I was fascinated this afternoon to read a story in Bangkok’s The Nation newspaper about Thailand’s Top 40 famous people. The story is a blurb about a free supplement they’ll be including in the December 28th edition of the newspaper, but what I thought was interesting was not the story itself but the newspaper’s assessment of famous Thai people.
According to them, being included on Wikipedia (very odd) and in magazines and newspapers, but particularly The Nation itself, made these people some of the most “internationally acclaimed Thais”.
They haven’t published their entire list of 40 yet, that will come in their supplement later in the week, and on their website in the New Year, but they did pull a few names out of it to give us a bit of a tease.
“The list covers individuals from various fields, from former prime minister Anand Panyarachun, social activist Mechai Viravaidya, better known as “Mr Condom”, Fly Now founder Somchai Songwattana, national artist Thawan Duchanee, golfer Thongchai Jaidee, Krisana Kraisintu or “the gypsy pharmacist”, Unesco Prize winner for human rights education Vithit Muntarbhorn, ballet dancer Charin Yuthasastrkosol, Chumpol NaLamlieng – former president of Siam Cement, to director Apichatpong Weerasethakul.”
Considering I live in Thailand, and have done for the better part of a decade, how many of these famous people do you suppose I’ve heard of? Exactly…….three. The other seven I wouldn’t know if I ran them down in a tuk-tuk.
Now, as I live in Thailand, am well-read, interested in politics, current affairs, and entertainment, and follow Thai newspapers religiously, that I’m not familiar with most of these people would lead me to believe the international community, where they are supposedly “acclaimed”, has probably heard of……..one?
Thailand, unfortunately, does not have many internationally-known figures, even though some Thais would have you believe otherwise. Most are either known for negative things (former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for being the leader who ordered the army to attack anti-government protesters, with the end result more than 90 people were shot and killed), or someone like Thai-American singer, Tata Young (Thai pop singer who hit western-fame briefly for her song “Sexy, Naughty, Bitchy”), although she is well known in the rest of Asia, just not in the west.
Probably the most famous Thai sports personality currently is Paradorn Srichaphan but, unless you closely follow tennis, where he was at one time rated number 11 in ATP rankings before he retired, you probably wouldn’t have heard of him either.
It’s odd to me Thailand hasn’t produced more world-class sports personalities, scientists, actors and actresses, musicians, artists, or great writers. Sure, within Thai culture, there have been a number but as for those who truly are world-class and can compete with the best of the world, whether it’s with people from the UK, Spain, America, China or Japan — Thailand has few.
Of course, there are many opinions as to why, but the one I’ve held to the longest, to me, makes the most sense. Thailand is a culture that values the class system, does not teach people to challenge others or to think for themselves, nor does it place value on those who think outside the box, or who push for freedom of expression or freedom of speech.
To be a great author, painter, composer, sports personality and on and on, usually requires a unique personality. One who can push themselves, create new ways of doing things, and not need to be told what to do, or be given approval by those in authority who believe they know “the right way” to do things.
Until Thailand places an emphasis on freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom of ideas, it’s likely it will always lag behind much of the rest of the world. That’s just the way of the world.
So, out of those 10 famous Thai people. How many do you know?