Despite my liberal ideas and behavior, at the core of it I am still a Thai. It is my responsibility to best represent my country wherever I go. I don’t know if anyone else feel the same way, but I do. It is probably engrained in my head from my earlier cultural training.
Yes. That’s me in pink with my friends from New Zealand, Argentina, and Australia. That was Melbourne, Australia, circa 1989-90. I was 12 on my first international solo trip—as in not with my parents.
CISV, Children International Summer Village, was the program I went on. 2 girls and 2 boys at 11 years of age (I turned 12 the month before the village, so we had to smudge my age a little bit at the camp. Hahah.), and an adult chaperone, form a delegation from one country. The delegations, Junior Counselors (16 year-old representatives), and host country’s staff spend 4 weeks in the summer together, learning about different cultures, about trust, love, friendship, and peace.
That was where I learned my first lessons in diversity, acceptance, and how to represent Thailand. And probably the lessons that have changed my life forever.
Ever since, whenever I did my traveling abroad, I made sure I have on hand souvenirs, a Ramm Wong tape (music for traditional basic Thai dance), booklets or brochures from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and something Thai enough I could wear instead of hauling a full costume. All of that had proven to become handy in every trip.
When I came to the US for high school in 1993, I knew I had to take up the role of a cultural attaché once more.
Santa Margarita Catholic High School, out in the brand spanking new community of Rancho Santa Margarita in Orange county, was…and probably is…predominantly white. After we visited the school and the neighborhood, it was clear to me that I was on a mission.
As if sent on a diplomatic duty to the uncharted RSM by King Bhumibol himself, I was gearing up to best represent Thailand. My approach was to be so prepared to talk about Thailand as if no one in the area had even heard of Thailand before my arrival. My parents, bless their hearts, went along with my slightly overzealous plan to educate RSM about my country.
In addition to my usual cultural armament I mentioned earlier, I also brought along a wheel full of TAT tourism slides. I took a few classical Thai dance lessons, and bought accompany costumes in addition to the traditional costume.
I only got to pull off 2 events in high school. I hosted a mini Loy Kratong festival with an inflatable pool and a few dozens of mini kratongs during lunch hours, and performed Chuy Chai dance at Talent Show among the rock bands, singers, and dance teams.
Triumphantly, I declared my mission accomplished. I don’t know if my 2 major displays made any difference in anyone’s mind. Perhaps they wanted to learn more about Thailand, or they thought I was a complete and total dork. But I didn’t care about that. Now they have heard of Thailand. Now they have seen a little bit of my culture. That is all I care about.
This is when my country truly needs me, I think. I need to let the world know about my country and my heritage, to show people how beautiful our country is. To make them aware that Thailand is not all about sex trades, corrupted government, or whatever negative things shown out there by the international media.
This is where you stand up for the Old Siam. This is where you show your patriotism.
Well, at least that is how I’m showing mine.