Culturally, we Thais are image-obsessed. We cloak ourselves in pretty colors to hide that which is rotten to the core. “Mai pen rai, nothing to see here.” Dust swept under the carpet.
But lift the carpet, and we would choke on the dust, face contorting, eyes bulging, and body bending over to vomit. It’s truly an ugly sight.
Usually, we would cut our face up with plastic surgery, paint on lots of makeup, and wear brand-name clothes to hide the ugly. We would pretend everything is fine and dandy. Instagram it, please like and follow. But that is no longer possible.
We can no longer hide the ugly truth.
In 2020, COVID-19 may change how we live, but social media, pro-democracy protests, and the cultural revolution that came with it have ripped up the carpet.
As such, Thailand is choking in the dust that no longer wants to be under anyone’s feet. Half the country rejoices at it. The other half want to throw everyone in jail and cover the dust with an even bigger carpet and nail it down on all four sides.
Here are three cases to show how Thailand can no longer live in lies.
“I hear too”
General Prayut Chan-o-cha is Thailand’s most powerful prime minister in recent history. This was true in his five years plus as a military dictator. It’s also true in his one year plus as prime minister in a fake democracy that gives power to 250 junta-appointed senators to elect him as the head of government.
But while he can legally get away with anything because he controls the law, publically, he gets away with nothing. The pro-democracy protests and social media are on him like yellow on rotten rice. Even when he picks his nose, it becomes a social media hashtag.
“I hear too” is one of Thailand’s pro-democracy protests’ favorite chants. It’s supposed to be “Ai hia Tu.”
“Ai” is a rude way to refer to someone.
“Hia” is the lizard deemed one of the lowest forms of animals.
“Tu” is the prime minister’s nickname.
Bastardize the spelling and pronunciation, and we have a hit chorus line. Not only at pro-democracy protests but also in clubs and pubs across Thailand as singer and pro-democracy activist Ammy The Bottom Blues made a hit song out of it. But how did it catch on in the first place?
It is because Facebook Live has become a favorite media coverage of the protests, and you can’t censor the live format. You can’t hide the truth.
Perhaps the most fitting end to the 2020 political protests is a scene in front of Siam Paragon last week. On 20 December, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, and a handful of activists donned crop tops in protest against the lese majeste law.
Among the video clips on social media is one where Parit argued with an older man. The man criticized Parit for being inappropriate in wearing the crop top. Parit showed a photo on his phone and questioned back, “Is this inappropriate too?”
They keep exchanging back and forth. The older man criticized how Parit dressed. Parit hit back by waving the phone in his face and questioning him about the photo on the phone.
The scene draws one conclusion:
One person waved the truth at another person’s face. The other person refused to acknowledge the truth but instead condemned the person with the truth in his hand.
There is no investigative journalism like social media investigative journalism.
In 2018, the Facebook Page CSI LA uncovered General Prawit Wongsuwan’s luxury watch collection. That was a taste of things to come. In 2020, another social media entity, แหม่มโพธิ์ดํา (Maam Podam, Queen of Spades), exposed a face-mask hoarding scandal.
Like General Prayut, the wrongdoers are immune to the law, but they can’t hide from the truth.
Over this weekend, Rayong Province made headlines due to a surge in COVID-19 infections. All fingers point to an illegal gambling den as ground zero for the province.
In a truly Thai fashion, Rayong police authorities made a statement: “There’s no illegal gambling den in Rayong.”
Social media then promptly did what social media does best, posted photos and the location of a building “alleged” to be the gambling den.
The incident is not dissimilar to when General Prawit said no military personnel accepts bribes for bringing in illegal migrant workers.
We can no longer live in lies
As 2020 draws to a close, Thailand continues to be a kingdom divided.
The main division is between conservative traditionalism that prefers monarchism and militarism and liberal progressiveness that wants as much democracy as possible.
But also, Thailand is a country divided between those who insist on living in lies and those who persist in revealing the truth, no matter how ugly the truth may be.