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    Amart and Prai

    http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/o...amart-and-prai



    COMMENTARY
    Amart and Prai

    • Published: 18/07/2010 at 12:00 AM
    • Newspaper section: News


    The prime minister, the panelists and the organisers sat in the VIP reception room, chatting. The staff walked into the area, gave a bow and went to their knees. They crawled to the VIPs and served.


    It was rather an uncomfortable experience, looking down at a man older than I was, as he - on his knees - served me a cup of coffee.


    After the prime minister had given his opening address, in front of some 300 executives and diplomats, the panelists gave their speeches on the income inequality and social disparity in Thailand.


    When it was my turn, I thanked the organisers for allowing a young voice to be a part of this forum. I was also honest in telling the room that they may regret it later, but short of hauling me off the stage, it's too late now.
    The following was my speech, with some add-ons.


    The topic was ''full participation''. The problem is the lack of full participation. The cause of the problem is inequality and disparity. But where is the inequality, the disparity? What is the cause? Politically, economically and socially.


    In politics, if we count all the prime ministers since 1988, the end of military rule, we have had a mixed-bag of leaders. Some were provincials. A couple were downright country bumpkins. A couple were Bangkokians. A few were military elites. And one genuine, bona fide Bangkok elite.


    It's a mixture of representation, but all of them had one thing in common - they all have Chinese in them.


    If you watch the no-confidence debate, you'll notice all sorts of accents from all regions of the Kingdom. The country is well represented. After all, we are a representative democracy - safe for a few disenfranchised tribes that don't have citizenship, of course.


    There isn't really much political inequality. The most influential politicians are, in fact, very provincial.


    Economically, the Chinese theme continues. For example, let's say 50 years ago, first generation Chinese climbed off the boat with nothing but the clothes on their back and met with all sorts of prejudices. They were segregated and looked down upon, branded communists.


    Today, they are Bangkok high society. Dark-skinned little ethnic Thai boys and girls paint their bodies with skin whitening cream so they can be pale and beautiful like the Thai Chinese.


    The richest in Thailand are those who came to this country with nothing. Many of them still speak Thai with Chinese accents.


    Even the most prejudiced, segregated and downtrodden can economically, and consequently socially and politically, make it to the top. Thailand is the land of opportunities.


    What about socially? I hailed a taxi in London, and the driver dared to talk to me as if he was my equal. I gasped. I was shocked. Didn't he know I'm Bangkok elite? Well, actually I'm middle class. But let's keep that between us - don't tell anyone.


    When I hail a taxi in Bangkok, the driver - more often than not - talks to me humbly, as an inferior to a superior. He knows his place in society.
    If you were to observe a conversation between a manager and a factory worker - both sides are nice and polite to each other - but the words and the body language will tell that - whether they realise it or not - this is not a conversation between employer and employee, but a conversation between master and servant, between the superior and the inferior.


    (Then I described the experience in the VIP reception.)


    You see, when a man crawls to serve another man - what does that do to his spirit? But it's tradition, and society has been so conditioned to it for so long. We see nothing wrong with it. We don't even realise or recognise it. It's just the way things are.


    But what lies underneath is an amputated spirit, and unlike a lost arm or a lost leg, there's no prosthetic for it. Imagine a society, where the majority has an amputated spirit.


    Look around the room - the only ethnic Thais in here are me and the cameramen.


    The income gap that we are so focused on is merely a symptom. The cause of inequality and disparity is the state of mind, the condition of the spirit, the cultural psyche and attitude. The red shirts made a good point, even though they made it badly: It's the amart (aristocrat) versus prai (ordinary people) dilemma.


    We may talk about tax reforms. The land tax and inheritance tax that give the rich hissy fits, but will bring more revenue for the government to develop the country - universal healthcare, social welfare and public works that may eradicate the disparity.


    But how would that matter, if out of every 100 baht in tax revenue, the politicians keep 20, the bureaucrats keep 20, then the middlemen, the fixers, the contractors, the sub-contractors, the tea money, etc. At the end of the day there's maybe five baht left to build a bridge - which is then built badly, incompetently.


    Raise the minimum wage and the poor will be comfortably poor, temporarily. But will it be any different from the one million baht village fund? Gambling, drinking and a new motorbike - there's no such a thing as investing in the future.


    Not that those things should not be done. But it's a vicious and ridiculous cycle that won't cure the cultural disease. We can talk about education. But education reform starts with the teachers. It will take 20 years to train a new species of teachers, and you can't do that under the present system. It will never happen in a society that deems ideas are dangerous and knowledge is threatening.


    The Ministry of Culture's existence is to censor thoughts and expressions. The ICT Ministry's primary purpose isn't to develop communication or technology, but to ban websites. Education reform? Try cultural reform first.


    We need to create a middle class - a class that has to be the majority, not the minority - a class with a sense of entitlement and enlightenment.


    But this isn't something you can hand over, give away. Like the Chinese immigrants, the people have to want it and to work for it. But before that, they have to believe they are entitled to it, that they deserve it. But how will a prai believe this if he is conditioned to crawl to serve the amart? The amputated spirit needs to be addressed. It's an intangible thing - not one that you can just pass a law to fix.


    In the past or in the present, the masses, the populace, just doesn't know any better and doesn't want to know any better. Whenever they protest, it's never to demand a better education. It's never to demand healthcare. It's never to demand civil rights and liberty. But for subsidies and fixed prices - things that can only help them to be comfortably poor, temporarily.
    Or, they become a mob for hire to make a quick baht and to inject some fun and drama into a tedious life.


    They know their place in society - and though they whine and cry about many things - they would never dream, they would never imagine that all of this can be changed. They are good Thais, they are good Buddhists - and this is Thailand, it's just the way it is.


    It's the cultural mentality, and that has to be changed - by bringing hope, inspiration and a sense of worthiness.


    Thailand is the land of opportunities - the people just need to recognise it and believe they deserve it. Enlighten the minds. Enrich the souls.
    But this cannot be done if the rest of us, the ''privileged ones'', don't help to show them the way. If we don't open our arms and let them join us.


    And once we have the spirit of entitlement and enlightenment, the disparity and inequality will pretty much take care of itself - and all those other reforms can be done. Start at the starting point. We are humans - before we can succeed in anything, we must first have hope, we must first believe.
    "Slavery is the daughter of darkness; an ignorant people is the blind instrument of its own destruction; ambition and intrigue take advantage of the credulity and inexperience of men who have no political, economic or civil knowledge. They mistake pure illusion for reality, license for freedom, treason for patriotism, vengeance for justice."-Simón Bolívar

  2. #2
    DaffyDuck
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    Bravo - this was a really good speech.

    Does the speaker still have his job?

    Seriously, the most relevant statements in all of it was probably : "the people have to want it and to work for it. But before that, they have to believe they are entitled to it, that they deserve it."

    This is a massive problem. Less so with the younger generation, but a serious roadblock when it comes to the older generation. Less so with the urban population, and far more so with the rural population.

    How did he put it? "Gambling, drinking and a new motorbike"

    So, the relevant question -- particularly to those who keep talking about the evil influence of the Amart and all that...

    "WHAT ARE YOU DOING ABOUT IT?"

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    Its Voranai Vanijaka
    Clever young man; still has his job

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    Great opinion. I'd like to get a copy of his original speech if it was in Thai or English. If anyone finds that, post the link.

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    Quote Originally Posted by StrontiumDog
    It will never happen in a society that deems ideas are dangerous and knowledge is threatening.
    Quote Originally Posted by StrontiumDog
    If we don't open our arms and let them join us.
    Several things I like about that speech, two critical linking elements I feel are not mentioned. Perhaps deliberately so.

    Firstly, Thailand is a Kleptocracy- and I guess it's rather difficult to come out and say that in a room full of kleptocrats! A kleptocracy is not a system of government as such- it is simply a system where those high up, the aristocracy if you like- but more to the point those with money and power, are Thieves. Thailand has gyrated between military, democratic, appointed, and the current 'quasi military' government even within the last decade- what has remained the same regardless is the kleptocracy, and the fundamentally unnacountable and biased institutions that support it, in turn keeping the kleptocracy unaccountable (of course).

    The second linking factor is that of 'perceived self interest'. A very short sighted and nationally damaging attitude, for sure, but nonetheless the 'perceived self interest' of the kleptocrat- who let us not forget owes a significant amount of his wealth and privilege to theft of various types, eg corruption & tax evasion, is served by:-


    Unnacountability and opacity, ie being 'above the law'.

    Maintaining State institutions- such as the military, Parliament & Judiciary- to support this. Which means not accountable to the people- as per the Democratic model- but to Them.

    Keeping the bulk of the population uninformed & basically uneducated, as much as is feasible. Several reasons for this- low wages & social mobility, plus an uninformed, ignorant people are less likely to question the system than an informed population.

    Allocation of Money- why 'waste' money on education and regional development (with other unpleasant side effects as above) when that money is being siphoned off to keep you and your cronies rich? To a kleptocrat, that is like shooting yourself in the foot.

    "Society"- the stratification of society, via whatever means, helps support the status quo. White skin/brown skin, urban/rural, pomp and ceremony, dharma, access to education, obeisance to your 'superiors', etc etc. You see, the rich Kleptocrats are not just richer than you- they are 'better' than you, as are their sons & daughters.



    In short, the perceived self interest of a [shortsighted?] kleptocrat is the very opposite to that of an open, accountable democracy. A truly representative democracy is very clearly a threat- unless they change their ways- for the obvious reason most of them would be in Jail, their ill gained assets subject to confiscation, their ill deserved status in tatters.

    Neither do they like change much- I mean they benefit from the way things are. And they certainly do not like parvenu's muscling in on their action, especially if they start throwing their weight around, and appointing their own cronies to positions of influence. Corruption ain't the problem so much- as long as they continue to receive their slice. So goodbye Mr Thaksin.

    Now the 'illusion' of democracy- that is a different thing. But it must be a democracy without teeth.
    Last edited by sabang; 18-07-2010 at 10:57 AM.
    probes Aliens

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    mc2
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    I agree that these attitude need to change,

    my take on it is that for it to work in society, it must start from the Top down.

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    ^ Many of us agree there MC2.

    &, it's gonna happen, hence, some say, the insanity/fear fuelling many of the current army/PAD/Dem lot... Prophecies and superstitions are powerful tools amongst the hi-so lot; see the 'anti Khymer-blackmagic' ceremony at the Grand Palace last week?

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    DaffyDuck
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    Quote Originally Posted by mc2 View Post
    my take on it is that for it to work in society, it must start from the Top down.
    Oh, I'm sure Thaksin will be first in line to implement it.

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    mc2
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaffyDuck View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by mc2 View Post
    my take on it is that for it to work in society, it must start from the Top down.
    Oh, I'm sure Thaksin will be first in line to implement it.

    I meant, it would be better if it were initiated from the top down, from the actual source of these attitudes.
    Then it really has a chance to work.

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    I agree with his speech - except the end which seems to send the signal that - as always - it's the Amart that need to look after the simple-minded children - so there is still that suggestion of the "chinese-thai burden" to be a "patron" to the masses.. nope.. Otherwise great speech.
    My mind is not for rent to any God or Government, There's no hope for your discontent - the changes are permanent!

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    And why is this in Teakdoor Lounge when it was a major leader in the Bangkok Post??

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    A speech that should be repeated time and time again. However, the young man could and should have put into practise what he was preaching.

    To have an older man crawling on his knees in front of him and call it 'a rather uncomfortable experience' when he could have requested the man to stand up and greet him/serve him a coffee openly seems to have been an opportunity missed IMO.

    One thing is talking about social disparity with some sense of wishfulness that others take note and that high society may acknowledge that their role should become more active in the field of equality and another is to take direct action oneself to openly display how people from all walks of life should be treated.

    He could have requested that the man stand and could have offered him a chair on the same table where they could have chatted and drank coffee for a few minutes together. Then the young man could have delivered his speech with more impact than merely having spoken on the subject. The topic was after all 'Full Participation'

    No real criticsm of the guy as he was brave enough to challenge the nation's social imbalance and maybe more younger middle class people will join the cause. It may be a long, long struggle but one worth fighting for.
    Last edited by Mr Lick; 18-07-2010 at 11:20 PM.

  13. #13
    DaffyDuck
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Lick View Post
    To have an older man crawling on his knees in front of him and call it 'a rather uncomfortable experience' when he could have requested the man to stand up and greet him/serve him a coffee openly seems to have been an opportunity missed IMO
    Fully, and 100% agreed.

    I think the opportunity might have been missed, because some cultural shackles are hard to remove -- i.e. how much waves do you want to make BEFORE you speak?

    On the other hand, I repeat my question from earlier (less so to you, but more so to others commenting): "WHAT ARE YOU DOING ABOUT IT?"

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    Quote Originally Posted by DaffyDuck
    WHAT ARE YOU DOING ABOUT IT?"
    What a ridiculous question. We are exercising our right of Freedom of expression (which is currently suspended in this country anyway) and debating it on open forum. We are not threatening to burn down Central like Jeff Savage, neither are we demonstrating in the streets- certainly not under rule of SLORC.

    What would you have us do about it?
    What would you do about it?

  15. #15
    DaffyDuck
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    Quote Originally Posted by sabang View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by DaffyDuck
    WHAT ARE YOU DOING ABOUT IT?"
    What a ridiculous question.
    Yes, it is usually considered such, by those only talking and doing nothing about it.

    Thank you for confirming your position.

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    ^ My pleasure. Now answer the question like a good duck-

    What would you do about it??
    What would you have Us do about it???

  17. #17
    DaffyDuck
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    Quote Originally Posted by sabang View Post
    ^ My pleasure. Now answer the question like a good duck-

    What would you do about it??
    Personally, I *do* try to stop and interrupt such displays of prostration, at least when it comes to envers myself -- i.e. I'm not going to jump up in the royal throneroom, to interrupt it, but I certainly won't encourage it towards me.

    I also do my bit to engage various Thais that I talk to in discussion of the subject, when it comes up, or when I see it -- not necessarily to undermine their cultural behavior, but at the very least to see if they question it, and to encourage them to ask questions. You know, evangelizing Western values, with being too proselytizing about it.

    Quote Originally Posted by sabang View Post
    What would you have Us do about it???
    The fact that not only do you not know, but are in fact considering the question to be stupid, tells us a lot about your position on the issue.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DaffyDuck View Post
    Bravo - this was a really good speech.
    Really?? I must have missed something.

    Its not us good Thais, its the nasty chinese.

    Makes a change from blaming the farang westerners I suppose.

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    ^^ So answer the Q. like a good duck-
    What would you have Us do about it??

    You appear not to approve of Jeff Savage and neither do I.

    Fingers tapping....

  20. #20
    DaffyDuck
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    Quote Originally Posted by sabang View Post
    ^^ So answer the Q. like a good duck-
    What would you have Us do about it??

    You appear not to approve of Jeff Savage and neither do I.

    Fingers tapping....
    Like I said, you unable to provide that answer yourself, after I listed what I am doing, even, is telling. You should be able to figure it out on your own. Apparently, you're not.

    (yes, and running around high on amphetamines, advocating "burning down the fucker", isn't really doing anything about it - it's stupid of you to even imply that).

    Let's try again - what do you suggest should expats do about it?

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    Quote Originally Posted by DaffyDuck View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by sabang View Post
    ^ My pleasure. Now answer the question like a good duck-

    What would you do about it??
    Personally, I *do* try to stop and interrupt such displays of prostration, at least when it comes to envers myself -- i.e. I'm not going to jump up in the royal throneroom, to interrupt it, but I certainly won't encourage it towards me.


    Quote Originally Posted by sabang View Post
    What would you have Us do about it???
    .

    I did not see a list of things you are doing at all. Are you claiming that people prostrate themselves to you? if they do (very much doubt it) you are within your rights to stop it. if you are discouraging or trying to stop this between Thai's you are interfering and it's really none of your business.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DaffyDuck View Post

    Let's try again - what do you suggest should expats do about it?
    Nothing.

    Expats should not act to change social conventions in a country to which they have migrated.

    Those who do crusade in some small way to change social conventions, however well meaning and enlightened, often get into more of a pickle than they originally envisaged, and their good intentions end up being perceived as impolite temerity.

    So best to let a country slowly evolve modernisation of its social niceties and anachronisms rather than interfere.

  23. #23
    DaffyDuck
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    Quote Originally Posted by The_Ghost_Of_The_Moog View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by DaffyDuck View Post

    Let's try again - what do you suggest should expats do about it?
    Nothing.

    Expats should not act to change social conventions in a country to which they have migrated.

    Those who do crusade in some small way to change social conventions, however well meaning and enlightened, often get into more of a pickle than they originally envisaged, and their good intentions end up being perceived as impolite temerity.

    So best to let a country slowly evolve modernisation of its social niceties and anachronisms rather than interfere.
    Really - how interesting.

    I'll be sure to quote you.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The_Ghost_Of_The_Moog
    So best to let a country slowly evolve modernisation of its social niceties and anachronisms rather than interfere.
    Yes, I am sure Thai's get pissed off with know it all falangs, who actually know little about their culture, telling them what is best for them, like some sort of latter day imperialist poking their noses into things which are none of their business. It's almost as embarrassing as the foreigner wai ing doormen and tuk tuk drivers, pretty sure DD used to that before he was born again

  25. #25
    DaffyDuck
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    Quote Originally Posted by crazy dog View Post
    It's almost as embarrassing as the foreigner wai ing doormen and tuk tuk drivers, pretty sure DD used to that before he was born again
    really, I though Dirty Dog was pretty familiar with things Thai -- but hey, I'll take your word for it.
    Last edited by DaffyDuck; 19-07-2010 at 11:25 AM.

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