April 3, 2013 02:56:34
Posted By Gecko
Thousands of anxious villagers in the Udon Thani subdistrict of Prachak Sinlaphakhom (where Gecko Villa is located) slept fitfully, if at all, last Sunday night. It was not the heat that kept slumber away, nor distant thundestorms. It was the thought of how tomorrow would inexorably change their lives. Parents, relatives and friends were only too aware that early on Monday, the young men of the region faced the dark algebra of the Thai army conscripts' lottery.
One of our eldest sons was amongst those who attended the selection. Registering early in the morning, he was processed together with the crowds of other young men, none of whom wished to spend two years performing military service. After all, they had each had the opportunity to elect to sign up to the army beforehand - and had each declined it.
A number was written on the forearm of each young man of eligible age, this number being linked to their village, name and ID. Under the relentless April sun, once the throngs had been processed, they were told to report back at 1p.m. to draw lots. At the grounds of the local sub district, they then filed into the restricted area and were made to sit in rows, aligned by number, facing the ominous green box at the front of the hall - the box that would decide their fate.
The army officials explained the process, which they videotaped and photographed. In our son's "lot" from our village, 146 nervous youngsters had calculated the chances of drawing a "red card" were around 1 in 3. They were all hoping for a black card which would exempt them from the 24 month military service - be this in the army, navy or air force.
In turn, they were called up to the army green box at the front of the hall, where they were guided to reach into a sealed box to withdraw one tightly packed straw. This they then gave to the army official who removed the paper from inside the straw and then, as the young man waited nervosuly - sometimes with false bravado, sometimes trembling - read out over loudpseakers whether he had drawn a black or red card. A black card would grant him immediate freedom, whilst a red card would mean imminent service, and the details of the branch and location of the armed forces to which he would be attached would be announced.
As the process played out throughout the afternoon, groups of young men, often with friends or families, could be seen in bunches around the grounds - some with broad smiles and cans of cold beer, others with dropped heads and disbelief, attended by tearful mothers.
A seasoned village policeman viewed the scene and commented quietly: "Today it's freestyle. How can we intervene? We just have to prevent complete chaos - but other than that, one eye must be blind in compassion."
Our son, much to his disbelief, drew a black card. A wide grin exploded across his face and his eyes widened as he feted by friends and family. "Mount Fuji has just been lifted from my chest!" he declared.