Time will tell. (No pun intended.)” http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1990640,00.html
Interestingly, I don’t find what I am saying to be at odds with the Times article above. Typical of most non-Thai views it regards the issues the surround the conflicts as things that must be corrected. Issues like freedom of speech, institutions, military, etc. The problem here is that these institutions exist because they are still needed. To abolish them for the sake of Western styled democracy would be suicidal for Thailand. The present government appears to know this.
Thailand’s majority have historically viewed government as ‘masters’ – ‘elder’ government if you will. In most democracies, the government exists to represent, indeed serve the people. If this becomes the case in Thailand, it will require a major value shift, and one that Thai people are not likely to make soon. (see Elders below) If the comparison can be made, and I think it’s a fair comparison, the majority of Thailand politically is comparable to children growing up. They have needed and still do need their parents.
Have the parents become institutionalized? Of course.
Is that holding back some things? Of course.
Is that adding stability to the country? Yes, and No.
In order for the Thai majority to take the reigns of government they must win the confidence of the parents. This will not happen by the sort of demonstrations that have just occurred. It must happen in a united way. Nearly every Thai/family owned business as well as many Thai run, non-family businesses I know of are like a microcosm of the country in this regard. And there seem to no end of cases where the parents did in fact, turn over the control to the 30 and 40 year old children, only to have the business destroyed in a very few years.
The institutions and government that many are so quick to criticize are the very thing maintaining stability here. While the damage done last week is undoubtedly the most costly in terms of dollars, in terms of lives, it was extremely low. This points to the true values of the Thai and is something that most developed countries could learn a great deal from. Businesses will be rebuilt, money will be made again, and when it comes down to it, the real hardships from it all will rest on the poor who like teenagers in rebellion, are gaining a foothold in the political process. They’re just not there yet. I for one, want to see that growth continue – but I don’t think it would be wise for it to happen overnight. What won’t be recovered are the lives which have been lost. Most of these deaths seem to be caused neither by the government nor the redshirts who are seeking a voice, but by a few who are apparently using all sides as fronts to gain power. This too, is a product of transition from the old ways to democratic government, which can only move forward through education, and increased maturity of the majority – a growth process which takes time.
One of the great underlying values of the Thai is that of honoring the elder. This lies as as deeply as any value the Thai hold, and is one of the obstacles to a Western style democracy. Rightly so.
Historically, it has always been the family elders who have had the final say. The social fabric was held together by this. As larger governments have emerged, this is still the case. The fact is, the majority of the people still look to age as deserving the final say and this cuts across every faction in the demonstrations. One can only begin to imagine the internal conflict in the hearts and minds of many Thai at the moment. (In addition to age, wealth has also had it’s place in offering respect. Perhaps the greatest thing that Thaksin did for Thailand was help the Thai see that riches is not a good reason to necessarily respect a person or give them more credit that others with less means. I’d guess that never again will Thais readily be influenced heavily by a candidate’s wealth.) The upshot of this is that as elders involved in politics, it’s important to listen and go along with what they say. This underlies the institutions that are in question and is one of the redshirts major issues.
As I said previously, I think that this is a balance for Thais to determine. Ssecondly, it’s a balance that can only be found over time. For those of us who live here and have been taken with the charms of this people, let’s give them the space and time to find that balance. Let’s also understand together that this place is everything it is because of the values of the Thai people.
In over twenty years, by far the most often asked question has been “Why do you like Thailand?” The answers (for me and many of my friends) are varied and can take as little or as much time as a person wants to listen. Often while out with friends, we’ll catch on another’s eye and say something like, “It’s great to live in Thailand!” Of course if you’re new here, or frustrated by one of the many inconveniences that are part of life here, it’s understandable that you would disagree. This is OK – this is Thailand.
Outside, the traffic is picking up as Songkran festivities (Thai New Year celebrations) are winding down, at least in Bangkok. I went to Soi Cowboy two days in a row. Soi Cowboy, if you’re not familiar with Thailand, is a night spot – a small street packed with go-go bars. It’s charm is that it’s got open, outdoor places to sit and socialize. Normally, it sleeps in the daytime. My father always said “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” I have noticed that with the exception of bar owners, everyone who often spends their nights out has problems with work and cash flow. But none-the-less, Soi Cowboy was absolutely the place to be for Songkran this year. While there, I also reflected on yet another reason to love Thailand.
The Songkran Festival is most well known for the water wars – before ever coming to Thailand, I heard all about these wars – people travelling around throwing water on one another. So we arrived, about 8 or 9 of us, to this place to find it literally packed with hundreds of people, all throwing water on each other. There was very little room to walk – and forget any hope of even a small square centimeter of yourself staying dry. Impossible! The ice water was the best. People coming up from behind, with small buckets of ice water, and drenching you. Wow!
One of the really amazing things was watching this elderly lady, walking down through the masses, with a platter full of food from one of the restaurants. It was as if she was immune to the water because she miraculously stayed dry, and her order was delivered without mishap. Unbelievable.
As I was engaged in play, a Westerner nearby asked about the water gun I had – “Does that shoot well? ” and so I shot him. He shot me back – and the comparison was like answering my b.b. gun with a cannon! Wow! He then explained that he’d spent the night before ‘modifying’ the gun, so it would work better. I thought, how typically Western. I also thought that it was pretty cool and something I might not have thought of doing with my time.
That got me to thinking a bit too deeply for that particular setting, and I began watching the Thais at play. They had a few guns, but mostly it was about throwing water on each other and dancing. Songkran is the one time out of the year, when it’s appropriate to have physical contact in public with members of the opposite sex. So young guys like to go around with perfumed powder mixed with water and rub it on the faces of girls. Some girls like this too it seems, but in fact, drunkenness and all, it’s quite happy fun. Seldom does anyone get angry and if they want they can rub powder back or splash water back.
Then I began to reflect about one of the major differences between the Westerners play and the Thai play. For the Westerners, it was mainly all about war – strategies to ‘get’ the other person, and avoid getting ‘gotten’! For the Thais, it was all about touching – putting a little powder on someone else, and splashing water around. Dancing, and just having fun together. Several times in two days, my friends commented that if this number of people were together on one place in our own country, it would break out in a fight in about 5 minutes or less! I believe that’s right.
I remembered a question my language teacher Kru Nikom, once asked me about missionaries who come to Thailand. “Why do you missionaries worry about their children seeing the human body naked, and teach their children that this is bad. At the same time, think it’s OK to watch movies of wars and fighting?” I thought then, and still do, that this is one of the best questions that I’ve ever heard.
So I gave my gun to a Thai, and traded them for a bucket of ice water! (of course the gun was already empty!)
I love living in Thailand!
Out of 10 children, I live the farthest from everyone. The rest of the family are in N. America. A few months ago I was able to visit them. The occasion was my father’s 80th birthday. This sort of ‘get together’ seems to happen about once every ten years, mostly due to the fact that we’re a very large family.
So one evening after dinner, we’re sitting around at Mom and Dad’s and the conversation goes to politics, and religion… What else, right?
As a family we’re pretty well aligned in our thinking, beliefs, etc. with the possible exception of myself (I’ll let the family make their own judgments about that, though I don’t think I’ve ‘strayed’ as far as they probably think I have) for I have moved on it would seem to me. So we are sitting around talking, and having fun conversation as we love to do and it wasn’t long until people began to argue. Nothing serious mind you, though if you didn’t know us you might think that we were getting angry or something. No, feelings rarely get hurt over these sorts of arguments, but I’ve been thinking about that night.
What is it that allows us (people in general and my family in particular) to argue so well, even with those we agree with. I mean in politics for example, I was probably the only black sheep there. (I thought that Bush was bad for America) But it wasn’t long until everyone is arguing about us politics. The conversation went to religion and that same thing happened only with a bit more passion because we’re a religious family. So, did we argue and solve anything? Never has happened yet. Did we change anyone’s opinions? Nope, everyone just got more entrenched and lonely. And how much distance between the actual ideas was there? Not so much as a centimeter if it could be measured that way. You’d have a difficult time finding a more aligned group.
So now I’m thinking about bigger more serious arguments that take place in our world and I’m thinking, why do we (people) always seem to look to our differences, no matter how small they might be, and act as if this was the only thing real?
So today, I recommit myself to looking at our samenesses. What an amazing world we might live in one day, if we could only just turn around, and look at the other, to find the multitude of ways in which we are aligned.
Of course, we have some wonderful examples of this in the world and in our history. Perhaps you might add their names here as a comment.