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Asian Opinions

Tan Hui Yee
Tuesday, Jun 24, 2014

Asian Opinions

Happiness drive in Land of Smiles

The Straits Times | Tan Hui Yee | Tuesday, Jun 24, 2014

There's a version of Thailand sold by its tourism authority, replete with images of easy smiles, abundant rice fields and simple, peaceful lives in harmonious communities.

"Happiness here does not diminish," declares the narrator of a recent video by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, which asks tourists to "discover the Thainess" of attractions nationwide.

Of late, the kingdom's ruling junta has chimed in, telling educators to shore up Thai identity and values it deems eroded by nearly a decade of political conflict.

It is running a campaign to "return happiness to the people", though with a nationalistic edge which some fear will exclude anybody who does not fall in line.

On June 6, as the military entered its third week in charge after toppling the civilian government, junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha told the nation in a televised address: "We should help to reinforce the values of 'Being Thai', national pride, and upholding the institution of the monarchy.

These values should be included in the school curriculum by the Ministry of Education."

An Office of the Basic Education Commission official said the next day that it was looking into revising school textbooks to reinforce students' sense of patriotism.

"We will improve modules… so that the children will know about unity and love for their country," said its deputy secretary-general Kamol Rordklai, as quoted by local media outlet Khaosod.

Last Sunday, the junta arranged a free screening of a dramatised biopic of King Naresuan, a 16th-century ruler celebrated for his triumph over Burmese invaders.

This is the fifth instalment of a popular film series featuring army officers in both lead and supporting roles.

Nationwide, uniformed soldiers handed out free tickets to eager hordes.

In a cinema on the outskirts of the capital Bangkok, a junta banner bearing images of an elephant duel lauded "our ancestors' dedication of blood and lives against all enemy". It also vowed "to support, to protect, and to sacrifice our lives to country".

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