Thursday, May 03, 2007

Re-branding Thailand?

There is no Bangkok heat at the Suvarnabumi transit lounge. I used to break flight to spend a day or two with potential business partners in Bangkok on my way to Beijing, but since the coup and the seeming uncertainties in the government policies toward foreign investment I have given it a by. Personally I am still bullish about the Thai economy and its prospects, but its hard to convince investors influenced by constant negative reports in the mass media.

Looking out at the wide expanse of the tarmac, the plane lined in neat rows, and the spanking new and tastefully designed environment, one would not have imagined the controversies that surround the airport. It makes one wonder if the whole negative situation that currently exists is not someone's overplay exacerbated by the international media.

The local newspaper I picked up at the lounge reported that the prime minister will be commissioning an internationally renowned PR company to re-brand Thailand and to improve its image. Like many of the past policy changes by the care-taker government, I wonder if it is another swing that just too heavy.

What many Bangkokians hope for, at least the few dozens I have spoken to, is a return to civilian rule and aleadership that will return the country to a "state of tolerance and harmony" The Thaksin era has seen the country being "power-shafted" to high growth mode and now a reversal with a forceful push towards sustainability.

The principle of sustainability arises from systemic thinking that every force creates an equal reaction. A forceful push in one direction can create unwanted backlash. The middle way, and tolerance that is so much of the Buddhist culture imbibed universally by Thais avoids such conflicts resulting in a sustainable approach.

No where in Thailand, in my view demonstrates the principle of tolerance as in the Soi Nana area of Sukhumvit. Here on the hot, stuffy and crowded streets cluttered with hawkers and vendors, you will find the most luxuriant potpourri of cultures and counter cultures in the world.. "veiled to the eyeball" muslim ladies from the Arab world, shop and jostle, dine amidst the girlie pubs, massage parlours, pimps, prostitutes, gayboys, transvestites and dirty old men. They all do their own thing happily with little anxiety in accordance to their faiths and beliefs, often even exchanging greetings with one another.

Coming from a pristine, clean Singapore, it was culture shock for me when I first visited Nana some 20 years back. My thoughts were that this place will soon explode or implode. 20 years on, it is still growing, bustling, more crowded, more developed, more variegated with large international hotel chains vying for space along its crowded streets and lanes. There has to my memory never been a riot all these years. The most exciting events being drunken brawls and loud arguments between customers and clients which tend to attract a pretty good crowd.

There certainly is sustainability in diversity. Little forces pointing in all directions probably creates constant ripples, maybe a brawl or two. Conflict come only when big forces clash. Sustainability cannot be ordained by push and shaft and even less by the gun. It comes through awareness, understanding and acceptance.

The spirit of tolerance,harmony has always existed amongst the Thai people. Perhaps it is best for politicians, opposition members, dissidents and policy makers to take a back seat and leave diverse private citizens and businesses to go on their own affairs.

A friend just send me an email to say her dad is starting a French restaurant along the Chao Phraya. That's the kind of news I would rather hear. Perhaps there is now a reason to visit, especially with the S$4 fare offered by AsiaAir, the budget carrier.

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