Readers' Submissions

Flag Fatigue




FLAG, n. A colored rag borne above troops and hoisted on forts and ships. It appears to serve the same purpose as certain signs that one sees at vacant lots in London — "Rubbish may be shot here."

Ambrose Bierce (1842 – 1914), The Devil's Dictionary

It is difficult to take more than a few steps in Thailand without seeing the familiar red, white and blue of the Thai flag. They are everywhere. As flags go it has a simple and attractive design, but sometimes I have to say to myself, “enough already”! You simply cannot escape them. They adorn millions of homes and businesses. Naturally they fly from every government building. They are every few meters on every road, from tiny soi to Super Highway. I have no idea how much is set aside for flags in the local, provincial and national budgets, but the cost must be enormous. Does the government think that somehow people will forget what country they’re living in if they are not constantly reminded that yes, this is indeed Thailand, and that yes, this is what the Thai flag looks like?

Perhaps that’s also the reason we are all serenaded at 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM with that tune which is impossible to get out of our heads!

Okay, let me just say from the start that I am not against patriotism, flying one’s national flag, or singing one’s national anthem. There is nothing wrong with being proud of your country, flying a flag or singing a song. This can though turn into a kind of zeal, a kind of fervor which is downright scary. Periodically in my former corner of Farangland (the USA) some right-wing yahoos attempted to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would make the burning of the American flag a Federal crime. While I personally would take great offense at anyone burning the Stars and Stripes, I also believe in the First Amendment which grants freedom of speech.

“I prefer a man who will burn the flag and then wrap himself in the Constitution to a man who will burn the Constitution and then wrap himself in the flag.”

Craig Washington

That little “luxury” of course does not exist in The Land of Smiles. Or perhaps I should say that everyone here in Thailand has the perfect to say whatever he or she wants…from his or her prison cell!

I cannot even imagine what would happen to any idiot who burned a Thai flag. Somehow I don’t think that he would even make it to a prison cell!

Every morning at 8:00 AM sharp at thousands of schools all over Thailand the Thai flag is hoisted aloft by two students especially chosen for the honor. There to the strains of Phleng Chat the flag is slowly raised and is soon fluttering in the breeze. At the school where I teach, our flag is enormous. We also have an excellent band that plays a stirring rendition of the anthem.

I just know that all of you have wondered from time to time, just what exactly the song means. Luckily for you, with the help of the Wikipedia here are not one but two translations!

Translation # 1

Thailand unites flesh and blood of Thais.

Nation of the people; belonging to the Thais in every respect.

Long maintained [has been] the independence

Because the Thais seek, and love, unity.

Thais are peace-loving;

But at war we're no cowards.

Sovereignty will not be threatened

Sacrificing every drop of blood for the nation

Hail the nation of Thailand, long last the victory, Hurrah!

Translation # 2

Thailand unites its people with flesh and blood.

land of Thailand belongs to the Thais.

long maintained its sovereignty,

Because the Thais have always been united.

Thais are peace-loving,

no cowards at distress.

They shall allow no one to rob them of freedom,

Nor shall they suffer tyranny.

ready to die for freedom, safety and prosperity.

And, just in case you really want to impress your Thai friends and actually sing along, here is an easy to pronounce transliteration!

Prathet Thai Ruam Lueat Nuea Chat Chuea Thai,

Pen Pracha Rat, Phathai Khong Thai Thuk Suan

Yu Damrong Khong Wai Dai Thang Muan,

Duai Thai Luan Mai, Rak Samakkhi,

Duai Thai Luan Mai, Rak Samakkhi,

Ekkarat Cha Mai Hai Khrai Khom Khi,

Sala Lueat Thuk Yat Pen Chat Phali,

Thaloeng Prathet Chat Thai Thawi Mi Chai Cha-yo.

At one school I taught at, all the farangs would wait with bated breath to see if the girl singing the anthem that morning would hit the high note at the end!

Remember some months ago when some bright chap proposed that all traffic stop twice a day for the playing of the national anthem? Thank whatever deity you like, or just blind luck that nothing ever became of that brilliant idea! Isn’t there enough gridlock on the highways already?

Anyway, getting back to the flag, although many Thais genuinely love their flag and their country, I for life of me don’t know why they feel so damned smug! It isn’t as though LOS is a shining example of “Democracy in action”. Yes, compared to what’s going on in Burma (I refuse to say Myanmar because that name was instigated by the thugs running amok there now!), Cambodia and Laos, Thailand is a little slice of heaven. But do my ears detect the rumble of the tanks getting ready for the next coup? And of course let there be no doubt that there will be another coup (and another and another). It’s not a question of if, but rather when Thai “Democracy” will stumble backwards another step or two. The ultra-nationalists who “wrap themselves in the flag” usually need an enemy or two to vent their paranoia on, and let’s face it we are an easy target. After all, aren’t we “decadent” Westerners “corrupting” the fabric of Thai society? It may sound absurd that we are in anyway responsible for Thailand’s problems, but since when has absurdity ever stopped a mob from “stringing them up” first and asking questions later?

“Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the flag, and begin slitting throats. HL Mencken

That’s why I’m ready for a quick getaway should things get ugly in The Land of Smiles. Until then let the flags fly!

Stickman's thoughts:

We don't have much in the way of playing of the national anthem in my country so when it is played I doubt many would think it is overdone.

I have noticed that some people get rather serious about the playing of the national anthem here in Thailand these days. I mean, when I first came here, they did not play it in such public areas as Siam Square, in the area in front of Central World Plaza or on the skytrain stations. They do now and woe be tied you if you do not stand still like a solider at attention for it!