July 16, 2011


[The Kreung Tai temple has run the course for boys aged between 11 and 18 since 2008, after former principle Phra Maha Vuthichai Vachiramethi devised the programme because he thought reports of katoeys in the monkhood had "affected the stability of Thai Buddhism".]
Thai ladyboys are seen here outside a cabaret off Bangla road on Patong Beach.
CHIANG KHONG: The 15-year-old aspiring "ladyboy" delicately applied a puff of talcum powder to his nose -- an act of rebellion at the Thai Buddhist temple where he is learning to "be a man".

"They have rules here that novice monks cannot use powder, make-up, or perfume, cannot run around and be girlish," said Pipop Thanajindawong, who was sent to Wat Kreung Tai Wittaya, in Chiang Khong on the Thai-Laos border, to tame his more feminine traits.

But the monks running the temple's programme to teach masculinity to boys who are "katoeys", the Thai term for transsexuals or ladyboys, have their controversial work cut out.

"Sometimes we give them money to buy snacks but he saved it up to buy mascara," headteacher Phra Pitsanu Witcharato said of Pipop.

Novice monks' days pass as in any other temple -- waking before dawn, collecting alms and studying Buddhism -- but every Friday attention turns to the katoeys at the attached school.

"Were you born as a man or a woman or can you not specify your gender - not man or woman?" asked Phra Pitsanu at a recent assembly. "You cannot be anything else but your true gender, which is a man. As a novice you can only be a man."

The temple has a stricter interpretation than others of rules governing behaviour during Buddhist training that is a key childhood experience for many Thai boys.

Pupils are banned from using perfume and make-up and prohibited from singing, playing music and running.
"We cannot change all of them but what we can do is to control their behavior to make them understand that they were born as a man... and cannot act like a woman," said Phra Pitsanu.

The Kreung Tai temple has run the course for boys aged between 11 and 18 since 2008, after former principle Phra Maha Vuthichai Vachiramethi devised the programme because he thought reports of katoeys in the monkhood had "affected the stability of Thai Buddhism".

He told AFP that he hopes the teaching methods will be rolled out to other temple schools to "solve the deviant behavior in novices".

Thai ladyboys are seen here outside a cabaret off Bangla road on Patong Beach.
It is an attitude that enrages gay rights and diversity campaigner Natee Teerarojanapong, who said trying to alter the boys' sense of gender and sexuality was "extremely dangerous".

"These kids will become self-hating because they have been taught by respected monks that being gay is bad. That is terrible for them. They will never live happily," he told AFP.

Gay and katoey culture is visible and widely tolerated in Thailand, which has one of the largest transsexual populations in the world, and Natee said the temple's programme is "very out of date".

But Phra Atcha Apiwanno, 28, disputed the idea that society accepted ladyboys and said he joined the monkhood because of social stigma about his sexual identity.

"The reason I became a monk is to train my habits, to control my expression... I didn't want to be like this," he told AFP.

Monks have had limited success in their project -- three of the six ladyboys to have graduated from the school are said to have embraced their masculinity, but the remaining three went on to have sex changes.

Pipop said he has struggled with his sexuality at the temple.
At home in Bangkok he dressed like a girl, putting on make-up and taking hormones until he developed breasts, but he has since stopped the treatment and wears only a surreptitious dab of powder at the temple.
He does not believe he will live up to his family's hopes that he will become more manly.

"I can make them proud even I'm not a man," the teenager said, adding he had given up his ambition to be an airhostess and now aspires to work in a bank.

He thinks he will have a sex change after graduation.

"Once I leave the monkhood the first thing I want to do is to shout, to scream out loud saying: 'I can go back to being the same again!'"


[Yet footage from the three blast sites could be the best hope authorities have of catching the culprits of the attack, the first since the 26/11 attacks, given fears that persistent monsoonal rains had washed away key forensic clues.]

By Amanda Hodge

SCAVENGERS reportedly rifled through the pockets of the dead and injured in Mumbai's diamond trading district immediately after the deadliest of three blasts to hit India's commercial capital this week.
The horrifying images were apparently captured on closed-circuit television cameras around Mumbai's Opera House neighbourhood, Asia's largest diamond-trading market.
"Initially it seemed like three or four people were helping those who fell down from the impact of the explosion, but a closer look reveals they were vandals who were picking pockets," a Mumbai Diamond Merchants' Association member told the Mumbai Mirror yesterday. The Weekend Australian could not independently verify the claims as all footage showing the busy thoroughfare where the blast occurred had been siezed by police.
The busy pedestrian laneway where the blast occurred, behind a building which houses more than 800 diamond-trading offices, was used morning and evening by dealers to transfer their diamonds from offices to vaults, as well as by small-time merchants trading lesser-quality stones.
The Times of India quoted some diamond traders suggesting millions of dollars' worth of tiny diamonds may have rained down on the laneway, along with shrapnel from the blast.
Camera footage from all three blast scenes has been handed to police, who have scoured tapes since the Wednesday night rush-hour blasts, which killed at least 17 people and injured more than 130.
Closed-circuit cameras focused on the laneway also showed three people clustered together talking on mobile phones for more than an hour, reports said
Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan played down their relevance, saying yesterday the men were probably small-time diamond traders -- given much of their business was conducted over the phone.
"People are jumping to conclusions and I can understand the anxiety and anger," he said.
While the Pakistani gunmen who carried out the 2008 attacks in which 166 people died were in constant phone contact with their handlers in Pakistan, Mr Chavan said it was "a far-fetched idea that these people were giving a running commentary".
Yet footage from the three blast sites could be the best hope authorities have of catching the culprits of the attack, the first since the 26/11 attacks, given fears that persistent monsoonal rains had washed away key forensic clues.
There were concerns yesterday that what evidence had been gathered was now dispersed between state and federal police, intelligence and forensic agencies, which may not co-operate.
Few clues have emerged beyond the fact the bombs were made of ammonium nitrate -- an ingredient for fertiliser commonly used in improvised devices -- and attached to timing devices.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, visiting blast victims, vowing that those responsible would be "pursued relentlessly and brought to justice quickly".
Home Minister P. Chidambaram sought to calm rising anger over the authorities' failure to prevent the latest attack, the fifth major terror strike on the city since 1993.
Much has been made of the resilience of Mumbai this week. But the city is broiling over the intelligence failures and security lapses that allowed terrorists to plant bombs in heavily built-up areas of the city -- in one district, directly under the noses of a 24-hour police patrol.
In the bustling wholesale jewellery market of Zaveri Bazaar, the explosives were planted less than 200m from where a police van is permanently posted.
The network of narrow streets and shops, which has been bombed three times, is also littered with CCTV cameras.
Right behind the police van is Kunal and Nirav Chhajed's tiny jewellery business.
The two brothers took over the shop only last week and yesterday were ruing the downturn the attack was having on their business.
While most jewellery shops in Zaveri Bazaar stayed closed on Thursday, they traded all day and into the night. "We have to just move on, we need to work to pay our expenses," said Kunal, 22.
It's a phrase that has been repeated over and over this week.
"I don't regret taking this business on because Zaveri is the hub of the jewellery market and a good place to do business but yes, of course, after the bombing I am worried because people will think twice about coming here," said Nirav.
The blast was not the brothers' first brush with terrorism. In 1993 a series of bombs across the city killed 250 people. One of those went off metres from their father's jewellery business in the middle-class suburb of Dadar, again the scene of one of the three bombings this week. As the two brothers watched from their family's second-floor window, a man covered in blood and engulfed in flames ran screaming from the blast. "I have never forgotten that image and so I knew exactly what (Wednesday's night's blast scene) would look like," said Nirav.
"Everyone's angry the fact that year on year it keeps happening. We have no more faith in the security system of this country.
"We must now all rely on ourselves."