Make your own border…
It all started in a way that pleased us farangs mightily. A Thai
writer said that 60 million Thais needed to rethink themselves before they
blame others for their current political morass. Who is this infamous one
creating more than the usual dust-up? Voranai Vanijaka, a new young,
outspoken writer on the Op-Ed pages of the Sunday Bangkok Post.
and mine…(Photo courtesy of K4rl)
In his September 7th column, ‘Thailand: The Mirror Has 60 Million Faces,’ he
retorted ‘Buying an election is just a matter of supply and demand, it can’t
be bought if the people aren’t willing to sell it. And the people are us,
the Thai people. It is us who sell our freedom, our democracy.’
Farang letters to Postbag praised his boldness and insightfulness. The Thai
Visa Forum veritably bristled with acclaim upon reading it. One blogger said
‘possibly the greatest column I’ve ever read in a Thai newspaper.’ Implied
in these blogs is that somebody finally got it straight and, unbelievably,
that somebody was a Thai.
It isn’t that other Thai columnists haven’t said similar before, but they’ve
done so more non-confrontationally – in a very, well, Thai way. Voranai, on
the other hand, was totally out there. So much so that one blogger
speculated, ‘I only hope the article wasn’t dictated by a foreigner.’ You
mean…as if a Thai couldn’t or wouldn’t speak like that?
Well, this one does, and does so exceptionally well. And then the other shoe
dropped. His September 21 column was entitled ‘Dearest Tom, Dick and Harry…’
That would be ‘us.’
If you’re a regular reader of the English dailies, you will have noticed
that many of the letters to the editor are from farangs expressing amazement
at the Thai political scene and giving their two satangs’ worth. Voranai
noticed that ‘opinions have ranged anywhere from disbelief to disdain and
downright disgust at what is going on with the democracy of this Kingdom.’
Well, it is pretty much of a tragi-comedy, no?
Yes. But, maybe we need to hear a Thai tell us that ‘with harsh words and
brutal assaults, slamming and insulting the Kingdom, and with it, my fellow
countrymen,’ is not very helpful. So, it’s time to get the law laid down to
And it was so laid. Voranai reminded us of a few facts: European democracy
started out of the gate very early (with the Greeks, of course, and then the
Magna Carta in 1215), but it was a very long haul to modern democracy’s
first goal line with the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, and
then the French version in 1789. In case you haven’t been counting, that’s
over 2,000 years of slogging through. Are we there yet? On the flip side, I
dare say that few farangs could relate the events of democracy’s jagged
march through modern Thai history (names/dates please).
Why are we so amazed that Thailand can’t get it right when the concept of
constitutionalism arrived here only in 1932? Constitutionalism – a
border-crossed import that bore no discernible resemblance to Thai culture
of that time (and the cynics among us would say after 1932 as well).
A distinguished Thai scholar, Thak Chaloemtiarana, Director of the Southeast
Asia Program at Cornell University, voices the difficulty of assimilation:
‘Thai politics should be considered and understood from the historical
perspective…of traditional political values that faced stresses and strains
from the impact of modernism.’ And Professor Thak places the farangs’
favorite bogeyman, vote-buying, squarely within this historical/political
In this past Sunday’s column (Sept. 28) Voranai reported that because of his
‘Dearest Tom…’ remarks, the Bangkok Post received almost 300 emails, some
calling him a racist for being so bold as to comment about farangs. I guess
we didn’t like it as much as the 60 Million Thais column.
Speaking out forcefully and truthfully is a bit like crossing a boundary.
One never really knows what might happen once you step over that line. As
farangs, we usually don’t hesitate to voice our opinions about things Thai.
We take it as our right to offer criticism, to nudge for improvement. Border
crossing into another’s culture. How can that be so bad?
It can. The late Palestinian scholar Edward Said, in his acclaimed work
Orientalism, argues how powerful Western colonial discourse – stereotyping
in common parlance – created the foundation for domination, preceding actual
political power and giving it legitimacy. Centuries of this kind of
institutionalized and unexamined meta-discourse allowed us to be convinced
that colonial people needed us to create their historical narrative, their
identity. The unspoken implication, of course, is that they were not capable
of doing so themselves. He cites a remarkable quote from Karl Marx, ‘They
cannot represent themselves; they must be represented.’
Is it overkill to compare colonial discourse to our own seemingly innocent
musings about anything Thai? I think not. The commonality between the two is
the unambiguous assumption of the right to speak about other people’s
situation and to frame that discourse from our side of the border. In the
more egregious farang musings, the implication is that our recommendations
are actually required in order for Thais to propel themselves into
Voranai simply picked up on this language of power and called us out on it.
First Salween biodiversity survey reveals
endangered species threatened by dams
Press release – First Salween biodiversity survey reveals endangered
species threatened by dams
The first detailed survey of
the biodiversity of Burma’s Salween River by indigenous researchers has
identified over forty endangered plant and animal species which are being
threatened by plans to build a series of large hydropower dams and ongoing
“Khoe Kay: Biodiversity in
Peril,” by the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN) details
the rich biodiversity of Khoe Kay on the Salween River opposite Thailand’s
Mae Hong Son province. The area includes the site of the planned Weigyi Dam,
one of five giant hydropower dams planned for the Salween River by the
Burmese, Thai and Chinese governments.
Using traditional and
academic methods of research, the KESAN team identified 194 plant species
and 200 animals, forty-two of which are considered endangered by the World
Conservation Union. One example is the Hairy faced bat, Myotis annectans.
Over 2 dozen endemic and unknown species are also present, including eight
endemic fish species identified by Dr. Chavalit Vidthayanon of WWF-Thailand.
The report shows that the Salween River still contains amazing biodiversity,
and deserves more attention from international scientists.
According to KESAN Activist
Ko Shwe, “the Karen people depend on a healthy Salween ecosystem, including
fish, forest products, riverside gardens and transportation. The proposed
dams will ruin the ecosystem and the free flowing river, kill the
surrounding forests and destroy the lives of thousands of people.”
The report also predicts
further extreme impacts to the environment. These include greenhouse gas
emissions, changes in flow and sedimentation, and perhaps most
significantly, the cumulative effects of building and operating several
cascading dams. While many parties have studied their own dam proposals on
the Salween, no one has ever examined the effects of all the proposed dams
together. Militarization of the area is also increasing, and has already
resulted in the loss of one severely endangered Sumatran Rhinoceros. KESAN
promotes further research into this highly endangered ecosystem, and urges a
halt to dam construction until impacts can be understood and alleviated.
Count Gerry to launch new foundation
for the benefit of disadvantaged youngsters
Following several years of collaboration in valuable charity
projects with Rotary, Count Gerald van der Straten Ponthoz is taking another
major step forward with the creation of the Chao Phya Abhai Raja
Siammanukulkij Foundation, which will be launched October 29 at the Belgian
Ambassador’s residence in Bangkok. The new foundation will be based in
Chiang Rai province at Insii Thai House, Maechan, and will, it is hoped,
open up many new opportunities. At the same time, collaboration with the
Rotary Club of Maechan will continue. Count Gerry looks forward to welcoming
his friends from Chiang Mai to his upcoming events; the text below is his
introduction to the new foundation, in his own words. For more information,
please visit Insii Thai House’s website at http://insiithaihouse
“Thailand has brought a lot of happiness into my life and I will forever be
grateful to the country and its people for the gift they gave me.
Connections between Thailand and my family date back over a century, when
Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns, an ancestor of my grandmother’s family, came to
Siam. He became the General Advisor of H.M. King Chulalongkorn, and received
the title of Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij by royal appointment.
Gustave Rolin is still regarded as a great ancestor today and as a man who
gave everything he could to his adoptive country.
While his work and achievements in Siam have been exceptional, my ancestor’s
personality has certainly been an important inspiration both to me and in
many of our projects. For several years, together with my fellow Rotarians
of the Rotary Club of Maechan, as well as with numerous close friends, I
decided to devote much of my time to others and to help them reach a
brighter future. We have been active during that time in creating many
charity projects in the north of Thailand from our base at Insii Thai House.
There are common denominators in all of the projects which have been
initiated to date – education, art, exchange of culture, innovation and
revenue creation for the poorest children. Successes include the Sindoi Hill
Tribe Ceramic Project, the Hill Tribe Violin Band, the Hill Tribe Magic
Troupe and the Celebration Concert.
Several disadvantaged students are now fully supported in their studies
until they finish university. Others have been given the opportunity to
study further in Europe. While all these achievements rest on the support
and hard work of today’s partners, the spirit and values of Chao Phya Abhai
Raja Siammanukulkij – loyalty, honesty, hard work and respect for Thai
culture – can surely be felt in all of these activities.
But if Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij came to Thailand over a century
ago, it was because of His Majesty King Rama V, a visionary monarch who
wanted to improve his country and the well being of its citizens, and who
pioneered what has become common practice today – the exchange of skills
between foreign countries and Siam and the reaching out to distant knowledge
for local use and the benefit of the Siamese people.
Over a century later, in a world that is increasingly difficult for the
younger generation, the Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation
follows the vision of King Rama V and the spirit of Gustave Rolin in helping
to improve the lives of Thai youngsters. The foundation and all its partners
have one aim – to make the dreams of disadvantaged students come true.”
Count Gerald van der Straten Ponthoz