Superficiality, Violence and the Giant Freshwater Stingray


Two stories have appeared today which at first glance appear unrelated but on second thoughts indicate certain characteristics of modern Thai culture. First, three people have been given life sentences for the murder of a 25 year old man. They were apparently motivated by the fact that he attended a rival vocational school – there have for years been occasional stories of violence between rival colleges, mostly on the outskirts of Bangkok. More recently, stories have emerged of ‘hazing’ rituals for young people joining universities and colleges, who are obliged to suffer a variety of forms of ill-treatment and abuse. I would have associated this with American institutions but then Tom Brown’s schooldays provides an early example.

The three convicted men used guns and a knife to kill the victim so this was a premeditated attack which initially attracted the death sentence, now commuted.

The second story is about sales of expensive Swiss watches to Thai people. Thailand is now the fourteenth largest market for the machines, which have a reputation for being both stylish and, in my opinion, inordinately expensive. Exports have increased by 22% this year to 4.4 billion baht (that’s around US$125 million), despite the economic problems in the Kingdom. Spokespeople point out that watches are being bought not just for their own sake but as investments to be handed on to children – not so sure about that. Conspicuous consumption and the reliance on superficial brand names and loyalties, which is what unites these two stories of course, are not terribly attractive qualities and are not promoted by Buddhist thought, for example.

But what about the giant freshwater stingray goes the cry up and down the kingdom? What indeed. A new project is aimed at identifying the presence of these creatures in the rivers of the Kingdom – they are both difficult to find (skulking on river floors as they do) and dangerous – the sting can be very serious – was it a freshwater ray that killed the famous Australian bloke whose name escapes me last year? Well, we should learn more about them soon.