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Rotary sponsors “new eyes” for old

Pu Sae - Ya Sae: The ancestor spirits of Lanna Thai

Rotary sponsors “new eyes” for old

168 patients in the north regain their quality of life

Sandy Clark and Chiangmai Mail reporters
Photos: Marliese Fritz

One unfortunate result of an aging population is cataract formation. This slow-growing cloudiness of the lens of the eye slowly dims the vision until only ghostly shapes can be seen. The quality of life is drastically reduced, and the elderly lose the will to live in a partially sighted world.

Dr Supachai Chotibutr, the ‘Big Man’ handing out bags and sunglasses. He is proudly wearing his Paul Harris Fellowship award.

Despite the fairly recent advent of cheap intra-ocular lenses to replace the natural lens, there still remains the enormous hurdle of inserting the prostheses. This required the skills of specialist ophthalmological surgical teams, and generally only the richer folk can afford this kind of surgery.

Fortunately, for 168 patients in the north, Rotary International came to the rescue. The Rotary Club Eastern Seaboard carried out a free Cataract Surgery Mission at Somdet Phra Yanasangworn Hospital, Amphur Wiang Chai, Chiang Rai province (about 10 km east of Chiang Rai City) in cooperation with ‘The Princess Mother’s Medical Volunteer Foundation’ (PMMV).

Patients enjoying their bags and sunglasses, given after the operation.

The main sponsors of this project were Mr. and Mrs. De Vaan together with the Rotary Club of Pijnacker-Nootdorp and Rotary District 1600, all from the Netherlands, the Rotary Club Eastern Seaboard and The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International, which provided a substantial grant. The grand total of around two million baht will be used to provide free surgery for least 500 mostly elderly patients.

(From left to right) Dr. Pramukh Chandavimol, secretary-general of the Princess Mother’s Medical Volunteer Foundation; medical team leader Dr Supachai Chotibutr of the Ramathibodee Medical School, Bangkok; John van Zantvoort of the Rotary Club Eastern Seaboard; Deputy Minister Anutin Charnvirakul of the Ministry of Public Health; cataract project manager Martin Brands of the Rotary Club Eastern Seaboard; Marliese Fritz of the Rotary Club Eastern Seaboard; Dr. Tawatchai, director of Somdet Phra Yanasangworn Hospital, Amphur Wiang Chai, Chiang Rai where the mission took place.

A team of eight ophthalmologists, 11 nurses and one technician (volunteers from Ramathibodee Medical School in Bangkok) headed by team leader Dr Supachai Chotibutr, a member of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists in Thailand, performed the surgery on 168 patients on Sunday May 22, taking from 7.30 a.m. till late in the evening.

Painless anesthesia before entering the pre-surgery ward. It takes about 30 minutes to become fully effective.

The Rotary Club Eastern Seaboard president Martin Brands (Cataract Project Manager) flew to Chiang Rai, accompanied by the Director of Community Service Marliese Fritz and Director of Club Service John van Zantvoort.

Surgery took place on eight operating tables and the operation takes up to 20 minutes.

Club Service Director John, said in his very emotional speech, “I am proud that our Rotary Club Eastern Seaboard is here for the first of three cataract surgery missions. Since our founding in July 2004 we have raised 21 million baht for a variety of projects. About 75 percent of our funds are spent on health care and education, the two pillars of progress for any nation. I feel very proud that this weekend, this great team under the very capable leadership of Dr. Supachai of Ramathibodee Medical School, and the medical staff of Somdet Phra Yanasangworn Hospital under Director Dr. Tawatchai has given a new quality of life to 168 elderly patients.”

Surgery took place on Sunday May 22, and all 168 patients and their caretakers stayed in the hospital for one night. The protective cover is only kept on for a short while.

In recognition of his work, Dr Supachai was honored with a Paul Harris Fellowship, one of the highest honors a Rotarian can receive. President Martin Brands presented the award, saying, “This world would be a different place, Dr Supachai, without dedicated people like you! Not only do you spend your life helping others, you also do this in your free time as a volunteer and you have done so for many years. Thanks to your efforts, thousands have regained ‘Quality of Life’. This is true humanitarian help; this is real Service Above Self (the Rotary motto), and we are very pleased and honored to work with you!”


Pu Sae - Ya Sae: The ancestor spirits of Lanna Thai

Reinhard Hohler

In Thailand, the month of May marks the end of the hot season and the start of the rainy season. It is also the auspicious time to begin the yearly rice planting and to that end, festivals are of paramount importance to bring down the rain.

The Wat Pratat at Doi Kham which is only 7 km south of Doi Suthep.

Actually, the original technique for obtaining rain was the firing of locally produced rockets. The latter can be found in its purest form at Yasothon in Isaan during the “bun bang fai” or rocket making festival. Strangely enough, in Lanna, or Northern Thailand, the tradition of firing rockets has currently fallen into oblivion. Nevertheless, there is still the tradition that monks and lay people use to worship a forested hill pagoda and ask for rain from the sacred relics buried there.

In this connection, and concurrently with the Visakha Bucha celebrations in memory of the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death, the people of Chiang Mai went to worship at Phra That Doi Suthep by organizing a pilgrimage on foot to reach the temple during the night before the festival.

The shrine of Queen Chamadevi flanked by two monkeys.

Less well-known than Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is Wat Phra That Doi Kham – just only seven km south of Doi Suthep. Interesting to note is that both mountains – Doi Suthep and Doi Kham – are interconnected in history going back to the times of the Buddha.

It is at Wat Phra That Doi Kham, where the visitors will be confronted with Pu Sae – Ya Sae, the ancestor spirits of the Lanna Thai kingdom. According to some myths recorded by the late Kraisri Nimmanahaeminda, once when the Buddha was traveling in the area of present-day Chiang Mai, he met three cannibals, a couple with their son. This trio followed his trail in the hope of making a meal of him. But when the Buddha delivered a sermon to them, the cannibals converted to his religion and abstained from taking human flesh to be allowed the flesh of the buffalo only. As for their son, he was so affected by the sermon that he pleaded to abstain forever from consuming meat of any kind, and asked to become a monk. Later he disrobed to lead the life of a hermit, spending his time in meditation in a cave atop the mountain that later took his name: Doi Suthep. After death, the trio became roaming spirits.

The shrine of grandmother Ya Sae.

It is intriguing to know that in the 7th or 8th century, there was a hermit on Doi Suthep who raised the future Queen Chamadevi, who later ruled the city of present-day Lamphun. One of her local opponents was the Lawa Khun King Luang Vilanga, who tried to marry Queen Chamadevi, but did not succeed. Later the twin sons of Queen Chamathevi married the twin daughters of King Luang Vilanga. Now, it should be obvious that the trio spirits are related through incarnation with these historical personalities.

To commemorate the original spirit couple, called Grandfather Pu Sae – Grandmother Ya Sae, there is a yearly black buffalo sacrifice at Ban Pa Chi at Tambon Mae Hia on the foot of Doi Kham on the 14th day of the waxing moon in June. If the buffalo falls down in parallel to the Mae Hia creek, the rain will be plentiful. If not, there will be a drought.

The shrine of Grandfather Pu Sae.

After that, a complex ritual starts to summon all the involved spirits and a special medium will be possessed by Ya Sae, the grandmother spirit. Other possessed mediums join the ritual. In the meantime, the holy “Phra Bot” painting, showing Buddha flanked by his disciples will be hoisted up from the branch of a tree, illustrating that he is going to preach, while eight invited monks chant in the ancient Pali language. The ritual, asking for rain and plenty, ends before noon.

Why this happen at Doi Kham? One answer is that when the Buddha decided to save the local people from the cannibals, the “rain god” Indra was so delighted and caused rain of silver and gold fall down. The places where the rain fell down have since become known as Doi Kham or Golden Mountain and Doi Ngoen or Silver Mountain, later to be changed into Doi Suthep. Doi Kham is also associated with the Grandmother Spirit Ya Sae, while Doi Suthep is associated with Pu Sae, the Grandfather Spirit, and this until today.

The shrine of the hermit Suthep who raised the future Queen Chamadevi, who later ruled the city of present-day Lamphun.

The local opponents, the Lawa King Luang Vilanga, who tried to marry Queen Chamadevi, but who did not succeed.