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A thought-provoking visit to Siem Reap and Angkor

Chiang Mai’s 31st annual Flower Festival charms the crowds

Care for Dogs truly cares for dogs

 

A thought-provoking visit to Siem Reap and Angkor

A clash of civilisations?

Roland Thompson
Throughout history civilizations have risen and fallen leaving behind remnants that vary from the remarkable to the barely of note. Somewhere in time there comes a convergence of opportunity, inspiration and genius that creates an experience that should live as long as mankind. In one of the most isolated and poorest countries on the planet a civilization that reached its zenith between the ninth and thirteen centuries AD left its testament to its ideals. Sitting in the forest of northwest Cambodia a series of temples and monuments comprises the complex of Angkor, and to this day, it is the most artistic and ambitious attempt by any civilization to immortalize its beliefs.

Stone carving at Angkor Wat.
When we first visited Angkor in 1996 only a few of the major sites had been cleared of the landmines left behind by the vanquished Khmer Rouge who had devastated and decimated Cambodia in the prior twenty years. The great temple of Angkor Wat, the largest religious complex ever constructed, was mostly restored and could be viewed easily but the others were seriously damaged and required great physical effort to make your way around and over the collapsed structures that had suffered centuries of abandonment.
Today much has changed and though the thrill of exploring has been replaced by the ease of touring, the sites will still overwhelm the visitor. Now dozens of locations can be seen, as only one’s stamina and available time place limits on the wonderful experience. Last year over two million visitors came to Cambodia and most, of course, ended up at Angkor during their stay. Fortunately, the more than 500 square kilometres that makes up the area containing the main temples easily absorbs the crowds. Early morning, (after the sunrise retreat to breakfast for the tour groups), allows more casual visits during the period of the day when the temperature is much more comfortable than the heat of late afternoon. The huge granite and sandstone edifices absorb the beating sun throughout the day and radiate it late in the afternoon, and early evening, adding to the tropical oppressiveness.

The father with two of the brothers and a grandchild.
In 1996 a few hotels and some guesthouses existed, catering to the small number of visitors who arrived. The Grand Hotel built by the French in 1928 lay in ruins, but plans were underway to construct on the site a luxury hotel to house the hoped for next generation of tourists. The Grand Hotel is now indeed grand; lining the route from the airport is one mega-luxury hotel after another - the wealthy travellers have indeed arrived. The city of Seem Reap itself is saturated with small hotels and guesthouses that compete to attract everyone not ensconced in virtual luxury with their tour group, and whole streets are now entirely given over to restaurants or pubs. If any other businesses ever existed in those areas they were quickly swept away in the frenzy to meet the needs of the new visitors. All goods and services the visitor might desire are available but be prepared to pay well and preferably in American dollars. Development is continuing at a dizzying pace with new hotels sprouting up in areas of the city that had previously seldom seen a tour bus. Another form of development is taking place, as huge shopping and condominium townhouse constructions rise throughout the city. None are completed yet; it remains to be seen if there is a market for what appear to be very expensive properties. The infrastructure in Seem Reap would not appear conducive to long-term residence and other than the Angkor complex there would be limited attractions to bring visitors back to the area. One hopes that future visitors to the area will not have to battle their way past the timeshare hucksters.
Where does one now find the descendents of the great civilization that constructed Angkor? They are lodged in the past trying to cope with a future that is coming at them with incredible speed. On our recent visit, we met three brothers who came from a family that was created by the horror that was visited on their country by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970’s. Their father had spent thirty two of his forty two years as a Buddhist monk but was forced to leave his monastery or face certain death at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. He married and has raised his family of five children. The brothers run a motorbike/tuk tuk service that, amazingly, can be accessed via a website created for them by an American friend.
Connected to the world by their website, they manage a successful business and in the evenings run a small school in their village to teach the children English. They are building a small classroom behind their home which is being financed by donations of materials and supplies from the visitors they guide through the wonders of Angkor. Living less than a kilometer from the great temple itself, the brothers’ village lacks any running water, and has no sanitation and no electricity. The children gather around a small florescent light powered by a car battery to study a language that may allow them to secure a living from the multitudes of tourists that pass near their homes without even recognizing their existence. The children wave and yell greetings to the tourist helicopters that swoop over their straw huts, without realizing that no one will ever hear them or even realize they are there.
We can hope that development will mean some elimination of the grinding poverty that has most Cambodians living a life not far different than that of the workers who built Angkor. Throughout Siem Reap one sees signs of the effort being made by international aid organizations to encourage the trickling down of part of the area’s huge tourist dollar revenue to the average Cambodian. It is to be hoped that the Three Brothers Taxi Service will continue to be successful and that their efforts to help their neighbours improve their lives will ultimately make their world and ours a better place.

The brothers, the children they teach,
and the little school they have built behind their home.

 

Chiang Mai’s 31st annual Flower Festival charms the crowds

Spectacular floats, beautiful girls, glorious flowers and sunshine

Henri Nelson Smith, Donovan Stewart and Alan Smith (l/r),
 enjoying the weather at the Flower Festival.

At the Flower Festival; Mike, Linda and Gene (l/r).

During ‘The month of Love’ Judy and Dale Harcourt
in the middle of a heart of flowers.

Esther, Isra and Ezra Supapwarrakul (l/r) at the Flower Festival.

Roshan Dhunjibhoy, Gebbard Dietsch and Navina Sunderland (l/r) relaxing
for a few minutes during the Flower Festival.

Nothing is more appropriate for Chiang Mai, the city known traditionally as the “Rose of the North” than a Flower Festival held to celebrate the profusion of lovely blooms which light residents’ lives all year round. This fragrant annual three day event was held last weekend in defiance of the unseasonable but welcome rains of the previous two days. Saturday, the day of the Grand Parade, dawned in dullness, but brightened up beautifully by the afternoon, calming the fears of the organisers and attracting crowds of spectators. Even before the parade began, the theme of riotous colour was evident, with the street stalls at the side of the moat road shaded by umbrellas of every shade imaginable. The Grand Parade, as spectacular as ever, began with the Flower Festival’s opening ceremony, performed by the Governor of Chiang Mai, Wibun Sa-nguanphong and his deputy, Ruangwan Buanuch, outside the Governor’s mansion. Led by the first of 24 floats, all amassed with flowers of every shade and variety and amazingly depicting everything from temples, mythical birds and animals through pink elephants to a large-eared hare, (a favourite with the spectators), the Grand Parade wound its way clockwise round the moat to its destination in Suan Buak Haad City Park. A floral shrine with a life-sized standing figure of the Buddha emphasised the Buddhist faith of the Kingdom; beautiful girls in traditional costume rode the floats, and walked and danced in the parade, some with umbrellas completely covered in flowers. Bands marched between the floats, and dancers with elaborate headdresses of flowers performed traditional Lanna dances. A drum band paraded in time to the trumpets and trombones, whilst children ran along the side of the road waving their multicoloured balloons as the marchers waved their flags and banners. Hill Tribe people marched in the parade, wearing their exotic traditional costumes and silver jewellery.
Once the Grand Parade reached the park, spectators were free to wander amongst the many colourful stalls set up along the Suan Buak corner of the moat. Local horticulturists and landscape experts made lavish displays of flowers in miniature gardens, some even with waterfalls. Banks of rose, carnations, bougainvillea, and every kind of tropical and cold weather flower stretched along the pavement, together with many food stalls providing much needed refreshment. Orchids, bonsai trees and many other species were put on display after having been judged by a panel of experts in order to choose the best of each species.
In the late afternoon, and well into the night, a stage was set in the park for entertainments and a beauty contest, at which this year’s Flower Festival Queen was chosen. Congratulations go to the local government, the private sector, and the various district offices, all of whom provided the spectacular floats which were the focus of this, the 31st Flower Festival. Congratulations also go, of course, to the organisers and to everyone who took part in the Grand Parade. The Flower Festival is one of the most loved of the Rose of the North’s public celebrations, and reminds all of us to fully appreciate and protect the beauty of nature which, here in Chiang Mai, surrounds us every day of the year.


Care for Dogs truly cares for dogs

Lynley Capon
Three years ago, I lived in a district where many street dogs lingered near the food vendors. Some dogs I knew then have since died from disease or due to mishaps with cars on the busy road. I enjoyed knowing a puppy named Hero, who was one of the survivors! At first a cute, white ball of fur, he matured into a gentle, extra-friendly chap prone to misadventures. A year ago, I noticed him ailing and also bleeding from his penis. At first, I blamed trauma, suspecting he’d been hit by a car. But otherwise, the accident hadn’t seemed to trouble him.

Care for Dogs shows the monks at the Wats which they visit how to look after the dogs who make their homes there.
As time passed, he developed ugly tumours that began to burst and smell terribly. Together with a friend who was also fond of Hero, I decided to contact a dog rescue centre. After a few tries, we spoke to a group called Care for Dogs. Within an hour, a member arrived to pick up Hero and take him for treatment. A few hours later, Sarah from Care for Dogs phoned to say that Hero had a sexually transmitted disease called TVT (Transmissable Venereal Tumour). The tumours and bleeding penis were symptoms. Sarah suggested keeping Hero in a safe place for two months while treating him with injections to kill the disease
However, Hero detested confinement and his cries and complaints upset the other dogs. Sarah had to return him to the streets, but she developed a good plan. Each week she picked up Hero, took him to the vet for a shot and dropped him off again. Now, three months later, Hero has recovered almost fully. Only one small tumour remains. Interestingly, our concern for Hero spurred the local people where he hangs out to care for him too. He even receives regular baths.

A victim of abuse, neglect and abandonment, Misha just after she was found and taken to Care for Dogs.
Since its inception in 2006, Care for Dogs has done wonderful work. A German woman, Karin Hawelka, and her French friend, Amandine Lecesne, formed the organization and transformed an area beside Karin’s lovely home into a dog sanctuary. They have several volunteer workers. I met with volunteers Sarah and Gill, who showed me around and introduced me to the many dogs. Typically, Care for Dogs has 70-80 resident canines at a time. Judging by the success rate so far, about 200 per year can find new homes, adopted by visitors to the shelter.

Misha at Care for Dogs, only a few months after she arrived.
The volunteers told me many of the dogs’ stories, all with sad beginnings but often happy endings, thanks to timely care. For example, Misha, a victim of abuse and abandonment barely recognizable as a dog, entered care in November 2006. Her condition improved amazingly. She still has a tumour on a back leg, but it’s benign. Surgery to remove it isn’t worth the risk of infection. Judy, a gentle dog, suffers quietly with heart problems and cancer. Cow Ai is a beautiful female. Someone decided to sterilise her by operating through her side and then sewing her up with fish gut. Petra survived poisoning, but has terrible epileptic fits that prompt the other dogs to bay frantically and rush to her side.
In a terrible case, Kazim entered the shelter with TVT and a burst tumour that had left his back painfully raw. Another tumour had invaded an eye socket, leaving him half-blind. With care and medicine, he’s recovering. Some animals arrive with distemper. If treated in time, they can recuperate. Unfortunately, one dog, little Nan Fon, was shaking visibly when I saw her, and her death loomed. Once they have spasms and chattering teeth, they’re beyond curing. Another dog, Licorice, had better luck. She survived and revived.
The list continues. Hit by a motorbike, Paul has paralysed back legs. Gill regularly massages his legs, and he exercises in a bath too. At the moment, he gets around deftly, dragging his hindquarters, which are covered to prevent abrasions.
Enclosures at the shelter serve different purposes. One is for puppies awaiting adoption. Human visitors get to see the cute puppies first. A litter romping about when I visited had been left, starving and covered in faeces, on the doorstep in a closed box. They soon attracted helpful attention from Gi, a resident dog with motherly instincts who has had several surgeries for a hernia. A second enclosure houses nursing mums and dogs recovering from surgery. Three more enclosures shelter dogs with assorted conditions. Yet another keeps dogs in quarantine. Several quarantined animals were adjusting from past distresses. Thanks to a tip-off, Care for Dogs had found 15 canines at a property where they’d lived all day, every day, caged separately in a dark room. Still learning about light and space, the animals remained wary of people. One still hid under a platform in a dark corner.

Volunteer Gill is giving Paul, who is paralysed after an accident, a massage which improves his circulation and general condition.
Care for Dogs strives to work in conjunction with the temples. If Thai people don’t want their dogs anymore, they tend to leave them at the Wats. Sometimes the animals are fed and sheltered, but maybe not if the monks aren’t keen on dogs. The volunteers at Care for Dogs liaise with some temples, treating dogs on site or taking them to the shelter for sterilization. A school at one temple has raised money for Care for Dogs, which then performs education programs, teaching people how to care for pets.
I enjoyed watching the dogs interact with each other - the baiting, affection, assertions by the “top” dog and clamouring if any dog felt distress. At various moments, Gill, Sarah and I all shed tears, sometimes because dogs left for the temples where they’d been picked up, or because some suffered. Seeing the dogs cared for and loved stirred emotions too.
Care for Dogs needs volunteers and funding. We paid for Hero’s treatment by donation. As I visited, an American family arrived to contribute big bags of dog food.
In fact, Care for Dogs just scratches the surface when it comes to assisting Chiang Mai’s neglected and abused dogs. My canine friend, Hero, carries a noble name, but the real heroes are these people helping so much with limited space and resources. For more information: www. carefordogs.org or http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=LQ1F81apioQ
This article was first published on www.cairnsmedia.com.