The Meaning of TIT: What Would Jitplecheep Do?

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Grand Palace, Temple of Emerald Buddha, Bangkok
Grand Palace, Temple of Emerald Buddha, Bangkok (c)Russell Johnson
TIT, she said about the military coup in Thailand in an email from Bangkok.  TIT to farangs means “This is Thailand.” That is not the title of a bad travelogue but the notion that “hey, stuff happens here we may not understand but mai pen rai, no big deal.“  Another friend emailed me his fear that his neighborhood Starbucks might be closed (javas-interruptus). It wasn’t.

Sonchai Jitplecheep, the protagonist in John Burdett’s novels “Bangkok 8” and “Bangkok Tattoo,” is an honest cop in a place where being on the take is a form of art. Sonchai lives in a tub of moral and ethical Jello, awkward for westerners until they become comfortable with shrugging their shoulders, admitting they don’t understand and uttering TIT, mai pen rai.

Burdett is not Thai, but following the bodies, drug lords and Al-Qaeda suspects in the Jitplecheep novels is a car chase through Thai culture that leaves you with the impression that fluidity of judgement is not necessarily bad, that a Buddhist wink and a wai (prayer-like hand jesture) may be more effective than a lightening bolt from God.

Of course we are outraged by any idea of a military coup. But then Thailand has bounced back from 17 of them in the past 60 years. One night in the 80s, in Kuala Lumpur, a note was slid underneath my hotel room door warning me that I might want to reconsider traveling to Bangkok the next day. But I went anyhow. Mai pen rai.

The King runs the show here, and the military has the support of the King. Deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the Juan Peron of Thailand, won office by the cancelling the debts of farmers and giving money to villagers. Works every time. Then he raised corruption and cronyism to a level that shocked even the Thais. Thaksin had to go. But the military is doing what soldiers do, censoring the media, leaving westerners and some Thais outraged. Radio talk shows have been banned, at least temporarily, a refreshing thought. A day without Bill O’Reilly would be a day OF sunshine. And the generals say they want to change Thailand’s constitution, adopted in 1997 and said by scholars to be among the best-crafted in the world. An editorial in this week’s Economist warns that this coup flu could be catching, that the Philippines and Indonesia are vunerable, that the brass hats there might begin to fluff their plumage and stoke their muskets.

But at street level, my Thai friends say everything seems fairly normal, the tourism people say mai pen raii and the new airport’s flacks say the biggest terminal in the world will open on time this week. TIT, TIT, tally-ho and make that a double latte please.

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