Thailand’s Fragile Face

 | Thu 27 Mar 2014 12:43 ICT

So, Thailand is upset at Fox News because one of its reporters called us a nation of ‘jerks’ for not reporting on the detection of flight 370 in our airspace, because, according to the obtuse authorities, no one asked us to.

We were also mumbling about suing Singapore for stealing ‘our’ Songkran, by organising a water festival on the 12th and 13th of April. Then didn’t the Ministry of Culture get their, ahem, panties in a twist a while back because some apparel company in the US had the audacity to make knickers in the pattern of Thai flags.

Aren’t we a bunch of sensitive souls?

What we don’t realise is that these reactions only make us look more like jerks.

If indeed it is true that Thailand failed to report on a detected presence of the plane in the midst of one of the greatest aviation manhunts of recent times, then frankly those in charge are jerks. The Fox reporter had no call to insult an entire nation on the basis of some incompetent officials, but hello, it is Fox News we are talking about; they call their country’s own president a jerk (and worse) nearly every day. Anyway, I am not entirely sure of the ins and outs of this delay in informing Malaysia about the radar, but if Fox is being unprofessionally petulant in its insults, Thailand’s reaction is even more brattish and immature. We forget that in other countries they have freedom of press. Just because Thai media is often intimidated by authorities doesn’t mean that media outlets in other countries give a flying blip about it. The comment shouldn’t have caused any reaction at all except for self examination, explanation or apology, as the truth warranted.

And as to stealing ‘our’ Songkran. Are you serious TAT? Since when did we own this festival? Yes, we have made the most money out of it amongst all Songkran celebrating nations, but that is about as far as our ownership goes. While its absolute origins have been hidden in the murkiness of history, one thing is clear, this splashy tradition is not Thailand’s alone. And following media backlash ministers are back peddling at warped speed over their kneejerk and threatening reaction to Singapore’s announcement, it is still really disturbing to read many Thai people’s reaction on social media where comments are brimming with national pride, overflowing with arrogance, and splashing over with splutter and outrage. Why should we have given a flying wet wipe if Singapore wants to throw some water around for two days? Since writing this editorial, Singapore has announced that while it will still be celebrating Songkran, due to a water shortage this year, there will be no water activities. So while this is now a moot point, my point isn’t. Thailand’s tourism numbers are deteriorating for far more alarming reasons than a nearly-hijacked water fight: think over development, think deterioration of nature, think tacky tourist rip-offs, think many a reason which require us to blame ourselves, before we think to put a damper on our neighbours’ aspirations.

In fact, just today we published yet another story, amongst a flurry of recently related news items, about an outraged Director of Chiang Mai’s Cultural Office who, following a YouTube video of some skinny dippers in Mae Wang, claimed that such incidents would be damaging to Thailand’s tourism. Never mind the perennial smog we have to all inhale, forget the tourist rip-off scams, who cares about the terrible road accidents. According to him who doesn’t give a flying fact about common sense and reality, a naked botty is going to send the tourists screaming for cover…or to Burma, or Laos. 

Lastly, who gives a flying flag if some uptight minister in Thailand is offended by a line of underwear sold online? And according to the Mini Cult (as social critic Kaewmala wonderfully calls the Ministry of Culture), its minister “… urged the Thai public not to support such goods, watch out for offensive items and create a good understanding among foreigners about issues that affected national dignity and integrity.” OK, so where is his role in watching out for such offensive items in hundreds, if not thousands, of Thai malls and markets where the Union Jack or Stars and Stripes are similarly featured? Or is it just Thai dignity that needs to be protected? Surely if Thais are merchandising foreign flags, we are hardly acting in a dignified manner, according to the ministry’s confusing standards.

So my fellow Thais, can we all take a deep breath (probably not the choicest word under current climes) and try to act with a modicum of maturity in the face of competition or criticism. Please? Being a precocious brat just doesn’t cut it in these days of instant media gratification and humiliation.