PHOTO: The Nation
From the outset, I can’t recommend this wonderful documentary more highly. It was inspiring, highly entertaining and a beautifully crafted, intimate insight into, as he describes himself, a normal Thai person doing something extraordinary.
Artiwara ‘Toon’ Kongmalai, a huge popular rockstar in Thailand, decided to raise money for struggling public hospitals in the Land of Smiles. He didn’t do it the easy way. He set out to run from the southern town of Betong to the northern tip in Chiang Rai, a journey of 2,215 kilometres (hence the title). The schedule would require Toon and his entourage to run 50 kilometres a day, 20% more than a full marathon every single day (with a few scheduled and unscheduled lay days).
He covered the distance, on schedule, in 55 days. The physical effort for ‘Toon’ was immense, for the support team, it was a nightmare trying to control the crowds, collect the money and mange the enthusiasm as they trekked north.
For a singer that ‘enjoyed running’ this was a mammoth physical and psychological undertaking and would test his own belief, stamina and resolve.
Rather than simply follow a daily timeline, the movie takes us on an intimate journey through the human side of this very public run-a-thon. We get up-close-and-personal with the people eager to meet Toon and pass on their contribution to the effort, the medical staff who are fighting the realities of Toon’s health, his proud parents who just want their son to be happy and the entourage who have to, somehow, control the huge public interest, the media, the crowds along the route and a very strong-willed and determined runner.
At one stage one of the many crowd and media controllers is asked, in a scale of 1-3, how stubborn was Toon? He said ‘do you have a scale up to 20?’
38 year old Toon, obviously used to the public adoration though his many years jumping around the stage as the lead singer in the rock band ‘Bodyslam’, made enormous efforts, throughout the journey, to meet and greet the hundreds and thousands of people who wanted to be a part of the epic run, and history.
In the end the aim to raise 700 million baht was exceeded when the total had reached 1.1 billion baht as Toon finally crossed the finish line at the northern tip of the Kingdom. So what do you do after 55 days of pounding the Thai roads, in humidity and rain, hundreds of pain-killing injections and even more therapeutic massages? Toon simply and quietly raised his finger in a reserved gesture – it was maybe the only energy he had left following the epic marathon.
Although Toon took time to meet with the Thai PM whilst passing through Bangkok, he clearly has no time for Thai politics. His aim, to raise money for a struggling public health system, could be regarded as a salvo across the bows of the Thai health ministry as a single runner did more to raise public awareness about the plight of smaller public hospitals, than anyone else ever had. Mission accomplished, message understood.
As a film, like most Thai films, it is high quality cinematography from end to end, a rocking soundtrack and compelling, although we already knew there was a happy ending with a record amount raised.
Please go an see ‘2,215’. It’s open in most cinemas now, with full English subtitles. It only cost 70 baht when I went to see it at the Jungceylon cinemas as much of the ticket cost has been subsidised by the duty-free group King Power.
Patong’s trash hero rewarded for collecting garbage in filthy canal
PHOTOS: Patong Police / Theeraphong Penmit / Newshawk Phuket
A Phuket boy has been rewarded after setting an excellent example for the rest of the Patong community.
8 year old Kosin Ta-ngam, who is studying at Sai Nam Yen School in Patong in Pratom Suksa Three, has been collecting garbage in the filthy Pak Bang Canal and along Patong Beach since the beginning of this year.
He lives with his grandmother and other relatives. His grandmother has been looking after Kosin since he was 10 months old.
A certificate, scholarship and life vest have been awarded to Kosin by the Patong Police Chief Col Anothai Jindamanee for displaying excellent citizen for the community as a youth volunteer and being an active part of keeping the city clean.
The Pak Bang Canal, running through the back of Patong into Patong Bay, has been a dark, dirty mess for decades. Many promises have been made to clean it up but it remains a disgraceful waterway flowing through Phuket’s main tourist town.
The tiny eight year old seems to be able to achieve a lot more than the local municipality with all their money and machinery.
Kosin, you are the Thaiger hero for today and we salute you!
Surachate Hakparn: Sidelined and sent back to the operation centre of the RTP
Thailand’s headline policeman, former Immigration Chief Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn, aka. Big Joke, has been transferred to the Operation Centre of the Royal Thai Police. The order was signed by the Thai Police Chief Chakthip Chaijinda.
The order was signed and executed last night. As of today, his social media account – Facebook and Twitter – plus the Immigration Bureau Facebook page, are offline.
Rarely out of the headlines, and traversing the country seemingly breaking cases faster than the media could report them, the high-profile poster boy of Thai police seems to have come to an undisclosed impasse. At this stage no reasons have been provided for his sudden side-lining back to head office.
One of his notable pet projects was pursuing foreigners, illegally overstaying their visas, as well as central African ‘scammers’ who he rooted out in his “Good guys in, bad guys out” campaign. The media parades for these almost weekly raids were usually rolled out after midnight and included photos with him smuggly glaring down one of his captive perpetrators.
He’s also come into the international spotlight over a number of recent high-profile immigration cases including when he reversed a deportation order against Rahaf al-Qunun, a young Saudi woman who arived in Thailand fleeing alledged abuse by her family. And also the case of the Bahraini-born Australian Hakeem al-Araibi who had been detained by Thai police in an international tug of war between Australia and Bahrain.
Surachate is the son of a career policeman and was born in Songkhla in 1970. After joining the force, he quickly rose through the ranks to command a local station and later moved to Bangkok to head the 191 task force. He spent a time with the tourist police co-inciding with his rise to fame, before landing the top job at the Immigration Bureau last year.
He has also been closely linked to Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwon.
Wai Khru – setting a bad example for the future. Thailand’s demand for respect from its young
Hazing (US English), initiation ceremonies (British English), bastardisation (Australian English), ragging (South Asia), or deposition, refers to the practice of rituals, challenges, and other activities involving harassment, abuse or humiliation used as a way of initiating a person into a group including a new fraternity, sorority, team or club.
In Thailand, hazing is not only rife, it’s seen as a rite of passage for young Thais as part of their cultural inculcation into the subservience they’re expected to display elders or people with more money or higher positions than them. What’s mistaken for ‘respect’ is actually a cultural party trick where children and young adults are ‘trained’ to be deferential from an early age.
In recent years there have a been a few high-profile deaths of army trainees, in the care of their Academy leaders, but allegedly subjected to initiations and bastardisation that is just ‘par for the course’ for the education of young Thais.
In a response to the recent death of Phakhapong Tanyakan at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School on October 17 last year, the Thai Deputy PM and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan claimed that he “was not beaten to death, but just too weak to withstand tough training.”
He went further saying “I was once beaten more than I could take and I fainted too. I didn’t die. For this, before the school accepts kids for entry, they must give them a proper physical check-up.”
When you get you get such official, public, responses from the top you can see how this hazing culture continues to thrive in the, otherwise, Land of Smiles.
We spoke to three foreign teachers in Thailand, all speaking on condition of anonymity, about the culture of hazing in their schools and the benign version of that in primary schools, ‘wai khru’.
“Hazing is seen in many different types of social groups, including gangs, sports teams, schools, military units, fraternities and sororities. The initiation rites can range from relatively benign pranks and was khru, to protracted patterns of behavior that rise to the level of abuse or criminal misconduct.”
For the families of hazing victims these ceremonies can be catastrophic, as in the tragic case of Phakhapong Tanyakan.
A 19 year old armed forces cadet, previously subjected to harsh physical discipline, suddenly died a day after returning to school from a break. His parents were told he suffered from a sudden cardiac arrest but became suspicious of possible foul play after a detailed autopsy report never came. – Khaosod English
But he’s not the only one. Hazing and cruel or unusual initiations are conducted every day around the Kingdom but with a growing concern about the practices, both from the young students themselves and concerned older Thais, who realise the dangers of ‘persuading’ youngsters to respect elders needs examination in a modern 21st century Thailand.
We spoke to a respected senior Thai businessperson, again on the condition of anonymity, who said he had seen too much hazing going on during his time at school and then whilst training in the military.
“I was a victim of this type of bullying. I was told to ‘be a man’ and that all Thai men have to go through this. I think it is degrading and breaks human spirits. It teaches fear of those we are meant to respect. It has to change.”
It all starts when young Thais are subjected to the Wai Khru or ‘Teacher Wai’ where students are expected to prostrate themselves in front of their teachers in a show of respect. But a broad spectrum of foreign teachers not only feel uncomfortable with this faux-deference, some of them go out of their way to be away for that day or, sometimes, even speak out about their concern with this tradition.
“I made the mistake of speaking out about the Wai Khru in our school. I just found it demeaning for the poor students who had to rehearse all week for this totally meaningless show of respect. I didn’t feel respected, I felt sick. I ended up being ostracised and had to leave that school.”
Whilst many Thais continue to wonder why westerners might find all this kowtowing and prostrating could cause concern, you just need to examine the deaths in the Army preparatory schools as the end result of ‘demanding’ obedience and deference to elders. In western culture, I have learned, respect is something that is earned, not demanded.
“Hazing is undignified, humiliating and cruel… not my words, but the words of students who are made go through this horrible experience. It’s meant to be a sign of showing respect to your seniors but it’s nothing more than a shameful indulgence at the expense of the students,” said a long-term foreign teacher.
“Making students crawl around on the ground acting like animals in front of their peers, does nothing for either senior or freshie students. I have stopped attending Wai Khru day as I find it terribly uncomfortable for myself and for the students. You can see the look in their eyes as they approach you and are ordered to bow before the teacher. Teachers, like everyone else, should learn how to earn the respect of their students.”
A young female foreign teacher first thought that the Wai Khru was ‘cute’ but has changed her tune over the years.
“Wai khru was the highlight of my first year teaching in Thailand. I was, and still am, extremely humbled and deeply touched by this beautiful tradition intended to recognise a teachers’ role in children’s life and to give said children the opportunity to express their gratitude to their teachers.
“But throughout the years I have started to look at this event with a more critical eye and I wish it weren’t as rehearsed and staged as it unfortunately is. At our school, rehearsals for Wai Kru start a week prior to the event. During this week, children are drilled incessantly until they have mastered the walk, the bow and the wai leading up to the offering of the flowers that they are eager to free their sweaty little palms of.”
Wai Khru continues to be practiced in all Thai schools as a long standing tradition and show of respect for teachers.
“Although I understand and commend the wonderful intentions behind such practices, I feel that much like other sorts of drilling that these students endure, this sadly takes away from the true purpose of it all. For want of a picture perfect event, meaning is lost and a demonstration of gratitude is transformed into a dreaded labour,” she said.
An investigation into the death of Army cadet Phakhapong Tanyakan, by military investigators, found no wrongdoing by the Preparatory School. The parents have consistently called for a probe into their son’s death and are still pursuing legal action.
PHOTO: Army cadet Phakhapong Tanyakan, who died at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School on October 17 last year.
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