Vol. II No. 29 Saturday 19 July - 25 July 2003
Home
Automania
News
Business News
Book-Movies-Music
Columns
Community
Happenings
Dining Out & Entertainment
Features
Kids Corner
Letters
Social Scene
Sports
Travel
Who's who
 
Free Classifieds
Back Issues
 

 


FEATURES
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Providing alternatives to opium

Jungle living, the simple Paka Keryor life

Phu Kham Cave

Many new babies at Chiang Mai Zoo

Local boy to represent Thailand in IMO Japan

Tod Pha Pa makes merit for local community

Providing alternatives to opium 

Marion Vogt

The Wa Authority has pledged to ban poppy use and cultivation by 2005. Poppy growers have now received the message and know they will have to change their way of life within two years.

The Wa people in their colorful outfits sell tea in the market at Mang Mau. (Photo by Ron Renard)

But according to Ron Renard, who recently visited the area and talked to people, this will not be an easy task. The farmers in the area, on the average, only grow enough rice to live on for half a year. With the cash they made from opium sales, they purchase rice and other foodstuffs for the other half of the year as well as other needs.

Helping this process move forward has been the Buckwheat Cultivation Project funded by the Japanese Government and implemented with the Progress of Border Areas and National Races Department (NaTaLa).

“Replacing Opium in Kokang and Special Wa Regions” was the topic of a lecture at the Alliance Francaise given by Dr. Ronald Renard (Local Personality Chiangmai Mail Vol II, No 4). 

The entrance gate to a tea plantation, which can be seen in the background, near Kokang. (Photo: Ron Renard)

Dr. Ronald Renard Ph.D., historian, teacher, writer, consultant to the UN and many NGOs. His knowledge of the ethic hill tribe people is second to none. (Photo: Marion Vogt)

The evening left the international guests digesting the information. (Photo: Marion Vogt)

For many of the 60 people in the audience, it was surprising that the Wa Authority has pledged to ban poppy use and cultivation by 2005. Poppy growers have now received the message and know they will have to change their way of life within two years. But according to Ron Renard, who recently visited the area and talked to people, this will not be an easy task. Kokang and the Wa Region have been major poppy growing areas in the Shan State, producing 70 percent of Myanmar’s opium output. Banning opium ends the income for farmers and the local communities. Replacing this is a challenge to all, and 2003, is the first full season for over a century in which no opium poppy has been cultivated in Kokang.

Helping this process move forward has been the Buckwheat Cultivation Project funded by the Japanese Government and implemented with the Progress of Border Areas and National Races Department (NaTaLa). The project was to grow buckwheat as an opium replacement crop and sell it to buyers in Japan where it is made into the popular soba noodle. However, the farmers who have been growing the poppy crop and the local traders who have been selling opium have become dependent on the substance financially, a dependence that, even in the best of situations, is difficult to break.

Instead of their previous self-sufficiency, the farmers in the area, on the average, only grow enough rice to live on for half a year. With the cash they made from opium sales, they purchase rice and other foodstuffs for the other half of the year as well as other needs. This way of living was encouraged by the arrival of inexpensive Chinese goods in market towns as the growers are accustomed to buying many of their clothes, household utensils, and various other materials from rope to tobacco to medicinal herbs instead of producing them as they did before.

Breaking this “economic” addiction might prove as hard as overcoming the physical dependence on the drug itself. Old indigenous skills and cultural patterns lost can only be replaced through a tedious retooling process.

Old Chinese women with ‘bound feet’ can still be seen, coming from Kokang to the north region of Wa. (Photo: Ron Renard)

There is in fact no single crop or economic activity that can readily replace opium with its high cash value, its steady market, the resistance to local plant diseases and the basic level of technology required to cultivate it. Furthermore, opium’s low weight payload and the lack of special packaging or cold storage requirements only heighten opium’s desirability among the local people. By contrast, replacement crops all have special requirements.

* Fruit Trees - most villagers cannot afford the inputs, nor can they wait three years before the trees bear fruit.

* Tea - the market of Konkyan which used to produce tea has collapsed; it can now only be sold locally for a price that does not cover the cost of rice given those who harvest it.

* Sugar Cane - there is no mill in Konkyan

* Walnut and Sichuan “Pepper” and Other Crops - these crops are grown but too many seedlings are dying.

* Livestock - rampant disease undermined the effort and it is no longer practiced.

* Field Labor - Over half of the people of Konkyan are now relying on field labor to make ends meet. However, without opium poppy the amount for a day’s work, reduced from 10 yuan (about $1.20) in opium-growing times to 4 yuan at present buys just two kilograms of rice, which is not enough to feed two people.

* Increased Rice Cultivation - Although this effort by itself will be insufficient (and sometimes damaging to the environment) to bridge the gap, it will help in the future.

The situation in Kokang is already critical. Food shortages have begun to occur. Some farmers have been advanced rice in exchange for their future labor, while others are begging. Leaders of the region worry that crime will increase as people grow more desperate. The troubles that exist now, while grave, surely will pale before those that are sure to come when the implication of living without poppy becomes clearer with each passing day.

When Ron Renard finished his thought-provoking speech, his listeners did not get up and just leave. Replacing opium in a country which openly sold it in the market would be the same as not allowing us to buy bread or rice. It was heavy food for thought which people may find it hard to digest.


Jungle living, the simple Paka Keryor life

Story and photos by Nantanee Jedsadachaiyut

The sounds of a mill and the smell of burning wood were the morning call for the outsider like me, tired from the previous day’s 5 km trek to the village. But they were the signs of the new day for the hill tribe people in Mae Khong Sai, a small Paka Keryor village on the top of the mountain.

Inside a classroom.

After school, a boy rinses rice with water before cooking.

Early morning in Mae Khong Sai.

A young lady in a dress called Chewa, weaves for her brother.

After the weaving is finished, it’s time to sew.

Women’s meeting.

“We have rice in the fields, we have fish in a stream ... we will get full and can work all day long for the next day.”

Mae Khong Sai is located in a deep valley in Tambon Muang Khong, Chiang Dao District, about 130 km north from Chiang Mai. There are 22 houses with a population of 100 people, and the villagers who live there are member of the Sagor Paka Keryor tribe, which the outsiders call “Karen”.

Far from civilization, the Paka Keryor’s way of life is simple. They cultivate many kinds of agricultural plants for their own living, not for sale. “We have rice in the fields, we have fish in a stream, we grow chili along the fence, we can find bamboo shoots and vegetables in the forest, and we feed cows, pigs, chickens around the houses. All these things make our lives simple. We sleep tight at night because we are sure that tomorrow we can eat fully and can work all day long for the next day. Staying like this, money is not important for us anymore, but if we stay in town, we have to pay for every little thing,” said Uncle Kaew Kati, a representative of the villagers.

In this remote area, there is neither electricity nor water supply. Water for everyday use comes from a natural underground spring in the mountain and flows to the village by a network of pipes, but in the summertime, villagers have to go to the stream to collect water for their own consumption. Some villagers told me that sunlight and water in the stream are more important than electricity and water supply, which only provides convenience for humans, but the natural things can serve both humans and animals.

Inside a deep valley, conservative forest and utilized forest are divided.

An old Paka Keryor woman in traditional clothes offers food to a monk on an early morning,

Pulling out rice sprouts, preparing to grow them in the fields.

A natural washing machine.

A packhorse is an effective means of transportation in this village.

Rice farming on the mountain terrace.

Catch me if you can!

Mo (mother) Kuchi slices pith of banana stalk and mulberry leaves for pigs’ food.

Kuchi Yowor, a 48-year-old woman who has spent her whole life in Mae Khong Sai Village, notes that as Paka Keryor they stay in their own house, and work their own land. They spend their lives in the jungle; they know the name of every tree. The forest is their heart, it is their lives. She wonders why people think that they would destroy their lives. Also, she questions why other people blamed them as being the destroyers of the forest.

In fact, the villagers have set rules to manage the natural resources; for example, the community forest is divided into two types, conserved forest and utilized forest. In the utilized forest, people can cut firewood and build houses. Moreover, it is the source of herbs and food and people can use many parts of the trees to dye clothes.

At night in Mae Khong Sai, there are only the moon and stars lit up in the dark sky. The air is cool and the peace and tranquility of natural surroundings reminds me that this is the place of pure nature, not science. Things outside might be changing, but Uncle Kaew said to me, “We don’t know the future, but we know that if we are strong, we can stay in our own way of life.”


Phu Kham Cave

Kathryn Brimacombe

My friend and I sit cross-legged on the cold hard stone, facing the prostrate body of the reclining Buddha, a pale shawl spread over its golden shoulders as if to protect it from the chilled air, a peaceful smile gracing its serene face, head resting slightly upon its palm. The air is dark and damp inside Phu Kham Cave, near Vang Vieng in northern Laos, and is illuminated only slightly by the filtered rays of sunlight streaming in from an opening in the rock several metres up. Above me I hear the high-pitched squeaking of bats, but straining my eyes I only stare into blackness, barely able to discern the rocky ceiling.

Stunning limestone mountains arch out of swollen rice paddies, now that the monsoon rains have arrived and the fields are filled with water.

The reclining Buddha, a pale shawl spread over its golden shoulders as if to protect it from the chilled air, a peaceful smile gracing its serene face, head resting slightly upon its palm.

The life-size effigy is surrounded by smaller Buddha statues, offerings of flowers, food, glasses of water, and joss sticks now extinguished and cold. It fills the wide open cave with its presence, the scent of burning incense still lingering in the air despite the fact that my friend and I are the only people there. I remember hearing locals say that there are spirits in the numerous caves around Vang Vieng and I shiver slightly, ripples running up and down my spine.

Despite the eeriness of the cave, the cool air is refreshing after the 6-km walk from Vang Vieng along a muddy unpaved road and the treacherous hike up the mountain. As we left the town, we crossed a rickety bamboo bridge over the Nam Song River, after paying the 1000 kip toll, continued along for several kilometres past stunning limestone mountains arching out of swollen rice paddies, now that the monsoon rains have arrived and the fields are filled with water.

The hot sun peeks out from behind a dark cloud, illuminating the water as if it were being lit from within, the jade-green colour becoming more translucent as if it were absorbing the greens of the trees and jungle surrounding it.

Occasionally we were passed by an unusual-looking vehicle, a tractor engine attached to a wooden flatbed trailer that chugged slowly, leaving us with spatters of mud, ringing ears, and stares from inquisitive children in the back.

We walked past small brown villages filled with children and chickens, occasionally buying bottles of water from small stalls set up alongside the road from curious, smiling shopkeepers and men with bright eyes drinking lao-lao from old whiskey bottles. Leaving the villages and the wooden houses and huts behind, we continued our journey, the only people to be seen for miles. The wide open sky, filled with thick grey clouds promising rain later in the day, seemed to expand as if it was enveloping us. We smiled at each other, and I’d never felt so small yet so free.

The road became increasingly muckier, the smell of wet earth deep in our nostrils, and several times we had to skirt wide mud puddles by walking along the edge of the rice paddies. Occasionally we were passed by an unusual-looking vehicle, a tractor engine attached to a wooden flatbed trailer that chugged slowly, leaving us with spatters of mud, ringing ears, and stares from inquisitive children in the back.

But soon we arrived at a small shack, a wooden sign proclaiming ‘Phu Kham Cave’ in white lettering. After paying a small entrance fee, we crossed a rickety-looking wooden footbridge over a delicious jade-green swimming hole fed by a nearby stream and surrounded by lush jungle. We spoke with several travellers sitting on sharp rocks at the water’s edge then began the arduous 200-metre trek up the mountainside to Phu Kham Cave.

In the deep cavern, we sit perched on a rocky outcrop in front of the reclining Buddha, our breathing slowing after the long climb and even longer hike, our hearts returning to their regular rhythm, sweat ceasing to stream down our faces yet our slick skin feeling clammy in the cold air. We are both silent, not wanting to break the tranquil enchantment the Buddha has created in the cave, and I wonder how long the effigy has been here, who carried it up the mountain, and who comes here to pray. My mind swirls with questions, answers lost in the clouds of my imagination.

After several minutes we hear the sound of laughter and shouting as more travellers arrive, and the spell is broken. Getting up reluctantly to leave, we look once more at the golden statue then begin climbing over the cool stone to the sunlight, passing by the new visitors with quick ‘hellos,’ before hiking down to the swimming hole below.

The hot sun peeks out from behind a dark cloud, illuminating the water as if it were being lit from within, the jade-green colour becoming more translucent as if it were absorbing the greens of the trees and jungle surrounding it. Hot and sweaty again, we quickly strip off our shoes, socks and daypacks, leaving them by a great tree whose limbs shade the pond, and jump in.

The water feels luxurious as it closes over my head, tingling my scalp. I reach down with my toes but cannot feel the bottom; popping up to the surface I notice a school of tiny silver fish swimming near my feet, and soon they are nibbling my skin, tickling me with their small mouths.

Lying on my back, I float on the surface, my hair streaming out behind me, my ears underwater so I no longer hear the chatter and laughter of the travellers who have just arrived; the only sounds I can distinguish are my own breathing and the hypnotic roar of the currents carrying me slowly across the pond. I’m brought out of my reverie by a huge splash, as a young man swings himself on a giant rope from the great tree, landing in the water with a loud crack and cheers from the spectators on land.

I pull myself out of the water and join my friend who’s sitting on a stone ledge near the water’s edge. A dark shadow casts over the swimming hole as the sun slips behind a mass of angry clouds, and fat raindrops splatter the now olive-green water below. We gather our belongings, ready to begin the long trek back to Vang Vieng in the rain, when we hear the chug-chug-chug of a tractor engine, and the unusual vehicle that passed by us earlier rolls up to the footbridge.

Running over, we ask the driver if he could take us back to Vang Vieng, and he nods his assent. Climbing in, we settle ourselves on the hard wooden bench, tired yet happy from our long day. As the rain taps the blue-and-white tarped roof above our heads, I grin, my sore feet and aching calves glad to be taking the easy way back to town.


Many new babies at Chiang Mai Zoo

Just what are these animals getting up to at night?

Surachai T. Bunditkul

The Bearcats, Mara and White Necked Stork families have all recently enjoyed new additions their families, while many other prospective mothers are ready to give birth at Chiang Mai Zoo’s maternity department.

Mara (Dolichotis Patagonum), a rare kangaroo like animal.

Tanong Nateepitak, the director of Chiang Mai Zoo, said that the new babies include two bearcats (Arctictis binturong), a Mara (Dolichotis patagonum), and a white-necked stork. At this stage the zoo does not know if the babies are boys or girls as their parents are not allowing anyone to get really close to the little animals.

Tanong said the bearcats have long tails, which they can use for swinging through the trees to supplement their hands. Maras, which originated in South America, are rare animals looking like a kangaroo. This is the first baby Mara born in the zoo. The white-necked storks originated in Africa and Southeast Asia and are one of the larger species of birds.

At the moment, all of the newborn babies appear well, and the staff is proud to present them to the general public.

Other mums-to-be include Mrs. Emu and the rather naughty Miss Pigeon. The zoo is also awaiting a new baby elephant, to be a young brother for Chai Yo, which is expected in the next 4 months.


Local boy to represent Thailand in IMO Japan

Supatatt Dangkrueng

Saran Ahuja, a Mathayom 6 student at Monfort College in Chiang Mai, has been selected to represent Thailand in the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) in Tokyo, Japan this month. Six students from Thailand participated in the IMO and Saran was the only one from the northern region.

Saran (left) and his proud father Dr. Surinkumar Ahuja (right).

Saran’s happy friends from Monfort College give him support.

Saran said that this is his first time and he is ready, and although he did not expect too much, he would try his best. Previously Saran attended a training camp in Bangkok with training being given by teachers and lecturers from Chulalongkorn University and Kasetsart University.

Saran’s father, Dr. Surinkumar Ahuja, said he was glad that Saran put in the effort to go for the IMO. Last year he tried but did not make the final cut, but this year he made it. He did not want to put pressure on him to win but he believed that Saran would do his best.


Tod Pha Pa makes merit for local community

Nantanee Jedsadachaiyut

Tha Luk Land Reformation Group held a Pha Pa tree planting ceremony to make merit at Tha Luk Village, Tambon Wiang Nong Long, Lamphun.

The villagers participating in the Buddhist ceremony section of Tod Pha Pa Phan Mai.

Planting trees in 10 rai of community land.

Not too old to grow!

The Land Reformation Group of the Tha Luk villagers worked in cooperation with Lamphun Land Reformation Network, Northern Agricultural Network, Northern Development Foundation, and Community Forest Support Group to organize the Buddhist religious Tod Pha Pa Phan Mai ceremony, making merit by cultivating plants for the community.

The community leader, Chaovalit Chareonphew told Chiangmai Mail that most Tha Luk villagers are involved in agriculture, especially longan orchards. Each family possesses about two rai of arable land, but it is not enough to really earn a living.

However, there used to be 10 rai of forest land from which people would collect items for their own consumption, but 20 years ago, the land was purchased by a developer, the trees removed and the land graded. The process did not continue and the land has been left untouched for the past 10 years. The villagers have launched legal action to return the land for public use.

During the legal process, the people have had to prove that they had the ability to restore the deserted land to be a bountiful community forest, which they have done by cultivating 5,000 plants such as teakwood, bamboo, agar wood, and cotton in the community land to become natural resources for the next generation.



Chiangmai Mail Publishing Co. Ltd.
189/22 Moo 5, T. Sansai Noi, A. Sansai, Chiang Mai 50210
THAILAND
Tel. 053 852 557, Fax. 053 014 195
Editor: 087 184 8508
E-mail: [email protected]
www.chiangmai-mail.com
Administration: [email protected]
Website & Newsletter Advertising: [email protected]

Copyright © 2004 Chiangmai Mail. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Advertisement