Readers' Submissions

Salient Elements To Consider Regarding Life In Thailand

  • Written by Ishiro
  • April 30th, 2014
  • 7 min read




Two subs that were posted on Saturday (26/04/14) – one by Steve Rosse and the other by Starky – hit me as being better than what usually appears in the daily subs column. I particularly liked the sub by Steve Rosse because of the theme about which he wrote – a subject that is always in my thoughts. "What The Heart Wants" is really what it all comes down to in the final analysis.

The sub by Starky expresses lament that the quality of writing has dropped considerably since some of the older contributors have left the column for various reasons. I know why that has happened – people get tired of writing (and reading) the same old themes and, after writing submissions for as long as Dana was able to, and from others like Mega and Caveman, both of whom supplied interesting content, one runs out of things to say. While I admire Dana as a master of satire and hyperbole, I can name quite a number of sub writers that I consider equal to – or even better (on different levels) than any of those three gentlemen as writers – but how far back do we want to turn the clock? For God's sake don't even mention Trink! Yeah, I know, he was before Stick's time and wrote for The Bangkok Post (in a small capacity until he wore out his welcome). I see him as a dinosaur we can well do without.

I have only been writing subs to Stick since early 2011 but, much of the time I am scratching my head over what to write about because, when it's all boiled down, Thailand (and the bar scene, particularly) is not that bloody interesting. One tires of it very quickly. Why would a sane person choose to sit and watch skanks sliding around a chrome pole?

My interests always have been with Thai culture – and I made a vow when I first married my Thai wife, Natalise (divorced in 2006), that I would not only learn to speak Thai but I would learn to read and write Thai. That has been put to good use in translating and transcribing Thai songs on my operating systems and setting them out in Thai and English as working charts for guitar – and is what occupies most of my waking hours each day. My interests lie in the mainstream pop side of the Thai music industry and it is amazing what can be revealed of the Thai psyche by understanding how they write a song in a particular way that is quite different to the way it is written in Western music. You can learn a lot about how a Thai thinks by the way a song is constructed – because, when a Thai writes meaningful lyrics for a song, it is one of the rare times when the mask of "face" is lowered – and you get to see the real person. Another revelation of this is in live performances by certain Thai artists (male and female) who really do reveal their soul on stage – not only in the song but in their dialogue with the audience (some of which is often quite long and informative).

I grew tired of the bar scene fairly early in the piece (always frequented beer bars – never go go's or the slinky clubs) and I had a sometimes fascination for the Eden Club – but I realised that what I was always after was stability with a good Thai woman and I knew I wouldn't find that in a bar. I have had that for the last 7 years and I will do nothing that may endanger what I have found.

Some of the older and regular current writers and I still keep contact by e-mail and I regard them as friends that share a common bond of reliability, confidence and respect – something that is not built overnight. Those valued qualities were not forged in the bar environment.

Then there is Thai history and politics – both of which I am extremely interested in understanding – because I do not believe anyone has even a remote chance of understanding Thais unless you know where they have come from and where they hope to go. Of course, integral with this is a knowledge of the The Royal Dynasties (Lanna and Central Siam) and the parts they played in the development of Lanna and Siam, before unification and the transformation, under The Chakri Dynasty, into what we now know as Thailand. What makes it even more complicated is the fact that Lanna developed as a separate Kingdom and Siam has had three Dynasties – Late Ayutthaya, Thonburi and Chakri (the present Royal Dynasty).

Buried in this period of history before WWII, lies the issue of identity that is causing so much trouble for so many Thais at this time in reconciling where their allegiances lie. It is a psychological issue about which they probably have no cognitive awareness – but very real, nevertheless. Although I adore Bangkok, I have shared a lot of time mixing with Lanna people and have noticed many subtle differences between those from the north and their Central Thai counterparts. I actually find Lanna people more friendly and open than Bangkokians – and they wear a proud badge on their hearts of their separate heritage under King Mengrai, who founded Chiang Mai as Capital in 1296. What makes matters even more convoluted is that, the further you travel south down the peninsular, those differences become more pronounced when compared to Central or Northern Thais.

I believe that the common bond that unites Lanna people is their history of descendency from the old Lanna Kingdom – and also the fact that many ancestors of those people were refugees from Sipsongpanna (12 lower Chinese meuang) who sought refuge, first in Burma, before arriving in Lanna. In the late 1860s, Thaksin's great-grandfather, Seng sae Khu, arrived from Guangdong as a lad of around 10 or perhaps a little older. There are no records of whom he arrived with – but, in adulthood, he set himself up as a gambling-tax farmer in Chantaburi, where he married a local girl, Thongdi. In 1908 he moved to Talat Noi (the Bangkok Chinese commercial district) before moving back to Chiang Mai to become a gambling-tax farmer again. Here is where the strong bond with Thaksin Shinawatra/sae Khu very likely stems from – as most Lanna people identify with him through the difficult history his family had in establishing themselves into some kind of capacity to earn a living. Talk with most Lanna people and they will express feelings of pride that Thaksin is one of their own. Then there is the other factor that I believe is very real but unspoken – that Lanna people probably see that they have been cheated out of their heritage of being part of the Great Lanna Kingdom that virtually disappeared completely after the unification with Siam and when the railway came to Chiang Mai in 1921. Even their language dialects were different – some facets still remaining in use by Lanna people.

Then, of course, we have Isaan – the people who are the salt of the earth and the true workers of Thailand – with their own heritage, rooted partly in Laos and mainly Cambodia (the Khmer Empire). Yet, what I find so amusing is that the very indivualistic identities each of these cultures retain, works against the unity that must exist for Thailand to be a fully-functioning entity, working for the good of all. Practically, this is a big problem.

How many times have you heard "Isaan lady no good" spoken from a Chiang Mai person – or perhaps "Bangkok lady no good – Udon lady very good" spoken from an Isaan person? I have always tried to impress on people who speak in this way of the absolute necessity for ALL Thais to think of each other as part of the whole.

Perhaps Dana was absolutely correct when he wrote this part of a very long submission about the folly and futility of wanting to learn to speak a tonal language such as Thai: "'Got a hobby do you? Learning to speak Thai? Good for you: hobbies are fun. I have a friend who collects doorknobs (hint: do not invite him to your house). But it's only a hobby. If you start to think less personally and less locally – and more objectively and more globally – learning to speak Thai starts to look silly'.

"Hobbyist: 'Yes, but I want to know what the Thais are really all about'.
Me: 'How are they treating you now? That is what they are really all about'".

Oh, I love it – classic Dana!



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