The Kingdom of THAILAND
On August 10th, 2015, the International School Network went to visit the Royal Thai Residence to interview the Ambassador, His Excellency Mr. Sihasak Phuangketkeow, and his spouse, Her Excellency Mme. Varaporn Phuangketkeow.
The Royal Thai Embassy’s official residence consists of a beautiful Japanese garden and a gothic-style building which closely resembles a medieval castle. This has been the official residence of Thai ambassadors to Japan since 1943.
The language Thai has many dialects but the one taught in schools is the central dialect. Students in Thailand also learn foreign languages, such as English, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. H.E. Mr. Phuangketkeow mentioned that students in Thailand are very hard working, and that they pack their schedules with homework, tutoring, and lesson activities.
H.E. Mme. Phuangketkeow explained to us that Phuket is a very popular destination to Japanese tourists. There are many popular islands in Thailand that are popular tourist spots, including Khao Phing Kan, an island situated in the Northeast of Phuket famous from a James Bond movie, and Ko Samui island, which has many popular island resorts.
Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, is one of the most visited cities in the world. Examples of tourist attractions in the city include Buddhist temples such as Wat Pho, and the Grand Palace. H.E. Mme. Phuangketkeow comments that the architecture in these buildings are very unique “like nowhere else”.
The canals in Thailand are also very famous amongst toursits. This element of Thailand is often referred to as “Venice of the East”. People travel along the canals by long-tail boats across to the main river of the nation, Chao Phraya. H.E. Mr. Phuangketkeow explained that Tourists can enjoy viewing “life along the river”.
Street life, including food, shopping, and traffic are also part of the important aspects of tourism in Thailand. Vendors on the streets sell very good food. Thai food is well known in the world, as there are approximately 1,000 Thai restaurants in Japan. Over 100 of the Thai restaurants are situated in Tokyo alone. The traffic in Thailand is very busy, which is very unique and interesting to see. The tuktuk taxi and motor tricycle are famous transportation vehicles that are popular amongst tourists.
Exports of Thailand include agricultural products and electronic products. Thailand and Japan have supply changes, exporting and importing automobile parts with each other. Some food seen in Japan such as yakitori (grilled chicken), shrimp, and canned tuna are imported from Thailand. Thailand is also one of the largest exporters of rice, as rice is the staple food of the people. Fruits such as mangoes, durians, and pomelo (a green fruit similar to the grapefruit) are popular exports of Thailand. H.E. Mr. Phuangketkeow commented that Thai mangoes are the best in the market.
Summer, rainy, and winter used to be the three main seasons of Thailand, but the climate is gradually getting hotter. Now the two main seasons of Thailand are wet and dry. In the North, the climate is cooler, and in the South, the climate tends to be very wet.
H.E. Mr. Phuangketkeow explained to us about the preservation of nature in Thailand. There are many laws that work towards preserving wildlife in the country. Several conservation parks have been established all throughout the country to preserve the forests and their animals. Many NGOs are working towards the conservation of nature in Thailand, such as IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). There are also education campaigns to increase conservation, so citizens can gain awareness of preserving nature.
Elephants are a sacred animal in Thailand. The white elephant is the emblem of the king, and is greatly symbolic of sacredness and the monarchy. H.E. Mr. Phuangketkeow mentioned that his Ambassador flag has an elephant symbol in the middle.
The official religion of Thailand is Buddhism. Therefore, the teachings of Buddhism have pretty much shaped the philosophy of the Thai people. According to Buddhism, it is important to be respectful towards people as well as other cultures. "The fundamental belief is that we must do our best because how we are living in our present life is a result of how we behaved in the past life," H.E. Mr. Phuangketkeow stated. However, despite the fact that the majority of the population is Buddhist, every faith is mutually respected. Tolerance is a big part of Thai culture. There is freedom to choices. These choices could be in religion and other areas as well. "The national religion teach us to be middle-path. That we must do everything in moderation," H.E. Mme. Phuangketkeow commented.
Thailand has been known to be one of the best ranked countries in the world for quality of life. According to H.E. Mr. Phuangketkeow, this is due to how hospitable Thai people are and the fact that the Thailand is "the land of the free". Since Thailand is the only nation in South Asia that was never colonized, Thai people are proud of their freedom and independence. He says that equivalent to the meaning of the nation itself, Thailand truly is a free society, which sees the bright sides of everything. There is even a famous Thai saying similar to the word "大丈夫 (Daijoūbu)" meaning "it's okay". This saying in Thailand means that even if anything happens, they will be able to get through it. H.E. Mme. Phuangketkeow told us that the charm of Thailand is the open space. Visitors will be able to comfortably visit Thailand and have a relaxing time there. There is no discrimination or restriction, unlike some countries and it is not as expensive to travel to Thailand. Thus, she thinks many tourists like to choose Thailand as their traveling destination.
As much as the fact that Thailand fascinates foreign travelers, it also fascinates foreigners who are in search of homes. Currently, there are a large community of foreigners living in Thailand. H.E. Mr. Phuangketkeow stated that this is an advantage in terms of stimulating the nation's economy. Professionals of various fields come from all over the world to Thailand to discuss matters within their fields. The meetings of representatives contributes to the economic development of the country. Moreover, he told us that because Thailand is an "aged society", there are not as many workers in Thailand. Therefore, they need to gather workers from neighboring countries.
Thai cuisine has been loved all over the world, including Japan. This is to the point where there are annual Thai food festivals being held at Yoyogi, Tokyo. According to H.E. Mme. Phuangketkeow, each region in Thailand have their own unique cuisine. Seafood is also very popular in the country. The Thai food that is widely known to the world is the food of the central region. The most popular Thai foods are the Pad Thai Noodles and the red, yellow, and green curry. She commented that the reason the curries can have different colors is because of the different chilies used when cooked. "I think many people have an image of Thai food being spicy but there are food that can be salty, sweet, sour, or bitter. Each dish have different flavors, which make the palates pleasant," she added.
Mass media in Thailand is known to be developed and Thailand holds the largest newspaper market in Southeast Asia. Thai people listen to a lot of radio stations and the cable television in Thailand have up to a hundred channels. Internet has always been an important median but because of the progressiveness of mass media, Thai people have many ways to receive the news.
The most popular festival in Thailand is the water festival on April 13th. This occurs during the long holiday and Thai people enjoy pouring or throwing water onto friends, family members, and even strangers on the streets. Since April is a very hot season in Thailand, water festivals are a way in which they can cool themselves off. Because Thai culture put emphasis on respect for the elders, when putting water to the elderly, Thai people make sure to pour the water gently along with some jasmine flowers and roses as blessings. The younger participants of this festival like to use bowls or water guns to splash water onto each other. In some cases, people put talcum powder on their faces. As the festival grew bigger and bigger, these days, there are even foreigners who carry water guns along Khaosan Road in Bangkok to attack strangers with water. Other than the water festival, the Northern province of Thailand enjoy celebrating numerous festivals by dressing up into traditional Thai costumes.
Muay Thai Boxing, more commonly known as kick boxing, is not only a national sport of Thailand but it is extremely popular in Japan as a form of exercise. There are a number of kick boxing camps located in Japan as well. Other popular sports are football, soccer, and badminton. Sepak Takraw, commonly known as kick volleyball, is also a popular sport which requires the whole body. It is a sport native to Southeast Asia and is played in countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. Nowadays, biking is very popular in Thailand and H.E. Mr. Phuangketkeow even mentioned that many people choose to bike instead of driving. To prevent clashes with pedestrians, there are bike lanes set up in Bangkok.
After the interview at the residence, H.E. Mr Phuangketkeow and H.E. Mme Phuangketkeow kindly prepared for us a light lunch meal of Thai cuisine. We were served a very delicious dish of shrimp pad thai (stir-fry rice noodles) and a few small and crisp spring rolls. The pad thai was accompanied with the fresh vegetables of bean sprouts and leek.
H.E. Mme. Phuangketkeow commented the women’s rights in Thailand are satisfactory. In 2013, the UNDP published that Thailand ranked 70th out of 151 countries in the Gender Inequality Index, which levels in the high development tier.
H.E. Mme. Phuangketkeow explained that women’s rights have been steadily increasing during the past years. In 2005, Thai women gained the right to choose their own family name after marriage. In 2008, the women who are both married or divorced gained the right to choose their own title of Ms. or Mrs. In 2011, Thailand received its first female Prime Minister, H.E. Mrs. Yingluck Shinawatra. The number of women working in all sectors have increased, with women outnumbering men in the civil service offices, and women holding about 35% in the executive board of the private sector.
Queen Sirikit of Thailand has been very active in promoting women’s rights in Thailand, especially in remote areas where she supported women learn new skills. In 2003, the Queen herself had designated the 1st of August as Women’s Day in Thailand as an annual day to recognize the roles of women in society. The Queen has been recognized by the United Nations (United Nations Fund for Women) for her contribution to the welfare and wellbeing of women.
There is no discrimination towards disabled/handicapped persons and people of different genders in Thailand. H.E. Mr. Phuangketkeow explained that Thai people are very tolerant and that they respect every human being.
Relationship between Thailand and Japan
Diplomatic relations between Thailand and Japan began approximately 180 years ago, but the actual relationship dates back to about 600 years ago. 400 to 500 years ago, Yamada Nagamasa, a Japanese samurai, traveled to Thailand and served the royal courts. He became the governor of one of the southern provinces.
Ryuku Islands (now Okinawa, Japan) had been trading with Thailand since hundreds of years ago. Thailand had a Japanese trading village, and to this day has an alcoholic drink, Aomori, made by a technique of the Ryuku people. This local liquor is made with Thai rice, and is a great symbol of the historical relationship between Thailand and Japan.
H.E. Mr. Phuangketkeow commented that the friendly relationship between Thailand and Japan is both established between government bodies and between the people. The Royal Family of Thailand and the Imperial Family of Japan have very strong ties. The economic relationship and trade between the two countries are also very important. Furthermore, the relationship between the people are very significant. Over one million Japanese people are in Thailand, and over 700 Thai people go to Japan every year.
H.E. Mr. Phuangketkeow mentioned that Japan is very well known in Thailand, as Japanese food is very popular in the country. He said that it is common for families to dine at a Japanese restaurant at least once or twice a month. Television programs in Thailand introduce Japanese restaurants in Japan, allowing the citizens to become more familiar with the country.
When asked what his goals as an Ambassador were, H.E. Mr. Phuangketkeow commented that it is to keep the Thai-Japan relationship to move on forward. He mentioned that he does not only want to connect with Japan economically or in governmental-terms but he also desires to connect with the people. He feels that young people should know the good will between people. H.E. Mr. Phuangketkeow found it most striking when not the government, but the people in Thailand voluntarily provided help to Japan during the massive fatal earthquake back in March of 2011. Also, when Thailand suffered major damages during the huge earthquake back in 2014, Japanese people supported the Thai people. He hopes to pursue his goals by promoting good will.
As for, H.E. Mme. Phuangketkeow, she stated that her goal is to go out and promote Thailand, not only to Japan but any countries of diplomatic cause. She not only hope to promote the good sides of Thailand but she also desires to correct and prevent misunderstandings that may have been made due to the cultural differences. She wishes to work so that people will look at Thailand in a more positive way.
H.E. Mr. Phuangketkeow was raised in a fairly international environment. Since his father was a diplomat, he has attended school in the U.S. apart from Thailand. After completing high school in the States, he came back to Thailand for his master’s degree. "I was able to study in different countries and study under different educational systems," H.E. Mr. Phuangketkeow told us. Although he has been to different countries, he particularly enjoys staying in Japan as he calls it his "second home". This is the second time for him to work in Japan and he is delighted that this time, he has been assigned the job as an ambassador. He feels that he is now familiar with Japanese culture and has stated that he is a believer in the Thai-Japan relationship and it’s potential.
Unlike H.E. Mr. Phuangketkeow, H.E. Mme. Phuangketkeow was born and raised in Thailand. She is the daughter of a governor of many provinces in Thailand. She attended school in Bangkok but often visited her family in the countryside. As a result she describes herself as an "outdoor girl rather than a city girl". H.E. Mme. Phuangketkeow loves to travel around Thailand and also the world. She attended the oldest university in Thailand and completed her masters in the States. Later, she entered the foreign ministery but left of absence to accompany with the ambassador after marriage. When H.E. Mr. Phuangketkeow jokingly bikkered, "Now she is a full-time housewife", she responded back by saying, "There is no 'housewife' in my dictionary!"
As a message for the Japanese people and the young Japanese readers of International School Network, H.E. Mr. Phuangketkeow said, "The world today is different from the world thirty, forty years ago. It's much more. Internet is the citizens of the world. Think in those terms. Know more about culture and people of different cultures, like how the world is. Be internationalized and create bonds."
H.E. Mme. Phuangketkeow gave a message to Japanese children and students. "As a parent, a mother, I say choose your friend wisely. Think of quality, not quantity. It's better to have one or two good friends than to have a hundred that are not," she commented. Lastly she added, "Whatever you do in life, don't forsake your family. Teachers, friends, they come and go but family sticks to you. You will feel lonely if you don't have support. At the end of the day, family comes first."
(Reported by Madoka Nishina / Kurumi Onishi)
Madoka Nishina 11th Saint Maur International School
Kurumi Onishi 10th Saint Maur International School
Karen Nishina 5th Saint Maur International School