“Universities take everyone back to the start, counting at one, instead of enhancing the skills students already have,” said Nontawat ‘Golf’ Machai, a student at the Faculty of Mass Communication, Chiang Mai University and founder of Lanyim Creative Group, which has created a space where he and his friends can express their ideas freely and put them into action. His enthusiasm and passion have earned him funding from the USAID…as well as getting him in some trouble with the military which almost saw him put in jail. As it is now his last year as a college student, he is focusing on turning this student group into a future career.
“I want a space where we can do a variety of activities,” said Golf who explained that he felt uncomfortable setting up his club in the university where the application process and oversight by lecturers who may or may not value his form of creativity is restrictive and there is a lack of flexibility as to what they can do. “I have always been an activist and organised activities, since childhood. So when I joined the university I went on the student council. I soon became disillusioned seeing so many student groups applying for, and using up, budgets just for the sake of spending the budget or earning credits, not to actually use it to create any real value.” He soon turned to the more outspoken elements in the university, the activists, but again felt disappointment. “Most Thai activists usually target and attack someone; unlike in other countries where activists actually contribute skills they have to the cause they believe in.”
Golf and four friends decided to form Lanyim Creative Group in 2016 where each person contributes to the group with skills and connections to create art-based activities such as art exhibitions, movie screenings, talks, theatrical performances and workshops with an aim to support various important causes.
2015 was a bad year for pollution, so Lanyim produced a play about the annual burning season, with a clear message attacking the giant conglomerate, CP Group. “We were suddenly perceived by our lecturers and many adults as being aggressive youths and trouble makers,” said Golf. “However, the USAID had a project to find solutions to pollution and Lanyim proposed the use of theatre to combat this issue, using characters to represent various players in the pollution game and sending a message. We were the first runner up in this competition and received funds to travel around Thailand performing. There was even some money left to rent a townhouse in Soi Wat Umong where we opened an office space and small library.”
The activities were then expanded into activism, collaborating with other movements, mostly in Bangkok. While attending university full time, the group took part in holding the ‘Wall of Constitution’ event, where sections of the proposed new constitution were enlarged and printed for citizens to read, raising awareness of what was actually in the proposed constitution prior to the referendum that took us all by surprise in 2016. The group is also working to demand justice in the case of the questionable death of Chaiyaphum Pasae, a human rights activist who was accused of stepping on military toes, and the Pai Dao Din case which saw a man sentenced to two years in prison after sharing an allegedly ‘discourteous article’ online. Golf was able to pull together a group of authors, one of them including awards-winning researcher Nidhi Eoseewong, to write short stories, eventually publishing a book, The Last Stand, criticising what he sees as the crippled system of our nation.
It wasn’t long before he too fell afoul of authorities. The 13th International Conference on Thai Studies in 2017 was held in Chiang Mai. This highly respected academic conference is held every three years in various countries around the world, that year was Chiang Mai’s year and a source of great pride for Thailand’s Thai studies academics. Lanyim Creative Group helped the low-key conference liaise with the press, but found themselves suddenly making headlines when the military junta stepped in and harassed international attendees, using the ban on political gatherings as an excuse. In response to the intimidating presence of the military, Golf and a handful of lecturers and students, held banners proclaiming, “An academic forum is not a military camp.” This banner was deemed so offensive to the military that five people were put behind bars for it, including Golf. He spent the next year in and out of court fighting for his freedom. Though he was reluctant to go into details, the matter is now behind him.
Locally, the group is also involved in the Scar of Doi Suthep issue and has been fighting against air pollution on many fronts. “Most of the social movements are done anonymously as it can put our members in jeopardy.” In the meanwhile, the group occasionally produces political plays, performing them in various provinces.
By the end of 2017, Lanyim had reached its turning point. “It was the late part of our university life and many of us were thinking ahead to our future careers,” said Golf who said that by then funds were also running short. It was then when he decided to move his headquarters.
Tucked away behind the old Dunkin Donut Shop near the Phucome Hotel is a private garden that once belonged to a wealthy teacher, Angonn Malik who has reportedly donated over a billion baht’s worth of land for public use throughout Thailand. “The way she thinks clicked with me. She could have sold that land for tens of millions of baht, but she didn’t. She has an ideal which I admire and wish to pursue,” “When the adults saw that we actually do something, they became very supportive,” said Golf of his new headquarters which he describes as a ‘dream space’.
Today Golf focuses on social movements, education and theatrical performances. While most of Lanyim’s members have grown out of their roles, and moved on to their careers, Golf is staying put. His latest project is a play titled ‘Song Gliuay’ (funnel) telling the story of Thailand’s justice system from his own experience. “The play is not about me but more about what it’s like having charges pressed for political reasons. I’m just recently out of the woods and I believe the sole reason is because I am a student. But what about others who are still in this predicament?” A book under the same title has also been published.
“Unlike typical performances where we have scripts to learn and play out, Golf gives us the opportunity to voice our opinions and explore ways to perform,” said one young member. When an idea strikes Golf, he gathers his team for a debate and together they try and test, finally picking the one that suits them all.
It is incredible that he is still in university; that he has achieved more in the past few years than some do in a lifetime. His aim post-uni is to run his group like a business, so that members are paid and enjoy benefits of employment. “I like the system of small theatres in the west where members only have to work for nine months and then they are totally free for three months to do whatever they want. They are paid in full of course but they can spend those times exploring the world, finding new ideas and such.” Now the group consists of around a dozen students who are attracted by his ideal and are interested in theatrical performance. “Why would a student need to graduate first to have a proper income? Work experiences can be nonsense and just done to collect credit. Internships are essentially just free labour. I am already working my career. We are doing it and we are going to keep doing it.”