Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
When I arrived in Bangkok, I did not really know what to expect. All I could see as we drove from the Airport to the hostel in Chula were the tall buildings and flyovers, fast traffic and a busy city.
As the days began to roll and I peeked out like a rabbit, from my secure room in Viddhayanives, I got a glimpse of the Thai culture. One thing that has impressed me a lot is the fact the people of Thailand, in spite of being very western when it comes to dressing and other ways of life, have preserved their language and cuisine with pride. In India, where I come from, it is almost a status symbol to speak English and those who do not possess this “skill” are looked down upon – a colonial legacy that we have not been able to get rid of. But personally I would have loved to see the Bangkok locals in traditional attires, as one does in Bhutan. I have yet to see one lady or gentleman dress in the traditional attire. It adds a lot to the beauty of a particular culture. This of course is a very personal view.
Another fact that has caught my eye since day one is how freely the girls can dress up in shorts and micro mini skirts and travel in public transport and roam around till late evening without any unwanted male attention. I am sure Bangkok has its share of criminals and rapists, etc. etc. but I am referring to the common people and I absolutely appreciate this because in my country this is not possible. It pains me that I come from a land that boasts s of 5000 years of history, culture, and heritage and today no girl or woman in the streets of India enjoy this kind of freedom to dress and move about. Women covered from head to toe are pushed, groped, molested, and if nothing else, teased and leached upon. Of course, having said that, we do have that 40% of good souls who do not indulge in such acts but then the other 60% overshadows them. And this is all the more interesting because Thailand is a country famous for sex-tourism and people have all kinds of perceptions about Thailand. This perhaps why I notice unconsciously the behaviour of people at large in public places. And I wish girls back home could enjoy this carefree attitude when it comes to dressing and moving around.
I am not trying to demean my culture or country here, but truth is painful and to correct it, it needs to be acknowledged that somewhere something has gone wrong.
At times I find it funny (later on) when certain things suddenly shock or surprise me. Then I realise that I am holding on to some preconceived notion and I am not yet that sponge that I thought I was. It is rather amazing.
Coming into our classroom at the Rotary Peace Center, we are a group of people from various countries and though some of us are from the same country different geographical positions and local cultural differences do set us apart. Having said that when I look at our group I see a bouquet of multicoloured flowers. Each adding its special touch to make the bouquet beautiful. It is true that we have different skins, different backgrounds, different histories, different geographical and religious allocations – but what is it that binds us together?
I feel what binds us together is the culture of Humanity. We are here studying this course on peace and conflict resolution with the hope that we can make a difference – to try and address the conflicts that have been destroying the fabric of humanity.
That is why I call culture a ribbon – a ribbon that not only ties around and holds together one particular culture, but a ribbon that can be extended to embrace and intertwine with different cultures. And thus create the culture of Humanity. This can be done if we adopt a give and take approach. As I like to quote Dr. Bhupen Hazarika:
“Manuhey manuhor babey jodihey okonu nebhabey okonu xohanubhutirey
Bhabibo kunenu kuwa,xomoniya.”
(If human beings do not feel compassion for other human beings, then who will, my friend?)
Sangeeta Kakoty, India
Rotary Peace Fellow
June 2013 Session