Sunday, April 18, 2010
"Pa Daeng" - Wise Woman of Bangkok
My maid, known as "Pa Daeng" to everyone in the orchestra, is so illiterate that one day she brought up me a letter addressed to Vanina Sucharitkul, my niece. I said to her, "It says Vanina, not Somtow." She said, "Oh, I don't read English." The envelope was addressed in Thai.
And yet. yesterday she came to the realization that she was one of the politically enfranchised citizens of this country. She had been watching the red channel, the yellow channel, the state channel, the indy channel. She comes from a village in Isaan which is redshirt to the max. She said to me, "I'm going to go and protest." I assumed she would join others of "her kind," but she said, "If you don't mind, I'll take off work this afternoon to join the facebook anti-red protest."
Pa Daeng doesn't have a facebook page, but she knows it's something to do with getting people together. But she watches all the channels, red and non-red. She has always been my source of infornation on things like how much the reds are getting paid to protest (she told me that an agent skims more than half off the top) and what the mood in her village is. So, eventually, she made up her own mind, defied her friends, and went off to the Victory Monument to hold up a placard calling for parliament not to be dissolved.
Well, I'm certainly not paying her to do this. Indeed, I try not to take sides at all, not only because I do not favor demagoguery in any form but because I personally know people in the upper echelons of both sides and I know they are not really as the media have portrayed them. It is difficult not to take the side of reason, but I try to take a balanced view even of reason, as reason is not one of the laws of nature. My discussions with her are usually no more political than dinner, the laundry, and so on.
No matter how this turns out, however, it is clear that it has caused people like Pa Daeng to feel empowered. She now feels that she has a voice and that she has a right to express that voice. It's right here in this house that democracy is awakening, not in the streets and not in the hearts of those who are simply being paid by one elite to take revenge on another.
Posted by Somtow at 10:57 AM
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Very good article. Very well written and easy to understand. Funny Pa Daeng!!! Thank you Khun Somtow.ReplyDelete
Thanks for your note..this is really encouraging and inspiring..it help me lots to keep on my Hope in this country..thanks Pa Daeng..ReplyDelete
I like this article.It shows the example of person who recieved various channels of the media and made up one 's own decision which is not influence by other and finally want to express true meaning of being citizen in this Democracy Country.ReplyDelete
it's nice to read story like this, please tell us more about Pa Daeng.ReplyDelete
HAH!m want to hear about my Maid's story....? What would you like to hear...I'll write it out.ReplyDelete
thanks god that you go with colorful protesters, not the redshit mob. I give you one vote!ReplyDelete
There is no coercion in this house and if she were to vote red, I would be equally supportive of her freedom of choice.ReplyDelete
Yes! I want to hear more from/about her. Maybe, she'll dictate some blog posts to you?ReplyDelete
(If you help her make a Facebook page let me know!)
What a very wise woman indeed and what an inspiring story. Good for you Pa Daeng.ReplyDelete
I have a similar experience. My cleaning lady who used to be an ardent supporter of Thaksin (and still thanks him for the hospital scheme) told me that it's time for the red mob to go home so people can do their work.ReplyDelete
She even asked me when Thaksin was going to stop? If he really doesn't have enough money to be happy yet since the government only took back the part that he stole!
No bias here, ... times are changing. I would not be so sure that the PT would win the next election. People are fed up with the violence, the hate speech and the unrest. People just want to live their lives as before.
Pa Daeng, you are such a clever woman. U can differentiate between the good and the BAD. Good on U !!ReplyDelete
Somtow, your condescending, self-satisfied bloviations do more to advance the case for toppling the aristocracy than a hundred hours or Ratchaprasong oration. But at least you have a good reason to fear an egalitarian society - without your royal relatives' patronage, your job at the opera would go to someone far more more talented and better liked.ReplyDelete
I have no problem printing this sort of comment, but it would be nice to correct a few facts: (a) The Bangkok Opera doesn't receive any royal patronage at present (b) I'm not directly related to any member of the royal family except through the marriages of those I'm related to and (c) my work for the opera isn't a job in the traditional sense: that would mean some external body hiring me and then firing me. The opera company was founded by me and I don't get paid for being president; nor does any other officer of the foundation. My salary as artistic director is a laughable 75,000 baht and any month that ends don't meet, I don't get even that. So far, no one far more talented or better liked has applied for the position of artistic director. Neither has anyone less talented or less liked done so. So the main question is, who would you propose who would be willing to sell everything they own, give up a lucrative career in the west, and spend all his time nurturing all these talented people and giving them all careers mostly at his own expense, while having to put up with hate mail like this? I would certainly be open to having someone else do that job. But then again, there are at least three opera companies in Bangkok that I know of; there's plenty of room for another fool like me. But I wonder why I would fear an egalitarian society? I have lived in them for about 80% of my life. The last time I lived in an egalitarian society, I made a real living, owned real estate, and had lots of free time. Now that I am living here, I don't own anything, am dependent on the charity of my relatives, and don't have enough time to sleep. The only thing that has remained constant is the occasional idiotic piece of hate mail.ReplyDelete
Well, apologies for not knowing your salary, but he who writes idiotic hate mail is bound to get some back. Your blog post was an idiotic hate letter to the millions of honest and idealistic Thais who see the red shirt movement as the best prospect for the country's democratic evolution. It was also deeply condescending to your maid. Your out-of-hand dismissal of the protesters' ongoing sacrifice is arrogant and insulting. Who would risk getting brained by the Royal Thai Army for a few hundred baht? And why did you post a photo of your maid that makes her look retarded? Is her only saving grace that she suddenly took up a political cause that you support?ReplyDelete
We Thais already know how blessed we are to be ruled by self-sacrificing, long-suffering aristocrats. You guys gave us democracy, you gave us jazz, you invented rain, then you pawned your golden bedpan so that we could listen to Wagner.
You're doing alright, kiddo. We need more characters like you around here. Peace.
Dear Anonymous: I'd be happy to continue this dialogue if you agree to stop hiding behind the anonymity thing. While you're clearly literate, you are clearly far less perceptive and wise than my illiterate maid. My blog was a passionate and committed endorsement of the awakening of a real democratic sentiment in a woman so stirred by recent events as to demand her opinion to be heard and to think for herself. If you have read any of the other entries in this diary, you will see that there's neither any dismissal of the genuine problems that the red shirts are bringing to people's attention, nor indeed any indication that I am siding with anyone at all. I have indeed been equally critical of both sides in this matter. I haven't revealed what I really think, but it's considerably different from your stereotyping. My letter may well be idiotic, but it is a love letter, not a hate letter. If you think that I have demeaned my housekeeper, you might want to ask her, but I am sure that you know better than she does, just as you know better than I do what my attitudes and prejudices might be. If you were truly for democracy, you would be happy that this woman has started to believe in herself and in her empowerment, and you wouldn't care whether or not her opinions differed from yours. This is demagoguery of the most pernicious kind.ReplyDelete
As I said I would be happy to continue this discussion, but I can only go so far with someone who doesn't bother to reveal his (or her) identity.
You already do know my identity, but perhaps you don't realize that I didn't give you jazz, democracy, or rain. I wasn't even here. And now, as this blog belongs to me, I will no longer post any response from you unless, of course you choose to stop being anonymous.
You tell 'em Somtow! I like the way "anonymous" and "obnoxious" nearly sound the same.ReplyDelete
God bless Pa Daeng!ReplyDelete
If Thailand's "most famous farang" doesn't have to hide behind "anonymous", I don't see why someone who presumptuously claims to speak for "we Thais" should need to; unless he is implying that cowardice is one of "We Thais"'s characteristics. One of the astonishing things about his last missive is that he posits "we Thais" as an opposing group to "you guys" ... he has not a clue about who I am or what I'm saying. And of course one major paradox of all this is that European-educated liberals like Abhisit are actually far more likely to be in sympathy with, and want real solutions to, the problems of the disenfranchised that most of the red shirt leaders.ReplyDelete
Well said Somtow...I'm a foreigner and not siding with anyone...but watching news everyday about the protest....and it looks to me the bad guys are the reds....pity that so many people are manipulated by thoses greedy and shady red leaders....anonymous is surely as coward as the red leaders (red leaders are using people as human shield) by not revealing his identity....ReplyDelete
Pa Daeng and I have two things in commonReplyDelete
1) both of us can not read Thai, but understand it verbally.
2) both of us watch all channels, I wish the government did not shut down the red channel.
3) both of us have a mind of our own and that's what freedom is all about.
Not everyone's getting paid to attend. And although their leaders are crooks (but then, aren't the other leaders too?), these red people are fundamentally nice, inoffensive, good-natured characters. Most of them, almost all of them.ReplyDelete
What follows is a link to an interesting NYT article about life in Khon Kaen during the last weeks. Food for thought.
Ummmm .... that is THREE things (?).ReplyDelete
Thanks for sharing this story about P'Daeng. I am sure she is going to become famous soon! I always loved hearing stories from her through you about the latest compensation for protesting and how many of her villagers didn't come this year because the pay was too low for the hot weather. Please share more! What is the latest news from Isan?ReplyDelete
I applaud Pa Daeng. She obviously is a very wise lady, and intelligent too. She looked at all sides of the issue and made her decision. Just because she can't read or write doesn't mean that she isn't intelligent or wise. Her actions show just the opposite, and is at the heart of what democracy is about. Living in a democracy gives one a lot of power. Someone much more wise than me once said "with great power comes great responcibility." This is true. No matter which side you support, you have a responcibility to live within the law and do what is right. In a democracy the law should allow you to do so in a peaceful way. All sides must repect the right of others to express their veiws and seek redress in a peacful manner through the political process. You should support your beliefs, even protest the wrongs you see and endeavor to correct them through political action,but not through violence, intimidation, and anarchy.ReplyDelete
Dear Friends: I appreciate the variety of opinion expressed in the comments on this post. Even the silly attacks. I am fundamentally opposed to curbing anyone's freedom of expression, including that of the red shirts. However civilized discourse requires that everyone agree on a threshold beyond which we do not inconvenience others. I think EVERYONE would agree that a civil war would cross that threshold ... just a LITTLE BIT!!!!ReplyDelete
So inspiring. Imagine her coming to the realisation that she is one of the country's politically enfranchised citizens. I'm getting a bit teary-eyed now.ReplyDelete
This makes me recall when my son, Chad, first took the potty training seat off and went it alone. "I can make number two like big people!" he said. I couldn't have been more proud.
In the same way, our country's children can finally -- if you'll pardon the expression -- start frequenting the grownup's toilet.
Thank you P. Somtow for sharing this with us.
My maid and my son's nanny also disagreed with the way red-shirt mob potesting. They all are going to join in FB no dissolution of parliament group and feel that they have to express their thought. Same as Pa Daeng, they have been watching all sorts of channels including talking to their friends in Isan. But they decided what they would like to stand for even it's different from their family and friends. I also would like to let others know that there so many reasonable working class people who knows there are more hidden agendas behind what is the red shirts say "Democracy" and believe in doing the right thing for the country best interest.ReplyDelete
I'm not sure whether Chad's parent (above) is being ironic, but I would agree that shitting with the grownups is a major step in one's existence. All else follows from this one moment, if one is to believe Uncle Sigmund.ReplyDelete
I have been your "quiet" fan for a long time, glad to find you again. Love your article, we still have hope, right?
i dont care if red or yellow no colour we should be one be behind thailand and the king not a sad land but the land of smiles againReplyDelete
I can't say that I didn't become enthralled with the posts both pro and con to Khun Somtow's story about his maid. More important than discussing whether or not he was condescending in his approach, I think, however, is the fact that we do see his point; poltical awareness, as well as both the empowerment and astute decision which are based on such, show all of us (including this farang, yes) that there is at least hope for resolution because more of those who seek to inform themselves -and do, hopefully, no matter their place in society or education - make informed, intelligent decisions sans the emotional displays - including acts of violence - we are seeing more and more of as the impasse seems to escalate; the quiet before the storm, I hope not.ReplyDelete
Too many beautiful innocents are so often caught up in the anger that evolves from the collective of mob mentality and actions, and, as evidenced in the referenced article in the NY Times, those who wish to further instigate, will stop at nothing to both infuriate and instigate further violence by parading a dead body rather than respecting it; all of us who leave this place should leave with respect, as well as with dignity and reverence for not only they, but also for their family and loved one's that are left behind.
Kneel, bow, or protrate yourselves down and remember all of the people who died in this violence. It didn't have to happen, and though it will happen again and again throughout all time and places to come - such is war, and the sad, painful cost of it in both young and old, beautiful lives all, and remember too that such lives will leave families first, sorrowfully, then governments, and their peoples next, and someday, ultimately, over a longer period of time, I think, may be lost in a newer movement, a newer place, after all those who once opposed one another have reconciled their differences and moved on... the flag is dropped and picked up, and he or she who once carried it is sadly lost in its new colour... a fact of life, again, and we only need look at war all around us, before and now.
Losing a loved one can only be known by those who lose one such light, and as Goethe once said, "there is no greater sorrow than that which there are no words for." Save your words and feel with your hearts now, and maybe all of "us" will know a better place to live in while we are alive at all... we can do this if we listen in the quietness of both hearts and minds... each of us, one at a time, just as Pa Daeng has done.
Sure, the country's children can finally shit in the grownups' toilet, right? As long as they join the right rallies, with the colours that the grownups like and choose for them. People, give us a break, stop patronizing your plethora of maids and nannies. Maybe when you start cleaning your toilet's shit by yourself, then you'll have a better knowledge of the ways of the world. Some of the posts here make me want to vomit. And BTW, in case finally do vomit, I'll be the one to clean up.ReplyDelete
Pa Daeng! U ROCK!!!ReplyDelete
I have great admiration for Pa Daeng. She obviously understands that if we are not part of the solution, we're part of the problem.ReplyDelete
(I wanted to sign with my real name, but it won't allow me to. So I'm including it here: Sirilaksana Khoman
I love your writing.ReplyDelete