Theatre of the absurd
Last week, the Ministry of Tourism and Sports and Tourism Authority Thailand announced that 8,745 people from Surin province succeeded in setting a new record of "the highest number of people folding fabric animals simultaneously" in the Guinness World Record. This event was part of the Elephant Festival, an annual event in Surin. Organised by the Surin provincial administration and TAT, the event of folding fabric into elephant dolls aimed to boost tourism since numbers had dropped due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Organisers also hoped the event would promote Surin fabric, which is a signature product of the province.
The new record should have been a good idea for publicity. However, before announcing the achievement, the event was criticised by netizens because students from 15 schools and universities who participated were not volunteers. Comments on social media and a video revealed the students were forced to enter the Elephant Show Arena from noon, before the opening ceremony.
A news report stated that if the students did not participate in the event, they would be failed by teachers. The opening ceremony, presided over by Surin governor Pichit Boontun, started at 2.30pm. Even though the event took only 30 minutes, the students had to sit in the scorching heat for several hours.
News reports noted that the highest temperatures on that day, Nov 18, reached 40C. Although students tried to protect themselves from the sun with umbrellas and fabrics, many could not stand the heat and fainted. Reports also showed that the organisers and supporters sat in the shade under a roof.
This kind of student group activity is something that Thai people are used to. Most netizens said that when they were students, they were forced to participate in group activities in order to earn passing grades. It would have been better if organisers asked volunteers to participate in the event, but who would want to stay in the heat under the sun just to set this kind of world record? Organisers should think things through carefully. To avoid heat injuries, the event should have been held indoors or in the evening.
Another issue that upset netizens was that students had to bring their own fabrics or purchase some. This is really wrong. Fabric should have been provided by organisers. Students and their parents should not have to shoulder the cost.
A few people who supported the event commented on social media that young generations should experience tough times, so they can learn to be patient.
Someone wrote that sitting under the strong sun was not a big deal since students were there only a few hours. The experience will help them to be more patient and tolerate hardships better. In today's digital age, most young people are so impatient and righteous. They always claim their rights, so they can get things their own way or avoid hardships.
Another person wrote that since it was a huge group activity, it was normal for people to faint. People should not react so dramatically.
I agree that at a big event, we usually see people faint because some cannot tolerate extreme heat or crowds. However, I disagree with the comment that the experience will help young people learn patience. At 40C, people are at risk of getting heat stroke and without proper treatment, it can be fatal. There are better ways to practise patience and tolerance.
After the event, Daily News Online reported that Surin governor Pichit said negative feedback came from a group of people who wanted to damage the province's public image. He said nothing is easy to achieve. People have to work hard for it. Instead of focusing on negative feedback, he wanted people to look at the positive aspects.
His statement is the typical bureaucratic response that you expect from people who work in state agencies. These people believe that they are never wrong and all criticism is from the opposition. However, I am still disappointed. He should at least thank the students and parents who spent their time and money so that he could receive an award from Guinness and claim fame as the Surin governor who set a world record.
The whole event reflects the typical top-down management style of Thailand's government. In state agencies, executives give orders and ignore reactions or feedback from employees. In schools, teachers tell students what to do and do not listen to students' comments or ideas. Thus, when students fainted or complained about the heat, it was not the fault of the people at the top. Instead, the students are at fault for their poor manners.
I do not think this event will be Thailand's last Guinness World Record. This kind of chaotic and pointless event will likely be organised again and organisers will again take advantage of people at the bottom to achieve their own goals.
Suwitcha Chaiyong is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.