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Yet another view of Globalization

Thailand - weight watcher’s nightmare

Yet another view of Globalization

I first wanted to independently write to your paper, but I was not fast enough since I felt I needed to go back to the exhibition that Mr. Doris Kraushaar was commenting on your recent issue. After the opening I have been back twice to this remarkable show of SEA art works under the title Identities vs. Globalisation? (Please Doris do not simply forget the question mark when referring to the title!) And I wish now to rather write my thoughts in direct response to Doris:

I am a Thai citizen, but have been educated and lived abroad for quite some years. In this sense I am a traveller between the worlds and a product of globalisation myself. Doris Kraus undersigned as an artist living and working in Chiang Mai, but from the name I can guess that she must have come to live and work in my country by her own choice. But have you ever thought of the many migrants (not only in Thailand but world over) who are forced to live as refugees (see Mella Jaarsma’s work looking at this problem in the exhibition) or who have settled after years of turmoil somewhere they do not call home after all, let alone that they are not welcomed in their new host country?

Reading your comment, I feel you are asking not to judge from the perspective of the comfortable, well off winner of globalisation mourning the loss of treasured values and realities in the wake of globalisation. While you are coming from a country where the shaky years of change are long gone (if they have been shaky at all) and assuming that we are all sharing the benefits of a free western society, I was looking at art works that I see as direct voices from the respective countries, and I am not surprised that a Laotian artist expresses strong concerns and fears of being run over by the forces of modernisation, be they global or in the form of Thai economic and cultural dominance.

It is only natural that the Cambodians are simply requesting time for not only economic but also cultural recovery after years of turmoil, while at the same time they are longing to be integrated into the world, the sooner the better.

If a Vietnamese male artist expresses concern over the sexualisation of Vietnamese women in his newly opened society, it shows to me that many of the social ills that we all got used to long ago are just beginning in his country. Don’t bother, seemingly says Kraushaar.

Two Vietnamese female artists express their encounters with globalisation in very different ways. While the one is concerned that globalisation and economic opening carries the danger of extinguishing the little oil lamps symbolising the millions not so well to do Vietnamese in her country, right opposite to her artwork, her colleague emphasizes the strength of the Vietnamese people and society to be able to resist the negative impact of monetarisation (symbolised as a wave of US dollar notes), which I think is a problem and should not be ignored.

I joined some of the discussions organised by the Heinrich Boell people in conjunction with the exhibition opening at the Amari Hotel and it was there where I witnessed a very intense, controversial and multifaceted discussion around globalisation at large, and particularly its ramifications for the arts and the artists. This discussion proved that the conversation circles that Kraushaar obviously attended or observed in the opening eve comparing globalisation to communism must be a rather marginal group of extreme pessimists or ideologists.

Nevertheless, reading Kraushaar’s comments, I can’t get rid of the feeling that she feels somewhat disturbed or at unease with the fact that her world perception of globalisation (being simply a blend of cultures, ideas and concepts) have been challenged. I do share her vision, but we need to accept that realities are very different, not equal for all and it is unfortunately not a matter of choice for all people, as in Kraushaar’s case, and in that of her friend from Koh Phangnan.

I didn’t see or hear a single artist calling upon a return to simplicity without electricity and you can see in the exhibition that many artists are embracing modern media as their form of expression. I am proud that the Thai artists took a critical, yet relaxed approach to cover the theme, somewhat indicating that Thailand is striking a somewhat healthy balance in the globalisation and modernisation of our society. So do the Singaporean and the non-Muslim Malaysian artists; they can afford a rather humoristic approach. For them there is no existential question, but rather side effects of globalisation are to be discussed or migration, peace and war.

I encourage everybody to watch the video presentation of Malaysian female artist Nur Hanim. You will definitely not feel simply entertained by her powerful video artwork! I myself felt rather depressed and at unease with her perception, but looking to the South of my own country, I learned from this video about how important perception is, whether I like it or not, whether I agree with her or not, and I do not.

But I have to take her voice seriously and need to bear the moments of feeling disturbed and uncomfortable with what she has to say. I advise Kraushaar and all others feeling not at ease with the criticism reflected to go and have another look and check who is talking and what their realities are.

I thank the organisers for this great show and even more for the catalogue as a means to take the discussion home, for me back to Bangkok and to the classroom.

Nittaya Chuenprasaeng,

Thai art lover and global citizen by choice

Thailand - weight watcher’s nightmare

Compared to Thai people, I feel like a huge, fat, monster. I am a “native English speaker”, a “farang”; expressions which make me sound like a primitive wild beast.

They make me feel like a huge monster.

Some days I feel like I am living in a storybook, the Thais flock a mile when they hear my thundering footsteps booming through the streets of Chiang Mai. Children run screaming when they see the huge white, blue-eyed, alien try to communicate in their strange sing-song English voices. Towering over the entire population, my oversized feet plod through the market. It’s hard not to feel like a freak with two heads, when everywhere you go people stare at you like you are inhuman. Despite being a modest size 12 and a normal medium in Britain, it is impossible not to develop a complex in this country where most other women are the size of my right leg.

Being in a Thai nightclub bathroom is a weight watcher’s nightmare. 50 stunning Thai women crowd around the mirrors attempting to flatten their non-existent stomachs, painting more make-up on their already perfect faces. No wonder western men are in their element in Thailand, when all the women resemble miniature catwalk models, so immaculately dressed, never a hair out of place. Thai women are so incredibly graceful that they could make cleaning toilets a glamorous occupation. I cannot believe that they think we are the beautiful ones! I always emerge at the end of the day like I have been dragged through a bush backwards and no matter how hard they work, Thais always seem to be looking good. Everything I do in this country makes me feel like a messy clambering beast. I am always falling over, tripping up, and making a general fool of myself, probably because everything in Thailand is made for people half my size and weight. As I climb out of the song-taew on the way home, I feel like a bulldozer flattening everything in sight. I have yet to venture on a sam laew because I take one look at the tiny driver with legs the size of chopsticks and I think my weight would probably kill him if he tried to pedal up a hill.

In Britain it would be the ultimate insult to call someone fat, we would politely say: “the larger girl” or “she is big boned”. I find it hilarious in Thailand that it is not considered rude to call people fat. A typical Thai description entails: “He is the fat one, eat a lot of fried chicken!” Although part of me cannot wait to get back to Britain where I can again resume my normal, medium sized human state of being, I still love being around Thais. They are not only beautiful, but have the most hilarious sense of humor in the world. It leaves me in fits of hysteria when the little kids at school come up to me and poke me in the stomach saying the Thai word for “chicken” and “baby!”
Louisa Strain