Thai Studies, Harvard University and the problem with political lobbyists

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 26, 2014 It is an unfortunate reality that many areas of study at universities across the world will never have the same draw than others. Very often, the more exotic the area, the less attractive it is for most prospective students.

There can, however, be certain benefits to taking the road less traveled. With (theoretically) smaller student to faculty ratios and (theoretically) a broader range of topics to cover, the more exotic subjects provide students with an opportunity to study something that is substantially less crowded than, say, law, economics or medicine, engage in cultural and academic exchanges with foreign cultures, and maybe even become a rare expert in that area.

Despite being often ridiculed as such an exotic fringe subject (or as the Germans say an ”Orchideenfach”, comparing it to an orchid flower - small, expensive and useless according to some) by the general public, Thai Studies at foreign universities actually have a tradition going back several decades. Cornell University was the first in the United States to open a Thai Studies center in 1947.  Formal Thai-language education in Germany dates back to the 1930s. Today, a number of Thai Studies programs with vastly different specializations are being offered at universities worldwide.

One of the institutions that may, or may not, be added to this list is Harvard University in the United States, considered to be one of the elite universities in the world. That is the wish of Michael Herzfeld, professor of anthropology at Harvard and a key figure behind the initiative to establish a Thai Studies program there.

In 2012, the first seeds were sown:

On April 18, Thai Studies at Harvard was launched with an inaugural lecture on "Thailand at Harvard." (…)

The targeted $6 million in funds will enable the programme to provide Thai language instruction; fund a chair (professorship) of Thai studies; and host seminars, workshops, lectures, and a film series focusing on Thailand. (…)

Prof Herzfeld emphasised it was crucial to establish a Thai programme in perpetuity at Harvard. He maintains the only way to do so was to create a dedicated professorship and a dedicated programme of Thai language instruction, and seminars and lectures on Thailand across the entire university. These facilities would provide resources for people in the community who have interests in working in, or doing research about Thailand.

According to the plan, the chair of Thai studies would be open to researchers on Thailand from any academic discipline. This would be a tenured position for a senior professor and would have a title that includes the name of the chair. The incumbent could be of any nationality.

Harvard plans to launch Thai studies initiative”, The Nation, May 21, 2012

Last week, The Harvard Crimson - a student-run college newspaper - published an article by Harvard alumni Ilya Garger that focuses on the current state of the Thai Studies efforts, in particular its financing and its supporters:

(…) Harvard is collaborating with key supporters of the recent coup to create a permanent Thai Studies program at the university. These individuals, most prominently former Foreign Ministers Surin Pitsuwan and Surakiart Satirathai, have spearheaded a campaign to raise $6 million for the program, which they have characterized as a means of promoting Thailand’s monarchy and national interests. Professor Michael Herzfeld, who is leading the initiative, wrote in an emailed statement to me that the program would not be tied to specific political interests and Harvard conducts due diligence on its donors. (…)

(…) At a fundraising event I attended in Bangkok last August, Surakiart declared that the Thai Studies at Harvard was intended as “a program to honor the King.” (…)

(…) Surin used the word “beachhead” to describe the envisioned role of the Thai Studies program. (…) Surin announced donations from several tycoons, and said he was seeking funding for the program from the King’s Crown Property Bureau, which manages the monarch’s wealth of more than $30 billion.

The Thai Studies program’s proponents at Harvard include well-intentioned and politically astute individuals who are aware that the some of the money being raised comes with an agenda. Michael Herzfeld in particular has a strong record of standing up for academic freedom. Harvard must ensure that the program is funded and run transparently, and that it is not co-opted by coup apologists (…)

”Troubles with Thai Studies”, by Ilya Garger, The Harvard Crimson, August 18, 2014

The article also elaborates on Harvard University’s ties to members of the Thai royal family. That is likely the reason why the article and the allegations made in it got even more attention when it was taken off The Harvard Crimson’s website last Wednesday because of ”concerns about the personal safety of its author” during his stay in Thailand at the time of publishing.

”The fact that we were compelled to temporarily remove the piece certainly was surprising,” said Crimson president Sam Weinstock in an email reply to Asian Correspondent. "We avoid removing content from our website in all but extremely exceptional circumstances.” Weinstock also added that he is not aware if a similar situation has occurred before at the college newspaper.

Indeed, given the tone and sensitive issues raised in the article, the author might well have put himself in the crosshairs. An apparent death threat was made  against Garger by a Los Angeles-based Thai national on Facebook, but that reportedly happened after the removal of the critical article and also not on the Facebook pages of anybody directly involved.

A day later the article was put back up on the Crimson website with a note that the author Ilya Garger had left Thailand. The Hong Kong-based founder of a business research service told Asian Correspondent that the request to temporarily remove his article from The Harvard Crimson’s website ”wasn’t in response to any individual threat. (…) No one has personally contacted me with any threats, ” but admitted that the response to his article was ”stronger than expected.”

Garger added that the Thai Studies initiative at Harvard has progressed as far as it is has ”because relatively few people knew about it.” While lauding Prof. Herzfeld in his article for his strong standing for academic freedom, Garger thinks Herzfeld made ”too many concessions in exchange for donations. (…) I wrote the article because I think that with more scrutiny, this program will be carried out in a more responsible way.”

In the aforementioned article, two Thai politicians are named the main campaigners raising the estimated $6m for the Thai Studies program. One is Surakiart Sathirathai, former deputy prime minister under Thaksin Shinawatra, with whom he split after the military coup of 2006. The other man is Surin Pitsuwan, former foreign minister under Chuan Leekpai and 2013 ASEAN secretary-general. The latter publicly supported the anti-government protests (at least in their early stages) that preluded the military coup of May 22.

Both Harvard alumni, Surakiart and Surin invited members of the Harvard Club of Thailand for a fundraiser evening in August last year. The event, which was attended by high-ranking members of the Democrat Party (as shown in a ThaiPBS news report), held a reception for Michael Herzfeld and Jay Rosengard of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

In the invitation seen by Asian Correspondent, Mr. Surakiart and Mr. Surin called for a permanent Thai Studies program ”for the benefits of our own Thai people,” but also ”Harvard scholars and students to learn Thai, to study our rich history and our proud culture” in order ”to offer solutions to our issues of the day within a larger global context, to help increase competitiveness of our human resources, to raise our profile and that of our products and services, among others.”

The event also highlighted the need for scholarships and fellowships to Harvard University are for Thai students ”less privileged than us” and a need for Thai professors ”hold prominent teaching and research positions” at the Thai Studies program at Harvard.

Herzfeld declined to respond to Asian Correspondent’s questions about the Crimson article, and also more general questions about the current progress of the Thai Studies initiative. Instead, we were referred to a Harvard spokesman, who issued a statement  saying that ”faculty searches and appointments are conducted independently, and faculty members determine and pursue their own research interests and teaching” whenever donations are accepted.

The involvement of Thai politicians and apparent supporters of Thailand’s recent military coup shows the difficult relationship between academia and politics, especially when it comes to fundraising. It remains to be seen that due diligence will be conducted in the creation of a Thai Studies program at one of the top ranked universities in the world, and whether the initiative will spawn a multi-disciplinary and critical program that upholds academic freedom or it becomes solely a training ground for Thailand’s political elites.

Siam Voices 2013 review – Part 4: Hey, teachers! Allow those kids to grow

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 30, 2013 In the penultimate part of the Siam Voices 2013 year in review, we look at an important but often neglected issue: education

As regular readers may know, we often have talked about Thailand's lagging education system, which has a lot of problems in a lot of areas. Whether it's ridiculous questions being asked in the annual O-Net testsquestionable standardization of these tests, poor PISA scoreshorrendous English-language training and thus proficiency, or virtually non-existent sexual education, most Thais are in agreement that something needs to be done about it if the country doesn't want to fall behind its neighbors competitively. Thailand's standard of education is already a concern for foreign companies operating in Thailand.

And again in 2013 the international education listings and surveys did not show any signs of improvement. The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013 ranked Thailand's education dead last among ASEAN countries, Thailand's English proficiency is "low" according to a survey by Education First, although the trend is showing a slight improvement. The same goes for the OECD's PISA survey, in which Thailand makes some improvement in reading and science. Amidst such results, Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang (already the fourth during Yingluck's tenure), acknowledged that the country's education system is severely outdated and needs an overhaul.

Yet the Yingluck Shinawatra government's most notable education policy is the pricey "one tablet per child"-scheme, which needs some time (like most education policies) to see its results. The problem that has been plaguing this and past administrations is that Thailand spends a lot on its education with little improvement to show for it. Nevertheless, some issues were tackled this year, such as plans to reduce the study hours from over 1,000 to 600-800 a year, reduce  the home-workload or link teacher payment to the student performance.

But as many pointed out, there are far more deeper problems with the education system...

Thai students have an altogether different impression. In Thai schools, a drill sergeant’s dream of regimentation rooted in the military dictatorships of the past, discipline and enforced deference prevail.

At a public school in this industrial Bangkok suburb, teachers wield bamboo canes and reprimand students for long hair, ordering it sheared on the spot. Students are inspected for dirty fingernails, colored socks or any other violation of the school dress code. (…) a system that stresses unquestioned obedience.

In Thailand’s Schools, Vestiges of Military Rule“, by Thomas Fuller, New York Times, May 28, 2013

Indeed. That archaic attitude is being reflected in widespread rote learning and repetitious memorization methods, but also the fact that Thailand is one of the last few countries left in world which requires university students to wear uniforms. Also, school children have strict haircut guidelines that were relaxed this year.

But what this year also showed is that more resistance is forming against the old ways of learning and teaching. There's the Anti-SOTUS group that calls for an end to the harsh hazing rituals at universities. We also saw the Facebook campaign by "Frank" Nethiwit Chotpatpaisan against the "mechanic" education system and oppressive school rules, going as far as declare himself "sick of Thainess". In a final display of his principles this year, the opinionated and strong-willed 11th-grader rejected a nomination by the National Human Rights Commission, criticizing its callousness towards the 2010 crackdown and the report it produced.

Then there's the Thammasat University student provocateur nicknamed "Aum Neko", who protested against compulsory uniforms with racy and suggestive posters, much to the annoyance of fellow students and university officials. Aum Neko is no stranger to controversy (having casually posed on the lap of Thammasat’s founder Pridi Banomyong's statue last year) as a TV reporter rather pompously filed a lèse majesté complaint against the student for comments she made in an interview months earlier. Earlier this month, in the middle of the anti-government protests, Aum Neko got into trouble again for protesting against Thammasat's perceived siding with the protesters, as she attempted to take down the Thai national flag and replace it with a black banner. That led to even stronger reactions by fellow students and officials (one vice rector even wrote on his Facebook page that he would "trample" her). She is now facing expulsion from the university.

What all these stories from the past 12 months show is that Thailand's education (and not only that) still has yet to adapt to a changing social and cultural landscape and is in desperate need of a system that can accommodate the growing diversity of (free) thinking, opinions, access to knowledge and lifestyles. This will require the will to completely overhaul the education system (which also means dealing with the aging bureaucratic structures and curriculum) and the necessary time to grow to fruition - and that is more time than the average duration of governments in Thailand.

The Siam Voices 2013 year in review series concludes tomorrow! Read all parts here: Part 1: Politics - Part 2: Lèse Majesté & the media - Part 3: The Rohingya - Part 4: Education and reform calls - Part 5: What else happened?

Thailand: Uniform protest student accused of insulting monarchy

Originally published at Siam Voices on September 17, 2013 On Monday we reported on the Thammasat University student and her provocative poster campaign against student uniforms.

Now, the controversial student known as "Aum Neko" is facing more trouble:

A TV show host has accused the student known for her campaign against mandatory uniform wearing of insulting the monarchy.

Ms. Ponnipa Supatnukul, 41, the host of a talk show called "Best of Your Life" which is broadcast on a satellite TV channel, filed the complaint to the police in Nonthaburi Province, invoking Article 112 of the Criminal Codes which criminalises insults to the Royal Family. (...)

The student, who goes by her nickname Aum Neko, was interviewed in a talk show hosted by Ms. Pontipa 3 months ago, according to Ms. Pontipa. In the show, she said, she talked to Ms. Aum and 20 other Thammasat students about the impact of economic slowdown on students′ livelihood.

Ms. Pontipa claimed that Ms. Aum shocked everyone by "talking outside the topic" and "insulting the higher institution", a term referring to the monarchy. Ms. Aum's words were "so shocking we could not broadcast the show", Ms. Pontipa said, but she has nevertheless stored footage of the interview.

She claimed that she decided to pursue a legal action against Ms. Aum because she was incensed by the student′s continued defamation of the monarchy. Ms. Pontipa also alleged that Ms. Aum is encouraging other students to commit similar crimes.

"Lese Majeste Complaint Against Reformist Student", Khaosod English, September 16, 2013

The complainant made sure that the filing of her charge was well-documented as she let somebody film the process at the police station and posted it later on Facebook. She also had a few press members in tow.

Ms. Ponnipa also provided the officer with documents given by an unnamed Thammasat lecturer that includes personal details about "Aum Neko" including her actual gender by birth (she is a transgender woman), her actual name, birth date and personal ID number - which Ms. Ponnipa also willingly let the cameras film (a reason why I decided against embedding the video, as it was accompanied by an audible cackle by one of the bystanders).

While the nature of the offending comments allegedly made by the student has yet to be disclosed, Prachatai reports that the complainant pointed to a Facebook post by "Aum Neko" that apparently crossed the line for the TV host, as it criticized the pre-screening of Royal tribute movies at cinemas, where standing up is mandatory. In the same report, "Aum Neko" herself has expressed "shock and much anger" as she cannot believe that others would resort to "dirty means" in order to discredit her.

One really has to question the motives and the way Ms. Ponnipa filed her lèse majesté charge, since she was sitting on the alleged offensive remarks for months just to use them against her right now after the anti-uniform campaign gained more attention. Also, she repeatedly showed suggestive pictures of the accused, trying to make the point that such an offence can only be made by an (from her viewpoint) "immoral" person, while repeatedly positively mentioning the virtues of His Majesty and her perceived duty to protect it.

There have been lèse majesté complaints in the past of similar frivolous and spiteful nature: just last Friday a court acquitted a man of lèse majesté, after his own brother filed charges against him in what was a very apparent a long-standing sibling rivalry turned ugly. (It is worth noting that the alleged anti-monarchy comments in this case were made in private, which would have had catastrophic ramifications in case of a conviction). The man was imprisoned for a whole year and repeatedly denied bail while his case was pending.

Another example is the case of actor Pongpat Wachirabanjong's rousing pro-monarchy speech in 2010 (“If you hate our Father, if you don’t love our Father anymore, then you should get out of here!“), after which one person (mostly likely facetiously) accused him of improper language. Unsurprisingly, the case was dropped.

These and many more cases show one of several weak points of the Kingdom's draconian law that can be punished with up to 15 years in prison: since anybody can file a charge against anybody, the police have to investigate every complaint and nearly all cases end up in court. The probability of this law being used out of contempt against outspokenness is very high and ultimately can undermine the purpose of the law: to protect the country's monarchy.

Racy posters spark uniform debate at Thai university

Originally published at Siam Voices on September 16, 2013 The ongoing debate on student uniforms takes a racy turn, as one student's poster campaign challenges the necessity of uniforms at Thammasat University.

They're a common sight everywhere you go: young women in white blouses and black skirts or young men in white dress shirts and black dress pants, sometimes with belt buckles (in the case of the girls only held by a few binder clips) or pins sporting their university logos.

Thailand is one of the very few countries left in the world - next to neighboring Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam - that requires students to wear uniforms even at university level. While the wearing of uniforms is mandatory at every academic institution in the country, how strict the rules are enforced varies from place to place and is mostly up to the teaching personnel.

And every now and then there is some controversy about the outfits students are wearing, mostly about their interpretation. For example back in 2009, the directors of the nation's top tier universities Chulalongkorn and Thammasat in Bangkok complained about female students wearing uniforms that are "too sexy" and "inappropriate" - a publicly announced clampdown by both universities fell flat. Then in 2011, a similar short-lived uproar by education officials took place after a Japanese news website poll listed Thailand's student uniforms as "the sexiest in the world."

However, the questions about the necessity of uniforms at higher education level and its effects on student performance is rarely asked.

Several posters were plastered across notice boards in early September at Thammasat University's Rangsit campus on the northern outskirts of Bangkok. The four different motives have slogans such as "Isn't sex more exciting with student uniforms?", "Were you required to wear a uniform at your last midterms?", "When student uniforms are being challenged" and "Free humanity from the shackles" while depicting couples (both hetero and homosexual) having sex.

These were the creation of a transgender female liberal arts student at Thammasat University nicknamed "Aum Neko", who shows her opposition to the mandatory uniform rule after it emerged that students were not allowed to take part in an exam in a compulsory freshmen course as they were not wearing the required uniforms.

In the Bangkok Post, she explains the reasons for her protest and why she chose the provocative motives:

"Personally, I believe in liberalism. I believe that 'forcing' students to wear uniforms at university level is an insult to their intellect and humanity. You are using the power of uniforms to control, not only their bodies, but their behaviour and thoughts." About the provocative posters, in which she poses as one of the models, Aum Neko said that the main concept is to tie the uniform, which traditionally represents goodness and morality, together with sex, which represents wickedness, something that shouldn't be expressed.

"Uniform opinions", Bangkok Post, September 11, 2013

An extensive interview with Prachatai goes more in-depth about the motives and themes of her posters, explains why no fellow female students were taking part in the campaign and what she believes her university is supposed to stand for.

Unsurprisingly, the poster campaign has sparked debate on social and mainstream media on the necessity of student uniforms, but also about the 'inappropriateness' and shock value of the posters - with plenty of support and condemnation towards Aum. Thammasat University announced that it will conduct a disciplinary review of her actions (she caused another stir last year by casually posing on the lap of the statue of the university's founder Pridi Banomyong), as some social media users are calling for her expulsion. However, Thammasat will also set up a committee consisting of lecturers and students to "to investigate the issue and come up with solutions."

The story also raises the question whether or not the university is still maintaining it's liberal-democratic roots, as its students have historically been politically active in the past - but the internal debate on the lèse majesté law (which bizarrely featured journalism students protesting against the reformists) has put the institution at odds with itself.

While on the surface the debate over student uniforms may appear to be just a superficial issue, it is one of many aspects in Thailand's militaristic education system that reinforces uniformity and obedience, since for Thai conservatives these are still the most important characteristics of our education - while Thailand's society has changed and is more than ready to move on.

The fight against Thailand's archaic and militaristic education system

Originally published at Siam Voices on May 31, 2013 We have previously highlighted the dismal state of Thailand's education system and have explored the various reasons for its failures: from ridiculous questions being asked in the annual O-Net tests, questionable standardization of these tests, to poor PISA scoreshorrendous English-language training and thus proficiency or virtually non-existent sexual education - there're a lot of problem spots that doesn't bode well for the present but also for the (near-)future of the country economically, but also culturally.

Previous governments have only thrown more money at the problem and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, while promising on a press conference after her election victory in 2011 to shift the focus on "life-long learning", her administration's best known education policy has been so far handing out free tablet PCs. But the problems lie much deeper.

The New York Times recently ran a story pointing to the root cause of our aching education system:

Thai students have an altogether different impression. In Thai schools, a drill sergeant’s dream of regimentation rooted in the military dictatorships of the past, discipline and enforced deference prevail.

At a public school in this industrial Bangkok suburb, teachers wield bamboo canes and reprimand students for long hair, ordering it sheared on the spot. Students are inspected for dirty fingernails, colored socks or any other violation of the school dress code.

(...) a system that stresses unquestioned obedience.

"In Thailand’s Schools, Vestiges of Military Rule", by Thomas Fuller, New York Times, May 28, 2013

This unquestioned discipline also reflects in the learning methods: rote learning, repetitious memorization is still widespread in Thai classrooms.

Another apparent factor is the enforced uniformity of Thai students: apart from the uniforms - Thailand is one of very few countries worldwide that requires even university students to wear uniforms - Thai schoolchildren have strict guidelines of hair cuts (boys have to wear a crew cut, girls can't grow their hair longer than the neckline and dyeing is absolutely prohibited) from very early on.

But this archaic regulation (dating back to 1972 during the military dictatorship of Thanom Kittikachorn) is undergoing a change since earlier this year, as the Education Ministry is proposing to relax these rules following a recommendation by the National Human Rights Commission, (NHRC) as we have previously reported and commented:

Hair on Thai school children’s heads has become a national policy issue. The student hair debate has been simmering and finally came to a boil after a schoolboy filed a complaint with the NHRC in December 2011. The complaint said that the school regulation prohibiting all hairstyles except the crew cut for boys and ear-lobe-length bob for girls is in violation of children’s human rights and that the schools allowing selected students such as those engaged in classical art performances to wear long hair is discrimination against other students subject to the hair rule. (...)

Since the student’s complaint to the NHRC in 2011 made the news, academics, policy makers, government officials and leading thinkers have weighed in with both pros and cons. The larger public recently jumped into the fray following the NHRC ruling in November 2012 and the decision by the education ministry just before Children’s Day. (...)

Perhaps these people are oblivious to the new reality that Thailand is in the midst of change - more young Thais are now getting a taste of questioning and blind obedience can no longer be taken for granted. Today’s Thai youth are rushing headlong into the 21st century, only to be pulled back by the hair - so to speak - by arcane rules. However, at least some Thai grown-ups are beginning to appreciate the children’s frustration. But enough to set them free?

"Thailand: What has hair got to do with children’s rights?", by Kaewmala/Siam Voices, Asian Correspondent, January 13, 2013

The aforementioned New York Times article also highlights another campaign to modernize education:

Late last year, a freethinking Thai high school student, Nethiwit Chotpatpaisan, who goes by the nickname Frank, started a Facebook campaign calling for the abolition of the “mechanistic” education system. Together with like-minded friends, he started a group called the Thailand Educational Revolution Alliance. He rose to national prominence in January after speaking out on a prime-time television program.

“School is like a factory that manufactures identical people,” he said one recent morning at his school, Nawaminthrachinuthit Triam Udomsuksa Pattanakarn, (...) Frank described the teachers there as “dictators” who order students to “bow, bow, bow” and never to contradict them.

"In Thailand’s Schools, Vestiges of Military Rule", by Thomas Fuller, New York Times, May 28, 2013

Indeed there is now growing resistance to the status quo in the classrooms and, surprisingly enough, has found an unlikely ally in current Education Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana - at least to the New York Times reporter. But at least a few changes are being implemented: aside from the hair cuts, the number of school hours will be shaved off from 1,000-1,200 to 800 hours per year, in line with UNESCO recommendations.

But there needs to be a lot more to be done - like the lacking reading culture despite Bangkok being named World Book Capital 2013, the problem of corruption for school admissions while also planning to close down smaller schools or also the abusive culture of rite-of-passage rituals among first-year university students - all these and much more need a fundamental thorough overhaul not only to the curriculum, but also to the attitude towards teaching and preparing our children for the future to lead and not to follow.

Thailand in 2012 - Some personal thoughts (Part 2)

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 29, 2012 This is the second and final part of the Siam Voices year-in-review. Yesterday in part 1, we looked at the year of prime minister's government, that of the opposition and the prevailing impunity over the 2010 crackdown.

Lese majeste: Cowardice in the face of first victim

One topic we expected to continue to play a role in 2012 is the draconian lèse majesté law and its unjust application to crack down on alleged dissent voices. And in many ways - despite the release of Thai-American Joe Gordon and an 'only' suspended sentence against Prachatai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn for not deleting monarchy-insulting web comments quickly enough - it unfortunately still made headlines for the wrong reasons.

The death of Amphon "Akong" Tangnoppakul marked what could be argued the first victim of lèse majesté. The 64-year-old retiree was serving a 20 year sentence for allegedly sending four defamatory text messages to the personal secretary of Abhisit Vejjajiva (despite inconclusive evidence). Having repeatedly being denied bail and suffering bad health, Akong died in detention on May 8. Obviously, his death sparked universal condemnation against the law - almost: Thailand politicians showed little sympathy and interest to do something about the arbitrary law, with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra insisting not to do anything to change Article 112 of the Criminal Code.

Up until this point, the heated discussion about how to amend or if not abolish the law altogether was ongoing. Leading this debate was the Nitirat group, a collective of reformist law academics from Thammasat University, amidst considerable uproar. And it was that university that had a reputation for being one of the more liberal institutions in this country that was struggling and battling with itself, which led to one of the most astonishing sights of this year: of all people, journalism students (!) were seen protesting against Nitirat and the reform of the lèse majesté law by saying “Don’t use knowledge to distort morality!”

The chances that the law will be somehow changed (or even just remotely touched by politicians) remain slim as two incidents have shown that it is untouchable: the Constitutional Court rejected a petition by Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and Ekachai Hongkangwan, both currently on trial for lèse majesté, as it does not see the constitutional right to free speech being violated by Article 112 of the Criminal Code. In another story, a bill petition proposing to amend the law - signed by over 30,000 - was dismissed by the speaker of the parliament.

Meanwhile earlier this week, a former stockbroker has been sentenced to four years in prison under the equally flawed Computer Crimes Act for spreading "false information".

Emerging neighbors: Thailand's geo-political opportunities and blunders

This past year showed the rapid rise of neighboring Myanmar, as the country carefully progresses economically and politically - despite the unmasking of the ugly side of the Burmese pro-democracy movement regarding the genocide against the Rohingya - and other countries of course are in a gold rush mood, as they see new investment opportunities and also to grow their regional influence.

Thailand was one of the few countries that already did business with its neighbor before the change and the upcoming industrial area and deep sea port in Dawei on Myanmar's west coast is the biggest of them. But we reported at the beginning of this year that the mega-project ran into some problems and also caused the Thai government to reconsider their commitment. However, after a visit by Prime Minister Yingluck to Myanmar it seems to be on track again.

A different story shows how Thailand has lost some regional credibility: When NASA planned to use the Thai naval airbase in U-Tapao for atmospheric research study, the opposition Democrat Party drummed up nationalistic outrage and tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorists came out crawling again - conveniently forgetting that...

Officials have noted that the Democrats, now opposed to the NASA initiative, approved the program while in power in 2010 and that it would not entail the use of military aircraft.

"Baseless controversy over Thailand's U-Tapao", Asia Times One, June 22, 2012

It was petty domestic political squabbles that eventually led the annoyed NASA to kill the project and gave Thailand a huge slap to the face geo-politically for not being able to sort itself out.

While the prime minister was busy traveling the world this year to bolster economical ties (read our exclusive report on her visit to Germany and France here), Thailand needs to take charge in the ASEAN region (and without looking down on its neighbors), if it doesn't want to loose relevancy.

The exploits of "ThaiMiniCult" in 2012: Mammophobia!

Of course it wouldn't be Siam Voices if we wouldn't monitor the self-proclaimed cultural heralds of everything “Thai”-ness - or in short "ThaiMiniCult". And while this year they have been noticeably less outraged in quantity, there were still instances when we could only shake our heads.

There was for example the ThaiMiniCult that was rumored (and thank god it was only a rumor) to order that "100 per cent males" shouldn't play transgender roles on TV. Or some arbitrary survey that blames Facebook for teen pregnancies, only to find out that it was lazy journalism that caused that headline, while the real problem of nearly non-existing sexual education is being swept under the carpet. Or the MP that was caught looking up some naughty pictures on his phone in parliament.

But probably the most noticeable media outrage (and also the most-clicked Siam Voices story of 2012) was the 'controversy' over the literally bare-breasted painting performance on the TV show "Thailand's Got Talent" that caused one of the judges to throw a sanctimonious tantrum on national TV and a moral witch-hunt. In the end, it turns out that the producers have "hired" her for a staged controversy. However, given how Thais reacted (or claimed to react) to this brouhaha, it was in many ways revealing.

What else happened this year? (in no particular order)

- The four-part series on Thai Education Failures by our regular Siam Voices contributor Kaewmala is a must-read! Be it ridiculous O-Net questions, questionable standardization, our poor international performance and lacking English proficiencies - our archaic education system is in dire need of change! And what does the Pheu Thai government do? Give away free tablets...!

- A rape case in Krabi, the disgusting denial by the Thai tourism minister in order to 'protect' the image and a father's creative plea for justice.

- Thais being outraged by five tourist douchebags cutting down a tree while most population doesn't give a damn about their own environmental lifestyle and willingly plastic-bags everything...!

- Thais being outraged at Lady Gaga for tweeting the intention of buying a fake Rolex while most of the population otherwise willingly ignores the countless counterfeit markets, and after campaigns by outraged religious groups in the Philippines and Indonesia to ban her concerts, looking rather silly and childish...!

- The Thai senator who accidentally shot his wife...or secretary...or cousin...with an uzi...or not...!

- In upside-down world news this year: The reactionary right-wing ASTV/Manager (media outlet of the anti-democratic yellow shirts) accuses the blatantly anti-Thaksin The Nation (an attempt of a newspaper) of being pro-Thaksin - mind blown!

- "Double, double toil and trouble;" - Thailand's movie adaptation of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" gets banned, but not for the depiction of regicide, rather for the depiction of another "Dear Leader" and the disparagement of his followers.

- Three Iranian terrorists literally blowing up their cover on Valentine's Day in the middle of Bangkok after a warning by the United States Embassy and the immediate arrest of a Hezbollah suspect a month before that and the tweeting motorcycle taxi driver that got the scoop of his lifetime. And deputy prime minister Chalerm Yubamrung as the spiritual successor of the former Iraqi information minister by saying that there's "absolutely no terrorism" in the kingdom.

- Deputy prime minister Chalerm Yubamrung as our new regular contributor to the "Tongue-Thai’ed!"-segments and coming up with the most creative name for the new command center in the South!

- The tsunami scare in April and the failure of Thai TV to inform the public because of a royal cremation ceremony.

- The Dhammakāya Movement's newest revelation: the afterlife of Apple's Steve Jobs...!

- The visit of US President Barack Obama to Thailand, and his meeting with Yingluck Shinwatra and half of the internet not able to be mature about it.

- The Bangkok Futsal Arena fiasco, as the city has failed to construct a purposed-built arena in time for FIFA Futsal World Cup and thus embarrassing themselves on a world stage.

- The return of the fraudulent bomb-sniffing device also known as the GT200, essentially a horrendously overpriced empty plastic shell with a dowsing rod. It's ineffectiveness has been proven since 2010, but it has emerged that the bogus device is still in use by the armed forces for the simple reason that there's "no alternative" but to keep on using it until there's a replacement, while soldiers are unnecessarily risking their lives more than they should because of this fraud, whose UK manufacturer has been charged this year.

- Thailand has FINALLY reached the early 21st century with the arrival of real 3G network coverage after an eternal farce and one last court decision - while neighboring Laos is preparing for 4G already...!

- And last, but not least: The still undisputed, most coherent article by The Nation - EVER!

I’d like to thank my co-writers and editors at Siam Voices and Asian Correspondent for their contributions and work this year, and YOU, the readers, for the support, feedback, criticism, links and retweets! Here’s to an eventful, exciting 2013 that brings us news, changes, developments to discuss and report for all the right reasons! Happy New Year!

Pupils' hunger strike exposes corruption in Thai school admissions

Originally published at Siam Voices on May 31, 2012 SEE UPDATE AND CORRECTION BELOW!

A hunger strike by schoolchildren who have been barred from advancing to the upper secondary level at their Bangkok school has highlighted the ever-existing problem of corruption when it comes to parents finding a place to learn for their children in Thailand.

Last year we looked at then education minister Woravat Auapinyakul's remarks concerning the long-existing practice of tea money for school admissions. But instead of combatting this customary bribing for a better education, Woravut has suggested to make these more 'transparent' - while still enabling children from richer social backgrounds to have a more competitive edge over others.

Now, under the new education minister Suchart Thada-Thamrongvech, the victims of this common 'tradition' had enough and staged a hunger strike:

Four students of Bodindecha (Sing Singhaseni) School continued their protest at Government House for a second day yesterday, calling on school management to admit all Matthayom 3 [Grade 9] students into Matthayom 4 [Grade 10] to further their studies at the school.

[Education Minister Suchart Thada-Thamrongvech] said he believed the students were being used as a political tool by a certain group of people. He instructed the Office of Basic Education Commission to lodge a police complaint against the people he believes are behind the protest. The minister refused to name the people he suspected.

The protesting students said they finished Matthayom 3 at Bodindecha school with a GPA of over 2.0, but were not selected to continue their studies because the management had allocated some seats for new students.

"‘Politics’ behind hunger strike", Bangkok Post, May 21, 2012

Suchart's suspicions of some political conspiracy are typical of the tendency to try to solve a problem at the end, rather than at its roots. What groups does he think could be utilizing teenagers for a hunger strike? Or is he trying to deflect the attention from the bribes problem?

Nevertheless, the education ministry actually intervened:

The Education Ministry has told Bodindecha (Sing Singhaseni) School to accept 57 students it earlier rejected and ordered a probe against the director for bribery.

The move ended the hunger strike of four students outside Government House which started on Friday in an attempt to pressure the authorities.

The ministry's order came after a meeting between Pornpichit Sukannan, adviser to Education Minister Suchart Thada-Thamrongvech, and parents who suspected irregularities in the school's admission system after their children were denied seats.

"School bribe inquiry ordered", Bangkok Post, May 22, 2012

Whether or not the investigation will result in anything remains to be seen, as the Anti-Money Laundering Office has received a petition investigate another 20 school heads for bribery. At least this intervention gave the students and their parents some peace of mind to plan the next few years in school until a day later...

Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec) secretary-general Chinnapat Bhumirat said Bodindecha (Sing Singhaseni) School has admission regulations and education management standards to uphold and cannot accept as many students as it had agreed.

The move reversed an agreement between Pornpichit Sukannan, an adviser to Education Minister Suchart Thada-Thamrongvech, and parents on Monday that the school would enrol all 57. Obec's decision follows a meeting yesterday between parents, Obec representatives and the education minister.

The decision sparked uproar from parents. One left a note in the meeting room accusing the Education Ministry of leaving the children scarred. (...) Mr Chinnapat said the agency will try its best to find places for students who miss out and called on parents to try to understand.

"School about-turn angers parents", Bangkok Post, May 23 , 2012

So, the education ministry has prematurely stormed forward with a too-simple solution that is now crumbled by an apparently very strict system.

For the families and their children the past weeks have been one single up-and-down experience, as they have been simply lucked out for betting on school grades alone to advance to upper secondary level instead of paying a bit extra. In a last-ditch move, a group of parents and schoolchildren, after having submitting a petition to prime minister Yingluck Shinatwatra, have now approached General Prem Tinsulanonda, the president of the privy council, for help.

However, even if the teenagers will get a place at Bodindecha or some other school, this still doesn't solve the problem of paying bribes for a school admission. Even worse, there have been already reports of bullying against the protesting students, who eventually got to continue attending at that school.

UPDATE: In a bizarre development on Thursday, education minister Suchart is going to sue the student protesters and their parents for "providing wrong information to the press and even burning an effigy" of him. He also stated that the whole conflict was sparked from a "misunderstanding, that their children are not allowed admission because of 'tea money'."

CORRECTION: Contrary to what is reported in the news snippets, a number of the striking children are apparently well below the required score to technically advance to upper secondary level. The corresponding sentence in the post has been struck through. Apologies to our readers!

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Hamburg, Germany. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and on Facebook here.

Did Thai report really say Facebook 'causes teen pregnancy'?

Originally published at Siam Voices on March 5, 2012 Last week, we have reported on a report by the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) that suggests that "Facebook partly causes teen pregnancies". While this assertion is still totally laughable, I grew somehow skeptical about the English language article the previous post was based on.

Upon further study of the original report titled "Social Situation and Outlook 2011" (original title: "ภาวะสังคมไทยไตรมาสสี่ และภาพรวมปี 2554", PDF here) - there were a few discrepancies that might suggest that some lazy journalism was at work here and the NESDB might not sound completely ridiculous.

For example there was that last sentence here...

The public health survey in 2010 indicated that out of 760,000 babies born, 411,000 had died. The NESDB said that the figure shows that a number of mothers decided to have abortion.

NESDB: Facebook partly cause of teen pregnancies“, National News Bureau of Thailand , February 28, 2012

Over a half of the babies born have died within that year? Not really - according to UNICEF, Thailand just has an infant mortality rate of 1,1 per cent. Also, a look into the report reveals on page 15 that of the precisely 766,370 babies that were born that year, 105,487 of these pregnancies were carried out by mothers aged 20 years (13.76 per cent) - higher than the Asian average.

So, where does this monumental screw-up come from? Well, the same page indicates that  411,311 people of ALL ages have died in 2010. Simply put, that 'reporter' - deliberately or not - has taken the total grand mortality figure and wrote this as the infant mortality rate!

But does the NESDB report differs from the negative press coverage on the notion whether or not Facebook is partly to be blamed for teen pregnancies? Let's take a look - in the chapter "The number of revealing, inappropriate pictures in the online community is increasing, including children and youths" ("การเผยแพร่ภาพไม่่เหมาะสมในสังคมออนไลน์มี จํานวนเพ่ิมขึ้นและเป็นกรณีเด็กและเยาวชน มากขึ้น") it says:

ทั้งนี้ ในภาวะที่มีการขยายตัวของเครือข่ายทาง สังคมในโลกออนไลน์เช่น Facebook (...) มีผู้ใช้ เพ่ิมข้ึนอย่างรวดเร็ว โดยในปี 2554 เพิ่มข้ึนจากปี 2553 ถึงร้อยละ 96.3 โดย กลุ่มเยาวชนช่วงอายุ 18-24 ปีเป็นกลุ่มผู้ใช้ Facebook ท่ีใหญ่ที่สุดคิดเป็นสัดส่วนเกือบร้อยละ40ของผู้ใช้ท้ังหมด

And thus, with the presence of expanding online communities like Facebook (...) which has user base is rapidly growing at a rate of 96.3 per cent between 2010 and 2011. The biggest group of Facebook users are the youths between 18-24 years of age, which counts for 40 per cent of all users.

ปัญหาการใช้เทคโนโลยีไปในทางที่ผิดนั้นมีผลกระทบต่อเน่ืองตามมาต่อ (...) ชีวิตเด็กและเยาวชนมากมาย เช่น ก่อให้เกิด อาชญากรรม การล่อลวง ละเมิดทางเพศ การแสวงหาผลประโยชน์ทางเพศจากเด็กและเยาวชน และการต้ังครรภ์ก่อนวัยอันควร นำไปสู่ปัญหาการทำแท้ง (...) ซึึ่่งปััจจุุบัันมีีมากขึ้นต่อเน่ืองและกลุ่มเด็กวัยรุ่นรวมถึงเยาวชนมักเกิดพฤติกรรมเลียนแบบและซึมซับในสิ่งท่่ีเห็นซ้ําๆ

The problem of  the wrong usage of such technology has several consequences on the (...) life of children and youths, which could cause crime, fraud, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and youth, and unwanted underage pregnancies, which lead to abortion (...) a problem that has increased in the present. Groups from teenagers to youths might imitate what they have seen over and over again.

"ภาวะสังคมไทยไตรมาสสี่ และภาพรวมปี 2554", NESDB, pp. 13-14 - translation by me

So, essentially they say Facebook might be a cause among many for teen pregnancies - if used improperly. While the authors of the report do not put the blame entirely on the social media network, they are concerned about the rapid speed where young people can share stuff online with each other and also that youths are easily enticed to do what their peers are doing or whatever the mass media is broadcasting.

However, the tone of the report is not as dogmatic as I initially thought - it even offers some  sensible advice (and by that I do not mean "playing football")

วัยรุ่นไทยมีเพศสัมพันธ์เร็วขึ้น สาเหตุมาจากเด็ก ได้รับสิ่งยั่วยุ ไม่ว่าจะเป็นการแต่งตัว การเลียนแบบ การใช้สื่ออินเทอร์เน็ต เกมออนไลน์ ภาพยนตร์ นิตยสารท่ีย่ัวยุทางเพศทําให้เกิดแรง กระตุ้นอยากมีเพศสัมพันธ์ ซ่ึงจะนําไปสู่การตั้งครรภ์ โดยไม่พึงประสงค์และการทําแท้ง

Thai youths have increasingly more sexual intercourse, because of enticement. Whether it's by fashion, imitation, the internet, online games, movies, glossy magazines that causes sexual tension [or arousal?], fueling the urge to have sexual intercourse, which may result in unwanted teen pregnancies and abortions.

แนวทางการป้องกัน - Guidelines

วัยรุ่นควรได้รับการอบรมและฝึกให้มีทักษะในการปฏิเสธในสถานการณ์ต่างๆ (...) การศึกษาพบว่าสถานที่ ที่นักเรียนระดับมัธยม ศึกษาปีท่ี2 มีเพศสัมพันธ์ครั้งแรก อันดับแรกร้อยละ 71.1 คือบ้านเพื่อน/บ้านตนเอง (สํานักระบาดวิทยา 2552) เทศกาลต่างๆ โดยเฉพาะเทศกาลวันแห่งความรัก เป็นจุดเริ่มต้นสําคัญอันดับหนึ่งท่ีทําให้วัยรุ่นมีพฤติกรรมชิงสุกก่อนห่าม ร้อยละ 47 (รู้ใจวัย รุ่นไทย: สื่อรักวาเลนไทน์ 2554)

Teenagers should taught to able to say 'no' in various situations. (...) Studies have found out that the most preferred place for Matayom 2 students [about 13-14 years old] to have sex for the first time is the friend's or his/her own home with 71.1 per cent (Source: สํานักระบาดวิทยา 2552) and special occasions, especially on Valentine's Day are an important day for 47 per cent of the teenagers to have 'premature behavior' [?] (Source: รู้ใจวัย รุ่นไทย: สื่อรักวาเลนไทน์ 2554)

ระดับครอบครัว/ชุมชน พ่อ-แม่ ต้องมีมุมมองเชิงบวกในเร่ืองเพศ เปิดใจรับฟังปัญหา ให้ความเอาใจใส่ ดูแลและให้ความร้กความอบอุ่น แนะนําและสอนให้รู้ถึงข้อดี/ข้อเสียของการมีเพศสัมพันธ์ก่อนวัยอันควร ร่วมกันมีส่วนร่วมในการพัฒนาและบ่มเพาะวุฒิภาวะให้กับเด็กและเยาวชน

Families, communities, parents have to have a positive perspective regards to gender, be open to listen to their problems, give support, warmth and reassurance, inform about the pros and cons of sex, in order to [help] develop and advance the children and youths.

"ภาวะสังคมไทยไตรมาสสี่ และภาพรวมปี 2554", NESDB, p. 15 - translation by me

However, I see a few problems here. First off, as it has been previously often mentioned here on Siam Voices, Thailand has a fundamental problem with sexual education and a fundamental lack to acknowledge sexuality as normal. With that in mind, it is doubtful whether or not on a grander (the society, the community) or on a smaller (the family, the parents) scale anyone could give sensible advice to a young person during the terribly exciting and excitingly terrible life period of puberty.

And second, one of the pieces of advice above suggests kids should stand up for themselves and say 'no' sometimes. Again, given the sorry state of our education system (see Kaewmala's brilliant series of posts on this here, here and here), how can you be taught to take care of yourself and to be a critically-thinking individual, when everything in else in school you are being taught is to follow suit?

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Hamburg, Germany. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and also on his public Facebook page here.

Arbitrary Thai survey blames Facebook for teen pregnancies

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 28, 2012 We recently had Valentine's Day and like every year, the Thai Moral Taliban Police has been patrolling the streets to crack down on young lovebirds who might commit the crime of love (making) - since some survey suggests that many teenagers are hell-bent to loose their virginity on February 14.

Well, apparently some other arbitrary survey has found another root of evil for the unintended consequences of the sexual urges of young people:

According to the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB), the famous social networking site, Facebook, has partly contributed to the cause of unwanted teen pregnancies.

The NESDB has revealed that people in the age group of 18-24 are the biggest group of Facebook users, accounting for 40% of all users.

The Board said that the social media growth is partly to blame for the teen pregnancy problems as some youngsters post seducing messages or video clips online.

According to the NESDB, Thai mothers under 20 years old accounted for 14% of all mothers who delivered babies in 2009 and 2010. From this percentage, the UNICEF has placed Thailand on top of the list of teen pregnancy in Asia.

The public health survey in 2010 indicated that out of 760,000 babies born, 411,000 had died. The NESDB said that the figure shows that a number of mothers decided to have abortion.

"NESDB: Facebook partly cause of teen pregnancies", National News Bureau of Thailand , February 28, 2012

Of course the largest social network is to be blamed for the all the steamy content that drive teenagers to have unprotected sex. Or it could be the much more simple explanation  - Thailand has a severe problem with sexual education.

The annual public ridicule that the stupid nature of the O-NET exam questions get, in particular the questions from the health education section (which includes the infamous suggestion for kids to play football when having a sexual urge), are just the tip of the iceberg. If the moral outrage could be put to one side, the powers that be might be able to see that the only reasonable solution to avoid teen pregnancies is to have proper sexual education and face the naked truth about the existence of sexuality instead of tucking it away.

But then again, for them it's probably easier to ban Facebook altogether...!

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Hamburg, Germany. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and also on his public Facebook page here.

How to raise your Thai child culturally correct

Originally published at Siam Voices on September 22, 2011 A recent survey has found that the Thai youth is increasingly abusing drugs, cigarettes and alcohol as early as about 15 (although one Thai news outlet has horrendously 'misinterpreted' the numbers). The pollsters have cited "studying difficulties, family issues and financial problems" as causes for young people to turn to narcotics and other stimulants.

A certain group of people in this country though would name different causes for this: moral decay by neglecting true Thai cultural values. Yes, in order to combat the ever-reaching foreign influences, the Thai cultural heralds advise the return to true Thai values and the Ministry of Culture has recently published an article how Thai parents should raise their Thai children in order that the new generation that appreciates the traditional Thai values - and it's quite exhaustive...

ผู้เขียนจึงประสงค์ที่จะให้คุณพ่อคุณแม่ยุคใหม่ได้รู้จักการปลูกฝังให้ลูกมีผลลัพธ์ที่ได้มาจากการให้ลูกๆ มีวัฒนธรรม หรือเรียกอีกนัยหนึ่งว่า การพัฒนาการทางวัฒนธรรมให้กับลูกๆ ของเราซึ่งเป็นเด็กไทย เขาจะต้องเติบโตไปเป็นผู้ใหญ่ในวันข้างหน้า จะต้องเป็นผู้ที่สืบทอดวัฒนธรรมให้คงอยู่สืบต่อไป แม้จะมีพัฒนาการให้แปลกใหม่หรือทันสมัย ก็ให้เป็นไปตามกาลเวลาหรือให้เป็นไปในแบบของความร่วมสมัย (Contemporary Culture)

Thus, I see the need to introduce the parents of a new age to the disciplines of raising a child with culture in mind or as it can be also called: "Cultural development for our children," which are our Thai children, who will become adults in the future. They will continue passing on the culture heritage. Although there will be new, strange or contemporary developments, it has to be uphold in its era. (Contemporary Culture)

วิธีการง่ายๆ โดยเริ่มต้นตั้งแต่ลูกอยู่ในวัย ๓-๔ ขวบ ให้หัดร้องรำทำเพลงแบบไทยๆ เช่น สอนให้รำวง ให้ดูสมุดภาพนาฏศิลป์ไทย ให้ฟังเพลงไทย ใส่เสื้อผ้าลายดอกคอกลม ให้ดูการแสดงที่เกี่ยวกับศิลปะไทยบ่อยๆ หรือเป็นภาพการแสดงดนตรีพื้นบ้านทั้ง ๔ ภูมิภาคของไทย ซึ่งปัจจุบันมีขายตามแผงอยู่กลาดเกลื่อน (แต่ต้องเลือกที่เหมาะสมกับวัยของเขา)

Easy steps start when the child is 3-4 years old: practicing singing and dancing to Thai songs like teaching Thai dancing, looking at Thai picture books depicting dancing art, listening to Thai music, wearing a flower pattern shirt with round neck, watching Thai art performances often or watching instrumental folk music performances from all four Thai regions, which nowadays are widely available for purchase (but [parents] have to choose the ones which are age-appropriate)

พออายุได้ ๖-๗ ขวบ ให้เขามีโอกาสเล่นดนตรีไทยอย่างน้อยก็เป่าขลุ่ยได้ ตีระนาดได้ ตีขิมได้ พาไปฟังเพลงและไปดูการแสดงดนตรีไทย นำแผ่นวีซีดีการแสดงดนตรีไทยมาให้ดูบ่อยๆ จนชินทำนองเพลง และคอยให้กำลังใจพาไปสมัครเรียน ให้ครูมาสอน ส่งเสริมให้รักดนตรีไทยในวันหยุดพาไปทำบุญที่วัด หรือวันสำคัญทางศาสนาพาลูกไปวัดนำข้าวปลาอาหารไปถวายพระ หัดให้เด็กพับดอกบัว หัดให้เด็กกำดอกไม้ให้เป็น สอนให้รู้ว่า ธูป เทียน เอาไว้ใช้ทำอะไรสอนให้ลูกถวายของพระ (ประเคน) สอนให้ลูกกราบพระเป็น [...] สอนให้ลูกรู้จักไหว้พ่อแม่ ปู่ย่า ตายาย ครู อาจารย์ พาลูกไปงานประเพณี ไปให้เคารพบรรพบุรุษแบบของทางจีน ที่เรียกว่า เช็งเม้ง ของไทยก็ไปทำบุญกระดูก บังสุกุลกระดูกในวันตรุษสงกรานต์

When they have reached ages 6-7 they should play Thai instruments, at least the khlui, ranat and khim, accompany them to performances of Thai instrumental music, show them VCDs of such performances very often until they are familiar with the sound, and encourage to sign up for classes [and/or] hire a teacher. Stimulate their love for Thai instrumental music, accompany them to make merit at the temple on holidays or on important religious days, bring them to a temple, offering food to monks, practice folding a lotus, bundling flowers, learn to to use an incense stick and candle, learn how make offerings to the monk, to worship the monk [...], teach them how to greet the parents, grandparents and teachers, let them pay respect the ancestors in the Chinese ritual of Qingming or the Thai equivalent is the worship of the ancestors' remains during Songkran. (!!!)

พออายุได้ ๘-๑๐ ขวบ พาไปวัดสำคัญๆ ในตัวจังหวัด ในตัวอำเภอ หรือในเมืองใหญ่ๆ ให้รู้จักโบราณสถาน เช่น รู้จักพระอุโบสถ รู้จักใบเสมารอบๆ พระอุโบสถ รู้จักช่อฟ้า ใบระกา หางหงส์ คันทวย รู้จักเจดีย์ พระบรมธาตุเจดีย์ พระบรมสารีริกธาตุเจดีย์ พาไปดูยักษ์วัดโพธิ์ ยักษ์วัดแจ้ง พาไปดูฤๅษีดัดตนวัดโพธิ์ให้เป็นสมาชิกชมรมภาษาไทยในโรงเรียน ชมรมดนตรีไทย ชมรมนาฏศิลป์ไทย

During ages 8-10, show them the most important temples in the province, in the district or in the big cities, historical sites, get to know the ordination hall (Phra Ubosot), its border stones (Bai sema), the chofah, the bai raka and the hang hongse and the kan tauy, the chedi, the [chedis with the relics of Buddha or famous Buddhist monks], the giant figures of Wat Pho and Wat Arun (...), sign them up for  Thai language club in school, Thai music club and Thai dancing club.

พออายุได้ ๑๑-๑๕ ขวบ พาลูกๆ ไปดูภายในพระอุโบสถ ให้เห็นภาพจิตรกรรมฝาผนัง คุยให้ลูกเข้าใจภาพพุทธประวัติ พระประธาน พระอุโบสถ ภาพแกะสลักบานประตู ภาพประดับมุก (...) พาลูกไปดูหนังไทยเกี่ยวกับประวัติศาสตร์ ดนตรี นาฏศิลป์ ส่งเสริมให้ลูกใช้เวทีแสดงดนตรีไทย นาฏศิลป์ ประกวดแข่งขันดนตรี นาฏศิลป์ หรือแม้แต่การใช้เวทีประกวดมารยาทไทย หาโอกาสให้ลูกได้เป็นตัวแทนวันแม่ วันพ่อแห่งชาติ หรือเป็นตัวแทนไหว้ครู (...) ส่งเสริมให้ลูกได้บรรพชาเป็นสามเณร ลูกสาวให้ปฏิบัติธรรม นั่งสมาธิ หรือบางครั้งให้ไปเรียนทำอาหาร หรือช่วยพ่อแม่ทำกับข้าว ทอดไข่ หุงข้าว (หม้อไฟฟ้า) ทำขนม จัดโต๊ะอาหาร ตำน้ำพริก ไปจ่ายกับข้าวกับคุณพ่อคุณแม่ (...) รู้จักการหั่นผัก ปอกเปลือกผลไม้ สอนให้รู้จักพืชสมุนไพร ล้างจานข้าว เก็บกวาดบ้าน ถูบ้าน ซักเสื้อผ้าของตนเอง หัดรีดผ้า สอนให้ลูกพูดจาให้ไพเราะ (...) ใช้ภาษาให้ถูก (...) พูดให้มีหางเสียงการคุยโทรศัพท์กับเพื่อนหรือบุคคลอื่นๆ (...)

When 11-15 years old, show them the ordination hall, the religious paintings inside, explain them the history of Buddhism, the positions of the Buddha, the ordination, the door carvings, the marquetry (...) bring them to showings of movies about Thai history, traditional music and dance, encourage them to perform Thai traditional music and dance on stage and in competition or even just in Thai etiquette competition. Find a way for your child to be a representative on Mother's Day [the Queen's birthday], Father's Day [the King's birthday], Teacher's Day (...) encourage your son to be a novice monk, your daughter to take up meditation or sometimes cooking classes or help the parents with cooking, fry eggs and cook rice (with an electric rice cooker), bake sweets, make the tables, make chili paste, buying groceries with the parents, knowing to cut vegetables, peel fruits, mix herbs, cleaning the plates and the home, wash and iron your own clothes, teach them to speak politely and correctly, always "khrap" or "kha" [polite particles at the end of sentences] during phone calls (...)

พออายุได้ ๑๖-๑๘ สอนลูกชายให้เป็นสุภาพบุรุษสอนลูกสาวให้เป็นสุภาพสตรี สอนให้รู้จักการแต่งกายแบบไทย สอนให้รู้จักการเลือกแบบสีเสื้อผ้า ให้ใช้ผ้าลายไทยในหลายๆ โอกาส พาลูกไปงานของญาติพี่น้อง ให้รู้จักพี่ป้า น้า อา สอนให้รู้จักการรักนวลสงวนตัวสำหรับลูกสาวสอนให้ลูกชายรู้จักให้เกียรติสตรี สอนให้รู้จักเลือกคบเพื่อน สอนให้ลูกเป็นคนมีจิตสาธารณะ รู้จักให้ มีความเอื้ออาทรต่อผู้อื่น รู้จักความมีเมตตา สุภาพต่อบุคคลอื่น และแม้แต่สัตว์เลี้ยงต่างๆ

When they have reached the ages 16-18, teach your children to behave politely, how to dress in a Thai way, how to choose style and color, to use Thai patterns and motives often, bring them to festivities of relatives, to get to know the aunts and uncles, teach your daughter to "value their body" [=not to randomly let boys come close], teach your son to respect towards girls, how to choose their friends, to behave socially, be compassionate and other living animals.

หากคุณพ่อคุณแม่ สามารถทำอย่างที่ผู้เขียนอ้างถึงไว้ว่า เลี้ยงลูกอย่างไรให้มีวัฒนธรรม บทความนี้เป็นเพียงส่วนหนึ่งเท่านั้น ซึ่งหากจะพรรณนาให้ครบถ้วนกระบวนความคงเขียนสาธยายได้มากมายจนอ่านไม่รู้จักจบสิ้น จึงฝากเป็นอนุสติให้ได้คิดเท่านั้นว่า“วัฒนธรรมไทย ถ้าหากคนไทยไม่ปฏิบัติ ไม่สืบทอดแล้วใครจะทำให้วัฒนธรรมไทยอยู่คู่กับชาติไทยได้ถ้าไม่ใช่คุณ”

This is just one of many guidelines parents should follow to raise a child with culture in mind. In order to write the full version, it would find no end. With this in mind, I want the readers to think about Thai culture, if no one spares a single thought on it, who will keep a Thai culture that fits this country, if not you!

"เลี้ยงลูกอย่างไรให้มีวัฒนธรรม", Thai Ministry of Culture, August 11, 2011, translation by me

Now, where do we begin? First off, this is quite a meticulous list of things to teach a child and I'm not sure if the parents know all of it. Second, the suggestions of what to do at what age are somewhat strange: why teaching them about good behavior when they are already almost 15, for example? Third, there's a heavy emphasis on Buddhist traditions - what about those Thais of different belief?

The fundamental problem of these Thai cultural heralds is the understanding of culture(s) and their approach about teaching these. As seen in the topless Songkran dancer brouhaha earlier this year or the 'crackdown' on planking, the knee-jerk reactions to everything that does not fit a concept of 'Thai history' and 'Thai culture' that has been constructed just within the last century show the failure to accept the co-existence of several cultures and sub-cultures, no matter how alien and weird they are. At the very least, they may be tolerated as long as the prime 'culture' taught in school and promoted by institutions like the ministry of culture reigns over those. In the very end though, culture can be taught - but not directed!

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.