"Talking" T-shirts speak up against bombings
As most people in the restive deep South have chosen to keep silient about the deadly threat from indiscriminate bomb attacks for various reasons, Mr Somphob Soodnaranont, alias Bee, can be counted as an exceptional case.
The former musician-turned-vendor has chosen to speak up openly against the ever-present threat through statements printed on his T-shirts which have been fittingly called the “talking” T-shirts.
“Yala people do not want bombs” was his first protest statement which appeared on the T-shirts he has been selling at his shop, named Inca In Love, which is located on the Siroros Road in the municipality of Yala. It was eventually followed by two other protest statements: “I love Yala, the land of bombs” and “If this war is not over, we should better take care of ourselves”.
Mr Somphob got the inspiration to produce the “talking” T-shirts from two fatal bomb explosions in the heart of Yala township on February 13 and 21 this year. “Since the explosions, everything went silient, everyone kept quiet, not having the gut to speak out despite the deaths and injuries caused to the people whether they were Muslims, Buddhists or Christians. The perpetrators were never caught. A big question mark popped up in my mind at the time: “What has happened to our society?” he said.
After the second bomb attack on February 21, the T-shirt vendor said he staged a one-man protest, wearing a T-shirt with a statement “I love Yala” which his mother was selling at the time. The T-shirt was produced by a Yala native in Chiang Mai.
It was after the protest that one of his friends made a suggestion about selling T-shirts with protest statements.
The idea of the first protest statement against the bomb threat, “Yala people do not want bombs”, came from the election campaign slogan of a political group: “No to party, no to Number 1 or Number 10”, recalled Mr Somphob, adding that he felt the mood of the people of Yala then was that they didn’t want bomb explosions in the province.
The first message “Yala people do not want bombs” which was printed in the first lot of T-shirts sold at the shop was intended to arouse the hometown-loving sentiment among the local people. The T-shirts were warmly received by the public, especially the youth, and they sold like hot cake, said Mr Somphob, adding that he then expanded his sale outlet in Facebook social network which was also successful.
The shop is open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Somphob said there was no need to advertise his products. “The passers-by simply stop in front of my shop, take a look at the shirts and several of them just buy them,” he said, adding that some asked to buy in a big lot to be resold elsewhere, but he declined the offer.
“I want to sell the protest T-shirts in Yala only because this is my hometown which was twice bombed. I do not intend to make a lot of profits, but just enough to make a decent living.
Most of his local customers are members of the security force such as police, soldiers and defence volunteers as well as Malay Muslims. But his customers are not only limited in Thailand. They are also from Britian, Sweden, Australia and Belgium who ordered the T-shirts through Facebook. “I have one customer who wore one of the T-shirts and posed for a photo in front of Big Ben in London,” recalled the vendor.
The T-shirts bearing the message “Yala people do not want bombs” are popular among the Malay Muslim customers but not among the Thai Buddhists because they are afraid that they may get shot by the militants, said Mr Somphob.
He insisted every statement on the T-shirts was his own which came from his own desperate feeling about the situation in the deep South which, he believes, is shared by countless others in the region.
Besides the protest statements, every T-shirt also bears the names of every district in Yala province. He explained that many people in Yala did not know how many districts are there in the province and their names.
Despite the brisk business, Somphob admitted that there were people who disagreed with his idea to make business by exploting the violent situation. But he said he was not discouraged and would not stop selling the protest T-shirts because he had made a substantial investment in the project.
“Yala used to be a peaceful, clean and liveable province and the people used to be very friendly. I really want those good things about Yala to return. It is not too late for people to make use of the “talking” T-shirts to spread the words around far and wide that the people in the three southernmost provinces are living in fear for death around the clock,” said Mr Somphob.
One of the customers, Mrs Maleewan Mahapanich, an former teacher from Maha Sarakham, said she saw the T-shirts on the Facebook social network and liked it. So when she had a chance to visit Yala during April she bought about a dozen of them.
A Phatthalung native, Mrs Maleewan used to teach in Yala for many years before she asked for an early retirement to return to Maha Sarakham. She admitted she was touched by every statement in the T-shirts.