Sunday, July 26, 2009

Buffalo caravans that lasted until the early 20th century

My mother was born in 1925. She has vague recollections of a near mystical childhood that I love prompting her to recount. One of the stories that I found most interesting was about her first trip to Bangkok from Sakolnakorn when she was less than ten years old and allowed to accompany her mother to visit her mother’s family in Bangkok.

She had to travel with a buffalo caravan to Khon Khaen to board the train there. It must have been a long trip and it certainly left a lasting impression on her. For me, what was amazing was the recollection that not so long ago just one generation away travel by car on paved roads were not possible throughout the country.

Buffalo caravans were trading caravans whose trade routes crisscrossed North and Northeast Thailand, a trading route whose importance historians have overlooked with their focus on the more important sea routes that Ayudhya dominated. However, it was this land route that supplied Ayudhya with items that its trading partners valued, such as various natural dyes, forest products, and animal skin.

Some interesting things I found on the internet about the land trade routes are one, from a chapter on Chiang Mai from Joe Cummings’ "Lonely Planet Thailand".

An insert about the Chiangmai Night Bazaar reports that from the 15th century Chinese muslim traders from Yunnan brought down silk, opium, lacquerware, tea, dried fruit, musk, ponies and mules while northbound caravans brought gold, copper, cotton, edible bird’s nest, betel nut, tobacco and ivory. By the 19th century, artisans had settled along the route to produce craft for the trade. The Chinese traders preferred to use ponies and mules, while the Thais preferred oxen, water buffalo and elephants.

There were three main land trading routes in Northern Thailand: one from Sibsongpanna (Yunnan) to the Gulf of Martaban (Burma) via Mawlamyiang, this route extends westward from Simao to Chiang Roong-Keng Tung-Fang (Chiang Rai).

The middle route went south to Mengla to Luang Nam Ta in Laos, to Chiang Kong where it merges with the first route and continues further south through Chiang Mai to Mae Sariang continued along the Salaween River down to Mawlamyiang.

The third route went from Simao to Ponsali, Luang Prabang, Nan, Prae, Lampang, and Lampoon, to Chiang Mai.

Another interesting article I found on the internet relating to buffalo trade routes was an extensive wikipedia page about the Kula traders who travelled in small and large caravans.

“Some of these caravans would consist of more than 100 people traveling in ox carts, horses and elephants. Kula merchants would sell and buy items during their travels such as elephants, ivory, animal horns, antlers, silk, water buffalo, firearm, caskets, case etc. Smaller groups of Kula would travel in groups of at least 5,10 or 50 people and would be armed with knives, swords, firearms and scared magical charms for protection. The Kula engaged in commerce differently from the Chinese where they didn't establish themselves by setting up shops in communities but preferred to travel from destination to destination and rest along temples, jungle, prairie and forests along the way.”

Tung Kula Ronghai (the crying plains of the Kulas), the driest region of the Northeast, was called such, because the plain of grass and swamp was so sparsely populated during the early of 19th century that many caravans and individuals would enter the plain and find themselves lost. People living in the community had to erect wooden poles and plant trees to identify the safer route to make navigation possible.

There is also a research paper by Junko Kmsumi of Tokyo University, “Why the Kula wept”, that describes a historical dispute between the Kula traders and the officials of Siam during the reign of Rama the third.

Finally, from a book by Prince Dilok Nabarath, “Siam’s Rural Economy under King Chulalongkorn”, a picture from the past:

Oxen carts bring produce to waiting river barges

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What is social media?

We're supposed to trust Google that they can point us to who the experts are, right?

So here's who and what comes up when you ask "what is social media"?

I skipped the wikipedia page, but that's the best source of easy reading on definition of any subject. The next interesting looking reference was by a website who call themselves 'the social media guide','s "Just What is Social Media, anyway?" The discussion there seems to be against the mix of 'social' and 'media' and around if the commercialization drive of online media should be supported or not.

Then I quickly clicked through pages 2, 3, 4.... on my google search page, and I noticed quite a lot of pages of Spanish origin referring to said term. It seems that this term doesn't exist in the Spanish language, so the english term is used directly. Here's the first interesting one:"6 mentiras relacionadas al Social Media". Then from (what looks like a great pro site, with lots of goodies for online publishing tips) that offers content in English, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish, "Social Media Marketing: Guía Para Principiantes".

Being the curious cross cultural person I am, I went to Google Thai and keyed in the same term, and this was one of the interesting results I got: social media images. There is a surprising amount of content in Thai related to social media, most related to 'social media marketing'. No doubt for the Thais, social media's a marketing tool. Thai is a limited language that is really pushed to incorporate changes in the modern world that the language simply cannot keep up with. However, if you're imaginative enough and stick to using simple words rather than having the lofty mentality of those who create Thai dictionaries, one Thai blog re-interpreted social media as 'mouth and sound of society' and 'media's flood', expressing a pretty worried view about its threat to online security. A pretty astute feeling about how our developments for online security is going to be always a step behind the development of new media tools.

BTW, it was only recently that Google made a huge jump in Thai cyberspace when they added Thai as an automatically translatable (really, really bad translations though) under their system. Only six years ago, I was nearly searching in vain for blogs in Thai, and for webpages that had a familiar format to what I was accustomed to in English cyberspace that weren't discussion forum format so popular with the Thais.

Call me geeky or what, but the pace of evolution of the internet never fails to amaze me.

A side note about online security, I've got to commend Canada's determination to be on top of protecting its citizen's privacy (half of Canada's population uses Facebook), as was announced by CNET, "Canadian officials take issue with Facebook privacy". I just hope that it doesn't add to the increasing tits for tats that will push governments and nations into more paranoid and more xenophobic modes. Look at the visas slapped on to the Mexicans for alleged violation of its refugee program. Look at this announced oncoming flu vaccine battle. At the same, how paradoxial can it get? Look at this trend that will push us to more insecurity, despite which some foolish governments looks like they are going for it. Oops, sorry to end up on such a pessimistic mood. Blame it on the late hour, the obsessiveness that blogging creates in a person, or blame it on the nature of media and texts.


My interest in new media grew from media classes I audited with the Marshall McLuhan Program on Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto during 2003-2005. Derrick de Kerckhove, Mark Federman, and Twyla Gibson were teachers that have encouraged and inspired me to question the effects of media on society, organizations and individuals. Reading Marshall McLuhan and Harold Innis expanded my previously naive notions of what media can be and drew me into a fascination with its role as transformers of culture and society.

It was with those evenings of trudging snow-covered roads across Bay Street to the Coach House where Marshall McLuhan himself inspired other minds to think about these questions that started me on the path of blogging. Media had moved human societies from Gutenberg's 15th century re-ordering of our senses from oral and tactile to our present modern predominance of visual and distant, hence 'reasonable/reasoning', critical perspective. It was at that coach house that I was awakened to an awareness of the electric, internet-induced sense of immersive experience most of us let ourselves into unnoticed.

That year, 2003, the class required blogging was exciting. There were thought-provoking researches on social media such as Danah Boyd's and Ann Galloway's. There was the great triumph of how blogging won a round in politics with Howard Dean's campaign only to be let down by the nature of politics that wasn't ready yet for this new kind of democracy. The dotcom bubble burst was a necessary dampener on the euphoria that normally accompanies new playgrounds as engrossing as the world wide web had become. I witnessed blogs come and go. Our class blog died as soon as the class concluded but I kept on blogging even if it was a bit hard to "speak" to only oneself. I liked the outered introspection, no-need to apologize navel gazing it allowed me.

It was also during this time that I was fortunate to meet with Juan Luis Saurez who became a good family friend. He adopted my husband, Cuauhtémoc, and myself into his fantastic (and complex) world of 16th century Baroque. I was thrilled that JL and Fernando Sanchez created and feel honored to be invited to be a part of this beta version.

It is with this spirit of honor that I would like to give feedback about's structure, its strengths and weakness, what can be improved on... from my humble perspective. little experience with blogging, and impressions acquired from net surfing.

I would like to invite other members to join this discussion because I feel that while this site's greatest offer is content, clarifying what we want from this site, where we think it can go, and fine tuning its structure will help towards its growth and move from beta to a public launch that can give us an exceptional new media tool supporting the social network of people in love with cultures, languages, the Baroque, complexity, all those strange and exciting concepts growing out of the University of Western Ontario, Department of Modern Languages' unique group of thinkers and their extended reach.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Overseas Thai Economic and Finance Association

As recent as only five years ago, I was really frustrated searching the internet for content about Thailand in English that went beyond the usual tourism promotion and general culural promotion. So it is with pleasant surprise that now (with a bit of persistance to look beyond common search words) I am discovering a new world of Thai content, especially those offered by literate young Thais who grew up in an internet assisted world.

One website I discovered recently launched their first publication of an internet newsletter of the Overseas Thai Economic and Finance Association. Here's what Kanda Noknoi, their economics editor wrote in an introduction to their newsletter:

"Some Thai economists including myself, finance scholars and finance professionals gathered in San Francisco in January at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association. One subject of discussion was the professional challenges that arise from differences in early education system. For most of us, the major challenge is the lack of training for expressing ideas. In Thailand we were trained to excel in taking exams by reproducing simple exercises and reciting class materials. Challenging instructors was unacceptable and conformists were rewarded in classroom. For these reasons, we tend to be risk‐averse, reserved and have poor writing and public speaking skills. We gradually improved these skills in graduate school but continue to need coaches after graduation.

As junior researchers, we are constantly interviewed by senior colleagues from other institutions. Hence, effective communications in seminars, conference presentations, conference receptions, lunches, dinners, coffee breaks and 2‐minute elevator rides are necessary. The most frequently asked question (FAQ) I receive in the initial encounters is “Where did you do your Ph.D.?” Where scholars earned their Ph.D. is equivalent to last name in the Thai society, since they both determine the degree of instant acceptance. Having a Ph.D. from a reputable school can create welcoming atmosphere, which usually leads to the FAQ No. 2 “Who did you work with?” or “Who was your advisor?” and the FAQ No. 3 “What was your thesis about?” A brief explanation of my thesis often results in the FAQ No. 4 “What do you work on now?

After the FAQ No. 4, the conversation about research may not continue. Uninterested individuals usually politely switch to other topics such as teaching or personal background. Some may abruptly end the conversation. At that point, where I earned my Ph.D. becomes entirely irrelevant. If I cannot get someone to be interested in my work by speaking, I will likely not be able to do so by writing. If that person organizes a conference, I will likely not get invited to discuss or present papers. If that person is an editor of a journal or an editor’s friend, I will likely not get invited to review papers as a referee. If the person is a referee for my paper submitted to a journal to be considered for publication, my paper will likely not be carefully read or accepted. In this industry, we either publish or perish, thus communication skills are critical for a survival. As I continue along the research track, the importance of the FAQ No. 4 increases over time, because I am expected to create new products like firms in any industry. My research productivity or lack thereof is observed by senior colleagues. To keep producing work to satisfy the expectations, I need information about market demand and supply conditions.

As a market for creativity, the research industry has comparable information transmission mechanism to the entertainment industry. The FAQ No. 3 “What was your first role?” or asking Snoop Dogg “What was your first song?” Jolie, Clooney and Snoop Dogg are clearly talented. However, to continue producing work requires more than talents. To be specific, successful artists have excellent producers and marketing team. Likewise, successes of young researchers depend also on the producers and the marketing team. The role of producers is played by the Ph.D. advisors and/or the senior colleagues. The marketing team includes the researchers themselves, former classmates, the Ph.D. advisors, former colleagues and current colleagues.

Professional associations play a complementary role to the producers and the marketing team. To be specific, the primary function of professional associations is to transmit information about market demand and supply conditions by various means of communication: journal publications, conference presentations, workshops, newsletters, social events, rumors, chitchats and gossips. The secondary function is to promote research by granting awards or funding. The associations in the area of economics and finance are classified by categories such as the field of research and the region of residence or research interests, and designed to serve members’ needs. Thai researchers share some needs with those from other Asian countries, given similarity of learning culture. It is encouraging that a number of those from India, Japan, China and Korea have succeeded at the international level. These scholars in fact alleviated the problem of information asymmetry by forming professional associations.

As a professional association, the OTEFA is in the start‐up stage. Its management structure and activities are subject to debates among members. Within one‐year time frame, the newsletter editorial team will circulate the bylaws for reviews, discussions, proposals for changes and voting for an approval. There are issues we can explore, such as new activities. For instance, in the long run we may consider ally the OTEFA with the Allied Social Science Associations (ASSA). That will provide an opportunity to run a parallel session in the annual meeting of the ASSA, to promote research by Thai researchers and students, along with quantitative research on the Thai economy and its financial issues by scholar from any countries. We may possibly consider interacting with other associations.

Today the job market for researchers in economics and finance cuts across borders and types of institutions. Researchers in economics and finance are employed by universities, research institutes, financial institutions, government agencies and consulting firms in various countries. I believe that the information transmitted by the OTEFA will contribute to the professional advancement of Thai researchers and finance professionals at the international level in the future. Although such advancement does not instantaneously result in the economic advancement of Thailand, it certainly represents a progress."