Thursday, July 22, 2004

Taste of Thailand

This past Sunday, July 18, the Thai Trade Center and Thai community organized a festival to promote Thai food and products at the Nathan Phillips Square of the Toronto City Hall. It turned out to be the largest Thai community and cultural gathering that has ever happened in Toronto. Compared with the Thai community in the US, or with any other Asian groups in Canada, the Thai community of Canada is very small, hardly visible at all, despite the popularity of Thai food and restaurants. As I sat, at my volunteer position, helping out with a demonstration of some Thai movies and karaoke DVD/VCDs, I had a great time observing the people.

Since I was with the organizers the day before the event, I was worried about how it would pull together. I tell you, it was so typically, chaotically, Thai. Amazingly, early Sunday morning there was this beautifully set up stage with Thai designed props, and a cultural programme that performed throughout the day. It ranged from Thai classical dance (performed by an amateur group formed in Ottawa, that has grown increasingly professional), to Thai Boxing, fashion show, music, etc. The food stalls were so popular there was a line up throughout the whole day, until they ran out of food. Regretfully there weren't enough products to sell. Much of the participation was voluntary. In the demo stalls of Thai fruit carving, flower arrangements, our movie stall, people just wanted to buy. But these products were brought in by the community to demonstrate their culture, there was no stock for sale.

Towards, the end of the day, I couldn't help getting the familiar feeling of being in a temple fair, "ngarn wat", as if I were transported to Thailand. There were kids in Thai costumes scrambling around as if this public square were their home. It felt all the more surreal because this was a square I've visited on several occasions before for other festivals organized the variety of communities that live in Toronto.

For the following few days, I marvelled at how the Thai people are a great example of a complex, chaotic system. They show these intriguing qualities of emergence, self-referral, and self-organization. Emergence, because it seemed as if they had gathered out of nowhere. There was hardly any ads, or PR about the event, news of it went by word of mouth. People really made an effort to travel a long way to come for a brief affair. Self-referral, because they came out of love for their culture to give of their handicrafts, simple skills learnt from school, like how to make a flower garland, how to fold a Pla Tapien origami, putting together a stock of traditional Thai costumes for the fashion show, the volunteer models, the volunteer DJ and speakers. Self-organizing, because nobody really put an order to things or directed things to be done in a certain way, somehow it just flowed together, each group doing their own thing. The event was made possible, of course, with the seed funding from the Thai Trade Center. From that I learnt the true meaning of the Kingdom's concept of "rom chatr"-the shade of benefit, that a governing concept gives. Create a space and structure, allow the people to organize themselves, and they prosper.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Thailand before the Thais.

This is a text, I've borrowed from USMTA,I wonder if they've written the documents on history themselves,but I've seen copies of the wordings in several other webpages, so I don't really know. I feel the wording has been carefully chosen, why duplicate the effort? The purpose of my blog will be to provide links (a bit too lightly coloured with this blogging template, hope you can see them) on key issues I find interesting, and maybe have chats with others who have similar interests once a while.

Thailand before the Thais: The area covered by the modern state of Thailand, known until 1939 as Siam, is one of considerable diversity. The term Thai or Siamese is therefore primarily not ethnic, but political, denoting a subject of the king of Thailand, secondarily linguistic, meaning a speaker of the Thai language, and thirdly cultural, signifying a product of the culture to which the various ethnic groups that have formerly lived or live today in the region have all contributed.

The term Tai is generally used to denote the various related peoples, among them the Shans, the Laos and the Siamese Thais, who graduallly migrated into mainland Southeast Asia from southwest China (this issue is still widely debated) and of whom the Siamese Thai branch now form the majority of the population of the kingdom of Thailand.

Trading relations between the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia go back far into the prehistoric period, but the earliest evidence of Indian influence penetrating into Southeast Asia in the wake of this trade dates from the 1st century AD with the formation in mainland Southeast Asia, the Malay peninsula and the western islands of the Indonesian archipelago of states in which, the kings in order to legitimise their power, had adopted either Hinduism or Buddhism, together with other Indian ideas of kingship, statecraft, law and administration, and forms of religious art and architecture derived from Indian models.

Among the earliest of these kingdoms was the state called Funan by the Chinese. According again to the Chinese sources, Funan was replaced as the leading power in the Mekong valley by one of its vassals, the Khmer state of Zhenla, which was centered round Bassac in southern Laos. When Funan was being threatened by the rising power of Zhenla, the dominant people of central Thailand seem to have been the Mons, an ancient people, related to the Khmers, who probably settled in the region at about the same time. While under the rule of Funan, the Mons adopted Indian religion, chiefly Theravada Buddhism. unlike the predominantly Hindu Khmers. There appear to have been numerous small Mon states in the region, of which the most important was Dvaravati. Little is known about Dvaravati, and even its name occurs only once, in an inscription that refers to the 'Lord of Dvaravati'. Many believe that it was a federation of Mon states rather than a single state, but the term is now applied to all Mon art and culture of this period in Thailand. The principal Mon-Dvaravati centers were U Thong, Lopburi, Khu Bua and Nakhon Pathom. In the north in the Lamphun area was the Mon kingdom of Haripunjaya, called Hariphunchai in Thai.

Haripunjaya is traditionally believed to have been founded in the late 7th century by a group of holy men at whose invitation the Buddhist ruler of Lop Buri sent his daughter Cham Tewi with a large retinue of Mons to Lamphun to be the first ruler of the new state. At about the time that Haripunjaya was founded, Dvaravati seems to have become politically, though not culturally, subject to the great maritime empire of Sri Vijaya, the capital of which is thought to have been at Palembang on the east coast of Sumatra and which at various times between the 7th and 13th century extended its rule over much of western Indonesia, the Malay peninsula and southern Thailand as far as the Kra Isthmus and other parts of the coast of the Gulf of Thailand.

In the early 11th century the eastern part of the Mon realm fell under Khmer rule, while the western part was conquered by the Burmese King Anawrahta of Pagan (ruled 1044 -77). Haripunjaya also fell under Khmer rule in the II century and was finally conquered at the end of the 13th by King Mangrai, ruler of the northern kingdom of Lan Na.

Finally after a serious of battles they succumbed to Khmer domination, but by early 13th century, they outnumbered the titular overlords. It was at this point that several groups united, proclaimed their freedom and in 1238, founded the independent kingdom of Sukhothai, (Dawn of happiness) in the Pali language. Under its second ruler, King Ramkhamhaeng, Sukhothai expanded its empire pushing the Khmer as far back as Malaysia and the Philippines. The kingdom of Sukhothai is remembered for its culture rather than political power. in a brief but brilliant period,it was the scene of a 'golden age' that saw the introduction of the Theravada Buddhism as the state religion, the creation of the Thai alphabet and the establishment of a paternal monarchy that made a vivid contrast to the aloof Khmer god-kings of Ankor.

Old order vs new order

If you are familiar with my blog, you'd know I have a fascination for complex and chaotic systems. How and why they function? Most importantly, how do they differ from our more familiar systems of hierarchical, fixed universe?

So far, I've noted that the commonly manifested fixed universe model have guiding principles, such as: centralized power, order from the top down, one God that rules all, clear lines of organization, each agent having a set, well-defined function, enabling division of labor, competition is necessary to demonstrate who is the strongest, efficiency is prized, parts are to be specialized and fixed in their proper places, rules and logic, orders and laws, reason and classes. Several hundred years of competition developing from fighting for survival, to warfare for domination and appropriation of resources, to competition in the arena, sports, to comparative advantages of trading nations, eventually to these merry days of world financial roulette. Oops, it looks like order is tripping over itself.

Somehow, the world is getting more and more complex, as borders become issues of conflict, circumvented by multinational national-law evaders, and dissolved by wireless communications. Those agents at the bottom of the rung aren't receiving clear messages from the top bosses anymore. They're starting to feel that they are individuals, not pieces in the machine. Rogue, free, self-serving agents popping up here and there in so many diverse forms. So the top boss reasons, how do I hit them all down at once, I have to be the boss?

The problem becomes apparent that underneath all that order, there exists other ways of doing things and suddenly they want to define themselves. Ah, but the status quo doesn't want to lose their bet in their old, so material, so well-defined structures that they can't see how it is falling apart.

This new order, paradoxically is chaotic order. Free agents forming shifting structures that pop in and out of view, gathering and dispersing in multiple locations all the time. Snowflakes, storms, chemical reactions, ants,... Well..well..well, what do you see? Even human behavior! Tragically, the first time this got noticed was 9/11. So how does the old order respond? In its old familiar way, let's give it a name, let's find a target. Well, we all know the story, there always a Michael Moore to tell us about it.

While everybody is being media-hyped forced to focus their attention on that affair, those other free agents are doing what they always do, popping up here and there in different forms, do you care to look for them? Where do you find order out of chaos? The scientists tells us, out there...on the edges, the place between the stillness of death, and complete chaos.

Me? I've been getting goosebumps and feeling my hair raise at their ends lately, because I've been noticing these edges. No, I'm not seeing ghosts. I think I'm seeing the turning of the tide. Most of the time, I want to shout out in sheer exhilaration, "At Last!!!" But of course, I can't do that, they'd think I'm crazy. You know what they do with seers and prophets. They either worship them or burn them. Brrrrrr, nope, not for me. Well, just a few leads for those who aren't completely lost by the time they've read this line: Brazil, China, India, and of course, Thailand.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Hello again

Whew, it's been such a long time that I left blogging and now Blogger has a new look. I'm actually having a good laugh at myself, rereading what I've written in my blog. How unorganized my thoughts are! And there I was,thinking all the while I was blogging that I was making perfect sense. Well, taking time off did some good. It seemed to have helped cure me out of the media numbness McLuhan says one gets when one jumps into a new media. It felt such a part of me, and to me seemed integrated with the rest of my life. So I thought I was making some sense, now I see that I didn't make much sense. Of course, I was always frustrated that blogging couldn't express everything I wanted to, but then which medium allows one to do that?