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Ammart och Prai


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Bra artikel i dagens BP.

Published: 18/07/2010 at 12:00 AM

Newspaper section: News

The prime minister, the panelists and the organisers sat in the VIP reception room, chatting. The staff walked into the area, gave a bow and went to their knees. They crawled to the VIPs and served.

It was rather an uncomfortable experience, looking down at a man older than I was, as he - on his knees - served me a cup of coffee.

After the prime minister had given his opening address, in front of some 300 executives and diplomats, the panelists gave their speeches on the income inequality and social disparity in Thailand.

When it was my turn, I thanked the organisers for allowing a young voice to be a part of this forum. I was also honest in telling the room that they may regret it later, but short of hauling me off the stage, it's too late now.

The following was my speech, with some add-ons.

The topic was ''full participation''. The problem is the lack of full participation. The cause of the problem is inequality and disparity. But where is the inequality, the disparity? What is the cause? Politically, economically and socially.

In politics, if we count all the prime ministers since 1988, the end of military rule, we have had a mixed-bag of leaders. Some were provincials. A couple were downright country bumpkins. A couple were Bangkokians. A few were military elites. And one genuine, bona fide Bangkok elite.

It's a mixture of representation, but all of them had one thing in common - they all have Chinese in them.

If you watch the no-confidence debate, you'll notice all sorts of accents from all regions of the Kingdom. The country is well represented. After all, we are a representative democracy - safe for a few disenfranchised tribes that don't have citizenship, of course.

There isn't really much political inequality. The most influential politicians are, in fact, very provincial.

Economically, the Chinese theme continues. For example, let's say 50 years ago, first generation Chinese climbed off the boat with nothing but the clothes on their back and met with all sorts of prejudices. They were segregated and looked down upon, branded communists.

Today, they are Bangkok high society. Dark-skinned little ethnic Thai boys and girls paint their bodies with skin whitening cream so they can be pale and beautiful like the Thai Chinese.

The richest in Thailand are those who came to this country with nothing. Many of them still speak Thai with Chinese accents.

Even the most prejudiced, segregated and downtrodden can economically, and consequently socially and politically, make it to the top. Thailand is the land of opportunities.

What about socially? I hailed a taxi in London, and the driver dared to talk to me as if he was my equal. I gasped. I was shocked. Didn't he know I'm Bangkok elite? Well, actually I'm middle class. But let's keep that between us - don't tell anyone.

When I hail a taxi in Bangkok, the driver - more often than not - talks to me humbly, as an inferior to a superior. He knows his place in society.

If you were to observe a conversation between a manager and a factory worker - both sides are nice and polite to each other - but the words and the body language will tell that - whether they realise it or not - this is not a conversation between employer and employee, but a conversation between master and servant, between the superior and the inferior.

(Then I described the experience in the VIP reception.)

You see, when a man crawls to serve another man - what does that do to his spirit? But it's tradition, and society has been so conditioned to it for so long. We see nothing wrong with it. We don't even realise or recognise it. It's just the way things are.

But what lies underneath is an amputated spirit, and unlike a lost arm or a lost leg, there's no prosthetic for it. Imagine a society, where the majority has an amputated spirit.

Look around the room - the only ethnic Thais in here are me and the cameramen.

The income gap that we are so focused on is merely a symptom. The cause of inequality and disparity is the state of mind, the condition of the spirit, the cultural psyche and attitude. The red shirts made a good point, even though they made it badly: It's the amart (aristocrat) versus prai (ordinary people) dilemma.

We may talk about tax reforms. The land tax and inheritance tax that give the rich hissy fits, but will bring more revenue for the government to develop the country - universal healthcare, social welfare and public works that may eradicate the disparity.

But how would that matter, if out of every 100 baht in tax revenue, the politicians keep 20, the bureaucrats keep 20, then the middlemen, the fixers, the contractors, the sub-contractors, the tea money, etc. At the end of the day there's maybe five baht left to build a bridge - which is then built badly, incompetently.

Raise the minimum wage and the poor will be comfortably poor, temporarily. But will it be any different from the one million baht village fund? Gambling, drinking and a new motorbike - there's no such a thing as investing in the future.

Not that those things should not be done. But it's a vicious and ridiculous cycle that won't cure the cultural disease. We can talk about education. But education reform starts with the teachers. It will take 20 years to train a new species of teachers, and you can't do that under the present system. It will never happen in a society that deems ideas are dangerous and knowledge is threatening.

The Ministry of Culture's existence is to censor thoughts and expressions. The ICT Ministry's primary purpose isn't to develop communication or technology, but to ban websites. Education reform? Try cultural reform first.

We need to create a middle class - a class that has to be the majority, not the minority - a class with a sense of entitlement and enlightenment.

But this isn't something you can hand over, give away. Like the Chinese immigrants, the people have to want it and to work for it. But before that, they have to believe they are entitled to it, that they deserve it. But how will a prai believe this if he is conditioned to crawl to serve the amart? The amputated spirit needs to be addressed. It's an intangible thing - not one that you can just pass a law to fix.

In the past or in the present, the masses, the populace, just doesn't know any better and doesn't want to know any better. Whenever they protest, it's never to demand a better education. It's never to demand healthcare. It's never to demand civil rights and liberty. But for subsidies and fixed prices - things that can only help them to be comfortably poor, temporarily.

Or, they become a mob for hire to make a quick baht and to inject some fun and drama into a tedious life.

They know their place in society - and though they whine and cry about many things - they would never dream, they would never imagine that all of this can be changed. They are good Thais, they are good Buddhists - and this is Thailand, it's just the way it is.

It's the cultural mentality, and that has to be changed - by bringing hope, inspiration and a sense of worthiness.

Thailand is the land of opportunities - the people just need to recognise it and believe they deserve it. Enlighten the minds. Enrich the souls.

But this cannot be done if the rest of us, the ''privileged ones'', don't help to show them the way. If we don't open our arms and let them join us.

And once we have the spirit of entitlement and enlightenment, the disparity and inequality will pretty much take care of itself - and all those other reforms can be done. Start at the starting point. We are humans - before we can succeed in anything, we must first have hope, we must first believe.


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Guest Isan Lover


En bra artikel som tar upp dom medeltida traditionerna som fortfarande förpestar Thailand, och som på ett tydligt sätt visar hur ojämlikt och orättvist det systemet är.

Alla människor ska naturligvis ha samma värde och rättigheter, men det kommer Ammart fortsätta att hindra via kupper och militärt förtryck, och bevarandet eller avskaffandetav detta medeltida system med stora klassklyftor är nog egentligen vad konflikten handlar om mellan gula och röda i Thailand.

Sen tog han ju upp framgångs sagan med dom invandrade kineserna i Thailand, och dom har nu mycket riktigt dom fattigare Thailändarna som betjänter,

men att alla som vill det också kan bli lika framgångsrika är nog en myt.

Man får inte glömma dom välorganiserade triaderna med droghandel, människohandel och en svart penningmarknad som också har bidragit till denna grupps framgångsaga.

Mvh Isan Lover

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