Monday, May 31, 2010

My life in Nepal - First day

My life in Nepal
I arrived Kathmandu safe and sound on Monday noon. As the plane was descending to the Kathmandu airport, I could see the mountains, and yes, Himalaya, up close and personal. I was anxious about my trip a week before as there was mass protest in Kathmandu from Maoist movement. But on Friday, Nepali Prime Minister announced to resign sometime soon to avert the political crisis. I am not very much worried about the political situation. The political situation in Nepal and Thailand are both a mess now.

I stay at a cheap guest house in downtown Kathmandu. It costs me only 10 dollars per night and the fee reflects the conditions of the room. There is no air-conditioner (the one with air con is more than 40 dollars that I cannot afford). My mom was right. She told me not to trust anyone’s bed sheet and pillow covers. So, I brought my own bed sheet, pillow covers and many other basic stuff such as water boiler, towel and canned food from Bangkok.

I was greeted by blackouts in Kathmandu yesterday. People told me that the power would be out a few times a day, each for two or three hours. I asked very stupid question like “why?”. They told me the government does not have enough electricity so they have to shut down the power from time to time. Yesterday, I was staying in the dark from 5 to almost 8 PM. And after midnight, I woke up in the middle of the night because the electric fan stopped because of the blackout.

Otherwise, people were generally friendly. I walked along the alleyways in Thamel yesterday evening. It was a beautiful neighbourhood with small shops selling crafts and fabrics. People told me how to greet and say “thank you” in Nepali. While I could not pronounce it properly, one of them took a liberty of taking my arm and wrote down the correct pronunciation on my arm so I would be able to remember the correct pronunciation. I have been travelling a lot in my life and I believe I have an intuition about the place that I have visited. And based on my first day and super shallow observation, I feel that the city is generally safe and I feel comfortable walking around on my own.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Vesak Day

A timely chance to reflect upon our human failings

Vesak Day offers Buddhists an opportunity to consider what brings us together and why we continue to tear ourselves apart

The timely fall of Vesak Day this year is more auspicious than ever. This very significant Buddhist celebration comes at a moment when Thais need to be reminded of the Lord Buddha's wisdom.

Vesak Day reminds Buddhists of the Lord Buddha's enlightenment, which has brought wisdom and insight into the cause of suffering. It is quite simple: Human suffering is caused by the desirous mind. The Buddha's Four Noble Truths are the Dukkha - suffering, the cause of suffering, the path that leads to enlightenment, and the end or cessation of suffering.

The events of the last two months have been tragic, and we must all share responsibility for inflicting this tragedy upon ourselves. Thais should come to their senses and reflect how we have let our emotions overcome our sense and rationale. We used to be known as compassionate and generous. Sad to say that this will be a thing of the past if we continue to hate each other.

It's inevitable that human beings will be emotional. But when we feel emotions such as hatred or fear, we should strive to understand these feelings - and thus overcome suffering. After all, these feelings are essentially the same thing. As hatred is the flipside of love, ignorance is the flipside of wisdom. If we learn to understand these opposite forces, we will become whole human beings.

We have become selfish because we have forgotten the Lord Buddha's concept of selflessness. We have failed to think about others. Selfish people fail to recognise the importance of co-existing with others and nature. They forget that every action has a consequence and that what we do has an impact on others. Selfish people demand their rights without respecting the rights of others, or realising the consequences that their actions cause. As we have seen, this can lead to violent conflict. We need to be mindful of the fact that everything is intertwined.

For centuries, Buddhism has united the majority of Thais peacefully. Its self-sufficiency concept is based on an effort to ensure that we consume our resources reasonably without harming the natural environment, and to ensure that we leave sufficient and quality resources for our children.

The Lord Buddha preached a middle path, where people work towards a balanced and rational consciousness. Extremes tend to let emotions overcome logic - leading to undesirable results. The middle-path concept helps us learn and gain the spiritual knowledge to overcome extreme situations. We have suffered such an extreme situation for the last two months, during which information has been politically based and opinions have become polarised.

Vesak Day reminds us to be compassionate. This difficult time will be a test to prove that we are still able to forgive. Forgiveness is a way to end suffering. Justice does not come from an angry heart. We may not forget, because there are always lessons to be learned from mistakes. But we should reflect with compassion and understanding.

Vesak Day also reminds us of the three great events in the life of the Lord Buddha - his birth, enlightenment and passing. He gave us the chance to liberate ourselves from suffering and realise a new world of wisdom and true happiness. As we recall the auspicious anniversary, we should take time to reflect, with reasons and insight, upon what has happened to us.

Like everything else in this world, this moment shall pass, but we must emerge from it as wiser, more compassionate people.

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May 27, 2010 11:34 am (Thai local time)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Uncle Boonmee Recalls Thai Censorship


Published on May 26, 2010

Kudos to director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who became the first Thai filmmaker to win the prestigious Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this week. His story of the spiritual belief in reincarnation, "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives", won the top prize for its unique narrative style.

But before the Thai Culture Ministry starts waving the flag in celebration, it should take a minute to recall Apichatpong's comments on the issue of film censorship. After all, strict censorship is obstructive to directors like Apichatpong, discouraging them from exploring innovative themes.

"Uncle Boonmee" tells the story of Thais in the Northeast who believe in spirits and reincarnation. In the same fashion as his previous works, Apichatpong uses a signature whimsical style. The visual journey and soundtrack introduce ordinary Thai life to the world.

However, Apichatpong has been through rough times in ensuring that his visions and interpretations reach his audience. A couple of years ago, he fought bitterly with the local censorship board to keep his work intact. The Thai censors wanted to delete certain scenes by reasoning that they touched upon religion, which is deemed a sensitive subject here.

During a Cannes press event, Apichatpong said that due to the strict local censorship requirements, Thai filmmakers resort to either action movies or comedies instead of touching on subjects such as politics.

Apichatpong is not alone in fighting rigid local censorship. Earlier, "Nak-Prok", a Thai movie about three bandits who disguise themselves as monks, almost did not make it to theatres. The film contained scenes that depicted supposed members of the monkhood engaging in inappropriate behaviour. This despite the fact that audiences are mature enough to understand that these scenes are fictional. Why can't we get over this? It's the same as Hollywood films portraying sex scandals in the Catholic church.

The Thai censorship board has a thick skin when it comes to what's shown in public theatres, whose audiences are supposedly protected by the classification and rating system. Sensitive about many issues, the board turns a blind eye to graphic violence and other destructive scenes seen in almost every TV soap opera by both young and old in their living rooms. While the board imposes strict rules on certain themes by defining them as issues that threaten "moral decency", it allows soaps to feature scenes of rape, sexual harassment and verbal abuse, aired every night as if these are acceptable acts in our society.

Besides this, these state-appointed arbiters come mostly from the security apparatus. They are not filmmakers or people in the film industry, who should be able to provide balanced comments on whether to rate or assign a film to a certain classification.

The Culture Ministry and interested agencies should be more open-minded, to enable directors to explore new themes and creativity. While film scripts are mostly fictional, the directors' interpretations can give insight or prompt an audience to look at issues with more understanding. This should enable people to better understand society and themselves.

It's inevitable that censorship will exist, but there must be a transparent process for the censorship board's decision-making. Likewise, audience response is the most important factor for directors when deciding whether to explore certain sensitive themes. For instance, "United 93", a Hollywood film based on the 9/11 plane hijacks, was released only when the filmmakers felt that audiences were ready to watch - almost five years after the real incident. Any sensible director would exercise voluntary restraint on certain issues that might not be well received by some audiences.

The maturity of a society can be reflected in the movies that it produces. It is welcome that Thai films have flourished partly because their directors are able to explore human emotions and themes such as gender, history and spiritual belief. Nevertheless, more needs to be done to support freedom of expression and the creativity of directors. Thailand has a culture and tradition that inspires local artists to explore. And local filmmakers don't ask for anything more than space to experiment with visions and ideas.
Privacy Policy © 2009 Nation Multimedia Group
May 26, 2010 07:49 am (Thai local time)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bangkok will rise like a phoenix

Bangkok will rise like a phoenix

Published on May 22, 2010

City residents will rebuild and prove that the collective good is a force greater than the terrorists who laid waste to our homes and businesses
As the smoke from the fires starts to dissipate, Bangkok is left in ashes. The front page of every newspaper featured CentralWorld and Centre One, where hundreds of small entrepreneurs made their living, left as a shell.

Many shop-owners in the Siam Square area came back to survey the damage yesterday. A young shop-owner could not hold back his tears when he saw that there was nothing left of his shop. But in that sad moment, the young man made an admirable remark. Asked by a Channel 5 reporter what he felt about his loss, he said, "I am not worried about the loss of my shop and merchandise. They are materials that I think I will be able to find again. But I would like to Thais to love each other again." News reports yesterday morning also featured interviews with many other affected people.

As of press time, there was no official estimate of the losses. But it does not take a genius to figure out that thousands of people will be adversely affected. There were many local entrepreneurs operating inside these shopping complexes, many of which were selling locally-made merchandise.

This difficult time is a test for Bangkokians to show our spirit, to show that we will rise. And each and every one of us can contribute to the rebuilding process. We cannot wait for the government, which has limited resources, to deal with this loss. We must unite to rebuild the city that we love and care for.

As the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority started the cleaning-up process, some associations and faith groups made it known that they are ready to provide volunteers to clean up damaged areas of Bangkok. Their good intent is something that we all must try to emulate. Local communities can contribute by organising volunteers to assist in their neighbourhoods. No one can live happily if neighbours are suffering.

Fund-raising and donations are possible options to assist those affected. Those who are lucky enough to not be affected can contribute by sparing pennies to assist in finding temporary sites for people to live or earn a living.

The digital network will go into operation. It will be possible to form volunteer groups through Facebook and other social networking websites. Communities must also engage in surveillance to root out those who have evil intentions.

It was heartbreaking to see central Bangkok destroyed in only a couple of hours. What is more saddening is that these landmarks, which were built out of positive forces, were burned down in hatred. It took passion and years of effort to create these edifices. Many young innovators and small entrepreneurs were able to demonstrate their creative and commercial prowess through the products that they offered.

In spite of its old age and shabby appearance, the Siam Theatre was a venerable landmark. This theatre was a source of inspiration for young artists and filmmakers for four decades. With its spacious auditorium and Bt30 bags of popcorn, it was a haven for film fans who couldn't afford the multiplexes.

Financial activities will also be affected as dozens of banks were burned down.

This violence will not dampen our spirit. Over the past couple of days, Bangkok has wept. But the city will emerge stronger. Bangkok will rise from the ashes with the powerful forces of love, care and compassion. The terrible incidents of the past couple of days have showed the unimaginable result of how hatred, greed and ignorance can create massive destruction. But now it's time for us to show that the opposite forces of compassion, generosity and wisdom shall prevail.

Bangkok will be reborn stronger through our united will.
Privacy Policy © 2009 Nation Multimedia Group

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Disgraceful Behavior of Adults

Adults setting bad standards for children
By The Nation
Published on May 19, 2010

Those exposed to the ongoing violence every day, might start to believe in the power of violence

The disgraceful behaviour of adults in this crisis will leave scars on an entire generation of innocent children

One of the most telling pictures on Monday was of a child peering over a barricade of tyres set up by the red shirts. The Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) claimed that the child was used as human shield.

It is unclear whether the child was intentionally used by his parents to protect the reds who were hiding behind the barricades of tyres. But why was the child there in the first place? Nonetheless, the picture illustrates the fact that children are also being affected by this crisis.

Aside from those children who have lost parents in the clashes, there are a number of children who are witnessing the violence firsthand. There are quite a number of children whose lives are at risk in the red zone. On Monday night, there was also a report that a 14-year-old boy was allegedly involved in lighting a blaze at a deserted building in the red zone of Bangkok.

If the allegation proves to be true, we are all to blame for the violent act committed by this youngster. The clashes are watched by children nationwide. They learn by imitating adults. Adults must now question whether they are good enough role models for young children to look up to.

It is tragic that children have become victims of this crisis. Earlier this month, hundreds of students who live in the areas taken over by the reds faced a series of postponements of the new school semester. Back-to-school day was supposed to be an important moment for them. But it wasn't the case this year as their schools became dangerous places because of the clashes in downtown Bangkok.

It is sad that the most affected students are those in several municipal or temple schools, whose parents are mostly middle- or lower-income earners. The delay in the schools' opening will affect their educational development, as it is unclear how these public or temple schools will be able to fully make up the lost time.

The tragedy of the past few days shows adults' absolute failure to sort out their differences through civil and peaceful negotiations. The TV rating system became a joke when news reports showed people shot to death or injured, live on TV in every household.

Day in, day out, young viewers see adults fighting to win at all costs, regardless of the effects on the others. The past two months have seen downtown Bangkok held hostage by protesters. The situation has got worse, with people now killing each. As the death toll increases, it's imperative to protect children by removing them to safe areas. They must not be used as a means, by whatever party, to achieve their political ends. It was a cowardly act by adults to use innocent children as a bargaining chip.

If these adults don't have the ability to love their children, then how can they have the ability to love and care for others.

The ongoing tragedy is the darkest moment in our history. And our generation is the only one to be blamed for this abysmal moment. The worst nightmare is that our children will grow up and become like us. If that's the case, the nation will be full of adults who are selfish, self-centred, who fail to respect the rights of others, and who use others as a means to achieve their selfish ends. And what will happen if these children grow up to believe that violence is an acceptable way to get what you want?