SUNDAY, April 21, 2024

Thai soft power is under siege

Thai soft power is under siege

One day I was listening to an interview with a woman responsible for promoting Thailand’s “soft power”, or “palang lamun" as she called it. I want to say you need to consider whether it is worth the time and resources spent.

I've been annoyed and troubled ever since the launch of terms such as “Chak-ka-thad” for “Chak-That”, influenced by English words. And now it has expanded to the name of the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak. Our concerned officials are literally renaming Sunak, as the Thai colloquial meaning of his surname refers to “a dog”, to be pronounced as "Su-Nack", very close to “snack” really. I think this does not need to be done. Because there are so many transliterated words in English that we use in our Thai language. You probably don't have to waste time on these things.

The next challenge is public etiquette. We've seen admirable discipline in Singapore, South Korea, and Japan in comparison with Thai people. However, we can surely acknowledge there are a few good men in the country capable of bringing about good change. But the mutations are becoming more and more visible. Nevertheless, our new generation, if you are really busy, will stay still or simply walk past quietly rather than raising your palm to greet someone. Some go even further by calling their teachers, or ajarns, by name very much like close friends. This is not right and not our Thai way.

External influences

Now several people want to adjust how we celebrate Loy Krathong. They want the krathongs to be floated in a tub or float it online on our light festival (Loy Krathong day). This kind of thing is similar to people who love Thai food and cutlery. Mr. Nirut Sirichanya, a Thai superstar, once a presenter on preserving the Thai identity, yelled at a kid who was cooking in the advertisement. Then throwing the bowl with a loud bang, he roared: “Fusion, fusion. It's not Thai food.”

I think today there are too many "alien bodies" or "foreign things" that have infiltrated our culture, such as drinking coffee, wine, travelling abroad and taking extra classes. Various courses are available for almost every government department in order to induce people to become allies and support the organisation in some way. I remember when the 2017 constitution was being drafted, we were talking of banning all independent organisations from organising any privilege courses and prohibiting all committee members in many independent agencies from attending various courses. When you have reached this level, what else will you study? But we are not against development and life-long learning. I'm not here to teach or preach against the changing world.

I am still a contemporary person who understands the world, who wants our country to move forward based on national identity. Our youth, on average, are strong both physically and mentally. But it seems that many people view traditional culture as outdated, which must be abolished. Many see the entertainment culture and idols of other countries as superior and more praiseworthy than the abundance of good things we have. Today it has become totally contradictory or paradoxical, when we are promoting our culture to woo foreigners to come and spend time and money in our country. Oddly enough, to promote Thainess, they bring a person who looks like a foreigner to be a presenter to make people feel interested and worth following. But it is disconcerting that in order to eat and buy things that belong to Thai people, you have to use a foreigner.

Not just a traffic problem

Last Saturday I attended the wedding of a close friend and travelled on the Vibhavadi Rangsit Road, Ladprao- Din Daeng area. I needed to make a U-turn under Suthisan Winitchai Bridge to return to the Din Daeng side. It turned out that the cars were stuck together for half an hour. My first thought was my friend is famous so there are probably a lot of guests coming for the wedding, causing traffic jams. But when I was able to make a U-turn, the traffic was still bad, even in front of the NBT television station. In the past few years, I have complained about this matter to many people involved. It had been well managed while a friend of mine was in the leadership of the Territorial Defence Department at that time. He stepped in through his routine chain of command, and the next day the roads were clear. Clearly, it hurt one’s feelings seeing our territorial reserves travel to the barracks in a luxury van just like when they were still in elementary school or kindergarten. On weekdays, it probably includes the long queue of international school crowd, where wealthy people send their children to study. These military territorial reserves adopted ways like when they were in school. However, when you are attending "military training or becoming a reserve force", you should behave well and refrain from "encroachment" as it is likely to inconvenience the public. This is because there are a lot of cars passing through that area where many park and wait to pick up your children. A few lanes had been closed. Cars were engaged in one-upmanship with everyone in a hurry to sneak ahead. The police in the precinct did not come to take care of them. The expectation is that since the area is under the supervision of the reserve training centre, soldiers will be there to managing the traffic flow.

If the government aims to make the country move forward by the so-called "soft power”, please don't let the public lose patience and complain that "It's the reserve force of the country, however, they are too weak like babies or vulnerable.” People often give examples of the Israel IDF as well as Singapore's National Guard, probably because their size and population are smaller than ours. It makes sense for them to continue conscription and train their men and women. Thus, when there is a war, the baker may become a tank driver or a fighter jet pilot.

The Minister of Defence must find a way to provide relief to road users who must pass through that area. It will be considered another precious work of his time that will be talked about. Don't let it be like the case of "Sia Paeng", the fugitive prisoner who Everyone is asking the same question: How come hundreds of troops and police are unable to capture just one person? Meanwhile, the accomplices and conspirators who allegedly allowed the fugitive's escape were all arrested. We can assume safely that there are still some good men at work in Thailand. That will be good for all of us but we still need capable people to lead and solve problems in a concrete way.

Amorn Wanichwiwatana, DPhil (Oxon), is a former member of the Constitution Drafting Commission and a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University.