The Vietnam War Through Thai Eyes

I just came across a recent video by the Thai band Cocktail called “You” (เธอ). It is about a Thai soldier who fell in love with a Vietnamese girl while fighting in the Vietnam War in 1965. In 2014 he then goes back to find her.

an

Some of the scenes of the ex-soldier hanging around his hotel room in Vietnam reminded me of the opening part of Apocalypse Now, which made me wonder to what extent American stereotypes about the war have been internalized by people in Thailand.

asian eyes

I was then intrigued to see that on the guy’s hotel bed he had a copy of Vietnam War: A Report Through Asian Eyes, a 1972 book written by Japanese journalist Katsuichi Honda. I have never read this book, so I’m not sure to what extent Honda was able to show a different perspective on that war, however as I continued to watch the video for “You,” it became clear that this video does have a definite Thai perspective to it.

man

There is a monologue in the beginning in which the ex-soldier explains that he is looking for the girl, and he says that he is tormented by the fact that he doesn’t know who she is. He then asks, “Have you been reborn? Or did you die?”

girl

As the song plays we come to learn that the girl he fell in love with died in 1965, however, she was reborn and he finds her in 2014. However, she doesn’t recognize him, until he dies, and then she comes to realize that she was in love with him in her past life.

We also learn that he actually died in 1965 too, so the “ex-soldier” who went to Vietnam in 2014 was actually the reincarnation of the soldier who died in 1965.

1965

Are you confused?

Yes, it is kind of confusing, but it is this way because this story (like countless other stories and movies in Thiland) employs the concepts of karma and rebirth. So this video does definitely have a Thai perspective to it.

At the same time, the influence of Hollywood characterizations is also apparent in this video. It’s therefore an interesting combination of images and ideas.

In any case, here is the video, and I’ve made a rough translation of the lyrics below (different parts get repeated at different times in the song), while the Thai-language lyrics can be found here.

We’re so far apart, it shouldn’t seem like we’re close,

And my mind is still always agitated by memories.

 

I think of the time when we first met,

You and I never wanted to be apart,

And now I have to face the trembling in my heart,

Worried about our being apart,

Worried that your heart has changed.

 

It’s raining lightly like the time I met you,

Your eyes are still stuck in my heart, unforgettable,

Our love has not gotten old, right?

Or time has not changed the shape of your heart.

 

You, do you still miss me when the two of us are still far apart,

And when time keeps us distant?

 

Do you know that the person far away still feels anxious,

Whenever he looks at a picture of you,

And that his tears still fall?

 

The morning dew and the cold wind seize my heart,

The wind blows softly, carrying my love away,

And taking it to where your heart is.

 

Time should make our hearts change while we are far apart,

But I always only have you in my heart.

4 thoughts on “The Vietnam War Through Thai Eyes

  1. Enjoyed the post Le Minh.

    American stereotypes about the war internalized in Thailand.
    {absorbing the thought}
    I’m unclear – What stereotypes can be connected specifically to the war?

    At 5:28, reminded me of “Good Morning Vietnam”, with the interaction between Adrian’s female pursuits and her VC brother (although in this video it could also be her husband i suppose). Definitely see Hollywood connections to this video with heaps of re-birth. As a photographer, the video has that nice HD, tilt/shift perspective that i personally enjoy.

  2. Hi, I appreciate your article and I agree with it, especially your translation is very good, and quite poetical. Only one note: the soldier is not a Thai, but an American soldier, and this can be desumed from two facts: first is that Thai army never took part to patrols in Vietnam, and he wears like an American soldier; second is that he talks in English with the girl (“hey, you”, “thank you”). Being a mixed Thai and American actor, I think Ananda does appear to Thai eyes definitely more western-looking than how he actually is (or better, looks in western eyes). I would say that also the reincarnation of the soldier is a westerner, in the intent of the video maker. Just like the girl is always Viet, I mean both the 1965 girl and the reincarnation (That is taking a selfie, lol… were we talking about internalizing western customs, huh?) So this basically is a Thai narration of a wholly US-Viet tale of love travelling through reincarnations (or better, a only dreamed love: when the love story is supposed to develop, during the convalescence of the soldier, it actually is a dimension that never was, as we finally know that they in fact both died just after falling in love, in that eye contact).
    🙂

    1. Thanks a lot for commenting. I have a couple of thoughts. 1st, there is a very good recent book on the role of Thai soldiers in the Vietnam War:
      http://www.uhpress.hawaii.edu/p-9780824834890.aspx

      And from that book we can see that actually, yes, Thai soldiers did in fact take part in patrols.

      Beyond that, I think we get into a very complex discussion. Yes, the actors look mixed Thai. . . but don’t pretty much ALL popular actors/actresses in Thailand now look mixed Thai?? Given how popular luk kreung/hapa actors/actresses/singers are today, to what extent can we say that the person who made this video was trying to be “accurate” as opposed to just trying to make the video popular?

      So I stick by my claim in this blog post that I think that there is a very strong Hollywood influence in this video. I don’t think that it is attempting to be quite as realistic as you are arguing it is, because I don’t think that the people who made this video have an accurate understanding of the past.

      At the same time, what the book above points out is that the Thai soldiers who served in the Vietnam War played a very important role in later episodes in Thai history. It would be really interesting to know how many of them are still alive and what their positions are today.

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