My young Thai nephew is in Mathayom 4

Posted Duben 11th, 2011 by Billabongboardshortscloths

My father wasn’t interested in the Indonesians as much as just scaring the living daylights out of me. “The minute you turn 18 you’ll be in those khakis quicker than you can say Jack Robinson,” he’d proclaim. The implication was I would not survive the gruelling and tortuous regime that would be inflicted on soft Andrew, who was more interested in Charles Dickens than endless rounds of push-ups, laps of the field or enforced games of soggy biscuit.

Young Thais have the same feeling towards the military but remember, this is Thailand. Everything has a surface and the all-important undercurrent of what really goes on. The rules for conscription are like a Tourism Authority of Thailand poster for Songkran featuring women in traditional Thai costume delicately pouring a thimbleful of water over the hands of some wizened but beloved elder. Gorgeous _ but far removed from the reality of drunken speedsters killing themselves and others during the frenzy of Songkran.

While the official line is that “every Thai man must serve his country”, the reality is, well, not every Thai man. Only those not rich enough to be educated or have money in the bank.

First, there is cadet school. Thai students studying from grades 10-12 can attend a weekly cadet school, where they listen to Thai generals explaining the rudiments of gouging the brains out of Cambodian soldiers with a stick.

This explains the predominance of Thai guys in military wear on public transport for 20 weeks of the year.

My young Thai nephew is in Mathayom 4 and he loves cadet school; at the age of 15 he’s being taught how to handle weapons and attack the enemy, priming him for a glorious future as a motorcycle taxi driver. After three years of this, these guys no longer have to do the dreaded conscription draw that is happening now.

There is another way to get out of it. It doesn’t take time … but it does take money.

For a price that appears to hover from 10,000 baht in remote areas to 30,000 here in Bangkok, you can pay the military to not serve your country _ quietly and under the table, of course.

The “quiet” bit is important, and this is something we Westerners often fail to understand or even appreciate. Such mechanisms are in place to ensure the smooth workings of society. Yes, yes, it’s wrong and all that. But it works … only if everybody knows and nobody talks about it. If only I could emphasise how important this point is to understanding Thai society.

And when that understanding does get out, things go haywire.

Last Saturday, Chalermsak Kaewsukthae, a 21-year-old from Chom Bung in Ratchaburi, fronted up to the draft office and drew a black card.

Then Chalermsak committed a sin considered by Thai society to be far worse that paying bribe money _ he blabbed about it.

On his Facebook page he updated his status and mentioned he’d paid 30,000 baht to ensure a black card.

All hell broke loose, because Chalermsak isn’t some grunt from the sticks. He’s famous; a star player for the Thai Olympic football team. The news of the bribe hit the media and Chalermsak, fearing the Hand of the Dreaded Siamese Phu Yai, arranged a press conference quicker than he could have said “Jack Robinson”. The press conference was held at army headquarters with military bigwigs conspicuous by their absence, though no doubt they were in the next room with their ears pressed against the wall.

“It was all a joke,” Chalermsak said nervously and quickly, adding with a forced natural tone that “of course I didn’t pay a bribe and we all know nobody pays bribes and hey it was just a joke and I didn’t mean to offend the military because they’re the best and if we didn’t have the military to defend us, we’d all be up the …”

Calm down, Chalermsak. It appears the military is not going to put you behind bars. But you wouldn’t want to be him the next time he plays the army team.

And me? I never made it to national service. Looking for ways to cut costs, the government abolished compulsory national service days before my 16th birthday. Thus my heart was awash with as much relief as there was burning resentment in the heart of my father, knowing his wayward son would never be seen in khakis, unless Billabong brought out a line of board shorts in that colour, of course.Happy Songkran, dear readers!

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