Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mae-Ploi would be proud of HM the King's 60th Anniversary to the Throne

Mae Ploi would have been so proud today

Published on June 10, 2006

If Mae Ploi, who died in 1946, had lived another 60 years - up to today - she would have witnessed the re-creation of the Old Order that she strove for but which always remained elusive.
She would have experienced inexplicable joy and happiness bearing witness to the diamond jubilee of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej's accession to the throne.
But Ploi was only a fictional character, the protagonist in MR Kukrit Pramoj's most famous novel "The Four Reigns". She lived through the four reigns of Their Majesties King Chulalongkorn, King Vajiravudh, King Prajadhipok and King Ananda Mahidol. Kukrit deftly painted the political, social and economic changes that Thailand endured during that spectacular period, using Mae Ploi as the main character.
Her outlook on the world was that of a Siamese phudee (noble lady) who believed in karma or merit and sin.
When King Chulalongkorn passed away in 1910, Ploi was still a young girl, but she could still understand that the Old Order had come to an end. She spent the next few decades of her life witnessing dramatic changes in Siam.
Mae Ploi had been raised to be a noble lady in one of the Siamese courts and was very uncomfortable with these political and social changes.
Although she was fictional, Ploi's feeling reflected the mood of the nation at that time. Thais were in a state of uncertainty, with the nation experiencing a turbulent transition after the 1932 democratic revolution. "The entire capital city seemed shut down," she recalled.
Deep divisions existed between the older generation raised in the Grand Palace and the younger generation like Ploi's son, who joined the campaign to turn "Muang Thai into a constitutional monarchy".
The confusion was exacerbated by the backdrop of war.
At the end of the reign of His Majesty King Rama VII in 1935, Ploi well understood that the nation was unlikely to enjoy peace and democracy for long. Having learned of His Majesty's abdication, she said, "I don't want to see this country in this situation. Oh, it's a great pity."
It was a world in direct contrast to the one in which she was born. Ploi had been sent to the Grand Palace during the 42-year reign of King Chulalongkorn. At that time, the nation was fairly stable under the Old Order. She watched the nation gradually and peacefully transform with the coming of Western influence. Ploi quietly observed many changes along with her funny and forthright friend, Choi.
HM King Prajadhipok's abdication and the transformation of Siam in the 1930s plunged Ploi, and many other Thais, into a state of confusion. The future of the monarchy was in question, but the arrival of King Rama VIII restored a sense of security to the nation.
Ploi vividly recalled the days when she joined the Bangkok crowds and welcomed the young King, who returning from his studies in Switzerland. Ploi joined Bangkokians at Sanam Luang eagerly awaiting the return of Nai Luang to the Kingdom, watching as His Majesty passed in a motorcade en route to the Grand Palace.
"As the King went by, the cheering started: 'Chaiyo! Chaiyo!' The triumphant cry grew louder with each passing second ... and this gave another dimension to what is called khwam chongrak pakdi [love and loyalty] from a citizen towards a King."
Ploi thought the young King would restore the glorious reign. "He was our rediscovered source of hope and joy, which had been in short supply for so long."
Thus, Mae Ploi was heartbroken when she learned that His Majesty had passed away on June 9, 1946. First, she wept quietly and sat in stunned silence. Then, Ploi felt deeply exhausted. She felt a great longing to rest, to sleep.
But before sleep finally came, certain thoughts formed in her mind. Why did Nai Luang have to die? She couldn't make any sense of it. "But I'm so tired. I've lived under four reigns - lived a long time - long enough?" Thus ends "The Four Reigns".
In her final moment, she recalled a moment of joy when she caught a glimpse of His Majesty with his younger brother by his side. "'Long may he reign over us!' she was crying, as were many women and men on the pavement in front of her," said the book.
Had Mae Ploi lived another 60 years, she, like all Thais today, would have felt extremely proud of the monarch she first saw during his brief return from Switzerland. That future monarch, HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej, has reigned now for 60 years, during which he has managed to bring peace and stability to Thailand - and create a New Order of his own.

Jeerawat Na Thalang
Privacy Policy © 2009 Nation Multimedia Group

April 28, 2010 07:34 pm (Thai local time)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Find a Different Kind of Thai identity in the Deep South

Jeerawat Na Thalang
The Nation
February 10, 2007

Too often photos and news reports don’t give you the whole story.

It’s never like being there yourself and seeing it up close and in person. This is the case when it comes to visiting the historic region of Patani, the heart of the Islamic South and once the cradle of Islamic civilisation in Southeast Asia, which has been making headlines over the past three years because of the ongoing violence there. (’Patani’ encompasses the three Thai provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat.) A new generation of militants has emerged and they launch these attacks on a daily basis according to officials and news reports.

But neither the violence nor the level of brutality says anything about Islam or the local community in ethical terms. We in Bangkok tend to forget that the violence there has a history of its own, and that it is an offshoot of the historical mistrust between ethnic Malays and the Thai state over the country’s policy of assimilation, which could mean the end of the Malays’ way of life and cultural identity.

One can’t help but feel a deep sense of loss after visiting the Muslim-majority region. It has apparently been left in oblivion since its seven “hua muang”, or feudal states, were formally annexed by Siam just over 100 years ago.

The level of poverty in the region strongly suggests that the state has failed the locals in many respects. There is a lack of social mobility, not to mention cultural and political space for the local Muslim people, whose history has been largely ignored by the central government.

Today, ships from Europe no longer dock in Pattani. The region is now dotted with military bunkers, checkpoints and barbed wire at various corners and intersections.

While Bangkok’s perceptions of the region - as seen through brief television footage and sound bites, not to mention news reports that don’t tell the whole truth - is negative, a glimpse of life on the ground tells a different story. Life goes on. Chinese-Thais and Malay-Thais sip tea in front of shop houses. Young men and women stroll up and down the main drag leading to Prince of Songkhla University’s (PSU) Pattani campus. But the passing Humvee with a 50-calibre mounted machine-gun is a sad reminder that this great city is being held back by the violence.

Patani has every element necessary to be considered a great region. Besides having established itself as the centre of Islamic learning for Southeast Asia, it is also the home of the historic Krue Se Mosque, which has served as the heartbeat for Muslims not just from southern Thailand but Malaysia as well.

The renowned Chang Hai Buddhist temple is not far from the capital seat, and neither is Yarang palace, an historical site. Unfortunately, few of us know or have heard about these places or care enough to drop by and chat with the headmasters (tok kuru) of local pondoks, the Muslim boarding schools. It’s amazing to witness how one man can command so much respect and obedience from more than 100 students.

But if you go just a little deeper into these remote villages, you can see that there are great similarities between Islam, at least the local folk version, and the popular beliefs of Buddhism.

One 35-year-old tok kuru humbly informed me that his specialities were performing exorcisms and providing holy water. “Even Buddhists come to me for holy water,” he whispered. (I wanted to ask him to make me some but wasn’t sure if that was appropriate. Definitely next time.) The city, however, reflects another side of Islam, which is less superstitious and more tuned in to modernity. Yala Islamic College, for example, is not just a theological seminary but quickly moving towards becoming a full-fledged university, offering courses in various fields and languages, including Chinese.

But no matter how many of the region’s positive aspects charm me, Bang Ta, my trusted driver, along with Dia, his sidekick and a PSU senior, constantly remind me of the grim reality facing the community. As we drove through the region, he would point to the traces of violence here and there. Abruptly pulling over at a small electricity station on the way to Yarang, the driver says, “See, that place was burned down by Naew Ruam [’the movement’ - the term the locals use to refer to insurgents]”.

A breath of fresh air comes along the road from Hat Yai to Pattani. It’s an area where Buddhists and Muslims coexist peacefully. There is no explanation as to why that is possible in this community but not in the rest of the 22,000-square kilometre Malay-speaking region. “Perhaps it’s because the Buddhists can speak Malay,” he said.

Nervousness kicks in, however, whenever we get too close to Thai security officials. A plan to lunch in a seaside restaurant has to be dropped because of the presence of a group of uniformed and plainclothes policemen at the restaurant connected to ours.

We decided instead on a riverside restaurant in the next town over. It was here that Dia experienced what some anthropologists might call “cultural discontinuity”. A third-generation Chinese-Muslim Thai who wasn’t quiet fluent in the local Malay dialect, she was asked by the restaurant owner why she was ordering her food in Thai, and not her “mother tongue”. She just smiled and went on with her business.

The Muslim people I talked to say they are Thai even though they might not speak perfect Thai with a Bangkok accent. Bang Ta told me that one of his wives plans to join the border patrol soldiers to protect the community from the insurgency.

One night when I was having dinner at a rice-chicken restaurant in Pattani province, Muslim locals shouted and rooted for the Thai team when the match between Thailand and Malaysia was broadcast live on a hanging TV set.

They are Thai. Yet they prefer to keep a different lifestyle from people in Bangkok due to religious, cultural and linguistic differences. They prefer to be Thai on their own terms.

Mariners' Sasaki (written for Seattle P-I 2000)


Sasaki felt confident on mound once he felt comfy in Seattle
Japanese media, teammates, family all helped
Tuesday, October 3, 2000


It was Wednesday night of the last week of the season, the Mariners still in the middle of the pennant race, and Kazuhiro Sasaki, Seattle's imported Japanese closer, preserved a 6-4 victory over Texas with his 36th save, tying the major league record for saves by a rookie. Thousands of fans wearing headbands reading, "San Shin" ("Three strikes") in Japanese characters, stood and cheered in a loud ovation after the Mariners kept their half-game lead over Oakland atop the American League West.

The message was clear:

Sasaki was their hero.

That sentiment was different in mid-May after the 32-year-old pitcher gave up game-winning walk-off home runs in consecutive appearances against the Rangers and Athletics that lowered Seattle's record perilously close to .500 at 17-16. Manager Lou Piniella had little choice but take away Sasaki's closer role -- at least temporarily.

Sasaki quickly realized why his pitches, which made him the career saves leader in Japan, weren't having the same results on the other side of the Pacific.

"American hitters are more powerful," he said. "And I was tired."

Some Japanese players have taken a full year to adjust to American baseball but, after that mid-May loss of confidence, Sasaki adjusted well to the Western style. Sasaki not only became the Mariners' pitcher of the year but also emerged as the leading contender for AL Rookie of the Year honors. Clearly, he was the reliever missing from Seattle's bullpen since Norm Charlton's season as "Sheriff" in 1995.

"I think he is the most successful pitcher (in Japan) to come to the States," said Shoko Mizutsugi, a freelance writer.

Sasaki managed to do all this by establishing a commanding presence on the mound, as he had with his previous team, the Yokohama BayStars. Signed by Seattle to a two-year contract last December, Sasaki was a six-time all-star in Japan with 229 saves in 10 seasons. At 6-foot-4, Sasaki is called "Daimajin," after a mythical demon-like creature in a popular Japanese TV series. Also like "Daimajin, Mizutsugi said, "In Japan, he is untouchable. He is like a god."

In America, though, Sasaki's pitches are comparably mortal. Here Sasaki faces the power of American batters, who can easily reach the seats if his forkball "out" pitch does not drop.

Hirokazu Higuchi, a writer for Tokyo Shimbun who has covered Sasaki since high school, said, "In Japan, he is strong and powerful pitcher but his power here is as standard as the other pitchers. So, he uses his brain."

When Sasaki glares at a batter before delivering, Higuchi said, "he's trying to read the batter's mind."

Things were not easy for Sasaki at the beginning. His Cactus League debut last spring was regarded as "so-so" by reporters, Japanese and American alike. Things got worse during that mid-May meltdown that caused many Japanese fans to speculate that his U.S. career might be over before it had a chance to begin.

"He was really down at that point," said Higuchi.

"I think the differences (between American and Japanese baseball) for him to confront were probably two things," Mariners pitching coach Bryan Price said. "First, the hitter -- most of them can hurt you with the home run. Second, he had to be a lot more conscious of runners stealing base."

Confirmed Mizutsugi: "He did not feel like knowing American baseball. He found himself not comfortable. He did not know how to do it here at first. He did not even know the players he faced."

At that time, a desperate Sasaki sought advice by phoning Toshiaki Takeda, his high school coach in Sendai.

"He told me not to think about it too much," Sasaki said. "'Just go ahead and pitch.'"

Higuchi relates that Sasaki confided that Takeda also told him, "Don't be a coward."

The advice sounded simple but it was encouraging enough to enable Sasaki to rebound impressively. He reclaimed the closer job in June.

"I don't think we saw the best stuff until we got a couple of months into the season where we saw consistency of velocity and consistency of his forkball," Price said. "And I think that he did really well in June and July and August where he started to rack up the saves."

Contributing to Sasaki's improvement on the mound could be his assimilation into the American lifestyle.

Even though Sasaki does not speak English, intepreter Allen Turner is ever-present. Sasaki also has a personal masseur, Kiyoshi Egawa, with whom he can talk every day.

His wife, Kaori; daughter, Reina, 7; and son, Shogo, 5, smoothed his transition to America by staying with him in Seattle throughout the summer. By the time the family returned to Japan when school reopened, Sasaki had made friends with teammates -- particularly Jose Paniagua and Edgar Martinez, who often bows to Sasaki after the final out of a game Kazu has saved.

Miyakawa, of Sankei Sports, said Sasaki should enjoy his life in Seattle more than he did in Japan, where his celebrity meant he could not go out in public without causing a stir. In Seattle, where he often plays pool in a downtown club or plays golf during his free time, "Sasaki can enjoy the normal life," said Tatsuya Miyakawa, a sportswriter for The Sankei Sports Newspaper who often accompanies Sasaki about town after games.

Higuchi said the foundation to Sasaki's American success was laid with Sasaki's choice of playing with Seattle. First, he said, the northern Japanese city of Sendai, Sasaki's hometown, has similar weather and atmosphere to Seattle. Moreover, Seattle has a big community of Japanese, with whom Sasaki can hang out and speak comfortably in his native language.

"I think he may have problem if he plays with Florida or Kansas City," Higuchi said.

Also, Japanese food was not hard for Sasaki to find, as Japanese cuisine is tremendously popular here. Miyakawa said wherever Sasaki -- a specialist in cooking Japanese curry -- goes, "The first thing he will look for is the Japanese restaurant in the city where he has to play a game."

However, his appetite for food has somehow adjusted to the American flavor. Sasaki, whose favorite Japanese food is tuna sushi, has developed an affection for American spicy tuna roll, which does not exist in Japan.

© 1998-2010 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Confession of a Young and Dangerous Mind

Confessions of a young and dangerous mind
Published on March 8, 2008
The Nation Newspaper

The following took place during the investigation into an alleged cheating case during the recent Ordinary National Educational Test, in which more than 300,000 high-school students took the crucial exam to determine whether they would be able to enter university.

The following was the result of an unofficial interrogation and shall not be used for any reference. As the investigation is not final, we must withhold the name of the student. Let's hear what's on this student's mind:

"Don't judge me before you hear what I have to say. What could a failing student like me do to pass the exam? I decided to take a chance on this exam because it will determine the rest of my life.

"This test will decide whether I will be accepted by the university. It will determine my future. My mother wants me to become a doctor. And she does not like the song 'Que Sera Sera'.

"My parents said they always dreamt of seeing me graduate from an elite university. Of course, I realise that there are many people who graduate from open universities and manage to be successful. But you have to understand that the name of the school also counts in our social life.

"In fact, I don't like studying so it does not matter which college I go to. But my family, with their outstanding academic records, don't expect their child to be a mediocre student.

"If you think my life is easy, try joining our family reunion dining table. During the party, parents with not-so-smart children tend to stay silent when asked what their children are doing.

"The parents who have children in medical school can brag with pride, while the parents whose children have no academic achievements want to hide their faces under the table cloth. When my parents were asked where I would study next year, they promised the guests at the dining table, 'Well, either Thammasat or Chula.'
"To prepare for the exam, I tried to memorise the textbooks. But I could not concentrate for long. After browsing through a couple of pages, I could not resist the temptation to check computer games on-line.

"Some of my senior school mates told me that the situation was worse in the past when all students had to go through one central examination. That one judgement day would determine the future of your life, so I was told.

"These days, we have O-Net and A-Net [Advanced National Education Test] scores, which can give us a second chance. But frankly, I don't think it changed anything. My friends and I were still going to cram schools because they give you tricks on how to cross the right answers. I am not sure if we are more analytical than our predecessors because the tests didn't require us to think but to memorise.

"As the exam date drew near, I felt the pressure. It doesn't help that the Education Ministry decided to increase the subjects from 5 to 8, meaning I have to memorise more subjects. I had to think of short cuts to succeed.

"'It does not matter how you pass. People care only about the result,' one of my friends said. 'Who cares how you became rich. If you're rich, people think you must be good at something.'

"So I started to use my pea brain to think of how to succeed in such a short period. Cheating isn't so bad, considering the son of a leader, whose name I forget, cheated in class but no one punished him. The success of cheating depends on whether you can get away with it.

"Some of my friends used the old technique of passing a rubber with the answer on it in the exam room. I thought that trick was so lame, it has been used for decades. Teachers are accustomed to it. Then, a friend told me of the new wristwatch-cellphone. Someone can SMS the answers through this phone. My friend told me not to worry about the teachers. They had no idea about the evolution of this phone. These teachers' salary is not enough to buy this new gadget anyway.

"So, I asked my parents for the money to buy this phone, claiming that I needed to attend a cram-school course. I know my parents' weakness. They wanted me to pass the exam so badly.

"When the exam date came, the trick was a success. Teachers didn't know what this gadget was capable of. I managed to pass four tests before the technique was revealed on a web-board. I was caught and the rest is history.

"Now I am sitting in front of you, it's hard to say if I am repentant. Perhaps it was just unlucky that I was caught red-handed. If only, if only, I could have got away with it. I simply hope that my family is powerful enough to stop the current staff who are investigating the case. And then they install a new group of teachers who will be more easily convinced that the cheating never happened."

Signed: A Student.

jeerawat na thalang
The Nation

Bad Girl

The Nation
Published on June 14, 2008

Rinlada is a female character in a soap opera titled "Dao Puan Din", which is unofficially translated as "Tainted Star".

Audiences, adults and children alike, are glued to this most-talked-about prime-time drama on Channel 7 from Friday to Sunday. Rinlada is a stereotypical character who does not hesitate to do bad, bad things to her nemesis, Uamdao, the protagonist of the story.

Rinlada obviously has an inferiority complex. She was raised by Uamdao's father as a stepdaugther. She grew up with a devious desire to compete with Uamdao, including trying to steal her boyfriends - the superficial plot in almost every Thai soap and film.

This weekend, Rinlada's fate will be decided. The producer has decided to punish this bad girl by having her raped by 12 men. Women's groups are furious. Palakorn Somsuwan, the producer, defended the decision to honour the original plot, but the most revealing comment comes from Araya A Hargett, the actress who plays this part. She was quoted by Khao Sod as saying: "The soap ends in the way it should. A bad girl deserves bad things." Rinlada will face gang rape to ensure a "happy ending" to this soap.

In fact, the production crew was trying to convince the audience that Rindala "deserves" her fate. Rindala is portrayed as bad. Her father went to jail, and she was brought into a family in which everybody loves Uamdao. Rinlada took at least two of Uamdao's boyfriends and would kill anyone who got in her way. "Tainted Star" is a combination of Hollywood's "Fatal Attraction" and "The Assassin".

The episode in which Rindala successfully seduced one of Uamdao's boyfriends before his wedding to Uamdao saw ratings go through the roof. Audiences were convulsed with anger as they rooted for Uamdao. Rinlada had committed an unforgivable sin. Thus millions are anxious to see how Rinlada will be punished this weekend for her past deeds.

When rumours began spreading that the producers would hand down justice to Rinlada by having her gang-raped, the women's groups asked the producers to change the ending of the story to give the right message to society that rape and sexual assault are serious crimes. The problem, the women say, is that TV producers are suggesting to the audience that crime is acceptable in certain circumstances.

I raised this issue with one of my colleagues, asking whether the fate of Rinlada, albeit fictitious, should be considered a happy ending.

"If so, then there must be something wrong with this society," he replied.

Thais are acting as if they are highly sensitive to anything that affects their "social values", but are we that thin-skinned?

Some conservatives cried out when the Culture Ministry chose the scantily dressed "Girly-Berry" girl group as presenters for the Songkran Festival, but aren't the girls entitled to wear whatever they want as long as they don't break the law? Chotiros Suriyawong, a young actress, had to apologise to the public for wearing too revealing a dress to a Thai awards ceremony equivalent to Hollywood's Oscars, this despite the fact that her dress would pale in comparison to Jennifer Lopez's low-slung V neckline Versace outfit.

The argument from "sensitive" quarters is that "inappropriate" behaviour by young women could increase the number of sexual assaults or rapes. The simplistic rhetoric is that girls should be partly or wholly blamed for acts of aggression against them because of their poor choice of dress, that they are responsible for the circumstances that they put themselves in.

But we haven't heard any argument from these conservative quarters when TV producers try to suggest that sexual assault is acceptable. Such scenes are increasingly shown on TV, even when many young children are still awake and watching. The rating system which appears on the bottom right of the TV screen is a joke.

What is equally sad is that the TV rapists are not branded as bad guys. In "Sawan Beang", a popular TV drama also aired during prime time, the male lead character, played by heart-throb Theeradej Wongpuapan, the Thai version of Brad Pitt, committed rape. In "Sawan Beang" 's final scene, the rapist married his victim and everything was happy-ever-after. I don't know whether it was supposed to be a happy ending or a tragedy that the rapist was not prosecuted for the crime he committed.

The old adage, what comes around goes around, is a popular concept in soap operas. In "Tainted Star", the producers expect that the audience will rise to its feet when the bad girl gets her just deserts and the curtain falls.

But no sane viewer would mind if Rinlada had to go through the legal process and be jailed for some of the acts she committed. The ideal ending would show that there is still justice and redemption. Otherwise no female victim will have any choice but to turn into a bad girl with no opportunity for redemption, just like the protagonist in another classic TV drama, "Hunt".

Buddhism in Seattle (Seattle P-I 2000)

091100 Buddhism's appeal on the rise
Boom in new temples, including locally, shows growth in Westerners' acceptance,
practice of ancient teachings from Asia


Lon McCloskey only meant to stay a few minutes when he dropped by a Thai
Buddhist monastery in Woodinville a few months ago. He ended up staying for
hours. He's gone back to the Atammayatarama Monastery every week since then,
studying meditation and learning more about Buddhism.

"Otinnamha-jatiya jaramaranena. We are bound by birth, aging, death and
sorrow," McCloskey, 56, chanted, repeating Buddha's teaching in the ancient
Asian languages Pali and Sanskrit and in English.

McCloskey, a practicing Protestant, is one of a growing number of Westerners
developing an interest in Buddhism. He considers it a "spiritual technology"
that helps him become more focused and peaceful.

Hard numbers reflecting the growth are difficult to come by, but local
Buddhists point to a number of new temples. Although many temples don't register
members, they do track contributors. At the Sakya Monastery in Greenwood, the
number of regular contributors has risen to 80 from its founding group of five
in 1974.

There are no official records of the number of Buddhists in America. Bryce
Montgomery, a staffer of Northwest Dharma News journal, nonetheless estimated
that the number of the meditation centers -- temples and other gathering places
-- in the Northwest has quadrupled in the past seven years. The journal lists
about 150 Buddhist meditation centers in the region that includes Seattle,
Portland, Idaho and British Columbia.

In addition to Western converts, an increasing number of Asian immigrants
also have fueled the growth.

Today, there are four Tibetan, two Lao, two Thai and four Vietnamese temples
in the Seattle area. Twenty-five years ago, no Vietnamese, Thai or Lao temples
existed. The first Tibetan Buddhist temple opened here in 1974. The first
Japanese temple has been around for almost 100 years, founded by early Japanese

Although the services in ethnic Buddhist temples are conducted mostly in the
members' native languages, some temples translate their services into English or
hold special sessions for English-speaking people.

At Atammayatarama Monastery, Adhisila Bhikkhu, a 36-year-old monk from
Oregon, translates the day's sermon into English for the three or four non-Thai
speakers who attend the service.

Adhisila grew up as Owen Evans in Oregon, but changed his name when he was
ordained two years ago. The American monk, wearing brown robes, said the
Buddha's teaching of the cycle of life is universally applicable.
"Buddhism teaches the way that makes life understandable," he said.
Increasing numbers of people are turning to religion as they grow
dissatisfied with their lives, said Charles Keyes, professor of anthropology and
international studies at University of Washington.

Keyes said people find it easier to access Buddhism. People can join Buddhist
services or visit the temples, in some cases without feeling that they have to
give up their religion. Some have become practicing Buddhists while others lose
interest after a couple of visits.

Buddha taught that 'all things are transitory," and many people find that
comforting, Keyes said. The teaching helps them realise that loss is nothing to
fear because it is a part of the process, he said.

Younger generations of immigrants who gave up their religion are
rediscovering Buddhism, coming back to spend their weekends attending services.
At Seattle Buddhist Church, a Japanese Buddhist temple, the number attending
weekend services has grown from about 250 to more than 300 in the past two

"Some felt that the direction (in their lives) had been lost," said the
Venerable John Iwohara of Seattle Buddhist Church. "There is a growing sense of
affluence, but you can't see that you are happier than before. People start to
search again."

The church, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year, is
beginning to regain members after losing many after World War II. The temple had
a membership of about 600 during the 1930s. Most members are Japanese Americans
whose parents or grandparents were immigrants.

"There were certainly some conversions to other religions. But (after the
war), a lot of people have given up on religion," Iwohara said.
In contrast, 90 percent of the visitors to Sakya Monastery in Greenwood are
Westerners. There, lay practitioners, not monks, conduct the teachings.
Sakya Monastery was the site for the filming of the movie "Little Buddha,"
made in 1993. The movie is about the life of Seattle resident Carolyn Massey's
son, Sonam Wangdu, now known as Trulku-la, who was taken to Nepal to study
Buddhism at the age of 4. Some believe the child is the reincarnation of a holy
Tibetan lama.

Massey said she turned to Buddhism 12 years ago because at that time "I was
looking for a spiritual leader." She said Buddhism "has a better way of
describing what's important in life."

© 1999-2000 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

The End of Telegraph Service in Thailand

Witness to history, telegraph service set to shut down
Published on April 19, 2008
Jeerawat Na Thalang
The Nation

During a recent visit to the Central Post Office on Bangrak Road, officials there proudly told me about the history of the post office building, which has been deemed to be part of the nation's cultural heritage.

"There's a bomb underneath the car parking lot," an official said, pointing to the parking space in front of the building. The bomb was dropped during World War II but it did not explode. Officials didn't know how to retrieve the bomb without setting it off, so they left it there after the war ended.

The monolith building was designed according to old European architectural styles and its floor is decorated with tiles from Italy. The tiles may have darkened over the years but they give a vintage look to the interior of what is known as both the Bangrak Post Office and the Central Post Office, Bangkok South.

The building has witnessed the fast-changing pace of communications technology, from the old days when postmen wore neatly ironed shirts with shining stripes and rode bicycles to deliver mail to more modern times when people on different continents can communicate via email within seconds.

From next month, this old building will witness another historical event in the evolution of technology. The telegraph service will cease to exist, with a new generation turning to new methods of communication like e-mail.

Telegraph was once one of the most popular ways to send quick messages. People used the telegraph wire to deliver hot news, such as the results of a job interview, news of a recent death or claims for debt payment. At its peak, from 1987 to 1992, more than 500,000 messages were sent by telegraph each month. But that number has declined to some 8,000 this month. CAT decided to close down the service because the cost of maintaining it was not worthwhile.

The telegraph service came to Thailand in 1875. At that time, both the French and the British offered to construct telegraph lines in Thailand. The French offered to connect the line to Saigon, while the British wanted to run a line from Bangkok to Tavoy, Burma. King Rama V eventually turned down the offers from both countries and decided that Thailand would construct its own line. Thailand launched its first line in the East, connecting Bangkok and Samut Prakan. The service was later expanded to Prachin Buri to connect with the Indochinese line in Battambang in Cambodia and Saigon in Vietnam. Later on, the service was expanded throughout Thailand.

The telegraph was in fact part of several historical events. On January 17, 1928, the Post and Telegraph Department launched the international radiotelegraphy line for the first time by using a short-wave transmission machine to send a signal to Berlin. King Rama VII sent a telegraph to the Thai ambassador in Berlin saying:




During World War II, the international telegraph service - which came through Manila - was halted in December 1941. Later on, the Thai government tried to negotiate the re-launching of the service via a neutral country. On April 6, 1942, the international telegraph service was reopened as the service was connected via Geneva, Switzerland.

Postal staff said that when they were students at the Post and Telegraph School, Morse Code class was their toughest because they had to memorise how to send the code accurately. An urban legend at the school had it that some telegraph experts could receive and memorise four messages at the same time before delivering them all later.

Officials said they received incomprehensible messages frequently, which they suspected were sent by lovers. Unfortunately, quite a number of the messages sent were death notices.

"It combined the art of finger-tapping and the accuracy of the code," said Saneth Pangsapha, the 59-year-old head of the Bangkok South Post Office in Bangrak. He demonstrated how to tap the code with his flexible wrist. "Telegraph is very classic. It requires both technical skill and a human touch," he said while complaining that his wrist has turned "dusty" because he cannot move his fingers to tap the code as fast as he used to.

These days, the telegraph service section consists of 25 staff members, a reduction from some 300 when the service was more popular. The telegraph section is located on the upper floor of the Bangrak Post Office. Morse Code is no longer applied. Officials use a computerised system to send telegraphs.

Consumers can, however, fill out the telegraph forms, which they can collect from the ground floor of the post office. Pieces of the brown paper form available in a box obviously shows that the form has not been reprinted in years.

Many years ago, the telegraph office wanted to change the image of the telegraph service. "People were frightened when they received a telegraph. They thought chances were good they were about to receive death news," said Kanissorn Tongsap, another post office official. The post office introduced the idea of telegraphs sent for "friendship and goodwill". However, the campaign was not quite successful as people turned to other types of technology to send messages, such as SMS.

Thailand is not alone in closing the service, as other countries have also ended the service recently. "The other factor forcing us to close the service is that spare parts needed for telegraph equipment are no longer available," said Kanissorn. Some countries such as France, however, used telegraph services during the Iraq War because the services were deemed safer. Who knows, the abandoned telegraph poles along several main roads may be dusted off and used again.

Members of the public are invited to join the telegraph exhibition in the final week of April at the Central Post Office in Bangrak.

YouTube Censorship

Principle of freedom of speech works both ways

Published on April 7, 2007

YouTube might have shrugged off a plea from the Thai government to block an offensive video clip by citing freedom of expression. I would think otherwise.

Instead, I think that the value of freedom of expression is being tested by the digital technology these days that allows people to express their opinions without showing their true identity and to avoid taking responsibility for the claims they make in the guise of freedom of expression.

Yes, I am talking about the video clip offensive to the monarchy that might be acceptable by Google-owned YouTube's values and standards, but is not so here in Thailand.

The video clip in question was posted by a person with a fake identity. Whoever made the clip clearly intended to outrage the majority of Thais with digitally manipulated images of the monarchy. The creator must be well aware of Thailand's cultural sensitivity and decided to touch a raw nerve with Thai users of YouTube.

Whoever was responsible did not have to be a genius to rightly predict the consequences of the amateurish video clip. First, the Thai government would have to ask YouTube to withdraw the clip because it's against the law here, which YouTube would refuse to do. Then, the media watchdogs would blame the Thai government for violating the value of freedom of speech. Bingo to the creator.

I have to say that if I were the Thai government, I would allow YouTube to air any video clip and let the public judge the merit of the "freedom of expression" that the company and international rights groups love to tout.

By shutting down the website, all the blame was turned upon the Thai government. Some international media even mocked the government's blocking of the website as a desperate attempt to fight the power of the Internet, comparing it to the decision by a Turkish court to suspend access to YouTube in response to the posting of a clip that reportedly insulted the founding father of modern-day Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

From an outsider's perspective, the ban on YouTube has been more damaging to the Thai government. In fact, the blocking of the website by the ICT Ministry touched off a storm of web-based retaliation that could see a rapid rise of offensive references to the monarchy on the Internet.

As a YouTube visitor and a Thai, I don't have a perfect answer here. Besides, I am wondering how I would react if I saw a picture of my father under someone else's foot, considered highly disrespectful, on YouTube.

Now, coming to the "freedom of expression" principle that has become the key point in the issue. In my understanding, freedom of speech should ensure the people's right to express their opinions as part of the promotion of democratic values. For instance, people should have fair opportunity to participate in the spread of ideas to establish social conventions.

But freedom of speech should also be interactive, because speech involves both speakers and listeners, or an audience. Both sides should be able to interact equally with each other in showing what things mean to them and what they think is proper or improper.

However, the "freedom of speech" seen on YouTube is, for me, one-way communication. Most creators of offensive clips refuse to reveal their true identities to avoid taking responsibility for what they have done. In short, the creators just hit and run. Like any information on the Internet, there's also the question of its reliability.

When the Thai government reacted by expressing the view that the video clip was deemed "offensive" in Thai culture and requesting its withdrawal, YouTube's Julie Supun said she was "disappointed" and pointed out that the Internet presented "new and unique" challenges.

YouTube also suggested earlier that Americans didn't seem to mind seeing US President George Bush being ridiculed. But Thais don't seem to mind seeing their prime minister being ridiculed either. I take this as an example of how YouTube doesn't have the slight awareness of cultural sensitivities here.

Supun is right that the Internet presents "new and unique" challenges for society. But its actions so far imply that YouTube is more concerned with the challenge of restrictions on accessibility, without giving much consideration to the audience at the receiving end.

Digital technology creates a new challenge because it can be easily accessed by a worldwide audience. But when it comes to what is to be considered "offensive" or what should be off-limits due to public concerns, YouTube draws it own line and blames others for not sharing the same values.

While it is almost impossible to control the Internet, which has become the most effective tool to spread information worldwide in seconds, it would be even worse to see such a popular website turn a blind eye to offensive messages or groundless accusations against a person who does not get a chance to defend himself.

It may be too ambitious to ask the world to find globally accepted standards to govern Internet content. But what we learn from the current controversy is that in the absence of such standards, website operators might have to try to be more understanding of their diverse audience to prevent the repetition of incidents that reveal the negative consequences of digital technology.

YouTube's staff might try spending time to understand the term "cultural sensitivity". I entered the words in Google's search engine and got 1,500,000 results within 0.11 seconds.

Jeerawat Na Thalang

Privacy Policy © 2006 Nation Multimedia Group

April 24, 2010 09:53 pm (Thai local time)

The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan

Reagan revisited: The hawk that turned

Published on October 9, 2009

JAMES MANN warned his audience on both sides of the aisle before he discussed his latest book "The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan", which gives an insight into Reagan's role in ending the Cold War. The former Los Angeles Times reporter said, "I have to warn you in advance that it goes down not easily politically for both friends among the conservatives and friends among the liberals."
Conservatives will find it tough because the book suggests Reagan didn't win the Cold War by building up American defences. Liberals on the other hand might find the book tough because it's all about Reagan, and the book gives the former president considerable credit for the way he carried out a successful foreign policy towards the Soviet Union, said Mann.

"The question raised by the book is whether the way we remember Reagan is actually the way it happened," he said.

In his recent speech given at the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, Arkansas, Mann said the book tried to reveal the "history that has been lost to us by capturing the last four or five years in Reagan's eight-year presidency".

People tend to have an image of Reagan in his first three years in office, such as the strategic defence policy, Reagan calling the Soviet Union the "evil empire" or Reagan "the hawk", said Mann. "It is accurate only for three years. But what forgotten is the rest of the story from early 1985 when Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union," Mann added.

Mann spent three years going through archives, holding interviews and doing research. And he contends that Reagan in the second half of his presidency was different from his assumed hawkish image.

In fact, the Republican president managed to get the Senate to pass and approve the historic Arms Control Treaty, which eliminated an entire of class of nuclear missiles. And in 1988, when Reagan was asked by reporters when he stood in Red Square during his visit to Moscow if the Soviet Union was still the "evil empire", he said, "No. It was another time and another place."

The right wing saw reason to question Reagan's strategy in negotiating with Gorbachev. In 1985, no one could predict how the Cold War would turn out, even foreign affairs specialists such as Henry Kissinger could not answer with confidence. Reagan, however, decided to negotiate with the new Soviet leader, and this was seen as treason by some conservative columnists, said Mann.

Richard Nixon didn't approve of Reagan's diplomacy with Gorbachev either. Mann ran through Nixon's notes from those days and found that Nixon thought Gorbachev as affable but that his goal was the same as other Soviet leaders. Nixon thought that Gorbachev could even be the most formidable Soviet leader because he would be more effective in achieving this goal. Nixon's view was shared by many in the conservative camp. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, who served at the Central Intelligence Agency back then, was persistent in arguing with Reagan that he had moved too fast to engage Gorbachev.

The irony is that Reagan found support from the liberals, not conservatives. Mann cited a cartoon in late 1987 showing Reagan in the Oval Office signing the Arms Control Treaty with Gorbachev. Behind him were Michael Dukakis, Dick Gephardt and Jesse Jackson - all Democrats.

At any rate, Reagan later proved his opponents wrong. A series of summits between Reagan and Gorbachev followed, contributing to the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989.

Mann's book shows that the person whom Reagan trusted when it came to Soviet policy turned out to be an outsider named Suzanne Massie. Massie held no official position, and this informal adviser was quite unorthodox because she didn't come from the academic circle. She was a writer who travelled to the Soviet Union. Mann said the record shows that Reagan invited her to the White House and talked to her nearly twenty times - which is more often than many of his official advisors. Reagan was curious about what was going on in the Soviet Union. He didn't like the dry academic reports, but loved stories and anecdotes from the streets of Moscow that Massie gave to him.

Massie's importance grew to the point where Moscow's contact with Washington circumvented the diplomatic channel. Some diplomacy was carried not through the State Department but through Massie herself, with no official position. And it got to the point where, in 1987, the National Security Council began a campaign to "keep this woman away from the Oval Office", said Mann.

"I don't necessarily think she was influential. But she was the story in the last four years of Reagan's presidency," he added.

Reagan had his own style in dealing with leaders of the socialist countries, Mann said, "He drove people like Gorbachev crazy." Reagan liked to tell Gorbachev, a classic debater from a law school, jokes about socialists. One of them was: "What are four things that matter in Soviet agriculture?" When Gorbachev said he didn't know, Reagan said, "Spring, summer, fall and winter."

"It took them off their agenda, and after a while, people found themselves dealing with Reagan on his own terms," said Mann.

The end of the Cold War seemed like a given, but it could have gone differently. Of course, it was Gorbachev who finally abandoned the Cold War, but Reagan played a crucial role in creating the environment.

Mann said Reagan was also effective in his diplomacy because he had a remarkable sense of timing to negotiate. A former president of the Screen Actors Guild, the union of Hollywood actors, Reagan could be passive for days to weeks, then ultimately, he would sense the right time to make a decision, said Mann.

What is the lesson to learn from Reagan?

Mann said: "I would say the lesson is that he was willing to be strong in security and negotiation at the same time. Not be afraid to negotiate at the right time." Reagan showed that his unique diplomatic style could make a difference in foreign policy.

Privacy Policy © 2006 Nation Multimedia Group

April 24, 2010 09:45 pm (Thai local time)

TEST: Jeerawat's film review King Naresuan Part II

What Do you think about Naresuan Part II Movie?
On February 23 2007

The Legend of King Naresuan Part II

This is simply the best Thai film I have seen in years. And I must say this is a terrific war movie for it didn't only depict the spectacular battle scenes but also the war strategies and the ambivalence behind it.

In fact, I am not a fan of war movies. And I have to say that I am not impressed with Suriyothai, the epic movie also directed by MC Chatrichalerm Yukol. But King Nasesuan is terrific. It has lots of smart action-packed scenes, light-hearted moments and romances.

First of all, unlike Suriyothai, King Naresuan is a movie that will drive the audience cheer for the lead characters.

Watching Suriyothai is like reading a textbook with tens of characters. But the plots of Naresuan evolve around a few key characters, and the war tactics that Naresuan applied in the process of reclaiming the independence.

The movie is not about the war ifself but the integrity of the warriors and their ambivalence. Monk Khan Shong, played by superb Sorrapong Chatree, was there at the battle scences to remind of the dark side of the war.

Compared to the first one, the sequel is better such as in terms of cast and editing. In the first episode, I have some trouble with actor Sompop Benjathikul playing Hongsa's King Bayinnaung, especially when he lost his cool when meeting with Princess Suphankalaya, Naresuan's older sister. This is despite the fact that I think by letting the three child stars telling the heavy story of the political intrigue has made the first episode more interesting. (It also reminds me of Harry Potter's three lead characters.) The cock-fighting was intense and symbolic. But the battle scene in the first one is no where near Naresuan Part II.

In part II, the children are grown up to develop their own characters. Boonting, Naresuan's best friend and his army commander, tends to let his emotion out while the Black Prince is more subdued. Boonting's romance with Lekin spiced up the movie, even though historians still cannot confirm if Thais already learned to lock their tongues in 1577. There's not much to say about Maneechan in the second film.

The Black Prince applied different tactics to win his enemies. The movie depicts him as a strategist who lets Boonting to be the man of action. The characters of these two warriors are also different.

The characters of the other two young lords serve the movie quite well as the sidekicks to bring several light-hearted moments. Their friendship may imply their sexual orientation. But who cares? At least, the various groups of people under Naresuan show his open-minded attitude and the golden days of Ayodhya.

Capt Wanchana Sawasdee, the actor who plays Naresuan is quite a cinematographic presence. He convincingly plays the Warrior King. And his presence makes a big difference between Naresuan and Suriyothai. We all root for him because we could connect with this guy while the actress who plays Suriyothai is robotic.

I got the goosebumps when the Black Prince lifted up the decanter as a symbol to reclaim the sovereignty of Ayodhya. Wanchana pulled it off with conviction. Then, the crowds were cheering "Naresuan" all over. The scene was powerful. It was the first time that we have heard of "Naresuan", the name that most of Thais call Our Warrior King. I am not sure if non-Thai audience would have the strong impression with the scene in the same way as I did.

The cinematography captures the spirit of the movie. One of the early scenes where the Black Prince and the other two Burmese princes were discussing the warfare against the rebellious Khang State reminds me of Rashomon.

The movie didn't only glorify Naresuan but also showed how some, a blind old woman who lost her son to the war, didn't fully agree with his strife for victory. The movie shows that Naresuan is just a human. He couldn't tolerate disobediene. He refused to be sympathised with his sister's decision not to leave Hongsa kingdom and he told his brother his order was the rule.

The battle-scenes where the warriors were trying to outsmart each other were of course the movie's highlights. Here, we saw real people engage in the ancient warfare, while the visions in a number of Hollywood films have obviously gone digital.

Thirty minutes to the end after Naresuan let Boonting take over the action scene, Naresuan came back with the fully heroic act to save all of his subjects, to be the last to cross the bridge over Satong River which was about to fall all over.

And when Naresuan pulled the trigger of that legendary three-metre-long sniper rifle, time stopped. The theatre was silent until the bullet hit the target. Then, the audience couldn't wait any longer to see the final episode.

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This is the tests. This blog is created on April 24, 2010