Sera, a friend from Korea, needed to get out of Malaysia to get her immigration record renewed, so it fits well that we could go on a trip together. We soon roped in Erica, and Sera’s mum while the other colleagues looks in admiration. They later proved to be good companions and had added a lot of joy throughout the trip.
The moving Smarties
As we arrived, the first thing that caught our eyes was the colourful vehicles bustling on the road of Bangkok. As Erica puts it cheekily; they are like moving Smarties (those choco beans people similar my age grew up eating)!
Well thanks a lot to her, the imagery has now stuck in my head. Traffic was heavy, albeit messy with the Tuk-tuks and motorcycles criss-crossing between other bigger vehicles. This, with the eye-catching choice of colours of the taxis, gave Bangkok otherwise boring landscape some form of life. Yet, mess doesn’t equate chaos. In the irregularity of Bangkok, there seems to be an unspoken order.
The monarch and his people
We started our journey with a visit to the National Museum. The museum displays a chronological history, from the early kingdom of Sukhothai and Attuthaya, the gain and loss of land to and from Burma, Laos and Cambodia, to the unification of Siam up to the current Ninth reign. Given my nature of work and the political philosophy I am accustomed to, I can’t help but ask: what about democracy? Indeed the museum doesn’t talk much about it, except that constitution was written in 1932 that gives birth to an elected government. I do not recall the museum talking about the 1997 reformist constitution, and certainly not the military coup took over in 2006, supposedly with the backing of the monarch and ousted out the former Prime Minister Thaksin who was allegedly corrupted. The following political developments are much complicated, depending on which side you hear from, and only time will tell how the current political instability of Thailand will unfolds.
Even so, one should notice that the status of the King has remained relatively unchallenged amid the political instability. I was always amazed by the Thai people’s love for their king. Last year when I visited Khuan Niang, a small town in South Thailand, I was rendered speechless to see that every house proudly raises their national flags and hang the pictures of the royal families. How many Malaysians will do the same?
In Bangkok, the King’s presence is constantly felt, with His Majesty’s portrait displayed at the obvious corner of every street. Monuments are common in the city, almost fell like one for each of the previous kings of Siam (except for two: the democracy monument which celebrates the transformation from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy in 1932 and the Victory monument which celebrate Thai victory against French in Laos in 1939).
Having spent most of my childhood years in Buddhist Dharma Schools, I took the liberty to claim some expertise in it. Buddhism, as I know of, teaches simple living and self-enlightenment. Lord Buddha, an Indian Prince born with great status, leaves the riches of the world, to pursue answers to life fulfillment. He, in his own words, is a teacher, not a supernatural power that is able to dictate nor protect. Yet, the God-like treatment he got from the Thai believers, are seemingly contrary to his teaching. What would Buddha thinks, if he sees
the glorification he received as such?
There is less doubt that Thai people are a religious nation. Thailand has also been the heartland for Buddhism. The Wats are always full of devotees. The Erwan shrine even stood tall right in front of a shopping mall in the city center, with many shoppers worshipping in between their shopping schedule. I see a close proximity between religiosity and modernity.
Apart from a few ‘bad apples’ among the tuk-tuk drivers who tried to offer crooked tour package, I find Thais generally very friendly people – so friendly that before you approached for help, they might just offer themselves when they see your confused faces. On one occasion, a total stranger lingered on for more than five minutes just to help to get us a tuk-tuk that offers a cheap rate. This sort of courtesy is rare to get in Malaysia; I did receive the first few ones with much skepticism and bit of hostility.
Earning the maximum doesn’t seem to be the agenda of most Thai small businesses. I do not stay long enough to learn the Thai mentality, but perhaps for them earning enough is enough, or perhaps actually earning is better than not earning at all. Either way, somehow Thailand always reminds me of one word: Sufficient. The feeling is especially strong when I travelled the rural areas, when I see the paddy fields, the orchards and the farms. The common Thais are certainly not rich, but they don’t seem to be living in poverty either. Interestingly, I later found out that the the principles of ‘Sufficiency economy’ was indeed promoted by one of the King named Bhumibol, who emphasized ‘gross national happiness’ rather than gross national product. If I can be allowed to stretch the thought further, I think the ‘just-nice’ concept is also reflected in their transport system – they don’t provide extra comfort nor fancy speed, but they get you to where you need to be – sufficiently efficient.