Vol. VII No. 41 - Tuesday
October 7 - October 13, 2008

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Make your own border…

First Salween biodiversity survey reveals endangered species threatened by dams

Count Gerry to launch new foundation for the benefit of disadvantaged youngsters


Make your own border…

William Parham
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.

Yours 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 us.
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 evolution.
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 democracy.
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 military actions.

“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

Elena Edwards
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 .com/foundation_intro.htm.
“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

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