Shareware Beach

Monday, 23 July 2007

Welu Wetlands

Filed under: Photography,Thailand — Jan @ 18:09

Welu Wetlands, Chanthaburi, Thailand

Welu Wetlands, Chanthaburi, Thailand

Last weekend we went on a trip to the wetlands around the mouth of the Welu river in Chanthaburi (จันทบุรี) province, on the border with Trat (ตราด) province. Tourist facilities in this small natural park were Spartan. But the scenery was well worth it. Koh Chang (เกาะช้าง), a popular tourist destination, is about 40 km away as the crow flies. You can see the island at the bottom of the map.

Google recently added detailed Thai street maps to Google Maps. In the process, they changed all the place names into Thai script. I didn’t see an option to change them back into Latin script, which would obviously be handy for tourists.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Yellow Stupa

Filed under: Photography,Thailand — Jan @ 17:35

Yellow Stupa

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Gone Fishing

Filed under: Photography,Thailand — Jan @ 17:20

Gone Fishing

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Don’t Insult The King

Filed under: Thailand — Jan @ 18:45

As you may already know, YouTube has been inaccessible from Thailand for the past two weeks. The site was blocked by the ICT ministry, as a response to YouTube’s refusal to remove a video mocking Thailand’s reigning monarch Bhumibol (King Rama IX). This has been portrayed in much of the international as heavy-handed government censorship. However, the view in Thailand is very different.

Thailand is a parliamentary democracy, at least when the military stay in their barracks, and the king has no real political power. This is very similar to many Western European governments, like that of my native Belgium. There is, however, a very big difference between the way Thais and Europeans treat their monarchies.

Thai people don’t love their king. They revere him. Not because he has any power to demand such treatment, but because everybody in Thailand believes that he deserves it. He has been on his throne for sixty years. All this time he, the queen and their children have made great effort to help the poor and disadvantaged in their country, who were generally ignored by those with actual political power. He stood by his people, and still does, while oppressive generals and corrupt politicians have come and gone.

Unshaven but properly dressedThe 60th anniversary of his ascension to the throne was celebrated last year. Somebody came up with the idea to sell bright yellow shirts embroidered with the 60th anniversary logo and donate the proceeds to royal projects. The shirts are yellow because the king was born on a Monday, and yellow is the color of Monday. The shirts were so popular police had to step in for a while to make sure unscrupulous vendors wouldn’t hike the prices to enrich themselves. Today bright yellow shirts of all kinds of designs and “we love the king” stickers are sold everywhere, and seen everywhere. On any given Monday, half the country wears yellow. The other half wear yellow on any other day of the week, or so it seems.

You can’t compare mocking King Bhumibol with mocking politicians. A daily cartoon in the local newspaper mocks the CNS (as the military coup leaders now call themselves) and the prime minister (Thailand presently has a military-appointed civilian government drafting a new constitution and planning elections) all the time. There are no complaints and no censorship. Insults to the monarchy are taken as personal insults by all Thais. The reaction here is no different than the reaction in the Muslim world to mockery of the prophet Mohammed or the reaction in Israel to denial of the holocaust. Free speech is essential to a healthy society, but so is mutual respect, even on topics where you disagree or don’t care.

With freedom comes responsibility. You can’t have free speech if you don’t want to accept the responsibility of being sensitive to other people’s deeply rooted beliefs. YouTube didn’t have to delete any videos, they just had to make one video inaccessible in Thailand that nobody in Thailand would want to see. But YouTube didn’t care, so the whole site was blocked. I guess they still don’t care. And the line about not helping other governments implement censorship is simply wrong. This isn’t the government telling the people what they can and cannot see. It’s the other way around.

The only thing the ICT ministry can be accused of in this case is technical incompetence. They didn’t know how to block just one video, so they blocked the whole site. As far as I know all Thai ISPs use transparent HTTP proxies, which easily allow individual URLs to be blocked. Bypassing the proxies is as simple as telling your web browser to use another (foreign) proxy. There’s nothing illegal about doing so.

It is not the Thai king himself who demands to be treated that way. It’s the Thai people themselves. Thailand does have very strict laws on insulting the monarchy, called “lese majeste” in legalese. Last month, a 57-year-old Swiss national and long-time Thai resident was sentenced to ten years in jail. Security cameras caught him on the kings 79th birthday, defacing posters showing the king. Such posters are everywhere. People want their posters and their shirts, just like Americans want their stars and stripes. If you think 10 years is a lot, the court cut his original twenty year sentence in half because he pleaded guilty and expressed remorse. The maximum sentence he could have gotten is seventy-five years. He was convicted of five counts, and the maximum per count is fifteen years. Though there are some voices asking for the lese majeste law to be changed to stop politicians from abusing it by frivolously suing their rivals, nobody is asking for its repeal.

Mr. Jufer received a royal pardon earlier this week. The king himself says a king should not be beyond reproach. This of course only increases the respect Thai people have for him.

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