The land of smiles, or something else?
published : 11 Aug 2013 at 00:00
newspaper section: News
Thailand is currently known as the Land of Smiles, because supposedly we are a happy people. In the future, Thailand may still be known as the Land of Smiles, but for different reasons. Perhaps because when we are clueless about something, we just smile.
But if we are clueless about everything, would we then never stop smiling?
The past seven years in the Kingdom have been most interesting. We see the manifestation of political chaos and social upheavals that are the result of decades of mismanagement. National bickering continues as you are reading this, with the latest episode over the amnesty bills.
Mistakes from the past have accumulated to spawn the present crises, leading to future dilemmas. This is the tale of Thailand, a tragic comedy that affects all our lives and those of future generations, our children and their children.
It is therefore quite unfortunate that classes on current events are not being taught and will not be taught in primary or secondary schools, and will probably be only superficially taught at university, at best. And if a college classroom does go deeply into the subject matter, it is likely the lesson will be administered by academics deeply entrenched on one side of the political divide or the other. As such, students will receive an education painted vividly either red or yellow. This means that the supposed educational exercise is but propaganda.
Put colour-coded prejudices together with general ignorance, and the sum is a word that I have been using quite often in my commentaries - stupidity. It may seem that stupidity is firmly embedded in our DNA code, determining the future of our country.
This is not because there have been more than 20 military coups in this country. This is not because of the groups wearing the colour red or yellow or whoever else is running amok and wreaking havoc in our society. This is not because of the generals or the judges, the politicians or the businessmen, the ammart or the prai. This is not because of the lese majeste law.
A note to many of my readers: Please compose yourself before you read my next point; have a seat, take a deep breath and perhaps swallow a couple of Xanax tablets. Ready? Okay. This stupidity is not even caused by Thaksin Shinawatra. (Did someone just have a seizure?)
All the components mentioned are mere symptoms, not the disease. This stupidity is bred into future generations because of the lack of history lessons in the classroom. We learn a fair bit of mythology masquerading as history, mind you, but not actual history.
Surely the future generations will be quite clever in business and making money, excelling in many areas, just as has been the case for the present and past generations. But also like the present and past generations, future generations won't know what Thailand is, because they have never learned how Thailand came to be. Therefore, they won't know where Thailand is heading in the future.
It's a contagion, a plague of ignorance. The disease was born in the classroom. That's ground zero for ignorance.
Ten years from now, during a lecture, a young middle-class Thai university student may be chatting (on her free tablet computer courtesy of the government) with her Western internet boyfriend, who lives half the world away.
The Westerner, who likely is a retiree masquerading online as a teenager, might ask her about the significance of the reading of the amnesty bills in early August 2013. (OK, he would never ask her that, but work with me here.)
She may text back excitedly, "OMG! That's when Jenny got married to Ae who was already married to Tuu, but said they were never married, so then he got married to Jenny, and now they are divorced, cos Jenny got old and Ae found someone younger, and he told her he was never married to Jenny, so now they are married! So narak joong-boei 5555 lol na ka."
Yes, a Thai college student in 2023 would know enough English to have typed that. Don't be so cynical! The text might then be followed by three stickers and four smileys.
Fifteen years from now, on board a high-speed train from Chiang Mai to China, a Thai farmer plans to enjoy a holiday paid for by the 15 million baht per tonne rice subsidy he has just received. It's his last cheque just before the country goes bankrupt.
A Chinese man on the same train might ask him what he thinks about the late former prime minister Samak Sundaravej's 2008 comment to the international press that only one person died in the massacre at Thammasat University on Oct 6, 1976.
The Thai man may perhaps reply, "Samak good cook. Red shirt number one!"
Twenty years from now, at a meeting to disband the Asean Economic Community (AEC), because a dysfunctional family just doesn't work, a Singaporean official may ask a Thai official of ammart background what he thought about the life and career Thaksin.
The Thai official might nervously reply, "I don't know! Why are you asking me this?! Let me check with His Excellence Panthongtae Shinawatra, glorious leader and prime minister for life, and then I'll get back to you. He'll tell me what I think!"
When he's back in Bangkok, to ward off evil omens, the Thai official may promptly make merit at the foot of the 20-metre-tall golden statue of Thaksin that stands in front of parliament house. At the base of the statue is a mounted plaque with the words "Father of Democracy".
That's the future, folks. Exaggerated, perhaps, but the grain of truth is clearly visible. The land of smiles or stupidity?
Of course, we are not, nor will we be clueless about everything. But we continue to insist on being clueless about the most important thing, which is who we are as a people and a nation, because we sweep history under the straw mat.
Today, the people of Thailand march for or against many things: monarchy, democracy, amnesty, corruption, Thaksin and all the rest. But who's going to stand up on behalf of the children in the classroom, the future of this nation?
History in the classroom, every other country has it. Why don't we?
Contact Voranai Vanijaka via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bangkok Post columnist
Voranai Vanijaka is a columnist, Bangkok Post.