On Thailand, Harry Nicolaides, and Populism
As a thoughrily modern and educated American, who was a professor in rural Phetchaburi Province, Thailand for some short time, I feel myself rarely positioned to discuss Thai culture and its clash with the modern West. For those of you who don't know, Harry Nicolaides was an Australlian expatriate in Thailand who wrote a book insultingly describing the crown prince. The book, which never had any success, has now been dug up and the author arrested and jailed... as Thai law strictly prohibits criticism of the royal family or non-orthodox writings on a number of other subjects such as Buddhism.
King Bhumibol has always pardoned foreigners who violate this law, but the mentioned writer is now imprisoned with a crowd of Thais, among whom a loving reverence for the king is common. He says he feels scared; This is probably as intentional as that he's probably quite safe. The murder of such a high profile foreign prisoner would result in closed-door punishments you can't even imagine. Tourism is Thailand's business and though conflicts may disrupt it, the Thai authorities are not fools.
But Harry is a fool; To openly publish such a book and remain in Thailand is asking for trouble. He's lucky this was handled in an above-board, public way. As for the crown prince, I know only what I've read, which is a superficial description of his life; However, certain features such as his education in England, his marrying commoners, and his study of the liberal arts are quite impressive. They indicate traits that I would like to see on the throne of Thailand, a country whose peoples touched my heart. And anyone who thinks the Thai monarchy will go away, or that a princess will ascend(when a relatively suitable male heir is alive) doesn't know much about Thai history or culture.
Whatever gossips may throw about, the Thai people want and expect the crown prince to rise to his ancient and revered role, which his father has liberalized and modernized in a visionary way; Anyone who wishes to offer advice to the king-to-be should do so either privately in his presence, or very diplomatically. One should not under-estimate the deep-rooted reverence for the royal family, which often lives side by side with populist sentiments. A liberal reform of the Thai economy goes hand in hand with the stability of the Thai monarchy; I perhaps didn't realize this fully when I was there but the more I think about it the more convinced I am. A disruption of this ancient Thai way would be in almost any scenario a negative.
But all this, though rather accurate, isn't quite what I meant to say. Nor will I speak my mind so freely that it could, if misinterpreted, bar a future return to Thailand. But this is the thing: Thailand may never have had a perfect egalitarian culture in the big picture of history, but it was a fairly prosperous, happy, and victorious society. It fought with its neighbors, but wasn't usually the agressor, and bore itself in elephant-riding battle so well that these conflicts were not so frequent. And a deep reverence for a powerful royal family, which has not slid from blood-line to blood-line, has been an integral part of Thai culture.
And then the technological and imperial West appears on the scene. Through wise diplomacy, Thailand was able to avoid becoming anyone's colony(and actually remained its own "sphere of influence") and has thus retained a certain pride which enables it to be an international centre for tourism and international mingling(while there I be-friended everybody from Danes to Brits to Japanese to Russians.) Many nations have an ambivalence toward European culture(in the broadest sense of the word) that would prevent such tourist colonies from emerging.
You know, this will remain a perhaps pointless article; Anyone who's read much of my writings knows of my populist leanings. I will frankly say that they apply to modern Thailand even more than most nations and my first-hand experience of such inequality is extensive. At the same time, I feel that the same Westerners who criticize such inequality don't realize that their financially invading cultures are responsible for disrupting Thai society and causing many problems. Also, and I speak sincerely, what I saw in Phetchaburi was in some ways very far from backward.
Those who wish to know more should read my other writings on Thailand; I will say this. If you do some research on the life of King Bhumibol, you'll see a great man. He's used his ancient powers to up-lift(in a close and personal way) impoverished rural Thais. He took a strong interest in up-lifting the far North of his nation out of suffering and opium-growing. Coffee is now the thriving crop and the land is ideal for it. Not only has he crossed boundaries by allowing commoners to openly look at him, but also to lay hands on him(laugh if you will, but it's a profound symbol.) Considering the culture to which he belongs, he has been a strong force for liberty and equality in Thailand.
And, in my possibly wrong opinion, expatriates who under-mine the royal family or the crown prince shit where they sleep; The wondrous opportunities available to English teachers, businessmen, tourists, etc., are a privillege and not a right. If too often abused, Thailand might close in on itself and the world would really lose out.
Again, I don't know what this Harry Nicolaides was thinking; But, I'd like to someday meet with my favorite athlete and Australlian patriot Lleyton Hewitt. So I really hope his revered majesty extends his clemency as usual.