Sonntag, 12. Oktober 2014

3 Books about Thailand: Short stories and poems about Thailand's society

Zur deutschen Version!

During the street demonstrations against the elected governments of former Prime Ministers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra in recent years I heard and read a lot of disrespectful and inhuman comments on Facebook, in newspapers and at the protest sites regarding the "Red Shirts" and the poor in general.
Many anti-government protesters and royalists made no distinction between impoverished people and the Red Shirt supporters (who dared to think for themselves, refused to continue to live on like Phrai (serfs) and to vote for the political party of their choice).
Therefor, in the opinion of the ultraconservatives, all poor people in Thailand should be punished and be stripped of basic human rights like freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and their right to vote for the near future.
Indeed many (but not all) of the "Red Shirts" are loyal and strong supporters of  former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a coup in September 2006. Many of them come from impoverished rural areas in the North and Northeast and the city slums.
Thaksin´s arch-enemies, the "Yellow Shirts", mostly (but not all!) ultra-conservatives and ultra-royalists, and interestingly also many expats, defamed Thaksin´s supporters as stupid (even too stupid to vote) and uneducated. They accused the poor of being lazy, corrupt and drunkards. Allegedly they are only interested in hanging around and making love ("like animals" as we were told by a "deep yellow" royalist woman). They (the poor) don't know how to work steadily and properly.
The "Yellow Shirts" call the farmers and slum dwellers "buffaloes", animals, which are regarded as strong but too stupid to think for themselves. Therefor they have to be "guided" by the "decent" and "educated" elites.

It is obvious, that many members of the so-called "educated elite" and certain expats have absolutely no idea how these impoverished people struggle to make a living, and under which conditions they try to survive.

Pira Sudhams books (which were written long before Thaksin became Prime Ministers or the Red Shirt movement was founded) offer a deep insight into the daily life of these often neglected or forgotten people. Pira was born and grew up in Napo, a remote Esarn village in Buriram province. As a child he helped his parents in the paddy fields and tended the buffaloes. Later he became a servant to Buddhist monks in Bangkok where he was admitted to a school. When he went to highschool and during his first year at the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University, he supported himself by selling souvenirs to tourists until he won a scholarship from the New Zealand Government.
Pira's career is a shining example for the potential that is hidden in these allegedly "stupid" people. He also proves that the rural and low-class people are not stupid, on the contrary, they are as smart as everyone else in Thailand. All they lack is a decent education and the chance to prove themselves.

His books are available at:
DCO -Made In Thailand and many other online-bookstores
Also available in many second hand bookstores all over Thailand like DASA bookshop near Sukhumvit Soi (where I bought my copy).

Excerpts of Monsoon Country (1988):

..."If I had not left my village then, I would have been another peasant. I would have been subject, like most villagers, to the mercy of nature: floods, drought, ignorance and scarcity. With endurance, I would have accepted them as my own fate, as something I could not go against in this life," says Pira.
Of his humble background, he says, " I owe a great deal to my early village life, spending years in the rice fields of Esarn, so remote and neglected. I grew up with the good-heartedness, the hospitality and the illiteracy of our people, as well as the selfishness, cruelty, poverty and corruption. I know the arrogance of shopkeepers, the unscrupulousness of the merchants who deal with the villagers, and the helplessness of the farmers. What I saw and learnt in childhood touched me deeply. I would not cut of my roots, for without them I would not be able to grow...
(Monsoon Country, page 15)

...The author admits:" When I was a child in Napo village, what I saw and experienced moved me greatly. The poverty, corruption, lack of basic medical facilities, the purchase and sale of children and also many buffaloes combined to sadden me; I was angered by the injustice and the helplessness of the peasants. I remember how I wished to tell my parents and the other villagers what I saw and felt, and what I wanted them to see and feel. I wanted to take them by their shoulders and shake them and wake them up. But I came to realize they would not see things as I saw them. All the while I was taught not to see, not to hear and not to speak out...
(Monsoon Country, page 16 and 17)

Excerpts of Tales Of Thailand (first published as Siamese Drama in 1983):

...It is clear that there are inextricable links between literacy, education democracy and human rights (see also quote from page 6 below). This could not be clearer than the case of the Esarn people. It is in this context that the author would like to take the readers on a journey to the hinterland of Thailand:
"I (Pira Sudham) look at my life in this way: If I had not left my village at all, I would have become just another peasant with a horde of children, going through the vicious circle of rural life  in a poor village in Esarn. If ignorance is blissful, I could have been a happier person. Like most villagers, I would believe that going through years of drought, scarcity and disease without medical treatment, without any relief, in a forlorn Esarn village is my destiny, my fate or Karma for what I committed in my previous life. So in this life, I am to suffer for the deeds done. The acceptance of one's fate would make suffering in this life tolerable...
(from Tales of Thailand, page 4 and 5)

...I heed the voice not only because I believe in my protector but I also want to be alive, at least to finish writing The Force Of Karma. I keep in mind that more than 30 lives of teachers ( who intended to give the village children a real education and who also tried to equip them with knowledge about democracy, justice and human rights, as Pira later explains in the book - comment by the blogger), the champions of the poor, labourers and environmentalists have been brutally 'liquidated'....
(from Tales of Thailand, page 6)

..."Taking it upon myself to speak out on the behalf of the battered silent and meek ones, choices of tone and styles of speech are opened for me. In my books, particularly Monsoon Country, and its sequel, The Force Of Karma, the current social conditions, the norms, the attitudes and the base on which the hierarchy rests are described along with the social ills, the corruption and injustice. By describing them in vivid detail, I hope to bring to mind what should be corrected or changed for the better. When I wrote:" There are too many thieves in high places, cunningly and shamelessly making use of their positions and power, without conscience but with great capacity for avarice. These corrupt men aim at accumulating wealth as quickly as possible for themselves and their families, without caring for the good of the nation" I hoped  that at least one or two of these broad home-truths would make some Thai readers think...
(from Tales of Thailand, page 7)



ISBN: 9789747100686

This readable book is a fine collection of short stories and poems by well known Thai writers and poets (Anchan, Angkarn Kalyanapong, Chiranan Pitpreecha, Khomthuan Kanthanu, Naowarat Pongpaiboon, Phaitun Thanya, Phaiwarin Kho-ngam, Saksiri Meesomsueb, Sila Khomchai, Ussiri Thammachot and Vanich Charungkij-anant).
Some stories/poems deal with social injustice and the suffering of the poor. Other stories cover the topic of ethical problems when the protagonists are confronted with extraordinary situations (e.g. in Ussiri Thammachots short story "Nightfall On The Waterway"). Other short stories are describing how people are losing control of their lives and their humanity, for example in the short story "On The Route Of A Rabid Dog" by Ussiri Thammachot. This short story takes place in a remote countryside near a small village. But not the dying dog that stoically runs along a desolated road behaves like a rabid beast but the humans it is passing along its way to the village. A "Route" that leads us to the dark, the animal-like side of human nature.
The book also includes stories and poems with political backgrounds like "The Way Of The Snail" by Naowarat PongPaiboon which was written during the student uprising in 1973.

(both excerpts with permission of Silkworm books)

Excerpt of "On The Route Of A Rabid Dog" by Ussiri Thammachot

There it goes (the rabid dog), breathing noisily, emitting low cries. Sticky saliva dribbles of its stiff jaws...
Waves of nausea are rising again, one after another. it comes on suddenly. The longing for the clear, white liquid drives all the thoughts out of his (the fathers) head. The boy is already far down the paddy fields. He races after him, cursing with anger.
Running over rough, parched ground, together with his chronic alcoholism and a craving for the clear white liquor, causes him to stiffen his jaws.
As he chases his son for the money, saliva begins to dribble from his mouth, his swollen tongue appearing between his teeth. His breathing grows louder and he begins emitting low, animal-like cries-like the beast that just has passed out of sight...

The sun moves lower and is partially hidden by the mountain range. Its bright, copper rays suffuse the western sky. The laterite road that runs across the village looks dark against the glow of the sunset.

Excerpt of The Way Of The Snail (1973 by Naowarat Pong Paiboon)

This piece was written during the 1973 uprising.
"Weeds" stands for the illegal, despotic rule (in this case the Thanom-Prapat government) and the "little snail' represents the people who sacrificed their lives in the streets in those days.


    And the little snail will offer up its flesh
    To become a creator
    From its own dissolution
    As it has always been.

So there lies the way
Leading to the ideal.
As long as weeds rule
There will be hearts to struggle.


    Come then, come bear it,
    This suffering with friends
    Don't hope that without it
    Your life will shine.

The first steps that we take
Will paint the path
And there's much land untrod
Where we may go.

Especially interesting is the intellectual and political development of the author Naowarat Pongpaiboom. In 1973 he fought for democracy and was a strong supporter of the student uprising against the military dictatorship of the Thanom-Prapat government.
In 2013/2014 he was one of nine leaders in the protest against the elected Yingluck government, supported the boycott of free elections in February 2014 and supported the coup in May 2014. Now he joined the NRC (National Reform Committee) which was just recently installed by the military dominated government.

..."Among them were nine leaders from the anti-government protests that preceded the coup, including Naowarat Pongpaiboon, Sombat Thamrongthanyawong and Charas Suwanmala."...

More about the student uprising in 1973:

The book is available at:

Silkworm Books (
6 Sukkasem Road
Tambon Suthep, Amphoe Mueang
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50200
Tel: +66 5322 6161, Fax: +66 5322 6643

เลขที่ 6 ถนนสุขเกษม
ต. สุเทพ อ. เมืองจ.เชียงใหม่ 50200
โทร. 0 5322 6161, โทรสาร 0 5322 6643


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