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Ragin' In Thailand

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(from 2013)

RAGIN’ IN THAILAND

By Andrew Biggs

I had a neighbor in my first year here, a young guy who lived with his wife and new-born baby in the apartment next to mine. I can’t remember his name, since time and Uncle Smirnoff have well and truly erased it, so let’s call him Lek.

One evening I came home to an amazing spectacle.

The entire ground floor of the apartment block was empty. Normally people would stand around smoking and drinking and playing Thai chess and killing time until the soapies, but nobody was there … save for Lek.

He leant against his motorcycle, screaming at the top of his lungs towards the apartment block. He had the strangest look on his face; of a man possessed, a face flattened of any emotion other than unbridled anger.

Was this a joke? No. But he was mighty mad at his wife.

What spilled from his mouth were the very worst expletives, referencing the aridness of his wife’s private anatomy, so obscene it had clearly sent everybody scurrying. Including me.

The barrage stopped after a good 15 minutes, a long time when someone is cursing his wife so publically and brutally. I have no idea how or why it stopped but it did.

The next time I saw Lek and his wife was on the weekend at the adjacent market and everything was back to normal. Lek was carrying their six-month-old baby and his wife was carrying all manner of vegetables and we had a short, civil conversation.

I had to restrain myself from asking something like “So everything’s okay between the two of you now?” since the flash of rage was clearly gone. Life was back to normal.

I hadn’t thought of Lek for ages (his baby must be 24 years old now) until Bodin Issara made the news.

Bodin is a Youtube phenomenon this week. He was the badminton player who managed to get himself into the finals of the Canada Open on talent, only to get himself out of the competition thanks to what he himself described as bundarn tosa.

Before we examine that word I have to say this; as much as I am an ardent supporter of Thailand, its culture and its wonderful people, sometimes we really do stuff things up in the most spectacular way.

I mean, guys! Here we are at the Canada Open, a prestigious sporting event in the badminton world that’s been held annually since 1957.

For the first time Thailand makes it to the final of the men’s doubles but not just one team, dear reader. Two Thai teams make it to the finals. That in itself should grant each players free lifetime membership to Hua Mark Stadium (I know … and second prize is two free lifetime memberships but still, you get the idea.).

I confess I don’t really follow world badminton, but I do have a Thai friend who is obsessed about the sport to the point of being boring and according to him, for any country to have its two teams make it to the final is a spectacular achievement.

What happened next has been covered in the world media. Bodin was on one team, and Maneepong Jongjit on the other. These two used to be a team that made it to the quarter finals of the London Olympics last year, remember? No, I don’t either, but my Thai friend claims it was big news at the time.

Something happened after the Olympics. Bodin and Maneepong had a falling out. In January Bodin claimed an ailing mother as a reason for him pulling out. He resurfaced a month later with a new partner.

Bodin certainly looked like a man possessed (not unlike my neighbor Lek) when he beat the oojara out of Maneepong, chasing him around the court and throwing a chair and generally acting like the guys at the end of my soi when somebody sings “Take Me Home Kun-Tee-Load” one too many times at the karaoke bar.

This was despicable by world badminton standards. In the 56-year history of the Canada Open, only two black cards have ever been issued, suggesting badminton players are either (a) well-behaved or (b) even duller than my friend who plays the sport. The umpire put an end to the match, disqualifying Bodin’s team. For the first time, Thailand won the Canada Open but who remembers that?

The video clip of Bodin going berserk has left the world scratching its head.

There is a well-circulated belief about Thais that they “never get angry.” Travel books speak of how well-behaved and polite the Thais are, and how getting angry doesn’t get you anywhere since the Thais themselves frown on such displays.

It is true that anger is frowned upon in Thai society, but then again, point me to a society where anger is actively encouraged.

It is also true that Thais are well-mannered and polite, but what about Lek? What about Bodin? Are they exceptions?

Absolutely not. They are most definitely the norm.

When we Westerners find something offensive, we fly off the handle. We rant and rave and scream and shout. We stamp our feet, we raise our voices. Then it’s over and done with.

When a Thai finds something offensive, he bottles it up. He files the anger away. And it is there in his heart that it festers and grows. And when it explodes … well, look out for the flying chairs on badminton courts.

If anger were an ATM machine, then we westerners are forever withdrawing 500 and 1,000 Baht notes. The Thais don’t visit it as often as we do, but when they do, it’s to press that 10,000 Baht button.

Why can’t a Thai get angry all the time? It’s not just the emphasis on being polite. Perhaps it because there is a risk involved with getting angry.

Anger is akin to taking a clear stand on an issue, and this is something Thais are not keen to do for fear of being held accountable for that stand or, worse, stepping on somebody’s toes in the social ladder.

Bodin puts his bad behavior down to bundarn tosa, that wonderful-sounding word that means a sudden surge of uncontrollable fury.

It probably means a “fit of rage”, but I always imagined a “fit” to be something very short. Over in a few seconds. Bodin’s behavior went well past a few seconds, so what do we call that if it isn’t a “fit”? A “fat” of rage, perhaps?

I just wish Bodin had sat down with Maneepong and sorted out their differences over a coffee or something stronger, as we humans with our powers of reason are capable of doing.

In that way, Bodin would not have become the celebrity-in-a-teacup he found himself to be this week, overshadowing some major triumphs, like the fact a 22-year-old Thai girl, Nicha-on Jindaporn, won the women’s singles title at the same event. It is the first time a female Thai badminton clinched that honor.

Alas, thanks to Bodin’s behavior, her amazing feat that would otherwise be the source of much joy and celebration has already, six days later, been swept aside and relegated, like an academic footnote, to the very last and insignificant paragraph of this column.

/Andrew



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