|THE UNITED NATIONS SYSTEM
The United Nations works worldwide through six major organs:
• General Assembly
• Security Council
• Economic and Social Council
• Trusteeship Council
• International Court of Justice
All are based at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, except for the International Court of Justice which is based in The Hague. In addition there are 10 United Nations bodies and about 20 specialized agencies and international organizations, located mostly in the developed world, but with a few headquartered in developing countries.
The following organizations have regional or liaison offices in Bangkok:
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF);
United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM);
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP);
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP);
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR);
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC);
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA);
Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS);
International Labour Organization (ILO);
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO);
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO);
World Health Organization (WHO);
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO);
Universal Postal Union (UPU);
International Telecommunication Union (ITU);
United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS);
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) and United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN ISDR).
The regional arm of the United Nations Secretariat for the Asian and Pacific region is the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP). It is located in the United Nations Building, Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue, Bangkok, Thailand. The functions of UNESCAP have been defined by the Secretary-
General as follows:
(a) Promoting economic and social development through regional and subregional cooperation and integration;
(b) Serving as the main economic and social development forum within the United Nations system for the ESCAP region;
(c) Formulating and promoting development assistance activities and projects commensurate with the needs and priorities of the region while acting as an executing agency for relevant operational projects;
(d) Providing substantive and secretariat services and documentation for the Commission and its subsidiary bodies;
(e) Carrying out studies, research and other activities within the terms of reference of the Commission;
(f) Providing advisory services to governments at their request;
(g) Developing and executing programmes of technical cooperation;
(h) Coordinating ESCAP activities with those of the major departments/offices of the United Nations at Headquarters and specialized agencies and intergovernmental organizations.
To carry out these functions, the UNESCAP secretariat comprises the Office of the Executive Secretary, the Office of Executive Secretary, the United Nations Information Services and the following divisions:
• Subregional Office for East and Northeast Asia
• Administrative Services Division
• Environment and Development Division
• Information and Communications Technology and Disaster Risk Reduction Division
• Macroeconomic Policy and Development Division
• Programme Management Division
• Statistics Division
• Trade and Investment Division
• Transport Division
• Subregional Office for North and Central Asia
• Subregional Office for the Pacific
• Subregional Office for South and Southwest Asia
Historically Thailand has been a South-East Asian migratory, cultural and religious crossroads. Indeed there are conflicting opinions as to the origins of the Thai people. It was thought that they originated in north-western Szechuan in China about 4,500 years ago and later migrated to their present homeland. The first recorded mention of the Thai people occurs in the records of the southern Chinese kingdom of Nan Chao which existed in the Yangtze River region in 700 AD. However, the discovery of
prehistoric artifacts in Ban Chiang in north-eastern Thailand, including evidence of a bronze metallurgy in 3000 BC, and a rice-growing culture going back to 4000 BC suggest that these people later scattered to various parts of Asia. A third theory suggests the Thais were originally of Austronesian, rather than Mongoloid, stock and migrated northwards from the Malay archipelago.
People of Indian origin came to South-East Asia around the third century BC, bringing with them Buddhism and Brahmanism. By the ninth to the eleventh century AD an “Indianized” civilization, called Dvaravati, existed in central and western Thailand. Its people, the Mons, established Theravada Buddhism as the dominant religion, but little else is known of them. By the eleventh to twelfth centuries, Mon dominance was replaced by the Khmer empire to the east. This was a tightly organized society with remarkable capacities for territorial and cultural expansion. From its capital in Angkor, it stretched into the north-east, centre and west of Thailand. The Khmers played a significant role in the evolution of Thai art, architecture and court life.
In the thirteenth century as Khmer power was waning, the first uniquely Thai kingdom was founded in northern Thailand at Sukhothai. It was a brief, but brilliant era, during which the third king, Ramkhamhaeng, devised an alphabet for the Thai language, purified the local Buddhism, established diplomatic relations with China and encouraged a flowering of artistic expression in sculpture and architecture. During the latter half of the fourteenth century, poor leadership and the emergence of strong Thai states further south, particularly Ayutthaya, led to the decline of Sukhothai.
For over 400 years, Ayutthaya was the dominant power in the Chao Phraya basin. Thai culture flourished and the nation’s political power was greatly extended, spanning parts of present-day Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia and Myanmar. To administer this kingdom a hierarchical social system, with the monarchs seen as god-kings, and a complex administrative system,
precursor of the present Thai bureaucracy, was evolved. Foreigners arrived in the sixteenth century, international trade flourished and Ayutthaya became one of South-East Asia’s richest emporia, comparing favourably with Paris and London.
Unfortunately, Ayutthaya’s relations with its neighbours were not always cordial and in 1767, after a 15-month siege, the Burmese captured Ayutthaya, sacking and burning the city, and destroying most of its artistic treasures and official archives. Yet within a few years of this shattering defeat, a half-Chinese general, Phraya Taksin, had not only defeated all his rivals but also the Burmese invaders. He became king and established his capital in Thonburi, strategically situated near the mouth of the Chao Phraya River. However, the strain of fighting the invaders and building a new state took its toll on the king. Following an internal political conflict in 1782 a fellow general, Chao Phraya Chakri, was chosen king.
The new king, Rama I, established Bangkok as the capital and founded the Chakri dynasty of which the ruling monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is the ninth king. The first three kings devoted themselves to nation-building. The following two kings, Rama IV and Rama V, through clever diplomacy and westernizing policies, were able to avoid the colonial fate of Thailand’s neighbours. Rama V abolished slavery and corvee labour, introduced postal and telegraph services, built railways and secular schools and reorganized and modernized government ministries. For these achievements, he is the most loved and honoured of all past Chakri kings.
The absolute monarchy continued until 1932, when the global economic depression and the return of Western-educated Thais led to demands for reform. The king (Rama VII) had written a new constitution, but before he could persuade his conservative relatives to accept it, a bloodless revolution took place, establishing a constitutional monarchy. Two years later, Rama VII abdicated and the throne passed to his nephew, the young King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII) who continued his studies in
Switzerland. During the Second World War, the Thai Government allied itself with the Axis powers, but there was a very strong Free Thai movement, which was of great help to the Allies. Consequently,
Thailand was spared having to make severe wartime reparations. Rama VIII returned to Thailand after the Second World War, reigning until 1946. He was succeeded by his brother, King Bhumipol.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral legislature. Political parties tend to cluster around powerful individuals and so elections are not fought on clearly defined party platforms. Up until 2001, in order to secure a majority in the House of Representatives, governments had had to form coalitions of different parties, with key ministerial portfolios being handed to the leaders of different parties. In the January 2001 elections which were the first since the formation of an electoral commission to oversee the electoral process and prevent fraud, the Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party won a
majority in the lower house of parliament. The election of 2001 was a landmark event in the political history of the country as it was the first under the 1997 constitution and it heralded a new era of political stability.
Subsequently in the February 2005 elections the TRT increased its majority in parliament with a landslide victory gaining 377 of the 500 seats in parliament. Elections are held every four years.
A predominantly agrarian society has been transformed into a newly industrializing economy. In the 1970s, an industrial sector based on import substitution began to emerge. By the 1980s, the emphasis had changed to export-oriented, manufacturing based on labour-intensive products. This enabled Thailand, from the mid-1980s, to embark on a decade of rapid economic growth, averaging close to 10 per cent a year. By the 1990s, the fastest export growth was in higher-technology goods, such as computer accessories and motor vehicle parts. The standards of living improved dramatically, an aspiring middle class emerged and skyscrapers dominated Bangkok’s skyline.
However, growth was marred by some poor judgements in investment priorities, leading to an increasing current account deficit, substantially financed by short-term capital inflows. This caused a financial crisis in 1997 when lenders and investors started to call in their loans and portfolio investments.The central bank was forced to abandon its defence of the currency, leading to a drastic devaluation.
Gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 0.4 per cent in 1997 and by over 10 per cent in 1998. Only then did it become painfully obvious that the economic fundamentals of the economy were out of line.
Thailand recovered but is currently again facing problems in the face of a sharp rise in the oil price and a general slow down of the global economy.
The Thai currency is the Baht, which is divided into 100 satang. Coins are issued in 10 Baht, five and one Baht, as well as 50 and 25 satang, denominations. Notes are issued in denominations of 1,000, 500, 100, 50 and 20 Baht. The current US dollar to baht exchange rate can be found on the following web sites: www.ethailand.com. or http://bangkokpost.com.
Most of Thais are Buddhist but there is total religious freedom and all major
religions can be found in practice. Many of the Thai festivals are linked not only to Buddhist, but also to Brahman rituals. There is absolute freedom of religion – Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and other faiths 4 per cent are Muslims, 1 percent are Christians, and the remainder Hindus, Sikhs and other religion.
The Thai people are traditionally noted for their politeness, tolerance, peaceful way of life and love of freedom. Although Thailand has suffered periodic invasions, and was occupied by Japan in the Second World War, the strong desire for freedom has not been dampened. Bloodless coups and the absence of civil wars are evidence of the strong desire for a peaceful way of life. It is a society of relationships, not one of law. To understand Thai culture, knowledge of Buddhist philosophy is helpful.
The Thais have a genius for absorbing outside influences while retaining their own identity. For example, from about 1850 until just after the Second World War there was a steady flow of immigrants from China who established themselves in commerce throughout the country. The Government has successfully encouraged the assimilation of the Chinese people, with the result that second and third generation Tae Jiu, Cantonese and Hokkien regard themselves first and foremost as Thais.
There are certain recognizable Thai cultural markers that, if ignored, could make life in the office a little difficult. Well over 90 per cent of the ESCAP General Service staff are Thai nationals. Some of these markers will be familiar to other Asian peoples:
1. Face People are accorded their own personal dignity so it is considered very impolite to cause them to lose their dignity through confronting them over a mistake or embarrassing them. Avoiding confrontation, embarrassment or negativity allows people to “save face”.
2. Sanook (fun) Anything worth doing should have an element of fun or it becomes pure drudgery. Of course, this is easier if several people are working together rather than in isolation. This possibly dates back to the
days when the whole community would be involved in the rice harvest or in building someone a new house. One of the meanings of the Thai word for “work” is “party”.
3. Relationships/deference. Since the time of Ayutthaya, Thai society has been hierarchical in terms of age, social class, wealth and power. Therefore, it is difficult to find two people who are equal in all respects. In order to lubricate this rather rigid system, a set of duties and rights for unequal relationships has been evolved. It is sometimes called the patron-client relationship. The clients respect the patrons (for example, subordinates do not challenge their boss in meetings, preferring to work behind the scenes) and the patrons are obligated to care for or sponsor their clients (for example, the clients can ask for favours involving money and jobs and the patron always has to pay the restaurant bill!).
4. Comportment. Thailand is a relatively formal country where looks and behaviour are important and can determine how foreigners are perceived and treated. A neat and clean appearance, discreet relations with the opposite
sex, and subtle, quiet modes of expression are respected. Thus, casual leisure wear is not seen in the office and displays of impatience and temper are very much frowned upon. Skimpy beach wear, loud behaviour and an unkempt appearance are offensive to Thai people.
5. Respect for the monarchy and religion. It is taboo to speak disrespectfully of the royal family and of Buddhism. Not to stand for the royal anthem or to enter a temple wearing shorts and a singlet is considered very disrespectful. Any derogatory act that can be construed as l?se-majest? is a criminal offence.
In addition there are certain social norms, such as the “wai” (the placing together of both hands and raising them to the chest or face) rather than the handshake. Some social taboos are as follows:
• Touch another person’s head
• Point with the feet (be careful when sitting with one leg crossed over the other)
• Wear shoes in the house or in a temple
• Touch a monk, however inadvertently, if you are a woman
• Make public displays of affection between the sexes
Thai is the official language of the country, taught in all the schools, with four distinct dialects in the different regions. It is a tonal language with five tones: rising, falling, mid, high and low. This means that one letter may have several different sounds and one sound may be represented by different letters. Mostly monosyllabic, Thai has few tenses, but a great abundance of pronouns that are used to reflect status. The literacy rate is 93.8 per cent. The English transliteration of Thai words may vary considerably, for example, the street on which the United Nations Building stands can be written as:
Rajdamnoen, Rajdamnern, Rajadamnern, Rajadamnoen or Ratchadamnoen.
G. Thai Cuisine
Thai cuisine is justifiably world famous. It is a subtle and complex blend of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Polynesian influences. Seasoned with garlic, ginger and chilies, it mixes lime juice, lemon grass, fresh coriander, basil, galanga root, tamarind juice, ground peanuts and coconut milk Dishes range from pungent curries, spicy salads, barbecued meat and seafood, to mild noodle dishes that can be made spicy by adding different sauces. It surprises in its mix of meat and seafood in the same dish and in the way it is served. There are some very sweet desserts, some deriving from Portuguese dishes, and a great range of tropical fruits. In a Thai meal, all the dishes are put in the centre of the table to be shared, but only one serving at a time is eaten with the rice. Serving spoons are not always provided. Thai food is eaten with a spoon in the right hand and a fork in the left hand. Chopsticks are used for noodle dishes.
1. Local weights and measures
The metric system is generally used, although the following Thai weights and measurements are still in common use:
(a) Surface measurements
- one rai equals 1,600 square metres (one acre = two and a half rai; one hectare = six and a quarter rai);
- one square wah equals four square metres (1 wah = 2 meters)
- one niew equals one inch
- one keed equals 100 grams
2. Electricity supply: 220 volts and 50 cycles; equipment using 110 volts can only be used in Thailand with a good transformer.
3. Calendar: Although the Western calendar is widely used, the official Thai calendar follows the Buddhist era (BE) that begins with the nirvana of the Lord Buddha 2,548 years ago. The difference between the western and Thai calendar is 543 years. Thus, the conversion formula is to add 543 to the western year to arrive at the Thai year. (For example, 2005 in Western calendar is 2548 in Thai.)
4. DVDs and Videocassettes: The PAL system is used, although television sets, DVD players and VCRs can be bought which are dual-voltage and multi-system. In addition, Thailand falls under region 3 of the DVD standard. This means that the DVD encoded for use in a different region may not play in Thailand unless one has a region free player or a player that allows the region to be selected. Recordable DVDs such as those created on a home computer should be playable in any DVD player.
(Extract from Guide to UNESCAP for New Staff Members: http://www.unescap.org/about/guide.pdf)