Roll On Roll On

Essay For Arin Rungjang

From your Bangkok apartment, you can hear many things: the car wash and the endless lines of taxis to be scrubbed; the scream of a motorbike and the silence that comes after it to what seems like the calm before the inevitable crash. Over this is the voice of Celine Dion and the keyboard accompaniment by the Dutch expat that lives next door; then there is the radio switching between Dutch and Australian news, mixing in with 1960s Thai psychedelia discovered online. Once you have orientated yourself to the sounds, and if the warm breeze is just right, you can hear the chants and the leaders addressing the demonstrators. What is more, you can hear Mor Lam.

หมอลำ, ລຳ, mo lam, maw lam, maw lum, moh lam, mhor lam

Mor Lam is a style of singing that originated in Northern Thailand on the border Laos. It ties together animism, Buddhism, and morality, conjuring visions of the struggle of agrarian life, love lost, and love gained. Rivalry is typical of Mor Lam glawn; in nightlong events, men and women duel to outwit and outlast, an improvised courting ritual of mocking and teasing each other, but over time they begin to simulate falling in love.

Mor Lam is the cross-pollination of nineteenth-century land rights and border conflict of two nations. Used in propaganda during the Laos Civil War (1953-1975), Communist Laotians and the Pro-American Thais infiltrated cultural and social forms to command political support, to galvanize regional pride, and exploit agrarian values. Migration is an important aspect of Mor Lam; its origin line is in the nomadism of Tai tribes that moved through China and Northern Vietnam. Mor lam has been carried a long way from the Thai/Laotian border, finding its way through Thailand in the air, collective memory, and hearts of migrant workers. Nowadays, Mor Lam is a place, rather than just a form of meaning together. It is as if it is created for Karaoke, its tempo, and tone at the pace of reading of a text. Migrant workers new to a city can find their countrymen in the Karaoke bars; it is a home that is far away, yet so close.

หมอลำ, ລຳ, mo lam, maw lam, maw lum, moh lam, mhor lam

The parallel lines that divide ideology still affect the way that we interact with the world today, however, the positions that we take seem not loud enough. There is an irony in this; if we look at the Cold War, the views of ideology were loud and destructive. Still, today with the democratization of the Internet and of weaponry, it is hard to be heard without being assaulted. So for a long time we stayed quiet, likes lines on a karaoke screen waiting to be sung, but now our voices are becoming louder and louder with each shot fired.

Once upon a time, we relied on the printed media to learn about war and unrest, and then later with television, it ate with us at dinner. Documentation of revolutions is everywhere on social media platforms, smartphones, and that dark corner of the Internet, displaying horrific body counts, body parts mixed in with hard-core porn. It's not so difficult to find the unedited raw footage of death, destruction, and chants. This documentation has infiltrated our very existence, and the cultural significance is prominent. In our bordering-on-borderless society, never before was execution so readily and easily available that you can slow down the very moment when a person dies.

Revolutions have beautiful names: Orange, lotus, pink, blue, purple

You are nervous. Here is the locus of the destruction in 2010. There are more than two hundred and fifty thousand red-shirts here, but today you know that they are not preparing for another violent protest, but rather to remember the ninety-one people killed. Moving through the crowd, you stop in front of a poster board plastered with hundreds of photos, and you are shocked: what you know of violence is nothing like this. In these pictures are crumpled bodies and so much blood. Someone tells you to go away; you shouldn't be here; this is not for tourists. You say you didn't come here to have fun; you came here to learn about your new home.

So you move onto a high-rise walkway of the sky train and have a panoramic view of the crowd. From up here, you have a good view of the stage; Mor Lam is sung inter-splicing the political speeches. A tourist asks you if he can take photos, you say that it is a bad idea. Below you can see a man, a politician you think, moving through a mass of people surrounded by bodyguards. People are trying to tell the politician something, but they cannot get close enough. Faraway, so close. Suddenly, the politics of color becomes very real and you'renot sure why you chose to wear a yellow dress today.

หมอลำ, ລຳ, mo lam, maw lam, maw lum, moh lam, mhor lam

Revolutions have beautiful names: Tulip, rose, cedar, green, velvet

What is your belief? If a person is so viciously beaten to death, do you want to know why? They say that knowledge is power, yet by understanding why; do we begin to justify such action? Oppenheimer quoted from The Bhagavad Gita after the first successful detonation of the atomic bomb, “I am death, destroyer of worlds.” To be able to understand complete destruction, you can operate it. In many ancient beliefs, tektites are the talisman of our attainment of souls, perhaps that by understanding the actions of others we take a piece of them with us. This is particularly interesting if we think about the might behind the production of tektites. It is said that the events that produce them are five thousand times stronger than the Hiroshima bomb. The black stone of the Ka'aba is said to be a tektite, becoming darker and darker from the sins of the people. In the most central part of Western Australia, you can find Mount Magnet, which always maintains true north, where apparently an indigenous group transport tektites—Maban or magic—in their beards for its healing power and telepathic contact. Perhaps, the transferal of burden by understanding our neighbor’s actions is the healing that we are seeking? But do we really want to release ourselves from the burden of not knowing in exchange for the burden of knowing?

Revolutions have beautiful names: jasmine, yellow, carnation, red, spring