Day One

Diary Entry Day One - The Start of Our Short Adventure

By Sharon Chew
Photos by Esther Chung and Amanda Sangeetha Thomas

Waiting excitedly to go on board!

At approximately, 12.05pm, Thailand time (which is an hour earlier of Malaysia time), we reached the Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Everyone was tired and hungry due to the long traveling time and not to mention that we were definitely not morning people. Neither did the long queue at the immigrations counters nor the food advertisements playing on the TVs help our rumbling tummies.

Waiting patiently in line while waiting to go through immigration.
 Met with some issues regarding Visas of our fellow travellers, we finally sought out to fill our tummies before embarking on our journey.

The first train ride from the airport are pretty comfortable with plenty of empty seats, which gave us a chance to mingle around, however, what proved to be the challenge was the transit to Phelon Chit, where our hotel was located.

Reaching Paya Thai, we had to transit to a different line and this required us to purchase Rabbit Cards, which either came with both stored value or day trip passes which would allow us to get around during our 9 day trip. 

Counting the tickets for the students.
The train upon its arrival was full and we had to squeeze our way in to the tiny spaces and carrying our huge luggage along did not aid the situation, causing some of us to take the next train.

After squeezing in with our luggage for four stops, we finally reached Phleon Chit stop, where we got off and started lugging our luggage down flights of staircases. After dragging our luggage along the roadsides, across a railway track, we finally turned in to a little alley, where our hotel was located. Walking along the streets of Bangkok on our way to our hotel, we got a little whiff of Bangkok, with the tiny massage centres and laundry shops, which got us all excited to explore Bangkok.

After much lugging and heaving, we finally reached Golden Palace Hotel. A simple and nice, 2-storey hotel, it proved to be a clean and spacious hotel with a nice little pool.

Thai Restaurant that showcases authenticity of Thai cuisine.
Upon checking in, we rested our worn out bodies and got ready for our first session about LGBT issues. We headed to Asok via the Sky Train, which proved to be a challenge again as travelling in a huge crowd in the same train was simply impossible due to the crowd. After finally uniting with the rest at Asok, we headed to a Thai restaurant called Baan Thai Suk to meet our representative. The walk from Asok train station to the restaurant caused many of the shutter bugs amongst our travellers to gape in awe as they paused to take snaps of the beautiful sunset across the skyscrapers and billboard advertisements. As we continued on to Baan Thai Suk, although situated in a dark alley, it turned out to be really authentic with their rather classy ambience and lighting. We were given a private room, where we met our LGBT representative who went on to discuss about the issues facing the LGBT community in Thailand, which turned out to be a rather eye opening talk as we learnt about issues that we never knew about. The Q& A session, followed by the presentation, allowed our eager travellers to satisfy their quench for knowledge about Thailand and its LGBT community. While some of us stayed on to have dinner in the restaurant, others headed out to explore the streets of Bangkok. After all the lugging of the bags and exploring, we are finally back in our hotel rooms, tired, dirty and grumpy but definitely more enlightened and happier. 

Sharon Chew, 23 is a mediocre student who loves food but always forgets to take the food photos. Loves to daydream but never remembers them.

Thailand and the façade of tolerance 

By Low Jia Wei

‘LGBTs are like tuk-tuks’.

Quite the odd comparison isn’t it? Still it’s a seemingly apt simile as told by Paisaran Likhitpreechakul. A tuk tuk is showy, fun and novel, but still far from being on par with an actual taxi. Paralelly, people of different sexual orientation and gender identities outside of the norm face a similar problem. To the untrained eye (i.e. tourist), Thailand looks to be a haven for the LGBT. After all, transwomen walk the streets of Bangkok in perfect normalcy, with no one batting an eyelid, save perhaps a first time visitor, while gay men from around the world flock to Bangkok for ‘the most beautiful boys in the world’ as put by Likhitpreechakul. Yet despite the open secret that is the LGBT community of Thailand (most know, but won’t admit it), it is hardly free of the pervasive grasp of homophobia and transphobia, let alone a ‘haven’ for LGBTs.

It is not to say that LGBTs don’t enjoy a certain amount of ‘tolerance’ (and I use this in the loosest sense of the word). Many find their place in Thai society. Yet the place is one of deferment; to know their place in the order of things and not to step out of bounds and demand more. Trans and looking for a job? Don’t worry; sex work is not your only option. There’s an endless possibility of menial jobs like store clerks, waitresses and cashiers. Just don’t exceed your grasp and hope to be a doctor, lawyer or teacher. God forbid that a transperson help change the world. The shame!

It would seem the tenuous ‘tolerance’ stems from objectifying, commodifying and exploitative roots. It’s good for business that there be a Bangkok Gay Pride parade. After all street parties mean that plenty of farangs will be there, readily doling out the dollars, pounds or euros to gay related business establishments. It would seem the pride event has become less of a statement for equality and more of a bank statement for the businesses that began the thing.

The subject of gay and trans is also often a subject of ridicule and derision. While ‘tolerated’, to be gay or trans is not exactly what many Thais would consider shouting about. It is a culture that is permissive, so long as you’re not caught. Much like other societies, there are always ones that live in the glass closet. The whole world knows, or at least speculates, that the sexual orientation of these individuals are not of the norm, yet most turn a blind eye. And should the proverbial cat be let out of the bag, tolerant is the last word that would be use to describe the angry mob that would vilify the person, despite whether it is true or not. It is certainly not false in the Malaysian context, in reference to certain allegations thrown at a certain politician, and certainly true in Thailand as well. Former Thai premier, Abhisit Vejjajiva was the target of trans and gay insults by opposition protesters. Which begs the question, can a society that deems being gay or trans as inherently ‘bad’ be considered ‘tolerant’.

To say that Thai society is an LGBT tolerant nation simply because of the non-issue of being trans or gay is oversimplifying things. I say that LGBT ‘tolerance’ is a façade created by outside eyes as they fail to see the real deal for LGBT individuals that live within the society. There are many examples to support this case, such as the classification of transwomen as having ‘mental psychosis’, failure to allow name changes for trans individuals after sexual reassignment surgery, homosexual relationships not being afforded the same rights as heterosexual relationships of the same nature and in worse cases, attacks against LGBT individuals for being LGBT. The nature of the beast is hard to discern. It could be that the transphobia and homophobia stem from the popular rhetoric according to Thai Buddhist belief that being LGBT is immoral and because of sins in a past life, or the hierarchical structure of Thai society that places LGBT individuals at the bottom of the totem pole, or perhaps it because it doesn’t match up to the notion of ‘Thai culture’ (sound familiar?). Whatever it maybe, one thing is clear at least, the notion of Thailand as the LGBT paradise where everything is accepted as is, is a fallacy and a façade. 

Low Jia Wei, 24 is majoring in Writing and International Studies and enjoys the simple things in life, like 6x6 Sudoku puzzles and beginners level Minesweeper.

Loyalty of Thai People: The Etiology, Influences, Impacts and Identification of the Royal Family as Part of being 'Thai' 

By Seow Choon Hui
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX)
While strolling along the streets of Bangkok, one would inevitably notice huge portraits of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), gloriously framed with elaborate yellow or golden coloured altar boards and oversized photo frames. One would also notice HM’s image on an altars, adorned with ornaments and offerings. This to me seems to portray more than just respect. It portrays deep admiration for the King with HM’s Oath of Succession to the Throne:

"We will reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people."

HM has been the political and social leader for over 60 years. He has witnessed the come and go of 27 Prime Ministers, making him the longest reigning monarch in the world. Thailand follows a constitutional monarchy which thus places HM as the key political player. His main focus has been to better the livelihood of the Thai people, especially in rural areas. He has also played peacekeeper between political opponents during the many political upheavals in recent Thai history. With past and recent political turmoil faced by Thailand, the King has stood by the Thai people as their pillar of righteousness and as a guiding light.
HM has been introduced as a man of talents, fashioning a concept of kingship that meets a rapidly changing society. The decision to bring the monarchy a step closer (literally) to the provincial population can be considered a felicitous one as the people used to feel ignored by the supreme. Since 1955, the King has been on the road and is the first Thai King to have seen every single corner of his kingdom. During his visits, he brought medical teams as well as surveyors to plan the connection of towns and villages. He also helped with irrigation problems considering that the majority of Thais were farmers, dependent solely on the fruitfulness of their crops for income. He has also eradicated the opium growing culture of many hill tribes from the north, and proposed substitutions with valuable crops. It was not until recently that the King stopped his travels due to health problems. Nevertheless, his team has continued following his instruction.

HM being more than just a ruler.
It is the weight of the King’s moral leadership that could end political strife and re-establish stability on various occasions. As the patron of religious matters, he promoted an understanding among Muslims and the majority of Thais. HM’s compassion and empathic nature was also said to have allowed sanctuary for refugees from the Indochinese conflicts.

Apart from the praises and confidence from the Thai people, members of foreign communities in Thailand and even royal members such as Prince Andrew of England have expressed tremendous amount of admiration for HM. Certainly, the endless tributes towards HM from the Thais are unquestionable. Nevertheless, this statement by The late Mom Rajawongse Kukrit Pramoj, the 13th prime minister of Thailand sums up the magnitude of the King's impact on his people's lives:

"...I have lived through many reigns but I have never seen any king of any reign that all people of this country seem to think that HM the King belongs to them and gives so much respect and reverence up close and personal as I see today... the kinds of prior reigns had ruled the land. But HM the king of this present reign has ruled the hearts of the people..."

Perhaps, the rest of the world may see this admiration as a form of cultivated practive from fear, survival, or tradition. To me on the other hand, it is a commendable act of respect professed towards the guardian of their country. I believe that their reverence should be model to other citizens as a sign of true patriotism and a symbol of confidence towards their motherland and its king.

Seow Choon Hui, 22 is a Bachelor's degree holder double majoring in psychology and communications. With the semester coming to an end, he is currently stuck between the limbo of his last term and the taunting realm of a fresh graduate.

Stereotype or not: of Transgenders in the Thai Community

By Nandhini Radhakrishnan

Bangkok, Thailand is well-known for its diverse and rich culture, seen to embrace both the Thai culture and its notorious night life. Thailand is not only highly sought after by tourists for its shopping and authentic culture, but is often assumed to be a society that accepts various cultures and people, including the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transsexual) community. This however, is a false imagery of the country as what truly permeates the Thai society is incessant stereotyping of the LGBT community.

Transgender is seen at every other corner of Bangkok, giving the impression that Bangkok is truly a diverse community, willing to accept the LGBT community. Although, on the surface, it may seem like Bangkok is tolerant of this community and even to a certain extent proud of them through their promotion of nightlife as a part of their tourism aspect, existing stereotypes that pervade this community is rather surprising.

For one, visibility cannot be equated to acceptance, tolerance, and equality.

Thailand, having one of the most notable transgender communities in the world does not recognise the rights of the LGBT community. This has resulted in employment difficulties amongst the LGBT community, as they are not given the equal right of a human being to attain work in the professional field. This has resulted in them being only able to work in retail shops and at pubs and clubs. They are never allowed to hold a professional job title such as doctor, judge, or teacher because the LGBT is considered to be of bad influence and of unstable mind. Labels such as “mentally deficient” and “morally defective” are commonly placed upon these members of the society. These negative views of the LGBT community are usually claimed by authoritative figures as being derived from Buddhist beliefs that karma has caused this upon them due to sins such as adultery, made in their past life. Many Buddhists on the other hand, contest these claims, saying that Buddhism teaches and practices indiscrimination.

Thailand also does not allow same-sex marriage and civil unions are not recognised. While Thailand is known for its liberal stance on sexuality, it is actually quite uncommon to see Thai males showing affection due to societal pressures and stereotypes against them.

Despite such stereotypes of the LGBT community, there exists a party that pushes for change in the way that this community is being viewed. For example, Rainbow Sky,

Thailand’s first officially registered gay association, is a private non-profit organisation working for better quality of life for, and the sexual health issues of, Thailand’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities.

For example, Gay pride parades are held in Thailand with the aim of encouraging the LGBT community to stand proud of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Gay pride parades and protests that have occurred in Thailand stand as testimony of the struggles faced by the LGBT community and of strength that they place in claiming democracy, liberality, and human rights.

Nandhini Radhakrishnan, 20, is a double degree undergraduate majoring in Banking and Finance/Communications and minoring in Journalism.

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