Today I took a bike ride around the UNESCO world heritage park of Sukhothai.
The park is a series of nearly two hundred temples set inside and around the old city walls of a city that was founded in 1238. The ruins are in the form of clusters of soaring pillars, giant Buddhas and peaceful ponds scattered across the flat plain.
Sukhothai illustrates some fine early examples of Thai architecture serving as it dis as the capital of Siam for a century and a half.
After this point in time the city lost its primacy to Ayuttaya (located a few hundred kilometres further south) and decline and decay set in, finally resulting in the ruins which we cycled around today.
With the boy crudely strapped to the handlebars of the 0.5’s bike (a piece of ingenuity involving a wrap of sarong and a great deal of faith that he would not choose to fling himself violently to the left or right), we tentatively pedalled our way onwards.
Not only did the binding work, but “The Boy” was clearly in his element as we traversed gardens and followed tracks through the park, stopping on occasion to inspect a temple or two.
The legacy of Sukhothai’s rise remains in its influence on contemporary Thai architecture and more obviously, Thai script and the language itself.
I find it interesting that the timeline for Sukhothai’s glory years roughly coincides with the decline of home rule in Wales; the period marking the end of the ascendency of Welsh as the language of Government, and the era when Wales’ most dominant landmarks (the castles) were constructed.
To put it bluntly, the idea of self-rule for Wales has been little more than an ambitious pipe dream since 1301.
It was during this year that King Edward titled his son and heir “Prince of Wales”; a tradition within the monarchy that lasts until this very day.
Until modern times, Welsh independence has been steadily eroded, most importantly under the “Acts of Union” of 1536 and 1543 which effectively created a single state and legal jurisdiction between England Wales
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m hardly a staunch monarchist, though as a Welshman who first and foremost considers himself British, I consider the latter-day trend towards nationalism in my homeland (more than 700 years hence of the last great hurrah) a worrying outcome of self-interested and expensive political posturing on the part of an elitist Welsh-speaking minority.
The sheer fact that I, along with approximately 90% of my fellow countrymen (depending upon how you interperet the vague question “Do you speak Welsh?), can be excluded from many government and quango positions in our homeland on the basis of being a monoglot is a state of affairs that I find wholly unacceptable.
It sickens me to witness wasteful expenditure on the design and creation of such things as bilingual road signs or the official documentation that are unintelligible to nearly everyone in the heavily populated belt of industrial South Wales.
At least here in Thailand, the people speak Thai, and so the signs are justifiably written in Thai.
I find it wrong that it is seen as advantageous to send your child to Welsh schools because they are perceived as being able to provide a “better” education than English language state schools.
The “Ysgols” have become the Welsh equivalent what church schools are to the aspirational middle class of England.
Britain is a tiny island still punching above its weight against often bigger, sometimes leaner, and usually far hungrier nations.
To consider a minority language to be any more than a quaint communication beauty spot on the face of global linguistics is therefore hugely self-indulgent.
English is the modern lingua franca and the Welsh are in a privileged position to be raised with and schooled in the world’s language.
Across the globe, children clamour to learn our mother tongue. Is Welsh money therefore better spent on improving our position to understand theirs?
As a nation, we should focus more time and effort in improving our English (God knows, I could do with it!) and on finding peace with the common heritage we share with our nearest neighbours.
Only when we cast off the parochial cloak of Welsh nationalism and start looking outward will we find our place in the modern world.
Maybe then a few more people will also come to see our castles.