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.

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