This article was written in conjunction with Pradichaya Poonyarit's article, "A Great Wall," both inpired by their 11-year-old daughter's poem entitled, "A Great Wall."
When I first moved to Thailand I was struck- indeed, I was often amazed and perplexed- by some of the differences between its culture and that of the USA. After living there for more than thirteen years, however, I came to understand well and truly both the Thai people and why these differences exist.
One of the most obvious differences between the two countries is the relative homogeneity of the Thai population. Until recently, this manifested as far greater unity, both in terms of background and belief, than those of us in the USA could ever imagine. I do not value this more nor less than I do the far greater diversity that exists in the USA: I simply make the observation that the Kingdom historically has had a core culture and set of beliefs that the vast majority of its citizens believed in and lived by.
King Phumipol Adulyadej has now been the Thai King for seventy years, and in that time has been not only a servant of the people.....but quite literally the sole constant in a country beset by political uprisings. Even during the darkest times of his reign the King has refrained...
I always ask of Americans what it means to be American, because it quickly highlights the differences between us, and frames debate. I ask of Thais the same thing: “What does it mean to be Thai?” but for the entirely different reason of bringing them together by remembering those things which create solidarity among themselves. Isn't the King the one constant within your country, and hasn't he been for seventy years?
Change, however, is not always for the better, so I do not. If being Thai means what it always has, this law must remain; for, although its repeal would permit a certain freedom, the resulting costs would be far worse.
There is much discontent within Thailand these days, the reasons for which are complicated and deep-rooted. Change does always come, though seldom is it as rapid or in the guise that one expects. Many are calling for the repeal of the lèse majesté laws, under which people within the Kingdom's jurisdiction can be prosecuted for criticizing the King, and to those who value free speech and freedom of expression such a repeal might seem to be both inevitable and just. Yet most of these are not people who have lived within the Kingdom and experienced Thai culture first-hand. As to those who do, I ask again: “What does it mean to be Thai?” What has the King done, other than to serve his country and to be a symbol of unity? When you criticize the King, you criticize the country.
Many view repeal as progress. Change, however, is not always for the better, so I do not. If being Thai means what it always has, this law must remain; for, although its repeal would permit a certain freedom, the resulting costs would be far worse. What would it mean, then, to be Thai?
I await the answer.