We, the unruly thais
published : 14 Apr 2013 at 00:00
newspaper section: News
writer: Voranai Vanijaka
Governments exist for many reasons, not least of which is that left to our own devices, mankind would have committed follies on such a scale that we might have become extinct extinct thousands of years ago, leaving the apes to inherit the Earth.
Not that governments guarantee mankind's existence and yes, governments are also prolific in committing follies. But at least _ from tribal councils to modern parliaments _ governments keep the follies of society in check; not always with great success but at least enough to prolong mankind's existence.
Governments provide the rule of law, legislate it, interpret it and execute it. The opposite is anarchy. Through mankind's evolution, there are certain modern societies that are in general disciplined and orderly, respecting the rule of law. Japan is a fine example.
Then there are those societies that in general cannot stand to abide by the rule of law. Thailand is a fine example and the Songkran holidays are a prime case study. Earlier this month, the government issued a list of "11 Don'ts" in the interests of order and safety during this holiday when the people of Thailand flirt with carnage in the name of fun.
Everyone - and this includes my muay Thai trainer, the aunty I buy chicken and sticky rice from, the mom and pop vendors in my soi, as well as voices from YouTube videos, forum posts, Facebook updates and tweets - is crying foul.
They sing the same song, Aroom Arouy, the name being a slang term for "compromise". The song has a recurring chorus: "You cannot force Thai people."
Allow me to suggest that sometimes, there's no need for a compromise and at times, yes, Thai people do need to be forced.
The yearly carnage of deaths, injuries, destruction of property and other calamities in the name of fun is enough evidence that there needs to be a set of rules and genuine enforcement. The rules themselves are a matter of common sense aimed at saving lives, limbs and property. See for yourself, here they are: Don't buy or sell anything on the sidewalk, and not only because people splash water on the sidewalk.
Don't turn on your stereo amplifier, because you are in a public space, and to hold a public concert you would have to have a permit. But mainly because a mobile public concert in the back of your pickup truck is dangerous. In a country that is supposed to have a seatbelt law, dancing in the back of a moving pickup truck while throwing water at people should hardly be legal.
Don't carry water in your pickup truck and use it to douse people - it's highly dangerous in traffic and has caused injuries and fatalities in the past.
Don't use high-pressure water guns and don't throw ice at other people because it could injure someone. Don't use baby powder because it's known that certain types of powder can cause skin irritation.
Don't harass women, which should be the rule every day of the year anyway. Don't sell alcohol in alcohol-free zones, because the zones are, guess what, alcohol-free. Don't consume alcohol in cars and don't drink-drive because it could lead to carnage and is already illegal anyway.
These are very simple, common sense rules. Yet we Thais cry and whine that we only get to have such great fun once a year, so the government should aroom arouy. Lest we forget, we the Thai people on a daily basis get drunk, do stupid things and aroom arouy with the law and the people enforcing it. It is hardly a once a year thing.
We need to get a grip. Fun has not been outlawed. There are special zones everywhere in every city this Songkran where we can get drunk and stupid. The government is simply trying to keep the drunkenness and stupidity from getting out of hand to save lives, limbs and property.
Basically, the government is trying to do its job.
The outcry against the "11 Songkran Don'ts" is very indicative of a society that refuses to respect the rule of law. It is but one example to go along with countless others.
These include the 30% under the table, the 100 baht to the traffic police, the illegal U-turns everywhere, the red light which means speed up, the helmet that does not need to be worn unless it's pay day and the police have set up checkpoints, the building that does not need a fire escape, the residential zones that operate afterhour nightclubs and so many others.
These and many more are all cases of aroom arouy with the law that make life easier and more fun, but do little for social progress. As at the end of the day, there is no respect for the rule of law. Without that respect, the law lacks authority and integrity. Everything is a matter of negotiation and bargaining, relying on relationships, connections and money.
It is not surprising that there are those who feel entitled to roll tanks into the streets; those who storm the parliament building and hotels; those who occupy airports and shopping districts; and those who shoot, bomb and burn.
The people who commit these deeds have the firm and unshakable belief that they have every right to do so regardless of the rule of law _ whether in the name of fun or some righteous cause. The cultural mentality isn't reserved only for holidays.
It exists year-round and permeates everything that we do.
As you read this article there are no doubt plenty of people out and about doing their best to break the "11 Don'ts". They are able to do so because more often than not the police just look on and do nothing. The police may stop an unruly bunch, but perhaps half the time it's to exchange aroom arouy gifts. Then back to breaking the rules.
The law cannot be respected if law enforcers give in to aroom arouy. It goes both ways.
By the end of the week, reports of the total carnage will sadden everyone's hearts.
We will pray and make merit. Then next year, we will do the very same things all over again. Why? We must aroom arouy and "you cannot force Thai people".
That's the name of the song and the words to the chorus.
Allow me to suggest that sometimes, there's no need for a compromise and at times, yes Thai people do need to be forced. Not only in the interest of saving of lives, limbs and property, but also because if there's no order, there's no progress.
Be smart and stay safe.
Contact Voranai Vanijaka via email at email@example.com