The art of being alive

"We've lived together 30,000 years, it's a strange condition of nature but it works." Roshan Dhunjibhoy, said

By | Thu 25 Dec 2008

The Greeks had an idea that all people could be identified by one of four humours, or what we’d now define as temperaments. After imbibing the knowledge of his cerebral forefathers, Plato and Aristotle, a philosopher called Galen came up with this idea: we humans will always fall into one of these categories: Choleric; Melancholic; Sanguine; Phlegmatic. Don’t reach for your dictionary, here’s the laymen’s definition: full of energy, enthusiasm; a bit sombre, sensitive; happy go lucky, enthusiastic; easy going, reasonable.

Over the years there have been amendments but even modern psychologists believe somewhat in the old Greek theory. One of the latest and most significant alterations to The Four Temperaments was by a man named David Keirsey who in 1956 developed the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. The terms and paradigm changed a little from Galen’s hypothesis, Choleric became ‘The Idealist’; Melancholic became ‘The Guardian’; Sanguine became ‘The Artisan’; Phlegmatic became ‘The Rationalist’. From the shepherds of Bethlehem to the Go Go girls of Nana Plaza everyone will fall into one of these categories, there may be hybrids but according to Kiersey, one temperament will always prevail. Citylife brings you local characters that we have chosen to represent the Four Temperaments.

Referring to the turbulent anti-communist era of Thailand in 1976 Kamron explains, “At that time they either painted you red or blue, they might easily charge you with lèse-majesté.” [Ed. Sound familiar?] He should know, being on the wrong side of a political schism he was forced, post coup d’etat, to flee Thailand into exile and spent the next ten years of his life in Paris. Before his ad hoc departure Kamron had formed the Crescent Moon Theatre at Thammasart University where they performed political plays. There Kamron courageously wrote and directed a bio play of exiled revolutionist Pridi Phanomyong who spearheaded the campaign that ended absolute monarchy in Thailand; the play would later tour the US and Europe in English. “I wanted to combine western thought with Thai theatre and to bring the avant-garde to Thailand,” says Kamron, who would go on to win the international Social Venture Network Award for ‘socially responsible entrepreneurs’.

“I’ve always worked in media. I started as a teacher of mass communication
at CMU, worked in dramatic arts at Thammasart University and also worked in the theatre during my stay in France.” On his return to Thailand, Kamron revived the Crescent Moon Theatre and became involved in documentaries and political TV programmes in the eighties. His latest achievement has been a film, ‘Once, A Pond, A Time’. “Oriental magical realism,” he tells me, “a coming of age film about two boys in the north of Thailand during the Vietnam war period.” At the Nantes Film Festival in France his film proposal was voted best out of twenty international entries by producers, writers and directors. He hopes the film will be finished in the next three years. Talking about Thai cinema he says, “It’s a bad assumption that a movie has to be soft or light, you can touch the audience in many ways.” On censorship Kamron explains, “If I know the rules of the road I can cross that road, I can use metaphor, create a vision that censorship will not understand; the audience can interpret it how they want.”

“I want to make dramatic art the motherland, to connect the East and West, from the movement of Greek verbal theatre to non-verbal eastern dance…the dance of Shiva, energy, the movement of particles, words are confined to culture while movement is universal. Theatre in Thailand is spreading to different groups, it’s expanding, and we have to be unique, to expand from within to contend with virtual reality, with the internet. It’s a battle between virtual reality and real life energy, come back to theatre, may the force be with you!”

Wife, Sarawanee Sukhumvada

Kamoron’s wife, Sarawanee, talks to me while her husband moves over to the library where there’s a great wall of books. “I’ve always been a teacher, but I like to think of myself as a storyteller,” and so, aptly, she tells a story. “When I was a child I went south with my family, I found myself at a waterfall, I felt the whole world stop. I saw the fish, the weeds, the many colours of plants and trees, like life was suspended; it was a feeling of belonging.” Sarawanee eloquently explains that she’s always had a strong connection with everything around her, with everyone around her. “People thought I was a bit crazy, always wanting to be out in the open.” Emphatically she says, “Words are sacred, they are the result of feelings, I feel strongly about language. If you listen long enough, you will understand everything.” Many people nowadays, according to the CMU literature ajarn, are too mechanical, too methodical and too rational, cast from the spiritual dimension. “I believe in community, spirituality, and inter-connection. In Thailand over the last 50 years we have tried to make people independent, but we are a rice based society, a community based society. I’m not against modernisation, but I think we have to adapt the communal spirit with modernisation.”

The ajarn, who is Dean of Faculty of Fine Arts at CMU is also the president of the underground political group, The Midnight University. Spending some time with him chatting about convoluted Thai politics and the machinations of those involved at high levels was as perplexing as it was intriguing as it was depressing. “In 1997 during the Asian political crisis, a few ajarn from different faculties used to meet in the evenings at the university, we were concerned about the political climate of Thailand and wanted to empower the poor of Thailand with knowledge of politics, so we started The Midnight University.” He explains that their organisation is not enamored with today’s political thinking, the divide of red and yellow, of one party against another. “There are five actors in the political framework, not just two: 1) Invisible hands 2) PPP 3) Democrats 4) Capitalists, (old money: oligarchies) (new money: modern business), 5)Civil Society. He explained that the late twentieth century saw Regan/Thatcher inspired capitalists intent on making money. Since that time, there’s been a rift between old and new money. Somkiat believes this rift is the catalyst of the yellow and red debacle we see today. “The old money wants on the [gravy] train and it can’t get on.”

“There will be blood on the streets,” he says, unless we negotiate between the five factions, “we must negotiate”. The Midnight University does not have an easy time getting their message to the people. “We are often censored by the ICT (Ministry of Information and Communication Technology). All Thais fear; they fear censure, they fear not just the law but other onsequences.” He speaks openly of political cronies to the corporations, taking advantage of lack of political understanding to take control. In the past the poor would be subdued with religion but now he says, “Its money”. Each side, he says, is a puppet _ one puppet controlled by new money and the other by old money. “The multitude should come together, the white and blue collar, choose the third way, the way of negotiation and peace.”

Rationalism and idealism were serious business, so it was refreshing to meet the sculptor and painter at his bucolic studio and home somewhere among the fields of Doi Saket. Dressed in the working man’s regalia; blue flip flops, stretched t-shirt and baggy jeans, Tawatchai was as easy going as he was disarming. After graduating in fine arts at CMU he went on to create award winning sculptures, have his own exhibitions worldwide and was commissioned to build sculptures in Asia, America and Europe. “In France I was commissioned to construct a house, a distorted house. I stayed there two months working on it in a field, at night I stayed in a 100 room castle. That was a dream come true.” Distorted objects is the artist’s latest genre, he’s now working on 50 pairs of wonky deckchairs and umbrellas with seating covers embroidered with lyrics and musical notation. “Like a child, sometimes what you see is not exactly the right dimension; I want to create things as they are perceived, not the actual scale. I paint them as I see them and then I construct them, I make them wrong.” His art is featured in many books, looking at pictures of some of his outlandish objects, his award winning giant egg, his female pelvic bone made from milk cans, you can see just how intricate his sculptures are. “I have to be patient, I can think about how I will make something for two years, and then spend a long time alone making it.” Talking about worldly fame, Damien Hirst-esque celebrity he says, “I’m still small, not yet like that, I still need to sell more pieces so I can make new ones.” The hi-so oriented art scene he admits, is a bit phony, “During exhibitions I turn into someone else, change my character, it can be so fake, it’s just a scene, that’s it, when it’s done I have to come back, think again, struggle with myself, that’s not always easy.”

Roshan meets us at the gates to her house, she’s followed by a gang of canine oddities, one is a tripod, one old fella has lost his bark – he tries but only a faint coughing sound can be heard _ another is gummy and has a twisted limb. Roshan has helped rescue them all from certain death. Born in India, the daughter of a psychiatrist, she saw and understood the iniquities of the world when very young.

“I saw girls my own age die,” she tells me. “My sister taught me Marxist philosophy and at the age of twelve I joined the communist party.” After living in colonial India she became even more horrified at the racism she encountered in the US later in life, where she saw that the American dream was not strictly a blessing to every man. “Since I was a child I couldn’t accept inequalities, it was my train through life, fighting for the unprivileged.” Her education, she said came during the eight years she spent in France, where she became a journalist and went on to spend 27 years working for German television making documentaries on what she called “the struggle in the third world”. She made films all over the globe including the countries of Cuba, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan. Only when German TV sold out to private companies did she call it a day; with a fissure between artistic integrity and profit margins, she walked out. “I came back to Asia to work with the Green Party and Heinrich Böll Foundation on various projects from women’s right, workers rights and rural people’s rights.” After retiring Roshan says she couldn’t sit quiet, and started Lanna Dog Rescue, an organisation that works with the local government for “stray dog management under Buddhist principles,” taking dogs in that need help and working on projects to sterilise dogs while educating people about animal cruelty. “Dogs and humans have a special relationship, we are interdependent, we’ve lived together 30,000 years, it’s a strange condition of nature but it works. We should love and respect them; we are each other’s guardians.”