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Collected Writings of William J. Klausner

The Siam Society Bangkok, Thailand 1997

© 1997 by William J. Klausner. All rights reserved.

Cover by Boon Song Klausner Nathan

The Siam Society, under Royal Patronage 131 Soi Asoke, Sukhumvit 21 Bangkok 10110 Thailand tel. (662) 661 6470-5 fax (662) 258 3481 [email protected]

ISBN 974-8298-38-8

Printed in Thailand by Amarin Printing and Publishing Public Company Limited 65/16 Chaiyapruk Road, Taling Chan, Bangkok 10170 Tel. 882-1010 Fax. (662) 433-2742, 434-1385 E-Mail : [email protected] Homepage :

To my wife, Kampan, and her faith, in the past

Contents Acknowledgments ..................................................................... ix Preface ......................................................................................... xi Introduction.................................................................................. 1 Strategies for Survival................................................................ 17 Reflections on Indebtedness...................................................... 23 Phuk Siew (Oath of Friendship) Ceremony and Bun Bang Pai (Skyrocket) Festival ........................................ 29 Bangkok Forty Years Ago: A Reflection................................... 41 Intellectuals in Thailand ............................................................ 49 Thai Women in Transition ........................................................ 61 Thai Cuisine in Transition......................................................... 77 Thai Personal Pronouns: A Linguistic Labyrinth .................... 85 Law and Society ......................................................................... 93 Smile But Don't Stare ............................................................... 135 Three Views of Thai Buddhism in Transition .......................139 The Essence of Buddhism........................................................ 157 Did We Make a Difference? .................................................... 163 Reflections on My Fifth Cycle ................................................. 167 Reflections of an Expatriate ..................................................... 169 Conclusion ................................................................................ 175 Afterword ................................................................................. 185

Acknowledgments This present volume may be seen as a logical extension of my previous writings published under the title "Reflections on Thai Culture." The focus of that previous book was on traditional patterns of Thai culture, while this present collection of writings is mainly concerned with cultural transition and transformation. When I have felt it necessary to provide historical context and background, I have begged, borrowed and stolen from my earlier writings over the past four decades. Where I have done so, I have indicated the date of the earlier contribution. Many of my mentors, friends and colleagues, both Thai and Western, have generously commented on the various reflections included herein. I have benefited from their critiques and have tried to do justice to their suggestions. However, in the last analysis, I remain ultimately responsible for the opinions and views expressed. I would like to specifically thank some of my more frequent interlocutors: Judge Sansern Kraichi tti, Dr. Kusuma Snitwongse, Dr. Suchit Bunbongkarn, Dr. Sarasin Viraphol, Khun Suwit Suwan, Ajahn Sulak Sivaraksa, Peter Geithner, James Stent, Doris Wibulsin, and Drs. Joyce Moock, Bill Fuller, Jim Scott, David Cohen, David Thomas, Katherine Bond, Gary Suwannarat and Mary Zurbuchen. Last, but not least, my appreciation goes to my children who were not reticent in regaling me with the perspectives of the younger generation and to my brother and sister-in-law who gave me constant encouragement and support. ix


I very much appreciate permission given for the reprinting of articles, essays and book reviews which have appeared previously in the Journal of The Siam Society, The Nation, and Anthropology Today. I am also greatly indebted to Khun Pimpa Molkul who has valiantly and, always in the best of spirits, coped with my, more often than not, indecipherable written first drafts and subsequent scribbled revisions and processed them into intelligible script on her magical computer screen. I stand in awe of the detailed and expert editorial and design suggestions from James V. Di Crocco of The Siam Society; he has my heartfelt thanks. I am immensely grateful to the Rockefeller Foundation for granting me the opportunity to spend a glorious month of cerebration at its Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, Italy, where I put the finishing touches on this collection of essays. I greatly benefited from the dialogue with fellow residents, from the care and comfort afforded by the staff and from an unparalleled ambiance of serenity, so conducive to contemplation and reflection. Lastly, I remain in my wife Kampan's meritorious debt for her constant support as well as her knowledge of and insights into Thai culture.

I CAME TO THAILAND FORTY years ago to undertake postgraduate ethnographic research in a small village in Northeast Thailand. My research focused on cultural barriers to modernization, and I soon found myself immersed in a social and cultural environment in which there were few recognizable signposts. Values, perspectives and a world view dramatically different from those with which I was familiar tested my emotional as well as intellectual equilibrium. I would like to think that, over time, I have achieved in my own being an acceptable psychological balance of the different cultures of the East and West. I have endeavored to develop an empathy for and an understanding of Thai culture without compromising the desiderata of academic detachment and objectivity. In responding to this challenge, I have sought to share what insights I have with those who have come to work and live in Thailand. Over the past four decades, I have attempted to interpret Thai culture and analyze and dissect the manifold aspects of culture conflict though my writings and orientation lectures to foreign residents in Thailand. During this period, I have also lectured to Thai university students in the fields of law and anthropology with particular focus on the interaction of law and the social, cultural, economic and political environment in which it is framed and implemented. xi


In tandem with my scholarly pursuits, I have, over the span of four decades, played a practitioner role as well through my work with The Asia Foundation, The Ford Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation. In pursuance of my responsibilities with these foundations, I have helped to define the social, cultural and political contexts in which these foundations develop and implement their programs. I believe that both my scholarly and philanthropic pursuits have each separately benefited from constant interaction over time. Initially, my scholarly reflections centered on the traditional patterns of Thai culture. As time passed, my Thai colleagues would often shake their heads at my romantic attachment to the past. I soon was labeled "old fashioned," a charter member of the "million year old turtle" club or, in the slang parlance of the younger generation, a "dinosaur." I have not totally forsaken my fascination with the exotic charms of a Thai culture of the past. However, I have increasingly shifted my focus to the changing configurations of Thai culture and the ramifications of such changes in all aspects of the Thai body politic. It is no longer intellectually satisfying or profitable to concentrate solely on the traditional forms of Thai culture which are in state of constant flux. The challenge is to capture the nuances of these changes and redraw the contours of the shifting Thai cultural landscape. It is to this task that I have become increasingly dedicated. As the essays have been written for different fora, at different times and often deal with interrelated topics, I apologize for a certain amount of repetition. I have attempted, however falteringly, to fulfill the responsibilities

of a "public intellectual" in

reaching beyond the academic community to a wider readership. While my ruminations may often have an academic tone, I have



tried, for the most part, to avoid scholarly jargon and endeavored to make my prose "reader friendly." In the interests of simplicity the Siam Society has avoided using tonal markers for Thai words. I hope those of more scholarly persuasion will forgive this omission. I would hope that the collection of writings in this book would help practitioners, whether diplomats, foreign aid workers, philanthropists, business persons or bureaucrats, to better understand and cope with the permutations and commutations of the Thai cultural transformation process. I also trust the general reader would, through these reflections, gain insight into the mysteries of a culture in transition. Through this initiation, one will, hopefully, be better positioned to avoid the misunderstandings and miscalculations which often make it so difficult for the East and West to meet. I would also be pleased if these essays encouraged more detailed academic studies of the process of culture change in Thailand. In a personal vein, the writing of these essays has helped clarify my own transition and transformation as I struggled to carve out a productive role in an alien culture. Whatever merit or success may accrue from the publication of this book, I would like to dedicate to the Thai nation and to my Thai mentors, friends and family.

William J. Klausner Bangkok, June 1997



DURING THE PAST FEW YEARS, high ranking government officials from Singapore and Malaysia have been increasingly vociferous in their acerbic criticism of Western values. One Singapore Minister traced the breakdown of modern Western society to the absence of respect of Western children toward their parents as exemplified in calling them by their first name. It was argued that such a lack of politeness and deference caused disintegration of the family which, in turn, led to drugs and violence in the streets. Singapore's elder statesman, Lee Kuan Yu, has written in the recent past of the West's fascination with the "exuberance of democracy" which, in his view, inevitably results in "undisciplined and disorderly conditions which are inimical to development." Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad testily dismissed a corruption index, released in early June, 1996 by a German based business watchdog group, which ranked Malaysia as the twenty-sixth most corrupt country out of fifty states. He countered with the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that Malaysia establish a Europe Watch with an index on racial 1


discrimination, an index on corruption and an index on immorality and accused Europe of being far worse than Malaysia. The guardians of Asian values have vowed not to forsake the primacy of family ties, the prior claim of the community over the individual, and the priority emphasis on economic development and public order at the sacrifice of political and civil rights. A few years ago, an article in China's Peoples Daily noted that the "basic cause of the crisis of contemporary Western culture lies in the incompatibility of science and Christianity." The article suggested that the contradiction could be eliminated if the West replaced Christianity with Confucianism, a "non-religious humanist guide for morals and the values of life." On their part, Western scholars and commentators have often questioned both the logic and the sincerity of their Eastern interlocutors. They have suggested that exaltation of Asian values and an "Asian Way" is often no more than a euphemism for anti-Westernism and a defense mechanism to preserve the authoritarian social and political control of ruling elites. Not to be outdone by derogatory references to the fatal deficiencies of Western culture, a research study at the Institute of International Culture in the Netherlands suggested, according to a 23 August 1994 article in the International Herald Tribune, that airline accidents were more likely to occur in countries with low individualism and a high level of "power distance"—read hierarchy. Thailand was specifically mentioned as having one of the worst accident rates. Recently, Clark Neher and Ross Marlay, in their book Democracy and Development in Southeast Asia:TheWinds of Change, argued that the public bickering between the East and West as to the bona fides of one's democratic credentials has produced more heat than light. The authors suggested that democracy should be more broadly defined to incorporate differing concepts and 2


perspectives grounded in the different cultural traditions of the East and West. The debate on Asian and Western conflicting views of human rights has been similarly stultified and oversimit plified by stereotypes and self-serving critiques. Nevertheless, must be recognized that while the West tends to emphasize political and civil rights, Asians tend to focus on economic, cultural and educational rights. While it is easy to become enmeshed in sweeping generalizations as to the cultures of the East and West, one should not forget there are marked differences even within Asian and Western cu Itures. Scathing criticism, fear and love-hate feelings relating to cultural superiority-inferiority syndromes, perceived cultural imperialism etc., exist not only across continents but between Asian countries and within First World communities. Wherever there are disparities of economic,

technological and political

power and supremacy, tension and conflict will often manifest themselves along the fault lines of culture. Thus one should not be surprised by the wariness of Lao political leaders as they caution their citizenry to remain steadfast against the damaging cu Itural invasion from their incipient NIC (newly-industrialized country) neighbor, Thailand. Lee Kuan Yu has not limited his

cultural critiques to the West. H e has also taken to task those countries in Southeast Asia, such as Thailand, which he views as passive or "soft cultures." Japanese leaders, on their part, have spoken of the lack of diligence and often, quite insensitively, discipline of certain Southeast Asian countries as the reason for their inability

to develop as quickly as Japan.

Western nations are not immune to the above cultural backbiting. It was hardly in the holiday spirit but a news story, dated 25 December 1994 was headlined "Canada's X'mas message to the U.S.: Don't mess with our culture." The article quoted as warning "the United States

the Canadian Heritage Minister 3


could have as much free trade as it wanted, as long as it did not involve what Canadians regard as a growing incursion on their culture by the Americans." The often simplistic critiques and "culture bashing" referred to above, particularly in the context of an East-West bipolar categorization, would lead one to believe that Rudyard Kipling was alive and well and "East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet." However, the dichotomy is not so sharp or so severe as the cultural purists would have us believe. Eastern, including Thai, traditional values are undergoing dramatic change as the winds of a technologically driven modernization buffet the East and bring the powerful forces of individualism and egalitarianism in their wake. It should give the spear carriers of the "Asian Way" and the Confucian tradition pause for thought that both China and Singapore have found it necessary to recently enact legislation criminalizing the neglect or abuse of elderly citizens. In the West, meanwhile, many have increasingly come to appreciate the healing properties of nonjudicial conflict resolution and consensus, communal and family solidarity, and avoidance of confrontation so often associated with the East. Today, when one refers to Eastern or Thai traditional values, it must be appreciated that such values no longer represent social reality. Nevertheless, it is incumbent on us, whether we be scholars or practitioners, to understand traditional patterns as well as the changes and refinements in the cultural mosaic. In spite of the rapid change, continuity often holds sway. The pace of change in various segments of the society differs, and there will often be a cultural lag even where the direction of change is clear and the process underway. Also, traditional patterns should be carefully examined as they serve as a valuable benchmark against which to measure change. While not being judgmental, one must nevertheless accept the reality that the traditional attitudes, 4


values, interpersonal relations and world view of Eastern cultures are very different from those of the West. Thus, it is pertinent for us, at this point, first to delineate some basic themes in traditional Thai culture. Later in this introduction, we will discuss the pressures being brought to bear on the culture and the transformation it is undergoing. A core element of Thai culture is the avoidance of confrontation. Expressions of antisocial emotions such as anger, displeasure, annoyance and hatred are to be avoided at all costs. Thais find themselves psychologically uncomfortable with interpersonal tension and conflict. However, while such overt destabilizing social behavior is avoided, myriad indirect techniques to release socially negative feelings are very much a part of the Thai cultural scene. Thus, gossip is a fine art. There are also the ubiquitous anonymous letters and leaflets castigating an opponent and never signed with one's name but rather with such nom de plume as "lover of justice," "concerned citizen," "patriot," etc. One of the more unique Thai mechanisms for release is "prachot" or "projected vilification" wherein a cat, dog, or even a child, may be berated and abused so as to send a cultural message of criticism to one's adversary. Violence often erupts when these indirect techniques are no longer deemed to be psychologically satisfying. Another core element of traditional Thai culture is emotional distance. One should avoid strong and deep emotional bonds. One should not become too attached, too committed. Such bonds, attachments, commitments will inevitably lead to suffering in the impermanent, transitory world of samsara. An example of this emotional wariness is the absence in Thailand of the fervent, passionate and frenzied debates of the West on everything from gun control to flag burning, to abortion, to homosexuality. In addition, Thais tend to be less judgmental as 5


all beings are similarly subject to the law of karma. Other expressions of this relative emotional remoteness in Thai culture may be found in the relationships of husband and wife and children and parents. These relationships revolve more around rights and duties, respect, politeness and gratefulness than the Western concepts of deep emotional bonding and love. Another element absolutely essential to an understanding of Thai culture is hierarchy. Thai society is hierarchical in structure with its well-defined sets of duties and responsibilities depending on where one may be on the ladder of rank, seniority, status, wealth and power. Both verbal and body language quickly identify those on the higher rungs of the ladder and those on the lower. One should also not overlook the staying power of patriarchy and associated patterns of discrimination against women. Hierarchy often finds expression through a patron-client syndrome which dictates appropriate behavior. There is a social and cultural imperative to accommodate to the realities of differentia] status. The patron provides protection, support, benevolence and compassion. The client offers deference, diffidence, consideration, loyalty and respect. Bureaucrats are among the most assiduous in their allegiance to the dictates of hierarchy. During a recent debate on salary levels in the Thai civil service, a prominent judge argued that the judiciary needed to have a higher status and salary as judges sometimes have to preside over the trial of other officials. It seemed obvious to him that "the ones who judge have to enjoy a higher status than those they judge. If they have lower status or rank, how could they judge those who have higher status?." In such a hierarchical society, the individual is constantly under an obligation to sublimate his or her expression and rights to the larger interests of family and social and community solidarity. Social scientists have often commented on the vibrancy of 6


Thai individualism. However, such individualism, for the most part, has been expressed through the deft machinations and manoeuvrings Thais have relied on to avoid confrontation with authority and to escape the demands of hierarchy. When such direct engagement becomes unavoidable and inescapable, one is compelled to sacrifice one's ego to the dictates of power and hierarchy.1 It is important to note, however, that one's position on the social ladder, while fixed at any one point in time, is not set in concrete. Class, not caste, is the reality, but so too is social mobility. One's karma fixes one's position. However, both positive and negative changes in status can often be brought about by a person's meritorious or sinful behavior in this present life. One's karmic balance over time can tip up or down, and this can have implications in both this and I or future lives. Thais place a high value on proper behavior. One is judged by how faithfully one adheres to the requirements of hierarchical obligation. One is constantly being complimented for one's politeness, consideration, gratefulness. Actually, the worst insult for a Thai is to be deemed ungrateful. One should never forget one's meritorious debts. Quite often Thais will be reluctant to accept a favor simply because they do not want to be bound by the obligatory repayment of the meritorious debt incurred. The

1. See Traditional and Changing Thai World View (Bangkok: Southeast Studies Program and CUSRI, 1985). This book of essays provides insight into the enculturation process wherein Thais are inculcated with hierarchical and patriarchal values through classical poems and literature, Buddhist texts, songs, children’s games, proverbs, folk tales, language, etc. As this book was published in 1985, changes in world view, values and attitudes were still very much at the formative stage. 7


most potent example of such a debt is that of a child to its parents. The child, on birth, enters into a lifelong debt of gratitude to its parents. The traditional cultural patterns I have described above have been, over the past years, and are now, in both urban and rural areas, increasingly being subjected to relentless pressures. The dramatic development of transportation and communicationnetworks, globalization of the economy, increased industrialization and the growth of the service sector, educational opportunities, increased geographical mobility, and rural electrification, coupled with the seemingly irresistible invasion of egalitarian and individualistic values as well as Western food, music, entertainment, dress and language—all have influenced Thai culture and led to its not so gentle mutation. The transformation of Thai culture has inevitably brought about social, economic and political changes, some of quite revolutionary proportion. Rural Thailand has witnessed the inexorable shift from a barter to a cash economy. Mutual help and reciprocal labor exchanges, in everything from house construction to harvesting rice, have almost completely vanished, and hired labor has become the norm. Villagers speak, with both amusement and regret, of hired farm labor who keep civil service office hours and complain of the absence of ice with their soft drinks. One may predict that open confrontation among villagers will become increasingly evident as the necessity to preserve harmonious relationships, as a social lubricant to reciprocal labor exchanges, disappears. Competition, conspicuous consumption, debt and theft have insinuated themselves into village life. A Thai anthropologist, Akin Arbhabhirama, has pointed out that, forty to fifty years ago, the positive values of self-sufficiency and restraint were taught in Thai elementary schools. Students were counseled that it was proper and appropriate to be content with what one 8



(sandot). When! asked a village elder in the early sixties

why the value of sandot was no longer taught, her reply was "the government fears people will not want to be rich." The social critic, Sulak Sivaraksa, recently drew my attention to the fact that in the late fifties the military dictator, Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, asked the Sangha Council of Elders to persuade monks not to teach the value of contentedness. Fascinated and later mesmerized by the Western model of economic growth, the then government promoted aggrandizement, a more compatible value, encapsulated in the slogan "Money is work; work is money.


contribute to happiness.” During a recent visit to the Ubol village where I had lived some forty years ago, my eyes were dazzled by the somewhat fanciful rural imitations of Spanish haciendas, English country houses, Miami-modern villas. I thought back to the sameness of village house construction in the past and the lack of conspicuous consumption. Not only the houses had changed. Brand name jeans and bright colored blouses had replaced the dull gray and black colored hand-woven sarongs and shirts of the past. To match the economic changes in the rural areas, urban Thailand, and particularly the capital, has witnessed a revision of traditional Thai corporate culture. Family control, p e r s o n a l favors in recruitment, a n d consensus building are s l o w l y giving away to professional management, quality control, with an emphasis performance reviews and merit promotions, on creativity and initiative, and more aggressive and confrontational decision making. Profit is the bottom line. Inevitably, there is psychological stress and tension as the new rules of the game require one to act in ways contrary to tradi tional behavior patterns. Given the stress and tension resulting from this internal conflict, it is not surprising that anomie is often the consequence in urban society. 9


Everywhere in urban Thailand, whether in the capital or provincial seats, the drive to consume, more often than not as conspicuously as possible, is overpowering. The desire for material goods in rural Thailand appears to have been transformed into an obsession in the cities and has led to debilitating personal debt. It is estimated that over two million credit and charge cards are in service in Thailand as buying on time has become the norm. Department stores and mega malls have joined with banks to further fuel the consumption craze by issuing joint affinity credit cards providing discounts and privileges not available to ordinary card holders. Thai social scientists have spoken of the "mailing" of Thailand, and it is manifest in these vast shopping cum resort complexes, where one can happily revel in the satisfaction of one's material desires. The mega mall, taken to its logical extreme, may be found on the outskirts of Bangkok in Seacon Square, which is reputed to be the fourth largest mega mall in the world and includes a 50,000 square meter indoor amusement park advertised as the world's largest. Thailand has become the nineteenth largest automobile market worldwide, and, perhaps more significantly, Thailand is second only to Japan as an Asian export market for Mercedes Benz cars and seventh worldwide in export sales of this prestigious German status symbol. Not surprisingly, Bangkok traffic and pollution levels are among the world's highest as well. Perhaps one should talk of the "mauling" as well as the "mailing" of Thailand. Greed, competition, selfgratification hold sway and self-discipline, concern for others and communal spirit suffer accordingly. The statistical gap between the rich and poor increases. In 1995, the National Statistical Office estimated the top twenty percent of the people earned 87% of total national income while the lowest twenty percent earned 1.6%. In 1975, the figure for the top twenty percent had been 49.3% and for the lowest twenty percent, 6.1 %. By and large, the 10


middle classes and advantaged groups pay little or no attention to the disadvantaged population under the poverty line and are only concerned with the preserving and expanding their own economic well-being. The ingredients for class conflict, ruralurban tension, and escalating violence are in place.2 As dramatic as the economic changes and their impact on Thai culture have been, it is in the political arena where even more traumatic transformations have occurred. Open debate and free and independent political expression have begun to be asserted with a vengeance. Concurrently, the dictates of hierarchy, and the deferential behavior associated with it, are being questioned and slowly overturned. Participatory democracy is in full swing as the rural populace daily seeks openly to express their needs, concerns and grievances and to participate in decisions which they perceive as directly impacting on their very survival. Confrontation with officialdom and authority figures is the order of the day. The

2. The 1996 UNDP Human Development Report stated that Thailand had paid a high price for its rapid economic growth. It noted that the growth had, to a large extent, been "ruthless, futureless and voiceless." Income distribution had been skewed in favor of the wealthy urban elite . There was unsustainable use of natural resources such as forestry with one million rai of forest destroyed each year with the forest cover having shrunk from fifty-five percent of the country's land cover in 1961 to twenty-eight percent in 1988. The growth has been "voiceless" in so far as decision making had been concentrated in the Bangkok corridors of power, and there had been a "lack of popular participation in the country's future development." Nevertheless, the report ended on an optimistic note attesting that Thailand had "now recognized the dangers of imbalanced growth, income inequality and environmental degradation." If there was "full and energetic implementation of the Eighth Plan which addressed the above problems, then there was hope for the future." 11


which has NGO (non-governmental organization) movement, grown so dramatically during the past decade and a half, has played a vital role in encouraging and facilitating such rural political expression. This direct face to face challenge of officials and elites represents a seismic shift in rural patterns of behavior. The NGO leadership, on its part, at both the rural and urban levels, has shown itself to be quite passionate in its emotional and intellectual commitment to issues. Such passionate involvement signifies a dramatic departure from the preference for emotional distance and relative lack of commitment previously noted as so much a part of traditional Thai culture. A social, as well as economic and political, revolu tion is also in progress. Gender roles are changing; generational conflicts are increasingly evident. The individual, heretofore subject to the restraints of hierarchy, is n o longer so ready to sacrifice personal desires and expression in the interests of family and community solidarity. Children are less docile and diffident in their behavior towards their parents. Similar pressures are being brought to bear on the traditional constraints of a patriarchal mind-set. Women are now better educated, more mobile, and are income earners. Family structure itself is rapidly changing as family planning is prevalent both in villages and urban centers . Recently one of the village grandmothers I visited expressed disbelief that her niece had a tubal ligation after only two children. The elder wondered aloud whether her niece would have "enough children to use." Why didn't she wait until she had six or seven children before such an operation? It was somewhat difficult to explain the different values of her niece concerned with future educational expenses. Her niece was probably also more realistic in appreciating that her children would most likely not remain in the village and, thus, would not be of "use" in any case. In urban areas the extended family is slowly disappearing as married 12


children, driven by economic and transportation pressures, establish small nuclear family residences. An examination of changing patterns of Thai culture would not be complete without a reference to the effect of the bane of Bangkok existence: traffic. It is customary and deemed to be appropriate behavior to show respect for elders by personally conveyinginvitations to weddings, ordinations, funeral chantings and cremations. One is also expected to attend such events as a mark of courtesy and respect. Invitations in person and attendance at such functions have markedly decreased as the traffic clogged streets are no longer conducive to such courteous, polite and respectful behavior. Also, the "fun" of an airport farewell, when friends and relatives descended on the airport, is now restricted to only the closest of family as the ubiquitous traffic jams have dampened enthusiasm for such a gracious custom. As the culture and associated customary behavior are changing at such a rapid pace, it is not surprising that the law has yet to catch up with the new social, economic, political and technological realities. It is said that law follows custom, but it is also true that it follows changes in political structure and technology. When there is discrepancy between the statute law and custom, or the "living law," it is more than likely that there will be selective enforcement and corruption as well as a growing disrespect for the law. Social and political tensions will increase. Pressures will build up either to change the law or the customary behavior. In the political sphere, the tension between more open political expression and assertion of rights through empowerment on the one hand and traditional patron-client, hierarchical patterns of behavior on the other has, most recently, been reified in the political debates concerning a more democratic constitution, administrative decentralization, and reform of the criminal 13


justice system. While Thailand has a parliamentary democracy, with numerous political parties and free elections, this democratic system has, over the past decades, been more honored in its form than its substance. In the following essays, articles and book reviews, I shall endeavor to identify, describe and interpret the dramatic transformations of the Thai body politic and the resulting tensions and conflicts which have led to a crisis of personal and national confidence. Changes in personal pronoun usage and in the attitudes, status and role play of women provide insight into the erosion of hierarchical and patriarchal value systems. Pressures exerted by both the State and the younger generation on the form and substance of traditional rituals, ceremonies and festivals will be examined as will the resulting effect on the psychological balance and well-being of the populace. Changes in values, perspectives and world view will be scrutinized and the implications for social, economic and political action assessed. How the law has responded or failed to meet the challenge posed by these seismic shifts in all aspects of Thai life will be studied. In so far as the law remains out of sync with these changes, society will be subject to further exacerbation of the strains and tensions already pervading the very fabric of the Thai body politic. In the fiery cauldron of this social and cultural transition, it will be difficult to maintain one’s cool, to develop effective strategies to cope and survive, to maintain one's dignity and pride, and to preserve one's identity. Anomie and alienation can easily occur in this confusion. New mechanisms have to be devised, or traditional ones refined, so as to defuse the conflicts and assure the tensions remain creative rather than destructive. Some of these mechanisms may well be legal ones as customary behavior and statute law are brought into conformity. Others 14


may be sociocultural in form as traditional patterns of behavior are modified and restructured. One trusts that the changes made, whether in urban or rural areas, will not be imposed from the outside but will develop naturally at a pace determined by the local inhabitants. One can only hope against hope that the transformation of Thai society will be accomplished with a minimum of disruption and dislocation.


Strategies for Survival

THE TRADITIONAL THAI BELIEF in karma as the determinant of one's condition and lot in life is increasingly being challenged and questioned. At least in terms of one's suffering, there is a growing tendency to put the blame on the perfidy, corruption and abuse of power of outside human agencies rather than on the accumulated balance of one's own past merit and sins. Yet, for many, the bonds of karma cannot be so easily loosened. Those so inclined still find it psychologically comforting to attribute failure to the inexorable dictates of karma. At the same time, it must be also recognized that there is, for these believers, a constant imperative to better their karmic balance by meritorious behavior and subsequently to reap the benefits of success and well-being in this life and / or the next. Nevertheless, good deeds, on a daily basis, can often be burdensome, and one is also unsure of how immediate their impact may be. Thus, the pragmatic Thai have resorted to hedging their karmic bets. Brahmin rituals and animist practices provide numerous escape hatches to avoid the imperatives of 17


karma, e.g. the recall of one’s living essence and binding it to one's body with holy threads at times of crisis; propitiating benevolent spirits and requesting their favorable intervention, while chasing away and purging evil spirits. One can change one's destiny, escape one's fate, lessen one’s suffering not just by readjusting one's karmic balance but by semi-magical interventions. One recalls the cabalistic signs and symbols tattooed on a villager's body. These markings are believed to protect one from harm and misfortune, knives and swords being unable to slice through and bullets unable to pierce these magical shields. Although less visible, one cannot discount the power of a phallic charm, hidden under one's belt, which can make customers, clients or lovers fall prey to the magical lures of the owner. Sometimes these phallic charms are not so hidden, as anyone who has visited the phallic garden behind the Hilton Hotel can testify. There, giant ten to fifteen foot wooden phalluses receive homage and offerings as one seeks to be made fertile. One also beseeches the Hindu deity, Brahma, for good luck in one's exams, love life, business dealings and even the winning lottery number. If one's wishes are granted, then one repays the deity. In the case of the famous Brahma image at the edge of the Hyatt Erawan compound, such repayment takes the form of wooden elephants and classical Thai dances. Sometimes, in the wee hours of the morning, such dancers will treat the god to a topless performance, a favorite entertainment of his. Even within the sphere of Buddhism, in its popular rather than scriptural form, one can, by deft manoeuvring, circumvent suffering. One is able to reposition oneself on the karmic spectrum without taking the normally required path of avoiding sin and accumulating worthy deeds and thoughts. To the purely rational mind, there may appear to be a logical inconsistency as karma, the immutable law of cause and effect, should apply with no restrictions or exceptions. In theory, it should not be so 18


felicitously outmanoeuvred and forestalled. However, in practice, at the level of customary behavior, one often relies on a variety of coping mechanisms to evade karmic retribution. T o the Thai, there is no inconsistency; only alternative and compatible strategies to assure psychological equilibrium and survival in lives subject to inevitable crises. One such instrument to deny the imperatives of karma, to mitigate suffering and to prolong life, involves a sacred spell referred to as the Unahit incantation. This magical incantation was formulated by the Buddha in response to the pleadings of a celestial being, Unahit. This god implored the Buddha to enable him to remain in his celestial abode even though his allotted time in the heavenly realm was over. According to his accumulated merit and sin balance, he was due to be reborn in the human realm. He commended his fate to the Buddha's compassion and was rewarded with a khatha, a sacred spell, of prolonged life. This god remains

alive today in the heavens.

Some older generation


dhists repeat this spell daily in the expectation of prolonged life. There are also chants for long life in the Kham Po, Kham Sai ceremony. During the chants, a plank or pole will be inserted to prop up a Po Tree, the tree under which the Buddha reached enlightenment. Another technique to improve one's state and avert the disaster that one's karma might dictate involves

a ceremony to

fortify one's personal star and reposition it in the firmament. In this ceremony, Bang Sakul Tai, Bang Sakul Pen, one is effectively reborn. One's previous identity is eradicated as one is hidden under a white cloth facing in the direction guided by one's past star. Especially severe misfortune and bad luck might well call for the petitioner to enact a simulated death and rebirth by lying in a coffin covered by a white shroud . One emerges facing in a new direction with a new identity, one's personal star realigned. This remedy is performed by monks schooled 19

in this ritual.


A rather interesting variation on the theme of changing one’s identity to forestall the fates can be found in the practice of ritual adoption wherein parents will ceremonially give away their child to a monk or respected elder. One's star is now repositioned vis-a-vis one's parents, the fates confused by this new identity. This ceremony is carried out when a child's star is determined by an astrologer to be in conflict with those of his or her parents; or when a family has had several children who have died or fallen seriously ill and are concerned for the well-being of a surviving child. While the child will continue to live with and be brought up by his or her biological parents, there, nevertheless, is a special bond between the child and its ceremonial parent(s). Gifts will oftenbe exchanged and ritual respect paid by the child on special occasions. One may also use the subterfuge of changing one's name to create a new identity. A monk or lay astrologer will suggest that one's misfortune and suffering can be terminated by taking a new name and, thus, a new personal star. A neighbor has gone through four or five new names, new incarnations in just the decade I have known her. I often forget which name is the present one, and she becomes quite distraught if I refer to her by one of her discarded names. If one doesn't change one's name, one can always change one's birth date. Some months ago, it came to light that astrologers had advised the then Prime Minister to change his birth sign from Cancer to Leo. It was suggested the change would bring political good fortune. The Prime Minister "corrected "his birth date from 20 July to 19 August; alas, to no avail as a few months later he was forced to resign. At about the same time, it was reported that an opposition political party was considering changing its logo as the party's star and logo seemed to be in conflict. One

m a y overcome





without changing one's identify by performing certain acts of 20


ritual homage and cleansing.

Mediums, astrologers, soothsayers,

in trances or not, can suggest that to change one's fortune one should undertake meritorious acts of a particular kind, e.g. casting a Buddhist image in a certain style; freeing a certain number of birds, fish or turtles; paying homage to specific statues and images; following a vegetarian diet for a certain number of days or weeks. A further ceremony, Kam Khao Saan Thaw Ayu, to strengthen one's star, reverse ill fortune and prolong life, involves the petitioner grasping handfuls of rice in a number greater than his or her age and placing the rice in a bowl. Monks then chant, calling one's living essence to return. After weighing the bowl once or twice and continuing the chants if necessary, the monks will finally determine that the living essence has returned and is now resident in the rice. This rice is then cooked and presented as alms to monks on their morning rounds. At that point, it is deemed that the living essence is now firmly entrenched in one's body, and one's star is strengthened and enhanced. Another ceremony over which monks preside is even more direct and is called Tad Kam or the cutting off of one's karma. This ceremony is performed for those suffering from long illnesses and involves significant risk. In effect, one's past bad deeds are transferred by the power of monks' chanting to a pot which is then covered and its neck tied and secured. It is then put in a stream and floats away. The risk comes in cutting one's karmic bonds so abruptly for while this might result in an immediate reversal to good health and fortune, it might also bring about sudden death. In a separate ceremony Sadaw Khraw, a magic spell, chanted by monks or a lay adept schooled in Brahmanic ritual, will also avert catastrophe and counteract bad luck and misfortune. Just as Buddhism,


and animism

are viewed


Thais as complementary rather than contradictory, so too the 21


belief in karma is not perceived as being compromised by the above manoeuvres to change one's destiny, to better one's fate. Certainly, one's karmic balance and, therefore, one's state and lot in life may be altered by both meritorious actions and sinful deeds in one's present incarnation by tipping one’s karmic balance for better or worse. However, one can never be certain of the extent to which the balance has been altered and how quickly such a change may be manifested. Thus, alternative routes to achieve a favorable state of good health, prosperity, well-being and longevity are sought. The above ruses, rituals and ceremonies, in an immediate sense, fortify and strengthen one's resolve and confidence, provide a safety-valve for one's frustrations, and engender a psychological equilibrium, all of which are conducive to coping with life's vicissitudes. The younger generation in Thailand today is increasingly questioning the rulin g power of karma on the one hand, while, on the other hand, largely viewing the ceremonies and rituals described above with amusement, if not ridicule. Their lives rather find solace and direction in the carpe diem strategy of immediate selfgratification. Unfortunately, without belief, neither the psychological reliance on the power of karma or the coping mechanisms, described in the body of this essay, will be available to them at times of disappointment and disaster. Instead, they will often depend on the emotionally numbing or momentarily exhilarating properties of prozac, valium, a dazzling array of amphetamines and alcohol to cope with loss of personal confidence and a sense of anomie. Such a strategy of dependence bodes ill for the creation of a stable, secure and dynamic society in the future. 1996


Reflections on Indebtedness

SEEKING PSYCHOLOGICAL SUPPORT from a monk elder, I described to him my anguish at the deterioration of my ninety— four year old mother's memory. I noted my mother no longer exhibited the spark and vitality that had so marked her distinctive personality. Her assertiveness, her steely resolve to challenge the slightest infringement of her perceived rights, her chastening when her high standards were not met—allhad disappeared. She had forgotten, blanked out the fights, faults and failures of the past and was enveloped in a rosy colored haze where all was sweetness and soft hues. I said I missed the distress and discomfort of her admonitions and the vibrant certainty of her rectitude. My saffron robed mentor suggested I should rather revel in the knowledge that my mother no longer focused on the cravings and attachments that lead to the quotidian sufferings of existence. She had forsaken anger, annoyance and disappointments whether of the past or present. Old age could, thus, be perceived as a state of grace, though it was reached through degeneration of brain cells rather than productive contemplation supported by 23


virtue. How difficult it was for those of us at the so-called height of our critical faculties to remove the bonds of suffering. As always, the monk's softly turned phases quieted my railings, muted my raging. I then reflected on how we, who are supposedly still alert, aware and wise, cope with being abused, infringed upon, taken advantage of. Not yet aged enough for memory to fail, not yet sufficiently enlightened to totally renounce the entanglements of anger, annoyance, dismay and hatred, we face the challenge as best we can. I have slowly but surely come to appreciate that the traditional ways of coping on the part of the East and West are dramatically different. My wife exemplifies the anti-confrontational bias so much a part of traditional Thai culture. Such avoidance of face to face conflict takes many forms. An incident involving an abuse of my wife's merit-making proclivities sorely tested my Western sense of right and justice. Over the past few years, an up-country monk has come to our home and asked for money. Initially, the requests were couched in terms of needs of the temple. Later, even this facade was dropped, and it became clear that the contributions were for his materialistic and not spiritual enhancement. After a number of such visits, I suggested that, perhaps, this charade and abuse of my wife's sincere meritmaking intentions should be brought to an end. My wife appreciated that the constant monetary demands could no longer be construed in a merit-making context. However, she said she felt obligated to continue giving him money when he came to visit. Her justification was that she felt she was in debt to the monk. My logical mind rebelled. I challenged her, noting that she had never met the monk before he started coming to the house; thus how could she be in his debt? Her reply was that she was indebted to him in a previous life, and he was being repaid in this existence. Though we were no longer operating in a frame of logic familiar 24


to me, I asked what seemed

to be the next obvious question:

"When will you finally have repaid your debt?” The answer seemed evident to my wife if not to me: "When he stops coming to the house." I could not dispel my annoyance and remarked to my saintly wife that she would be continually taken advantage of. However, her resolve did not waver. She retained her cool heart; she was not dismayed nor was she frustrated. The frustration, the dismay, the annoyance and anger were mine. I could not help thinking that my wife was rationalizing to hide her disappointment and annoyance. It took me some time to realize debt, and she was firmly rooted in her belief of karmic-controlled she had successfully coped in so far as her psychic


was intact. For myself, it was perhaps time to once more seek out a monk elder for further instruction. Alas, before I could do so, another incident occurred which gave additional insight and meaning to karmic-regulated indebtedness. A Thai friend was visiting the United States on a fellowship. He had purchased a bike, and it was his daily companion. Unfortunately, the bike was stolen one night. My Thai friend accepted the theft with great equanimity. He told his distraught and angry American friends not to be bothered as he viewed the stolen bicycle as a gift to the person who had stolen it. Our American friends were mystified and confused and found it difficul t to take his statement at face val ue .While they found his approach incomprehensible, they could not help but be captivated by his cheerful calm. When I recounted this tale to my wife, she said our Thai friend might very well have been tied to the thief in a karmic embrace forged in a former life. It was certainly in the that our friend might once have stolen realm of possibility something from the present-day urban thief in a previous existence. On the other hand , the theft in the States might represent an entirely new cycle with no previous ties. Nevertheless, our 25


friend found solace in his explanation, so all should accept that reality. I have come to comprehend, in intellectual if not emotional terms, that the Thai world view, as expressed through the above si tuations, keeps personal and societal conflict at a subdued level, reduces tension and frustration, and preserves an equitable serenity that marks the traditional Thai persona. At the same time, I remain concerned at how easily those steeped in the Thai traditional mind-set can be abused, oppressed, taken advantage of. Traditional Thai culture affords the bully, thief, and hooligan relatively free reign to persecute others. In the past, retribution and revenge were, more often than not, deferred at least to the point when it was no longer psychologically satisfying to do so. The exploiters, on the other hand, seemed to be far less concerned than the righteous with an adverse karmic balance and retribution in a future life. Even in the midst of fast-cha nging values and attitudes, the moral obligation to repay a meritorious debt incurred in this present life, if not a former existence, remains strong. To be kafanyu, constantly aware of benefits and favors bestowed and ready to express appreciation, is a highly valued character trait. On the other hand to be akatanyu,or ungrateful, is considered one of the most reprehensible faults and sins one can be accused of. To return the favor, repay the moral debt, canbe done after a short time or even after many years, depending on one's ability and opportunity. It may be returned on a continuing basis, over an indefinite period, where no one act would be commensurate with the original benefit bestowed. For example, one is in a life-long debt relationship to one's parents for having been born and brought up and should constantly repay this debt through kind, dutiful and generous behavior. In praising a child, one will refer to how "grateful" he or she is, how "respectfully" the child acts 26


towards his or her parents. One talks less of love, friendship. Thai parents stress such obligations in raising their children. They will constantly remind their children to be respectful, to show gratitude. To a certain extent, one is in a similar "meritorious debt" to one's teachers, whether lay or religious. No one act could return the benefit of knowledge, guidance and advice given. Thus, one is permanently obligated to be of service to one's teachers in whatever manner desired and deemed appropriate. To a Westerner, this continuing professor—disciple relationship is often puzzling, especially when the disciple has reached the pinnacle of professional or political power but will still give respect, allegiance and services to his former teacher. He may even do so though his actions may be misconstrued and be politically detrimental to him personally. The same would apply to relationships within the military, bureaucratic or business worlds. Often a calculated decision is made whether to become obligated or not. A friend's daughter was deciding whether to take a position with a movie company. The owner told her if she worked efficiently for six months she would be sent to Taiwan or Japan for further technical training. In the end, she decided against taking the job, explaining to her parents that if she was sent for such training she would be obligated indefinitely to return the owner's favor and benefit rendered, and she did not want to be tied down to this company. To be grateful and ready and willing to repay one's moral debts is a crucial building block in the hierarchical edifice of traditional Thai society. Such social behavior strengthens related aspects of this structure such as patron-client bonding and associated "partisan entourages." If everyone plays the game and follows the hierarchical rules and constraints, social order and stability will result. However, as hierarchy breaks down and 27


individualism and egalitarianism take hold, delays in moral payments and bad moral debts may be predicted. Similarly, individuals may be expected to become far more protective of their perceived rights and far less willing to have those rights trampled upon. Thus, the karmic-ruled indebtedness, carried over from a former life and, to a lesser extent, even moral obligations in this existence, as well as the penchant to avoid confrontation, will increasingly be questioned. New social techniques and mechanisms will have to be devised if social disorder and instability are to be avoided. 1977 and 1996

28 Siew (Oath of Friendship) Ceremony and Bun Bang Fai (Skyrocket) Festival THE PHUK SIEW CEREMONY IS a Northeastern Thai custom of Brahmanic origin. The ceremony involves a couple taking an oath of everlasting friendship. The oath is viewed as a sacred commitment of friendship unto death and is not lightly entered into. A potion, usually sanctified water, will be drunk and a sacred vow taken to be always faithful to each other, to sacrifice for and help each other, to be trustworthy towards each other. Angels are called down to witness this vow of everlasting friendship. If one should break the oath and vow taken, then divine retribution, in the form of sickness, accident, or ill fortune, will result. Holy threads are tied on the wrists of the couple participating in the ceremony, and they are symbolically bound together as blood brothers, blood sisters. Although less common, the ceremony may also involve a man and woman in a platonic friendship. The couple involved in the ceremony usually come from the same or neighboring villages. Both children and adults can take this oath of everlasting friendship. In some cases, parents may select a boy or girl whose character they admire and 29


suggest to their own son or daughter to enter into this commitment of undying friendship. To engage in such deep emotional bonding may be seen as a defense to the tenuous and temporary relationships of everyday life. Through this ceremony, one is attempting to assure some sense of permanence in terms of mutual trust, respect, and dependency. As in other rituals and ceremonies, the psychic balance of the individual is restored, morale is strengthened and confidence enhanced, tensions and fears are managed, and family solidarity is fostered. Although only two people are involved in the cerem ony, the com mitments undertaken ha ve wider implications for the families of the two participants. Throughout life, family members will treat the blood brother or sister as part of their extended family. Help will be given or support requested when needed, and there will be a moral obligation to respond. Although reciprocal labor exchanges in planting and harvesting rice and in house construction have been largely replaced by hired labor in rural Thailand, such mutual help is still carried out among close family members and those in the Phuk Siew relationship. Buddhists are taught that deep emotional attachments and commitments are to be avoided as all is transitory and ephemeral in this material world of ours. Thus, such emotional bonding will inevitably result in suffering. However, the villagers, as in other aspects of their lives, have to cope with tire fears and tensions of everyday life. The Phuk Siew ceremony is one means of coping. This ceremony should notbe confused with the Su Khwan or Riag Khwan ceremony, also of Brahmanic origin, wherein one's khwan, or living essence, is recalled to one's body and holy threads are tied to one's wrists symbolically binding one's living essence to one's body. This ceremony is carried out at times of crisis or to celebrate significant events. It is this ceremony which is carried out to show respect to and to welcome honored guests. 30


Recently, several governors in Northeast Thailand, in concert with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, undertook campaigns to encourage foreign tourists to visit their provinces and participate in mass Phuk Siew ceremonies. This evidenced a complete misunderstanding of the ceremony as well as confusing it with the Su Khwan rituals. The Phuk Siew ceremony has an entirely different meaning and should not be devalued or trivialized by holding mass ceremonies for visitors or guests who are unfamiliar to and with those undertaking the ceremony and who are not prepared to enter into the long-term binding commitments so central to the Phuk Siew ceremony. There have been other attempts to impose central government agendas, values and perspectives on traditional village ceremonies and festivals. Most notably there were attempts by some governors and provincial authorities in the Northeast to sanitize the Bun Bang Fai or Skyrocket Festival and purge it of its ribald, salacious and sexually explicit elements. As with the Phuk Siew ceremony, such an attempt evidences a total misconception of the underlying meaning and rationale of this festival. As the following description and analysis of this ceremony will show, the removal of those elements would be to deny the very essence and raison d’etre of the Bun Bang Pai festival. Bun Bang Fai incorporates Brahmanic, animist and Buddhist elements. This intermingling of different traditions and forces is evident in much of village life, and the villagers do not perceive any logical inconsistencies. The festival usually occurs between 15 May and 15 June, though it may be held as late as August if the rains are very late. As might be expected from the time of year, this festival is concerned with assuring abundant rains. In under-developed agricultural societies throughout the world, there will inevitably be a festival to propitiate the rain god or gods and to assure abundant rainfall for a successful planting 31


and fruitful harvest. The forms this worship and propitiation take will, of course, vary. However, one can safely predict that there will be dance, song, music, and revelry. Since fertility is a basic theme of such a festival, there are sure to be overt sexual overtones. This Bun Bang Fai ceremony is important in terms of the welfare of the village, not only in assuring adequate rainfall but also in connection with the actual health and general well-being of the villagers. The villagers believe that if they d o not hold the ceremony, ill fortune will befall them; there will be a drought, floods or sickness. At this time of the year, however, there is much work as the planting of the rainy season rice crop has just begun . The value of the festival must be balanced against the pressures of work. Thus, it has become the practice to hold a village meeting attended by male heads of major family groupings and have a majority vote whether to hold the festival or not. If it is decided not to hold the festival, the villagers must go to the house of the guardian spirit of the village, usually located on the outskirts of the village proper, and ask for permission to postpone the ceremony. The villagers also ask the guardian spirit of the village to assure the villagers' health and well-being for the coming season. This village guardian spirit, or phi pu la, is involved as well if the festival is held. The skyrockets are brought by the male villagers to the village spirit's residence along with an abundant supply of whiskey. The skyrockets are brought as a form of reverence and after some liquor is placed aside for the spirit, the men drink up and dance merrily around the spirit's residence. The Brahmanic aspects of the ceremony, while important historically, appear to be of secondary importance vis-a-vis the Buddhist and animist influences at the village level. The villagers' knowledge of the historical background of the festival is largely limited to the fact that the festival is carried out in 32


reverence and propitiation to the Brahmanic rain god. However, as I have noted, the villagers have accommodated the festival to their own indigenous animist beliefs, including the village spirit. Likewise, the Buddhist monks have become an integral part of the ceremony. The involvement of the monks may be attributed to a variety of factors. The monks themselves, as villagers, are a part of the Brahmanic and animistic worlds of their community. They may not directly involve themselves in specifically Brahmanic or animist rituals, but they cannot avoid an emotional and sometimes intellectual involvement in these other spheres. In addition, as guardians of the villagers' well-being, they cannot afford to ignore such a pervasive aspect of the villagers' psychological security as participation in Brahmanic and animist rituals. Perhaps even more important are two factors which, in general, play a large part in bringing about involvement and participation of the monks in a wide range of communal activities outside the Wat: the monks have the time to work on the extensive preparations required, and they have the technical knowledge necessary for the making and shooting of the skyrockets. The successful shooting of the skyrockets will redound to the credit of the monks. If the rockets turn out to be duds, the monks will lose a certain amount of prestige. Thus, the monks are intimately involved with the festival. In some years, a ceremony to ordain those novices that have reached the age to enter the monkhood will be held at the same time, although the two ceremonies are not related. The novices and skyrockets are both carried about the temple hall three times and then the ordaining ceremony is carried out. After this ceremony, the Bun Bang Fai theme is taken up again. It is of interest to note that in Vientiane, Laos, the Bun Bang Fai ceremony is even more intimately associated and identified with Buddhism. The Bang Fai ceremony is held on the same day 33


as Visakha Puja, the ceremony commemorating the anniversary of the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha. Explanations of the Buddhist origin of the Bang Pai ceremony are also heard in Vientiane. It is said that one of the grieving disciples of Buddha, unable to touch his torch to the towering funeral pyre of the Buddha, hurled his torch to the top of the pyre in a manner similar to that by which the skyrockets are shot off in the present day Bang Pai ceremony. The preparations for the festival are undertaken within the Wat grounds. Pounding the saltpeter into gun powder is often designated as the chore of the young girls in the village, and at night one finds the girls laughing and joking to the rhythm of the wooden pounder. Following tradition, group flirting will be carried on. Likewise, on the night before the festival the young girls will go to the Wat to make betel packages and roll cigarettes for presentation to the monks the following morning. The village youths will again be afforded an opportunity for "paying court," albeit under the watchful eyes of the monks and elder women. Since much time and effort and a certain expense goes into the festival, very often a few villages will decide to hold the festival together, though it will be centered in one village. Thus, during the preparation stages as well as the actual festival, villagers, young and old, will have the opportunity to get together with friends and acquaintances from nearby villages for fun, genial banter and exchange of gossip. On the day preceding the actual shooting of the skyrockets there is much gaiety in the village with song and dance, drinking and a great deal of sexual by-play with risque songs, crude sexual pantomimes, boys dressed as girls, and phallic symbols waved about and shot at girls from slingshots attached around the boy's groin or erupting from make-believe wooden cameras. In the usually peaceful and restrained setting of the Wat, there is a late 34


afternoon drunken dance parade about the temple hall with the completed skyrockets on view for all to admire. The reeling parade, danced almost exclusively by men, weaves around the sala and is a colorful spectacle with male costumes varying from the traditional tartan-like plaid sarong to a borrowed dress or skirt and a bandana tied around the head and Thai grapefruits stuffed in the appropriate places. A pair of sneakers or old dilapidated army shoes may give a modem, if incongruous, touch to the costume. The men's faces are powdered

arid a few will have false copper

or paper

fingernails, six to eight inches in length, attached to their evermoving graceful hands. Things quiet down a bit toward evening. The next day, after the feasting of the monks, there is a dance parade out to the field where the rockets will be set off. Younger boys will roll about in the muddy fields, and there will be much singing by traditional bards or maw lam, and dancing. Some of the older women will dance a few steps to the cries and applause of the crowd. The skyrockets are taken to the house of the village spirit to pay respect, as they had been the previous afternoon. Then the time for shooting off the rockets is at hand. Under the watchful and anxious eyes of the monks, the rockets are taken from their resting place, examined, and put in place for shooting on a very high ladder-like structure. If a village does not have such a structure, the rockets must be shot from a very tall tree. All watch anxiously for the actual shooting of the rockets not only to see how successful the monks have been but also to see if the rocket will backfire or sputter and fall on someone, causing injury. The villagers believe that if such an accident occurs it is because some preparatory activity was improperly carried out, which offended the spirits, e.g., menstruating women may have entered a restricted area in the Wat. This is but one further example of the ceremonial link between the Buddhist and the animist worlds of the villagers in this festival, the two worlds 35


being in no sense incompatible in the villagers' minds. There will be cries of admiration and joy if the rockets rise high and far or sighs of disappointment if the rockets fail. The dancers and singers return to the Wat for a final celebration. The village men dance and sing from house to house asking for liquor and money. They will then buy chickens, cook them and, with the whiskey, have their own feast. And thus ends this gay and bawdy festival. This festival is of special interest because, within the context of village life, it means more than just the obvious festive rites to bring about a successful rainy season. Certainly all the sexual innuendoes, the phallic symbols, the crude pantomimes can be viewed in the context of honoring or propitiating the generative forces of the natural world. Such symbolic acts of fertility, of the productive energy of man and nature, will become reality as they are translated into rain on the successful completion of the festival. The uninhibited dancing, fighting, and drinking also can be viewed in this context. Some more lyrical analysts have suggested that the painted skyrocket represents a tattooed phallus which, when shot towards the heavens, pierces the sky's membrane, and life-giving fluid, in the form of rain, issues forth. While all these actions might have symbolic meaning in context of rain and fertility rites, they also have meaning as

expressions of actions which, for the most part, are suppressed or carefully controlled during the year. While an element of almost all ceremonies and festivals in the village in one form or another, the release syndrome takes its most dramatic form in the Bun Bang Fai festival. The Bang Fat ceremony sanctions such behavior as fighting and acting in a sexually crude manner. The Bang Fai ceremony occurs in the context of a culture where, traditionally, it is almost a sin to show dislike, discontent, hatred, and where one seldom sees people engaged in any angry discussion, much less a fight. Here is a rural culture which is superficially more 36


Victorian than the Victorians, boys and girls not even being allowed to touch each other in public. Here is a culture where ordinary drunken behavior is criticized and condemned. And yet, on Bun Bang Fai day, sanction is given to drink, fight, speak and act in sexually improper ways. If men in the same village have borne a grudge silently, the grudge may come to the surface and result in an open fight. Sometimes, two villages that have a history of ill-feeling will engage in a group fight. Such actions, which would be severely disapproved of during the rest of the year, will be sanctioned during the Bang Fai festival and observed with an amused and often feigned shocked look. It is even permissible to punish the monks responsible if the rockets fail. Not too long ago, such monks were thrown unceremoniously into muddy fields. It is difficult to imagine such disrespectful behavior towards monks who are usually so highly revered and respected. Once again, the Bun Bang Fai ceremony serves to sanction the unsanctionable. Improper actions are accepted—in fact, expected—and are forgiven during the festival. The villagers deem it bad luck if one does not enter into the spirit of this festival. Even the guardian spirit of the village may take tilings into its ownhands and enter the bodies of those who are acting in a quiet, restrained, detached way, causing them to dance about in an uninhibited drunken manner. The villagers are fond of saying that during the Bang Fai festival those who don't drink, will drink; those who don't dance, will dance; those who don't fight, will fight; those who don't flirt, will flirt. Not only will the villagers act in this way, but they should. Through such participation one is, theoretically, purged of inhibitions and is now once more ready to work, following an orderly, proper pattern of living. Some of the villagers need this yearly purgative. Others do not. However, it is available for those who wish to loose their inhibitions and aggressive feelings with relative impunity. 37


The dangers inherent in this Bang Fai festival are recognized to the extent that the district headquarters must be advised of the date of the festival and permission asked to hold it. Usually, at the villagers' request, two or three policemen will be stationed in the village during the festival. The monks also strategically station themselves about the Wat grounds, and though they remain quiet, they stand as a reminder of the everyday world of proper behavior. In their silent way, along with the police who may use more blatant tactics, the monks assure that the festival does not get out of hand. Precautions such as those above are taken not only because skyrockets are to be shot off to pay homage to rain gods; they are also taken because the uninhibited actions of the villagers may get out of hand, and someone may get hurt needlessly. Even in the midst of the emotional outpouring and frenetic expurgation occurring during the Bun Bang Fai festival, the villagers take conscious precautions to assure that the safety-valve aspect of such a ceremonial channel for the release of repression does not actually get out of hand. Even in the midst of abandon, there is self-control. Throughout the world there are and have been similar purgative or release ceremonies, and one recalls the Roman circus, the Mardi Gras, monthly full moon festivals in Africa and elsewhere, or a West Indian Carnival where the "natives" take the place of their "masters" in mock form and sing songs of disrespect and make sexually improper innuendoes vis-a-vis their "masters." King for a Day or Devil for a Day, the idea is the same. Festivals, ceremonies and rituals are, as other aspects of Thai culture, undergoing change. Some are being carried out in a more truncated form; some are being undertaken more infrequently. However, it is absolutely essential to the psychological well-being of the villagers and the social order, stability and solidarity of the village that any such transformation occur at a 38


pace and in a form dictated by the villagers themselves and not by outsiders, whether they be officialdom, tourists or business interests. The Phuk Slew ceremony and Bun Bang Pai festival are dramatic examples of the vital role and function such ceremonies, festivals and rituals have in promoting communal solidarity, social order and psychological equilibrium. If change is imposed from the outside and not allowed to occur naturally from within, the consequences would be detrimental to a stable, secure and well-functioning community. 1966 and 1996


Bangkok Forty Years Ago: A Reflection

AS I REFLECT ON LIFE IN BANGKOK four decades ago, the calendar years often seem like light years; the changes have been so dramatic. Yet, there has been continuity as well, and I will speak of both today. Actually, my first contact with the Land of Smiles was not wi th Thailand but rather with Siam. In 1947, while a Yale undergraduate, I wrote a research paper on a country which seemed

a million kilometers away, a land called Siam. A

year later, Siam was consigned to history. However, the debate as to the appropriate name of the Kingdom lingers among a small group of academicians and intellectuals. For a committed few Siamophiles, the name "Thailand" represents an elite, ultranationalistic Central Thai bias and denies the ethnic pluralism of the nation. This house itself wasn'there forty years ago, as Jim Thompson lived in a small house opposite Lumpini Park. Yet the RBSC

A talk given in June 1996 at the Jim Thompson House and Museum under the auspices of The Siam Society. 41


(Royal Bangkok Sports Club) swimming pool where Jim had lunch almost daily is much the same oasis today. Strangely enough, the present Managing Director of the Thai Silk Company, Bill Booth, perhaps in the spirit of continuity, may be found daily at the Sports Club poolside out in the mid-day sun. Klongs abounded. Bangkok was then known as the Venice of the East and the City of Angels. Someone recently noted it is now known as the Vice of the East and the City of (fallen) Angels. One of my first introductions to the waterways of Bangkok occurred shortly after my arrival in Bangkok in late September 1955. On my way to dinner at Jim Thompson's home, my samlaw, (tricycle) driver, recently arrived from the Northeast and not used to speeding autos, swerved into the muddy klong waters of Wireless Road. Covered in mud, I remember sputtering in my, at that time, limited Thai that the driver's forebears must have been tigers. I think he replied that, at least, they were not buffaloes and, more than likely, were werewolves. After a change of clothes, I went off once more to dinner at Jim's home. Knowing I was to undertake my research in the Northeast, he had kindly arranged to have us serenaded by a maw lam, or Northeast Thai bard singer, accompanied by the music of bamboo pipes, or khaen. Many of the intrepid travelers visiting Thailand then had notes of introduction to Jim, who, always the charming host, invited all such visitors, whether prince or pauper, to have a drink or dinner at his house. For academics visiting Thailand, there were other obligatory visits: to Prince Dhani Niwat, Privy Councilor and noted historian, and to Chao Khun Anuman Rajadhon, renowned interpreter of Thai culture. One was always assured of gracious hospitality, stimulating discussion, advice and encouragement in equal portions as one sat at the feet of these respected elders. Alas, no one today plays the role of those revered cultural doyens. 42


If one wanted to book a hotel for visiting friends and dignitaries, the elegant old wing of the Oriental was first choice, while the Trocadero on Suriwong Road, the Europa on New Road and the Ratanakosin (now the Royal) near Sanam Luang were acceptable alternatives. The Erawan was built in 1956 and soon the poolside verandah there became the smart meeting place, the Bangkok equivalent of "under the clock at the Biltmore" in New York. The elite met to eat mostly at Nick's No. 1 at the corner of Rama IV and Sathorn, or one could go to the Casablanca on Patpong, or even Mizu's on the same road. Mizu's, at that time, was most often the haunt of foreign journalists before there was a Foreign Correspondent's Club. If one got sick, there was the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital, now almost forgotten among the grandiose upscale, high tech hospitals proliferating at such a rapid rate. For old timers like myself, the Nursing Home was there in time of need as was Dr. Ammundsen, Jim's doctor, whose office was in the British Dispensary, Oriental Lane. If one wanted difficult-to-find Western medicines, one could always depend on the British Dispensary. Dr. Am, as he was affectionately called, just left Bangkok last year to return to Denmark. Alas, the Doctors Ettinger, husband and wife, who were well-known figures at that time, are no longer alive. Believe it or not, there were no department stores, and somehow we survived. Those of us who are today adrift with the fire-imposed closure of Central Chid lorn are also somehow coping, though I suspect less gracefully. One had to go to the several "Underground Stores" for foreign staples. As difficult as it may be to comprehend, there was no plastic money. And yet, the Baht was 20 to the dollar, not too different from the present ratio. 43


I somehow cannot imagine Jim Thompson finding any enjoyment in spending hours in one of Bangkok's sixty or so mega shopping malls, many of which include entertainment complexes featuring indoor amusement parks, skating rinks, multi-screen multiple theaters and food courts. A day's outing for Jim was rather a trip up-country to wander in village and urban Wats, always on the lookout for out of the ordinary Buddhist sculpture and paintings. There were many rambling old colonial and Thai style residences, long since demolished to be replaced by condos, banks and hotels. One thinks of Pibul's house on the lane between Soi Somkhid and Soi Chidlom; Thanat Khoman's house leased to USIS on Attakorn Prasit; the Chartered Bank House on Wireless Road. It is expected that the US Ambassador's residence will, alas, go the way of all wood in another few years. The social landscape was, like the physical one, remarkably different from that of today. The Western community was relatively minute and the Western academic one even smaller. I remember all those academically inclined used to have a weekly dinner together. There were countless black tie and long dress formal dinners. I remember Jim at his elegant best in his white Thai silk dinner jacket. Speaking of white, interestingly enough, this color was de rigueur dress for men at funeral chan tings and cremations. Actually, for those of royal blood, white was worn if the deceased was of higher status or rank and dark clothes if of lower status. Thai-Chinese businessmen often wore white suits at more formal business occasions. One hardly, if ever, sees a white suit now. Bangkok was a very hierarchical society, and one was continually taking invitations by hand to those of higher rank, status and seniority. Traffic has sharply reduced this custom as well as that of attending several social functions in one evening, e.g., a wedding, cocktail party, funeral chanting, crema44


tion. Now one feels quite virtuous if one attends even one function. However, the custom of personally presenting New Year's gifts to elders has remained almost as prevalent as ever. Without cable T.V. or videos, one went to the movies on a regular basis. Night life was centered on New Road. One could also go off to smoke a pipe of opium or sample the wares of Thai ladies of the night, both of which were legal forty years ago . It was shortly after prostitution was declared illegal in 1960 that one of the first massage parlors appeared on Wireless —or was it Silom? — Road. While prostitution continued to flourish in a variety of quite easy to decipher disguises, the 1958 prohibition against opium was immediately enforced with marked efficiency. It may be surmised that this was possible as opium was almost exclusively smoked by the Chinese community, which was a clearly definable group already subject to a variety of controls and restrictions. The Thai smile was ubiquitous as was the polite deference of Thai womanhood. Patriarchal and hierarchical forms abounded in law and day-to-day behavior. Both verbal and body language were much more formalistic than they are today. Children deferred to their parent's wishes. Teenagers did not date without chaperones. Boys and girls could not be found holding hands though the practice of two young men with intertwined pinkies was much more prevalent then than it is today. There was almost no divorce and minor wives were quite common. Two-income families were the rarity, not the norm. The heady wine of egalitarianism and individualism had yet to be tasted. Servants were abundant and most often crawled when serving elders. Many homes had Indian guards who were noted for their rope beds and sound sleeping. In Bangkok, most people adhered to the dictates of Brahminism and animism as well as to their Buddhist faith. One 45


may find it difficult to believe today, but barber shops


under closed on Wednesdays not Sundays, as Wednesday, Br ahmanic restrictions, was deemed to be off limits for haircutting. Even today, in some Bangkok suburbs, one may still find a few barber shops closed on Wednesdays. There were also auspicious days for buying new clothes, changing bedsheets, washing one's hair, etc. The culturally correct color of one's dress was also mandated by the day of the week. While scheme

this shifting color

principally applied to those women still wearing the

sarong-like phasin, it also was followed by Frince Dhani, who each day changed the color of his silk panung or Thai pantaloons. Prince Dhani was the last to wear this traditional elegant form of attire on a daily basis. Belief in karma was strong and one tended to accept, if not approve of, one's status. The religious landscape four decades ago had its rocks and crevices much as today, but they were of a different contour than at present. While the established church, the Sangha, was not buffeted by the religious off-shoots and cults of today, it was beset by severe sectarian rivalry between the and respected Mahanikai and Dhammayut sects. Well-known monks were also accused of improprieties as they are today, but in those days the charges were of a political, not sexual, nature. Monks, as well as laymen, were caught up in the government's anti-Communist crusade. The political landscape was a much more restrictive one as Pibul Songkram was Prime Minister. There was one English language newspaper, the Bangkok World. Civil society was at an embryonic stage. There were no development-oriented, democracy, environmental or women's rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Bangkok was very much a bureaucratic polity with a relatively politically passive, unengaged and non— confrontational citizenry. The bureaucracy had a monopoly over 46


the decision-making process, including the flow of data into that process. One of the most dramatic changes in the Thai body politic in recent Thai history has involved a shift to more direct confrontation of and challenge to authority. This has been facilitated by NGOs' public education and advocacy role play and their active mobilization of public support for democracy, environmental and human rights issues. The NGOs have helped broaden participation and promote pluralism through the development of alternative power centers. In so doing, the power of the military and the bureaucracy, so ascendant forty years ago, has been diminished. The Thai academic world lacked the assurance and selfconfidence it wears so easily today. The most provocative analyses of the Thai body politic were being written at that time by foreign scholars, and Thai academics were largely restricted to the role of research assistants. The Cornell University Bang Chan research project was the locus for foreign academic interest in Thailand. The groundwork for much of the future scholarship in Thai studies was laid in Bang Chan and the names of Lauriston Sharp, Lucien Hanks, David Wilson, Herb Phillips and Bob Textor, among others, are still remembered in the halls of Thai academe. One has the feeling that if Jim Thompson were alive today, he would still be entertaining nightly as he did four decades ago. One would still covet invitations to his famous dinner parties where princes and movie stars mingled with destitute academics such as myself. However, one wonders if he would not have become discouraged and disheartened when his guests arrived a few hours late or not at all, having been defeated by Bangkok's traffic gridlock. Jim would still be at the RBSC poolside at lunch and sti11 recuperating from bouts of illness at the Nursing Home. Even the Nursing Home would not be immediately recognizable 47


because the charming colonial style wooden stru cture su rrounded by a flower-laden garden has now given way to a seven-storey concrete modern hospital. Jim would now have to fly to Korat to visit his weavers in Pak Thong Chai, not paddle across the klong to the Muslim village where his silk was woven. He might very well decide that four hundred visitors daily to his residence was a bit more than his composure or teak floors could take. One cannot help reflecting whether that genteel and urbane social lion, Jim Thompson, would feel somewhat dated and out of place amidst the more competitive, aggressive and confrontational yuppie tigers of modern day Bangkok. Somehow, I cannot imagine Jim, so dependent on and comfortable with a gracious personal approach, being at ease with the pervasive proliferation of computer technology and mobile phones. One wonders if the urban Thai of today will be able to preserve their identity, besieged and beguiled by teleshopping, telecommuting and cybercafes, as well as Western music, brand name attire, luxury cars, hair styles, cable TV, movies, and even language. If the penchant for the "Caucasian Look," through plastic surgery, escalates, even the facial and body contours of a Thai, Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese or Indonesian may be difficult to differentiate. One can only hope against hope that somehow the unique Thai persona, with its serene, compassionate smile, irrepressible sense of fun, politeness and consideration, and avoidance of confrontation in personal relations, can be preserved no matter in how battered a state. 1996


Intellectuals in Thailand

THAILAND HAS NOT BEEN particularly blessed with an intellectual tradition. Not surprisingly, while there is great respect for monk and lay teachers, the intellectual is not held in high esteem. The intellectual, questioning and challenging the existing order, is generally viewed as bothersome and disruptive. In reflecting on this perception of an intellectual, I recall a debate on rice policy a decade ago in which the politicians, as represented by the then Minister of Commerce, Kosol Krairiksh, clashed swords with the academics as represented by the adviser to the P.M., Dr. Virapong Ramakura. In one of the more acrimonious sessions, Minister Kosol railed against Thai intellectuals and dismissed Dr. Virapong (and by inference his intellectual colleagues) as an "abnormal mind." In general, the term "intellectual" has often, in Thailand, been used interchangeably with "academic." The so-called intellectual or academic community does not take itself very seriously, and jokingly—and with certain deprecation—often refers to itself as "awful minds,” a play on words with the last syllable



of the Thai word for intellectual, panyachon [chon— (people) which is changed to chua (awful)]. Despite its Buddhist heritage, Thailand has not developed a philosophical tradition. With a present-oriented cultural bias, Thailand is at a comparative disadvantage when one looks at the intellectual traditions of India and China. A decade ago I wrote that there were only two philosophers

of any national or interna-

tional repute and they were both monks, i.e., Buddhadasa, the spiritual guru of Suan Moke in Southern Thailand, and Chao Khun


(since elevated

to C h a o


Dhammapitaka). Both Phra Buddhadasa, who passed away a few years ago, and Phra Dhammapitaka may be viewed as intellectuals —"testers of life"—as they newly interpreted basic assumptions of Buddhist thought and values. In the ensuing ten years, there have been no significant additions to the philosophical ranks. If one is to define an intellectual as one who critiques majority-held assumptions and values and questions conventional wisdom while devising innovative paradigms for the redefinition of moral, economic, political, social and cultural codes structuring our lives, then Thailand has had a paucity of such minds in the last half-century. Even the change in the form of government from an absolute monarchy to constitutional democracy did not create a fertile enough environment for such thought and speculation to surface. The hierarchical social system was basically preserved, and social and political convulsion, so often the propellant of intellectual ferment, did not occur. Dr. Pridi Panomyong, who initially assumed the position of the intellectual leader of the revolution, became entangled in the political and bureaucratic web of government rule, and his persona changed. The torch of intellectual life blood rested for some time with Dr. Puey Ungpakorn, but he was torn between the role of intellectual critic and that of premier technocrat, and 50


this latter role ultimately took precedence. Dr. Puey remains incapacitated after suffering a stroke and is in retirement in England. The late Kukrit Pramoj often assumed the role of a self-appointed intellectual and was often identified as one by the general public. However, his reputation as an "artful deceiver" (galawri) and too clever by half, as well as his intensive political involvement, compromised this adopted role. Sulak Sivaraksa, the noted writer, social critic and publisher, has for more than two decades remained the enfant terrible gadfly on the Thai body politic. He has fearlessly criticized majority-held assumptions about the function and role of treasured Thai institutions and has seriously questioned widely accepted values and behavioral norms. His constituency has, however, grown increasingly smaller, as he has, more and more, been perceived to be too negative, emotional, and anti-Western as well as somewhat outdated. His alternative socioeconomic, political paradigm remains vague, couched in terms of return to traditional Thai/ Buddhist forms. In the late sixties and early seventies, he was a courageous, as well as lonely voice, against the abuses and excesses of the military. He has continued to beat that horse which, though not dead, is seriously hobbled. While his relatively small group of supporters and disciples remain committed, he is, for the most part, more honored abroad than at home. The period of the late sixties and early seventies was marked by social upheaval and political convulsion and was a window of opportunity for the emergence of a vital intellectual movement. It was in the pages of The Social Science Review,

a magazine edited

by Sulak Sivaraksa, that this movement found expression. All elements of Thai society, and associated institutions, structures and values, came under critical review as new social, cultural, economic

and political agendas

were expounded.



ever, the initially constructive dialogue spread beyond this journal 51


and found expression in a steady stream of radical pamphlets, magazines, tracts and books.1 The context and tone, often formulated in the sterile mold of Marxism, became more ideological and emotional. The disinterested, rational pursuit of truth, beauty and excellence suffered accordingly. The culture hero of this generation, Jit Phumisak, remains one of the most provocative and innovative intellectual minds of the last fifty years, though he has been discredited by the establishment for his political beliefs. This period saw the emergence of the literary genre of social realism. The leading lights of this movement, Withayakorn Chiengkul, Sujit Wongthet and Khamsingh Srinauk, in their short stories and novellas, engaged in searing critiques of the exploitation, breakdown and transformation of rural society and the insidious and pervasive spread of consumerism and materialistic values.2 The window that opened on this intellectual flowering was closed rather violently by the upheavals of 1976 1.

One recalls the acerbic and revolutionary critiques of a conservative, corrupt Sangha in need of an "operation" and the suggestion that Buddhism could be better practiced and would prosper more without the brotherhood of monks. Similarly, the stultified, rote-based educational model was severely chastised, and one student leader remarked to the startled dismay of the establishment that it was the professors who should wai (pay ritual respect to) the students, not the other way around. 2. See Suwanna Kriengkraipetch and Larry E. Smith, Value Conflicts in Thai Society: Agonies of Change Seen in Short Stories (Bangkok: CURSRI and Honolulu, Hawaii: East-West Centre, 1992) . This seminal work analyzes the value conflicts resulting from the impact of economic growth and development on traditional rural society. The short stories cover a period from the early 1960s through the eighties. The stories dramatically delineate the personal and social tensions and conflicts inherent in the struggle of individualism as opposed to group solidarity, in role conflicts of women, in challenging barriers to social mobility and in ideological confusion and alienation. 52


and the following year of oppression under the civilian authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Thanin Kraivixien. When the semblance of democratic rule returned in October 1977, the intellectual movement did not, as might have been expected, re-establish itself. This could partially be attributed to the fatigue and wariness of the body politic with the excesses of intellectual exuberance and its perceived disruptive social, cultural, and political effects. Also, Thai society

became caught up in consumerism,

associated with the rapid economic growth that became the motivating force within the Thai body politic. Thai society, mesmerized by and immersed in the euphoria of this growth, found little time for contemplation, reflection and critical analysis. It was only in the mid and late eighties and early nineties that there was a tentative return to a more intellectual orientation of the activist, development oriented and with the blossoming human rights focused NGO movement. Academics, sincerely committed to reform and progressive change in Thai society, have always been faced with the perceived dilemma of either retaining their intellectual integrity and purity (and sacrificing influence) or seeking "portfolios of excellence" within the corridors of power where many fantasized they could manoeuvre political leaders to accept their reform agendas and chart a new national course. Too often those academics found that it was they who were manipulated, not the political leadership. Those who joined the game of power not only changed their own persona and became technicians or politicians but were quickly compromised in the eyes of their former academic peers and declared persona non grata in academic /intellectual circles. Two recent examples of such academics manque are former Deputy Foreign Minister, Surin Pitsuwan, and the recent Finance Minister, Dr. Surakiart Sathienthai, formerly professors at Thammasat and Chulalongkorn Universities, 53



Some few within the academic community are able to keep an acceptable distance from the corridors of power and yet, somehow, maintain their psychological equilibrium; avoid despair and frustration; and serve to caution, critique and question existing beliefs, values, policies. Over the years, they have made significant strides in breaking through the barriers of the traditional monopoly over data and agenda-setting of the bureaucracy. They remain apart and avoid direct involvement in the political arena and yet do not negate or neglect the Thai body politic. Dr. Kusuma Snitwongse and Dr. Suchit Bunbongkarn, associated with the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS), are sterling examples of this genre. They have played a major role in shifting the parameters of national security discourse and redefining the concepts of national and regional security. Those who have followed the twists and turns of Thai foreign policy over the years will remember fondly the intellectual sword play of Dr. Sarasin Viraphol of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and M.R. Sukhumphan Boripatr of the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University as they thrust and parried, debating the directions and rationale of Thai foreign policy. Dr. Amar Siamwalla, as a teacher and scholar, has, over the years, sharply questioned basic assumptions of agricultural policy of successive Thai governments. There is also a new generation of social scientists, albeit small in number, who are prepared to joust with the windmills of tradition and turn their intellectual antennae to topics of discourse previously deemed to be off limits. Such scholars as Pasuk Phongpaichit, Piriya Krairiksh, Nithi Aeusrivongsa and Vithit Muntrabhorn have questioned the official narratives, received wisdom and standard perspectives in their respective disciplines of political economy, art history, history, and law and human rights. They have asked embarrassing questions and been resolute both in their critiques and in 54


offering alternative visions.

However, it should be noted that

more than a few within this cadre of highly qualified professionally trained academicians, whatever their intellectual pretensions and their commitment to the public good, are subject to the multiple burdens of bureaucratic and administrative pressures and to the lures of contract research and other jobs to sustain their image and standard of living. Thus, there is little time for reflection. W estern friends, of scholarly

persuasion, have often pressed

me for further explanation of the paucity of intellectual ferment within Thai academic circles. In theory, one might reasonably expect academia to be the most logical center for the flowering of critical thought, the questioning of accepted norms and values and the exploration of alternative systems and structures. However, in reality, one must accept that the Thai academic community does not exist in vacuum. It is part and parcel of Thai society as a whole and reflects the behavior and mind-set

associated with

a traditionally duty-based, hierarchical social system. There is a premium on knowing one's place in, not questioning, the system. Teachers and professors silently revel in the respect accorded them and in their highly exalted status. For the most part, they do not expect or take kindly to being challenged and are content to dispense wisdom from on high. Most often, learning is by rote, and the emphasis is on memorization. This educational process is gratifying for the professor and, perhaps, even for the students. However, it is not conducive to creative thinking and intellectual challenge and response. This state of intellectual stasis is further solidified by the fact that, until fairly recently, prestigious university level education was largely limited to state universities where professors are civil servants. Tenure, if not promotion, is assured and not dependent on publications representing original thinking

in one's field of study. Even though the majority of 55


professors ultimately receive graduate education abroad, most quickly lapse back into the less intellectually taxing and demanding role play of Thai academic life. Thai academia is renowned for factionalism, backbiting and gossip within departments and little contact and dialogue between them. At the same time, there is a decided absence of frank and open intellectual criticism within the scholarly fraternity. This is not surprising, given the Thai penchant to avoid conin all aspects of personal relationships. Academic frontation critiques and argumentation

are, thus,

sidestepped. If one's

academic work is criticized, however constructively, it is, more often than not, taken as a personal affront, and the critic becomes an enemy, not easily forgiven or forgotten. By and large, everyone plays the serenity game, at least on the public stage. In a personal vein, I think of an academic friend of mine who has importuned me, over the years, to review numerous books he has either written or published . It did not take me long to realize that he was not mesmerized by my intellectual prowess but was rather counting on my Eastern penchant to avoid offense and my sense of obligation as a friend. The fact that he continues to rely on me as an "author friendly" book reviewer indicates duty.

I have not failed in my

there are academics who fight

Although, as noted above,

the system within and without the halls of academe, the university environment is basically a "comfort zone" of prestige, assured tenure and lack of intellectual give and take. Such an ambiance is far more likely to lead to reaffirmation rather than to challenge of existing structures, systems, and values. As hierarchical structures become increasingly compromised and individualistic and egalitarian values gain ascendancy, there will inevitably be a more



for intellectual




academia is to play to a central and abiding role in this intellectual 56


struggle, the educational system, in both form and content, will have to be radically reformed. It is not surprising that within the bureaucracy itself, with the burdens of red tape, rigid dictates of seniority, and conservative mind-set, there has been a paucity of intellectual engagement. However, every so often a lone voice is raised demanding, in however restrained and polite terms, more critical examination of existing bureaucratic forms and processes and suggesting alternative agendas, approaches and mechanisms. One thinks of Dr. Sippanonda Ketudat as one such exemplary voice. Today, a relatively small, but nevertheless highly committed and articulate, cohort of intellectuals question the premises of the economic growth and export oriented, industrial focused development models promoted by successive governments. Retired political scientist Saneh Chamarik, one of the foremost of such activist critics, and Dr. Prawes Wasi, strongly influenced by Buddhist philosophy and ethics, have continually led their NGO troops into intellectual battle, offering alternative Five-Year Plans and development models which stress local wisdom, educational reform, rural self-sufficiency and integrated farming, alternative technologies, environmental protection, and empowerment of the rural masses in the access to and management of natural resources, e.g. community forests. While the NGO community is graced by effective lobbyists, artful strategists and committed field workers, it does not harbor, with a few notable exceptions, a cohort of intellectuals. Some of intellectual thinkers who did help frame village community-focused alternative strategies of social change and development include Apichart Thongyu, Seri Phongphit, Chatthip Nartsupha and Bamrung Bunpanya. Dr. Prawes has further questioned the very credibility, reliability and viability of existing executive, legislative and 57


judicial structures and engendered a dialogue on the most effective means to harness "communal power," i.e., the forces of civil society, as a counter balance to existing power centers. The foremost political theorist of this present generation, Dr. Chai-anan Samuddhavanich, has analyzed the system of governance and rules of the political game and found them to be seriously wanting. He has offered political reforms and restructuring which have been judged as too revolutionary and, therefore, deemed unacceptable. In discussing the above reflections with one scholar, the thesis was advanced that a flourishing of the genus "intellectual" was not possible in a third world developing country. Intellectual thought inevitably defers to business and politics as economic development and national security interests and concerns take precedence. As issues of individual freedom and human rights are often sacrificed to the gods of economic development and national security, so too intellectual ebullience finds an inhospitable and infertile soil in which to flourish. The price paid is the insidious acceptance of intellectual stasis in the name of security and stability. Such an argument would explain the paucity of a Thai intellectual movement during the periods of past authoritarian control. However, it would, in theory, appear to be less persuasive at present, with an increasingly dynamic and expanding civil society questioning the primacy of economic growth and national security interests at the expense of the individual's rights, well-being and quality of life. At the same time, traditional sociocultural patterns and related attitudes and values from hierarchy to patriarchy, from gender roles to language, are coming under severe pressure and are in the process of often dramatic change. One would have expected that in such an environment intellectuals would flourish. For the most part, this has not been the case. However, the social turmoil caused by the 58


HIV- AIDS epidemic which has proliferated into all levels of Thai society and into every geographical region has triggered reexamination of traditional patterns of gender relations and existing health delivery systems. Leading thinkers exploring these and related human rights issues are Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, Akin Rabhibhadana, Jon Ungphakorn, Chantawipha Apisuk and Chumpol Apisuk. The challenge remains as to how to jump start an intellectual movement which will have both the self-confidence and charisma, not only to question the very foundations of social, economic and political life, but also to shift the public’s attention to such a critical examination of the Thai body politic. Such an intellectual explosion may well be ignited by the spontaneous combustion generated by productive interaction and cooperation of progressive elements within academia, media, business, the NGO community and the bureaucracy. The need for such intellectual exploration is evident. The immaturity, inefficiency, corruption and inadequacy of existing political, religious, social and legal institutions require a timely "imagining of alternatives," the traditional role of the intellectual, if the Thai body politic is to survive and progress. 1996


Thai Women in Transition


PIG OF THE WEST is transformed in

Thailand into the two front legs of the elephant. Male supremacy is embedded in those sturdy supports while, as the old Thai saying instructs, "women are the hind legs." 1 While it is not yet true that the elephant is either walking backwards or on its hind legs as some women activists would have us to believe, chinks in the Thai patriarchal armor are increasingly evident. Forty years ago when I resided in a small village in the Northeastern province of Ubon, it was quite common

for parents to discourage daugh-

ters from pursuing their studies beyond elementary school. I remember being chided by an elderly neighbor when I suggested girls should be encouraged to go to secondary school and college . She disagreed and noted she had stopped her own daughter's

1 . Other animal transformations include the "dirty old man" of the West turning into "old snakehead" in Thailand and the Western "wolf" changing into a "crocodile.” 61


schooling after only a few grades as further education would only have "fitted her to write love letters to village boys." I am certain that village grandmother would be chagrined to learn that today women students outnumber men in almost all university faculties with the possible exceptions of medicine, engineering, architecture and forestry. These women graduates can now hardly be expected to take kindly to the culturally mandated appropriate behavior of the wife in the past as, in a New Year's ritual, she genuflected, with flowers and incense,

before her

husband’s feet and begged forgiveness for all her sins and faults of the year gone by. Wives of today can only lau gh and shake their heads when told of the subservient behavior of Thai wives in former times when they went to bed after their husbands and rose before them; slept on the left side of their spouse; and waited patiently while their husbands ate the first mouthfuls of a meal. Those schooled in Thai legal history would be even more affronted by the eighteenth and nineteenth century codes that designated wives as their husband's personal property and allowed a husband to have more than one legal wife. While the more egregious forms of social and legal discrimination have been eliminated, the legacy

of male supremacy

lingers in both law and custom. The Thai constitution mandates equality between the sexes, but this is circumscribed by the caveat "except where laws otherwise so stipulate." Alas, the Thai legal codes and ministerial regulations do so stipulate, and it is instructive that women's rights advocates exert their political influence to amend existing laws and regulations, not to challenge their constitutionality. 2 For the past two decades there has

2. Recently, female flight attendants of Thai Airways International, in pressing for revision of contracts which required their retirement at the age of forty-five as opposed to sixty years for their male counter62


been escalating pressure on the part of women's rights NGOs and women MPs to remove discriminatory legal restraints and constraints. For example, under present law a woman on marriage must adopt her husband's family name as well as change the prefix to her own name from Miss to Mrs. (nangsao to nang).3 The fact that a man maintains the same prefix to his name, Mr. (nai), makes it more difficul t to ascertain both his previous and present marital status. Under Thai law, a man is not punished for bigamy; however, only the first legally registered wife has inheritance rights. On marriage to a foreign spouse a Thai woman effectively loses her right to buy land as there is a legal assumption the land to be purchased is for the benefit of her foreign husband, and such purchase is, therefore, disallowed. While theoretically the necessity to prove that a land purchase is not for the benefit of the foreigner also applies to the foreign spouse of a Thai man, in practice the Thai husband is allowed to make such purchases more often than not. A Thai man who marries a foreign spouse can have her nationality transferred immediately if she is pregnant or within one and a half years. The foreign spouse of a Thai wife must, on the other hand, usually wait for a period of five years. Under exceptional circumstances this period may be reduced to one and a half years. Under Thai law, adultery is a grounds for divorce only for the husband. On the other hand, a wife must prove a longstanding extra-marital relationship of h er husband with a women

parts, protested that such discrimination was in violation of the ILO pact against discrimination but failed to refer to the Thai constitution. 3. Only recently has the law been amended to provide women with the option to reassurne their maiden names if divorced or if their husbands are deceased. 63


treated as his wife. Interestingly enough,

a similar imbalance can

be seen at the engagement stage. The man can sue his fiancee's lover for compensation and demand the return of any engagement gifts from his fiancee. However, a woman does not enjoy similar legal recourse. Within the marriage, it is not legally possible for a husband to be charged with the rape of his wife. Rape is legally defined as forcible sexual intercourse with a woman other than one's wife. Women's rights advocates have also pressed for broadening the exceptions to the law banning abortions. Presently,

the only exceptions are for rape, where the

mother's physical health is endangered, and in the case where a girl under the age of thirteen is pregnant as a result of sexual intercourse with or without her consent. In the work place, not only is there discrimination in the hiring of women — and, if hired, unequal pay —but there is also no provision in law prohibiting sexual harassment. Interestingly enough, there is no specific Thai term for such harassment. Some Thai scholars

have pointed o u t that the embodiment

of male supremacy, as enshrined in the above laws, is a legacy of the war-plagued Ayutthaya period with its emphasis on a warrior's bravery and strength and the concomitant spread of patriarchal Brahminiet and Chinese beliefs. It is of interest to note that, in contrast, the indigenous Thai village culture is basically matriarchal. Matrilocal residence is culturally mandated as the husband initially lives with the wife's family. 4 Inheritance of the family home passes to a daughter who is expected to care for her elderly parents. Kinship and lineage is traced through the female


Several generations ago, Northeastern Thai husbands-to-be


often required, prior to marriage, to give several years of service to their prospective bride's parents. 64


line. Women also play a prominent role in the animist world as they are often the mediums who act as the intermediaries between the spirit and secular worlds. Despite

these matriarchal traces, patriarchal values have

largely framed not only legal codes but also everyday customary behavior at the national level. A sexual double standard pervades society. Pre-marital and extra-marital sexual promiscuity for the Thai male is accepted . T he customary rite de passage for male high school students is a visit to a prostitute in one of her many guises either in a brothel, motel or massage parlor. It is quite common for husbands to avail themselves of the services of prostitutes, usually when on upcountry trips.5 However, such traditional behavior is under severe pressure to change due to the virulent threat of HIV / AIDS. The Thai male is being forced to not only to re-evaluate his own life style but his attitudes towards and relations with the female sex.


Women on their part, in-

5. The time-honored custom of the minor wife (mia noi) is still very much a part of the world of the rich, powerful and famous. However, the younger generation is far less understanding and forgiving of this behavior than the generations of their parents and grandparents. Female students in my law class, when questioned as to whether they would forget and forgive philandering by their husbands always asked "Did he play around with the same woman or different ones over time?" If it was the same woman, they said they would not stand for it and would separate or seek a divorce. It is often said in Thailand that only the very rich and very poor can have minor wives: the very rich supporting them and the very poor being supported by them. 6. In a little noticed news item, it was reported that two of the most famous sponsors of nude calendars, the Sura Maharas and Surathip Groups, would no longer be publishing their prized calendars. These whiskey companies had been producing these calendars for more 65


creasingly conscious of the threat to their survival, are mobilizing to assure a greater sense of empowerment. At the very least, the stalking patterns and grounds of the predatory Thai male have markedly changed, mostly influenced by the threat of AIDS. For some, the karaoke bar has been sufficient to sap their excess energy. Others have turned their sexual antennae to the salesgirls at shopping malls and department stores and to women's dormitories in the somewhat naive expectation that not being prostitutes such women will be free of disease. 7 Gome have attributed the rise in child prostitution to the belief that such underage prostitutes are similarly more likely to be sexually innocent and free of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. 8 Prostitution remains widespread though its forms may have changed . By and large, the lower paid prosti tutes, including

than a decade, and they often graced the walls of workplaces, coffee shops, restaurants and even homes. Perhaps, this decision to stop publication and donate the cost of publication to educational scholarships portends the first tentative steps towards new male attitudes towards women. 7. Social scientists in Thailand now accept that such "non-prostitute" women are now the major players in pre-marital and extra-marital sexual networking. For an insightful analysis of this system of sexual networking in all its intricacies see Katherine Carola Bond, Social and Sexual Networking in Urban Northern Thailand (Ph.D. thesis, John Hopkins University, 1995). 8. Having sex with a virgin, usually underage, is highly valued by Chinese men as it is conventional wisdom that this sexual act will prolong one's life. Within the Thai community, some have argued that with such a high value placed on virginity, a man's sense of sexual pride and self-esteem is often enhanced by being a women's first lover even if she is a prostitute just entering the trade.



more easy-to-control child prostitutes, can be found, along with their strong-arm pimps, in brothels, short-time hotels and motels, and teahouses. Somewhat higher on the economic ladder are the beauty salons, massage parlors and bars. At the apex of the economic pyramid are the exclusive member clubs, escort and call-girl services, where it is reputed famous movie starlets and models are available for the modest asking and quite immodest prices. 9 Despite repeated attempts to punish male clients, the male dominated parliaments have so far resisted such pressures, 10 while women in the profession continue to be victimized not only by the law, but by their clients and those theoretically tasked and committed to the law's enforcement. There is, however, a bill before the Parliament at present which will provide for punishment of clients. This bill, which has passed the House and is now being scrutinized by the Senate, provides for increasingly harsh punishments for anyone having sex with a prostitute, with or without his/her consent, in the age groups fifteen to eighteen and under fifteen.11 Discrimination against women is not only found in the secular world; it is also very much a part of the Buddhist religious sphere. Under both state and ecclesiastical law, women are

9. Recognizing the opportunities for remunerative employment, numerous Eastern European and Russian prostitutes have descended on Bangkok and put their new market economy values to the test in the welcoming embrace of Thailand’s permissive sexual culture. 10. As far back as 1984, the March Sth issue of The Nation Review reported that the Police Department had recommended an amendment to the laws so as to impose punishment on male clients of prostitutes. 1 1 . This Prostitution and Prevention Law subsequently passed the senate and became legally operative on December 21st, 1996. 67


prohibited from being ordained as female Theravada monks or bhikkhunis.12 While they can become nuns, such status, in religious terms, is clearly inferior and subordinate to that of monks and does not provide them with either state benefits or social prestige.13 It must be appreciated that the benefits for men ordained as monks are manifold. Becoming monks, young men not only make merit for themselves but, in taking the robes,

12 . A few women have skirted this prohibition by going to Taiwan to be ordained in the Mahayana tradition. However, on their return, State and ecclesiastical authorities have refused to recognize their bhikkhuni status. In Thailand, it is argued that the Bhikkhuni lineage of Theravada nuns is broken and therefore no qualified nuns are available to perform the ordination ceremony. However, there are those who challenge this thesis and contend that the lineage was not broken and continues today in China. There are few today who can remember an even more frontal assault on the male ramparts of the Sangha. It occurred in 1928 when eighteen-year-old Sara Rongasuwan and seven friends were ordained as samaneris (female novices) and lived in the first female temple, Wat Nareewong in Nonthaburi. A few months later, all were arrested for disregarding the Supreme Patriarch's order to leave the monkhood. Four left the Sangha voluntarily, while Sara and three others refused and were given eight—day jail sentences. The

Religious Affairs Department refused to register the Wat as a legitimate place of worship. Sara became a bhikkhuni and continued to practice as such. However, she finally left the monkhood in 1934 when she was twenty-four. The pressures had become too great. A year before, the government had passed a law prohibiting the ordaining of a woman as a bhikkhuni. 13 . Recognizing the difficulties in gaining acceptance for the ordination of female monks or bhikkhuni,a well known and respected nun, Kanittha Wichiencharoen, proposed a bill in late August 1996 which would give legal recognition to nuns as Buddhist clerics and enable them to receive educational and other state benefits similar to the male clergy. There is little optimism that the bill will receive the necessary political or public support necessary for its passage. 68


"send " merit to their parents and, consequently, add to the latter's merit balance. Thus they are able to repay the moral debt to their parents for both their birth and upbringing. Monks receive free education in Buddhist educational institutions reserved for monks through the primary and secondary levels and pay only a minimal fee of Baht 500 per semester at the university level. They also can obtain free medical care at the monk's hospital in Bangkok. For poor rural boys the educational opportunities afforded provide a channel for upward social mobility.14 When they leave the monkhood, they can use their educational experience and degrees to obtain work ordinarily denied to those of such social and economic background.15 The State also provides them with such

14 . Well over 60% of the monk students at the two Buddhist universities, Mahachulalongkorn and Mahamakutra, come from rural backgrounds, and the majority of those come from the Northeast, the poorest region in Thailand. The schooling for monks in these institutions is both religious and secular. The secular curriculum has been steadily broadened during the past few decades. At the village level, novices and monks can also avail themselves of informal vocational education provided by monk elders. There are over 60,000 monks studying in religious schools at the primary and secondary levels while several hundreds graduate from the Buddhist Universities and their upcountry branches each year. It must be recognized that the religious education channel may be used less frequently in the future as the State school system expands, free public education is extended and increased cash income makes the secular education system more accessible. 15 . Recently, Dusit Sopitcha, deputy leader of the Social Action Party and a former MP from Ubol Rachathani, cited his own life experience as a rural boy, totally educated in the Buddhist school system, who had achieved success and prestige after leaving the monkhood. He received his BA in social sciences from Mahamakutra University and an MA in political science from a Buddhist University in India.



benefits as free bus transportation and reduced train and air fares. The fact that rural women are denied the same channel and network for both their religious and secular aspirations has significant social implications. Poor rural girls simply do not have the same opportunities and options as their male counterparts. Unable to enter the monkhood as bhikkhuni, they cannot avail themselves of this avenue to fulfill the merit obligation to their parents. Unable to obtain free education beyond primary school, their work options are also severely circumscribed. Village girls realize that they cannot use the coin of merit to repay their meritorious debt but must use the currency of cash. With limited education, they initially may find themselves in the harsh environment of the child labor market, or that stage may be skipped as they are directly lured or sold, 16 knowingly or not, into prostitution. Some have argued that allowing village girls to be legally ordained as female novices and later as bhikkhuni would provide an acceptable alternative means to repay a daughter's moral debt to her parents. The parents would be hard-pressed to

16 . The fact that parents in certain Northern villages sell their daughters into prostitution has been well documented . Their desire for cash may be fueled by economic necessity to repay debts or cover emergency expenditures. More often than not, however, it is greed, in the guise of conspicuous consumption, that motivates them, e.g. a newly constructed house, a pick-up truck, a video machine, a refrigerator. In some cases it can be plausibly argued that the parents do not actually know that the job contracted for is prostitution. However, given the relatively long history of this practice, it is increasingly difficult to claim ignorance. It is not surprising that daughters, brought up to be docile, obedient and grateful, acquiesce. Under a law recently passed by Parliament, parents who sell their daughters into prostitution would be punished by both fines and imprisonment.



forego such a meritorious payment. Of course, daughters would have to remain in their saffron robes for more than a token period if this alternative life style was to have a significant impact on the supply of prostitutes. In addition, poor village girls who were ordained could then receive the same educational and other benefits as their fellow male peers in the Sangha. Thus, the Sangha would similarly become a channel for social mobility if and when they left the Sangha. During the past decade Thai women have reacted to the above sexual discrimination and sexual double standard in a variety of ways. Women activists tend to decry the lack of interest and passivity of educated women city dwellers as the latter generally shy away from direct political action and confrontation in defence of their rights. Nevertheless, there is increasing evidence of more active participation, in however muted tones, in Thai political discourse. Yet it is obvious such women are not so passive or so acquiescing in their private, if not public lives. The rates for divorce and separation, both legal and informal, have risen markedly. At the same time, many more educated Thai women are choosing not to marry.17 Some, both married and

17. Today, however, many career-oriented urban women do desire long term relationships and families. Nevertheless, they find discriminatory clauses in the male-biased Thai family law quite unacceptable. Unlike their parents, they are not content to accept meekly the discrepancy between the law and their own behavior and expectations. Increasingly, they have coped by simply removing themselves from the constricting confines of the law. Thus, they have intentionally failed to register their marriages legally. While this can have obvious negative consequences if a dissolution of the relationship occurs, at least the discriminatory provisions of family law are obviated, e.g., the requirement to use the husband's family name, the effective prohibition against purchase of land if married to a foreigner, etc.



unmarried, have sought to take a page from their Thai male peers and may be seen at the Chippendale-like bars in Bangkok with their well-dressed and groomed male waiters and escorts. Slowly but surely, the glass ceiling in the workplace is being cracked if not shattered. The past three years have seen those bastions of male chauvinism, the Thai Ministry of Interior and the Thai military, take some tentative, but nevertheless dramatic, steps towards equality with the appointments of the first female governor, the first women district and deputy district officers, and the first women generals. 18 The parliamentary elections in

18 . As of mid 1996 there was one female governor and two deputy governors. While at present there is only one district officer, this number can be expected to rise considerably for it is only in the past two years that women have been allowed to take the deputy district officer exam. There are now somewhat over 500 women who have passed this exam. At the village level, as of the end of 1995, there were over 1,123 female village heads out of a total of 58,293. There were ninety-seven commune heads out of a total of 7,011. Two other previously male dominated enclaves, the diplomatic service and the judiciary have, over the past decade, also made strides to redress the gender imbalance. Though still heavily weighted in favor of males, the door to female opportunity has inched open. In 1985, there were only seven women at the civil service levels seven to eleven in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Today, there are eighty-one though they are outnumbered by their male counterparts by a ratio of a little over three and a half to one. While in 1985 there was only one woman of Ambassadorial rank, there are now five compared to seventy-one men at such a level. In the judiciary, the number of women judges has risen steadily though at present they only represent approximately 15% of the total number. In 1974 there were only eight women judges and,

by law, they

were restricted to the Family Court. In 1975


regulations were revised and the right to serve in any and all courts was given. The first women were posted that year to provincial courts. In mid 1996 there were two hundred seventy-two women judges serving at all levels, in all courts. Throughout all branches of govern-




1995 resulted in more female MPs being elected than ever before in Thai history. While their numbers were still low, twenty-four out of 391, their voices were being increasingly heard in the political arena. While unequal pay may still be the norm in much of the workplace,19 many university educated wives, in the now almost universal two-income urban family, make significantly more than their husbands, particularly if the latter are in the civil service. Thai women, at least in the cities, are becoming more educated, more confident, more assured . Their values and expectations are changing as they seek to gain greater control over their lives and realize their fullest potential. Women have become more economically independent. This has been accompanied by a sharp rise in family planning and the use of contraceptives which has further contributed to women's sense of autonomy. At the same time, the shift to small nuclear family households and

ment service, the total percentage of women and men is approximately equal. However, such a statistic hides the reality that the

proportion of women decreases dramatically as one moves to higher levels of executive management. For statistical breakdowns in various ministries and at various civil service levels. See Suteera Thompson and Maytinee Bhongsivej, Profile of Women in Thailand (Bangkok: Gender and Development Research Institute, 1995), pp. 68-69. 19 . During the decade of the 1980s, Thailand enjoyed an economic growth rate averaging 8% per annum. This high growth rate was fueled by the rapid increase of exports of manufactured goods, including textiles, frozen canned goods, jewelry, electrical machines and footwear, and a burgeoning tourist industry. Women formed about 80-90% of this labor force. Despite this major contribution to the economic growth of the country, the majority of those women workers received about half of the legal minimum wage (ibid. pp. 53-55). 73


away from the large extended family has provided somewhat more space for personal expression and freedom. Their independent and egalitarian mind-set, more often than not, puts women today at odds not only with their parents, elders and husbands but with themselves also. Thai women carry the heavy psychological baggage of a traditional upbringing which focuses on appropriate behavior of an idealized "good woman" as a selfless, nurturing female of refined maimer, devoted to her husband, ready to sacrifice for the well-being and good of her family. Her role models in the past were those of Thai classical literature, the Ramayana and Inao, with the heroines depicted as symbols of virginal beauty and self-sacrifice who found gratification and security from men in marriage.20 Thus, the younger generation of women has to come to terms with their enculturation as they seek to assert their own identity. They are spending less time in the home than previously, and marriage and child bearing are not the central focus of the modern urban woman as they once were. Within marriage, their expectation of shared responsibilities and gratification is dramatically different from that of their parents and grandparents. The present generation of women has to cope with intergenerational and spousal conflicts and tension as well as with the social, legal, political and economic environments which are still heavily influenced by the patriarchal values of male supremacy. These young women now find new heroines with whom to more easily identify among the mod ern New Wave novelists and short story writers. These fictional heroines find themselves in conflict

20 . While it might be argued that the revered and respected warrior heroines in Thai history represent a contrasting model, it should be remembered these women sacrificed themselves to honor and protect their husbands, family and nation. 74


and turmoil as their new attitudes and desires conflict with traditional values. They, as their counterparts in the real world, must, through compromise and adaptation, work out effective solutions so the tensions become productive rather than destructive. Whatever new identities and roles women may forge in the chaos of urban life today, one may expect, in the not too distant future, similar trends to develop in the rural areas as the distinction between the rural and urban worlds blurs. It is possible

that the

female offspring of this present generation may find it consid erably easier to cope than their parents as the culture will have become more supportive. On the other hand, as the options and choices for women expand, it is also predictable that the added complexities associated with multiple role play will create new and different tensions and conflicts. 1996


Thai Cuisine in Transition

THE CHANGING PATTERNS in the selection, preparation and presentation of Thai food is a somewhat savory metaphor for the dramatic transformations now occurring in all aspects of Thai society. Traditional forms and norms of behavior are breaking down, buffeted by an array of internal and external forces. In rural Thailand, changes in the forms and norms associated with food have become increasingly evident during the past few decades. They have been influenced by rural electrification, improved road and transportation facilities, greater mobility, expanded educational opportunities, fast-developing means of communication and the shift from a barter to a cash economy. Refrigeration, growth of village markets, increased purchasing power, as well as greater understanding of nutritional values and requirements, have quickly made their influence felt. As more villagers sought off-farm employment in nearby provincial centers and the more faraway capital and even beyond, initially in the Middle East and later in neighboring countries in Southeast and Northern Asia, new and not always distasteful alternatives in the type, preparation and presentation of food became known. 77


I remember an elder from the Northeastern Thai village in which I was resident some forty years ago remarking after his return from a three-day visit across the border in Laos feasting on French cuisine: "I suddenly realize I had no sticky rice for three days, and I am still alive!" It would be almost impossible to find a villager today with the narrowly-restricted food habits of that puzzled village uncle. It should be noted that rice is not only a food staple but forms the core of the villager's cultural identity. The very word to eat in Thai is "to eat rice. " Main course dishes are referred to, in general, by the all inclusive term "with rice." Many of the ceremonies and festivals throughout the year involve paying ritual respect to the rice goddess and celebrating various stages of planting, maturation and harvesting of the rice crop. In the past, vil lage children in the Northeast were warned that to eat only "with rice" dishes without rice would turn them into the dreaded "phi pawb" spirit. In poor villages of Central Thailand children were similarly threatened. However, in a strange and not very logical twist, they were warned that eating too much "with rice" fare would give them distended stomachs and protruding eyes like the undernourished natives of famine-stricken Africa. Given the poverty of the rural areas, such an injunction was a valuable training tool to help mold food habits. Traditionally, the consumption of certain foods and the avoidance of others in rural Thailand has been determined by availability, economic necessity, and cultural imperatives. Certain foods and seasonings were readily available without any immediate cash outlay, e.g. rice, fish, birds, frogs, insects, garden vegetables and spices. If one raised chickens, planted sugar cane, and had access to the relatively rare saltlick, then eggs, sugar and salt were added to the larder. Any missing ingredients to the above mix could always be obtained through barter. Certain foods were only consumed during Buddhist merit ceremonies, 78


Brahmanic and animist rituals and seasonal festivals: specially prepared sweets, rice noodles and meats such as chicken, beef and pork. In the case of meat, it was a combination of economic and legal restrictions that framed choice. The state outlawed the killing of buffalo, oxen and pigs without proper registration and licensing. There was a similar legal prohibition against the production of locally-made rice moonshine. For many, such restrictions were honored more in the breach than in the observance. How many aged buffaloes suddenly fell terminally ill or had fatal accidents just in time for ceremonial feasts! Just as it was unacceptable to use limited cash reserves for the purchase of government licensed whiskey, so too would it have been considered quite aberrational to sacrifice scarce financial resources to include beef or chicken in one's daily fare. Apart from the issue of expense, certain foods were deemed to have symbolic significance and were limited to special occasions. One such dish of noodles made from rice flour is called khanom cin in Central Thai and khaw poon in Northeastern dialect. To produce it is a most complicated and time-consuming process. The long, thin white noodles are eaten with a fish sauce of varying piquancy depending on individual and regional taste predilections. Some have said such a food is reserved for festivals as its method of preparation involves many "cooks" doing different tasks, providing both an opportunity to gossip and flirt as well as to share merit. In addition, it is noted that the noodles have the appearance of the sacred white cotton thread used in Brahmanic ritual blessing ceremonies involving one's "living essence." It is, perhaps, for this reason that the eating of these noodles is associated with long life. And some villagers opine that the long strands of noodles squeezed into boiling pots of water from bags with holes in the bottom serve to symbolize the flow of merit from those making the noodles to those who have 79


died. In the Northeast this dish traditionally was exclusively reserved for festivals and ceremonies. In the Central region, on the otherhand, the consumption of suchnoodles, easily purchased in the market, is quite common. However, those in the capital are also careful to include noodles, of whatever variety, in their birthday feasts as a culinary symbol of long life. A special sweet, khaw daek nga, is made during the life-crisis ceremony to recall one's khwan or living essence to one's body. 1 This dessert is thought to be a particular favorite of the departed khwan. It is evident that the time-consuming and labor-intensive preparation of the rice noodle and the special sweet described above would preclude such foods from being part of one's daily diet. Certain foods and condiments have traditionally been taboo at certain times, e.g. during pregnancy; after childbirth the prescribed postnatal diet was limited to rice, salt and fish and other foods were, by custom, avoided. Sometimes Westerners villages might well have wished that such visiting Northeastern culinary treats as cooked silkworms, red ants and their larvae, crickets and a certain type of freshly turned soil were taboo! It may also be noted that many Northeastern Thai villagers had their own personal food taboos because of either physical or psychologically-inspired allergic reactions. The traditional food patterns described above are subject to it is convensevere pressure. For anthropologists, increasingly tional wisdom that food habits change at a slower pace than most other aspects of culture. However, the irresistible forces impacting on Thai society cannot be denied on the table as well as off.


During this ceremony cotton threads are tied on the wrists of the supplicant(s). The ceremony will be carried out at birth, marriage, sickness, personal tragedy, leaving and entering the village, etc. 80


Young villagers who have left the village to seek employment in the provincial towns, the capital and abroad and who have had their culinary vistas broadened have, on their return, played a major role in shifts in village food habits. Refrigeration, emergent village markets, more easily accessible town markets and available cash have resulted in meat, vegetables, sweets and even the highly-valued rice noodles becoming part of normal eating fare. Festival foods are no longer limited to festivals. Generational conflicts have arisen as the elders are more wedded to past food practices and less prone to use limited cash resources to spend on food except where absolutely necessary. I recently heard a village aunt grumble "some of the younger generation are so into eating that they cannot make their time payments on their pick-up trucks and refrigerators." The young mothers in the village today feed their babies far differently from their parents and grandparents. No longer will the mother masticate rice and bananas and feed the baby the resulting mush. It was the betel juice flavoring that seemed the final insult when I observed this practice some forty years ago. Now boiled rice and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables will be crushed and mashed in a mortar instead. More and more mothers now use milk formula in a bottle rather than breast feeding. While the feeding habits for babies have been somewhat influenced by convenience, nutritional knowledge is also a factor. School lunch programs throughout Thailand now incorporate a daily glass of milk. In an amusing political aside, a political party was recently accused of vote buying for distributing pasteurized milk to school children. Interestingly enough, nutrition does not yet appear to be a significant reason for the change in patterns of food consumption for the parents. In urban Thailand the change in the selection, preparation and presentation of food has been even more dramatic. What 81


magic was wrought with the day- or night-long preparation of a multi-spiced Thai curry; a lemon grass and ginger-flavored coconut soup; a wax and jasmine scented desert; cucumbers, papayas and watermelons sculpted to represent roses and frangipanis; and napkins folded this way and that to suddenly reveal a lotus flower. What could be more antithetical to the above than the now ubiquitous fast food folly of a McDonald's burger and french fries, Kentucky fried chicken and pizza. I remember, as an old Thai hand, being quite smug in predicting that McDonald's would never make the grade in Thailand: who would possibly forego five bowls of Chinese noodles or several servings of a spicy unripe papaya salad for one McDonald's burger? Alas, I was proven to be way off the culinary base as the Thai middle class couldn't wait to be seen sampling Western delicacies under the Golden Arches, in the shade of a Pizza Hut, Dunkin(g) Donuts and rubbing shoulders with Colonel Sanders. Though it seems a contradiction in terms, one can now purchase packaged cooked curries and other Thai fast food dishes from the supermarkets to take home and heat. One may also stop at the sidewalk food stalls and buy stir-fried combinations and spicy soups stuffed into plastic bags. It is of some interest that curries made without the sine qua non coconut milk, the very foundation of the famed Thai curry, are becoming increasingly popular in the capital. Such curries (called "forest curries") have been part of traditional village cuisine for many generations. The appearance of such curries in the metropolis may not only be because of the piquant taste but also due to the fact that one does not have to go to the expense or trouble of using coconut milk, and the curry can be kept for days without refrigeration. With both husband and wife working, the difficulty in finding

and keeping


and the hours

spent in traffic, it is

not surprising that traditional preparation and presentation of 82


Thai cuisine, in all its time-consuming intricacy, has lost its charm for the younger urban generation. The fuel for cooking has also dramatically changed in the past two decades. Previously, charcoal was the fuel of choice. Now, charcoal has become the exception, replaced by propane gas and electricity. In the city, convenience, availability and price have dictated the change. The unique flavor of a charcoal-cooked meal has given way to the two-minute miracles of the microwave. In a traditional Thai compound the kitchen was separate from the main house. Thus, charcoal smoke and cooking scents were quarantined. This would not be possible in the small apartments or even in the more spacious condos that increasingly house the Thai urban middle class. For the urban poor, one's daily fare is mostly influenced by cost. For example, a few decades ago mackerel was the most economical staple. As its price rose steadily, it lost its honored place on the tables of the poor and was replaced by the new inexpensive mass-produced staple, chicken. For the burgeoning Thai yuppie population, there are other more sophisticated culinary status symbols than Western fast foods. While their children will be encouraged to drink a glass or two of milk a day, the parents have succumbed to the craze for expensive wine. This has occurred despite the fact that wine neither travels well nor does it particularly prosper in Thailand's overheated climate; it also does not complement Thai food very well. Nevertheless, newspapers are filled with wine columns, New Year's gift baskets are graced with the latest prestige vintage, and the social pages are replete with references to the $1,000 bottles of wine served at the latest celebrity dinner. Most recently, the billionaire leader of a political party, which had just withdrawn its support from the government sent a $6,000 bottle of French wine to the Prime Minister. While the 63


intent was to make the parting somewhat sweeter, it may be assumed the P.M. found the taste politically sour. Wine is not the only spirit for which Thai have a fondness. Cutting across all levels of Thai society is the predilection of Thais for Johnnie Walker Black Label. Thailand enjoys the exalted, if somewhat giddy, honor of being the number one export market for the Black Label brand worldwide. One may also expect that urbanites will become increasingly health conscious and will slowly shift their diets to incorporate both Western and traditional health foods. In this context, one might mention the spread of the strictly vegetarian diet, though at this stage the impetus for such a diet is more religiously than nutritionally inspired. Even with all the newly grafted Western appurtenances, Thai cuisine still revels in its peppers and other spices. My wife, who was brought up on the explosive heat of spicy Lao cuisine in the Northeast of Thailand, believes to this day that the best meal is one that causes a flood of tears and a scorched mouth. Most Thais when traveling will usually store away a few containers filled with peppers and spices. There are indications that even in this famed facet of Thai cuisine, there is a perceptible move to lower the spicy-hot temperature. While it is too early to predict that traditional Siamese cuisine in all its majesty will, in the future, only be found in the palace or Thai restaurants abroad, there is little doubt that food, like every other aspect of Thai society, is undergoing dramatic change. In one more area, Thai cultural identity is being challenged and transformed. 1996


Thai Personal Pronouns: A Linguistic Labyrinth

THE CONTOURS OF THAI CULTURE are being slowly, but surely, reshaped. The traditional markers, signals and signposts that once so clearly pointed the way to social predictability and the acceptance of time-honored hierarchical and authoritarian structures are now being shifted about, redrawn and, in some cases, obliterated. The intoxicating wine of individualism and egalitarianism is spinning heads and causing a somewhat un-

comfortable questioning of traditional patterns of authority, power and hierarchy. Thai society is becoming more confrontational and competitive as individual rights are being more openly asserted. It is also becoming more emotionally committed and engaged. It is not surprising that physical attitudes (body language) expressing fine gradations in deference, respect and reverence on the one hand and power, authority, seniority, rank and status on the other are being modified and changed so as to modulate the more significant and overt expressions of such power distance. Language is being subjected to similar pressures as the former 85


verbal codes, traditionally used to define and legitimize hierarchical status, are slowly passing into desuetude. Nowhere is this change more evident than in the linguistic maze of Thai personal pronouns. Much like the romance languages of Europe, Asian languages have non-reciprocal pronouns of address, e.g. formal and polite terms for "you" as well more informal and familiar ones. There are, in many Asian languages, different terms for "I" as well depending on differentia] status. In Europe, as feudal society evolved to a more egalitarian one, non-reciprocal expressions of differential power and status were slowly discarded. In Thailand today, a similar trend is underway. In the Thai language there is a well-defined gradation of terms for the pronouns of address, "I" and "you," that make the old European language terminology appear quite limited and simplistic.1 Pronouns of address also differ markedly within and among the commoner, monk and royal communities. However, our analysis here will be confined to the parlance of the average citizen. Some forty years ago in the linguistic vacuum of Yale Graduate School, I was taught the formal and polite pronouns of address phom (I) for men and dichan (I) for women; khun (you) for a person of equal status and than (you) for those of higher status and as a mark of respect and reverence; and then (you) for those of lower status, e.g., to servants, a teacher to students or to express familiarity as between husband and wife, close friends, etc. I think back, with both fondness and regret, to the relative simplicity of the past. T oday, particularly among the younger generation,

1. It should also be pointed out that in the Thai language there are separate, special vocabularies for animals, commoners, monks and royalty in which entirely different words are used to describe even such normal daily activities as eating and sleeping. 86


the polite and formal vocabulary is fast disappearing. There appears to be a tendency, sometimes intentional but more often at a subconscious level, to avoid terms associated and identified with power disequilibrium, with hierarchy, with authoritarian structures. The younger generation finds itself uncomfortable with the formality of the power-laden language of the past, particularly when speaking among themselves. This verbal revolt is part of a social rebellion that takes many different forms. Here and there enclaves of resistance to such linguistic change remain, especially, and not surprisingly, in the bastions of the bureaucracy: the Ministry of Interior and military.2 However, even in these institutions slightly less formal vocabulary is increasingly evident. Another holdout against more egalitarian language is within the family where parents are still referred to as "father" and "mother," and polite and deferential terms of reference to oneself are still prevalent. Singapore and Malaysian statesmen would be pleased that what they define as one of the first steps on the slippery road to social decay, i.e. calling one's parents by their first name, has not yet infiltrated into the Thai social fabric. Despite the above examples, the general trend is towards more egalitarian language. Thais have been justifiably praised for their verbal artistry and legerdemain. It would appear they have exercised this skill to the utmost in developing a dazzling variety of alternatives to avoid the formal and polite vocabulary of the past. Some of the more prevalent verbal substitutes for the formal and polite terms of address, "I" and "you," include the following:

2. The old usage of kraphom for "I" on the part of an inferior/ subordinate to a superior is still prevalent in these communities but the paired older term for "you," taj thaw (under foot) has passed into desuetude. 87



I (phom3, dichan"1 )

You (khun, than)

ua ku kha

lya myng eng nai You (English word) nickname of the person spoken to

I (English word) nickname of the person speaking

raw khaw lung (uncle), phi (elder), nawng lung, phi, nawng chan then kae lawn tua eng tua eng Further explanation of the above terms may be helpful. Some of the above terms are almost exclusively used in linked pairs such as ua-lya, ku-myng, kha-eng.Other terms are used more flexibly and can be shifted about more easily. It may also be noted that while some of the above alternatives for the polite pronoun terminology are used by both men and women, most substitutes

3. Used by males. 4. Used by females. 88


are used by one gender or the other. The trend towards linguistic equality does not include merging separate gender-based vocabularies. The widely used ua-lya linkage is used exclusively among boys and men. The words are taken from Techew, the most prevalent Chinese dialect in Thailand. While in Chinese the terms are viewed as more polite and formal, they have become decidedly informal in transposition into the Thai language and are used just among close male friends. Ku and myng are old Thai words for "I" and "you" which were in use as far back as the Sukhothai period. These terms were used reciprocally among equals. At present, ku and myng are mostly limited in use to close male friends. Kha and eng are old Thai words, used during the Ayutthaya period, that expressed differential status and power. However, in a seeming deliberate parody, they have been transformed into terms of familiarity that are now used primarily among close male friends. Nevertheless, eng is sometimes still used instead of more formal terms for "you" by parents when speaking to their children. Another similar transformation has occurred with the use of nai, the word for "boss” or "master,” now being used in a familiar, informal, almost jocular fashion as a substitute for "you" among close male and female friends. Of the above three sets, ku—myng denotes the closest intimacy. Sometimes ku-myng and kha-eng will be used among the most intimate of female friends. It is of some interest that ua-lya, ku-myng, and kha-eng can, in another context, be viewed as insulting and lead to violence. If used with strangers to express anger or annoyance (e.g. "what are you starting at? Am I offensive?"), a verbal confrontation can quickly lead to a physical one. On the other hand, fighting words of opprobrium and insult when used among strangers are magically transformed into terms of familiarity and affection in ad89


dress among close male friends. Thus, close buddies may refer to each other fondly as "cursed cholera ghost" or "monitor lizard," two of the more derogatory curse words in Thai. "Cursed beast/ animal" is also used. The English words "I" and "you" are used by more Westernized Thais, sometimes in an affected fashion, to declare their sophistication; other times simply to revel in what they understand to be the egalitarian and socially neutral terminology of English. The use of "uncle," "aunt," "younger" (brother or sister) and "elder" (brother and sister), 5 as well as other kinship terms denoting younger and older aunts and uncles and grandparents on mother's and father's sides, are used widely in Thai culture as terms of respect. Referring to others in an extended family context, however fictional, while proper and respectful, is viewed as much less formal than the polite I-you terminology. Another term, often used instead of the polite "you,” is acharn (professor). This term is widely utilized to show respect while avoiding the more formal personal pronoun. It is applied rather broadly to both men and women who are permanent professors or who have taught classes part time at the university level or in government training programs. The equivalents for acharn in the business world are Nai Hang (trader /businessmen) used for Indians and Westerners and Thao Kae and, for the more wealthy, Jaw Sua (trader / businessman), and Thao Kae Nia (businesswomen) for the Thai-Chinese.

5. However, the younger-elder terminology has been often used in the past to reinforce hierarchical and patriarchal patterns. Traditionally, husbands were referred to as phi (elder) and wives as iiuwng (younger) irrespective of their actual ages. As might be expected, the younger generation is less prone to use this nomenclature. 90


For females, the most prevalent term for "I" among the young generation is raw which, in the Thai language, is the word for "we." Males also use raw for "I" but much less frequently. The use of this word for "I" does not have any of the "royal we" ("We are not amused") connotations of the West. In a similar strange transformation, the word khaw (he, she, they) is sometimes

used by

females for "I" though its tonal quality is also transformed in speech to become a high tone. Another word, kae, while less formal, has the same meaning as khaw (he, she, they) and is also transformed in today's parlance to mean "you." Kae can be used for "you" among close friends while also, like then, being used with servants. However, in the latter case, kae is a less polite and slightly more intimidating term than then. Kae can also be used by parents to children and by elders to youth. Depending

on the tone of voice

used it can express more or less familiarity and emotional distance. Lawn is used for "you," in a somewhat jocular fashion, among close female friends, especially in context of quite feminine focused speech. It, therefore, is not surprising that lawn is quite frequently used for "you" among the Bangkok male transvestite community. Chan is a term used by both males and females for "I." It is often used in a linkage with then (you) among male and female students

in the

context of friendship and familiarity but not intimacy. Tua eng (oneself, myself) and tua eng (yourself) are used to express a certain familiarity. A slightly different pronunciation is given to these words when used in this I-you context. Tua eng is used especially by women for "I" as a conscious substitute for chan which connotes a certain social distance and dichan which is far too formal. Tua eng, like lawn, is also commonly used among transvestites. The use of "myself/ oneself" in Thai does not have the rather affected sense of the u s e of "one" for "I" among certain of the English u p p e r c l a s s e s (e.g. " O n e finds that rather b o r i n g " ) . 91


It can be seen from the above that there are endless shadings and fine distinctions in the levels of familiarity /intimacy in common parlance. Now one can quickly and easily establish the extent of familiarity and intimacy between two speakers by the above noted substitutes used for "I" and "you." It is clear that this fine tuning in the terminology of familiarity and informality has been at the expense of previously used gradations of the more polite and formal vocabulary. Given the still resistant patriarchal, male dominated mindset of Thai society, it is not surprising that some girls and women may still cling to or revert to the increasingly less-used polite and formal vocabulary. In addition, the word nu (little mouse), a term of polite deference used by and, with affectionate condescension, to young females, still lingers though it is less prevalent than in the past. I have been chastised as more than a little outdated when I have requested the "mouse" (waitress) to khid tang "figure the satang (coinage)" when I should be asking a "younger sister" for the "check-bin" (bill). It may also surprise the linguistically naive to hear a forty-year-old woman teacher refer to herself as "little mouse" when talking to a respected elder professor. Thai culture is in a state of transition. Traditional patterns of social, cultural, economic and political behavior are being transformed. Battle lines are increasingly being drawn between the forces of hierarchy and those of individualism and egalitarianism. Accommodations and adaptations will be developed and, hopefully, the resultant tensions and conflict will be creative rather than destructive. Language, the subject of this essay, is but one of the less dramatic but nevertheless highly symbolic skirmishes in the larger struggle being waged. 1996


Law and Society

IN THAILAND, AS IN OTHER developing countries, there is constant tension between the positive law, as promulgated by the central government authority, and the "living law," or customary behavior. Anthropologists such as Hoebel, Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown, and novelists such as Vicki Baum, Geraldine Halls and Chinua Achebe, have, from their different perspectives, eloquently delineated the crise culturelle resulting from a confrontation between the formalistic legal world, often associated with Westernization and modernization, and the traditional behavior of a society regimented by ceremonial and work cycles; by economic pressures of an impoverished subsistence economy; by taboos, magical—religious sanctions and community judgment; and by traditions and beliefs expressed through such interpreters of the cultural subconscious as spirit doctors and clan chiefs. However, the crisis is not only a cultural one. There are obvious social and political implications as well in an environmcnt where the discrepancy between law and custom is marked . Inevitably, laws will be honored more in the breach than 93


in the observance, and this will result in a loss of respect for the rule of law. This paper will attempt to examine the effects of this imbalance between law and custom in contemporary Thai society and explore ways and means to achieve a congruence and constructive tension between these two forces. Traditionally, in rural Thailand the social order and solidarity of the village was maintained by recognized and accepted norms of appropriate behavior. Deviations were kept at a minimum through a complex web of family, communal, Buddhist and animist constraints. When conflicts arose they were settled by compromise and consensus, using the charisma and mediation skills of monks, clan heads and spirit mediums. A voluntary restitution of wrongs committed against persons and property followed. Dissatisfaction, or "grievance tension," resulting from the resolution of conflicts, was kept to a minimum. However, for better or worse, Thai villages no longer remain in splendid isolation. They are being radically transformed and being brought into closer contact with urban society. Government services have expanded, and there has inevitably been increased contact with government officialdom. The state judicial system, with its courts and adversary proceedings, now beckons as an alternative means of conflict resolution. For tire most part, the villagers

have resisted

Thai techniques

the temptation,

preferring die traditional

for settling disputes and minimizing


At times the state has found it difficult to resist the challenge. In the early eighties the Thai Ministry of Justice sought to encourage the use of courts in even the most remote rural areas by establishing a mobile court system. As might have been predicted, rather than resolving conflicts, social friction and discord were encouraged and exacerbated, and such courts were soon abandoned. While certain government officials appreciated the potential negative consequences of an adversarial court system, similar 94


failure occurred when at about the same time a pilot project was initiated by a provincial governor to establish in selected villages "pavilions for compromise of disputes." These village courts were to mediate conflicts, thus avoiding the necessity to use the official state court system. Unfortunately, these village courts, imposed from the outside, failed to rely on the informal village and leadership elite traditionally responsible for conciliation mediation. By substituting an additional and external system on the existing structure, social disharmony, rather than concord, resulted. This experiment, as was the case with the mobile courts, also had to be abandoned. While the villagers, for the most part, continue to adjudicate interpersonal conflicts and actions deemed harmful to communal harmony in traditional ways, they increasingly cannot escape the long arm of State law and power. They find themselves accused of constantly violating certain State laws which are in conflict with traditional behavior. The rationale underlying these laws is often not clear or meaningful to the peasantry. For example, in the absence of legal registration and licensing where applicable, legal prohibitions against the cutting of timber, gambling, fabrication of home-made liquor, production of homem a d e firearms, slaughtering of cattle and buffaloes, etc., are continually circumvented. The villagers follow custom; the authorities, however sporadically, enforce the law. The villagers will cut down enough timber to build a house or rice bam, will brew some rice liquor for a ceremonial feast, will fabricate a home-made shotgun for protection against bandits and for hunting. In most instances the villagers will know such action is illegal but will feel no guilt as they are acting from economic necessity and in conformity with traditional practices sanctioned by the community. In addition, they may not fully comprehend the social, economic and scientific rationales and justifications un95


derlying such laws. There is also an element of winning a battle of wits with officialdom. The villagers, harking back to the fables of the past, identify with the culture hero, Srithanonchai, or his Northeastern counterpart, Siang Miang, born of the peasantry, who conquered the ruling authorities through guile and deceit. It is a game villagers have been playing from time immemorial: how to successfully evade the laws, orders, and burdens perceived as arbitrary and imposed upon them by those in power. In addition to the above examples of the conflict between law and custom in rural areas, one must note the destabilizing effects of such conflict in the increasingly important arena of environmental protection and land rights. Villagers are slowly abandoning their reliance on karma as an explanation for their condition and lot in life. They increasingly perceive their state as resulting from the corruption, abuse of power and misallocation of resources by those in positions of power and authority. At the same time the villagers have overcome their traditional aversion to confrontation.1 The rural populace is now actively resisting

1. Some Thai scholars have questioned the assumption that the Northeastern rural populace has traditionally had a bias against confrontation with government officialdom and with authority figures. They point to the long history of overt Isaan challenges to central authority beginning as far back as 1692 with the first of several rebellions over the next two and a half centuries, led by messianic holy men referred to as phou mee bun. There have been other charismatic Northeastern leaders who have proudly worn the mantle of confrontation with the political powers that be, e.g., a series of vocal opposition Isaan MPs from the early 1930s to the mid-fifties. One should also not forget that the Communist Party of Thailand was established in Sakon Nakhon province in the Northeast in 1965, and communist cadres in several Northeastern provinces led the insurgency movement against State authority for the next decade. The present-day activists confronting officialdom, whether "development monks," local NGO leaders, or the 96



actions perceived as inimical to its quality of life and, in some cases, its very survival. There has been steady pressure to modulate the pace of economic growth so as to avoid the devastation of Thailand's dwindling natural resources and the pollution and degradation of the environment. There are daily protests and demonstrations against eviction from long term residency in reserved forest areas, the building of dams, 2 industrial waste pollution of rural water systems, and the siting of toxic waste plants and garbage dumps. The villagers are confronting officialdom and demanding that their rights to natural resources be protected, that existing laws safeguarding the environment be enforced and that new legislation be promulgated where necessary. With the advice and support of non-government organizations (NGOs), village organizations (VOs), media and academia, the village populace is asserting itself. The hitherto hidden and muted voices —the "whispers" of the rural poor—are now in full

Assembly of Small-Scale Farmers leadership may be seen as logical extensions of this historical predilection for a confrontational ethos.

However, it should be noted that this historical line of rebellious confrontation is defined by charismatic leaders in localized challenges to the authorities. For the most part, the general populace maintained its aversion to overt confrontational tactics in their personal relations and especially where outside authority was concerned. 2. One of the most sustained rural protest movements in recent history involved the construction of a hydro-electric dam at the site of the Pak Mool river in the Northeastern province of Ubon. Starting in 1991 and continuing until its completion in 1994, there were more than twenty separate demonstrations in both Ubon and Bangkok against the dam's construction. Since its completion there have continued to be series of protests demanding fair compensation for financial losses incurred by the villagers concerned. 97


cry and can be easily heard .3 Authorities have been pressured into stricter enforcement of certain laws and ministerial regulations but to a more flexible approach in others. The environmental lobby has achieved some modest success in obtaining government support for legislation that will acknowledge the right of villagers to participate in land-use decisions and in the management of community forest areas and that will restrict the use of forest reserves for private plantations. However, the environmentally friendly legislation, as finally promulgated, may not always totally meet the requirements of the NGOs and VOs.4 While some measure of legal reform has occurred in the environmental sphere, there remains a significant gap between the law and the expectations, concerns and customary behavior of those affected by the degradation of the environment in both rural and urban Thailand. There must be a legal framework that provides sufficient control and regulation of activities inimical to the preservation of the environment. If not, given the heightened

3. According to statistics released by the Ministry of Interior, there were 713 rallies and demonstrations organized by NGOs and VOs in 1994; of these 204 were in the Northeast, 161 in the North, 151 in the South; 115 in and around Bangkok and 82 in Central Thailand. In 1995, 694 protests were reported, and an even higher figure is predicted for 1996. 4. A rather striking example of this is the disagreement among environmentalists themselves concerning a proposed Community Forestry Bill. There are both defenders and detractors of the proposed law as the rights of villagers to manage their forest resources are posed against the need to preserve pristine forests to serve as vibrant watersheds and a habitat for biodiversity. Compromise would appear to be possible by designating different classes of community forests and allowing or restricting activities accordingly. At present, however, the two camps remain divided. 98


public sensitivity to this issue, continued social and political tension and unrest will persist.5 Land rights is the arena where such rural conflict and discord is most evident. The bureaucracy

5. In October 1993 thousands of villagers under the aegis of the Confederation of Isaan Small Scale Farmers marched on Bangkok demanding that the government respond to their appeals on land ownership rights, falling crop prices, resettlement problems caused by government projects, etc. As usual, the government promised to be responsive to their grievances; in fact, little was done. A little over two years later the Thai Forum of the Poor, drawing on the Confederation's membership, as well as urban disadvantaged labor and slum groups and a cross-section of socially conscious academics and NGO representatives, organized a protest in front of Government House with a familiar list of demands for greater people participation within the political system in order to solve problems concerning eucalyptus plantations, land rights, compensation for lands and income lost through construction of dams, toxic waste dumping, health security for laborers, etc. As usual, the government in power made soothing noises and promises. The first few months of 1997 saw the Assembly of the Poor once again encamped before Government House, the number of protesters sometimes reaching ten thousand. On the other hand, although frustration, annoyance and discontent is obviously felt by the harried urbanites, they have shown remarkable forbearance in tolerating the daily degradation of their environment. Unlike their rural counterparts, they have not taken to the streets. The Bangkokian's patience with the excesses of political degradation is far less. There have been demonstrations and protests, some drenched with blood, others merely with rhetoric, in defiance of abuses of authoritarian power and control. A colleague at the university remarked that the capital's citizenry probably feels reform of Bangkok's environment is hopeless, but reform of the political system is still possible. In this connection, there seems to be a growing impatience on the part of the Bangkok populace with the corruption and inefficiency of parliamentary democracy. Some have suggested it would better serve the Thai body politic if there were more patience with the relatively controlled chaos of the democratic process and less with the uncontrolled chaos of the environment. 99


at both local and national levels has been slow to accept the right of rural villagers to own outright the land they farm. Today it is estimated that as many as ten million people live and work on land that officials have designated as not being legally available for agricultural use. This is a dramatic example of the discrepancy between customary behavior and practice and the law and its interpretation by the bureaucracy. This situation has led to corruption and exploitation by officials, politicians, and business interests. With a more assertive and aggressive rural populace, 6 the ingredients for political confrontation and violence are in place.7 Not only will the law and ministerial regulations have to be changed, but the bureaucratic mind-set and behavior also has to be transformed. The government must also be perceived as being motivated by fairness, equity and justice. The villagers are increasingly aware of the more favored status of business in terms of use of protected land, e.g., the business sector is allowed to mine in Grade A watershed areas and national parks. On the other hand, the villagers are fighting just to continue living in areas where they had often been resident long before protected forest zones were designated. An effort to respond to these

6. Even the normally serene monkhood has not been immune to the increasingly confrontational approach vis-a-vis authority now so prevalent in the countryside. Activist monks have taken u p the cause of villagers fighting for their rights to continue to work in reserved forest areas where they have been living and to actively participate in conserving such land. 7. Within the past few years, murdered. As was the case murders of farmer activists recent killings are, with few ished.

more than a few activists have been with the more than twenty unsolved in the early and mid-seventies, these exceptions, either unsolved or unpun-



concerns is the drafting of community forestry legislation mentioned above, which will allow communities living in forest reserves and conservation areas to apply for community forest status. They must, however, produce a plan for conservation and sustainable management that meets Forestry Department criteria. In urban society similar conflicts between law and customary behavior abound. To observe this conflict daily in a somewhat dramatic fashion, one has only to traverse Bangkok's concrete rat's maze where traffic laws are regularly flouted with reckless abandon; where buses, lorries, tricycles and motorcycles constantly spew forth fumes that are illegal as well as asphyxiating; where motorcycle taxis illegally transport harried commuters up and down winding lanes and through traffic clogged roads; where, in contravention of the law, construction sites are not covered with thick canvas to prevent the spread of dust; and where children sell flowers and snacks at intersections, risking the law as well as life and limb. 8 On the sidewalks, ubiquitous stalls, illegally situated, openly flouting trademark laws, sell fake Lacoste, Fila, Ellesse shirts and Gucci, Cardin and Vuitton accessories while the expensive originals are displayed in the elegant luxury shops in nearby malls. Beggars importune the public on

8. As for children and others servicing traffic-weary commuters at intersections, the police have acknowledged their sympathy for the economic plight of the sellers and have basically turned a blind eye to these transgressions. There is similar compassion for and lack of enforcement against out-of-work provincial mahouts who bring their elephants into Bangkok in contravention of a law prohibiting such travel. The authorities also have no facilities to house the elephants if

they were forced off the streets. It is deemed to be good luck to pass under the stomach of an elephant, and urbanites pay for the privilege. 101


the streets and pedestrian overpasses in flagrant violation of the 1941 Anti-Begging Act. In office buildings, workers play the underground lottery9 and participate in a variety of legally questionable pyramid and chit share schemes. As in the case of their rural brothers, the urbanites feel no guilt in their above-described illegal behavior, as they too are largely acting from economic necessity and from the demands of time and convenience, a negotiable currency in urban society. Their actions are also in conformity with traditional practices sanctioned by the community. Bangkok, the City of Angels, provides in its uncontrolled, unplanned, chaotic growth, a dramatic example of how even

9. This illegal underground lottery system, huay tai din, is as prevalent in up-country provincial and rural areas as it is in the capital. To add insult to injury, this illegal gambling system is based on the last two or three digits of the officially sanctioned government lottery draw, or, in a variation, huay hun, on the last two numbers of the Stock Exchange of Thailand index at the close of each session. It has been estimated that the cash turnover of the underground lottery is around Baht 100 billion a year, roughly equivalent to the total yearly value of Thai rice exports. While the sellers and corrupt policemen reap obvious benefits, it is the bosses who operate and control the lottery in sectors of the capital, in a province, or even in several provinces, who have become immensely rich. Their profits are estimated as anywhere between five to thirty million Baht a month. An analysis of the underground lottery system clearly indicates that when a specific illegal activity is, for whatever reasons, not challenged or controlled, it can lead to a subsequent separate and seemingly unrelated criminal activity. In this case, it is the huge profits from the underground lottery that provide the necessary capital for vote buying, the sine qua non of provincial politics. It is not surprising that many successful MPs are reputed to be underground lottery bosses. Certainly quite a few of the financiers and election canvassers associated with political campaigns are drawn from the pool of underground lottery bosses.



when a law to regulate dysfunctional behavior is finally promulgated it may actually accentuate rather than minimize the discrepancy between the law and customary practice. The capital's first official city plan was only passed into law in 1992. While this was 210 years after the establishment of the city, it was also some seventeen years since the draft plan was first drawn up in 1975. As the law is not retroactive, one is constantly

confronted with

the stark reality of buildings, in their construction and siting, in contravention of the law's requirements. To add insult to injury, the new law itself is already outdated, e.g., there is no recognition of the expressway system, presently under construction, in the plan. Prostitution and abortion provide two further examples where there is a marked divergence between the law and customary behavior. Over the years there have been recommendations to legalize prostitution and to broaden the exemptions under the abortion law. Those favoring reform are principally concerned with lack of proper medical controls and the concomitant threats to health which represent. Despite

both prostitution and underground

legal prohibition,


prostitution flourishes in a vari-

ety of disguises. In addition to the more conventional "a house is not a home" brothel, there are bars, massage parlors, escort services, member clubs, teahouses, "cricket" hotels and "drawn curtain" motels. Raids and arrests occur sporadically. Enforcement is on a highly selective basis, at irregular intervals, motivated largely by political pressures. It is inevitable that such selective enforcement will involve a certain amount of corruption. There appears to be a general consensus that penalties for procurers and owners of brothels should be increased. However, those advocating legalization of prostitution have made very little headway. Recently,

recommendations for the decriminalization 103


of prostitution have found increasing receptivity within academic circles. Such decriminalization would serve to bring the law and custom into closer conformity while avoiding the problems attendant on legalization through registration, e.g., bureaucratic red tape, corruption, loss of face and stigma for the women with public labeling, and issues of morality and prestige within the international community. The prostitutes simply would not be subject to punishment while procurers and pimps would be severely punished. Under present Thai law, abortion is illegal with only very limited exceptions, though its practice is widespread. Both the pregnant woman and the doctor who performs the abortion are criminally liable. While efforts to liberalize the abortion laws have failed in recent years, there continues to be outspoken advocacy for allowing abortions where either economic hardship or social pressures and difficulties would result from the birth of the child, where a woman is pregnant due to the failure of medically prescribed contraceptive devices, and where it is determined the child would be borne with HIV/ AIDS or gross mental or physical defects. Another area where law and custom dramatically diverge is in the well-known penchant of Thais for gambling in all its myriad forms. In addition to the underground lottery noted above, illegal gambling casinos and gambling in soccer, boxing and other sports are multibillion-dollar enterprises. Recent studies under the aegis of the Political Economy Research Center, Chulalongkorn University, estimated that casinos, underground lotteries and soccer gambling accounted for as much as Baht 900 billion in circulation or almost 20% of the GNP for 1995. The research indicated that these illegal businesses thrived with the support and protection of policemen, politicians and business elites. Other elements of this illegal underground black economy 104


include narcotics trafficking; human trafficking, including prostitutes and labor; illicit arms trade; and oil smuggling. To summarize, where the positive law and custom diverge, one may expect, in both rural and urban areas, not only legal disobedience but a lack of respect for the law as well. In addition, enforcement will, more often than not, be viewed as arbitrary and, therefore, resented. Confrontation between government officialdom and the public results. Corruption will inevitably be the by-product of selective, irregular enforcement. In urban areas, increased criminal activity, in the form of protection gangs, may be expected to flourish in such an environment. To avoid these socially and politically disruptive and unproductive consequences, efforts should be made to bring the law and custom into conformity. There are a variety of means to achieve this end, and there will certainly be disagreements depending on one's moral, political, and cultural predilections and perspectives. However, whatever path is taken, therein lies the intellectual challenge. The state's preference may well be to focus on efforts to change both rural and urban behavior to conform to the law. On the other hand, another obvious means to achieve this objective is to repeal, amend, revise, or promulgate laws so that the legal corpus conforms to customary behavior and contemporary economic, social and political realities. As Galsworthy so aptly noted, "Public opinion is always in advance of law." As attitudes and values change, sooner or later laws will change: "The law may sleep, but it cannot die” (dormiant aliquando leges nunquam moriuntur). Gender discrimination is a case in point. It is also possible for the courts to interpret existing laws to take into account changing social, economic and political conditions as well as changing attitudes. Thus, in the instance of abortion, the threat to the women's health might possibly be interpreted to include a threat to her mental as well as physical health. In the 105


case of divorce, it is conceivable

the court could subsume adul-

tery (as committed by the husband) under other recognized grounds for divorce, i.e., "if a spouse is guilty of misconduct, regardless of whether such misconduct is a criminal offense, which causes shame, hatred or damage to the other party;" or "if a spouse has caused bodily or mental harm to the other party." Despite the legal maxim "Custom is the best interpreter of the laws" (optima est legis interpres consuetudo), the Thai judiciary is basically conservative and generally follows a "strict constructionist" philosophy. Thus, new legislation would probably precede any such reinterpretation of existing laws. The discrepancy between the law and ministerial regulations on the books and behavior and practice on the ground is clearly evident in other areas such as gender roles and identity, religion, politics, labor relations and illegal migrant labor, and technology. ❖❖❖ The intrusion of individualism and egalitarianism into the Thai social fabric has been evidenced in the more open expression of one's sexual freedom and gender identity and role play. While a double sexual standard still largely applies, there is no doubt that premarital female sexual activity has increased as has the pattern of living together without official marriage registration. The rate of divorce has measurably increased as women today are less prepared to endure subservience,

abuse and infidelity. Women's

rights groups and women parliamentarians have become increasingly vocal in their demands for the removal of vestiges of male chauvinism and patriarchy in the legal codes. As noted in a previous chapter, attitudes and values are changing, but the law has been slow to follow suit. The gap between law and increasingly accepted

behavior and practice, as well as expectations, persists. 106


Individualism has also manifested itself in the more overt expression of alternative sexual identity and behavior. Mirroring the more open political expression and the dramatic expansion of civil society during the past decade and a half, there has been increasing evidence of sexual freedom in homosexual as well as heterosexual behavior. In the past homosexuality was largely identified with the katoey, the feminine-identified male homosexual. However, within the last decade, there has been the emergence of a masculine-identified male homosexual subculture and commercial gay scene. In the late seventies there were only ten gay entertainment venues, and all were bars located in the Patpong area in Bangkok. A little more than a decade later, there were over one hundred gay bars, saunas, restaurants and discos throughout the country. Two luxurious gay saunas were opened in the capital in 1987 and 1994 respectively, and they rival Bangkok's famed heterosexually oriented massage parlors in both their ostentation and the number of clients serviced nightly. Before 1983 there were no regular Thai language magazines published by and for the gay male homosexual community. By 1994 there were fourteen monthly Thai language gay magazines, and by the middle of 1995 another nine had already appeared on the newsstands. 10 While it is true that there are no specific legal sanctions against consensual homosexual behavior, there are obvious lacunae in the Thai legal codes in terms of the rights and benefits of homosexuals. For example, the definition of rape is confined to sexual intercourse by force with a woman who is not one's wife.

10. See Peter Jackson, Dear Uncle Ho (Bangkok: Bua Luang Press, 1995) for a perceptive analysis in exhaustive detail of the Thai homosexual community. 107


The legal definition of prostitution, while originally limited to women, was changed to include male prostitution in the 1960 Act for the Abatement of Prostitution. In amendments to the 1960 Act, presently being considered by the Thai Parliament, acts of prostitution with a member of the same sex are also to be specifically prohibited. Sex change operations are not recognized under law as affecting gender identity. Thai law does not recognize marital rights, privileges or obligations for same sex longterm relationships. Insurance, inheritance tax, pension, health, and family leave benefits are denied for those in such homosexual relationships. Recent judicial decisions in a few U.S. local jurisdictions, Europe and Australia, which are based on acceptance of same sex long-term relationships, have validated such benefits as well as approved adoption of the biological child of one's lesbian partner, accepted the "battered wife syndrome" as ahomosexual man's defense against a first degree murder charge, approved hospital visitation rights for a same sex partner usually reserved for spouse and close relatives, obligated a former lover to provide child support to children born through jointly agreed upon artificial insemination, etc. Same sex marriages have been legally validated in Hawaii in a recent lower court decision now presently under appeal. In a few cities in the U.S., domestic partner legislation provides health insurance and bereavement benefits for city employees. Interestingly enough, the private sector in the U.S. has often taken a more liberal position on this issue, e.g., universities and corporations, have, in selected instances, provided rights and privileges to same sex partners similar to those accorded in heterosexual marital relationships. As yet, there has not been an organized campaign to reform the law to accommodate to the reality of this growing homosexual subculture in Thailand that feels increasingly comfortable with its alternative sexual identity and way of life, however much 108


this may deviate from traditional cultural norms. Nevertheless, at some time in the not too distant future, pressure to bring the law into conformity with new attitudes, perceptions and behavior relating to sexual identity, freedom and expression may be expected. Whether such pressure for reform concerns women's rights or homosexual rights, opposition will certainly surface. One mustbe prepared for the resulting social and political unrest. This tension will persist until correspondence between the law and changing patterns of behavior is achieved and the law enforced. ❖❖❖

As hierarchical and authoritarian structures are increasingly the focus of public mistrust, skepticism and challenge, it is not surprising that such a traditionally sacrosanct institution as the Sangha (brotherhood of Buddhist monks and novices) is being subjected to critical examination and even censure. A more individualistic and egalitarian citizenry is no longer so passive and ready to accept, without question, the authoritarian patterns of governance whether within the sphere of politics or religion. Demands are escalating within the urban community for greater accountability and transparency in the administration of the Sangha as well as in the corridors of parliamentary democracy. This trend has been accelerated with regard to the Buddhist Sangha by a series of highly publicized infractions of the religious rules of discipline, as well as secular laws, by well-known and previously highly respected monks. The disciplinary violations and legal infractions have involved flouting the vow of celibacy, rape, theft, fraud, misappropriation of funds, gambling, drug abuse, black magic, and even murder. Lack of reverence and respect for the monkhood has followed, as has a concomitant receptivity to more stringent legal controls over monks and their 109


behavior. Pressure for reform of the State laws governing the Sangha have often come from the same individuals and groups which have been in the forefront of efforts to reform the political system to make it more democratic in both form and substance. The present administration of the Sangha is highly centralized, and its authoritarian structure, symbolized by the gerontocracy of the Maha Thera Samakhom (Council of Elders), is reminiscent of and mirrors the dictatorial patterns of lay political governance in 1962 when the Sangha Administration Act was promulgated. Recently the level of criticism has escalated as have suggestions to circumscribe and restrict the existing absolutist powers of the Council of Elders and decentralize authority so as to make the administration of the Sangha more responsive, transparent and accountable. There have also been recommendations to control more closely entrance into the monkhood and to supervise clerical behavior after ordination through stricter screening procedures, the issuance of identity cards, and even the use of lie detector machines. Consideration has also been given to instituting legal mechanisms to supervise more closely and to control funds belonging to the temple and to individual monks. Certain charismatic monks, as well as temple foundations, have as much as hundreds of millions of Baht in their bank accounts. There is often minimal oversight and accountability concerning these vast sums. While some have praised certain monks for channeling s u c h money into generous charitable and development-focused work in the building of hospitals, schools, and child health centers, others have sharply criticized monks aggrandizing and controlling such large amounts of cash. When the charismatic monk dies, personalbank and temple foundation accounts often are the subject of much conflict and tension. On another level, it is increasingly common, though clearly against ecclesiastical regulations and discipline, for monks actively to 110


seek out contributions. Not only will monks do so in temple sermons and on radio preaching programs but also even on house calls to the faithful. Monks sanctifying amulets,11 Buddha images and holy water and presiding over rituals to prolong life, change one's luck and enhance one's power, whether personal, commercial or political, all have become big business. The commercial nature of the sale of sanctified amulets and Buddha images is not lessened by the linguistic euphemism labeling such transactions as "renting" rather than buying. Buddhism (Buddhasasana) has increasingly become just one more facet of a consumer-oriented society and is now often derisively labeled as "Buddhapanit" or "Buddhist Commercialism." The laws governing the Sangha are outdated, having been framed at a time when a more dictatorial lay government was the norm and when the Sangha was less subject to public scrutiny as well as less prone to succumb to the pleasures and blandishments of a consumer-oriented society which was not yet fully matured. The law, at present, has not yet caught up with the new social reality of a public no longer prepared to give unquestioning loyalty to the Buddhist monkhood. Much as changing perceptions and expectations define new patterns of political behavior, SO too do they characterize altered religious belief and practice. Without corresponding changes in the law which are responsive to these new convictions and behavior, there will be a public backlash. Dissatisfaction will manifest itself in increasingly confrontational terms, and pressure for reform will continue to escalate. Social and political disorder and unrest will follow.

1 1 . There are more than forty magazines dealing with the trade of amulets published every seven to ten days for a readership of millions, and the yearly sale of such amulets is estimated to be in the billions of Baht. Ill


Once more, the lack of correspondence between the law and behavior, attitudes and expectations will have contributed to destabilizing Thai society.12 The disillusionment of the educated urban middle class with the Sangha establishment is not only a function of the lax discipline and materialistic orientation of the urban monkhood but also of the perceived irrelevancy of the established church's teachings. It is not surprising that in such an environment new sects would emerge which are specifically responsive to the spiritual needs and concerns of a growing urban middle class. The late monk philosopher, Buddhadasa, at his Suan Moke retreat; the university educated monk leaders at Wat Dhammakai; the ascetic and iconoclastic Fhra Pothirak of the Santi Asoke movement—each, in their different ways, challenged the wisdom and authority of the conservative Sangha elite establishment. Middle class parishioners found sustenance in, and legitimization of, spiritually imbued, socially-conscious business activity, as well as of their democratic aspirations. The emphasis of these alternative doctrinal interpretations is on spiritual attainment and salvation for lay aspirants in this present life. It is of some interest to note that refuge is being sought not only in nonestablishment Buddhist sects but also in cults such as those associated with Kuan Yin (Goddess of Compassion) and King Rama V. Unless the established Sangha responds to the needs, concerns and criticisms of this vibrant middle class community, both in reform of law and in practice, more and more religious

12. For a perceptive analysis of the interaction of Buddhist and political institutions in Thailand, see Peter Jackson, Buddhism, Legitimization and Conflict:The Political Functions ofUrbanThai Buddhism (Singapore: ISEAS, 1989). 112


breakaways will occur, and the solidarity and unity of the Sangha will erode. 13 ❖❖❖

While our previous discussion has largely focused on the lack of conformity between statute law and accepted patterns of social, cultural, environmental and religious behavior, a similar imbalance, with coincident disruptive consequences, can also be observed in the political, technological and judicial spheres. The law is slow-footed as well when faced with transitions in these latter areas. Thailand has been moving, slowly but surely, towards a more democratic political system. This is particularly evident as the rural populace actively seeks and demands the opportunity to participate in decisions affecting their lives. As noted above in discussing environmental protection, the NGO movement has been instrumental in fostering and facilitating such rural participation. In this context the NGO movement should be viewed as a constructive mechanism affording an obviously immature political system sufficient political space and time to mature. This movement provides a much needed safety-valve to channel the increasingly vocal expression of needs and concerns of the disadvantaged into the bureaucratic policy decision-making process. However, the government continues to view this NGO movement, as well as the rural protests it has supported, with some suspicion. The authorities have been slow to appreciate the value

13. Following this essay are three book reviews which explore various aspects of Thai Buddhism in transition. 113


and viability of such rural expression and engagement.14 Such suspicion is similarly felt by the burgeoning middle class business communities in Bangkok and provincial urban centers. Even the small number of civic-minded businessmen who z imbued with communal pride, have banded together to form civic groups dedicated to the democratic and environmentally sound development of their urban communities, such as the Bangkok Forum, Hat Yai Forum, Vieng Ping Council (Chiang Mai), Korat in the Next Decade and the Khon Kaen Forum, have shown little inclination to involve themeelves in or cooperate with rural development-focused NGOs. Minority and disadvantaged groups are seeking protection and equality under the law. Disadvantaged groups, including the blind and disabled, have become more vocal in demanding legally mandated specialized facilities to facilitate access to public transport and public buildings. Marginalized communities such as the hill tribes are, with the help of NGOs and academics, asserting their rights as citizens, e.g., seeking identity cards, title to land, etc. Thai governments have failed to provide the legal underpinnings to meaningful participatory democracy although tenta-

14. While farmers, laborers and other disadvantaged groups struggle in the trenches, business interests have the more placid ambiance of committee rooms in which to get their message across. As far back as 1981, when the Cabinet of Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda approved the establishment of the Joint Public Private Consultative Committee (JPPCC), business organizations have had direct on-going access to government authorities through this mechanism. They have had no difficulty in getting their views heard on economic-related policy, regulations and legislation. This officially sanctioned lobbying channel is understandably resented by those less favored constituencies which are forced to resort to the confrontational tactics of protests and demonstrations to make their voices heard. 114


tive steps in this direction are being taken. Thus, there is yet no provision for legally mandated public hearings, 15 no Ombudsman, 16 no Freedom of Information Act, 1 7 no Administrative Court, no permanent independent electoral /Poll Watch Commission, no direct election of Senators or provincial Governors, no effective equality between the sexes, etc. As a consequence,

there is

increasing public pressure for such legal reform so as to achieve more equality, transparency and accountability in the political system. Until there is a better fit between law and political values


A yet untried mechanism to subject state projects to a public hearing process was established by a regulation signed by the Prime Minister on 30 January 1996. A N ational Public Hearing Committee would, under the regulation, appoint a neutral committee to organize a hearing, gather facts and make recommendations on those state projects which were deemed to have an adverse impact on the environment, culture, occupation or way of life of affected communities. To date this process has not been put into practice, and gaps and exceptions in the drafting may limit its effectiveness.

16. In July 1996 an Ombudsman Bill was approved by the Government and forwarded to the Council of State prior to being tabled in Parliament. Under the bill the Ombudsman would be empowered to investigate alleged abuses of authority and power and dereliction of duty by state officials. However, there is no provision for the enforcement of recommendations or resolutions of the Ombudsman, and the bill is further emasculated by an article which allows the Ombudsman to halt an investigation if it is felt continuation of the probe would jeopardize national security, adversely affect foreign relations or cause damage to those concerned. It is unclear whether there will be duplication of work with Parliamentary House and Senate Committees and a yet-to-be-established Administrative Court. 17.

An Information Bill was recently passed in House of Representatives which guarantees certain limited public access to state information. 115


and expectations, there will be constant tension, conflict and instability. ❖❖❖

In reflecting on the inadequacies of the system of parliamentary democracy and the need for its further maturation, one should not overlook the role of the monarchy in this context. The Thai monarchy should be perceived as safeguarding, enabling and energizing the body politic until the political system is sufficiently mature to do so itself. Several times over the past two decades His Majesty has single-handedly interceded to defuse armed confrontation between democratic and authoritarian groups and encourage peaceful resolution of the conflict and the consequent resumption of some semblance of political stability. In so doing the monarchy has effectively provided parliamentary democracy with the time and political space to develop and affirm its own political bonafides and credentials. How successful the Thai democratic system has been in moving towards this goal is another question. Some have argued that the accelerated engagement and direct involvement of His Majesty in what might be viewed as the minutiae of the everyday functioning of government indicate extreme frustration with the performance level of the present system of parliamentary democracy and its obvious inefficiencies, corruption and lack of political will.18 His

18. His Majesty, in well-publicized speeches, has offered advice, criticism and exhortations relating to construction of dams, flood control, traffic and pollution. His Majesty is closely identified with and has helped initiate, over the past forty-five years, some 2,000 innovative government funded Royal projects in the conservation and management of natural resources, alternative crops and practices, rural and community development, primary health care, etc. His Majesty has 116



Majesty's intervention could be seen as a clarion call to those holding the levers of parliamentary political power to clean up their act and get down to the business of responsible governance.19 Hopefully, the not-so-coded royal messages will be heeded, though the possibility cannot be discounted that they will not. If those in political power continue to place their personal interests over national interests, the public will further lose faith in the system. If, generations from now, future monarchs continue to play this now legitimized more intrusive role in the domestic affairs of governance but do so without the benefit of the present King's exalted stature, charisma, experience, judgment, compassion and wisdom, one might predict that the "symbol of unity" could be compromised and greater social and political division, conflict and tension would follow. Such an outcome could place great strains on the democratic system and on the basic stability and order of the Thai body politic. Given the lese majestelegislation on the books, the monarchy is in the enviable position of having free reign in the definition

also quietly sent signals and exercised behind the scenes influence in the carrying out of foreign policy, constitutional reform and specific legislation. 19. Though less frequently, the Queen has also encouraged the government to take action in solving problems adversely affecting the Thai body politic. Most recently, the Queen expressed serious concern with the deteriorating pollution of the capital's environment. While the government quickly responded by establishing a committee to determine the most efficacious steps to solve Bangkok’s hazardous levels of pollution, the public was left to ponder why constitutionally elected governments, far too frequently, fail to tackle obvious problems until goaded and prodded by Their Majesties. 117


and execution of what all accept is a unique version of constitutional monarchy. Given the unquestioning loyalty to and reverence and support of the populace for the present King, the lese majeste law does not represent any divergence from social reality and customary behavior. However, one must not discount the possibility that the lese majeste concept could come under more scrutiny and criticism if it is manipulated and misused by power brokers such as government officials, politicians, and businessmen to settle political scores; or if future monarchs, unlike the present King, failed to personify the characteristics of a Dhammaraj a, a just, virtuous and wise King ruled by the Dharma, the embodiment of the ten kingly virtues: alms-giving, morality, liberality; rectitude, gentleness, self-discipline; non-anger, non-violence, forbearance and non-obstruction.20 ❖❖❖

Pressures for protection of individual rights and greater accountability and transparency in all forms of administration is further evidenced in the increased level of public dissatisfaction with and criticism of the criminal justice system. There is a growing appreciation of the absence and/or inadequacy of existing safeguards on the rights of the accused during both the pre-trial investigation phase and the trial itself. The public today is far less

20 . For a controversial and revisionist interpretation of the role play and interconnections among the monarchy, the system of parliamentary democracy, and civil society see Kevin Hewison, "The Monarchy and the Future of Democracy in Thailand," Murdoch University Asia Research Center Workshop on Locating Power: Democracy,Opposition ami Participation in ThuiUmil,October 6-7, 1994. 118


prepared to acquiesce in both the monopoly and the abuse of power on the part of the police during the pre-trial investigative process. At present the police have the sole authority to initiate and undertake criminal investigations and to carry out interrogations. They also enjoy extensive authority to make searches or arrests without warrants and, where not permitted, to issue the warrants themselves, as well as to detain suspects up to seven days without informing other concerned agencies. There is a growing consensus that such police power, so often abused, should be curbed. Recommendations have been made to enable public prosecutors to play a greater role in the investigation and collection of evidence; to limit police authority to carry out search and arrest without warrants by transferring power to issue search and arrest warrants to the courts; to enable defense counsel to be present during interrogation of the accused, etc. There have been some modest steps toward greater transparency and accountability, at least within the Office of the Attorney General. A mechanism has recently been established whereby those dissatisfied with the handling of a criminal case by either the police or the public prosecutor can appeal directly to the Attorney General. The final decision to prosecute or not is to be published, accompanied by the reasoning behind such deci■ 21 sion. The previously sacrosanct judiciary has itself had to bear the brunt of acerbic criticism of its rampant internecine factionalism,


For a detailed, perceptive analysis o£ tire abuses, inadequacies


inefficiency of Thailand's criminal justice system and recommended reforms, see Dr. Kittipong



draft article,

"Criminal Justice Reform in Thailand: Current Problems and Future Prospects." 119


alleged corruption and unacceptable delays in judgments rendered. There have been growing demands for more judicial transparency and accountability, e.g., the recommendation by a parliamentary committee to include outside representation in the Judicial Commission, presently restricted to sitting and retired judges, which determines appointments, promotions and transfers of judges. Just as in other spheres, the administration of justice will have to be responsive to the changing values, attitudes and demands sweeping through the Thai body politic at the present time. Reforms focused on greater appreciation of individual rights, as opposed to duties, may be expected. If such reform is blocked by institutions determined to maintain their traditional power bases and the associated hierarchical value structure, one may expect social and political confrontation and unrest to follow.22 ❖❖❖

In the field of labor relations, changing social and economic conditions and political pressures necessitate a continuing reassessment of the relevant laws, e.g., minimum wage, right to form

22 . The system of legal education in Thailand is not conducive to producing lawyers, judges, or public prosecutors who could play the role of "social engineers" in reforming the judicial system or in critically examining the issue of the discrepancy between the law and custom and taking an active role in bringing about balance. A Thai law degree is an undergraduate degree, and the students are not grounded in the liberal arts tradition. Coupled with legal teaching focusing on strict definitions and adherence to the codes, the student finally emerges with a very narrow vision and perspective. There has been some pressure on the part of forward-looking academics to make law a graduate degree, but there is no progress to report at this date. 120



right to strike, etc. If social,

economic and political

disorder and instability, along with confrontation between labor and political authorities as well as management, are to be avoided or mitigated, the laws must be revised and amended so as to take into consideration changing social, economic

and political condi-

tions and accepted norms of behavior. When the laws have been so changed, it is imperative they be enforced in order to avoid feelings of resentment, disenchantment, and disaffection. In 1986 the National Statistical Bureau estimated that approximately one third of the laborers in Bangkok and its environs were not paid the minimum wage to which they are legally entitled. There has been little change in this percentage over the past decade. The reality of an estimated almost one million illegal migrant laborers in Thailand presents another stark example of the divergence between law and practice. It is estimated that about half of this illegal population is Burmese and the remainder Chinese, Lao, Cambodians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Nepalese and Sri Lankans. While it is conventional wisdom that such labor is a key factor in much of the economic growth in provincial areas, 23 it also cannot be denied that such unregulated and illegal labor can have adverse effects on the health and social stability of

the communities in which they reside. The influx of such labor has resulted in diseases which had disappeared in Thailand suddenly resurfacing, e.g., drug resistant malaria, polio and elephantiasis. It may be predicted that ethnic tensions will escalate as will criminal activity associated with this influx, e.g., smuggling, drugs and prostitution. One must also factor AIDS

23 . On the other hand, some have argued that such migrants only fuel the

labor intensive industrial expansion and, therefore, stifle initiatives to move to more up-scale



industrial development.


and other sexually transmitted diseases, which do not recognize borders, into the equation. There are, of course, adverse effects on the illegal migrants themselves. As illegals they enjoy no health benefits and work for much less than the minimum wage. They are easily taken advantage of and their rights ignored as they are subjected to constant threats, abuse and extortion. Only recently has the government articulated a clear-cut policy to deal with this illegal labor.24 Previously it vacillated,

24. On 25 June 1996 the Government announced a Cabinet decision to officially recognize an estimated 700,000 to one million illegal immigrant workers in forty-three provinces. The rationale given was the necessity to ease the country's labor shortage in the farming, fishing, construction, mining, transportation and industrial sectors. Those illegal laborers presently working in Thailand will be registered and allowed to take up employment for a period up to two years after which they would be deported. Government authorities have said a law will soon be promulgated which will provide employment protection to the illegal immigrant workers registered under this policy. Thai labor groups have protested against the government's policy, particularly as it applies to the transport and industrial sectors. On 6 August the Cabinet amended its earlier resolution in response to these protests. It withdrew over twenty job categories which require some professional skills. The new categories approved now consist of manual labor in agriculture, fisheries, construction, mining, domestic chores, marine transportation and light industry. Some academics have questioned the acceptance of a labor shortage simply because Thai laborers do not want to work in these fields. These analysts counter that if wages were raised and safer working conditions mandated and enforced, Thai workers would be prepared to seek employment in these sectors. Provincial business interests prefer such an immigrant, low-wage, unprotected workforce to maintain their competitiveness and high profit margins. As of the 29 November 1996 deadline for the registration of illegal immigrant workers, only some 200,000 of the estimated total of such workers had been registered. There is now some pressure to extend the deadline.



sometimes winking and catering to the interests of its business constituency and other times carrying out arrests pressured by the concerns of the National Security Agency and the Ministry of Interior. Enforcement of the immigration laws has been sporadic and selective. As in other areas, such discrepancy between law and behavior, accompanied by selective enforcement, has led to rampant corruption. The problem of this illegal labor would become even more pronounced if such a labor force shifted from temporary to more permanent residence or if there were a marked downturn in the economy. In either case, tension and conflict could then be expected to escalate. Prevention is better than cure, and it is imperative that a legal framework be created to monitor, control and regularize this out-of-country labor force. The above noted laws and regulations recently announced will have to be fully enforced on a consistent basis without favor or prejudice. If this is done, the Thai economy would benefit; corruption would be sharply reduced, if not eliminated; the concerned Thai communities would be less prone to destabilizing conflict; and the migrant laborers themselves would regain their dignity, and their personal safety and well-being would be assured. ❖❖❖

In the field of technology, whether involving spectacular advances in reproductive, biodiversity, genetic engineering, information technology, life-saving equipment and techniques, etc., the law has, more often than not, been a mesmerized bystander. Existing legislation is simply not applicable. Thus, the law, in the public's perception, is found wanting and is flaunted, disregarded or manipulated. Without a proper encompassing legal framework to control and regulate this fast changing technologi-



cal environment, people, communities and nations will be taken advantage of and the chasm between the rich and poor, advantaged and disadvantaged, exploiters and exploited will grow apace. The inevitable result will be social and political tension, instability and disorder. ❖❖❖

Thus, in the interests of political stability and civic order, it is desirable that law and customary behavior based on changing values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations and perceptions, whether social, political, judicial, economic or technological, be in conformity. If not, in addition to continued pressure for legal reform, there will be selective enforcement, corruption and a growing lack of respect for the law. As noted above, sometimes such correspondence can be most productively brought about by changing the law. On the other side of the coin, law and custom can obviously be synchronized and brought into congruence if the customary behavior is changed through education or strict enforcement of existing laws, to conform to existing statutes. The process of educating the public to the necessity to abide by the laws as promulgated by the State is often a long and laborious one. First, the public must be informed of the details of the law in question. Then, it must be convinced of the rationale underlying the law. In some instances the citizenry must be further made to appreciate that one's personal interest, as well as that of the public, will be served by following legal requirements as specified in the codes, statutes and decrees. In the latter case, for example, it is of utmost value in terms of guarding one's rights, whether one be a villager or a city dweller, to properly register births, marriages and deaths; to obtain an I.D. card, execute wills, register land holdings, and negotiate legal contracts, etc. In the rural areas such procedures would, in most cases, be contrary to 124


traditional practice. Similarly, the public must be sensitized to the socioeconomic justification, the ecological, health and public security rationales, and the scientific reasoning underlying such laws as those limiting the cutting of timber, production of moonshine, slaughtering of cattle, gambling, production of homemade weapons, etc. The same educational process would apply to the urban population in connection with laws relating to traffic, pollution and the environment. It is only in the last decade and a half that serious efforts have been undertaken to educate the public to its legal rights as well as responsibilities. One is perhaps more familiar with the well publicized, and often controversial, efforts of student groups to educate the public, particularly in the rural areas, to their rights in a democratic society. The emphasis in that instance was more on legal means to alleviate discrimination and exploitation. Less publicized have been the initiatives of the Facuities of Law at both Chulalongkorn and Thammasat Universities to send teams of professors and students to the rural areas to disseminate knowledge of laws relevant to the daily concerns of the villagers and to educate them to their legal rights and obligations. Educational materials in simple "law for the laymen" language have been produced. The Women Lawyers Association of Thailand has also carried out orientation programs in the rural areas directed at informing the villagers of laws which affect and impact on their daily lives. The Lawyers Association of Thailand has undertaken similar education and informationprograms. A variety of private and voluntary pressure and interest groups have engaged in public education campaigns to encourage Thai citizens to become law abiding. The educational role of the Thai Sangha, in both rural and urban society, cannot be discounted in this context. In the late seventies, the Ministry of Interior undertook an educational campaign in the rural areas concentrating on providing the 125


villagers with sufficient legal knowledge to cope more successfully with the fast-changing environment in which they lived and worked. A decade ago the responsibility for this program was shifted out of the Ministry of Interior and presently resides in the Office of the Attorney General. Thus, there is now a continuing effort on the part of both the private sector and the government to create better understanding among the public of the necessity to fulfill legal requirements on the one hand, and to avoid legal prohibitions on the other. Not surprisingly the bureaucratic efforts in this area have been focused more on legal responsibilities than legal rights. In this process, progress, however slow, is being made to change and modify customary behavior so it will more closely conform to the "laws of the land." Progress is, of course, also dependent on the good faith of the bureaucracy in the fair and just interpretation and execution of the law. While the legal principle "Ignorantia legis neminem excusat" (Ignorance of the law excuses no one) is accepted, it has been finally recognized that it is both unrealistic, as well as unjust, to expect the public, and especially the rural population, to be an courant of the myriad laws affecting their lives and the rationale underlying these laws. The State, as well as the socially and politically conscious private sector and university community, have an obligation to inform and educate the public in this crucial area of legal rights and responsibilities. 25

25. Whether intentional or not, governmental authorities often are remiss in not informing villagers of their legal rights in specific instances where such neglect adversely affects the interests of the individual vis-a-vis the state. A rather striking example of such failure occurred when, two years ago, the government declared a part of a village in 126


The judiciary itself, while understandably committed to adjudicating issues on the basis of legal principles and existing law, nevertheless may well take into consideration, as far as sentencing and punishment is concerned, the level of education of the accused and the environment in which he or she lives. For example, the illegal production of a home-made shotgun and the cutting of timber might result in a relatively light penalty, including a suspended sentence, for a villager in a remote region of the Northeast, given the security problems, severe economic pressures and poor educational opportunities. The same offenses committed by villagers or city dwellers in the more affluent Southern and Central areas, with better education and public safety facilities, might be punished more severely. Thus, leniency is consciously applied so as to encourage future obedience to the law. The villager's resentment is mollified and he will, hopefully, be increasingly prepared to accept the necessity to abide by legal restrictions of which he is now more aware and has a better understanding. Lack of respect for the law may also be a function of the discrepancy not between law and custom but rather between the law as written by the legislature and the law as actually imple-

Khon Kaen province to be a national reserve. The villagers who had tilled the land for generations were not informed of such designation. Now this year the government has taken over this land to establish a state forestry project. When the villagers protested, the authorities maintained the villagers had forfeited their rights to the land. According to the law, villagers who occupy such land before it is designated a national reserve can only continue to exploit it if they inform the authorities of their occupancy within ninety days. Failure to do so deprives them of their rights. The fact that they were not informed had no legal bearing.



merited by the bureaucracy. The Thai public has become understandably frustrated when administrators establish rules and regulations which clearly exceed the authority vested in them by the law. This occurs most frequently in regard to legislation dealing with taxation and property. The crisis in confidence in the law is further complicated by the bureaucracy's unwillingness to accept Supreme Court rulings as binding in similar cases where their alleged abuse of authority has also been challenged. Thus each and every claimant must bring independent suits to achieve redress no matter how similar the facts may be to cases already adjudicated at the highest judicial level. As the backlog of cases often results in a delay of several years before final judgment is rendered, it is understandable that those who feel wronged are reluctant to go to court, given the time factor and financial costs involved. An attempt to accelerate the judicial process through the establishment of special courts—which provide for direct appeal, limited to issues of law, to the Supreme Court, thus eliminating the intermediate Appeals Court step— has achieved some modest success, e.g., with the labor and tax courts. The recent establishment of an Intellectual Property and an International Trade Court is expected to have similar positive results. Under the Thai legal system, wherein appeals may be lodged on issues of fact as well as of law, even at the Supreme Court level, the legal process is necessarily lengthy. Specific reforms in procedural law might well contribute not only to speedier trials but to a sense of justice and fairness. In this latter context it is worth mentioning that in product liability, consumer protection, and defamation suits, no punitive damages are awarded to the injured party under Thai law. It may be deemed not to be cost effective to bring charges under such circumstances and a resulting frustration and lack of respect for the law are, 128


perhaps, inevitable. If, for whatever reasons, a wronged party no longer has faith that he will receive timely justice through the judicial system, the result may well be a resort to violent retribution on a personal level. A variation on this theme is evidenced in the Thai constitution's self-limitation on its own power. While theoretically the constitution is the highest law of the land, de facto,statutes and executive decrees take precedence. The constitution stipulates that Thai citizens enjoy civil and political rights and liberties "except where laws otherwise so stipulate." Such laws, limiting rights and freedoms, are always couched in terms of national security and public order and morality. It is taken for granted that any laws passed by Parliament are, de facto, in the interests of national security and public order. A certain frustration may well surface in the face of this legal legerdemain where guaranteed rights and liberties vanish in the rarefied atmosphere of existing or subsequent restrictive legislation. A rather obvious example of legal magic is the 1941 this now-you-see-it-now-you-don't Press Act which restricts press freedom where public order and morals are threatened. Such a decision, which can take the form of a warning, censorship, revocation of an editor's license or closing of a newspaper, is left to the Commander of the Special Branch Second Division in his capacity as Press Officer. Such censorship is in contravention of articles in the present constitution but questioning the law's constitutionality is not a viable option. The solutionis to revoke an outdated law and promulgate a new one. As noted above, laws may be revoked, altered or promulgated so as to achieve a conformity with customary behavior or customary behavior may be changed so as to conform to existing laws. The congruence of law and custom may also be effected by completely ignoring enforcement where there is a conflict and, 129


therefore, effectively neutralizing the law in question. This lack of enforcement can even be regularized as in the case of the recent amnesty granted to illegal fishing boats, including trawlers. It was recently decided to legalize thousands of illegal fishing vessels so as to better regulate and manage the realities of the fishing industry. This action was taken despite the objection of small-scale fishermen and environmentalists concerned with the adverse impact on marine life and coral reef preservation. The recent decision to register illegal immigrant workers is another rather dramatic example of accepting reality and effectively bringing about congruence of law and behavior through "legalizing (or less cynically 'regularizing') illegality." However innovative, the legal contortions in this process are a source of some amusement. Those registered as illegal workers will be given a card similar to the one held by illegal immigrants waiting to be repatriated. Under the registration process, employers of such workers must first register them as "illegal immigrant workers" with the local police before bailing them out and officially reregistering them at the provincial labor office. Another variation on the enforcement theme is the use of "transitory clauses" in promulgated laws which provide for the temporary suspension for one or more years in enforcing the law in question, e.g., the law which required motorcyclists to wear helmets, the Medicine Act which required licensed pharmacists to be in attendance at stores selling medicines, and the recent law requiring the use of seat belts. The expectation, not always realized, is that the public will be better prepared to be law abiding when the legislation finally takes legal effect. Conversely, one can achieve congruence by the strict and pervasive enforcement of the law. Such enforcement not only depends on political will and a sense of civic duty, pride and responsibility, but also on a trained, efficient police force in 130


adequate numbers. The problem of strict enforcement is often complicated by the lack of legal authority on the part of those officials responsible for issuing regulations and investigating violations to take punitive action against offenders. A case is point is the flouting of waste water treatment and pollution level requirements by various business operations. However, in most cases where law and custom diverge, the tendency on the part of the authorities is to either "turn a blind eye" to infractions of the law or, as more often happens, engage in selective and sporadic enforcement which only frustrates the public, which resents what is largely viewed as arbitrary use of authority. For the harried urbanite, traffic violations and jaywalking are cases in point. For some, when other strategies fail to achieve conformity between law and behavior, there is the option simply to opt out of the confining strictures of the law. As I have noted in a previous essay on "Thai Women in Transition," this coping mechanism is practiced by younger generation Thai women who decide not to legally register their marriages. Thus they avoid the discriminatory clauses of Thai family law. Obviously, in most cases it is not possible to deny the force of law by opting out with such impunity.26

26. Thai family law provides us with another example of escaping the force of law with impunity. It is stipulated in the codes that a wife must assume her husband's family name onmarriage. However, in a unique legal twist, no penalty is provided for violation of this requirement. Could this possibly indicate that the male chauvinist legislators have slowly come to appreciate how outdated the discriminatory elements of Thai family law are, and portend legal reform in this area in the future? Another instance where there is no criminal punishment for the contravention of a law may be found in the Beggar Control Act. Those arrested under this act are sent to welfare homes for rehabilitation. 131


The ultimate decision as to which initiative to take—legal or behavioral, or a combination of the two—is one of national policy forged in the crucible of participatory democracy. However, to deny or remain indifferent to the need for such correspondence would be a recipe for social and political disaster. It may well be most appropriate to follow a public policy initially focusing on refinements of existing legislation to achieve a temporary balance between law and customary behavior whi le at the same time pursuing continuing long-term educational efforts aimed at ultimately remolding the cake of custom. One should not overlook the possibility of relying more heavily on citizen's cause /public interest groups, such as consumer and environmental protection groups, to assure compliance with the law. These organizations can most effectively promote and foster a sense of communal responsibility as well as exert moral and political pressure on the authorities. The result would be a greater adherence to the law on the part of all segments of the community. The citizenry can also have an indirect, but most constructive, enforcement role, assuming the legal and political structure is conducive to such role play. Some countries have successfully utilized an ombudsman at the national level. However, if the citizenry is to undertake such a function efficiently, it must be able to obtain adequate information, e.g., through such a mechanism as a Freedom of Information Act. At present, there are few, if any, proper and effective remedies against impropriety and irregularities on the part of officialdom. Frustration with the law is a predictable result. There has been some public pressure for more than a decade to establish administrative courts (Conseil d'Etat) which would more effectively curb malfeasance, impropriety and abuse of power on the part of officialdom. It is not surprising that the bureaucracy



has shown little enthusiasm for this initiative and has, to date, effectively stymied its realization. The most recent variation on this administrative court saga is the unresolved issue of whether such a court should be under the Ministry of Justice or the Council of State under the Prime Minister.

Conclusion Differing mechanisms and techniques for conflict resolution are a profitable area for further research and of vital importance to the nation's stability. So too, legal scholars, social scientists, philosophers, and even novelists, may usefully explore the intricacies of the relationship between the positive law and the living law of customary behavior. For it is in the creative tension of this relationship, depending on actions taken by both the public and private sectors, that seeds for either stability and order on the one hand, or insecurity and disunity on the other, may find fertile soil to flourish. If there is to be a flowering of social progress, harmony, order and justice, one must carefully blend the seed varieties of socially productive accommodation and congruence of positive and living law; adapt the law to the realities of advances in technology and evolutionary changes in political behavior, social values and cultural practices; develop socially rewarding and non-disruptive methods of conflict resolution; and make effective use of the legal system to assure equal access to services and the prevention of exploitation, persecution and discrimination. It is to be hoped that the above reflections will provide a conceptual framework within which one may fruitfully and continually analyze the symbiotic relationship between law and



society. To disregard this intimate relationship and view the law in vacuum will result in destructive tension and disequilibrium between law and the sociocultural context in which it operates. 1984 and 1996


Smile But Don't Stare

RECENTLY A SPATE OF well-publicized shootings at popular nightclubs and discotheques has drawn attention to the increasing level of violence in Thai society. In a recent article decrying such violence and lamenting a decline of moral principles, Dr. Kriangsak Charoenwongsak referred to Police Department statistics which showed a dramatic rise in physical assault, rape and domestic violence cases over the past decade. To a large extent, such aggressive behavior has been attributed to the stresses and strains attendant on Thailand's too swift and uncontrolled economic growth and its handmaidens, unbridled consumerism and materialism. Often one hears nostalgic references to the gentleness of the past, to the traditional Thai penchant for compromise and the avoidance of confrontation. While it is true Thais have deservedly been praised for their non-aggressive behavior and their bias against overt expressions of hatred, displeasure and annoyance, they have also been the subject of somewhat perplexed commentary on the myriad indirect techniques used to give vent 135


to the anti-social feelings behind their smiling masks. Violence and aggression are not eliminated but merely postponed until that point in time when indirect methods of attack are no longer psychologically satisfying or productive. In the past, it often seemed to take an unnaturally long time for one's emotional fuse to ignite and a very public explosion to occur. Today, that fuse seems increasingly sensitive and ready to be activated at a moment's notice. Perhaps part of the explanation simply lies in the difference between traditional rural society where mutual help was the way of life and the competitive, "lonely crowd" ambiance of the modern urban metropolis. Violence would be far less acceptable and far more destructive of the social fabric in such a rural as opposed to urban context. These differences are, however, increasingly becoming blurred as rural villagers become increasingly confrontational and aggressive, at least vis a vis outside power figures. The villagers perceive their livelihoods and sometimes their very lives to be threatened by abuse of power, corruption and unequal distribution of resources on the part of government official and business elites, often in cahoots. I would suggest there is another possible explanation of the above violence syndrome which is rooted in the hierarchical structure of Thai society. Those on the lower rungs of the ladder of rank, wealth, status, seniority and power are constantly deferring, in speech, body language and behavior, to those above. Socially mandated appropriate behavior, dressed in the raiments of humility, strictly limits social responses to actual or perceived affronts to one's dignity. Thus, Thai egos are fragile and easily offended. Sitting in a coffee house or restaurant, freed momentarily from the restrictive confines of proper deferential and subservient behavior, one is unready and unwilling to accept a perceived invasion of ones persona and space. Thus, a stare, innocent or 136


otherwise, is often interpreted as a direct challenge. In the coffee house, one does not have to accept and defer. So people erupt in a dramatic assertion of their individuality which has been under constant pressure and restraint. It is of some interest that freedom from traditional social restraints imposed by hierarchy is strikingly apparent in the behavior of Thai drunks and drivers. A drunk is generally forgiven for any inappropriate, improper disrespectful actions which would not be countenanced in a normal social exchange. Of course, if both parties are inebriated, the result may be less permissive and more explosive. As for drivers in the chaotic traffic of Bangkok, as their cars, not so slyly, cut off a Mercedes Benz or outgun a BMW, they happily revel in the thought they have bested their superiors, if not in real life, at least on the road, albeit sheltered behind tinted windows. The above explanation obviously does not apply to those on the higher rungs of this hierarchical ladder. Violent and aggressive behavior seems to be increasingly the norm for the political, business and bureaucratic power elites and their offspring. It is this elite that has been involved in the above-mentioned shootings at the expensive, up-scale nightclubs and discos. A stare in the smoke filled multi-colored haze of these clubs is interpreted as effrontery, a purposeful rejection of and lack of deferential appreciation of their privileged status and dignity, and a direct challenge. In the most recently reported shooting, the revealing shout of "you should know who I am" accompanied the pulling of the trigger. Perhaps such violence can be seen as the last vestige of a hierarchical structure that is increasingly being shaken and besieged by the forces of individualism and egalitarianism. As hierarchy breaks down, those who have reached their privileged position and elevated status by might rather than right, by guile 137


and corruption rather than by merit or intellect, naturally have become more and more nervous, worried and uncomfortable. They feel increasingly threatened, and, thus, overreact as they lash out to protect their previously unchallenged privileged status. Thus, both Thais and foreigners would be well advised to smile at all costs, and if one has to stare to do so behind very dark sunglasses. 1997


Three Views of Thai Buddhism in Transition

Forest Monks and the Nation State: An Anthropological and Historical Study in Northeast Thailand, by J.D. Taylor (Singapore: ISE AS, 1993). J.D. Taylor, with the publication of the book under review, can proudly claim charter membership in the small but illustrious cadre of non-Buddhist foreign scholars who are on the intellectual cutting edge of Thai Buddhist studies. Building on the previous writings of such respected academicians as Tambiah, O'Conner, Terwiel, Keyes and Jackson, among others, and drawing on a vast array of Thai sources, the author provides us with an insightful analysis of the forest monk tradition in Thailand. The non-academic reader may be a bit awed and cowed by the specialized jargon of academia as the author uses such terminology as "importable affiliative structures," "sodality," "preteritic," "climacteric," "orthopraxy," "stereobate," "thauma-turgical elements," etc. The lay reader may also feel he is enmeshed in a web of arcane minutiae as the author delineates forest monk lineages 139


and sub-lineages, papillary networks, temple affiliation, personal histories, ecclesiastic ranks, elite patronage networks, amulet and medallion classifications,

etc. All of the above details,

however, are simply grist for the academic mill of the author as he examines the forest monk tradition and its transformation in all the manifold political, social and religious dimensions. Understandably the author focuses on the early twentieth century exemplar of the forest monk tradition, Ajahn Man, and those first, second and third generation forest monks in his lineage. However, such a focus, more importantly, serves as a point of departure for a critical analysis of relationships, ties and interactions central to an understanding of historical, cultural and political processes as they were played out in Thailand in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Thus, the author astutely draws the reader's attention to the conflict and tensions inherent in the centralized bureaucratic State's relationship with the Thai forest monk community; to a sometimes symbiotic, sometimes antagonistic, relationship between the establishment Thammayut leadership in the capital and urban centers and the forest monk entourages

on the outer fringes of society; to the mutual wariness

and suspicion among the different and largely exclusive communities of forest-dwelling meditation monks, urban scholar and administrative monks, and the community based and focused rural Sangha; to internal Sangha sectarian rivalries; and to the uncomfortable pressures inherent in the elite lay patronage of forest monks. The above sets of interactive ties, alliances and confrontations form a constant refrain throughout the author's narrative. It is the ebb and flow of these relationships and the author's informed analysis of the challenge and response, persistence and accommodation/ integration, and of coping mechanisms for the resolution of conflicts and tensions that provide the intellectual excitement

and adventure in this scholarly 140



The author, with much insight, provides us with a useful paradigm to chart the birth and decay of the forest monk tradition. He outlines four stages: the peripatetic phase wherein small bands of quasi-domiciled forest ascetics may be found wandering to and from remote meditation sites; the settlement phase wherein samnak song, or unregistered and unsanctified monk dwellings, are established usually on land donated by wealthy lay patrons; the climacteric stage wherein the samnak is institutionalized and transformed into a sanctified, officially registered monastery; and lastly, the terminal stage wherein the monastery is no longer the residence for practicing ascetic meditation adepts but has been co-opted by institutionalized monks either fulfilling administrative duties or engaged in religious scholarship and teaching. At this later stage, ajedii, or burial monument, in honor of a former resident ascetic meditation master, may be built and become an object of cult worship and veneration. In the initial stages of the formation of Ajahn Man's lineage and papillary networks, the master and his forest monk disciples, sometimes wittingly and sometimes not, played the role of pioneer point men for expansion into the hinterlands of the centralized state and Sangha. The forest monks were pressed by the Thammayut leadership in the capital and provincial centers to advance the cause of unified, orthodox, normative standards for doctrine, discipline and ritual. The forest monks became one more tool to subdue, subjugate and control expressions of regional identity and indigenous traditions; in effect, to domesticate the frontier and any uncontrolled idiosyncratic behavior. The forest monks were generally disdainful of, and arrogant and derogatory towards, rural animistic practices and a perceived impure rural Sangha, almost exclusively of the Mahanikai sect. The forest monks failed to appreciate the valuable and constructive secular community leadership role played by the rural Sangha, in 141


addition to their religious role, just as they failed to appreciate and to understand how animistic beliefs and practices functioned to attune the villagers to nature and to preserve social harmony and village solidarity and stability. In a turn of the wheel of the Dharma, one might view it as karmic retribution that the forest monks were themselves ultimately domesticated and routinized, in Taylor's felicitous phrasing, as they were inexorably weaned away from their reclusive separatist existence and their space and isolation compromised and violated. Their forest habitat has fast disappeared subject to invasive pressures from illegal logging and a resource-hungry rural population as well as government agencies. Many of the forest monks themselves have succumbed, at the same time, to the lure of rank and titles; to patronage by a fervid business, political and bureaucratic elite anxious to legitimize their own wealth, power or position; to the demands of the merit-making public at large desir ous of involving the forest monks in communal religious rituals and in sanctifying and distributing amulets and medallions; and to institutionalization as their informal, unsanctified dwellings ultimately are transferred into official sanctified monasteries. There are, of course, exceptions, but it cannot be denied that it is increasingly difficult in modern Thai society to maintain one's seclusion and identity and persevere in the ascetic’s lonely and isolated quest for enlightenment and liberation. It is difficult, if not impossible, to do justice to the wealth of material presented and to the careful, insightful and intellectually provocative analysis of J.D. Taylor in the book under review. Suffice it to say that anyone seriously interested in critical study and analysis of the Thai Sangha and, specifically, the forest monk tradition will now be in Taylor's meritorious debt with the publication of his Forest Monks and the Nation State. This book 142


should be compulsory reading material for both scholars as well as the academically uninitiated in their respective quests for better understanding of the transformation of the Thai body politic and its religious components. ISEAS is to commended for its continued support of academic study of religious forces in Southeast Asia. While such English language scholarship has, to date, has been largely the province of Westerners, it is to be hoped that indigenous academicians in this field of study will soon make their voices heard within the international academic community. 1994

Buddhadasa: A Buddhist Thinker for the Modern World, by Peter Jackson (Bangkok: The Siam Society, 1988). For the past fifty years, Buddhadasa, Thailand's controversial philosopher monk, has been consumed with the task of expatiating on the relevance of Buddhism in modern-day society to the educated, but often skeptical, urban elite. During this same period, Christian, Jewish and Islamic religious leaders have similarly sought to tackle the confrontationbetween religious tradition and socioeconomic change. They have struggled to assure that the conflict and tensions evolve into creative rather than destructive forms. While several of Buddha dasa's works have been translated into English, there has been, to date, no comprehensive analysis of his intellectual thought; its antecedents; its implications for 143


roles of both laymen and monks; its contradictions; sions on cultural,

and its repercus-

social and political life in Thailand.

Jackson has admirably filled this academic concise and balanced in his presentation.

Dr. Peter

vacuum. He is clear,

The reader can appreciate

the complexities and intricacies of Buddhadasa's intellectual adventurousness and its occasional logical inconsistencies. Jackson provides the reader with a valuable description of the sociopolitical context within which Buddhadasa's thought has developed. In Thailand the State and the Sangha have needed


other's support. The government and clerical establishments have been extremely sensitive to anything that threatens this relationship. Buddhadasa's careful adherence to approved clerical practice and his acceptance of the official ecclesiastical hierarchical authority may be seen as a practical compromise to assure that the sanctity of his radical, if not subversive, in terpretation of Buddhist doctrine is preserved without interference from the authorities. The author, en passant, provides his ecclesiastical readers with insight as to why the far more doctrinally conservative Phra Photirak of Santi Asoke is under such ecclesiastical pressure as he challenges hierarchical authority and introduces his own variations of traditional clerical practice. Buddhadasa is convinced that it is necessary to dismantle the traditionally accepted barriers between the world-affirming sphere of the layman and the spiritual realm of the worldrenouncing monk. Jackson describes

with great clarity how

crucial it is to Buddhadasa's thesis that this forced separation be breached so that lay men and women can have access to the same spiritual attainment as monks, and that salvation for all is possible in this world of here and now. Buddhadasa sees karma, merit, rebirth, nirvana as things of the present. Past and future lives are, thus, no longer so relevant. Traditional Buddhist thought con-



ceives the world as inseparable from suffering. For Buddhadasa and his followers, suffering is the product of external conditions, and the world becomes an arena where suffering can be eliminated. The means to do so revolves around the core concept of waang or freed mind—a mind freed Buddhadasa's philosophy, of the self-centeredness that leads to attachment, craving and aggrandizement. As we achieve this insight into the state of jit waang, we are reborn. As this state of mental calm and equilibrium imbues our every action, significant progress towards nirvana in our present existence is achieved. Jackson illuminates for us the varied intellectual paths Buddhadasa traverses to reach his innovative interpretation of traditional Buddhist doctrine, including his reliance onMahayana and Zen. Buddhadasa bases his idiosyncratic interpretations of Buddhist doctrine on a selective choice of scriptures, often at the expense of consistency. He has carefully designed a linguistic sleight of hand as mundane language, phasa khcm,is transformed into spiritual language, phasa tham. Jackson indicates that this transformation of meaning facilitates and justifies Buddhadasa's reinterpretation of traditionally understood Buddhist doctrine so as to fit into his unique philosophical model. Jackson, fortunately, has also given the reader a tour d'horizon of Buddhadasa's social and political thought. The author has deftly pointed up the linkages, continuities and inconsistencies involved. For Buddhadasa, one must not retreat from the world and its suffering and chaos. One must rather, through morally guided social activity, inspired by a lack of self-centeredness, seek to alleviate and overcome poverty and social injustice. Economic activity can lead to spiritual attainment if it is undertaken with the awareness of jit waang and if it leads to removal of poverty, sickness, injustice.



It follows that moral, spiritually attuned people should be involved in politics and, through the application of the dharma, transform politics

to be directed towards achievement of both

material and spiritual well-being. Buddhadasa's political thought is conservative, and it is here that many of his most fervent supporters part company. These followers, representing the liberal intellectual elite, are quite comfortable with Buddhadasa's "plague on both your houses" chastisement of exploitive capitalism and the class hatreds of materialistic communism.

However, they object to

Buddhadasa's predilection for a benevolent authoritarian political model through which his utopian karmic socialism will be realized. For Buddhadasa, moral responsibility must take precedence over freedom. Individual political rights should be forsaken to guarantee social order and stability. Dictatorial means, albeit inspired by moral rectitude and spiritual values, become a tool to promote the dharma and assure peace and social order. However,

Buddhadasa has, himself, become somewhat uncom-

fortable with the inconsistency

between his authoritarian-rooted

political thought and his more democr atic-oriented

religious thought

where salvation through one's own efforts is championed. He has, therefore, modified slightly his authoritarian political biases. Elsewhere, Buddhadasa has yet to come to terms with one of the basic inconsistencies in his philosophical mode. Buddhadasa argues for spiritually-based

activism and the removal of the

barriers separating laymen from the realm of spiritual attainment. However, he opposes the secular involvement of the Sangha in activities of either a political or social nature. Buddhadasa would appear to be penalizing a socially conscious and committed Sangha from seeking their salvation through spiritually






with minds freed from the burden of self-centeredness. And yet 146


a significant proportion of the rural Thai Sangha is doing just that. Both Jackson and Buddhadasa almost completely ignore the productive dynamism of a Sangha-initiated movement, comprised of rural "development monks," which is increasingly taking hold in the North and Northeast of Thailand. These monks have been instrumental in merging spiritual and material development, both in theory and in practice, and the focus is placed on self-sufficiency, moderation, frugality, appropriate technology and mutual help and cooperative patterns of behavior. Despite the objections of more conservative Buddhist commentators, community service of this kind, within the acceptable limits imposed by Buddhist rules of discipline, is now generally sanctioned and approved of by the ecclesiastical authorities. And, most importantly, this is not new; Sangha involvement in the secular concerns of their impoverished rural communities has been prevalent, in one form or another, for hundreds of years and is both desired and approved of by the villagers. From a purely rural perspective, much of Buddhadasa's thinking, as in the above instance of monk role-play, would be met with dismay, if not outright disapproval. Merit, rebirth and karma have more traditional meanings for villagers, are central to rural existence and permeate everyday village behavior. Buddhadasa's pleas to divest Buddhism of what he perceives of as the barnacles of Brahmanic and animist thought and ritual would also not find a receptive rural audience. While popular Buddhism in rural Thailand often takes on form and substance at some variance with philosophical teachings of the Buddhist texts, the villagers view Brahmanic ritual and animistic beliefs as largely separate but complementary to Buddhism. Each in its way fulfills a need and each functions to establish psychological balance, maintain social order and stability and assure the ultimate survival of the individuals and the community. 147


As one reflects on Buddhadasa's religious, social and political thought so ably explained and dissected by Jackson, it becomes increasingly obvious that Buddhadasa's constituencies are the educated urban middle-class and intellectual elite as well as disaffected urban youth. Buddhadasa's rational analysis of Buddhist doctrine; his acceptance of science and technology, coupled with education, as necessary elements in the struggle to eliminate poverty and social injustice; his contempt for moral laxity and self-centeredness, whether of monk of parishioner; his acceptance of economic activity, albeit spiritually imbued; his assurance of the possibility of salvation in this life through the medium of awareness— jit waang—all have meaning for an educated urban class. It is this constituency that has questioned the relevance of Buddhism to their lives and has been disillusioned by the craving and attachments of members of the established clergy. Buddhadasa's teaching has certainly helped to bring some of these disaffected educated urbanites back into the religious fold. His importance lies in showing the "benefit" of religion to a wary urban public immersed in a world of technology, science, commercial activity and modernization. Jackson is to be commended for his reasoned analysis of Buddhadasa's thinking. There is an immense amount of intellectual food for thought and contemplation in this book which, coupled with virtue, will hopefully lead the reader to wisdom. Through this publication The Siam Society is contributing to a dialogue on the relevance of Buddhism in modern-day Thai society. To further that dialogue and perhaps redress the balance, The Siam Society might consider publishing the works of Chao Khun Dhammapitaka, the most articulate exponent of a Sangha committed to active community service. 1988 148


Buddhism, Legitimization and Conflict: The Political Functions of Urban Thai Buddhism, by Peter Jackson (Singapore: ISEAS, 1989) After his impressive analysis of Buddhadasa's innovative reinterpretation of traditional Buddhist teaching in Buddhadasa: A Buddhist Thinker for the Modern World, Dr. Jackson now expands his intellectual horizons to focus on urban Thai Buddhism in its many manifestations and the political implications involved therein. Jackson, with the publication of his second book now under review, clearly establishes himself as a leading figure in the select academic fraternity specializing in the interaction between Buddhism and politics in Thailand. Thai scholarship in this field of study is a relatively recent phenomenon. Jackson understandably builds on the foundations laid down by such eminent Thai scholars as Somboon Suksamran and Sulak Sivaraksa. However, Jackson has quoted liberally from the somewhat polemical writings of non-academician Krajaang Nathapho, while neglecting the more scholarly works of Nithi Aeusriwongsa, Sombat Chanthornwong, and Khanyngnit Canthabut. Jackson also draws on the limited core of foreign scholars working in this general field of studies including Charles Keyes, Gehan Wijeyewardene and Stanley Tambiah. Thomas Kirsch has done some interesting work on Buddhist cults which Jackson might profitably have perused. While the author's knowledge and use of Thai sources is impressive, one cannot help but question why he did not rely more on personal interviews and less on secondary source material. If he did pursue such primary source material, he does not so indicate. Jackson, in the book under review, provides us with an intellectually challenging and provocative analysis of the structural relationship between the State and the Sangha over time. He 149


elucidates the teachings

and practice of charismatic urban monks

and the aspirations, as well as expectations,

of their key audi-

ences. The author, with commendable ingenuity, develops a paradigm in which the conflict and tensions resulting from social and political pressures brought to bear on the establishment by an emergent middle class find their mirror image in the Buddhist world. There a similar struggle is being played out. On the one hand, there are rationalist-inspired Buddhist movements seeking not only a more democratic administration of Sangha affairs and State government but meaningful spiritual attainment and salvation for lay as well as monk aspirants. In opposition is a conservative Sangha

elite favoring highly

centralized Sangha

and State administrative structures while focusing on lay performance of merit in support of a Sangha seeking enlightenment. Jackson sees rationalist Buddhist movements, as represented by the reformist monks Buddhadasa, Panyananta, Photirak and Dhammapitaka, and the traditional conservative-oriented movements of such monks as Kittivutho and Anan Senakhan, as basically representing the goals and aspirations of their respective lay adherents, i.e., middle class political dissent against authoritarian control on the one hand, and political control by an aristocracy in alliance with military and bureaucratic elites on the other. Jackson clearly posits the functional role of Buddhism as legitimizing political authority. He joins other scholars in pointing out how traditionally metaphysical Buddhism, with its inherent hierarchical modeling, has been effectively used and manipulated by authoritarian governments to sanction their political control. Where Jackson breaks new ground is in focusing the readers' attention on a more assertive middle class drawing on rationalist reform—oriented Buddhism to legitimize their own right to vie for political power and to validate their economic 150



Jackson indicates how the Sangha Acts of 1902, 1941 and 1962 clearly expressed the political interests of those in control of state authority. The 1902 and 1962 Sangha Acts provided for a centralized Sangha authority under the absolutist control of the Sangharaja and Council of Elders. The 1941 Sangha Act represented an effort to decentralize Sangha administrative authority. While it is true that Prime Minister Pibul Songkram was enamored of democratic forms, if not content, he was, nevertheless, no less authoritarian in his rule or mind-set than Prime Minister Sarit. The rationale behind the promulgation of 1 941 lies elsewhere and is explored in some detail by Jackson. The author gives the most detailed analysis available in English of Dhammayut and Mahanikai sectarian rivalries. This subject is a sensitive one, and both the Thai government and the Sangha authorities have discouraged academic research on it as creating dissension in society and thus being detrimental to national security. Jackson views the conflict and tension between the sects basically in the framework of democratic versus authoritarian mind-sets relating to both internal Sangha administration and the political structure of the State. The saga of the controversial monk Phra Bimoladharma, so much a part of this sectarian warfare, is described in much detail. Jackson, however, omits discussion of Phra Bimoladharma's affiliation with and involvement in the Moral Rearmament Movement which served to foster suspicions of his political inclinations as well as his identification with Burmese ecclesiastical authorities and their projects relating to compilation of Buddhist texts which also led to questioning of his loyalties. While Jackson does touch on personal rivalries in discussing the internecine sectarian warfare, more consideration might have been given to the manoeuvring for positions of power within the Sangha and personal antagonisms as reasons for conflict. It would have been interest151


ing if Dr. Jackson had explored the history of DhammayutMahanikai relations and rivalry in Laos. Vientiane authorities tended to view the introduction of and continued existence of the Dhammayut sect in Laos as a function of Thai imperialism, and it is of some interest to note that one of the first acts of the Lao government after the communist takeover in 1975 was the abolition of the Dhammayut sect. It may b e noted that Phra Bimoladharma had a large following in Laos as well as the N ortheast of Thailand and became a symbol of Isaan nationalism. The establishment's fear of and frustration with this monk should thus also be seen in the context of traditional center-periphery conflicts combined with the perception of an Isaan and its opposition politicians receptive to Lao irredentist designs. Sectarian rivalries might also have been viewed in a rural versus urban context with the inevitable attendant stereotypes. Jackson pays special attention to a detailed exposition of the religious thought and practice of the various urban Buddhist movements mentioned above. He also provides a most informative analysis of the different meditation techniques used by the reformist and establishment-aligned movements—insight meditation versus concentration meditation, respectively. While basically these movements fall either into a rationalist, reformist and democratic-oriented mold or a traditional, authoritarian and hierarchical model, Jackson does point up the logical inconsistencies inherent in these movements and deviations from the theoretical design he has so artfully constructed. The lay audiences of these movements are described, noting, for example, the different sections of the middle class represented by the followers of Buddhadasa and Photirak. Jackson, in his balanced, but nevertheless somewhat sympathetic, account of the Santi-Asoke movement and its leader Phra Photirak, fails to mention Phra Photirak's public declaration of his having attained an exalted 152


state of spiritual attainment and, thus, the status of a Bodhisattva. Such a public declaration is forbidden under Buddhist doctrine and is against the vinaya. It is subsumed under parajika,being one of the four most serious violations against the vinaya.Phra Photirak has also been accused of manipulating Buddhist religious teachings in an effort to defend himself against the above accusation. Thus, it is not valid to define the legal issue relating to Phra Photirak, as Jackson does, as one of determining the status of a monk by either abiding by the vinaya or compliance with the procedures of secular law. As a monk, one is obligated to abide by both ecclesiastical and secular State law. The Phra Dhammakaya movement, combining both rationalist and traditionalist elements, and its appeal to the Thai "yuppie generation" is described. Jackson sees these various movements as less a response to an educated middle class being disillusioned by a lax urban Sangha prone to material attachments and rewards and the seeming irrelevance of ritualistic Buddhism, and more as a means of validating middle class values through a reinterpreted Buddhism and seeking the legitimization of political dissent for some and the co-option into the power elite for others. Jackson elucidates the "plague on both your houses" of the rationalist Buddhist movements as they decry both the metaphysical Buddhism of an elite establishment steeped in hierarchical values and the merit, sin, karma, rebirth orientation of rural Buddhism. These rationalist movements stress the viability of individual salvation here and now for lay adherents as well as monks. Frugality, self-discipline, rational orderliness and spiritually imbued economic activity are emphasized. Thus, there is an alternative symbolic and theoretical system created to serve the interests of an emergent commercially-oriented middle class rather than the interests of an aristocratic /bureaucratic elite authoritarian establishment. 153


Jackson's alternative rationalist urban Buddhist model might be profitably juxtaposed and contrasted with the "development monk" movement in the rural North and Northeast of Thailand. This Buddhist inspired development model for rural Thailand is an alternative to the economic growth model imposed by a centralized bureaucracy. This Sangha initiated rural based movement has focused on the union of spiritual and material development, both in theory and practice, and has emphasized self-sufficiency, moderation, frugality, appropriate technology, integrated farming and mutual help and cooperative patterns of behavior. The "development monks" have offered an alternative system responsive to village specific conditions and needs and one that serves and is responsive to both the material and spiritual needs of an impoverished rural population. This movement involves a socially conscious and involved Sangha seeking their salvation through spiritually infused community development activities freed from the burden of self-centeredness. Interestingly enough, such role play for the Sangha is denied by Buddhadasa. Yet, like Buddhadasa's movement, the alternative development model of the reformist rural monks is democratically oriented and based on villager participation in the planning and implementation of development activities with the guidance and support of monk leaders. This rural movement reacts against centralized authority and is often interpreted as a focus for dissent against and opposition to authority. Development monks, like Jackson's rationalist Buddhist movement leaders, have likewise been accused of being communists or communist sympathizers. There are interesting parallels between the village specific community development programs of the "development monks" and the government inspired civic oriented Sangha programs such as Dhammathud and Dhammacarik on the one hand and 154


the rationalist versus traditionalist urban movements described by Jackson on the other. It would be of much profit if Jackson would next apply his excellent scholarship and intellectual ingenuity to a study of rural Thai Buddhism. Just as a study of rural Buddhist movements in Thailand would have provided illuminating dimensions to Jackson's analysis of urban Buddhism, an examination of evangelical, born again religious movements and the activities of "liberation theology" priests on the international stage would also have provided additional valued perspective. Despite certain errors of both omission and commission, Jackson has made a most valuable contribution to existing scholarship on the interaction of Buddhism and politics. With exemplary scholarship and a wealth of detail hitherto unavailable in English, Jackson has delved into the mysteries of the political dimensions of Thai Buddhism through careful examination of the symbiotic relationship of the State and establishment Buddhism; sectarian conflict; and Buddhist reform movements and their particularistic religious thought and practice and composition of their lay audiences. Jackson has developed an intriguing theoretical framework which enables us better to understand issues of legitimization and conflict. While there are obvious

difficulties, recognized by Jackson as well, in fitting all his data into his theoretical construct, Jackson has performed a valuable service in providing us with new insights into the functional role play of Buddhism. Scholars in this somewhat arcane field of study will be in Jackson's debt for years to come, and the book under review will certainly serve as a provocative point of departure for future academic analysis by both Thai and Western scholarship. The publisher, the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, is to be commended for its encouragement of such research as that represented by Dr. Peter Jackson's latest book under its Social Issues in Southeast Asia Program. If future 155


research works in this program, focusing on issues of religious and ethnicity, maintain the high academic standard exemplified by Jackson, the academic community will continue to be deeply indebted to ISEAS. 1989


The Essence of Buddhism

I WAS RECENTLY ASKED BY a Rotary Club in Bangkok to give a luncheon talk on the essence of Buddhism. Businessmen are always pressed for time, and I was thus requested to enlighten the audience in a twenty-minute exposition. Though honored by the invitation, I accepted with more than a little embarrassment and trepidation. As a Western student of Buddhism, I did not feel qualified to declaim on the philosophical intricacies of the Buddhist dharma. Thus, I begged the audience's indulgence and told them I would limit myself to a presentation of what Buddhism has meant to me and to my personal u nderstanding of the essence of Buddhism. This essay hopefully captures the spirit and substance of my talk to the Rotarians. My introduction to Buddhism was not through a reading of the texts but rather through observing Buddhism in practice in a small village in Northeast Thailand. I lived there for twelve months some forty years ago while undertaking research on culture change. In that small, somewhat isolated village, Buddhism came alive. I became immersed in the daily ebb and flow 157


of popular Buddhism. I quickly fell under the spell of the village monks. They exuded an aura of serenity as they carried out their religious and community service responsibilities. In their quotidian social service chores, they embodied the Four Sublime States of Consciousness: metta (loving kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy), and ubekkha (equanimity). At the same time, I came to appreciate the value villagers placed on meritorious activities and avoidance of sinful ones as they sought to improve their karmic status. I realized the extent to which their Buddhist beliefs molded their behavior as they avoided confrontation, honored mutual and reciprocal help obligations, and maintained "cool hearts" as they faced the adversities of rural existence. Both the villagers and monks cautioned me to avoid extremes and to value harmonious personal relations. It was only later in my urban persona that I started to read Buddhist texts and sat at the feet of respected monk elders. To elucidate the essence of Buddhism, or rather my understanding of it, in the less than a half-hour allowed by the Rotarians, might have been better achieved by meditating on a few choice haikus by Zen masters or by reflecting on the sound of one hand clapping. However, in this essay, I shall endeavor to set forth my Understanding of basic Buddhist doctrine while illustrating some of the points made by reference to haikus I have written. While Buddhism has influenced my life in general, it has also significantly impacted on my poetic ruminations in both form and content. As a Buddhist, I perceive the essence of Buddhism to be captured in the Four Noble Truths: All is sorrow and suffering; suffering stems from craving; the end of suffering is achieved by the end of craving; the way to end craving is by following the Eightfold Path of right conduct, right speech, right livelihood, etc.



A rose is suffering, is a gardener, moist soil, birth and decay If we are to reach our ultimate objective of eliminating suffering, our immediate task must be to relinquish attachments and to extinguish craving. We must simply "let go." Attachment to and craving for that which is transitory, whether an object or a person, will ultimately lead to disappointment, to suffering: In fishing, as in love, the trick is freeing the line, not reeling in

I forget to remember but can't ever remember to forget I have come to realize, however, that the struggle to relinquish, to "let go," is an arduous one as the attachments, the craving, the coveting in which we are entangled are, more often than not, vital, powerful and emotionally satisfying. However, always keeping the final goal of the elimination of suffering in sight, one must commit oneself to taking first steps. In our quest, perhaps the most important first step to take is to exercise moderation in every facet of our lives. We must walk the Middle Path: Life's kaleidoscope out of focus if not centered on the Middle Path



While jockeying to remain in the center lane on the hi ghway to final relinquishment, one must also avoid intimidating or harassing others. As we endeavor to free ourselves from attachments and cravings by taking the first tentative steps of moderation in all aspects of our lives, we must remain focused. We must avoid distractions; remain mindful; be aware. We must do so not only in our moments of meditation but in our every thoughts and actions. Whether peeling an orange, washing dishes, helping our children with their homework, playing golf, practicing our professions, giving a talk to Rotary or even listening to one; we must be mindful and not let our minds wander and go astray: Meditating monk transfixed by leaping monkeys, dappled butterflies

Totally aware, I peeled an orange and revealed the universe

Bamboo, aware of wind's breath, swayed without intention or desire Mindful and aware, we realize that each and every thought and action has both a cause and an effect. We must accept responsibility for the consequence of our thoughts and actions. It is through mindful concentration and contemplation that we come to understand the truth of suffering and the means to its cessation. Some walk more slowly, some more swiftly on the path to relinquishment and wisdom. Each of us, depending on our 160


karma, is at a different stage in this quest. Ultimately, we must rely on ourselves, for it is only we who can reposition ourselves on the karmic scales by our own good or bad actions and intentions: Searching in exotic places; finding myself in bathroom mirror We must not believe simply because a lecturer, a revered teacher, or even the Buddha, the Enlightened One, so taught. The Buddha advised that one must carefully consider what is said or written and when one has finally, by oneself, come to fully and clearly comprehend the reason and truth behind the words, then, and only then, can one believe what is said. In summary, for me, Buddhism's essence lies in the reality of suffering in this world of impermanence; the need to ultimately extinguish our cravings and attachments, in a word, to "let go;" the taking of first steps by committing oneself to moderation, to the Middle Path, recognizing that total relinquishment is initially highly improbable if not impossible; being careful not to trespass on the rights of others; being mindful and having awareness in thought and action; accepting responsibility for our thoughts and actions, reaping what is sowed; and realizing that one must rely on oneself in the search for truth, The Buddha said: "One saying capable of inspiring calm in the heart of the listener is worth a thousand useless phrases." I hope these reflections have inspired a certain calm and serenity and any useless phrases will be forgiven and forgotten. 1995 161

Did We Make A Difference?

OVER THE YEARS WHEN required to write historical reviews of selected Foundation program categories and reflect on innovative program initiatives and exemplary programs, I have completed those tasks with a nagging discomfort, difficult to define. There was certainly pride felt in having been involved in programs that promoted social justice, improved the lives of the disadvantaged, and contributed to peace and security. However, I couldn't help wondering if that pride was totally justified and deserved or if it was hubris instead. A recent chance remark by a colleague recalled those past doubts; the Devil's advocate's query: "Wouldn't all those changes, reforms, development have occurred in any event without your (both personal and institutional) involvement and intervention?" A sobering thought, once again igniting a sense of anguish.


A 1995 memorandum to Ford Foundation home office personnel. 163


Reflecting on several decades of engagement, in both institutional and personal terms, I remain convinced that we —the royal "we" incorporating both the institution and myself —did fill a void which otherwise would have remained, lingered. In some few cases other Foundations might have met the challenge in the absence of the Ford Foundation. In many more instances, however, the initiatives would simply not have been undertaken, or if they were, at least not at such an early stage or in all their adventurous detail. Some initiatives might have ultimately been carried out, however belatedly, with government or locally generated funds. However, postponement of even a few years and execution in a less ambitious format would certainly have adversely affected the quality of life, the progressive development and, in some cases, the very survival of individuals and communities concerned. Perhaps that is the bottom line to focus on in future program reviews, as important, progressive elements within both the bureaucracy and civil society would have become discouraged without the sympathetic encouragement, counsel and support provided by the Foundation. Such discouragement not only would have led to the postponement of progressive reforms but often to "opting out" and the concomitant loss of such talent and commitment to the local institutions involved. At the same time, Foundation support in many cases was instrumental in promoting the career advancement of progressive risk takers which, in turn, assured continued high level support for reform initiatives. Our programming in international affairs, specifically our work in the refugee field and in security studies in which I was personally involved during the past two decades, is a case in point. It was the Foundation-supported conference on the Vietnamese

boat refugees and a Foundation—


assisted background


study, "Vietnamese Refugees: A Comprehensive Approach," tabled at that conference that set the stage for an informal, unofficial, frank and detailed dialogue. This discourse led to possible areas of compromise and finally to consensus. In the last analysis, the conference's recommendations were the basis for ASEAN's constructive contribution to the final formulation of the renowned Comprehensive Plan of Action. Other Foundation-assisted refugee policy research studies, over almost a decade, resulted in safer, speedier and more just, secure and efficient resettlement and repatriation programs for Lao, Hmong, Khmer and Vietnamese refugees and displaced persons. In the security studies field, Foundation assistance for seminars, policy research studies and publications to both official government (TRACK I) and non-bureaucratic (TRACK II) institutions was instrumental in expanding the definition of national security and demystifying security issues and assuring greater transparency in more open and frank official deliberations on these matters. At the same time, Foundation assistance was useful in legitimizing non-bureaucratic input into the policy formulation and decision making processes and assuring the increased reliance on this broader based input by official channels. I am firmly convinced that the initiatives in the above program areas would not have been carried out in such timely fashion without Foundation assistance. Policy decisions made would consequently have been less sound and rational, less responsive to immediate and critical needs, and more subject to the emotions and passions of the day. In summary, I believe the Foundation not only made a difference but also supported reform initiatives which either would never have seen the light of day or, if they did, would have



appeared at a much later date and in a much more truncated form. I would like to think that, in my work with the Foundation, I have fulfilled my personal desire and commitment to serve. 1995


Reflections on My Fifth Cycle

I REMAIN SUSPENDED IN LIMBO, an incorrigible intellectual alchemist striving to turn the dichotomy of my eastern and western personas into an enlightened synergism. My western self has endeavored to be faithful to the ideals and traditions of service inculcated by my family and Yale University mentors. I brought to the East a burning commitment to somehow make the world, or at least a small tropical corner of it, a more just, decent and peaceful place. So with Dylan Thomas my western persona cries out its "rage, rage against the dying of the light" and rails against going "gently into that good night." And, yet, more than three decades in Siam have somehow taught me to modulate that rage while remaining compassionate and caring. The balance is weighted towards quietly comforting the afflicted rather than harshly afflicting the comfortable. The sharp confrontational edges of my western persona have been somewhat smoothed by the calm and serene ambiance of Buddhist thought and teaching. I recognize the transitory nature of our material existence and the futility of craving and attachment. 167


Nevertheless, I persevere in trying to alleviate suffering where I can and accepting, with equilibrium, failure when it comes. I have always felt a certain bond with Edward Arlington Robinson's "Miniver Cheevy" who was "born too late... who missed the medieval grace of iron clothing." I continue to cherish the social currencies of old world courtesy, graciousness, decency and elegance of style which somehow have been devalued in a world now more attuned to greed and instant gratification. I cannot help but recall the sage advice the doctor in the Heart of Darkness gave to Marlow as the latter was about to depart to the wilds of Africa; "Avoid irritation more than exposure to the sun... In the tropics, one must, before everything, keep calm." And, yet, I did not seek out calm, serenity, equanimity when I came to the tropics. Rather, they have been graciously bestowed upon me by my spiritual guides and by lessons learned in daily encounters with Thai friends and colleagues. In essence, I do not perceive my fifth cycle, my sixtieth birthday, as a culmination. Rather, I see it as a continuation of a struggle to assure the tensions between my eastern and western personas remain creative and that parallel paths ultimately merge into a single road of productive contemplation which, supported by virtue, will lead to wisdom. 1989


Reflections of An Expatriate

IN A RECENT LETTER, Jonathan Benthall, Editor of Anthropology Today, referred obliquely to the ambivalence of my persona. He wondered aloud as to the pros and cons of becoming closely identified with the country of one's study and the possible loss of detachment in the process. For the past forty years I have been on a continuous pilgrimage seeking to fathom the intricate patterns of Thai culture. During this decades-long hegira, I didn't have to, and couldn't, forsake my Western heritage, but I could and did conveniently subject it to a traditional Thai massage. New intellectual and emotional pressure points were discovered. New dimensions to my nature emerged, and hitherto familiar ways of thinking, acting, and speaking were altered. I remember being cautioned in Yale Graduate School not to forget that the anthropologist's very presence in the field can itself change the social atmospherics and alter the very reality one seeks to capture. Actually, my experience, living for a year in a fairly remote Northeastern Thai village, did not validate such an 169


admonition. Very quickly I found myself

swept up into the

rhythms of daily village life. Any impressions my footprints may have made on the village paths were quickly erased. If there was any meaningful alteration, it was in my own perceptions and perspectives. However, there was no wholesale change. In taking off my Rayban glasses and trying on Thai shades, did I lose my detachment? I would hope not. Since I finished field work almost four decades ago and began my teaching and foundation careers, I have been interpreting Thai culture and trying to bridge cultural chasms th rough lectures to and essays written for audiences of Western diplomats, businessmen, and foreign aid workers and volunteers. Despite my close identification with and commitment to Thailand, I d o not feel I have lost the detachment necessary for objective scholarship. Identification has led to empathy and sympathetic understanding, but, hopefully, intellectual equilibrium has largely been preserved. The challenge has been to maintain my psychological equilibrium as a new identity, merging the newly acquired Eastern and the more familiar Western elements of my persona, has been shaped and formed. On reflection, I believe

the often stated contradiction be-

tween a close identification with a culture and the preservation of one's detachment is a false one. Of course, some may argue that subjectivity is not totally negative,

and that total objectivity is

unattainable. I would agree that subjectivity can have a certain value at times, especially in instilling some passion into a foreign scholar's analysis and commentary. I would also accept that objectivity should be measured in terms of degree rather than in absolute terms. However, given the limitation of space, I hope I may be forgiven for treating the issues involved in this essay in more general and less absolute terms. I am convinced that one can, for the most part, be both identified and detached. There are, of course, foreign scholars who completely 170

deny their own


heritage, their cultural roots in their attempts to take on the coloration and hues of another culture. I believe they are fated to live in a fool's paradise. Such expatriates do not, and I believe cannot, fully change their personas and become Thai, Japanese or Indonesian. Those that believe they have fully assumed the cultural identity of the country they have studied and in which they have immersed themselves are, I would contend, deluding themselves. They have denied and lost one identity and yet not truly found a new one. They remain in limbo. For these cultural alchemists who have convinced themselves that such a total conversion has been achieved, objectivity and detachment are inevitably lost. There are limitations to culture conversion no matter how close one's identification, engagement, attachment and empathy. As in religious conversion, one often becomes more Papal than the Pope and loses one's perspective and objectivity. However, loss of detachment and objectivity does not mean one has actually assumed the essence, as well as the form, of a new cultural identity. One can study and grasp the intellectual meaning of a country's literature and history, of its language, its proverbs, its fairy tales, its religion and world view. However, unlike a child's enculturation process wherein literature, language, history, morality and appropriate behavior are learned, largely uncritically, and impressed on a veritable cultural tabula rasa,the alien anthropologist, at a later stage in life, inevitably studies and learns through the lens of his or her own cultural and intellectual background, often rather heavy baggage. For example, reading Thai literature and poetry of the past with its unmistakable hierarchical, patriarchal and male chauvinist bias can give one an appreciation of Thai social structure and gender bias. However, can such study for the scholar in his or her twenties, thirties, forties and beyond have the same emo171


tional impact and intellectual meaning as for the native child whose received knowledge at a most impressionable age is constantly reinforced by his or her peers?. One can record the prevalent practice of urban Thai schoolboys visiting prostitutes in a time honored rite de passage to manhood and note the double sexual standard involved. However, how can the adult foreign scholar ever internalize the emotional, not to say sexual, charge of participating in the above ritual passage encouraged, sustained and fortified by one's peers? The scholar can read of the extra-territorial courts in Thailand in the latter half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries during the period of colonial influence, if not total control. One can intellectually appreciate the fixation of the Thai judiciary on preserving its integrity and independence and the extreme sensitivity to any outside interference. However, can the foreign scholar ever truly expect to comprehend the emotional intensity of the older generation of Thai judges concerning the above without having experienced such judicial domination and intimidation or been regaled about such interference on one's father's knee? How can the mature Western scholar, reading the skewed and biased historical accounts of relationships with the neighboring countries of Laos, Burma and Cambodia, appreciate the building blocks of prejudice and stereotypes set and reinforced in primary and secondary Thai schools? Likewise, the rational and scientific mind and tools of the foreign scholar can be brought to bear in analyzing the function of spirit worship in maintaining social harmony and communal solidarity and social order in rural Thailand. However, can one ever expect to experience the fear and dread of and, at the same time, sense of reliance on spirits inculcated in the earliest years of childhood? The above examples indicate the difficulty of truly "going native" in substance, rather than just form. In almost all cases, the 172


end result is a shadow play, not reality. If in that process, one loses a sense of objectivity and detachment, the individual scholar must be faulted. One becomes, at that stage, a translator producing often beautifully crafted literal translations but ones devoid of inner meaning. On the other hand, it is not impossible to achieve a sense of empathy and understanding after years of intimate and close identification with an alien culture and, in so doing, judiciously and objectively interpret the essence of the culture with a close, if not absolute, approximation to emotional and intellectual certitude. In the diminishing eyesight of this expatriate, I thus only see the positive side of close identification with an alien culture over a long period of time. However, it is important that detachment and objectivity not be sacrificed. If they are, then one loses the ability to interpret, to be a bridge between cul tures. In such a case, one may well be culturally hypnotized into silence. One recalls the perhaps apocryphal anthropologist whose empathy and attachment to the native American society he was studying were so compelling that he was accorded the rare honor of being initiated into the tribe's secret society. Alas, bound by oath, he never revealed its secrets and, thereafter, was forever reticent about writing about the tribe which had adopted him. I believe governments, foundations and businesses have largely accepted the conventional wisdom of the contradiction between close identification and detachment. Thus, they continue arbitrarily to limit the duration of one's employment abroad in any one country to three, four or five years. Headquarters pride themselves on their success in avoiding their employees' close identification with the society in which they are working. Alas, a high price has been paid, unnecessarily so for what is mistakenly assumed would be the concomitant loss of objectivity and detached judgment. What these institutions have actually 173


lost is the insight and the unrivaled, informed analysis that can only come with many years of language study and the intimate identification with and engagement in the society and its culture. Someday, perhaps, anthropologists, from whatever continent, about to venture into the field for the first time, will be advised by their university mentors to be prepared for their own ordeal by fire as their familiar ways of thinking and acting are tested. In the challenge and response of their first field experience, their intellectual and emotional horizons will expand. Whether one returns or remains, one may look forward to enhanced and enriched personas being forged. In these altered states, new identities will emerge. 2995



AS I REFLECT ON THE DRAMATIC transformation of Thai culture, three quite contrasting images come to mind: the first is of elephants plodding the traffic-clogged streets of Bangkok; the second, quite revealing, both literally and figuratively, is of Thai beauty queens in recent Miss Thailand and Miss Universe pageants; and the third is of a Thai labor strike. The elephants, no longer able to work and feed in the denuded forest areas of rural Thailand, are brought to the capital to eke out a living for their mahouts. There, donations are sought from superstitious urbanites who walk under the pachyderms' swaying stomachs for good luck. Much like the rural folk who seek their fortunes in the unfriendly and unfamiliar urban centers, so too the uprooted elephants try to get their bearings and survive in the steamy, polluted, inhospitable byways of Bangkok's concrete jungle. As for Thai beauty queens, those praised in the past were shy, docile maidens with Eastern features and petite figures to match. Alas, they have now been shunted off the stage in favor of 175


those with more fu]1-bodied physiques and Western looks, both achieved, more often than not, through cosmetic surgery. In addition, self-assured, out-going personalities are deemed to be necessary for success, particularly at the international level. Taking this fascination with the West to its logical extreme, those Thai who have competed successfully on the international beauty circuit in recent years have been of mixed parentage, usually born of Thai mothers and Western fathers and often reared in the West. These Eurasian contestants are a striking visual metaphor for the influence and impact of the West on traditional Thai culture as well as the identity crisis faced by the Thai citizenry today and the accommodations and adaptations made. Lastly, labor strikes in Thailand present a dramatic illustration of another type of accommodation strategy. Thai strikes are a unique blend of the present and the past, of confrontational and conciliatory signals: fiery speeches and work stoppages combined with slightly tipsy workers singing and dancing to the beat of a pick-up band. All developing countries, to a greater or lesser extent, are in the throes of cultural transformation. Such a transition from traditional to modern must not be conceived of as a zero sum game. Though the change is pervasive and its direction seemingly irreversible, traces of the past persist. It is these cultural footprints which impress a Thai stamp on the transition process. Sometimes the characteristic Thai hues will be subdued and difficult to identify, especially where Thai youth, imitating their peers in other countries, are concerned. At other times, the distinctive Thai brand label will be easily recognizable as in the case of labor strikes, as noted above. It must be recognized that the pace of such change differs widely among diverse subject areas such as those analyzed in the foregoing essays. It also varies among different age groups and 176


class levels as well as between rural and urban communities. Whatever variations there may be, the pace is, for the most part, felt to be a dizzying one as quite substantial change has been compressed into the relatively short time span of two decades. In addition to its other properties, change can be a twoedged sword. For example, in a purely cultural context, some might understandably regret the passing of an era of graciousness, consideration and politeness and the shift to a more confrontational tone in personal relations and vis-a-vis authority figures. Similarly, some will deplore the slow erosion in the consideration, respect and deference given to elders; the more overt expression of hatred, anger, annoyance and displeasure, previously absent from the social radar screen; and the questioning of the belief in karma which, in the past, helped to mute and subdue contention and conflict. However, from a political standpoint, these changes in the core elements of traditional Thai culture to more assertive, aggressive and less deferential behavior could be viewed positively as energizing and facilitating political expression and nurturing a more democratic political process. Such a new cultural ambiance is certainly far more conducive to vocalizing the demands of the less advantaged for more just and equitable treatment. Thus in purely political terms it is not surprising that the transformation of Thai culture would be regretted by some, welcomed by others. Some will more readily accept the inherent tension of the transition process as creative; others will quickly reject is as destructive. It is understandable that the privileged establishment would prefer to cling to the fast disappearing social harmony and cohesiveness of the past. They would understandably be discomforted by the weakening of the hierarchical and patriarchal structures in which such relatively congenial social and political stability had been rooted. However mis177



their faith in the staying power of the core elements of

traditional Thai culture largely remains steadfast. They view the traditional belief system as the last defense against the socially and on the Thaibodypolitic. politically destabilizingpressuresbeingexerted Political activists, on the other hand, and their increasingly engaged constituencies,

more willingly

accept the change occur-

ring in traditional beliefs, values and attitudes. Such change, as noted above, can be and is viewed by them as liberating. They d o not deny the benevolence and compassion of the establishment's "best and brightest." However, they also realize that the traditional belief system has, in the less benign hands of certain government officials, often in concert with the local business Mafia, been manipulated so as to more easily control and exploit the nation's less powerful communities. Now, perhaps in karmic retribution, the privileged position of those in authority and power is being seriously challenged. There is no easy explanation for the profound restructuring of traditional Thai beliefs, attitudes, behavior and world view. and forces, sometimes Both internal and external conditions separately, sometimes in combination, have contributed to shaping this transformation process. One cannot deny the impact of such values as individualism and egalitarianism associated with the external forces of modernization,

Westernization and

globalization. In a similar vein, consumerism has been as rampant as the rapid economic growth which brought it to Thailand's shores. Yet one should be careful not to discount the powerful dynamic of evolutionary change within Thailand responsive to particular sets of domestic considerations. Such internal pressures were themselves not totally immune to influence from the to a outside. Certainly, the shift in Thailand in the mid-seventies more democratic political system albeit one quickly labeled "Thai 178


style," "half (fig) leaf," provided the necessary political space for freer political expression and action. Another factor which hastened and facilitated a more direct challenge to authority was the perception that one's very survival was at stake. In the face of discrimination, oppression and exploitation, it was no longer possible for villagers to simply move elsewhere to find easily accessible virgin land. An increase in population and systematic deforestation over the years has eliminated that option. In addition, the State has become more intrusive with large-scale development projects and more aggressive efforts to gain control over lands, categorized by the State as reserved forest areas, where villagers often had a long established residence. Some decided to cope with such threats to their livelihood and quality of life by turning to off-farm labor in provincial towns, the capital or abroad. Others who were not prepared to sacrifice their village way of life remained wi th their backs, if not to the wall, at least to the bamboo village fences. Although feeling threatened, the villagers were at the same time becoming more knowledgeable and aware through television, newspapers and word of mouth, of protests and demonstrations in the capital and in other provincial areas. It did not take long for the villagers to appreciate how effective a political tool such demonstrations could be in their struggles with government officialdom. However, in order for thought to be translated into action, another element had to be added to the equation. The villagers lacked the organizational skills and experience needed to plan and implement such direct confrontations with authority as protests, marches and demonstrations. Here, it was fortuitous for the villagers that during the same period that changes in their values and beliefs were taking form, a vital functioning civil society was emerging. This burgeoning non-bureaucratic sector included such diverse elements as a highly committed and 179


engaged NGO movement; emergent village organizations drawing on local wisdom and local resources; a more confident, competent and assured academic community; the media, including an increasingly responsible and incisive investigative journalism fraternity; the business sector, especially, small, socially conscious business groups; and a vocal, if sometimes inarticulate, and often venal, Parliament. Thus at a crucial juncture elements of an increasingly vibrant civil society were in place, ready and willing to provide the necessary expertise to facilitate a channeling of rural grievances and frustrations into the corridors of bureaucratic and political power. The NGO movement, in timely fashion, offered the needed organizational techniques, and the media and segments of the academic community provided additional support, encouragement and publicity so as to maximize the impact of the rural challenges to perceived abuses of power by those in authority. The social harmony and cohesion, so identified with the traditional culture of the past, has been further compromised by a weakening of the traditional supports and constraints of rural society. Ceremonies and festivals have, from time immemorial, strengthened and reaffirmed morale and fostered reintegration of the individual into the community, thus contributing to family and group solidarity. The Thai ceremonial calendar is now often being curtailed, in both time and content, by the villagers themselves due to economic demands and pressures. Even more troubling is the manipulation and "refinement" of such festivals and ceremonies by government fiat for state ends, e.g., the promotion of tourism. Social harmony and stability have also been adversely affected, particularly in rural society, by a weakening of community-sanctioned taboos and the concomitant fear of retribution by the spirits. Such beliefs had previously helped to restrain and forestall socially disruptive conduct. 180


As if the reality of a harmonious society had not been sufficiently damaged by the factors noted above, the escalating gap between law and custom, discussed in the essay on law and society, has put additional pressure on the system. While such a divergence has existed for generations, it has grown increasingly wider during the last two decades. The populace has become less tolerant of it, and pressure has increased to repeal or amend certain existing laws, to strictly enforce others and, in some cases, to enact new ones —all in the interests of bringing law into conformity with customary behavior, attitudes, values and expectations. On its part, the State has become more resolute and has, in furtherance of its own interests, largely cajoled and sometimes demanded changes in behavior to conform to the laws on the statute books. The resulting tension between the state and village society is palpable. Conflict and sometimes violence manifests itself, specifically in those areas where changing patterns of behavior and thought have far outstripped the change in legal codes. Arenas susceptible to such conflict cut across the entire social and political fabric including such diverse categories as environmental protection, land rights, gender roles and identity, religion, the political system, labor issues and technology. Thus the official narrative of a stable, harmonious and cohesive society has been slowly but surely compromised. This previously acclaimed model is no longer social reality. The building blocks for such a traditionally stable and ordered society have been remolded and repositioned, and the past cannot be reconstructed. The rather acrimonious debates, both within and without the working body responsible for the drafting of a new Thai constitution, are but the latest skirmishes on the battlefield of a Thai culture in transition. The proposed restructuring of the judicial, police, parliamentary and local administration systems 181


are dramatic examples of the pressures that have been building up to refigure traditional hierarchical structures so as to be more egalitarian, just, equitable and transparent. At this point, one might well be discouraged by the above litany of destabilizing and dysfunctional trends adversely affecting the stability of the Thai body politic. Certainly, one cannot deny the increased prevalence of confrontational tactics, the widening of the distribution of wealth gap, the brutal degradation of the environment, and the marked discrepancy between law and customary behavior. However, there have been positive developments as well. Of principal importance has been the steady growth and maturation of a civil society referred to above . This has resulted in greater participation of the populace in issues affecting their lives and, thus, the cause of participatory democracy has been well served. Unfortunately, those in political power, as well as in the bureaucracy, often fail to appreciate the positive nature and potentiality of the civil society. They rather view the role play of various sectors of this society as additional crosses to bear. Actually, it would ultimately serve the interests of the bureaucratic polity to accept and strengthen the civil society so that the latter could more effectively act as a safetyvalve in siphoning off the steam of discontent in society. At the same time, the civil society could be a constructive watchdog, cautioning the State to be just, responsible, transparent and accountable. If the State took preventive action in response to such advice, conflicts and tensions would then often be avoided. And lastly, such a civil society could contribute different perspectives and experiences in the evolution and implementation of a reform agenda couched in terms of a just and equitable distribution of resources, one serving national rather than narrow personal or group interests. In these ways, the civil society could provide the necessary social, cultural and political time and space 182


for the parliamentary democratic system to mature in an environment without violence and for the bureaucracy to accommodate to the realities of a more participatory and politically conscious and engaged citizenry. In the last analysis, if the tensions and conflicts in the society, resulting from the process of cultural transformation, are to be effectively managed and productively channeled, the bureaucracy and the civil society will have to resolve their mutual fear, wariness and suspicion. New mechanisms drawing these two communities together in cooperative, collaborative partnerships will have to be created. Sometimes the initiatives to form such partnerships will come from the burea ucracy, sometimes from the non-bureaucratic sector. In the actual implementation of specific programs, the level of involvement, effort and commitment of the different players within these two communities will vary. However, it is through experimentation with variations of this not-so-simple equation that successful strategies will ultimately be developed, new policies framed and innovative programs implemented in such diverse fields as legal reform, natural resource management, control of AIDS and redefinition of national and regional security systems. In order for the new partnerships to succeed in their reform initiatives, more "venture capital" will be needed than the State is prepared to provide. Traditionally, such support came from foreign governments, international organizations and private foundations from abroad. These foreign aid mechanisms had long accepted as a premise for their operations that Thailand offered a unique laboratory for developing new strategies for survival which might well be applicable to other developing countries undergoing similar change. Unfortunately, such foreign assistance, in all its forms, is slowly and inexorably winding down. Such a withering away of outside support seems exceed183


ingly ill-advised as now, more than ever, the disequilibria and inequities resulting from the transformation of the social and cultural foundations of the Thai polity must be addressed. Thus, in the near future, the burden for support of innovative reform will, of necessity, have to be borne by indigenous financial resources . New concepts of local philanthropy will have to evolve. Local philanthropic foundations will hopefully emerge, dedicated to the professional management of wealth in the interests of just, equitable and sustainable development. It is believed that a guardian angel, Phra Siam Devathirad, watches over and protects the Thai nation from harm. In recent times, some have, in jest, speculated that Phra Siam has become as weary, frustrated and depressed as the general public under his protection, and, in the felicitous phrase of a Thai colleague, is "out to lunch." I, however, remain optimistic that Phra Siam will not abandon his protective role over the Thai body politic. Stated another way, I have faith that the Thai nation will persevere, prosper and ultimately overcome its difficulties. Reform-minded leadership, within and without the bureaucracy, will rise to the challenges posed and create from the seeming chaos some semblance of order and cohesion. Once again, there will be a desired level of social harmony and political order. However, in the best of all possible Thai worlds, such a favorable state will not be at the expense of any one group or community. The foundations on which such a just, equitable and dynamic society are to be built will necessarily be drastically different from those in the past. I hope that I have succeeded in providing a sympathetic insight into the fascinating mysteries of the Thai cultural transition process. At the same time, I trust I have communicated some of the exhilaration I have felt in being privileged, over the past four decades, to chart, both as a practitioner and a scholar, the course of Thai culture as it has evolved into new shapes and forms. 184

Afterword Poetic Reflections on Thai Culture in Transition: Haiku

A restless ruby, locked in velvet cage, winks lasciviously

Paper money and cowie shells in antique store window No cash, please!



Sitting on top of the rice heap marveling how distant peasants toil

Principles dangling from a clothesline Politician's dirty linen

Debris of shattered laws strewn among weeds on Thailand's playing fields

For eons heads have been bowed either in reflection or obeisance



Not so civil service in bureaucratic corridors of power

Many bureaucrats whom I've met are neither civil nor servants



Rice harp's mutterings of discontent heard on the bamboo radio

A shiver of sterile wind muffled the whispering of the rice harp



The jungle sighed and held its breath, sensing an intruder in its midst

A page is a cloud, rain and forests, electric saws and cries of pain

A rose is caring hands cupping moist earth, fallen leaves and gentle rain



In transition: Serene strolls or mad dashes down Frost's less traveled paths

Sowing seeds in barren fields Reaping harvests of hope Springs eternal



Life is a neverending treasure hunt for truths lost in translation

Soif des isles Treks to hidden caves Journey's end a mirror's glance away

Stop the world I just don't want to get off I want to rearrange it