Having used the military to enforce his Twelve Values on the Thai population since a May coup, self-appointed Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha would now like tourists to also get with his program.
Thus, at Prayuth’s suggestion, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has launched the “2015 Discover Thainess” campaign, which incorporates the general’s 12 national core values, which he has pounded away at in successive television addresses each week.
In announcing the campaign, Prayuth was quoted as saying…”This campaign will help strengthen the pride of the Thai people, and encourage stronger participation in the preservation of our heritage and culture for the coming generations.”
It is unclear how boisterous tourists swilling beer and prancing around the beaches of Koh Samui and other exotic islands in a perfect sea are meant to express their fondness for Thainess, but using the edict’s essence as a tourist slogan is sobering. Most tourists are there for sanuk, which famously is described as having fun in all activities, work or play, and often involving either via alcohol or acquiescent young women. There is relatively little about the 12 values that involves sanuk. They mainly involve paying attention to the general.
Thainess, however, seems to suggest the military is more serious and believes self-serving nationalism is not only here to stay but should be endorsed by foreigners. As Thai dissident Pavin Chachavalpongpun, now teaching in Japan, said in his doctoral dissertation, A Plastic Nation, available on Amazon: “The excessive attention paid by the Thai elites to the necessity of national identity constructs seems to be psychological and ideological pretension. An assertion of Thainess is used to protect a variety of practices of the Thai leaders. It is deeply rooted in the power interests of those making identity assertions. Thainess is a shifting elective affinity vis-à-vis nation-statehood, defended in varying ways by Thai ruling elites for their specific purposes and interests.”
Certainly, Prime Minister Prayuth appears determined to make it permanent domestically. Thai students are to begin reciting Prayuth’s 12 values in the second semester of the school year. Most of them involve knowing one’s place and not trying to get out of it, One of the essences of Thainess is the wai, the graceful clasped-hands greeting practiced by everybody. The depth of the wai, probably not visible to farangs, or westerners, is an indication of the degree of deference in relation to the one being greeted.
In fact, “Thainess,” as it is called, is not for everybody. “The adherence to khwampenthai , [Thainess], and selected Thai norms is a part of the exercise of Thai nationalism through which the power holders portray themselves as legitimate players formulating legitimate policy,” Pavin wrote. “This nationalism has been continuously upheld to conceal the corruption of local politics where money and power are indeed the local reality. The political unattractiveness, the money politics and the hidden interests have been sustained in the face of Thai nationalism because it opens up a space in which morality could be bypassed.”
In particular, Thainess is mainly dominated by a requirement to revere King Bhumibol Adulyadej or face jail, masking a vicious, no-holds-barred squabble behind the scenes over who will succeed the ailing monarch, who is 87 years old and appeared in public recently, seemingly unable to speak and hiding a hand under a blanket that observers thought might have indicated he had had a stroke.
Indeed, the tourist treats included a recent 3.5 km procession through central Bangkok – and tying up traffic – led by a 12-meter replica of the king’s royal barge Supannahong, which according to the tourism ministry, “represents the power and glory of the Thai monarchy.”
“The processions through the heart of Bangkok are a great way to kick-start the “2015 Discover Thainess” campaign, said TAT Governor Thawatchai Arunyik. “By giving a colorful taste of the Thai festivals and traditions and showing to visitors the nation’s infinite variety, we are encouraging them to explore our country and culture.”
Thailand expects 28 million tourists in 2015, an increase of 13 percent over 2014, which was not a sanuk year at all, encompassing as it did five months of political chaos followed by Prayuth’s May 22 coup and the gruesome murder of two British tourists on the island of Kho Tao.
Those murders indicate one of the essential contradictions of Thainess. Although two Burmese have been arrested for the murders, there is widespread belief that the true murderers , who are probably Thai, have been hidden. Thais, according to the common wisdom, do not commit murders.
As Pavin wrote in his dissertation, “Whilst the trait of non-violence has been much celebrated as intrinsic to Thai nationhood, pictures of horrendous murders appear daily on the cover of Thai newspapers. This dark paradox in perfect Thainess shows again that national characteristics are as much invented as Thai nationhood.”
For tourists wondering what 12 principles of Thailand they should observe, they are here, compiled by Bangkok Pundit, a popular blogger carried on The Asian Correspondent:
- Upholding the nation, the religions and the Monarchy, which is the key institution
- Being honest, sacrificial and patient with positive attitude for the common good of the public
- Being grateful to parents, guardians and teachers
- Seeking knowledge and education directly and indirectly
- Treasuring Thai traditions
- Maintaining moral, integrity, well-wishes upon others as well as being generous and sharing
- Understanding, learning the true essence of democratic ideals with His Majesty the King as the Head of State
- Maintaining discipline, respectful of laws and the elderly and seniority
- Being conscious and mindful of action in line with His Majesty’s the King’s statements
- Practicing the philosophy of Sufficiency Economy of His Majesty the King. Saving money for time of need. Being moderate with surplus used for sharing or expansion of business while having good immunity
- Maintaining both physical and mental health and unyielding to the dark force or desires, having sense of shame over guilt and sins in accordance with the religious principles
- Putting the public and national interest before personal interest.