into my shell.

I feel the need to reach for my duvet and the desire to stay in bed reading and waiting for some major shift in attitude. Needless to say economics beckon and staying in bed reading just cannot pay for my breakfast let alone lunch and dinner. But that does not stop me reading. This habit has become my saviour and taught me that there is hope and a way out for this beleaguer country. Thailand has phenomenal modern and “dare to think outside the box” writers.

If you stray away from the tabloid news and start reading new release pockets books then you will find hiding in jacket and sleeves are very thought provoking insights into this country ails. Sadly most of  theses books are in Thai and have not caught the eyes of foreign publishing house yet.

One book that really has me hooked line and sinker is Laplae, Kaeng Khoi by Utit Hema-moon.

ลับเเล เเก่งคอย
Cover Image courtsey of Amarin Printing and Publishing Public Company Limited

This book gives you a glimpse of how we get to where we are now, politically.  Reading this book makes me feel that it’s not just a story of one teenage boy rites of passage but Thailand.

What fascinates me is the how this story charts the uprising of Thai’s lower middle class.  It gives you an understanding into the dynamic and for me the reason why we are facing political stalemate right now.

Incidentally, Laplae and  Kaeng Khoi are  two real towns.  Laplae, has earned its fame as a mythical and magical place. The inhabitants of this town are believed to be  invisible to most and can only be seen by someone  who they wish to be seen.  Kaeng Khoi is a provincial neighbouring  town.

For you Thais who haven’t read the book, the title is so cleverly apt to the plot so read it and weep. It has a fascinating twist and it adds to the pure enjoyment of this book.

Well, as this isn’t a book review kind of a blog,  I will put down that reviewer mind. The reason why I brought up  this book is to say that reading this, keeping my head and thinking mind under my duvet,  has helped me put the current  political situations of this country into perspective.

The way that the story charts the lives of of the main characters through how they master their poverty in the only ways each one know how is so like the way we, Thais, are trying to understand the concept of human rights and democratic freedom.

We stumbled through this thing we think is freedom and failed miserably in such a tragically comic way whilst the people in power simply watch and I might even say, bait us along,  All along,  it’s they who has the freedom, not us. Yet the more we have tried to understand, the nearer we get to tasting what it means and suddenly this is taken away from us.

Freedom to think, freedom to express one’s belief and ideas regardless of boundaries is the character of Kaeng Khoi who wasn’t frighten to pursue what he believed in. Yet  Laplae is supposed to be Thai conscience, full of limitations and the need to social conform that  limit and create boundaries.

Fascinating parody that might just be me that is enjoying this.

The important thing is that I can see why we are trapped in this malaise and behave in such a schizophrenic fashion when it comes to the subject of democratic growth and nationalistic pride. The two seems polar opposite and might be by design rather than a happy accident.

However, if I can see this and I’m just a normal bod or you might say Jo Block here then as we Thais learn to gain perspective and globalization is more than just an ability for us Thais to keep up with the western fashion trends then true political freedom and democratic rights will be just a few years away, surely!

For those who want to read this book in English, heckle some publishers to translate. This book deserves to have a place in the global market as it has something akin to The Bone Setter’s Daughter by Amy Tan and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon.

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Let it be, let it be …

This is the first week of January and we have all heard what this year has in store for us from many fortune tellers of various different guises. Many people must have brought tiger emulates, statues, jade tiger bangles for luck. Must be careful as not only is this year the year of the tiger, it’s the year of a night tiger, hunting for preys. Nothing like being told what lies ahead especially bad news hey.

Perhaps this explains one of Thais national traits that of being nonchalant. Nothing can get at us. We just let things be and get on with our lives as we already know the outcome and if we don’t know, well we can consult the professional fortune tellers  of course. Failing that just sing this well known mantra,

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.
Let it be, let it be, …..

Being in Thailand of course this gets changed slightly,

Mai Pen Rai, Mai PenRai. Mai Pen Rai, Mai PenRai …

(Before someone accused me of mistranslating, most Thais will translate this phrase as “Never Mind!”)

Let me give you an example,

2010 Mayan prediction says the world will end this year. Shock horrors, mass prayers.

Thais say: Oh is that so, mai pen rai. Shall we party to celebrate?

Many first time visitors to Thailand will be charmed by this “Mai Pen Rai” attitude as it opposes the western conditionings of “Pen Rai” as in everything matters and matters to the extreme. We Thais are so calm, relaxed, just look at us forever smiling.  How sweet we are!  What a quaint race, … (ahem, ahem, ahem … )

That is until they decide to live in this country, this state will really grate on their nerves driving some to  intellectual frenzy,  turning them into  fulltime bloggers. I can mention a few names of course but feel that we need to0 respect their privacy.

Why do they react that way? Because we Thais are so good at not getting to the point or let alone make one. That will make most non Thais wearied and tired of trying to guess what we are hinting at. No matter how hard you try to get to know us, trying to find out what we think, how we feel on important subjects. We just smile and hide our faces. It’s like peeling onions to find that there are nothing in the middle and the peeling makes you cry!

OK some of you might say that isn’t true any more because last two years have seen the colours debates. But try this, go and ask the little people why they swear allegiance to one colour and not the other then see if you get a rational answer. Or better still try listening to the big wigs and decipher what they  say. It all sounds good right but mostly devoid of meanings.

Many suggests that Mai Pen Rai attitude is born out of the Buddhist philosophical attitude of not grasping or holding but I think that makes it too simplistic. The Buddha never taught irresponsibilities but the opposite. Letting go is something that happens as a phenomenon is fully understood right to the cause therefore no need to make an issue. To Buddhist practitioners, letting go is not an avoidance but more confrontation. Needless to say that Buddhist wisdom is like a double edge sword when applies wrongly cuts deeply.

Some might say that it’s all to do with that well known pop grpup the Beatles and that infamous song of theirs which somehow mass hypnotised  Thai state of consciousness. Only jesting! But this seemed to be our theme song with the lyric reverently recited as a personal mantra in public.

Jesting aside, perhaps we should take the persona of the Chinese tiger and start to growl instead of smile when things really hit us hard. Perhaps we should  show our true feelings instead of suppressing or saving this for a private audience. Mai Pen Rai then can be a state that we arrived at and felt instead of becoming something we uttered out of the sake of politeness and good breeding.

Yes some Thais are truly forgiving and practice “Mai Pen Rai” philosophy and mean it. But the majority is who I’m addressing here.

This year things will start to Pen Rai and we should start to make efforts to show that it really does matter.  My New Year resolution for our beloved country and for all who lives here. Lets adopt the tiger trait by  sensitive to our surroundings and be vigilant!


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Do you agree on This?

The Nations article,  The coming decade: Thailand’s ten greatest fears by Kavi Chongkittavorn makes a very interesting read.   Khun Kavi  has listed the followings as the big ten:

1. CONCERN OVER HIS MAJESTY.

2. FEAR OF LOSING THAI WAY OF LIFE.

3. FEAR OF LOSING NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY.

4. FEAR OF INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM.

5. FEAR OF COLOUR-BLINDNESS.

6. FEAR OF INSIGNIFICANCE.

7. FEAR OF POLITICAL CHAOS.

8. FEAR OF TELLING THE TRUTH.

9. FEAR OF ABHISIT’S WITHERING LEADERSHIP.

10. FEAR OF THE FICKLE FUTURE.

This has made me ponder why we Thais with our Buddhist way of  life have so much anxieties and fear over things that the Buddha have taught us  as the fundamentals of being human. We are subject to birth and live our lives in constant state of flux until such a time that our biological bodies come to an end. Yet we all fear change and the biggest of all change, death.

It seems that being modern Thai what we fear of most is uncertainty/ impermanence and interestingly we  fear virtue.

Surely what being Thai is not just what the Tourism Authority of Thailand expound. We cannot forever go on believing that we are amazing Thais who never stop smiling through it all! We risk becoming a cardboard cut-out of TAT campaigns.

As this is the beginning of the year, perhaps we should look at the list and ask ourselves what makes us who we are?

At this moment in time, what makes us Thai to me, is lost in translation.

It makes me post the question, do we Thais really know what historical Thailand is about. It makes me question what do we really know of our history. What we have learnt in school and more importantly what we began to record as our history is not accurate enough as always politic has a hand at writing our history.

May be we should look at the way of life lived outside Bangkok to find out what being Thai is about.

Here is my take on this list,

1. CONCERN OVER HIS MAJESTY = fear of having to grow up and be responsible for our own actions, body, speech and mind!

2. FEAR OF LOSING THAI WAY OF LIFE = fear of change and that also equates to making an effort to change

3. FEAR OF LOSING NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY = we have lost that sovereignty when the CIA moved in 50years ago but shhhh…

4. FEAR OF INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM = this one I agree but it will be nice for some to have the ability to intellectualize first and not follow thoughts of others verbatim

5. FEAR OF COLOUR-BLINDNESS, ditto this

6. FEAR OF INSIGNIFICANCE – yes I have to agree with this and that includes the entire high echelon

7. FEAR OF POLITICAL CHAOS – hold on, we have been living in chaos for the past 3 years, haven’t we?

8. FEAR OF TELLING THE TRUTH – yes this might be seen by onlookers as a Thai trait if we’re not careful

9. FEAR OF ABHISIT’S WITHERING LEADERSHIP – what leadership, show me when he actually does that please

10. FEAR OF THE FICKLE FUTURE – yes but hasn’t this fear been with us since the end of WW 2

Hey but this is only one woman opinion. Why not tell me if you agree or better still what do you think are Thais greatest fear?

Happy 2010 and lets live in hope and not in fear.