ABSTRACT

In the wake of the Asian financial crisis that devastated the Thai economy, two tales were published in 1998 that addressed a looming Thai identity crisis. In an award-winning short story called “Miss Siam,” Thawan Masjarat tells a cautionary tale about the political-economic path taken by Thailand over the past few decades. While the kingdom’s political economy shifted first from agriculture to industry, and then to globalization before crash landing in economic crisis, “Miss Siam” traces the experiences of Nommaew, a country girl who follows a similar trajectory through local, national and international beauty pageants. After winning the local Miss Agriculture pageant, Nommaew is recruited by a promoter who changes not only her appearance and manners, but even her name to the more urban and sophisticated Karaket. With this rebranding, Karaket goes on to win Miss Industry and then Miss Siam. She only falls at the final hurdle, losing the “Miss Mega-Universe Pageant” because her English was not fluent. Criticizing Thailand’s mad rush for economic development in the 1990s, which that was built on the soft foundation of property speculation, Thawan tells us that the promoter’s superficial tutoring did not work to improve the country girl. Just as Thailand begged the IMF to bail it out in 1997, Miss Siam ends up having to sell herself to survive the economic crisis. Thailand needs to reconsider its developmental path of urban industrialization, Thawan tells us; Miss Siam has to reject the material attractions of the city, and go back to “the original root of Miss Agriculture in the rural district.”1