Sunday, December 03, 2006

Coyote girls feel the heat


She shook her head once, twice, three times. Then the 69-year-old Culture Minister smiled and said, “No, I don't think so.”

She laughed and then repeated, “I don't think so.”

Khunying Khaisri Sriaroon's “no” was in response to the question, “if you were 18 years old, would you have been a coyote girl?”

In Bangkok, at the minister's meeting room that was artistically decorated with Thai oil paintings, Khaisri explained why she did not think so.

“That's an example of how we are made rotten by Western civilisation,” said the Khunying, a Thai royal title given to women.

“In the past, Thai girls used to dress properly. But now they are not careful with the way they dress as they imitate what they see on the Internet and TV.”

Coyote girls are scantily-clad young women who perform the so-called coyote dance moves that are sexually suggestive.

The coyote dancing craze blazed into bars and pubs in Thailand after the release of the movie Coyote Ugly in 2000 which depicted the lives of female bartenders who performed sexy dances in a New York bar to entertain patrons.

In late October, the coyote girls howled into controversy when the Thai Queen expressed her concern after watching skimpily-dressed women dancing inappropriately during a celebration to mark the end of the Buddhist Lent on television.

Queen Sirikit sent a letter to the Culture Ministry saying, “Any shows or performances organised in association with any Buddhist festival should be held with respect for Lord Buddha and Buddhism.”

The ministry then pushed for a new ministerial regulation that would ban students under 20 years of age from working as scantily-clad product presenters and dancers at public events. The proposal, however, was found to be impractical, as many students became coyote dancers to finance their studies.

“Coyote dancing is a profession,” explained Khaisri. “It is a way to earn money. She can do that (dance sexily) and dress like that (in skimpy outfits) inside places like a bar but not in public places.”

The controversy was a baptism of fire for Khaisri who was appointed minister on Oct 8 shortly after the Sept 19 coup. Initially, she was reluctant to accept the heavy burden of becoming the Minister of Culture.

Khaisri told Prime Minister Gen Surayud Chulanont that she was too old for the position. “But he told me it was only for one year. That's why I accepted it,” she said.

The third oldest Thai minister, she also accepted that the Cabinet comprised of old gingers. In the early days of Surayud’s administration, they were called the Ban Bangkhae Cabinet. Ban Bangkhae is a well-known home for the elderly.

The average age of Surayud's Cabinet is 63 years, which coincidentally is his age.

“Most of us are very old. But each comes with experience,” said Khaisri, a respected scholar who is the former president of Siplakorn University, the first university in Thailand devoted to Fine Arts.

The minister wanted to promote traditional lifestyle with special emphasis on the King Bhumibol Adulyadej's concept of sufficiency economy.

“Surayud’s policy is to focus on self-sufficiency and the happiness of the people more than the GDP (gross domestic product) numbers,” she said.

Thais, she pointed out, had become “consumptive consumers”.

“They've become greedier. They live a life where they consume everything and they dress, eat and behave like a Westerner,” she said.

“We are too much influenced by Western civilisation that we've lost our Thai way of life.

“In the past, we used to live humbly and contentedly. We did not need too much money. It is time to bring back that concept to the Thai people.”

Khaisri admitted that back in the good, old days when she was 18, she was a naughty girl.

“I used to swim and climb trees like a boy,” she said. But she was not as naughty as a coyote girl.

(Published in The Star on Dec 3, 2006)