Save malls, Lumphini Park is the largest and most utilized public space in Bangkok. At all hours, the 150-acre Lumphini teems with performance and exercise programs that may involve anything from flags and matching uniforms to swords and tea, from high-octane aerobics jams to casual rounds of badminton between siblings. It is easy, actually, to find a quiet spot. But walk twenty feet and you might find yourself in the audible orbit of something completely different. Everyone, it seems, is busy honing their mind or body.

Although the sheer variety of training routines is extraordinary and includes many very different kinds of practices, much of what occurs in this park is geared toward achieving unity and discipline. People of all ages and ethnicities work toward a kind of heightened togetherness; very few people do anything alone, and there are almost no competitive sports. Disciplining oneself to match the teacher or the group is the most typical goal for those who come to the park.

This video documents a half hour between 7:30 and 8:00 yesterday morning in Lumphini, from a singing class to an aerobics club. In between the action, everyone pauses for the public recitation of the national anthem, which happens twice a day, every day, at 8:00AM and 6:00PM. In fact, the anthem is broadcast over mounted loudspeakers in nearly every public place in the entire country at these times, as well as on television. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, you stop in your tracks and stand still for the song. In crowded or otherwise fast-moving places, this is quite a sight. The anthem, and the specific way that it gets recited, are deployed as regular reminders of state sovereignty, and of each individual’s place in a Thai nation that is supposed to stand as a single, unfractured entity. This video is thus a vignette about the pursuit of unity.

Get Adobe Flash player