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It was past my bedtime in March 1974. It was a school day next day and I expected that my mother would have already shooed me upstairs. She didn’t. It was a bit mysterious but there was something that she wanted me to stay up and watch.
What I saw has stayed with me to this day. It was the celebrated ITV series The World at War and this was the episode on “Genocide” – specifically Hitler’s plans for the Jews and other people he didn’t like. I watched in silence as the Allies bulldozed the pitiful bodies at Auschwitz into pits. Stared in stunned disbelief as personal testimony of survivors recounted the horrors of the concentration camps with their ovens and forced labor.
When it was over I said I was going to bed – I was aged 12 and I wanted to appear manly and adult. I pulled the covers over me and started thinking. And thinking. There was very little sleep that night. I kept wondering about many things but one of them was:
Why had nobody at school mentioned this before?
Over the years I developed a fascination with the Holocaust. We tuned in to the made for TV dramatization with Meryl Streep. That summer in 1974 my mum and dad took me and my younger brother to Oradour-sur-Glane where the Nazis murdered more than 600 French men, women and children burning many in one building. The village was effectively annihilated but kept as a memorial just as it was during World War II.
This time my brother and I had many questions. We were getting the fullest picture imaginable of this part of our parents lives and we would never look back.
As an adult I discovered from the internet that my French Great Uncle and his wife were imprisoned in Auschwitz for their work with the Resistance in Le Mans. I never met my Great Aunt for obvious reasons. Great Uncle Arsene survived despite coming back to Le Mans as a virtual skeleton after the war.
Today my bookshelves are stacked with everything about the second world war but particularly the genocide and the role that the Nazis played. Only this last week I sat through “The Eichmann Show” with Martin Freeman, formerly of “The Office” fame. Superb.
I have tried – with my parents’ help initially – to educate myself about the genocide. Yes, there is some morbid fascination. But principally I wanted to know how people could do this and how people could allow it to happen. I also wanted to have plenty of knowledge so I could pass on information to my own children when the time was right. I saw it – and I still see it – as a duty. I am not a Jew, or a homosexual or a gispy come to that – I saw it as my duty to the next generation. To look for the signs when it might happen again and stop it from doing so.
It has also led me to an understanding to forgive the German people for what happened and to pass onto my own offspring the reasons for this. This in itself is something of an achievement after the propaganda inculcated in Britons along the lines of “two World Wars and one World Cup – doo dah”.
Apart from reps from the Jewish and German communities, the loudest voices were those that condemned the Thai education system for doing nothing to inform children about world history. Critics slammed the country’s teachers and schools for being insular – not caring a jot for what happens outside Thailand. Even the children themselves were castigated along with Namsai and her guilty looking managers.
(I’ll put aside the unfortunate fact that the teaching of INTERNAL Thai history – especially modern Thai history – is just as bad as the teaching of external history).
I was a teacher for 30 years but my style was not to tell children very much. I believed in inspiring people to learn and find out for themselves. Rather than tell teenagers that “six million Jews died” (that would mean little to the average Thai and might even cause them to grin) I’d give them the links and tell them to go away and find out some details. Then I asked them to report back with findings. Then we could reflect and talk. I was a Thai culture teacher, not a history teacher. When I touched on Thai history I adopted a similar approach – though resources were scant.
I believe that primarily it is the responsibility of parents to educate their children. In my career I saw far too many parents – especially Thai – who didn’t really grasp this notion. They were shelling out top dollar for an international education for their children and they wanted it delivered. Sadly, far too few realized the full responsibility that goes along with raising – and educating – children.
They paid through the nose but saw the world through their noses, too.
We see countless stories in the news in which ignorance – not just of the world outside Thailand but everyday life within the kingdom’s borders – prevails among young people who should and could have been given better guidance by those very people they are honor bound and culturally required to respect. Their parents.
For me it is time more Thai parents stepped up to the plate and realized – like the great departed King – that they are the role models, they are the teachers – and they should stop paying lip service to this ideal.
The Namsai t-shirt case begged many questions and caused much hand wringing. One woman from the Basic Education Commission called Nitsuda Apinuntaporn said that education was not to blame
. It was in the curriculum and the children just don’t remember. This “academic” should go back to school. I wonder what this “Nit” tells her own offspring. I fervently hope she doesn’t have any….
While no one would hold the Thai education system up as an example for the world there are also problems elsewhere. Even a country like the UK, renowned for some of its educational institutions, is in dire straights especially from a lack of funding. I suggest the six part BBC documentary “School” that aired in the autumn if you have any doubts about that.
More and more stories on Thaivisa this week showed the poor level of education was at the root of many problems and the equally poor responsibility of parents was at the forefront. Following the previous week’s case where a father claimed that he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong in allowing his three year old to be on a motorcycle without a helmet came news that only one in 14 parents bother to give their kids head protection.
The parents – one would like to say setting the right example but that would be a stretch – wear helmets nearly half the time. Whoopydo!
Some posters said carrying young children on motorbikes is irresponsible even if they do have helmets and many suggested the helmets available in Thailand make eggshells look sturdy. I accept these points but I am someone who carries his young daughters on a motorcycle. They are taught about the danger. To sit still and hold on. They wear the best helmets I can buy. And journeys are very local and short and I pride myself on being a good and responsible rider.
Being a farang with cute kids I get many looks. Hopefully some of them come from parents who might think twice in the future about brazenly risking the lives of their children when they could afford them some viable protection.
Down in Pattaya another needless tragedy occurred. A maid left her six year old daughter alone in a strange room
with access to a balcony while she went cleaning elsewhere. The little girl’s plunge from the 32nd floor was in my mind as I hugged my own six year old when meeting her at school and teaching her – yet again – to look right and left and right again when crossing the road on the walk back to the condo with dad.
If the Pattaya maid had been trained to think a bit more she may have enjoyed a lifetime of happiness rather than the misery of regret that will dog her to the crematorium.
I have less blame for the parents of the seven year old child that was attacked by a pack of dogs on a Pangnga beach
. This was a local child and kids must be free to be out and discover their environment for themselves. I roamed in the woods of England at that age and my parents were not negligent. Of course there are limits but in this case I don’t even blame the dogs. I blame the society that places dogs above humans (and children) and I blame the habits of a population that hides behind some handy tenets of Buddhism when it comes to matters of life and death.
Mrs Rooster keeps a small amulet in the car which I try to ignore as looking at the road ahead seems more beneficial. It would do no good to say what is gnawing away at my mind when I see amulets and superstition in Thailand; I’ve learnt that much in nearly four decades. But when my kids are of the right age, again, they’ll be told about the foolishness of putting their faith in magic and mumbo jumbo.
How I remember when the first Mrs Rooster – after our separation – called me to say: “Come and pick up the children – I don’t want them anymore”.
Calm down I said, it can’t be that bad. It was…… they had renounced Buddhism and, horror of horrors, told her so to her face!!
I gave them a strict talking to. Now you’re in your teens, I said, you have to understand about being two faced. You must appreciate the value of lying through your set of Thai/Farang “luuk khreung” front teeth. Tell your mother you are Buddhist, it’ll please her. Only then do the opposite.
They did – peace prevailed – and we high-fived in private.
This week I decided to keep my ample gob shut when it came to the closure of my daughters’ school as the smog, apparently, got worse and worse. I had hoped that the school could have come to their own decision as to whether to stay open on Thursday and Friday rather than kowtow to the Education Ministry. I was wrong as usual.
The sign in Thai at the gates burbled on about 2.5 microns. I wanted to ask what would happen on Monday when it was just as bad and add facetiously that the pupils should be given an extended holiday until mid-May – after all they’d learn more at home with me! I kept my counsel and took them home with a smile, resisting the churlish urge to tell the teacher that now I would have to stop them breathing the same air at home just yards from the school.
Now was responsible for the child minding AND the education! Geez I was grumpy!
Also blaming education was the story that 2,559 Thai children aged between 10 and 14 had got pregnant in the last year
. Better sex education was called for this time. Those doing so omitted to note the irony that children who have sex probably know exactly what they are doing. The real problem is the parents and their laissez-faire “let the kids look at YouTube while I do my own thing” attitude. As well as the disgraceful incidences of rape of young teens that takes place in families in Thailand.
It’s a situation far too many people, parents included, like to sweep under that thickest of shag pile – the Thai carpet interwoven with ready made threads of excuse.
Shortly I shall be taking my kids for a McDonald’s. But they know it’s an occasional treat and that they shouldn’t always eat burgers and fries. As a parent I am acutely aware of the obesity epidemic and its damaging potential. Teen pregnancy, dog attacks and bike accidents are horrendous but I am appalled by the irresponsibility of Thai parents who perpetually feed their kids sugary, fat laden trash and smile at ingratiating neighbors when they are praised for having “a nice fat kid”.
Enough! Regular readers of this column will know that I am not a habitual Thai basher. But I will say it like it is and have always believed in that. Perhaps my praise last week of Bangkok and Thai men – that hit a chord with many especially when it came to recounting some of my history in the capital – has induced more of a rant this week.
Or it might be having the kids at home midweek…..
Fortunately, the pages of Thaivisa were again full of the more light-hearted and fun stories that make following the Thai news as much an entertainment as an information source.
The forum curmudgeons wondered how “that could go back to his room with that” but who knows what man will do when the irremovable object (sex drive) hits the irresistible force (Chang or Leo).
“Aunty Pa the Terrible” will get her comeuppance while the hapless Brit named in the story can at least boast that he was with a woman, of sorts, rather than a lady boy.
Also connected to Pattaya was the beer survey initiated by my esteemed colleague “Dan about Thailand”. Expats in Pattaya could drink everyone else under the table we were told though the 31% of Pattayans who had a beer every day compared to the 27% elsewhere in Thailand hardly seemed conclusive proof.
What I found more interesting was that 7% of people had 50 bottles a week; didn’t their parents teach them about the perils of drink or is it just the best way to forget that you are on a bar stool in Pattaya? I’ll stop digging myself into a hole there….
The forum faithful were quick to point out that this made loan sharks look like small fry.
My favorite dowry story, that I repeat here, was when I was invited to be the guest of honor at one of my staff’s very fancy wedding at the Hyatt Erawan and Oriental hotels. The bride was marrying a Phuket millionaire who was a lovely guy even if he did support Liverpool.
It is one of the traditions at Thai weddings that the mother of the bride should pretend that the dowry is very heavy even when it is only a few thousand baht and the odd ring. She should make a big show of hauling the bundle in cloth onto her shoulders.
On this occasion there was a mountain of money, and so much gold and jewelry that everyone present thought the mum was going to fall over. A man was called to help her as she staggered about, much to the amusement – and envy – of all present.
Perhaps mindful that they were already the laughing stock of the world for a host of other “too little too late” measures the BMA abandoned the plan and just made do with plain water. I just hope they didn’t get that out of the klongs.
Finally, its a common belief that Thais are like some other Asian cultures that are unable to distinguish their “Rs” from their “Ls” – a habit called lalling. The truth is that Thais have distinct letters for the R and L sounds and it is only laziness – or lack of education – that might cause one to be replaced by the other. It is certainly not an inability to pronounce or recognize the difference.
Thus I had to chuckle when translating the story about “Aunty Pa the Terrible” and the drugging and robbing of the tourist. It was the spelling in Thai of the watch that she stole.
The Brit was apparently relieved of his LOREX.