Essays

One of the things that I did (and still remember fondly) in Thailand was to pursue a MA in Thai Studies at Chulalongkorn University. It gave me the opportunity to dig deep into all things Thai and allowed me to come away with a perspective that not many foreigners are privy to.

Here are some papers that were written then (2004-2006) and while I can’t think of why anyone might want to read these academic essays, they are really just here for your reference. Happy (bedtime) reading!

1. The Localization of Christianity in Bangkok Protestant Churches: A Study on Christian Music

This was my masters thesis and the “inspiration” behind it came from my dismay at walking into a church in Bangkok and hearing the same Western worship songs albeit translated, instead of local worship songs. Based on a questionnaire survey of 18 churches, participant-observation research at four selected churches, and in-depth interviews with church leaders, worship leaders, and songwriters, this thesis explores the range and extent of foreign influences on Christian music as well as the level of localization in the music used in Protestant churches in Bangkok.

2. Premarital sex and the Third Precept

The idea behind this paper was sparked by the occurrence of HIV/AIDS among teenagers, where consensual sex between peers was pushing up the rate of infection among adolescents at that time. In Thailand, the only significant control over lay sexuality as prescribed by Thai Buddhism lies in the Third Precept which advocates against sexual misconduct.  This precept is commonly understood as a prohibition against (heterosexual) adultery and is implicitly silent on the issue of premarital sex.  This paper does not make a judgement on whether premarital sex is right or wrong but looks at how relevant (or irrelevant) this moral component is in HIV-awareness campaigns targeted at the youth.

3. Super-size religion: A comparison of Wat Phra Dhammakaya and Hope of Bangkok Church

Wat Phra Dhammakaya is the biggest temple in Thailand and the Hope of Bangkok Church was the biggest church in the country. While Hope of Bangkok church has splintered into smaller groups, I believe this essay continues to be relevant in exploring the phenomenal expansion behind these two institutions and the role of the middle class in their growth.

4Moral Authority of Nature in Buddhadasa’s Thoughts: A Critique

Buddhadasa is someone whom I respected a lot, whose teachings were often clear and practical. He injected fresh meanings into traditional Thai Buddhism when he asserted that Dhamma went beyond the books and teachings of Buddha, and embraced nature in its totality.  Although he bases morality on nature, I have argued in this essay that nature does not have moral authority.  It neither deliberates nor dictates; it just is.

5. Reaping What You Sow: Looking at Karma through the lens of Thai literature

The concept of karma, which is central in Buddhist teachings, makes it one of the key linchpins in Thai society.  It becomes the motivation for people to maximise their good deeds and minimise their evil deeds.  This paper explores how the concept of karma is portrayed in Thai literature, namely through three books – Four Reigns by Kukrit Pramoj (2005), The Prostitute by Kanha Surangkhanang (1994), and Khun Chang Khun Phan (1995).  I give a macro picture of how karma is depicted in the books, followed by a more in-depth look of karma in four female characters – Mae Phloi, Khun Un, Wan Thong and Reun.  The paper concludes by looking at how Thai society’s belief in karma has also evolved through time, as evidenced in the books.

6. The Virgin and the Whore: Looking at the Good and the Bad Woman in Thai folktales

Good and evil, heaven and hell, beauty and beast, angel and demon, virgin and whore – the oppositional thinking dominating gender debates in Thailand today can be traced back to the country’s literary and artistic traditions. This paper looks at how Thai folktales portray the good woman and the bad woman by examining their traits and their relations with the men in their life. Conversely, it also examines how the depiction of female characters contributes to the way Thai women view themselves and their relations with men.

7. From “Buffalo” to “Flower of the Nation”: Status of Thai women during Phibunsongkram’s rule

“Women are buffaloes; Men are humans.” When Plaak Pibulsongkram became premier in 1938, women were catapulted to an exalted status. They were told that they were men’s equal and at the same time, they were exhorted to be “flowers of the nation” – beautiful and submissive. This paper examines Phibun’s motivations behind his policies on raising the status of women. Was he genuinely interested in the emancipation of women? Or were they just another tool in nation-building?

8. Inoculating Thailand against Communism

The 1950s was a period of great uncertainty for Thailand.  With its neighbours caught up in communist insurrections, the kingdom needed a strong ally to protect it against a possible Red invasion.  Meanwhile, the United States needed a friendly base to launch their anti-communist plans in Southeast Asia.  Their interests converged and they hooked up. This paper studies US attempts to bolster Thailand against communism with the use of psychological warfare.  During this period, neither country was involved in large-scale physical fighting in Southeast Asia at that time, taking the fight to the psychological level. Individual governments were making decisions and responding based on impressions and perceptions founded on what they thought the opposing side was doing.

9. The Eyesore in the City of Angels: Slums in Bangkok

This paper looks at the origins, location and physical characteristics of slums in Bangkok, as well as the socio-economic status of slum-dwellers.  I also examine and critique government policies towards the slums and conclude with my perspective on the future of the slums.

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