Runaway monk and a ‘Russian puppet’ were the stars in first half of 2017

opinion December 13, 2017 01:00

By Tulsathit Taptim
The Nation

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Disclaimer: The following year-in-review column doesn’t necessarily feature the events that had most impact. There have been major terrorist attacks around the world this year, but the article makes no mention of terrorism. Instead, the following is mainly a sifting of major events that made waves in Thailand.



January: 2017 began with America and the rest of the world still trying to come to terms with Donald Trump’s shocking election victory. “Russian interference” was what his opponents and much of the media claimed, which raised eyebrows about the planet’s “strongest democracy”.

The triumph, some said, underscored the dwindling influence of conventional media, which had portrayed him as a walking catalyst for World War III and had prepared to embrace Hillary Clinton as the first female president of the United States.

China, meanwhile, continued to make footballing jaws – including those of Spanish big spenders like Barcelona – drop by splashing huge amounts of money on importing foreign players.

In Thailand, a campaign to make public transport vans safer was in full swing, kick-started by the knee-jerk reaction state officials always when a tragic road accident hits the headlines. 

February: Thailand appointed a new Supreme Patriarch, bringing a potentially explosive controversy to a peaceful conclusion. The appointment garnered general acceptance after weeks of vociferous showdowns between the political sides had threatened to tear the religious landscape apart. However, while the political confrontation was an immediate danger, it was rooted in the society’s misinterpretation of Buddhist doctrine, which actually promotes the turning of the other cheek and denounces vanity, greed, anger and the controlling urge. 

On the business front, HBO was being dropped by TrueVisions, a big deal for movie buffs who had subscribed to the cable TV operator. Most had to grit their teeth and bear it because cancelling membership was not the simple choice TrueVisions made it sound.

March: One of the globe’s most controversial spiritual leaders was stripped of his ecclesiastical rank, setting the stage for a manhunt that divided Thais along political lines. Dhammachayo is still on the run today. Even now, this story of a highly popular Buddhist monk, whose teachings challenged core concepts of the religion, is far from over, with implications likely to multiply next year.

April: May the father of the Internet rest in peace. Most Web surfers wouldn’t recognise the name Bob Taylor, as they roam cyberspace, googling for answers, uploading holiday photos and e-mailing across oceans. Taylor was instrumental in creating the Internet and modern computer, and he passed away this month, at the age of 85.

As a researcher at the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency in 1966, he was frustrated by the fact he had to use three separate computer terminals to communicate with colleagues because the systems were incompatible. The rest, as they say, is history.

May: A tense stand-off, the first of several, occurred between Dhammachayo’s followers and those who wanted the elusive monk arrested. He was not the first immensely famous monk to face charges of fraud in Thailand but he was certainly the most popular and commanded easily the largest following. His Dhammakaya Temple was also linked with one side in the always explosive political polarity, which meant attempts to incriminate the monk in a massive embezzlement scam became a bitter national controversy.

June: Reports from Japan and China revealed that the globe’s huge reserves of “combustible ice” are one step closer to being tapped. Scientists say commercialisation of this frozen fuel could revolutionise energy production and bring radical change in world economics and politics, but ecological concerns over its exploitation linger.

Meanwhile, Ariya Jutanugarn became the pride, and also the enigma, of Thailand. The female golfer captured the world No 1 spot, briefly but deservedly. Just how a Thai had conquered this elite global sport was not quite clear though. Golf is not like boxing, which Thais have focused on for decades, or sepak takraw, which is confined to Southeast Asia. And golf still has a relatively small following in Thailand – which explains why some people were asking “Ariya who?” 

Experts saw no mystery here, however, pointing out that Thais have long excelled in “individual sports”. Before Ariya, it had been Paradon Srichaphan and Tamarine Tanasugarn (tennis), Ratchanok Intanon (badminton), James Wattana (snooker) and Khaosai Galaxy (boxing), not to mention all the Olympic heroes. It’s team games where we have problems, with the notable exception of women’s volleyball. 

Tune in next week for a stroll through the second half of 2017.