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Posts Tagged ‘societal development’

The Thailand you’ve always known – Part 2

May 23, 2010 2 comments

Regarding my AUA Thai Program Blog, The Thailand you’ve always known, a friend commented, “The following article takes a VERY different perspective. I hope your perspective is the right one.

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.

Elders

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.

Read Part 1 at : http://auathai.wordpress.com/2010/05/22/the-thailand-you-have-always-known/

Why do you like Thailand?

April 17, 2010 1 comment

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.

photo by Eternal Vagabond (flickr)

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!

photo by Sama Sama Massa (flickr)

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.

photo by LightOnDude (flickr)

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!

What’s Good with Thaksin, the Redshirts, and the Yellowshirts?

April 13, 2010 2 comments

Key: [TIG = This is Good]

Nearly every news report I read, blog, tweet, or comment from a friend, decries what’s happening with the RedShirt demonstrations and conflicts surrounding it. I for one seem to see things a bit differently.  I think much of all this is good stuff!

People write about the past, quoting a bit of history, a date, or a person’s name.  No doubt this establishes credibility for them as a writer or reporter.  But what of the big picture.

For example, Thaksin was and perhaps still is among the wealthiest people in the world. Was he corrupt? Have you ever heard of a Thai politician who wasn’t? I don’t mean to malign anyone here, but it seems to me that corruption, power, and control have been the domain of Thai government for all of modern recorded history.  I can’t imagine making a shift from the past that is to an non-corrupt form of government overnight.   Anyway, my understanding of how Thais want things to work, is that corruption is nowhere near over!  Did Thaksin take corruption to new levels? Sure – he had the means to do so.  Want him back? No way. I think the guy’s dangerous. But to his credit (motives aside) he is the first rich, politician that I know of who really engaged the poor majority. [TIG]

Honestly, the attitude of the past by those in political power has always been to ignore the poor, until election time, or until the poor needed something so badly they had to close down roads to get attention.  By the way, this is something that is historically common all over the provinces – so when these guys came to Bangkok, it wasn’t too difficult to imagine what the outcome might be – the RedShirts may have never been much engaged in the politics before now, but they are certainly experienced in demonstrations that involve road closures.  So Thaksin, among the list of other accomplishments, can be credited with single-handedly (a hand quite full of money) engaging the masses of poorer people in the democratic process.  I imagine that using 300 Baht gifts to these guys before election won’t have the same effect as it always has in the past! [TIG] Ah, you say, he paid all of these people and that’s the reason they’re involved.  Realizing that this has always been common practice, It’d imagine that the stakes have been raised so high by now that the practice will have to dissappear! [TIG]

Many people have decried the demonstrations of the RedShirts.  Why? Frankly, it’s been very disruptive. Having never been really engaged in democratic proceedings before, they now have something they want to say. [TIG] The fact that they could perhaps go about it in a better way to my way of thinking is of much lesser importance that the fact that they’re finally involved.  Come on everyone.  This is the majority of the population by a long shot – and they have never gotten involved before now. You must ask yourself why haven’t they?  So now the RedShirts have started a course in politics and democracy, and are paying tuition. [TIG]

So does anyone want these guys running the country? No! But they need to be involved, and it may be important to recognize that it is largely those who are opposed to the RedShirts, who have been historically all too happy to leave the “poor uneducated farmers on the farm where they belong!”

So now the poor are speaking up!  I say [TIG]!

We who are from places where democratic processes are more established and governments are more stable, fail to remember our own histories.  The riots, the uprisings, the debates that ended in bloodshed – all seem to be a part of our own histories.  In fact, for the sort of changes that have happened and need to continue, few people have died. [TIG] Few of us have experienced such happy demonstrations as have been the majority of the RedShirt activity.  The spirit has largely been that of a football game! Where else but in Thailand do people have such a fun time demonstrating? [TIG]. Sure there are a few how are holding grudges, and they may be pulling more strings that is obvious to the casual onlooker – but again, it’s always been like this and won’t change overnight. I imagine that if this was the USA, there would have been less than 1/2 the demonstrators and over twice the deaths. So… [TIG]

As in most of life, it’s not really about who’s right or who’s wrong.  So when people want to talk about this person did this, or that person did that, Or use words like corruption, vote-buying, or vested interests, I want to say to everyone, take a step back and look at the big picture! While I don’t want to see the country being run by puppets of Thaksin, (and this is something to disallow) for the first time that I’m aware of, there is finally a real cross-section of people who are involved in the political process. [TIG] Will elections be dramatically different from the past? Probably not. But the more varied and involved the people are, the more representative the government must become. And the more elections will be about ideas rather than about power.

And This Is Good.



How quickly we forget

March 21, 2010 Leave a comment

The redshirt, yellowshirt situation in Thailand that has centered around the King, the ex-prime minister Thaksin, and Democracy, has drawn attention from people all around the world. Comments that have been made are sometimes humorous, generally opinionated and often lack perspective. One such comment was made today about how Democracy is on it’s deathbed here in Thailand. What rubbish!

I wonder if the protests that happened around the leadership of Martin Luther King were viewed by people as a weakening of democracy in the US. Hmmm.

Today, we have people (perhaps as many as 50,000) demonstrating peacefully (with the spirit of fans at a football game) throughout the city. These are people who have largely never been a part of any democratic process before in their life time. “Vote? Why? Sorry, not interested.” has been their level of political involvement.

Today, these people are in the real-life classroom and not only are they involved, they’re helping to involve others as well.

What is it about the us that causes us to expect that people can get to the place of understanding we are on any particular point overnight? There is not a better sign of the vibrance and health of democracy in Thailand than the fact that people are engaged and able to demonstrate in this way, in many ways, with the support of the government.