The Thais Have Always Been United

4 November 2011

Each day at 6pm, life pauses momentarily in the Kingdom of Thailand. As I sit in Kamphaeng Phet’s bustling night market, enjoying my daily bowl of noodles, machetes fly, chopping pork, plates of rice hit the steel tables, people squeeze past each other in the narrow lanes between stalls, and the vendors chatter with their regular customers as they ladle curries green and brown into plastic bags. At six o’clock sharp, out of otherwise undetectable speakers, a burly voice makes a brief, brusque announcement, and then, marking the end of another day in the Kingdom, the Thai national anthem begins.

The commotion halts and it’s as though someone pressed pause on the market’s activity. The customers stop their perusal and stand still, the cooks stop serving up dishes. The volume drops and the soaring chorus of the anthem fills the lull.  There’s nothing weird or oppressive about it: nobody sitting stands up, nobody bursts into song; the man at the grill keeps turning his squid, and conversations continue in quiet tones. And it helps that the song itself is merciful: a brief 45 seconds of stirring patriotic ardor, and then it’s over, and everything starts moving and making noise again.

The TV stations all take this 6pm pause, too, and before any movie is shown in a cinema, the audience stands to hear the anthem. When I’m in Bangkok on a Sunday afternoon, I’ll regularly make my way to a Thai army base, where the military is so generous as to let a group of foreigners play frisbee on their playing fields. At 6pm sharp, though, the game comes to an abrupt halt, the flag is lowered, the anthem is played, and only when it’s all over does everyone start running again while the officers fold the flag.

It’s a nice observance, I find. I’m not sure I’d want to listen to the endless, maudlin Star Spangled Banner every evening, but I appreciate the momentary pause Thais take each evening to reflect on the great good fortune to be born a Thai. Though I can’t help but wonder if, while they’re at it, they’re also delivering a coded threat to people like me, right there in the lyrics:

Every inch of Thailand belongs to the Thais.
It has long maintained its sovereignty,
Because the Thais have always been united.
The Thai people are peace-loving, But they are no cowards at war.
Nor shall they suffer tyranny.
All Thais are ready to give up every drop of blood
For the nation’s safety, freedom and progress.

Thoughts?

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