Thai Stars: Tony Jaa

Tony Jaa in a promo for Ong Bak 2

When I was a kid, I had absolutely zero Thai film stars or musicians to admire or imagine myself as. While I don’t really feel bad or upset about this, since I recognize that’s part of growing up as a minority immigrant in America, I do wonder how my self perception would’ve been different had I been able to have access to Thai films as a child.

I watch a lot of Thai movies with my kids, in part, to try to help build a healthy sense of ethnic identity for them, but really though, I do it for myself. I try to get my children used to seeing Thai people in media, so that they don’t develop a disconnect with their own father’s ethnicity and looks, as I did with my parents when I was growing up.

This post is dedicated to one of the only internationally known Thai film stars around right now: Tony Jaa.

Tony Jaa is a Thai martial arts superstar with increasing renown across the globe. Born as Panom Yeerum and known in Thailand as Jaa Panom, he has since taken the name Tatchakorn after he became a Buddhist monk.

He’s gained fame for both his extraordinary martial arts ability and his almost super human stunt work, where he’s known for not using wires or special effects. In his earlier days, he used primarily Thai martial arts in his films, but has since incorporated multiple styles from Chinese kung fu to Indonesian Silat.

He’s starred in 4 films so far: Ong Bak, Tom Yum Goong (The Protector), Ong Bak 2, and Ong Bak 3. He’s had roles in older, low budget Thai films as well and a cameo in both Thai Bodyguard films.

He is of the the Kuy people, an ethnic group related to Khmers that resides mainly in northeastern Thailand and who are known to Thais as the elephant people because of their close relationship living with and raising elephants. His second staring role in the film, Tom Yum Goong, had to do specifically with his ethnic group and his quest to rescue two kidnapped elephants taken to Australia.

Tony Jaa and another martial arts star, Dan Chupong, looking almost like twins

Physically, Tony Jaa is representative of a type that is very prevalent in northeastern Thailand. With a strong brow, very dark skin and round, wide set eyes, he has a look common to many Thais and Khmers in that region.

As a side note, an interesting discovery made along with the recent Denisovan study was that Cambodians have an unexpectedly high percentage of Neanderthal genes. I wonder what Neanderthal traits are present in Khmers and Thais?

Tony Jaa. Part Neanderthal

Here’s a clip from the film Ong Bak 2 with Tony Jaa in an incredible display of martial arts mayhem:

Advertisements

The Most Racist Commercial Ever?

In my last post, I wrote about Africans in Thailand and how Thais generally don’t like them there. The discussion that followed made me remember a Thai commercial that’s been floating around for a while. I’ve come across this commercial many times over the years on other blogs and websites and it’s usually shown under a headline like, The Most Racist Commercial Ever! I don’t really think that it’s the most racist commercial; it’s actually kind of funny to me with its bizarre tone.

First of all, before you watch it, realize that this commercial is made for Thailand and Thai viewers. I’ve seen some get extremely angry over this commercial and I find it ironic because many that do are anti-racists and one of the cornerstones of that ideology is cultural relativism. Judging this from a Western multi-culturalist perspective should be verboten for those that hold that world view. I mean, all cultures are equal, right?

 

Is this commercial racist? By Western standards it may seem that way, but it’s actually against prejudice. The Black man was being friendly to the little girl and we’re made to feel sorry for the way that he was treated. Then by the end we can see that he’s tried to help so many others and the situation that he experienced was a common occurrence. We are left with the message, Appearance can be deceiving (the narrator actually says, “Don’t judge by looks”).

But wait, this commercial only works if we understand that it would be a normal reaction in Thailand to be afraid of a Black man. To many, this itself is racist, even though the commercial tells us that’s wrong. The imagery of the mother treating the Black man in such a harsh way is upsetting to many and enough for some to declare this commercial the most racist ever.

Some comments have claimed that the way that he is shown climbing the pole is racist, because in the eyes of some, he appears to climb like a monkey. I think that’s subconscious racism on the part of those that make that claim. How else would you climb a pole? Thailand was once mostly jungle and there’s still tree climbing competitions annually. I think most Thais would be impressed with the Black man’s superhuman pole climbing skills. And that’s part of the point.

Many are so focused on the racial imagery that they fail to comprehend what this commercial means to say. The commercial is metaphorical. The balloon represents plaque in hard to reach places. The black man, of course, represents black herbal toothpaste. His superior pole climbing skills are meant to show the toothpaste’s effectiveness. The mother, upon seeing the Black man, fears and rejects him, much in the same way that she might feel if she saw her daughter putting a strange brown colored substance into her mouth. The viewer is made to feel sympathy for the Black man and the way that he was treated. He fades into an image of brown toothpaste on a toothbrush, transferring the feelings of sadness onto the toothpaste. So next time a person who saw the commercial is at the store, he’ll see the toothpaste, remember the mistreated Black man and feel sorry about his prejudicial feelings and think, “If a Black man can be good, maybe black toothpaste can be as well.”

Thailand Cracks Down On Its Africans

An African man sits in handcuffs and a Thai police officer displays confiscated drugs

An article in the Bangkok Post details the Thai police’s efforts to crack down on West Africans and the illegal drugs that they peddle. While this operation was promoted as an effort to attack the drug trade, the Thais explicitly targeted the Africans in the country, who have long been seen as a problem in Thailand.

There’s a small but significant population of West Africans(mostly Nigerians) in Thailand. They’ve been a source of social friction for some time in Thailand with both Thais and tourists alike objecting to their presence. Many are in the country illegally and deal in the black market. Through bribes and corruption within the Thai police, they’ve been able to keep their presence strong. Now Thais are making an effort to change that.

Using tactics that would be impossible in politically correct Western countries, Thai police blocked off an area of Bangkok known as Soi Africa(Africa Road) to prevent anyone from escaping. All foreigners were detained and their passports and visas were checked. They also searched every individual for banned contraband and even forced every person to take an onsite urine test to check for drugs. Anyone that tested positive was arrested.

From the article:

Pol Col Chatchai said Soi 3 had become a West African community, with several hundred often gathering in one place which made it ”very difficult” to arrest them with drugs. ”We have to use immigration laws to arrest them even when we know they are selling drugs, this is very frustrating.”

He estimated there were ”many thousands” of West Africans in the country, adding ”We shouldn’t allow them to stay in Thailand so easily; and that’s why we will ask the Immigration Bureau to join our operation and check their passports.”

Pol Col Chatchai also said their behaviour was aggressive when compared to other nationals, and they often shouted and spoke aggressively to people. ”We have to control them and not allow them to behave like that in our country. They don’t have any manners. People from the Middle East and Europeans are polite and nice to our women but not the West Africans. They will insult and abuse them,” he said.

I’m personally glad to read that the Thais are finally attacking this problem. In 2001, I went back to Thailand for the first time since I was a kid and I was shocked when I first encountered the African community in Bangkok. Their attitude and demeanor was so out of place. Thais are well known for their friendly and placid behavior, so much so that Thailand is called the “Land of Smiles.” While some Western tourists can be obnoxious with their disregard for Thai sensibilities, the Africans really take it to another level. Some poorly behaved Westerners can be tolerated because they bring money into the economy, but what do these Africans bring into Thailand besides crime and violence?

A Few Thai Songs

In a previous post, I shared a Thai country song from my childhood. As a kid, I never listened to Thai music besides what my parents played on the stereo. Now, with the internet, I can check out stuff that I never had access to in the past. Below are a few Thai songs that I wanted to share for no particular reason. I tried to find a variety of styles and most of them have subtitles. You might have no interest in Thai music. That’s alright. As they say in Thailand, Mai Pen Rai(Oh well). 🙂

 

This is from the Thai rock group, Bodyslam, who are huge in Thailand. This song and the look of the video takes me back to the 90s, which was a great decade for me.

 

This is an infectious Thai pop song by Palmy. I love the corny vibe of the video.

 

This is a very laid back song by Singto Numchok. It reminds me a lot of Jack Johnson. There’s some great shots from around Bangkok in this vid. I love his voice. There’s not many Thai singers that sing with the tone that he does.

 

Here’s a more traditional Thai song by Tai Thanawut, the singer that I posted before, to contrast the other songs, which are more modern sounding. It’s an old Thai song that he remade. Sorry, no subtitles with this one, but it’s a beautifully arranged song that I hope you can appreciate for the music alone.

 

And here’s a song by T-Pop group, FFK. This is not really my thing, but I wanted to include a good example of T-Pop for those that might be curious about this kind of music. This type music is mostly aimed at teens and I guess would be the Thai equivalent of Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber.

 

Well I hoped you checked out at least some of those songs, if for no other reason than just simple curiosity. There’ll be more random posts to come. 🙂

A Country Song

This is just a random post. I’ve been getting into other things over the past week and didn’t really find anything that I wanted to post about that fit into the framework of this blog. I’m not sure if this does either, but oh well.

Below is a video of an old Thai song from my childhood. It’s a country song from southern Thailand. I know that no one will understand the words, but I thought for the few that might like observing another way of life and also looking at the physical variety of peoples, it might be of some interest. And besides the story is pretty easy to follow in the video. Young lovers are torn apart after the girl leaves to pursue a new life in the city as a bar girl, forcing the heartbroken man to enter a life of celibacy as a monk – a classic Thai love story. 🙂

I’m not intending to make this blog a Thai-centric affair; it’s just where my mind is at right now.

We Are What We Eat

Last time I visited Thailand, my brother brought his Southern wife along. It was her first time out of the country and she had no idea what to expect. Bangkok was a totally different world for her, but her culture shock was diminished when she saw the comforting red and yellow glow of the ubiquitous McDonald’s restaurants throughout the city. Of course, she had to eat there. Going into a McDonald’s in Thailand, it’s funny to see the place packed with Americans. People travel halfway around the world and go eat at a fast food joint that’s probably right down the street from their house. Then they proceed to take group photos next to the Thai Ronald McDonald to prove that they were in fact eating at a MCDonald’s in Thailand, not the one down the street from their house.

Besides McDonald’s, Thailand has score’s of KFCs. We went to eat there as well, but my brother’s wife was horrified to find out that the KFCs in Thailand weren’t like the KFCs in America at all. Instead of the Colonel’s secret blend of herbs and spices, they had Thai flavored chicken with menu items like crispy green curry chicken with rice. This was a great insult to her. “That aint KFC! You can’t call a place KFC if it don’t even taste like KFC. It’s supposed to be Kentucky Fried Chicken, not Thai Fried Chicken!” It was actually pretty good. I liked the spicy chicken with rice and cucumbers.

KFC is very popular with Thais, but it bombed originally when they first opened there. They used to actually sell the original American style fried chicken, but Thais hated it. Instead of going out of business, the Thai operators decided to revamp the menu and cater to the tastes of Thais. McDonald’s is different. Though they do have items like the Samurai Pork Burger(why? samurai aren’t Thai), most of their menu items are the same as you find in the States. The Thais that eat at McDonald’s are what Thais call HiSo(High Society). McDonald’s is a brand that is immediately recognized as a symbol of America, unlike KFC, which might as well have stood for Kazakhstan Fried Chicken as far as Thais were concerned. The Thais that goto Mickey D’s like to imagine that they’re a little more in touch with the Western world and of higher status by eating Big Macs. The same goes for sipping java at Starbucks.

It’s amusing to me how America is often symbolized by these huge multinational corporations. Americans will often travel to another country and bemoan the “Americanization” of the local culture because of the presence of popular American brands, as if Coca-Cola and McDonald’s are what America is all about. And sadly for many, that is what it’s all about. We’ve developed such a culture of consumption that our very identity is tied to the items that we buy and eat. The average American these days is more likely to know by heart the complete menu at McDonald’s than he is the Bill of Rights. If you really want to upset Americans, change the menu at McDonald’s entirely to Mexican food. Then we’ll really get a revolution going.