November 25, 2008

Color Me Thailand

Color plays a symbolic role in almost any culture in the world.

In Thailand, color plays an extremely important role.
Under Buddhists cosmology, days of the week are assigned different colors. With 98% of Thails being of this religion, colors take on added importance. They go to extremes wearing shirts of different colors on different days of the weak, shirts to represent which side of the political protesting they are. Not only do the colors voice support but there is often much symbolism in the colors.

On Monday, the color is yellow. The masses wear yellow polo shirts emblazoned with the king's symbol. A nice polo shirt sales for about 80-150 baht or about $2- 5. The yellow shirt phenomena began in 2006 when the country celebrated the 60th anniversary of the King of Thailand's reign. The mass fashion state began to support the beloved monarch who was purportedly born on a Monday. Some companies even require their employees to don the very brightest of yellow shirts on Mondays. When you ask a yellow shirter why they are wearing yellow, they all respond the same: " We support the king."

The
King Bhumibol Adulyadej is now in his 80s. His loyal subjects pay attention to what he wears. A few years ago, he was hospitalized. When he checked out of the hospital on a Tuesday, he wore a pink blazer and a pink dress shirt. The country went crazy with sell outs of hot pink shirts almost everywhere. Why did the monarch wear pink and spark a new fashion tend? Well, once again the Buddhist cosmology is responsible. But many other tie-ins have been proffer to explain the importance of pink on Tuesdays.

The color pink is the same as the color of piece of silk [rayon] ribbon used in the symbol for the ceremonial celebration for King’s 80th birthday. Also, pink is the color determined by astrologists and fortune-tellers for the year of the King’s birth. The color means that the King will have good health and will fully recover from his illness. Pink is the color of the Year of the Rabbit, the astrological year of the King’s birth. andPink is Tuesday’s symbolic color which is the day after Monday, the day of the week of the King’s birth. Wearing pink is alsoa way of wishing the King a long life. Chulalongkorn University where I have been teaching also has adopted pink as its official color. So when I gave a talk to university deans on Tuesday, November 25th, what color did I wear? Of course I wore hot pink. Everyone commented and praised me on my good fashion sense. It was also interesting to note that among executives attending the the ceremony, the color of pink was toned down. But there certainly were a large number of pale pink shirts in the room.

The newest color is green in Thailand as the king and his countrymen tackle environmental issues. If the King shows up wearing a shirt of any particular color, then his very loyal subjects tend to also want to wear that color. While green has not caught on to the same degree that yellow and pink have taken hold, it never the less is presence. Slogans about Thailand focus on green and serenity.
More importantly, there is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Its purpose is to house a Buddha image carved from a solid piece of green jade. The emerald Buddha was brought from Vietian when the city was captured in 1778. King Rama I built the temple and enshrined the Emerald Buddha there as a symbol of Siam's regained nationhood. The temple does not house any monks. Rather, it is more like the personal chapel of the royal family.

So what other colors are important?

Recently, memorial services were held for the King's sister who died in January. For three days of ceremonies which cost an estimated $11 million to hold, individuals throughout Thailand wore black or white out of respect. The King's sister did much good for the country.
The Princess Galyani Vadhana, the elder sister of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, headed up more than 60 charities. . The ceremony took place at Sanam Luang, or Royal grounds, where Thai kings and royal family members have been cremated for the past two centuries. It was shown on all Thai stations. The funeral provides a show of pageantry, Brahmin and Buddhist ritual and Thai artistry not witnessed since the ceremonies after the death of the king's princess mother Srinagarinda in 1996. The funeral platform was built to resemble the mythical Mount Meru, the Hindu heaven. More than 200 artists worked on the platform for 7 months. Sixty soldiers carried theprincess' remains e on an ornate palanquin platform from the Grand Palace to the funeral area. At the time of the funeral, I was in Chiang Mai and everyone -- from the highest officials to the street cleaners-- wore black or white out of respect for the princess.

Thai politics also are alive with color -- sometimes with ironic purpose.

The protesters represent the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). At the time of this posting, they are a sea of yellow at the airport in Bangkok. PAD has made many many people upset.

PAD supporters wear yellow, the color symboically associated with the nation’s beloved constitutional monarch. Masses of them sit day after day listening to protest talks. Some are actually paid 500-800 baht to attend the rallies. This may not seem like much but the minimum wage in Bangkok is 205 baht a day! So this is actually pretty good pay for sitting and listening to talks. But now people are getting hurt.



In Bangkok, many people I interact with on a daily basis, apologize to me for their actions. They are embarrassed by their actions. I have had young woman apologize to me in a Thai massage shop, a clerk in a store, the doorman at my apartment, the clerk at the 7-11. My heart goes out to these people. The majority of Thai people are generous and kind and wonderful.


Now the anti-protestors favor the color red I can not find information on why they chose the color red except that it is a dominate color in the Thai flag. But red is their color of choice. I made the mistake of wearing a red jacket to a presentation and was reminded that it represented support for the current administration and asked if that is what I felt. So one must be careful on the choice of colors.

If you are tired of the whole ordeal and country infighting which many Thai citizens are turning to the color of white which represents serenity and peace. This is the color of choice for me. I pray for resolution of the in-fighting. This country is full of wonderful people. It's image is being tarnished by the few who want the conflict to stay alive. It is a pity IMHO

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40 comments:

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