Ajan Cha (1979) BBC Documentary

I spent about three days at Wat Pha Nanachat (วัดป่านานาชาติ), the international forest monastery in Ubon Ratchatani several months ago and it was quite the experience, though difficult to maintain coming from a world of distraction.  This monastery, or wat, was the fruit of Ajan Cha, an eminent monk of the Thai forest tradition.  The hardest part about staying there was sitting on the ground all the time with legs made of tin.

 

 


Thailand’s Tainted Robes by Pailin Wedel

 

A brilliant video about Buddhism in Thailand.

 

 


Final Round Up from the Protests

 

 

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Now that things have settled down a bit I decided to comb through my twitter timeline of the protests and display a few photos and tweets.  I have also retrieved an interesting interview with a prominent Thai academic, Professor Likhit Dhiravegin, who, in my opinion, spoke most intelligently about the protests.  He spoke at length about the concept of sovereignty and harshly criticized the PDRC for seizing the state with no legitimate authority.  His ideas are nothing new for Western observers, but as a respected Thai authority, they are worth repeating.  Suthep Thaugsuban, the leader of the PDRC, went on and on during the protests speaking of the Great Mass of the People.  Dhiravegin assails his claim that he is speaking for any mass of people.

…If there’s a new coup d’etat to topple the 2007 Constitution, you will be effectively robbing the people of the power—you yourself asked them to vote in the referendum. Even the 1997 Constitution had no referendum. It would be going against the people—about the 60% who voted in the referendum. [The Constitution] is not a toy. Wouldn’t it be an insult to the people?…

…And after 20 million people have voted, the election is ruled unconstitutional. That’s a violation of 20 million people’s rights…

…Who rules this country? The powers of legislative, executive and judicial branches are separate [but] all of a sudden the courts have the powers to decide on everything and become a supra-organization, with the highest power of the land, even more power than the sovereign…

…And how do we hear the real voices of the people? Two ways only: first, from a general election [to know] which party or group they support, and second, a referendum, if there’s a problem. Referendum is the clearest way to find out. Not claiming the “great mass of people.” Have a referendum on what to do…

…Sovereign power belongs to the Thai people. One man, one vote. All people in the North, Isan, South, and Central regions alike are all Thai. What audacity to say you are greater than the rest and that people upcountry are of lower quality than people in Bangkok? …Every person is equal as a human being…

The interviewer said that the PDRC was arguing that elections are not legitimate because they are bought.

What?… Well… (laughter), if the voices of the great mass of people are really great, no amount of vote buying will buy the other side victory.

Below a montage of this absurd protest.  It’s better not to explain them and let viewers figure them out.

A few of my favorite tweets from the protests.  I’ve since been baptized by twitter and think it’s the perfect tool to follow protests like these.  Pure joy it was to be part of the twitter community during these protests.

 

Thailand Anti-Government Protests Interviews December 2013

Thailand Anti-Government Protests Interviews December 2013 from Mark Moran on Vimeo.


Buffaloes, Crabs, Lizards: Thai protests October-November 2013

 

 

Thailand is a land in perpetual protest about, well, just about everything.  Thai protests bring new meaning to the expression “24/7” as their stages don’t stop at all during these protests.  It’s all day and all night talking, speaking, cajoling, screaming, singing.  Thailand also brings an entirely new meaning to the Occupy Movement where one doesn’t merely occupy a street or an area around a symbol of corruption—one actually occupies the symbol.  And of course a Thai occupation must be in style with proper protest food, music, and branding of all sorts: clappers, t-shirts, whistles, wristbands and the sort.  Profanity and politeness exist together closely at these protests with nasty graffiti about Yingluck and her brother, insults at police officers, the next minute it’s prayers and flowers for everyone.  Monitor lizards and buffaloes are seen all throughout the artwork.

Below are propaganda images from the anti-Thaksin protests:

At issue is a majority in parliament pursuing its interests over the will of the minority, corruption, and vote buying.  The commentariat has provided an array of perspectives from both sides.  Thai mainstream commentators from the English language press have offered much of the same in their treatment of Thaksin as an evil octopus with his tentacles reaching every part of the realm poisoning everything he touches.   The Nation’s Pornpimol Kanchanalak, editorialist and fugitive from American justice, weighed in.  In an editorial she lectured the Western media about the assumptions that cloud their understanding of Thai politics.  Ms. Kanchanalak discusses Thaksin Shinawatra’s role in Thai politics, conceding that Thaksin had his strengths:

“His adviser, Pansak Vinyarat, genuinely cared about the rural poor, and together they executed numerous populist policies and hand-outs, including the Bt1-million village fund, one village-one bicycle scheme, one village-one scholarship, one village-one buffalo, one village-one product, welfare housing, welfare taxis, and so on. Thaksin’s first year in office was his finest as a public servant. The rural poor looked to him as their saviour, someone who really cared. They knew they were only getting the “crumbs” of Thailand’s wealth, but at least they were getting something for a change.”

She then goes on to discuss where Thaksin went wrong when the lure of power and money blinded him.  She makes many allegations, but offers no evidence, save for this bit about specific jobs for Thaksin’s cronies:

“Please also look into those who occupy the boards of state enterprises. You will find plenty of red-shirt leaders, their families and cronies among them. And please take the time to read the well-researched accounts of just where the rivers of money have flowed from all the government subsidy programmes.”

Much is said about “corruption” but we see little evidence in the form of statistics, state jobs and political affiliation, or charts and graphs of where “populist” monies go.  Kanchanalak’s argument is thus dissipated.  Thailand could use some quality investigative journalism in this area.

Thai protest propaganda

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a professor at Kyoto University, offers a different point of view of the recent political turmoil:

“The Thai crisis has partly echoed the anxiety of the Bangkok elite as Thais are approaching the sunset of the Bhumibol reign. This shift of political landscape will cause an impact on their wealth and social status. The anxiety has served as a driving force behind the hatred campaign against Thaksin, seen as an adversary of the monarchy.”

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a moderate observer of Thai politics offers a middle path:

“In the future, the forces of elected power will have to show more integrity and policymaking skill. They will need to bolster the trust of voters and avoid abuses of power. The forces of appointed and unelected authority will have to come up with electoral legitimacy and policy delivery to cater to the vast majority of the electorate. They need to at least have a chance at triumphing at the polls.”

Lizzie Presser  offers a great view of a woman from Isan who has been helped by Thaksin’s programs.

Thai protest propaganda

Yes, those are chopped off heads!

Thai protest propaganda

1. Thai people pay tax so prostitute can have a holiday (criticizing her taking so many trips)


John Fitzgerald Kennedy

 

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Censor Must Die showing

A chance to see Ing k’s and Manit’s Censor Must Die playing November 5th-November 9th at the Friese-Greene Club on Sukhumvit 22 next to the Imperial Queen’s Park Hotel.  I liked it so much the first time I saw it I’m going again.  Info below about the film from the directors:

 

When fear rules and the truth gets buried, freedom must find a way.

 The Film Censorship Board, itself the star of CENSOR MUST DIE, has uniquely exempted the film from the censorship process. But no cinema in Thailand has found the guts to show this tragic-comic documentary on the banning of ‘Shakespeare Must Die’, a Thai horror adaptation of ‘Macbeth’.

Now The Friese-Greene Club, the new haven for Bangkok cinephiles in Sukhumvit soi 22 (BTS Phrompong), will screen CENSOR MUST DIE, directed by Ing K and produced by Manit Sriwanichpoom, once a day at 8 pm from 5th – 9th November 2013.

Please check for details and bookings on fgc.in.th (reservation is recommended as the HD screening room has just 11 seats).

The screening on Friday 8 is followed by a Q & A with the director and the producer of the film.

Membership to the Friese-Greene Club is still free and easily obtained when you book online or at the club itself. The Friese-Greene Club is down the lane next to the Imperial Queen’s Park Hotel in Sukhumvit 22.

www.fgc.in.th

paul@fgc.in.th


Sangwan

Another great video about Thai royalist ritual, this time in light of the death of Sangwan, King Bhumiphol’s commoner mother.  Her humility and humble origins offer a refreshing respite to the relentless rituals and glorification of the world she inherited.  The narrator’s retelling of Rama IX’s reign is also interesting with its take on the role of the military.  Sulak Sivaraksa, as always, offers illuminating commentary.


Intangible Cultural Heritage

Pravit Rojanaphruk’s editorial on Yingluck’s new bill against manipulating “intangible cultural heritage” to “offend the monarchy, religion, national security, as well as public order and morality,” whatever this means.  In this vein we shall proceed.

paradoxbox

As the World Film Festival Bangkok is coming to town in November, I am taking note of certain films  that stand out.  Unfortunately the film Paradoxocracy,  by Pen-ek Ratanaruang, will not be shown.  I will hunt this film down to see it.  From what I’ve read about it, it sounds like a film many people would relish with its unvarnished look at Thai democracy.  Ratanaruang barely squeaked by the censors with a few modifications (like deleting subtitles and sound) when speakers spoke too candidly.

What a shame.  Wise Kwai has more here and here.

If anyone, Pen-rek, (are you out there?) has any idea how I can see this film please email me at markemoran@hotmail.com.

 


Karaoke Girl, by Visra Vichit Vadakan

karaoke girlJust saw Karaoke Girl, by Visra Vichit Vadakan, a 2010 graduate from NYU’s film school, and recent bride of Chris Cox, a high priest in the Facebook Empire, and a whole lot richer than me.  I saw it at the House RCA theater and nearly froze to death along with, perhaps, four other people.  In the midst of Bangkok’s nightlife these Thai independent films are forever swimming up stream for customers.

This movie is a simple movie, part documentary, part fiction, about the many rural girls who go to Bangkok to practice the dark arts of classical antiquity to escape from poverty and support their families.  I wonder if there is anything new in her treatment of this common storyline.  The movie ends with her in full cabaret plumage, a Gatsbyish Eton crop, and karaoke lyrics, yet the sorrow remains.  One of the most powerful moments in the movie occurs when her middle class boyfriend subtly dismisses her as he talks with another middle class woman.

Wise Kwai has another review over at Thai Film Journal.

3822_1Visra Vichit Vadakan
(from International Film Festival Rotterdam)

Below the words of the young woman who played the karaoke girl:

Sa’s Statement

I spent my childhood in the Thai countryside. When I was fifteen my parents and I decided that I would move to Bangkok to make money to send back to the family. I started working in a factory but I did not make enough money to send home. Eventually, I decided to work as a “girl of the night.”

I decided to do this because my family was very poor and my parents had a lot of debt. I didn’t think that there was any other way to make enough money to take care of them. I often thought about quitting my job but because I was able to give me and my family a better life, I could not.

One day, my friend introduced me to a director named Visra. She was interested in my life story and asked me to be in a documentary and also act in a film based on my life. After a lot of thought, I agreed to do this project with her.

Visra and I went back to the country with a film crew to document my father and mother and my life in the country. Visra became a part of my family. My parents were very happy to have a whole crew of people in our house living together like a big family. Even now, my parents still ask about Visra.

I had never acted in a film before. Before we shot, I rehearsed for two months. Oh my!! It was so hard. In the beginning, I was embarrassed and I wasn’t able to express myself. Eventually, I became more confident and was able to act and have fun with it.

What inspired me to quit my job is that I was able to express my true feelings through acting and singing in this film. This let me leave my past behind me.

I would like this film to touch the many people that watch it. I would like them to see that everyone can start over again. It’s never too late.

—Sa