Vol. VII No. 18 - Tuesday
April 29 - May 5, 2008

Dining Out & Entertainment
Academia Nuts
Social Scene
Chiang Mai FeMail
Daily Horoscope
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Chiangmai's Cinemas
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Back Issues
Updated every Tuesday
by Saichon Paewsoongnern

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Historic Lampang in a day - or two

Local Thai amateur photographer wins with “Naga”

AN ALCOHOLIC’S STORY – from drunkenness to recovery


Historic Lampang in a day - or two

George Scudder
The next time you find yourself sitting at home with nothing to do, and nothing worthwhile on BBC Prime, you’ve seen the current movies on HBO, and clearly are tired of the unending news, generally all bad, on CNN. Here is a suggestion. Take a day trip down to Lampang.

The 15th century gilded Stupa, shown from below.

Leaving Chiang Mai, you simply drive down Highway 11. Don’t forget to honk your horn two times as you pass the jit-jai (spirit area) at the top of the pass. Continuing on, you will see the entrance to the Elephant Conservation Center. This is a great place to stop for a visit, either going or coming. When you reach Route 1034, about 18 km north-west of Lampang, turn on to it, (this way you will save yourself about 50 km), and drive to Wat Phra That. This temple is considered by many to be the most beautiful wooden Lanna temple in northern Thailand. There is ample parking in an area ringed by shops, food stalls, and three museum buildings.
As you arrive at the top of the steps and enter the temple grounds, you will see the stupa and spire shown in the photograph. This tall Lanna style Chedi is behind the wihaan itself. It was raised in 1449, restored in 1496, measures 24 metres at its base, and rises into the sky for 45 metres. Once through the gate and into the entry courtyard, you will see what makes this trip worthwhile as you will be looking at a lovely old wihaan, built in 1476, the oldest existing wooden building in Thailand. Inside you will find a huge gilded mondop which houses a beautiful gilded bronze image of the seated Buddha cast in 1563. Behind the wihaan you will find a prayer corridor, where you can make merit for your trip! Once inside the wihaan, you will see painted on the walls various murals which date back to the early 19th century, all depicting the previous lives of the Buddha. On the north side of this, the main wihaan, you will find the wihaan Ton Kaew, which was built in 1476.

Wat Phra That is regarded as the most beautiful wooden temple in Northern Thailand.
The three museums are well worth a visit, should you have the time, as they display a fascinating range of items used in festivals and celebrations, together with a variety of Buddha images and other artefacts. One building, called the “House of the Emerald Buddha”, also contains ancient coins. The third, and smallest, museum has shelves of Buddha images, lacquerware, and manuscripts, all labelled in English as well as in Thai. After visiting the museums, you may cross the street, go up the stairs, through the naga gate and into the complex itself.
As there are many other interesting places to visit within the Lampang area, you may decide to stay overnight. In the town, there are a number of reasonably priced and comfortable hotels and a good assortment of restaurants. The following day, you might like to visit the weaving villages of Jae Hom and Mae Tha, both east of Lampang. Here, the weavers can be found at their looms, and there are an abundance of shops to in which to browse, each with a good selection of the weavers’ work. On your way back to Chiang Mai, you could stop in at the Elephant Conservation Center. Remember, if you do find the time for a visit, you will have accomplished two things - firstly you will enjoy seeing the elephants in their natural environment and understand more about the center’s invaluable contributions to their welfare; and secondly, and most importantly, your visit will help to support the wonderful work which is being done for these magnificent animals.

The entrance to Wat Phra That, showing the Naga stairway and the 15th century temple, the oldest wooden building in Thailand.


Local Thai amateur photographer wins with “Naga”

USA Outstanding Achievement in Amateur Photography

CMM Reporters
In an international amateur photographic competition held in the USA recently, a local Thai photographer won both the 2008 award for Outstanding Achievement in Amateur Photography, and the 2008 Photographer of Merit award.

Somyot Chamnanrith’s powerful and starkly beautiful winning image, “Naga”.

Somyot Chamnanrith, from Chiang Mai, had submitted his photograph, “Naga”, to be included in the International Society of Photographers’ 2008 competition. The superb image of a naga head on the roof of Wat Pha-Ngao temple in Chiang Saen seen silhouetted against the sunset was subsequently chosen as the winner in two categories. The presentation ceremony was held last month at the ISP’s annual convention and symposium at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. Somyat was recently warmly congratulated on his double achievement by Chiang Mai’s Director of the Office of Public Relations department, Somjai Sasomsap.

Somjai Sasomsap, center, the Director of Chiang Mai’s Office of Public Relations Department, congratulates Somyot Chamnanrith, right.

Somyot’s powerful and starkly beautiful image shows the importance of the naga in Thai tradition and religion. Traditionally, nagas control the sources of rain and are the guardians of the life - giving energy in its waters. Thus they are powerful symbols in a culture based on rice cultivation. On temple roofs and balustrades, they represent both the rising of water to the heavens, and the downpouring of rain from the sky. On a temple stairway, the naga represents the symbolic linking of opposites - the world of illusion, samsara, and the formless world of nirvana, symbolizing the ties which bind man to samsara and the path which frees man from illusion.

AN ALCOHOLIC’S STORY – from drunkenness to recovery

My name is Peter and I’m an alcoholic. I haven’t had a drink today, or for many days for that matter, but there was a time when not a single day went by without me drinking heavily. This is my story with names, dates and places changed to protect others in my story. I have divided the story up into three main sections – the downhill trail, followed by the treatment and realization stage, and finally recovery and rebirth.
The downhill trail (what my life was like)
My story begins when I was a teenager growing up on the edge of the country near Liverpool. This was in the late 1950s when things were very different from today. From school, we went on a geography trip and stayed in a small guesthouse on the south coast. I was 17 years old and just beginning to break away from my parents’ control. One night with a group of classmates, I went into a Pub, or bar, and I had my first alcoholic drink, lager beer with lime juice. I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday the effect that first alcoholic drink had on me – it was only beer, and then only half a pint – but it felt like heaven almost as soon as I had finished the glass. I adored the effect it had on me, feeling relaxed, free from all cares and troubles and although slightly giddy, I was stupidly happy. I found my inhibitions had gone and it did not seem to matter what I did or said any more. I loved the sensation and wanted more; this last bit is really important as it was to follow me through life for many, many years – wanting that sensation of feeling free from cares and worries and always wanting more booze.
To cut a very long story short, I drank more and more – I went to University and graduated and had a very early successful career as a teacher. But all the time, drink figured strongly in my life. I never seemed to get hangovers like my friends. In the holidays I took a bar job where the beer, and then the spirits, were easily available, often as tips from customers. Once I became a little tipsy, I was friendly, amenable and jovial, and customers liked me so I got lots of tips, and therefore lots to drink. I soon found another part-time job in the evenings in a bar near where I lived. I drank at lunchtimes and straight after work; at weekends, I drank all day and the same in the holidays. I was always short of money and got into debt easily, always finding my way out with the help of friends and relatives. I began to skip days from work – often it was a Monday, then a Monday and Tuesday; then it became whole weeks – usual excuses – flu, colds, stomach upset, sprained ankle etc. Sometimes, I would work in the mornings teaching, then go to the bar at lunchtime, phone work from the bar saying I was ill part way through the long lunch-break and then go on drinking until the bar closed, usually taking a quarter or half bottle of whiskey home to my flat with me. The quarter or half bottles soon became full bottles. I was usually back in the bar in the mid evening for more and yet another bottle would go home that night with me. My appearance began to go downhill – clothes were washed infrequently, underwear and socks worn for several days. I often only washed the cuffs and neck of shirts, and started to buy dark colours so the dirt would not show so readily.
I began to blackout – waking up the following day with no recollection of where I had been or what I had done the previous day or night. I once woke up to find a crate of a dozen bottles of whisky in my room and even to this day have no idea where they came from or who paid for them! I was a mess. I tried to stop drinking on my own and found I could not. I tried several times and sometimes succeeded for a few days or even a month, but I always went back and ended up a drunk again very quickly.
Treatment and realization (what happened next)
The boss of the school eventually referred me to a mental hospital via a psychiatrist, saying I was a nuisance in work, and colleagues were for ever having to take my classes when I was not in work! I ended up in the hospital and stayed for 6 months. I drank as soon as I left and found myself back at square one again, unable to stop and totally out of control within a few hours.
I was hospitalized 10 more times during the next 6 years; some of these stays were just for a couple of days; others were longer and different psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and social workers all reasoned with me, many suggesting I go to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) to get help. But I was the great ‘Me’ and knew better than all these people, or so I thought. I refused to believe that I needed help, or even that I had a real problem. The very fact I kept getting sent back into hospital by friends or relatives meant I had lost control of my drinking completely and really did need help. In between these bouts of drinking I was ‘dry’ – still thinking about drinking a lot of the time, but managing to hold down a job and having a reasonable social life. But looking back now, I know I was very unhappy deep down and each attempt to stop drinking on my own was just a ploy to keep relatives and friends off my back while I planned the next bout. And that next bout came, often 3 or 4 months later, and then it was off to hospital again as I was out of control in a matter of minutes. I did, however, during one dry period phone AA and started going to meetings. I thought the people there were quite nice, but rather quirky and odd, and while it was OK to go once in a while, it was not really for me longer term.
Then one day I ended up back in a detoxification unit in the psychiatric wing of a hospital from which I had earlier in the year discharged myself. The nurses were obliged to treat me as it was the police who escorted me there on that occasion – I had started to smash up the flat in which I lived and the police were called by neighbours. The psychiatrist who visited me when I had calmed down said that there was nothing more they could do for me apart from ‘dry me out’, ready to go out and get drunk and violent again. He added that if I wanted to self-destruct, then so be it. With that, he shrugged his shoulders and made to leave the room. I stopped him and said I thought I had reached the end. Would he let me go if I phoned an AA contact to come and collect me and take me to a meeting that evening, I asked. He said yes. I went to an AA meeting and I have never drunk alcohol since then, and that was over 25 years ago. I admitted and accepted for the first time in my life that I was an alcoholic, that I had a life threatening addictive disease which was killing me rapidly, and that I needed help. I became a member of AA because I had the desire to stop drinking and could not do so on my own.
Recovery and
rebirth (what my life is like now)
What happened then and thereafter is one of life’s great mysteries but also one of its great miracles. As I listened to what other people had to say as they shared their experience, strength and hope with me at those meetings, I not only identified with them, but I gradually found a new way of living. The obsession to drink left me; I no longer planned my next bout – instead, I planned how to avoid taking that first drink, the one which does the damage in that it triggers the second, third and all subsequent drinks. I went to lots of meetings and soon had a long list of telephone numbers I could call, new friends who cared deeply for me, and whom I could trust and rely upon; one day at a time, my life improved and my mind cleared. I became a respectable member of society again and came to recognize that a power greater than myself had restored me to sanity, because I sure as hell was insane in those last few years of my drinking career.
The nightmares and fear of not sleeping left me. I stopped taking sleep inducers and avoided all forms of prescription drugs that had any hypnotic elements to them. From that day on until my retirement 23 years later, I had fewer days off work than fingers on my hands. As I became more secure and sober, still attending lots of meetings and still sharing my story and thoughts, I adopted the suggested program of recovery for alcoholics, got myself a solid reliable and affirmative sponsor to whom I could talk at length; then eventually at his suggestion, I began to help other people who were still suffering; I chaired the AA meetings in the very hospital where I had finally made that decision to hand my life and will over to AA and then to my higher power. I helped run a telephone answering service for people who, like me, rang in for help; I went out to meet such people and take them to meetings. When abroad, I sought out meetings and spoke at them in different languages, as during my recovery I started to learn two new languages in addition to the two I already spoke. I got promotion after promotion at work as I channeled my energies not into guzzling down a bottle of spirits, but into making concentrated efforts and determined progress on all fronts. I learnt to live a simple yet effective life and when I did decide to retire having run my own successful company for ten years, I came to live in Thailand.
This is my story and it is by no means unique. In AA, many of my friends today have similar stories, some worse than mine, some not so desperate. The point here is that I had recognized that I had an addictive personality and that this led to a very serious addictive illness called alcoholism. Many people I see out in the bars and restaurants enjoy alcohol and treat it with respect. That is fine. I am not an anti-booze lobbyist – far from it. I love to socialize and mix with people whether they drink alcohol or not. I do not judge or condemn them. However, I do not want to drink ever again and each day I say this to myself. When I go out with friends anywhere in the world, I choose a soft drink rather than an alcoholic one. I still go to AA regularly and still reaffirm my commitment to a sober life. But this does not prevent me from going to the karaoke clubs, discos, theatres, cinemas, restaurants, festivals or other such places. In other words, I live a perfectly normal, happy and fulfilled life thanks to AA and its worldwide members who are always there for me whenever I need them, and I too am there for them should they ever need me.
Some of you reading this may not want to believe it; others may identify with parts of my story. Whatever, it is one of life’s great miracles that through AA I and millions of other sufferers have managed to stop the addiction from progressing further and have come to live a normal happy life. If you feel that you may need similar help, then get in contact. There are AA meetings every day now in Chiang Mai, and the phone number to make contact is printed weekly in this newspaper, 0844850100. Help is at hand if you want to stop drinking – just do as I did – pick up the phone.

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