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Valentines Day Greetings

HIV AIDS in Thailand : The Road Back or Disaster?

Why I don’t trust George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Saddam Hussein

May the Force be with you

Strawberry Fair during Valentines Day

Valentines Day Greetings

Dear Helga and Heinz!

Have a wonderful time in Chiang Mai, enjoy the Valentines Day with your magnificent family. Enjoy the sun and the fantastic Thai Food.

Big hugs, love you a lot,

Tiffany, Christine and Markus from Istanbul


Best wishes to the American community of Chiang Mai for a wonderful Valentine’s Day, filled with love and happiness.

Consul General Eric Rubin and the staff of the U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai


To Grandma and Grandpa

I want to wish you beautiful holidays in Chiang Mai. Thinking of you every day!

Desiree


Dear lovely Lamyai,
I can’t wait to hold you again in my arms. Love Tom


Happy Valentines Day to all those who love this country with its friendly and most of all peaceful people. As the world is again on the blink of another world war ... we are happy to live in Thailand and hopefully stay here forever ... domi duca.


To all Canadians out there - happy Valentines! We here at the Consulate of Canada in Chiang Mai are always there for you. Nit Wangviwat, Honorary Consul, 0 5385 0140.


Best of luck and lots of love to Chiangmai Mail, from Archarn Jim Messenger.


The Austrian community might be small, but the Consulate of the Republic of Austria in Chiang Mai does not want to miss this opportunity to wish all of you, especially the Austrian society, a very special and romantic Valentines Day.

Kh. Pravit Arkarachanores, Hon. Consul.


Dear Daddy,

I want to wish you a very nice Valentines Day and always good luck on the golf course. Mami Noi and me love you very much

Catherine


Dear Fred,

Thank you for more than 30 wonderful years we have shared, and the best of all: I still love you.

Happy Valentine,

Anita


Dear Mom, dear Grandma Karin, wishing you a very happy Valentine! We love you, Magnus and Alexander


Dear Sam,

I will always eat the food you cook for us.

Love you,

Walter (Frozen Fountain Restaurant)


To my husband Tom and my son Tom, and Kitty, I wish you a very happy Valentines Day. Lots of love, Dot


In times of conflict and possible war, Valentines Day should gain even more popularity across the world. Take advantage of this auspicious day and fulfill your romantic dreams and promises. Show how much you appreciate your partner, family and friends being in your life!

Hagen E.W. Dirksen

Honorary Consul

of the Federal Republic of Germany

Chiangmai, Thailand


Pie Sabai wishes all its customers a most romantic Valentine

Audrey Dootson

Pie Sabai

Quality Bakery of Chiangmai


Happy Valentines Day to all my lovely students.

Study hard! Ajarn Jackie

Dept. of International MBA

Payap University


Happy Valentine’s Day!

I love you two so much that I made you come to land of paradise. My life is even better because of your existence. Thank you for your support, and I love you two very much.

Junji Taniguchi


HIV AIDS in Thailand : The Road Back or Disaster?

Chiangmai Mail special correspondent Peter Cummins recently completed an in-depth study of some of the tragic repercussions of HIV/AIDS on the innocent victims, Thai children. Commissioned by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in Bangkok, the study focuses on the northern and the north-eastern regions where HIV/AIDS has been endemic for more than a decade.

But, through community assistance, particularly the Sangha (Buddhist monkhood), individuals in the public and private sectors, UNICEF and related agencies and a spirit of understanding and cooperation from all touched by the insidious disease, there is hope: an arrest of infections and a hope for those carrying the HIV virus of returning to a normal life.

Story and photos by Peter Cummins

Prologue

For all who have experienced it, the death of a parent is a very personal loss, a unique situation for every individual, leaving the bereaved offspring in situations as varied as the human race itself, depending upon the circumstances surrounding the death.

Who will take care of us when HIV strikes?

If the parent who dies is at an advanced age, there is usually not much trauma for those left behind. Life goes on. But imagine, for a moment, the death of one or both parents from the ravages of HIV/AIDS, at a young age, leaving a defenceless child or children to face a hostile environment and an uncertain future, fraught with hazards.

It is, indeed, a vicious cycle. In Thailand, a child whose parents have contracted the HIV virus and are mostly doomed to die of AIDS, is not only inherently disadvantaged by discrimination and the social mores which place barriers - artificial or real - around the child, but also must face the physical barriers which are equally devastating. With parents facing imminent death and too sick to work, the unfortunate - and totally innocent victims - must seek employment to support them, precluding any possibility of education.

HIV/AIDS looms on the horizon for these happy children

Counselling and support groups help ease the pain and sorrow

The child is thus condemned to a life of unskilled work, lack of social benefits, a total loss of self-esteem and a steady downward spiral from which there is little or no escape.

Discrimination

Vuth, for example, is a 10-year-old in Grade 4 of a Primary School in a district of Sisaket Province in Thailand’s north-east. He would rather roam the woods near his home and go fishing than go to school where he is ostracised and called the “Aids kid”. Vuth has two younger sisters - one in Grade 3 who does not have any particular problems - but the other, even in kindergarten, is subject to teasing about her HIV-infected mother and she has no ‘playmates’.

“My children have never done anything wrong in their lives,” says Vuth’s mother Bua, HIV-infected for six years. “Since their father died of AIDS, although none of my three children are infected,” Bua complained, “they cannot live normal lives and they suffer discrimination at their school, at the market and in the everyday life of the village.”

In another case, in a neighbouring sub-district, Aree and her two sisters were alone with their HIV-infected mother and were the object of much discrimination at Primary School. When their mother became too sick to work and support the family, Aree’s elder sister had to leave school to take on the role of family provider - at age 12!

Aree continued at school, in spite of being “left out” and, although she likes to study, she will leave after Grade Nine. “After that, I do not know what I will do. I have nobody with whom I can discuss my problems; no friends; I eat lunch alone; and none of the others in class want me to join group projects,” said this sad little child, tears welling in her huge, pretty brown eyes.

Even further down the scale are AIDS orphans who, having lost both parents, are in the custody of ‘carers’, often grandparents who are old, and in most cases, desperately poor. A child, already psychologically scarred - even if not afflicted with symptoms of HIV - faces a generation gap with these aged grandparents which, added to grinding poverty and often lack of schooling, can lead many youngsters to take to a life as street children and, worse, child prostitution and its concomitant destructive forces.

This is an oft-repeated scenario that would haunt any mother - anywhere. Yet, for some 200,000 Thai children, poised at the dawn of the New Millennium, it is the only world they know - and, maybe, will ever know.

Hope and strength in adversity

But from the bleakness of the plight of these children, help from many sources, including UNICEF, the UN Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS, Buddhism (the Kingdom’s religion), teachers, the public and private sectors, health and social workers and a legion of volunteers, brings hope and strength.

Through the “Sangha” (Buddhist monkhood), many children, either orphans or with one surviving - albeit ailing from HIV and, thus, dependent - parent, have found solace in their grief, gained confidence and new directions in life.

Manit Sricome was 12 years old when her step-father died of AIDS. Her biological father and her mother Noi had divorced when she was only four and her stepfather tested HIV positive which developed into the fatal disease. Manit was traumatized to learn that the mother she adored had also tested positive for HIV.

Facing a grim future as victims of HIV/AIDS-afflicted parents

“He’s not heavy - he’s my brother”: a responsibility far beyond her tender years

Happy childhood: but for how long?

What can a 12-year-old do, faced with an ailing mother and two siblings, a little brother of eight and a baby sister, from the stepfather, just five years old? The family was shattered while, at the same time, ironically enough, their dire circumstances brought them closer together.

Friends and relatives in the village, too, rallied around and, “Mum joined an HIV/AIDS victim support group. We nursed each others’ hearts,” said Manit, gesticulating with her slender hands and pointing to her heart.

“My mum can still work and she is a seamstress, making robes at Wat (temple) Hua Rin (located in Thailand’s northern Chiang Mai Province),” Manit said, with a winsome smile. “She earns about Baht 100 ($US2.50) a day which, added to my own income, allowed me to complete primary school and enter a vocational training school, where I learn cooking.”

It was also at the temple where Manit learned her flower-arranging skills, making garlands and bouquets for festivals and special occasions, also earning about Baht 100 per day to support her mother and siblings. “People these days must have flower arrangements for weddings and other ceremonies,” said the earnest little girl.

With a wisdom far beyond her tender years, no doubt tempered by her hardships, she said, “Even people who are rough and ill-mannered can change their nature when they look at flowers,” adding as an after-thought, “Women are attracted to flowers, too...our hearts go with flowers.”

She also learned classical Thai dancing and helped with cooking at the temple. “I am only small, but my hands are strong and I use them to help our family,” she said, displaying finely-formed hands and slim, long fingers.

“My teacher Ms Pranee was a great source of help and consolation during those grim years,” Manit recalled recently. Ms Pranee told me to give mama as much support as I could. “We - mum and I - became very close during that time,” Manit remembered. “Being close to mum showed her that, even at my young age, I accepted things as they were.”

“Do you like doing work where you can use your hands?” Manit was asked. Her profound reply was an insight into a determined, strong mind: “I’m good at things where I can use my hands. It’s like things that endure have colours that are soft. By using our hands, we can do things that our minds can’t achieve. When it comes from my own hands I feel proud. It’s the result of my own skill and the money I earn makes mum happy and helps us all,” she answered.

I could not help but reflect how care-free and easy my own upbringing had been: a life with healthy parents, good circumstances and a rosy future. A life full of laughter and joy where daily necessities were taken for granted - or, even, as a birth-right, through having had the good fortune to be born in a prosperous, stable society.

On the contrary, many of the very basic needs are simply just not available to a huge number of poor and marginalized people in Thailand, especially those in the disadvantaged north and north-eastern regions. In my childhood, the most basic of resources, water, for example, came from faucets - an endless flow of clean, clear water, even hot or cold, at the turn of a tap. In a number of Thailand’s regions, for many, life-giving water for consumption, hygiene and crops is a dubious-looking brown colour, coming from a bucket carried a long distance.

I was considerably chastened by the circumstances and tragedy which enveloped this sweet child - now a teenager - who, like her mother, is totally innocent and who, as she said it so poignantly, “I am the medicine to treat my mother”. She wanted to save enough money from her various after-school activities - “to finish building the house so that mum will be happy.”

Manit’s mother found peace and friendship at Wat Hua Rin, whose abbot, Athikarn Thanawat Tekapanyo, affectionately known as Luang Pi Daeng, ministers to the AIDS-inflicted and AIDS-affected through the temple’s AIDS-support project. The temple is located in the Tung Sa Tok sub-district, San Patong District of Chiang Mai Province, in the northern region of Thailand where HIV/AIDS is most prevalent.

We have done nothing wrong

The will to succeed

Manit’s suffering has endowed her with a physical and inner strength which has not gone un-noticed by authorities. In her darkest days, she was the school ‘dunce’, but her courage and determination shone through and, in October this year, Manit had made such progress that she was selected as the Thai delegate to the Sixth International Congress on AIDS, held at Melbourne, sponsored by the UN Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS.

She noted that the help and guidance from Abbot Luang Pi Daeng, her teacher and many other understanding people gave her the confidence and determination rise above life’s problems to such an extent that she is now an AIDS educator to her age group.

Manit’s message to the AIDS Congress is that she wants, “Other teenagers to learn from my experience - whether affected by HIV/AIDS or not. They should never give up... but fight and act wisely to move on and live a normal life,” she counsels her peer group.

Perhaps, in the near future, with her obvious abilities, Manit could be eligible for an upcoming Youth Career Development Programme, a joint collaboration between UNICEF, leading hotels and the Royal Thai Government. In its seven years of operations, almost 330 disadvantaged young girls from the north and north-east have graduated, proficient in the hotel and hospitality industry, to go forward into productive, fulfilling lives, far removed from the spectre of a tragic future.

Another outstanding case of a youngster rising above HIV/AIDS-inflicted adversity is 17-year-old Thai boy Khomsan Sangsuengmoo. When aged only 15, Khomsan was selected, together with a teenaged girl from Uganda, to represent 13 million AIDS orphans world-wide at the AIDS Orphans Symposium. Held at the United Nations New York Headquarters on World AIDS Day, 1 December, 1999, the gathering of more than 800 people, including heads of state, was supported by UNICEF and the UN Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS.

Khomsan Sangsuemoon, who had never before left his village in Chiang Rai’s Mai Chan District in the north-east of Thailand, drawing strength from his tragic life fearlessly addressed the symposium with a message heard loud and clear around the world.

This brave, sad boy, with the quiet voice and the self-effacing demeanour brought on by his suffering and loneliness, informed an emotionally-charged assembly that, “AIDS had killed the two people I love most - my parents”. The 15-year-old Grade 8 student’s plea, presented to the world with a maturity belying his youth, was a request, on behalf of all the children who share his fate, including one million HIV-positive in Thailand, for simply “some support and opportunity”.

Khomsan had lost his surviving parent when his father succumbed to the disease. He was only 12 then and had not even known his mother who died from AIDS-related complications before his first birthday.

Information
- The Key

As with almost all facets of life - whether from the western viewpoint or in a country like Thailand - it is information and education which are the keys to understanding any given topic - even the most controversial. Abbot Luang Pi Daeng soon learned when he launched his AIDS-support project six years ago that he had to convince the local and provincial authorities, the community doctors, nurses, teachers and staff of the local administration, to accept HIV/AIDS victims as REAL people, able to work and contribute to the community.

Wat Hua Rin has been exemplary and its AIDS/HIV assistance programmes have been a blueprint for many others in the region. The abbot himself, upon the death of his own mother, went as a child to live and study at the temple and wanted to repay the community. The Prasanjai Group (literally meaning ‘collective will’), which he established to offer shelter to infected women, has been highly successful. His campaign of education and information throughout all echelons of the community is paying handsomely and, as a result, said the abbot, “There has been a reduction of HIV cases and those already infected now have a better quality of life.”

The abbot believes that, whether in the school environment or the community at large, ostracism and discrimination stem from a lack of information, rather than any inbred hostility. As long as people, young or old, do not have access to the factual information about AIDS and its transmission, these prejudices will always exist.

Unlike many western societies, where individual rights are protected and discrimination is forbidden by law, Thailand, even under the new Constitution safeguarding these personal freedoms, is only slowly accepting a legal approach. Rather, it is the age-old traditions of compassion and sympathy, coupled to an understanding of the magnitude of the problem, which will help alleviate the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and perhaps in the long-term, help eradicate the disease altogether.

Epilogue

The HIV/AIDS problem is immense and will not go away. Much assistance is needed for the “hidden sufferers” - the innocent children - and, thus, it is essential to implement HIV education programmes BEFORE any parental death occurs.

All available resources - financial, human and technical - must be brought to the front-line of what is, basically, a battle for the safety and well-being of future generations.

UNICEF will continue to lead the fight against HIV/AIDS.


Why I don’t trust George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Saddam Hussein

By Dr. Iain Corness

From the outset, let me state my position. I am not a war buff. As a small boy I was unable to pull the wings off butterflies and ushered cockroaches outside, rather than stand on them. Although being called up for National Service, I never went to war, and I don’t think I could kill another person in cold blood. Perhaps this makes me a wimp, but at least I sleep with a clear conscience.

For the past couple of months the world has been subjected to the calls from US President George W(arrior) Bush that Saddam Hussein has to be eliminated. He has been joined by his ally, UK “President” Tony (the teeth) Blair. Between them they are attempting to convince the world that war must be waged on Iraq, so that we all can sleep easy in our beds as well.

Using the terrorism threat, al-Qaida, and anything else that might tug at our needs for a free world, George W and Tony B are attempting to convince the world of the ‘righteousness’ of their imminent war. A sort of ‘good guys’ jihad, if you like.

Well, gentlemen, I don’t like it. There is another agenda at work here, and unless I am very much mistaken, it is called oil supplies. I believe it has nothing to do with stopping a threat to world peace, but everything to do with the stopping of Middle East oil supplies to the western world. I am but one person living in Thailand, but I am yet to be convinced that war is the answer. It appears that Germany, France and Russia are also not convinced, so perhaps I am not alone here.

Dr. Blix has proved to my satisfaction that Saddam Hussein has been dealing in subterfuge, but has not proved to my satisfaction that his stocks of weapons of mass destruction are so vast that we are about to be blown off the face of the planet. But then, perhaps I have got this totally wrong as well. I certainly don’t trust Saddam either.

I think I would be a lot more convinced about this war, which is for the common good they assure me, if we (the good guys) were being led by George and Tony astride their war elephants, charging through the desert to meet Saddam on his camel. Let us see these leaders truly lead their flocks to salvation or damnation, with a great degree of personal risk, instead of sending hundreds of thousands of troops to be cannon fodder, while they sit at home in luxury.

My impression is that this is not a war being driven by the people, but people being driven into a war. I am not convinced, George, Tony and Saddam. I am not convinced at all.


May the Force be with you

By Dr. Iain Corness

One of the most delightful aspects of living in a foreign country is to be able to become involved in the culture. This requires having somebody who can take you by the hand and lead you through the intricacies of it all. For me, that is my maid Suchada, the guiding force behind my spirit houses, and someone who attempts to prevent me making too many social gaffes. For that reason alone, I will remain in her debt.

Today was a “special” Buddha Day and I was advised the day before that I should be ready in the morning, because I was part of the ceremony. She, however, did not inform me that ‘morning’ was to commence at 5.30 a.m. I have always been of the opinion that ‘mornings’ do not have a 5.30, unless one is coming home late! But at 5.30 I was woken to the clatter of cooking in the kitchen, and as much as I tried to concentrate on getting back to sleep, this was not possible. I think my conscience was getting the better of me. After all, if Suchada was good enough to get up early to cook for the spirits, the least I could do was to be sociable, so I reluctantly stuck my head out from my lair at something after six to find that much had been happening.

There, at my front gate, was a table laden with offerings. Ducks, pork, rice wine, cakes and cookies, betel nut and even cigarettes. Despite my opposition to the dreaded weed, I decided it was not my place to remonstrate with the resident spirits in my spirit houses. I might have been summonsed to be an integral part of all this ceremony, but I was still, in my own view, a guest.

Suchada’s husband Yongyudh was also present and lit the incense sticks for me while Suchada in her wonderful fractured English told me I had to ask the spirits for good health and plenty of money. Perhaps she is going to ask me for a raise, was my idle thought, but I put it away quickly as being unseemly under the circumstances.

After we had all placed our joss sticks in the appropriate urns, it was time to sit and watch the candles slowly burn away on the offering table, after which came the next part of this morning’s ceremony. Suchada had placed firecrackers in the bushes, which I had to light with all the due pomp and circumstance, while she ran for cover with her hands over her ears!

Standing there, in a fog of smoke, noise and shards of red paper I was informed that we had not finished yet. There was more to this ritual. Sheets of gold painted paper were produced, which I had to burn. This represented wealth and money, I was led to believe. This I could appreciate, money always having burnt holes in my pockets, so this was most apt.

But it was not over yet. I had to take the drinks from the table and place them in the front of the spirit houses, and then food and water was taken and placed at the base of the tree outside the front gate. None of my resident spirits could complain about being overlooked that morning.

So Suchada has taken me one more step towards total cultural misunderstanding, but I have to admit I am enjoying it. I hope your forces are with you too.


Strawberry Fair during Valentines Day

Sweeten your love life with strawberries

Nuttanee Thaveephol

The 100th anniversary celebration of Samoeng District, Chiang Mai will be held at Samoeng District Office and Ban Dong Community School areas February 14-16 this year.

Siriwut Hematat, chief of Samoeng District said that Chiang Mai governor Pisit Khetphasook will preside over the opening ceremony. At the festival, there will be many unique activities such as strawberry and banana eating competitions, gift basket decoration and wine container contests, and hilltribe beauty contests. Many of the activities are concerned with strawberries with the Miss Strawberry Contest, strawberry products contest, Strawberry Salad making competition, and selling the best strawberries in the world at an amazing low price.

Samoeng District was the first strawberry plantation site in Thailand. The taste of the local strawberries is renowned, especially in the Tambon Bor Kaew area. The area cultivated covers 2,300-rai and can earn around 330 million baht per year for the local people.

On February 15, the second day of the festival, Dornphant Chantrawiroj, the president of Chiang Mai Provincial Administration Office, will preside over the “Sueb Chata” ceremony (long life) at 8.30 a.m., and this will be followed at 10.30 a.m. with the strawberry parade.