It all starts from this pic....
How did a rather innocuous government minister morph into an internet sensation that has now spilled over into the real world?
Clad in a sleeveless shirt and shorts, the man walked barefoot to give alms to the monks early one morning. In his hand was a plastic bag, his face expressionless as though the idea of putting on a pair of flip-flops was as unthinkable as putting on an overcoat on a hot sunny day.
Not exactly an unusual sight. A lot of people give alms to monks on a regular basis and some do so barefoot. But that man in the sleeveless shirt was caretaker Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt
and a photograph, capturing that serene instant, found its way online and went viral. So began the strange, totally unprecedented process whereby a Cabinet member was transformed into an internet sensation, then morphed into a character in a mobile-phone game and, earlier this week, reincarnated as an action figure.
As you read this, several hundred photo-shopped versions of the Chadchart photo are whizzing around social media sites. The minister has become a household name, an icon; so stylised has been the treatment accorded him that he could almost be termed a one-man meme. Working from that original alms-giving image, he has been recast as a fireproof superhero, a destroyer of zombies, the Spartan king from fantasy-action film 300, a model on Vivienne Westwood and Victoria's Secret's catwalks. People have even started to dress like him for cosplay photos — ditch the footwear and don't forget the plastic carrier bag. Chadchart has also inspired several dozen jokes, mostly hyperboles about his supposed toughness and superhuman powers (If Chadchart walks in the sun, it's the sun that gets burnt; if a zombie bites Chadchart, it's the zombie that gets transmogrified — not the other way round).
The spirit underlying all this online caricature, it should be pointed out, is not offensive. Instead, this "Chadchart fever" seems to be prompted by a mixture of affection, humour, even admiration. Which makes it all the more mystifying since this is happening amidst one of the worst national crises in modern Thai history. As the two political camps continue to rage and rant at each other, hate-filled exchanges which have already provoked some to violence, Chadchart alone has prospered spectacularly. The fact that he's a figure in the Yingluck Shinawatra administration doesn't seem to have registered in the minds of people of different political colours: supporters of both the pro-government and the anti-Thaksin sides embrace, or at least tolerate, him.
Chadchart is taking it all in his stride. "I was surprised at first, then I was amazed, because some of these pictures are full of imagination and creativity," the minister told the Bangkok Post recently. "I laugh along with them. I don't take it seriously because those photos are meant in jest, and they're cute. I think they create a positive impact because when people are more interested in me, they will become more interested in the work of the ministry.
"Humour is important, because life is so stressful," he added. "I don't see those photos as nonsensical; I think they imply something deeper. Maybe people are looking for a hero — no, I don't mean myself. I mean people may see my character and let their imagination take it further.
"It's good for me because now that people have accepted me as that, I don't have to act cool," joked the man who reveals that his favourite superhero is Tiger Mask. "Sometimes members of my family send me weird pictures of myself, and I've been teased [by other ministers] in the Cabinet's LINE [online chatroom] group. Now that this 'fever' has broken out, I'll let it run its course. It will fade out eventually."
"I was surprised at first, then I was amazed, because some of these pictures are full of imagination and creativity."
- Chadchart Sittipunt
But there's no sign of that happening any time soon. Most internet fad and frenzies tend to fizzle out after a week or two, but the Chadchart phenomenon is still going strong. The nerve centre of the "fever" is a Facebook page called "Chadchart: The Toughest Transport Minister in the Universe", which has so far garnered more than 100,000 "Likes".
"That original picture [of Chadchart with the plastic bag] was taken by someone in Surin, who sent it to Chadchart's Facebook page," said the administrator of the –"Toughest Transport Minister" page. "The first thing I felt when I saw that picture was the strength of the man. Everybody can feel that, too, and now he has become the symbol of power.
"It started from the time when Facebook was full of stressful political news. Everywhere you looked, there were people at each other's throats. I saw a friend click 'Like' on that photo of Chadchart walking barefoot. Somehow I could feel the strength in him and I started Photoshopping it. Then I sent it to other pages which have a substantial fan base and it spread from there."
A new Chadchart image is being uploaded and shared practically every 10 minutes. When a Garrett Popcorn store opened in Bangkok last week and people flocked there to sample the high-end snack, it wasn't long before someone posted an image online of Garrett Popcorn bags queuing up to be eaten by Chadchart (see how powerful he is!). One of the latest revelations of Chadchart's greatness came with the "discovery" of a picture of him looming in the background — in sleeveless shirt, shorts and barefoot as always — as Neil Armstong stands gazing at the US flag he's just planted on the surface of the moon (yes, Chadchart was there, too, apparently!).
Besides the humorous memes, photos of fans dressed up as Chadchart start making the rounds. We saw some on general-election day, and now the fad is to "go Chadchart" in "exotic" locales; one recent image shows a Chadchart lookalike standing on a snow-covered street.
"The participation is so overwhelming that I can't reply to them all," said the page administrator. "I'm very happy, even though these days I don't get to sleep until 2 or 3am."
When Chadchart was put in charge of the Ministry of Transport two years ago, the MIT-educated former engineering lecturer (who's not an MP) was voted the least-known of all the Cabinet members. But when he was spotted taking a BMTA bus to work, people began to pay more attention to him; the spotlight is on him, too, since he has been put in charge of the 2 trillion baht high-speed train project. His politics-free past and his humble, everyman demeanour have also played a part in making people regard him in a favourable light.
The administrator of the Chadchart Facebook page agrees. "Other politicians are usually viewed as being shades of black or grey, but Chadchart is the only one who doesn't make me feel either of these colours. I think of green when I see him, it's so relaxing."
In a little over a month we have witnessed a flood of Chadchart phone stickers, apps and a puzzle for mobile-phone users featuring his face; it's called Chadchart Crush and is clearly modelled on the wildly popular Candy Crush. "I feel dizzy, my face is all over the place," Chadchart said. "My mother asked me what I was doing [on the screen of the mobile phone]. I told her it was just some game."
And, earlier this week, a 3D model of Chadchart hit the streets. That "fever" seems to have crossed from the online arena to infect the real world.
"We came up with the idea just a few days ago," said 3DX400 production manager Noppadol Kanthakeaw. "More than a 1,000 people have already been in contact [asking for free copies of the 3D figure]. Voice TV wanted to do a big story about it, and they asked Chadchart, on our behalf, for permission to produce a 3D likeness of him. The minister said 'yes' and said he would actually like to buy one for himself. We wanted to give him one for free, but he declined the offer. Part of the proceeds from sales will go to charity."
The latest spin on all of this goes back to the photo that started the ball rolling in the first place. An online forum has had a few 100 people speculating about what was actually inside the plastic bag that Chadchart was carrying on that fateful morning he went out to give alms to the monks. Dragon meat stir-fried with spices, was one person's guess. Rice grown on the surface of the sun, ventured another. Additional imaginative submissions included unicorn liver and ground kryptonite (Superman's nemesis).
In an exclusive for Life read ers, we can now reveal the exact contents of that plastic bag because the mighty Chadchart has agreed to spell the proverbial beans: "I was carrying one pack of rice, two packs of curry and an envelope containing 100 baht to be given to the monks."
And lastly, if he could turn back the clock (and perhaps he can), would the minister have gone out looking like he did if he had known that it would spark the most invigorating internet sensation in recent memory? "That's how I always dress when I'm upcountry and want to go jogging," he replied. "I can assure you that it's the most comfortable outfit. I have several more sleeveless shirts that looks exactly the same as that one."
Top 10 Chadchart jokes
1. Some people can kill two birds with one stone, but Chadchart can kill two stones with one bird.
2. Chadchart can watch a 24-hour-long YouTube clip three times in a day.
3. Chadchart has already been to Mars, that's why there are no living creatures there.
4. Chadchart and Superman once agreed to fight each other on condition that the loser would have to wear his underwear on top of his trousers forever.
5. Chadchart was once bitten by a snake; the snake died.
6. If you don't "Like" Chadchart's Facebook page, your computer will explode.
7. Chadchart once kicked the chin of a horse, now the same creature is generally referred to as a "giraffe''.
8. Chadchart can count from one to infinity — twice.
9. Chadchart can draw a triangle that has four sides.
10. When Chadchart does push-ups, he exerts his energy not in lifting his body up, but in pushing the Earth down.
some of the pic from "Chadchart Power"
The action figure is now available by 3D Printing Thailand
Game is available on Google PlayStore
game is now available on AppStore
Official Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chadchartofficial