|  December 25, 2009

This time a decade ago I was busily saving our magazine’s two computers’ data onto a pile of floppy disks, in fear of the impending Y2K which was predicted to send airplanes plummeting from the skies and bank account details lost and scrambled in cyber space (though, frankly, for me, this was less a concern than a fantasy, since I had nothing in my account at the time, I had visions of my bank accidentally swapping my details with, say, Claudia Schiffer’s (remember her?). The hype, as we all now know, flopped as flaccidly as my disks’ potential, and laughing in the face of the Armageddon’s doomers and gloomers, we all headed into the 2000s with a rather chirpy spring in our step. After all, since the fall of the Berlin wall, the economy and good will of all nations seemed to be on the up and up. Financially lubricated from the dot com boom and riding the tide of nineties’ wealth, what could possibly go wrong we smugly reassured ourselves?

By the beginning of the decade most of us (and I refer to readers of this magazine, not the world population), for the first time, owned our own mobile phones and if not lap-, then at least desk-top computers, revolutionising our social interaction and offering an incredible amount of freedom on the move. After the nineties, the 2000s were slated to be the beginning decade in a millennia of unimaginable change, progress and expectations. But, please allow me to digress for a moment, what does one call the past decade anyway? It gets a bit awkward when we not only can’t define the decade, but we can’t even come up with an appropriate – and universal – name for it. Writing it is simple enough, the 00s. But what does one say? The two thousands just sounds rather too precipitous, as it could pretty much refer to the next 990 years as well. So, do we call them the noughts, or flutter our eyelashes and simply call them the noughties? After all, there has been plenty of naughty behaviour shown, from invading a country for no reason (No WMDs…woops!) to the number of celebrity sex and scandal YouTube videos we have had to endure from friends’ forwarded emails. Other suggestions have been the T.O.C, or Turn of the Century years, too vague. The ohs, oh ohs or double o decade (Here’s an idea, what about the Bond decade? Quel panache!) sounds more like the uh-oh decade, and that, surely is not a legacy we want our grandchildren to remember us by. So, what are we left with? The ros _ short for zeros? The preteens? Does that mean that when we get to 2012 we are officially a tween year? How awful. Digression aside, I am stumped.

But our giddy optimism crumbled along with the twin towers, for many, the definitive mark of our decade, and first of many disasters to come: tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, wars in Asia, Africa, Europe…not to mention the pandemics, bird flu, SARS, H1N1…Thus began the Worst Decade Ever, Decade of Debacles, Decade from Hell and other charmingly unsubtle names attributed by the media over the past few weeks. Though according to the United Nations, the past ten years have been the Decade for the Promotion of a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World: wonder how many committees that took to coin?

Importantly, it has been the first decade for a global awareness of earth’s fragility. Global warming, climate change, food and water resources, pollution, rainforest depletion, animal extinction, the big picture ain’t pretty. For the first time we realise that we, you and I, impact the earth and that we, you and I, must do something about it. It’s a pretty new concept.

So, what were the memorable and wish-we-could-forget highlights of the past ten years? One has to start with technology. Who would have thought that my trendy Sony Walkman would be so totally replaced by the ubiquitous ipod – what a marvellous invention! Actually what with the ipod, iphone and wii, surely we can call it the ‘i decade’. Personal technology now means that we can fit 10,000 songs into the palm of our hand, surf the internet (gosh, that sounds so nineties!) on the bus, play tennis against Federer in our own living room, make a private film clip on our phone and share it with millions of people around the world within seconds, vote real time for our favourite TV personalities to have them eliminated or rewarded, generate as much respect as correspondent Kate Adie in our blogs…the i decade is sounding pretty apropos to me. Think Susan Boyle: pre internet, pre viral clips, pre Facebook, pre Twitter (my, how prehistoric), the only people who would ever have heard of her would have been her council estate neighbours in Blackburn.

Flippancy aside, this has been a decade of startling change in how we create, consume, carry, process and disseminate media. Citizenship journalism has brought to us remarkable footage of incidents and accidents world wide, and allows every single person to be an artist, a writer, a poet, a filmmaker…and importantly, a critic. Sadly, it also has been the knelling toll marking the imminent demise of the newspaper, and mainstream media, as we know it. We share our thoughts, feelings, experiences, images, ideals and ideas with each other in a frankly, incredibly naïve and trusting, manner (so much for the Y2K paranoia we all had about the internet controlling our lives. Look who’s controlled now!). This explosion of self expression is a digital cultural renaissance. And a global one at that, not like that European-bound one half a millennia ago.

The good, the bad and the downright ugly of the past ten years include our introduction to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, the rise of Kylie Minogue’s bum as a pop icon, Michael Jackson’s death and ensuing drama (Anna Nicole-Smith could give him a run for his money though), fashion backwards hairstyles such as the fauxhawk (like the mullet, the Mohawk or any of its derivatives should quietly go the way of my Sony Walkman) and the wearer-should-be-fined-on-the-spot Crocs. I giggle, as well, at the thought of thousands of grannies and granddads around the world in thirty years time who will be sporting drooping and fading tribal tattoos. We were force-fed blow by blow (shave by shave) moments of Britney Spear’s meltdown, millions of people waste working hours reading up on Sarah Palin’s latest gaffs and comedy found a new playing field when Sacha Baron Cohen crossed the pond, arriving in New York as Borat, satirising and scandalising middle America, as he made his way accross the continent.

Interestingly, historian Sir Robert Ensor,
famous for his Oxford History of England
(covering the years 1870-1914)
had this to say about the first decade
of the 20th century:

It was an era of growth
and strain,
of idealism and reaction,
of swelling changes
and seething unrest.
At home politics had never been so bitter; and abroad,
the clouds were massing for Armageddon.

Politically, it has been a bit of a mess, with the rare glimpse of hope. The Bush years are probably best forgotten, though I am sure the folks living in the Axis of Evil (wherever that is) may take a while longer to lick their wounds. Obama’s meteoric rise from obscurity will, for many, be another defining moment of the decade _ a (half)black president, about time. And though still stretching after a long slumber, we all know that the dragon has awakened and all eyes are on China and her imminent meteoric rise.

As with each era, we embrace new heroes and boo new villains. Castro and Gaddafi appear, to the newer generation, almost avuncular in their dotage, when compared to Bin Laden, Hussein or Mugabe. And while Tiger Woods shattered all statistics and expectations, perching on a pedestal put upon by millions of adoring fans, the decade sadly ends with a loud burst of that bubble. How art the mighty fallen. Another one bites the paparazzi dust.

Have I mentioned the economic meltdown? That is certainly going to be filed in the wish-we-could-forget folder. And it looks like we are not out of the woods yet.

We all have our own memories and cornerstones which personally define the past decade. For me, it has been my first decade as an adult. My working years, my Citylife years, my overweight years, my married years. Each of us will look back on this decade from the perspective of our own experiences, and that is why it is important to take a retrospective moment to find some shared memories.

As to Thailand? What has come to symbolise and define the noughties (seems like this one has stuck)? Two words come to mind…Thaksin Shinawatra. To me he encapsulates, politically, socially, in media, and culturally, the good, the bad and the very ugly of the past ten years. His success spawned much of our nation’s success, his failures have triggered our society’s failures, his flaws reveal and reflect our flaws his struggles have led to our struggle and it seems, as we head towards the next decade, our fates remain intertwined. Who will rid us of this turbulent politician?

As to Chiang Mai? All I need is one word. Panda. We may be in the year of the ox, but we are definitely in the decade of the panda.

So, I wish you all a happy, successful, healthy, fulfilling and peaceful year to come. I bid a fond farewell to the noughties, and say sawasdee jao to the…oh dear.

Citylife this month:
To mark the awfully futuristic sounding 2010, we have decided to look towards the future odyssey of our city: what’s new, what’s planned, what’s possible. In order to look forward, however, one must at times look back, so our intern Hakan Jakob Kosar has written a piece on the past and future paths of Chiang Mai’s tourism, as well as taking a frank look at its current status. James Austin Farrell checks out two exciting new projects slated to positively impact our city’s economy over the next decade: Chiang Mai Wood and Promenada Shopping Mall. Charlie Browne talks nostalgic of Chiang Mai past while remaining hopeful that it will maintain its essence in this fast-paced world.