Those who came up with some of the questions for the test that decides the fate of the nation's university applicants should have the following query put to them: What were you thinking?
Why do you like massaman curry?
Is it because of the strong spicy taste? Because of its smooth mellow soup-like qualities? Because of its colour? Because of the fragrant spices?
Be careful how you answer. The future of one million Thai students depends on what you say.
I'm thrilled this column has a large number of Thai readers, but I am going to have to ask them not to answer. This is a question for the foreigners, or rather, the ''Europeans'' who are reading. New Zealanders, Canadians, Americans, Australians go make yourselves a cup of coffee.
Hardly a question of national importance _ but indeed that's exactly what it is, and what has been the subject of great debate within the cyber walls of Thailand this last week.
Hundreds of thousands of Year 12 students took the O-Net exam last week. This used to be called the ''entrance'' exam in Thailand, which explains why ''entrance'' is happily used as a verb here without the slightest compunction.
''I hope to entrance Thammasat University,'' is a sentence I used to hear all the time, and indeed insert into that sentence any big-name university which requires you to have an alumni parent or a bulging envelope on registration day.
''You mean, you hope to study at Thammasat,'' I would correct in my soft, reassuring tone I reserve only for students and new acquaintances on adjacent barstools.
''Yes,'' the student would confirm. ''I want to entrance Thammasat!''
Whatever. The Education Ministry changed the name of the test to O-Net, and thankfully students have not begun to announce they want to ''O-Net'' Thammasat University, though that may be just a matter of time.
With one million students competing for a handful of university places, the competition is cut-throat. Thus when the O-Net test asks why Europeans like the ''Thai dish known as massaman'', it is imperative Thai students have knowledge in that field.
Wait a minute. The culinary desires of the inhabitants of a bankrupt continent on the other side of the world making or breaking the future of Thai students?
At first, when I was asked this question by a student following me on Twitter, I thought she was simply asking me for my personal opinion. This may come as a surprise to you, but my initial reaction was one of shallow cynicism.
''Because it's delicious!'' I barked back. ''Why else would I like it?''
It wasn't until later I was told it was a question from this week's national O-Net exam. And the problem with my answer was it wasn't one of the four choices.
So what were the choices?
I just gave them to you in paragraph two. There they are, all four of 'em, in the order they were asked on the test. There was a fifth choice _ ''because it tastes like tom yam''_ but this is so clearly wrong I'm going to ignore it.
But what about the rest?
''You are making a mountain out of a molehill,'' one sole voice in the howls of protests answered back in an academic tone on one internet forum this week, suggesting O-Net test writers frequent such places.
''The first choice is wrong _ there is nothing spicy about massaman. The second choice is wrong, too _ have you seen khao man gai soup lately? It's nothing like that. And the third choice about the colour _ how can it be enticing? It looks like when I have diarrhoea.'' See what I said? Clearly an academic trawling Pantip.
Actually, there are lots of places that make massaman spicy, including one restaurant on Thong Lor I specifically travel to because of its spicy massaman.
As for the clear soup business; perhaps this academic's stint in America whilst completing his doctorate didn't extend to experiencing the myriad thick soups, exactly the same consistency of massaman, that we enjoy in winter.
And the colour? Since I enjoy a modicum of decorum in this column I don't really want to venture down that path, suffice to say I don't share the affliction of pigeon-holing chocolate, barley water, mushrooms and/or peanut butter under ''diarrhoea-looking foods'' like this guy does. With a diarrhoea fetish, I am assuming he is a man.
The point is it's not a smart question, though perhaps not quite as alarming as another question I discovered under the subject ''Health''. Here is my translation:
Which of the following situations is the riskiest in terms of safety?
1. Celebrating your birthday in a famous pub.
2. Driving home while drunk.
3. Becoming friends with somebody who likes to race his motorbike.
4. A gas station attendant chats away while filling your tank with gas.
5. Quickly putting on your seatbelt after spotting a traffic cop.
Now please. Academics leave the room. Let's discuss this as sensible adults, because there are too many variables at play here.
Celebrating your birthday in a famous pub? Are any politicians' sons there as well? They shoot you when they get drunk, you know.
Driving home drunk? Is that at 15km per hour or 115? Is it exactly 500m from the pub at the end of your soi to your house or across the city?
Becoming friends with a speed racer? If I only see him at church on Sundays, albeit during the watered-down afternoon service, is that deemed risky?
And so it goes. Had it been me doing the test I would have immediately scrubbed choice No4 (an impossible scenario, since performing two tasks at the same time requires some cognitive processing). But the rest?
Whatever happened to the good old days when university examinations asked you to name the seven continents? To describe the events that led up to World War I?
Asking about culinary choices and risky situations suggests our O-Net scribes got up to question number 98 or 99 and were at a total loss as to what to ask.
Turning to Facebook for some respite, one of their foreign friends probably posted an update: ''Can't wait to get to Thailand try some yummy massaman! Oh, those herbs!''
Meanwhile another friend, recovering in hospital with two broken legs, has posted: ''Next time I won't drive sober on a Friday night down Sukhumvit.''
This curry controversy is nothing compared to the science part of the test. It turns out a computer error has resulted in all 400,000 students getting an extra 24 points.
This is a little unfair to the students who sat the science part of the test last October where there weren't any computer errors.
The Education Ministry says it's not going to make the students sit the test again and I completely agree with them.
This is life, kids! It just ain't fair sometimes, and what better way to introduce you to this than with your university entrance test or whatever you call it now.
The party's over. Goodbye childhood. Welcome to rude reality, where Europeans quaff the Thai dish known as massaman curry for all sorts of reasons and you get to pick just one at random. Think of it as academic Russian Roulette.
Just don't tell the academics writing O-Net the terrible truth, more foreboding and soul-destroying than any test question they may think up _ that ''the Thai dish known as massaman curry'' isn't even Thai. It's Indian.
About the author
- Writer: Andrew Biggs