Sunday, June 29, 2014
Farang Can't Understand Thainess
When I first came to Thailand, nobody said this to me. They were too busy explaining Thainess to me--that his Majesty was loved by all, that Thai people cared about freedom, that family was an overriding concern for parents and children alike, that Thailand was a country where people took care of each other. I taught English to well-educated adults and they all used my language to teach me about their country. And I believed what they told me.
It was easy to believe them in that halcyon period between 1995 and 2001, even when the baht went straight to hell and we were all wondering just how low the economy was going to go. I was gone for several years when Thaksin rose and fell. I read about the crimes committed by his government, which were very bad, but I read about them in a free press. Yes, even during the extra-judicial killings of people accused of drug-selling, the protesters who died of suffocation at Tak Bai, and the hefty tax evasion of the PM himself, Bangkok newspapers were free to report these events. Free--that has always been the hallmark of Thailand for me--that's what I was taught.
Then this year along came the coup that was not a coup and then it was. People have been arrested for reading 1984 in public, for wearing the wrong t-shirt, for brandishing three fingers in the air, for handing out sandwiches. Cash rewards amounting to around 16 USD have been promised to people who snitch on others for denigrating the current powers-in-charge. Detention centers wait for people who need to be taught to be "happy." Government spokesmen say it matters not at all what foreign nations think of recent events in Thailand. On the other hand, officials warn against negative news in the media because it presents "the wrong image" to foreigners.
Online news reports from the Bangkok Post and the Nation are heavy on stories about the World Cup. Social media, in English at any rate, has gone silent. A prominent op-ed columnist who has provided insightful political commentary for years has been "let go" from the Bangkok Post.
I'm a foreigner, I do not understand. I don't understand why political turmoil was allowed to become so complete that the only solution seemed to be a complete shutdown of free speech, free press, free thought. Unless of course that was the plan to begin with--to allow license that was called freedom and let it escalate to the point that repression became a welcome alternative. But what do I know? I'm farang. I can never understand Thainess.