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Pat Chirathivat ‘16 – Bangkok, Thailand

<ong>What made you want to leave Bangkok to study in the US?

I was born in Bangkok, Thailand, and I grew up in a Thai system school until I was in 8th grade. Then I decided to move to a boarding school in Hawaii because I thought that the education was too competitive for me…personally, I don’t like competing with people. So moving to a boarding school in Hawaii allowed me to have better connections with people, rather then competing against them. Working together in a community, where everyone helps each other to grow, flourish… I think that’s what is important to me, that’s why I believe in those qualities. That’s why I went to Carleton, because it’s not a cutthroat environment. It’s nice.

What was it like moving to an entirely different country?

At first it was hard for me to adjust to making new friends, because I didn’t know much English when I moved to the U.S. Because the Thai school system I didn’t study English at all, I had to get used to it. I only knew a couple of phrases, so the first few years were very difficult. It was difficult to make friends, but as high school drew on, one year, when I was a junior, I participated a bit. I decided to join the theater, and that led me to other activities like dancing, yoga, and you know, I became more active in the school community. But, at first, I was just really afraid…to put myself out there. Because in Thai culture, if you dance people will judge you for, well…they will think you’re not manly…when I was in Hawaii, people didn’t judge me. They didn’t judge me if I did yoga, or dance, or theater; they actually supported and welcomed me.
I think I became more independent because coming to the U.S. at 14 was not easy, especially to a boarding school. But I got used to doing my own laundry, and washing my own bed, and cleaning my room, and being more organized…being more independent, you know. Like learning how to cook.

My home is in Bangkok, Thailand. My relationship with my family, ever since I came here…well, my brother also went to college in the U.S. I think that going to school here…I don’t feel as close to my parents as before, but I still talk to them every week. I think we still have a really good relationship…it’s just that we’re not as close. I mean, we still have Skype and everything.

Can you tell me about the current political situation in Thailand?

So you know what happened in Bangkok? Since the middle of November and towards the end of the month, the current Prime Minister resigned, but at that time, she tried to pass an Amnesty bill for the former Prime Minister, Thaksin. This is his sister, and she is the first woman to be Prime Minister in Thailand, and she is basically a puppet, because the former Prime Minister passed so many corrupt things and there are so many lies and everything, and he’s supposed to stay in jail. But in 2006 there was a military coup, so Thaksin has never gone back since then. This year, in November, his sister tried to get this amnesty bill passed, and to pardon off his wrongdoings and everything, so he could come back to Thailand. That’s when people started going to the street, but now it’s not just about the amnesty bill, it’s about trying to change the system of Thailand and make it a more democratic system. Stop the corruption.Because the politicians are so… Thaksin has created his network, so if we don’t do anything, his network will just continue to corrupt our country… He came to power by paying money to poor people. In Thailand, there are the educated people who live in Bangkok, and then there are the people who live in the Northeast who have less education, and Thaksin used that advantage to come to power in 2001.

How has Thaskin continued his control?

So, since 2001, his network has continued to grow and always wins the election by a landslide, and this has become a problem. And they also installed a policy to make poor people think that they are doing good things, for example: healthcare. For one dollar, you can go to a hospital and get anything…for a dollar. You can go to get a surgery for a dollar, you can get medicine…anything. And the surgery probably cost like 500 or 2,000 dollars, but they’re paying one dollar. So our country is going into debt, so much, but poor people don’t have so much education… They are using this policy to make poor people work for them. And also, they bribe them, but by installing the policy, they corrupt like 50% of the money that goes into those policies, really up to 60%, so they are taking advantage of the poor people and the tax payers, my parents paying the tax. And the government, they just put it in their pocket, so it is necessary for us to stand up against the system.

Now it’s become a tug of war, because if we win, Thaksin’s party might revolt in the street again, so I’m not sure if this will be an infinite tug of war. This is the situation we are in, and over winter break I went to march in Thailand and I went to 4 or 5 marches. The biggest march was when there were 5 million people in the streets. These were people from all classes who were frustrated. Usually, the Southern of Thailand and the Central of Thailand are the people who come to protests and there are people from all classes. It was an eye-opening experience for me.

I was not involved in organizing, but I worked in the newspaper in Thailand, so I took pictures for them.

So what is the current situation?

Tomorrow is a big day: the people are planning to shut down Bangkok. They are planning to cut the electricity out of the Prime Minister’s house and all of his deputy ministers also. I wish I could be involved right now, because it is an important time in our political history… I also want to let you know that, well, don’t believe the news in CNN and BBC. They put out so much false information and make people think that the people who are marching in the streets are doing an undemocratic actions, like they are trying to put down the democratic government. But they aren’t a democratic government; they are paying money for people to work for them. It’s their policy to favor the poor people, but really they are taking advantage. That’s not democratic action, but the news, BBC and CNN, what they say is completely different. It’s false information, which makes, to the Western eyes, it seem that Thailand might not be a democratic system.

What do you think about Thailand’s future?

I think we are still a very country for democracy, and I think we still have a slot to learn about how to move forward and I think…even America, one hundred years after its independence, had a civil war. In Thailand, they’ve only had a democratic system for ninety to one hundred years, so our population and people have a lot to learn about democratic life, and the American system is still not even perfect. We have a long way to go, but it is great that were are seeing something like this happen.

I’m glad that we had a really corrupted person, because in Thai culture, we normally don’t stand up like this, unless something really bad happens. I think its great that we have someone really bad like Thaksin’s government, that corrupts our country. He’s apparently one of the richest people in the world. This makes people realize that we have to change the system, because before, politicians in Thailand were corrupt, but they were not as corrupt as Thaksin. Thaksin is beyond corrupt. He’s just a demon and he’s trying to take revenge… In fact, Thaksin, he used to be a police, so he has a backing of police. They are called “blackshirt police” and they try to stir up the situation in the media.

Event the media in Thailand is still not transparent. …Thaksin uses a secret police to shoot the real police, but they are also the real police shooting the police, to say that the protestors are not protesting peacefully so they can attack them. Or just to say that the protestors are being wild again…but they [protestors] are just blocking…non-violently. He [Thaksin] just has so many plans. He’s trying to come back and take revenge on Thailand and it’s quite scary for people. I don’t know what will happen, but it’s gonna be really big.

How do you think outsiders view the situation?

I don’t think that foreigners have a really good understanding of our situation right now, and they’re just not reporting correctly. I don’t know. I think that foreigners should just let us have our own transitions and not try to intervene into our protests right now.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m planning on majoring in History and Political Science. Well, I’m also interested in organic farming, sustainability, environmental policy, and economic gridlock and transitions in a holistic way; how to treat the economic system in a way so that people matter…it’s something I’m really interested in doing.

I really like farming and I also really like environmental policy…in Thailand, we use so many pesticides, it’s like the top five in the world for using pesticides, for vegetables and fruits, which is super bad. And our climate…well people often say that growing organic food costs more, but in our climate it’s not. Growing organic is faster than growing with pesticides. But like, the chemical companies are brainwashing the farmers to make them think that the special formula for their success is growing vegetables or fruits, so they have to use it. It’s something I would like to help change in the food sector…

I talked to one of the farmers and they know they are using so many pesticides. They don’t eat their own vegetables. They go to the market to buy other vegetables. But they cannot eat [their own]; there are so many [pesticides] they are not able to put it in their stomachs…
Also [I want to] have a farm, not just a farm for business but a farm for education where young people can come to farm and be involved in learning about organic [farming]. Because, I don’t just care about their health, but I care about the health of the worker…because it’s unfair for the workers to take in this gas…it’s toxic chemicals into their bodies. So it’s bad for the people who work there, and it’s also bad for the people who eat it. I think we should change it. That’s an important thing.

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