Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What's happening; Thailand's innocense

One of the things most attractive about Thailand is the fresh, light-hearted “innocence” of the people, their wide, open smiles (as much of the world well knows). A paternalistic, traditional social and political hierarchy, with the king (or for 10 years until the end of WWII, dictator, Phibun Songkram, whose surname translates “war”) as ultimate father-figure. The King, the top of moral, social and political orders, stands as the highest supporter of all the country’s religions, protector of the people’s physical, social and spiritual welfare. People tend to feel cared for, looked after and safe.
Just a century ago, most Thais had few possessions, worked communally, and lived in villages, with respectful obedience, if not fearful deference, to authority – which was absolute. They were clear on their “place”, seldom goal-driven or ambitious, but generally enthusiastic about their likes.
But what they like now is status symbols – and two new, rebellious, ones, are interesting: the Playboy bunny and the cowboy hat. I’m sure few know anything about Hugh Heffner or his magazine, and am positive they fail to understand almost all of what happened to Native Americans, but suspect these newly popular fashion accoutrements indicate a new feeling of, or striving for, independence and deciding for oneself. Which is good, in my opinion.
But the educational system here isn’t; the media exposes people to some things, but (like the schools) hardly encourages responsibility, independent thinking and rational analysis. And of recent, many Thais have displayed an immaturity shockingly reminiscent of Republicans in the USA and children’s tantrums. Seems to me it’s the semi-successful farmers, restaurateurs and wage-earners (well, aside from the notorious taxi drivers) who are at the heart of the “red shirt”, two-faced movement to simultaneously call for democracy and the return of a dictator.
It’s simply been all about emotional venting – why stifle oneself? After all, others, before them, flagrantly haven’t! And life these days has become a competition in selfishness. “I’m simply NOT going to let you get away with more than I do!”
Ah well. Taksin showed a remarkable lack of awareness of “his own” culture (he’s Chinese, ‘educated’ in the USA but not very fluent in English) in timing the protests to coincide with Thailand’s longest festival, where they have the most fun (and Thais love fun). Nobody loves a spoilsport, and that’s what Taksin and his supporters now appear to be. They’ve done themselves a great disservice.
And I wouldn’t be sad about that, but what bothers me, and it bothers me a lot, is that so much of their rhetoric is good. Unconvincing, sure, but at least they’re calling for adjustments to reality which Bangkok high-society is more than reluctant to allow (to “bestow on” their) village people. Society is still basically feudal here, and many of those in the higher echelons much like that. Most of the world is, and has been, though, and we’ve seen what transitions bring with them - so I’m not just sad.

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