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Thai History/Culture at a Glance. -------------------------------- No one really knows when and where the Thai civilization originated. If the current popular theory, that the Thai people have been here in their present location from the very beginning, is correct then the Thai civilization is a very ancient one, as is attested by the various recently unearthed artifacts. The bronze artifacts at Ban Chiang, a small village in Northeastern Thailand for example, have been dated to be as much as 1,000 years older than those of Mesopotamia. Written record of the Thai people started in the 13th Century A.D. when King Ramkamhaeng of Sukhothai Kingdom invented Thai alphabets by an adaptation from Pali, the language used in Buddhist Scriptures. Some scholars, however, contend that a similar script had already been in use in the area long before the supposed invention. Sukhothai's power gradually eroded and was superseded by the Southern principality centering at Sri Ayudhaya. Under the Sri Ayudhaya Kingdom, the Thai people had strengthen their identity both as a unique group of people and as a nation through language, art, culture, trades and warfares with neighboring countries. In 1782, after Sri Ayudhaya was demolished for the second time by the invading Burmese, the capital was relocated briefly at Thonburi and then to Bangkok, where it has survived and prospered up to the present. With the central capital established and the Kingdom's boundary secured from warfare, art, architecture, and culture once again flourish. Trades and contacts with the West also increased dramatically during this period. Thailand's long acquaintance with the West together with her shrewdness in diplomatic maneuvering and her strength had contributed to her being the only country in South/Southeast Asia to have preserved independence through the Colonial Era. Despite her relative small size, Thailand is very diversified. There are many ethnic groups within the country. But in general, there are four major dialects (and hence subcultures) within Thailand: the Central, the North, the Northeast and the South. Thai language in particular is very rich, unique, subtle and poetic. It is no wonder that poem has been an integral part of the Thai culture. Varieties of Thai poems are as many and as tasty as Thai foods. Buddhism has flourished in this area for a long time, as is evidenced by the findings about the Suwannaphumi and the Srivijaya Kingdoms. By the time of the Sukhothai Era, the Thai people had already accepted Theravada Buddhism as their national religion, though sometimes mixed with Hinduistic and animistic beliefs. In the deep South, however, Islam has been the dominant religion. There are roughly 96% Buddhists and 4% Muslims in the Kingdom of Thailand. There has never been an incident of religious or ethnic clash in Thailand, an indication of high toleration among her diversified people. There are about 10% ethnic Chinese in the Kingdom -- The result of years of migration to escape poverty and famines from mainland China. Inter-marriage, similarity in religious beliefs and high toleration on both sides have all contributed to the peaceful co-existence of the Chinese and the mainstream Thais, so much so that both sides seem to completely forget about their differences. It is safe to assume that the second and later generation Chinese think and act like Thais and that they love Thailand and are proud to be Thais. The traditional Thai ways of life have also been modified to some extent by those of the Chinese, especially in the urban area. Absolute Monarchy system was abolished by a bloodless coup d'etat in 1932 and a Constitution Monarchy form of government was established. Since then, Thailand has been struggling with the Western ideal of democracy and economy; many coup d'etats had alternated with elected civilian governments. The past 60 years have seen the Thai people tried to reshape their country to survive and to be respected in the world community. Through all this, the ancient ways of life have still largely been preserved as is attested by: the famous Thai smiles, the serene Buddhist monks walking their alms rounds in early morning, the water-throwing festival in April, the respect for the elderly, the graceful Thai manner, Thai classical music and dances, etc. Let's hope that Thailand will continue to be unique in her evolution path so that she can faithfully do her parts in enhancing lives on this planet earth.