HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Ne’er the twain

It’s time to revive the Ping River

Australia appoints new Honorary Consul in Chiang Mai

Ne’er the twain

Paddy Linehan
Photos by Michael Vogt

About three years ago when I was still new to Chiang Mai, I used to go to a place along the east side of the moat to have my hair cut. A few young boys and girls worked there and they were so charming I got the habit of dropping in on them even when I didn’t need anything done with the grey, thinning lank locks. I got to know them fairly well. They were a diverse group from many different parts of Thailand. Though they came from different parts and different backgrounds they had the same dream: one day their talent would be spotted; they would be picked up by a movie director or fashion designer and whisked off to richness, fame and glory in Bangkok at least if not Hollywood itself.

Wat Suan Dok on Suthep Road, Chiang Mai.

I liked them all. Their youthful ambition and vivacity appealed to me – it provided a nice counterpoint to my own decline in dreams and advance in cynicism.

There was another reason for my visit, too: I was learning Thai. Their English was ‘not so good.’ I sat with them for hours. I learned a lot, I was entertained and I was – even if not magnificently so – coiffed more variously than an ageing Irish has-been, bereft of dreams, should ever hope to be.

But some times they went missing and I couldn’t figure it out. The person left behind to announce their absence did not quite have the same appeal – she spoke perfect English and was almost as old and past-ambition as myself. She used to bark at me ‘They are gone to the temple.’

On their return they also told me (albeit in much sweeter tones) that ‘yes’ they had ‘gone to the temple.’ I was puzzled.

Have you ever noticed this? Right in the middle of the city, part of Wat Suan Dok.

What could they be doing ‘at the temple’? Monks hair provided even less training ground than my own. In time the truth emerged. In a medley of English, Thai and sign language I extrapolated the information that more goes on at temples than praying. Temples are social gathering grounds for all kinds of activities – people meet in temples, dogs take refuge in them, boys play football in their grounds, hens lay there eggs there, hatch them and raise their chicks – and student hairdressers practice hairdressing there. They don’t practice on monks- they practice on people who are not monks. On certain days people come to the temple to have their hair cut for free. The students come in minibuses and give their services without payment for a day.

Casual and accommodating, the monk chat is provided by the temple on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m.

And that was the first time I discovered the varied potential in temples. I started going myself.

My hairdresser friends suggest it. They assured me I would find some monks happy to teach me Thai language. I did. Each morning at about six-thirty I pedalled down to Wat Suan Dok. There, under a spreading tree and with hens scratching around and dogs trying to bury themselves in dust I first learned to distinguish between a rising and a high tone in Thai language. My mentor was a monk from Udon Thani. He spoke clearly, slowly and with a deep understanding of ‘farangs’ difficulties with things Thai. It was not only his didactic skills that helped me along, he seemed to see inside me – to see my mounting angst and mentally massage it away. And it wasn’t just the good monk that made things smoother for me; it was the surroundings, too. Something about the place calmed me down. Learning became easier – I became relaxed.

Even the dogs feel relaxed at Wat Suan Dok.

Wat Suan Dok has a lot to offer. It is equally welcoming to rich and poor, to farang and to the plain curious of any creed or gender. If you want to know about Buddhism, about monks, about their lives, their beliefs, or even if you just want to find out more about Thailand and what makes Thai people different, there is no better place to spend a few hours. Go to the Monk Chat that is provided by the temple thrice a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 5 p.m. until 7p.m.

You simply go there and sit and talk to the monks. The arrangement is casual and accommodating. You can spend the time talking to just one monk or join in with a few of them, or share a monk or two with other farangs. You come away with more than information. You come away with some understanding of temples, Buddhism and what being a monk means. I would be surprised if you do not come away feeling a little more relaxed – and something else, too. Something I cannot put a finger or word on.

I have gone there many times now and no two visits have been even similar. Each time I meet another monk and get another point of view – views as varied and seeming contradictory as some of the tenets of Buddhism itself.

A very old monk on the temple ground sells merit making goods.

I was reared an Irish Catholic. I went to boarding school to Cistercian monks on the side of the Knockmealdown Mountains in southern Ireland. The place was not a novitiate; it was a straightforward high school for ordinary young men who had no aspirations to monk-hood. I loved it there. Though to the outsider life would have looked tough, there was serenity about the place that went some way to calming the youthful savage in us who studied there. We got up every morning at 6, washed in cold water and spent much of the day either studying or in reluctant prayer. For recreation we were taken on mountain walks. I think it had something to do with sapping the energy out of us, to calm the eruptive, impure forces of raw Celtic youth.

We climbed high and looked back down on the place we lived a life physically austere but rich in energy. There was an aura about that place. To this day I remember the unusual calmness that used to hang over us on top of that mountain. It may have been sheer exhaustion after such a physically exerting climb. I like to think there was something more enigmatic at work.

There is a seeming chasm between the belief system of the Christian Cistercian monks on the side of that Irish mountain and the saffron robed ones in Wat Suan Dok, yet there is an eerie similarity to the feeling that permeated the gangling Irish youths on top of that Irish mountain and the one that sits calmly over the young monks at Wat Suan Dok.

Maybe the twain between East and West shall never meet, but for me there is a mental bridge in the early stages of construction at Wat Suan Dok on Suthep Road here in Chiang Mai.

It’s time to revive the Ping River

Ping pong a problem

Watcharapong Jingkaujai

The Mae Raming River, or Mae Ping River, was one of the seven criteria that made King Mengrai decide that Chiang Mai was the perfect location for a city. He gathered the small independent fiefdoms in the Lanna region together and nominated Chiang Mai as the capital, calling it “Nopaburi Sri Nakorn Ping Chiang Mai”.

An old villager from Tambon Muangklong in Chiang Dao district swims in Wang Hai water reserve.

From dusk till dawn, Chiang Mai citizens were profoundly involved with the Ping River where the roots of their civilization originated. The river is the mother of all those who live in the city.

Currently however, the Ping River has reached a severe crisis. It is rotting, smelly and filled with garbage and waste. Our mother has become a burden to her children.

The Public Relation Department has even run a seminar entitled “Mass media and Revival of the Ping” to take part in the dissemination of environmental concerns, and was held at the Rim Doi Resort, on February 16-17, 2005.

Muangklong community holds a conference in Chiang Dao district beside Wang Hai water reserve.

Area studies and other projects concerning the effect of the Ping River including inspection along the river by boat to view the degradation of the old lady and intrusion into her domain and current legal wrangles over the river were conducted.

Clean water full with the perfect biology system of Wang Hai water reserve.

The degradation was presented by Asst. Prof. Wasan Jompakdee, Vice Dean Faculty of Engineering CMU and the Chairman of the Coordinating Committee for protection of Ping River Basin and environment.

Asst. Prof. Wasan said the river ‘Ping’ does not contain only the one river route. In fact, every small water source on the mountains that runs into the Ping are all considered part of the Ping River. The ecological balance of the forest therefore has an effect on the whole river.

The media were taken on visits to the hilly area in the Hmong village in Baan Nong Hoi, Mae Rim, Chiang Mai to witness the severe deforestation that caused flooding, landslides and degradation of the Ping.

Lodbuang waterfall in Tambon Mae Mae.

Another village was Baan Muang Kong in Chiang Dao near Wang Hai Water Reserve that was named a small water source development project in 1993 by the Environment Office.

This village informs its citizens on how to help preserve the natural surroundings. All the commune members take care of their environment: no fishing, no waste in the river and guarding the Wang Hai water reserve. The village also supports eco-tourism. In the seminar, the village leader, the Chiang Dao officer, villagers and mass media representatives discussed about how to resuscitate the river.

Col. Chaiyapreuk Anyapak, commander of non-permanent force in section 32 and president of the Baan Nasiri new forest village project under the patronage of Her Majesty the Queen, gave a lecture on how to involve people with nature.

Mae Mae village hut in Tambon Mae Na, Chiang Dao district.

Going on to Baan Mae Mae, Chiang Dao to observe the way of living in the forest by more than 2,500 families demonstrated that they help maintain the balance of nature and ecology. They set the rules, maintain the rules and punish wrongdoers. It is a self-sufficient way of living.

Continuing on the Ping River Cruise at the Sun Peesua TAO, they witnessed the real situation of the river and questioned experts. The cruise went to Fah Ham TAO to see the right way of maintaining the riverbanks and managing loading boats.

The tranquil sunset.

The cruise continued to the next destination, Wat Chai Mongkol. It was apparent that the river around the Nawarat Bridge has a disgusting smell. This is due to the failure of the water purification plants on both sides of the river. Some restaurants, service places and even houses jut out from the banks into the river. They lack the moral consideration and care of their own environment and do not think of the negative consequences. It is still a controversial issue whether these intrusions will be prohibited and demolished.

The mass media were convinced something should be done - but which group will take the responsibility?

A water turbine works diligently in Wang Hai water reserve

Paparazzi boating on Wang Hai water reserve.

Australia appoints new Honorary Consul in Chiang Mai

Sandy Clark
Photos by Michael Vogt

At a reception at the Sheraton, Chiang Mai welcomed HE William Paterson, the Australian Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand, and Michael Walther the new Honorary Australian Consul for the provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lamphun, Lampang, Mae Hong Son, Phayao, Phrae, Naan, Sukhothai, Tak and Uttaradit.

The new Hon. Australian Consul for Chiang Mai, Michael Walther receiving his official certificate from HE William Paterson, the Australian Ambassador. (From left) Meam Tanyaso, Michael Walther, HE William Paterson and his wife Helen, Australian Consul General Alan Valtes and his wife.

It was the ambassador’s first visit to Northern Thailand since his recent appointment in December 2004. Prior to this he was Head of the Southeast Asia division in the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

He said that the establishment of an Honorary Consul in Chiang Mai reflects the growing strength of Australia’s engagement with Thailand, including the provincial areas. The primary role of the Australian Honorary Consul is to provide a range of consular assistance to Australian citizens, under the direction of the Australian Embassy in Bangkok, however the Honorary Consul does not provide notarial services, or issue Australian passports or visas, which remains the responsibility of the Embassy.

Ambassador William Paterson and Michael Walther meet with representatives from the Chiang Mai Immigration office.

Michael Walther is an Australian citizen whose wife was born in Chiang Mai, and has lived in Thailand for the past twenty years, with strong links to the Chiang Mai region over the past fifteen years. He is director of a number of companies including 3D Interiors, has been involved in a number of significant projects including the manufacture and export of a pre-fabricated modular building system out of Thailand and in the education services sector supporting the education of Thai students in Australia.

Everybody made the new Hon. Consul feel welcome in Chiang Mai. From left: Nattacha Yaesuwan ‘Ning’ (Suan Bua Hotel and Resort), Danai Leosawathiphong (Siam Royal Orchid), Chiradej Diskaprakai, (Toscana Valley Co.), a reception guest, Michael Walther, Mrs. Leosawathiphong, Wolfram Spreer, researcher; and Marie Joy Schulte (CMU).

The new Honorary Consul thanked everyone, assuring the audience that he will be here to provide assistance and protection to Australian citizens and maintain good relations with the host government and local authorities. He said he will act as a channel of communication, assisting in furthering Australian cultural, educational, scientific and technological interests in the North.

The Honorary Australian Consul is at the offices of Jinda Charoen Konsong Ltd, 236 Chiang Mai/Doi Saket Rd, Amphur Sansai, Chiang Mai. Contact phone 0-5349-2480, Fax 0-5349-2426. The office will open from 9 am to 12 noon Monday to Saturday.