A generous offer

Thailand elephants

America: what could have been

In which Abraham Lincoln declines a most generous offer from a country far, far away:

I appreciate most highly Your Majesty’s tender of good offices in forwarding to this Government a stock from which a supply of elephants might be raised on our own soil. This Government would not hesitate to avail itself of so generous an offer if the object were one which could be made practically useful in the present condition of the United States.

Our political jurisdiction, however, does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant, and steam on land, as well as on water, has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation in internal commerce.

Sakdina: a prototype social credit system

Reading about the Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya, which reigned from 1351 to 1767, I was struck by a description of the feudal ranking system called “sakdina” that was put in place by King Trailok in the early 15th century. Here’s the Wiki summary:

Sakdina (Thai: ศักดินา) was a system of social hierarchy in use from the Ayutthaya to early Rattanakosin periods of Thai history. It assigned a numerical rank to each person depending on their status, and served to determine their precedence in society, and especially among the nobility. The numbers represented the number of rai of land a person was entitled to own—sakdina literally translates as “field prestige”—although there is no evidence that it was employed literally. The Three Seals Law, for example, specifies a sakdina of 100,000 for the Maha Uparat, 10,000 for the Chao Phraya Chakri, 600 for learned Buddhist monks, 20 for commoners and 5 for slaves.

China’s rulers may have learned something from Thai history, because they are now rolling out a dynamic, interactive, socially networked sakdina system for their own people. It is called the social credit system.

Whether it can successfully keep 1.4 billion people in line, in an advanced, high-tech and globally connected society, remains to be seen.

Khaosan Road: a mile-long mosh pit

Khaosan Road in Bangkok, aka the “center of the backpacking universe” — actually a quarter of a mile long, though it feels longer — is a fun place to visit, if you enjoy being surrounded by approximately 2 trillion people in a loud, confined space.

A similarly pleasant experience can be had at a Chinese train station during the holiday travel rush, though unfortunately without the tattoo parlors and street hawkers offering you delicious fried scorpions.

Personally, I’d prefer to spend my time reclining:

Reclining Buddha Ayutthaya

Reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam (Phra Noon), Ayutthaya

Contemplating the Temporality of things:

Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon Ayutthaya

Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon (the Great Monastery of Auspicious Victory), Ayutthaya

Or riding a clickety-clackety old train between Bangkok and the ancient capital of Ayutthaya:

Bangkok dialogue

I am apartment-hunting. The landlord of the place I’m looking at points to a sign in the lobby of the building.

Landlord: This building also has a shuttle bus, it can take you to the BTS [elevated metro system], only 15 minutes.

Me: It takes 15 minutes to get to the BTS?

Landlord: Yes, very convenient.

Me: But the nearest BTS station is a 5-minute walk from here.

Landlord (laughs): You know, Thai people don’t like walking.

Me: You don’t say.

A nation mourns

October 5th was the last day mourners in Thailand were able to pay respects to the late king’s royal urn. The royal cremation ceremony will be held on October 26th. From SCMP:

The funeral of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was known as Rama IX, will take place over five days in October with hundreds of thousands of mourners expected to attend.

For many Thais it will be their first experience of a royal funeral of a monarch. King Bhumibol ruled Thailand for more than seven decades and was widely regarded as the nation’s moral compass during decades of on-off political unrest.

King Bhumibol, 88, died on October 13, 2016. The country has been in an official year of mourning since then with many Thais choosing to wear black.

A comfortable escape

From the Bangkok Post:

Security border officials are quite certain that former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra left Thailand by sea during her escape from Thailand.

A source at the Royal Thai Navy said it was unlikely that Ms Yingluck crossed an unmanned land border, such as those in Chanthaburi and Trat, as they feature mountainous terrain which are thought to be infested with landmines.

“I believe a VIP like Khun Yingluck would not choose such a channel to slip out of the country,” the source said. “She would surely have chosen a comfortable way.”

Ms Yingluck failed to turn up at the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders on Friday to hear the ruling on her alleged negligence in the rice-pledging scheme.

The source added that it would be even harder for Ms Yingluck to leave the country via an official border post, as these are permanently monitored by soldiers, immigration police and customs officials. […]

Whatever method and route she used, it is generally assumed that Ms Yingluck crossed in to Cambodia before catching a flight via Singapore to Dubai, where her brother and fellow former PM Thaksin Shinawatra lives in exile.