Prachatai had another refreshingly non-political story the other day, centering on the popularity of Thai soap operas in the minority Shan community in Myanmar.
A study by Amporn Jirattikorn called ‘ละครไทยเปลี่ยนเสียงไต’ tells us that Thai dramas are recorded from the satellite broadcast and re-dubbed in the Shan language. These ‘Tai-dubbed Thai soaps’ are shown in makeshift cinemas and rented out as VCDs and have captured quite a following.
The Shan people (more familliarly known to Thais as Thai Yai) are surprisingly close in kinship to us Thais. Thais, Laotians and Shans are collectively called Tai people and have mother-tongues that are closely related.
I guess this shared heritage may explain why Thai ‘after the news’ soaps have become such a cultural phenonmemon for Shans community. Thai content is very much ‘localized’ to Shan tastes. In addition to dubbing, Thai stars now gained a following with new Shan nicknames:
เอกลักษณ์เฉพาะของละครไทยเปลี่ยนเสียงไตนั้นก็คือชื่อของดารานักแสดงทุกคนจะถูกเปลี่ยนเป็นชื่อภาษาไทยใหญ่ อาทิ กบ-สุวนันท์ คงยิ่ง ก็กลายเป็น ‘เขียวยุ้ม’, ปฏิภาณ ปฐวีกานต์ เป็น ‘จายจ๋อมเหลือน’ ขณะ วิลลี่ แมคอินทอช เป็น ‘ขุนฟ้าโหลง’ และ พัชราภา ไชยเชื้อ คือ ‘นางเหวเงิน’ ฯลฯ
Amporn says that the popularity of the ‘foreign’ soaps have, paradoxically, served to deepen the Shan’s own cultural identity. The fact that they are dubbed in the Shan language has made the mother-tongue more accepted. Parents have been reported to name their children with the Shan-nized name of the Thai soap stars (like ‘เคอแสน’ for ธีรเดช วงศ์พัวพันธุ์ ) instead of a Burmese name. The article goes on to describe the another effect of this cultural exchange – it seems the seeds of consumerism have also been incubated in the Shan imagination as well.
All this makes me think of how, as a Thai person, my world view tends to make me ignore what goes on nearer to home with our immediate neighbors or even in the fringes of our society. What goes on in far away America or Japan captures the imagination more than the muffled news we hear from Myanmar or Laos, or refugee camps on the borders. Aside from occasional fads for hill-tribe kids as singers I don’t think it would hurt to pay more attention.
– The article reminds me of the one on ‘Greater Finland’ in The Economist Christmas issues a while back.
– For further reading: Openbooks’ “ไทรบพม่า” on the recent history of the Shan nation.
– An ex-school mate runs this travel site, called Painaima.com (ไปไหนมา ดอท คอม). The photography is gorgeous and they organize trips to regional destinations. Sounds fun!
– Recommended: I like this book, “Bamboo Palace” by Australian Christopher Kremmer. A mix of the history and a travelogue through Laos and investigative journalism into the fate of the country’s last king.