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To prepare for AEC, we need to first embrace all cultures

AEC this, AEC that - not a week passes by without the media or society talking about what Thailand should do to prepare for the Asean Economic Community, which kicks off in 2015.

The key themes guiding these discussions are usually how we should compete and which sector will win or lose. But the one issue that is sorely missing is how do we do away with our cultural chauvinism - the belief that we're superior to our neighbours, particularly those from less-developed societies like Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar?

This whole hype about AEC comes as quite a contrast to the fact that many Thais look down on their neighbours and continue using the words "Khmer" and "Lao" as derogatory terms.
 
"Lao" in Thai is usually used to describe someone as unfashionable, unsophisticated, lazy and backward. For instance, a colleague once heard a driver calling a cabbie "Lao" for failing to signal a turn. 
 
The word "Khmer", meanwhile, is used to describe someone who is untrustworthy or unpatriotic. 
 
Obviously, people who use these words don't care how Laotians or Cambodians would feel if they heard their ethnicity being used as a form of abuse. 
 
Yet on Twitter, one user defended this behaviour by saying other developed societies look down on Thais as well. 
 
So, what sort AEC are we going to have in less than two years?
 
Obviously, such stereotypical views have no place in a truly open, tolerant society, and the very fact that they exist and continue being reproduced in casual conversation is shameful. 
 
Twitter is just as bad. Last week, a red-shirt supporter said an anti-government tweeter had a "Lao" nose, while many anti-government tweeters often use the word "Khmer" for "traitor". 
 
I have often tried to explain that while there's nothing wrong with calling someone stupid, traitor or whatever, they should spare the ethnicity of people and stop stereotyping them. 
 
The other side of the same coin is the never-ending self-flattery on everything that is Thai.
 
Even though I'm Thai, I don't understand how Thai cuisine can be described as being the most delicious on Earth. Don't people realise that what is delicious relies very much on one's personal taste? 
 
Then there's the myth that Thais are a gentle, peace-loving race. If that's the case, then how does one explain the daily reports of murder and violence that occupy the tabloid front pages? 
 
Thais may be gentle, but if pushed to the limit some can turn quite violent and even barbaric. The key word here is "some" - by which I mean there is no society where everyone is violent, stupid, unsophisticated or treacherous. The sooner Thais realise this, the better it will be for Thailand and her relations with neighbouring countries. 
 
Perhaps we need some courses on overcoming our cultural chauvinism in preparation for the ASEAN Economic Community?