Thainess and surf-skating, a safe match?

Thainess and surf-skating, a safe match?

The "Rattana Go Surf" surf-skating group, with the presence of a woman politician and luminaries who showcased their surf-skating skills on the city streets last Sunday caused a stir. It's no surprise. In contrast to the latest trend of surf-skating in Thailand, Sunday's crowd turned up in traditional Thai attire, while some women also showed up in Thai-style strapless tops and other participants put on royal-patterned shirts. I can only imagine how suffocating it would have been wearing costumes which are obviously not appropriate for sports. Not to mention, several joined the risky sport without protective gear, such as helmets, all while trying to balance themselves on a skateboard, side by side with moving cars and other motorised vehicles.

Initiated by Palang Pracharath Party member Watanya Wongopasi, rapper Apisit "Joey Boy" Opas-iamlikit, and the Culture Ministry, "Rattana Go Surf" encouraged surf-skaters to dress in traditional Thai costumes while gliding along a 4-kilometre designated route around the city's old town area. Starting from the Golden Mount, about 300 surf-skaters were seen passing Ratchadamnoen Avenue, the Giant Swing, and Victory Monument.

Netizens questioned the legality of the event and how the skaters could gather at such spots with the country still under an emergency decree -- and the group was ignoring physical distancing and the face-mask rules. Just one day earlier, nearly 100 protesters camping near Government House, aka Talu Fah Village, were arrested and charged with violating the Communicable Disease Act and the emergency decree despite their minimal movement.

Obviously, there are some double standards going on. The criticism forced Ms Watanya, who was smart enough to skate in a stylish sleeveless top, decorated with a Khon-decoration piece, to explain that the organisers followed strict processes, including temperature screening and the use of sanitiser gel. The MP thanked the surf-skaters who made the event possible, one that opened a space for younger generations to surf-skate in traditional Thai costumes.

But I'd rather question the government's effort to promote Thai culture and the unthoughtful road safety procedures put in place for the surf-skaters, many of whom were young children. The MP boasted how the Thai costumes were part of an effort to promote Thai culture. This is not the first time the government has tried to promote Thai culture in a superficial way.

Last May, the Ministry of Education encouraged its officials to wear Thai fabric twice a week, to support local communities that produced silk and other local fabrics. A month later, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) followed suit, asking its officials to wear silk or Thai fabrics on Tuesdays and Fridays. Like other state agencies, Monday is uniform day. According to news reports, apart from encouraging city officials to wear Thai fabrics since 2011, the BMA held a traditional Thai costume competition in 2015, with the aim to be a role model for other agencies and to preserve Thai culture and wisdom.

I wish there were figures to support or counter their claims that the fashion change resulted in a significant rise in the sale of Thai silk and/or local fabrics. Instead of vainly using the surf-skate trend to promote "Thainess" in a superficial manner and make several dozen people -- many of whom are young children -- risk their lives by surf-skating on the roads with other motorised vehicles, the government agencies should create more opportunities out of the trend.

The Ministry of Tourism and Sports could have taken the opportunity to encourage people to be more active by providing standard paths where the young could be better trained in sports. The BMA could have been more supportive too.

The agency could have built more safe public spaces and provided affordable equipment and courses for everyone not only at district level but at a community level, as an incentive for the young so they can play sports and enjoy recreational activities. In doing so, surf-skating could be enjoyed by many children, not just middle class youth who can afford the pricey equipment and private classes.

The Culture Ministry doesn't have to worry if the sport, with skaters wearing Western-style outfits, would make youngsters less Thai. There are other constructive ways to instil Thainess in children. The ministry should be more concerned that our youth act properly with regard to time, place and occasion. It would be helpful too if the ministry went a step further to promote a "safety culture" -- no risky sports without helmets! In my opinion, one can't maintain Thai tradition by wearing Thai costume. Nor can people damage tradition by not wearing one.

Sirinya Wattanasukchai


Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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