Chinatown challenge - Yaowarat is busily getting ready for Asean integration
- June 19, 2012
Bangkok’s Chinatown may be among the first communities in Thailand to be ready to meet the new challenges and opportunities that will arise when the Asean Economic Community (AEC) comes into being in just over two years.
Visitors to the largest Chinese community in Bangkok can already get a taste of the Asean zone atmosphere – guideposts around Wat Traimitr Withayaram Woraviharn in Yaowarat, the main street of Chinatown, carry not only the Thai, Chinese and English languages, but also Burmese. The flags of the 10 Asean member countries are also displayed around the area.
But these are only the first small steps towards preparing the area for the inception of the AEC.
The Wat Traimitr community has set up an Asean Study Centre to provide knowledge about the regional bloc and its member countries for its residents. Last week, the centre launched a Burmese language course at Mahaweeranuwat School in cooperation with the Romchatra Foundation and the Quality Learning Foundation (QLF). The course will teach the Burmese language to both adults and children in the community.
Basic knowledge about Asean already seems to be common among the residents, like Sittinon Sae-chua, a Prathom 1 (Grade 1) student at Mahaweeranuwat School. When asked if he knows about the AEC, he said: “The Asean community consists of 10 countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Laos. It will start in 2015 and then I will go to Malaysia to see my dad who is working there.”
Ask Jirawat Thakwat, a Prathom 6 (Grade 6) student to describe Laos and he says: “In Laos, sabaidee is used as a greeting and they have Phra That Luang [a famous Vientiane temple].”
The school director, Teerapon Dadphan, said school children should start learning about Asean as soon as possible. All of the school’s 400 pupils from kindergarten to Prathom 6 have to visit the centre to learn basic information about all Asean member countries.
Furthermore, teachers have to integrate Asean issues in their classes. Pupils learn basic greetings of the Asean member countries in their foreign languages classes and general information about Asean in geography class.
The centre is also open to other interested people.
Although English is the official language for Asean, the school does not overlook the importance of Asean languages, Mr Teerapon said.
For that reason, the five-day Burmese language course taught by a native speaker is offered free to interested children and residents in Yaowarat.
Started last week, about 30 Yaowarat residents will attend the class at the school on weekends.
And a second class only for children will be launched on June 24.
“Myanmar people live across the country from the North to the South and most of them can speak Thai, but we cannot understand their language,” Mr Teerapon said.
“Learning the language of our neighbour enables us to know more about them, and if you can speak their language, it will impress them. Importantly, Myanmar has opened itself up to the rest of the world,” he said.
Vietnamese will be the second Asean language to be taught in the school in the very near future.
Despite their preparations in getting to know their Asean neighbours, the locals are not forgetting their roots. “We live in Chinatown, so Chinese is still our priority,” Mr Teerapon said.
Prathom 6 student Siao-song Liew said: “I think Chinese is the second most important language in the world, and China is among the Asean plus three countries.
“We should learn other Asean languages, but we should not forget our parents’ original language – Chinese,” he said.
Mr Teerapon said authorities from the Educational Service Area Offices, schools and related institutions have brainstormed to create the Asean curriculum and apply it in all schools in order to educate and prepare students for the Asean community.
Phra Dhamma Bhavanavikrom, an assistant to the Wat Traimitr abbot, said Chinatown has advantages in cultural, social and economic terms.
Three dominant strengths are the biggest golden Buddha image in the world, hundreds of gold shops along the 1,532-metre long Yaowarat Road, and a Thai-Chinese cultural essence.
The temple in which the golden Buddha image is located is acting as a community centre in the preparations for the launch of the AEC.
QLF adviser Amornvit Nakornthap said Thailand should not prepare for the establishment of the Asean community in economic and political-security aspects only. It should also concentrate on the socio-cultural aspects.
“Wat Traimitr community is a good example of how to move towards preparing for the Asean socio-cultural community and a model for other communities to follow,” he said.
Mr Amornvit said efforts to prepare for 2015 should not just depend on the government sector. Communities should also enhance and strengthen their own social and cultural identities to increase their competitiveness in the Asean region.
If not, Thailand risks lagging behind other Asean members rather than gaining benefits and opportunities from the grouping which has its roots in Thailand.