Sunday, August 23, 2009

Citizen Juling or: the exposure of Thai identity

This weekend was busy. First, I went to see "Coco avant Chanel", the biographical movie about Coco Chanel's early life. It was ok.

Much more interesting was the public though. 90% faggots. There was a lot of dressing up going on too and I had the feeling most faggots thought they were Coco Chanel themselves. Almost all failed though.

Overdressing is exposing your bad taste even more, honeys.

More importantly, me and the bf went to House RCA cinema to watch a documentary called "Citizen Juling". I dont even remember where I heard about this film but the running time (3 hours 42 minutes) alerted me that this must be something major.

It turned out to be a deeply moving and extremely revealing piece of documentary filming, with the main topic of the 2006 beating (and eventually death) of a young female teacher from the far north (Chiang Rai) working in the far south (Narathiwat).

The director, Ing K, used this incided, which at the time received huge attention in Thailand and sparked outcry and a wave of sympathy for the victim from all across Thailand, including many citizens, the Royal family and the then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (who sent her a few plastic flowers), to offer a glimpse into Thai society and its regional, class, political and religious divergences.

As such, I would say that it is none less than an extensive account of the "state of the nation".

teacher Juling's mother giving an emotional account of how her daughter was beaten up

The film is an uncommented documentary and mostly just films conversations between different people, or between the film maker and students, villagers, parents, judges and military in the South (where the beating occurred) and villagers and family from the North (where Juling is from).

I think this film has revealed a lot about Thailand and its eternal struggle to achieve peace and development.

During the film, I made some striking observations, which enforced my previous opinion of social and political affairs in Thailand.

Firstly, there seems to be an extremely widespread mentality of "either-or" or "black-white" thinking among Thais. People are either good or bad; Northerners are peaceful, Southerners violent; Muslims are this, Buddhists are that. There always seems to be a fitting pre-made classfication in which people conveniently fit.

People who have learned some Thai will also realise that this thinking is reflected in the Thai conversational language, which at times is stunningly simple.

This is not a problem as such, but the trend to oversimplifications can quickly result in a mentality which does not question. The Thai society, as sad as it is, is very bad at questioning.

In the conflict in the South, the unwillingness of people to look at themselves and question their behaviour seems particularly accentuated.

In the village where teacher Juling was beaten to death, no one saw anything despite the fact that these villages are extremely tightly knit societies. At the same time, the extremely heavy-handed approach by the police is not widely questioned.

There have been several incidents in the past few years where suspects and offenders were simply shot in execution-style as opposed to interrogation.

The ignorance on both sides results in a demonisation of the other side. The Muslim minority becomes to hate the state, which represents oppression and the majority of Thais are extremely suspicious about anything from Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat (the three "red zone" provinces) and anything Muslim as such.

The religious differences, often cited as the cause for the conflitcs are downplayed by many locals, Buddhists and Muslims. The local Imam speaks about his opinion that it is not in the interest of religions if people just use them to differentiate themselves from others and do not practice them with their hearts. A local Buddhist man says that it is ridiculous to seperate the people into Muslims and Buddhists since they have blended for a long time.

This also comes out in the feature: we can see people speaking Thai and Yawi (the local language) interchangibly and Arab words have been integrated into the Thai language.

Therefore, religion can not be the cause of the problem but is rather a scapegoat.

In my opinion, personal, social, geographical and religious oversimplifications, paired with ignorance to question are a dangerous cocktail. This is sadly the situation we are in in Thailand.

Watching this documentary I couldnt stop thinking about my home country, Switzerland, where so many different regional, linguistic, religious and political identities can easily co-exist. Why is this not the case in Thailand?

I think the core of the problem is, as said before, the unability, or unwillingness to question common conceptions. The Thai identity is very strongly shaped by the notion of unity (which rests on the three pillars of the nation, the religion and the monarchy).

"We are all Thais" "How could Thais fight against Thais?" "He did this or that, he cannot be Thai"...etc.

Here in Thailand, due to the unwillingness to question and the strong desire to unity, strong leaders are preferred. This has lead to the rise and continued popularity of Thaksin but also an extremely strong belief into the three pillars mentioned above.

It would be presumptuous for me to present a "solution" to the current problems of Thailand, especially the Southern insurgency. I think nevertheless that the first, and most important step that needs to be taken is the acceptance that Thailand is made up of so many different local culures, ethnicities, customs, languages, identities, even religions!

If people can accept that Thailand is not one monocultural territory from Chiang Rai to Narathiwat, a big step towards the development of the country would be made.

If you read until here, thanks for following my thoughts. It may be boring perhaps but to me it was very important to put a few thoughts out there. I care very much about Thailand and the sad things happening every day, not just in the South but also in politics, touch me.

By the way, during the whole 3 hours 42 minutes of this film, an Australian faggot with 3 fag-hags was sitting in front of me. He managed to laugh very loudly at the most inappropriate moments, clap his hands theatrically after the end of the film (as the only person) and prance around giggling after such a sad and heavy story.

Finally, I can recommend everyone who is interested in Thai current affairs (well the story happened in 2006) to go watch this movie.

It is screening every day at 6.30pm at HOUSE RCA, entrance is a mere 100THB.

Please also check WiseKwai's review of the movie here.


Oscar said...

I thought you were a Kiwi not a Swiss :)
Btw thanks for the review about Citizen Juling, do you know where I can find it on line?

Anonymous said...

A good musing on faggotry...

Secondly, the three southern provinces were annexed into the kingdom less than a hundred years ago. These are reluctant subjects of a buddhist kingdom. What is evident now the the absence of benevolence from the nation on its own people.

BB said...

Oscar. Whatever it says in my passport doesnt matter but I grew up in Switzerland until 20yo.

I dont think there is a dvd release of this movie...but it was shown at different film festivals (among them Berlin).

anonymous: How do you mean "reluctant subjects"? They fail to speak, think, eat and believe like a Bangkokian? With this approach, there will never be peace, neither physically, nor in these people's hearts.

prkmk said...

You make me want to go see the movie Citizen Juling...Thanks. Have you ever thought of becoming a movie critic? hehe
I haven't seen Coco Avant Chanel yet because there are too many wannabes (gays and girls!), who think they're so fashionable, rushing to see the movie this week. I just can't stand it! I must say most of them are very annoying...

herbaltisane said...

Good post.

I like your explanation. The inability, or unwillingness to question common conceptions. It's like nobody wants to ask themselves (and others) the hard questions or is not capable of one. It's easier to just stereotype. No one cares to understand what "the other side" thinks, but only focuses on the thing that will escalate the conflict. (One could also say this is also what drive the red/yellow split).

Big sigh for my country.

samart said...

Oh, a fellow Swiss :-)
After living and studying in other parts of the world, could you imagine to return to Switzerland one day?

BB said...

prkmk and herbaltisane: thank you very much for your comments, they mean a lot to me since you are Thais (is that right?)

prkmk: yes, they think they are horribly fashionable, but just out themselves as fags, and not as fashionable people.:) there are plenty of well-dressed and good-looking people too though:)

herbaltisane: yes. no one is even asking a question. this case is seen in a very one-dimensional way by most people I think. A woman from the north (e.g. peaceful) goes to the south to HELP them and then she gets killed. maybe the southerners just want to be listened to and not "helped"...

Regarding the red-yellow. people in my class used to ask each other: are you red or yellow. that sounds very dangerous to me, parting citizens into two groups!

I agree with you. big sigh, and I feel very sad too. such a great country with really nice and lovely people, but something is lacking...

samart: gruezi:) or are you romand?:)

No, sadly I cant imagine it. I made peace with the country though. I used to hate the country and its constraints but now I am ok.

But Switzerland is too far away from Asia. I will chose Australia as my home.

samart said...

So you found the grass to be greener elsewhere? :)

Well, as a multinational world citizen you will find ways to come back for occasional visits and are welcome to do so.

(And yes, I'm German speaking and live in Zurich).

BB said...

Merci foerd gastfruendschaft:) chome gaern zrogg:)

For me, Europe is too far from Asia to be honest...Australia is fine though.

Europe still thinks it's the centre of the world, whereas Australia accepts it's a bit at the periphery. That makes life more interesting I think.

samart said...

Well, periphery you can have eveywhere, I guess. But Swiss mountains only in Switzerland! :)
However, if you're addicted to cute Asians... then nothing can beat Asia.

BB said...

yes. periphery can be anywhere and the perception is subjective. except in christchurch, which is really peripheral....ok, it's the gateway to antarctica, but that tells you even more how peripheral it is.

addicted to cute asians? I have one of them at home and that should be enough:) but sydney has enough young men from korea, china and even thailand, it shouldnt be a problem to enjoy some eye-candy once in a while:)