They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Have a look at this one from the Taipei Times.
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Thursday, August 25, 2005
I earlier blogged about my trip to Narathiwat and commenented on some of the problems in the south of Thailand. ABC TV's Foreign Correspondent last week broadcast a report by Evan Williams on the violence and attempted to uncover some of the reasons behind it.
Since the program was broadcast Prime Minister Thaksin has made a couple of visits to the southern provinces affected by violence. The visits, or at least the way they were portrayed in the media, were popular with the people there. However, whether they bring about any substantial change in the situation remains to be seen. They could be just another example of the government looking for a quick fix or implementing another poorly thought out policy.
A good example of poorly thought out policy is the plan to distribute free televisions with cable TV to each village so youths can watch soccer and supposedly keep out of trouble. Potential problems with this include an increase in illegal gambling and the fact that English soccer matches are broadcast late at night when youths risk being stopped by security forces if they are out on the street. Why not just encourage them to play soccer and organise matches instead? The free TVs could also be considered as an attempt to further destroy the local culture and assimilate the Muslim people with the Thais. Many people down there already watch TV broadcast from Malaysia.
You can find a synopsis and transcript of the Foreign Correspondent report on the ABC website.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
After much anticipation I finally saw Tom Yum Goong last night. Unfortunately it didn't match my expectations or the hype it had been getting in the Thai media. I thought Ong Bak was actually a better movie.
Ong Bak was a winner because of the incredibly fast pace of the action scenes. The action was almost non-stop so any problems in the script didn't really detract that much from the movie. However, Tom Yum Goong had too many lulls in the action but not enough interesting dialogue or plot development to fill those gaps.
The plot of the movie is fairly simple. A crime gang steals a pair of elephants from Thailand and then Tony Jaa goes to Sydney to try to recover the elephants.
The dialogue is mainly in Thai, but there are parts in English and Mandarin. This didn't really add anything to the movie. I guess they are trying to appeal to an international audience. It might make the movie more popular with Chinese audiences but I think Western audiences are more sophisticated. They will go to see a foreign movie because it is a good movie, not because part of the soundtrack is in a language they can understand. After all, a lot of people went to see Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon but no one expected the dialogue to be interspersed with English -- it would only have detracted from the movie not enhance it.
The cameo by Jackie Chan was great. There was also a cameo by Sek Lo So (a Thai rock star) drinking a bottle of M-150 (a Thai energy drink). However, my girlfriend told me it was just a look a like, not Sek himself. I thought the blatant promotion of M-150 in the movie was over the top.
Tony Jaa's martial arts skills are exceptional. However, if he really wants to be considered in the league of Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee he needs to choose his movie roles more carefully and take some acting lessons.
Despite its faults I have no doubt the movie will break all box office records in Surin!!!
Monday, August 15, 2005
Although it attracts little or no attention from the international media the ongoing violence in the south of Thailand has claimed hundreds of lives since early 2004. Bombings and shootings are an almost daily occurrence.
The areas affected by the violence are the provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala and some districts of Songkhla province. The majority of people living in these areas are Malay Muslims. Culturally, linguistically and historically they have little in common with the Buddhist peoples of Thailand. Indeed until 1902, when it was incorporated into Siam, the region was the independent sultanate of Patani.
Since then resentment has simmered as a result of attempts by the central Thai government to undermine the identity of the Muslims. From time to time these tensions have simmered over into violence. It has hard to pinpoint the exact causes of the most recent upsurge in violence. However, it has more to do with local concerns and grievances than the rise of militant Islam elsewhere in the world.
With all this in mind I was curious to go to the far south and see first hand what things were like. I took the train from Surat Thani to Sungai Kolok arriving in Kolok on Friday morning. While there were a few armed soldiers on guard at the railway station the security presence was in no way threatening or overwhelming.
I took a motorbike taxi to visit Pa Phru Sirindorn, a peat swamp forest a few miles out of the town (see photo below). After I came back to town I was able to hitch a ride on a truck to Tak Bai, a small town on the Malaysian border. Unfortunately the name Tak Bai is well known for all the wrong reasons. On 25 October 2004 at least 85 Muslims died here, mostly of suffocation after police and military stacked them five or six deep into trucks without water or adequate ventilation.
My main purpose in visiting Tak Bai was to see the small island of Koh Yao. The was most notable for its large population of goats. This is another distinguishing characteristic of the far south -- the large numbers of goats that can be seen along the roadsides.
I took a songthaew on to Narathiwat, the provincial capital. Again the military presence was barely noticeable and there were no restrictions on freedom of movement. I stayed at the Narathiwat Hotel. The hotel is in a delightful old wooden building on the riverside. There is a brothel downstairs, but the goings on there were hardly noticeable. The simply furnished wooden rooms were a bargain at 140 baht per night.
I spent the next day exploring some of the sights around Narathiwat. I visited Ban Thon, a Muslim fishing village where I saw the beautifully painted gorlae boats. And then I went to see a 300 year old wooden mosque. For more details see some of the photos below.
I was glad I took the time to visit Narathiwat. The locals were friendly and I never felt in danger. I only hope the violence there comes to an end soon and more people can visit there.
Wadi Al-Husein Mosque is a 300 year old wooden mosque in Bacho district. Its architecture is a combination of Javanese and local styles. Also nearby is the Bacho waterfall which is in the Boodo-Sungai National Park.
The peat swamp forest (known as Pa Phru Sirindorn or Pa Phru Toh Daeng in Thai) near Sungai Kolok was the highlight of my trip. The boardwalk went through the swamp where you could see the beautiful forest and wildlife.
Gorlae boats are beautifully painted fishing boats. They can be seen in many fishing villages in the south. The one pictured here was at Ban Thon.
The local language, Yawi, is a dialect of Malay. It is written using Arabic script. It is common to see signs written in Thai, English, Yawi, Malay (using Roman script) and Chinese.