Vol. VII No. 25 - Tuesday
June 17 - June 23, 2008



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by Saichon Paewsoongnern


OUR COMMUNITY
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Legend River Resort Chiang Rai to host next Skål meeting

Chiang Mai International Women’s Book Club

The Hwa Chong Institute Youth String Ensemble at Payap

Seeing is believing

Diversity makes the world an interesting place!

Invitation to celebrate Independence Day at the USA Consulate

Legend River Resort Chiang Rai to host next Skål meeting

Vintage cars and a fun weekend

SKÅL members and their guests at the Chedi Hotel last month.

The next monthly meeting of Skål will have an unusual and fun flavour, as it is being planned as a special “away” weekend at the Legend River Resort in Chiang Rai.
Skål member and GM of the Legend, Marc Dumur, has put together a fun package for the weekend of June 21/22, which includes “welcome” cocktails, a Superior Studio Room and a buffet breakfast on Sunday morning. The usual Skål dinner will take place on Saturday night, and the evening will also feature a meet with members of the Lanna Vintage Car Club and a chance to inspect their treasures “up-close and personal”. As a very special treat, Skål member David Hardcastle will introduce guests to the ongoing mystique and magic of the Rolls Royce motor car. On Sunday morning, a visit to the Mae Chan Winery will take place. Lastly, for those who like to spoil themselves, Khun Onanong of Siam General Aviation is putting together a very special charter package for those who like to arrive in Chiang Rai in grand style!
The stay at the Legend will cost 1,800 baht, excluding the normal Skål dinner and wine charges of 800 baht plus 200 baht for wine. For more details and prices of the charter package, please contact Khun Onanong on 084 114 6448.

 

Chiang Mai International Women’s Book Club

Diversity and discussion

Three generations of Chinese women living, loving and losing in Communist China…
Dracula being pursued across Eastern Europe by a knowledge-thirsty historian…
A long necked Karen who fights for freedom in Burma before enrolling at Cambridge University…

Some Book Club members are out of town, however, we did find Hope Watcharaprecha, June Unland, Dorothy Engmann, Christa Crawford and Monica Kientz (l/r).

These are some of the real and imagined stories read and discussed at the monthly meetings of the Chiang Mai International Women’s Book Club. Coming from six countries and reading books from Asia and around the world, the book club meets monthly to share thoughts on works ranging from modern literature and classic favorites to non-fiction and current events.
Members of the club select books: either favorites they have enjoyed reading or new titles they would like to explore with others. The only qualification is that they not be “airport books”, meaning the mindless novels picked up and later tossed away. Instead, the club aims for “keepers.” “I have found some of my favourite reading treasures through our reading list, and what is great is that it’s not only books I knew I would like, but also books I would have never picked out on my own,” says member, Christa Crawford.
Along with the diversity of books, the book club also enjoys a diverse and interesting readership. Begun in 2003 by Nancy Lew, wife of a former US Vice Consul, the club has had members hailing from Canada, the US and Mexico, as well as Singapore, England, Japan and Australia. Some have lived in Thailand their entire adult life, others only a few months. The book club is a great chance to connect with the Chiang Mai international community. New member Dorothy Engmann agrees: “As a comparative newcomer to Chiang Mai and an avid reader, I was delighted to find out about the Book Club. It’s a real pleasure to meet and exchange views on the books we read with such a great group of feisty women! The food is good too!”
Members also have interesting backgrounds: NGO workers, a lawyer, a past Zonta president, teachers, jewelry makers, hotel executives, and accompanying wives who are no mere tag-a-longs. Each is writing her own international story based on her experiences in Thailand and many other parts of the globe. These experiences enhance and enliven the discussion of the books well beyond the words on the page.
The book club welcomes new members. While all but one of the founding members have moved on to new chapters outside of Chiang Mai, a few women remain who have been members for four or more years, including June Unland who was the first to respond to Nancy’s initial notice. These friendships have developed over almost 50 lively discussions and are revitalized by the addition of new members as the Chiang Mai community ebbs and flows throughout the course of a year. The only qualification of membership is the desire to read and discuss books in English. In order to maximize participation in the discussion, the group is limited to about 15 members at a time. “In the past we had 20 women in the club and many more on the waiting list,” says the group’s current facilitator. “Thankfully, with the recent addition of other book clubs, there is now no shortage of places in Chiang Mai to enjoy a good read and conversation; the International Women’s Book Club remains one of the longest running.”
Meetings begin with dinner at 7 pm on the last Monday of every month, rotating among members’ homes and Chiang Mai’s favorite eating spots. With a group of women who are lovers of food as well as savvy travelers, we have sometimes enjoyed a culinary journey in line with the book we are reading. As such, we have enjoyed Hungarian food with The Librarian, Chinese Food with Wild Swans, and most recently an Afghan feast with A Thousand Splendid Suns. Other months have been simpler, but just as enjoyable, conversing over a glass or two of wine and light snacks. Regardless of the menu or venue, all members come hungry for discussion and leave finding themselves filled with stories from around the world.
Interested in joining? Contact: Christa Crawford at [email protected]


The Hwa Chong Institute Youth String Ensemble at Payap

Young student musicians delight audience with impressive performance

The Hwa Chong Institute Youth String Ensemble.

Earlier this month, the Faculty of Law at Payap University played host to the Hwa Chong Institution Youth String Ensemble from Singapore, here to give their annual concert.
This year’s event was also a part of a fund-raising effort for an exchange/concert tour to Thailand, in collaboration with the music students of Harrow International School in Bangkok and the Thailand Youth Orchestra.
The programme featured the Holberg Suite (Edvard Grieg), Serenade in C for Strings, (Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky), and Mozart a la Haydn, (Alfred Schnittke), plus Kab Mai, (Thai Traditional Music). Conductor for this very special concert was Foo Say Ming, whose distinguished musical history includes the Lausanne Music Conservatory, the Academia Chigiana and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
The audience included patrons of the arts such as Count Gerald van der Straten Ponthoz and former Greek Ambassador Sioris. Unfortunately, as the venue was slightly out of town, and not too easy to find for the first time, quite a few people missed out on a wonderful one-off performance. However, those who did make the trip gave many favourable comments.
“It was incredible, watching 16 and 17 year old students performing such sophisticated music. And what stage presence they had when they performed Mozart a la Haydn!” (Rebecca Lomax). “The audience will certainly remember the Hwa Chong Institution Youth String Ensemble fondly and with great pleasure. The orchestra’s impressive performance and interpretation of the beautiful repertoire along with the young players’ deep respect for their master teacher and conductor Foo Say Ming was enhanced by their vitality and enthusiasm throughout the evening.” (Margaret Bhadungzong).
“String Ensembles may not be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ and opinions about the choice of programme vary, but the Tuesday performance of the Hwa Chong Young Musicians, (all aged 16-17),showed a depth of musical ability, a lively interpretation and obvious enjoyment that earned them rapturous applause, after 2 encores, at the end of the evening. The programme was musically varied, interesting and led by their talented conductor, Foo Say Ming. As a retired headmaster, I have sat through many concerts and plays but seldom have I enjoyed anything more than the music of these young people last night. May they look forward to excellent results in their future studies and careers.” (David Blair Brown).


Seeing is believing

An “on the ground” visit with the Samsara Foundation

Warren Kinston
and Verity Goitein

Nothing had truly prepared us for our visit to remote villages in the Mae Sarieng area where the Samsara Foundation has been providing the infrastructure to enable Karen and Hmong children to get an education.
Reading about what an effective Foundation does may be impressive, travelling with and observing the key people on project sites, is invariably more so. Annelie Hendriks, board member Samsara Foundation, and her husband, Manus Brinkman, both settled in Chiang Mai, were our hosts. Ratana Khueankeaw, who handles liaison, oversees projects, organises building works, manages furniture manufacture and much more, was also with us. We had been invited to join them and another donor on a review of recent work for half-a-dozen hill tribe villages.
First the beauty: leaving our car in Mae Sarieng we drove in 4 wheel-drive trucks into the hills, probably our last chance before the current rains make the steep tortuous red-clay-dirt roads impassable. Already they were rutted, potholed, and water-clogged in places. We pushed beyond the tourist trails, way past regions where most Thais venture, and where each vista of forested mountains and valleys was more breath-taking than the last.
Living as a self-sustaining community in a natural but sometimes unforgiving environment is something that we, as Westerners epitomizing modernity, cannot properly imagine. We can see but not comprehend slash-and-burn, we can see but not appreciate a culture devoted to supporting survival. The pigs, cabbages, chickens and other staples surely provide nourishment, but the small stature of the children suggested nutritional problems.
Subsistence cultures cannot withstand modern life and its pervasive economic and technological forces. So we were impressed and pleased to see villagers actively wishing to enable a better life for their children through education. Parents and others had voluntarily participated in building the various facilities we inspected. And what were these? Schooling infrastructure - schooling itself: dormitories, canteens, kitchens, toilets, water installations and drainage systems.
We discovered that dormitories and such like have a strange priority over class-rooms and teaching materials. For example, one school served several villages, some at a distance of as much as 20 kilometres without proper roads or transport. Weekly boarding is essential if children in such a catchment area are to attend school. Without somewhere close by to sleep, eat and wash, children cannot be at school at all. The value of these facilities is undoubted - one area the 60% attendance following the first dormitory rapidly became 80% as parents heard about the changes and pushed their children to attend.
We were repeatedly impressed by the way that the teachers put the children before themselves in their requests to Samsara for help. Teachers’ accommodation in several villages shocked us: we saw clean large dormitories for children with good bedding and wardrobes while their teachers slept on a hard surface in old huts, impossible to keep clean, with a primitive cooking facility and an even more primitive washing facility and toilet. Very disturbing.
What is Samsara’s secret on the ground? In essence: practicality, efficiency, and an incessant demand for reliability and performance from those responsible for school developments. This healthy intolerance of feeble excuses and bureaucratic dysfunction generated a marked contrast with some other foundations with similar aims and often much bigger budgets where issues are not gripped and interminable delays and failed projects are all too common. Samsara collects the money during the wet season and then during the dry season it completes a defined number of projects and follows these up to ensure they are having the desired effect. Over 5 years, we understand that 79 village schools have been helped with 227 facilities in the three Mae Sarieng districts. A phenomenal record. It is important to recognize that this achievement was only possible through the full involvement of the local Thai department of education.
Each school we visited impressed us in different ways, but there were two places which stood out during our 3 day trip. The first was our visit to Huay Pung Mai school. A wonderfully caring Director, Khun Noi, (who was also one of our drivers), has transformed the school in a very short time. As commonly follows such success, the government then kicked in and agreed to start a High School there - the first High School for hill-tribe children in the mountains.
The second was a school in the tiny village of Huay Muang. It was only too easy to see what it had been like before Samsara - a filthy kitchen, inadequate toilet facilities, openly seeping sewage, mud sliding down the hillside into class-rooms, children and teachers living in conditions hardly better than those of the village animals. We saw now a new clean canteen and kitchen, new toilets, and proper drainage, all of which will transform the psychological conditions and physical health of the children. And still too many children sleep in a crowded teacher’s hut.
Our advice to any donor is simple. Remember that your donation will be swelled, possibly even doubled, by matching sums from governments and other institutions. Indicate the sort of facility you would like to provide. Then ask to visit these villages later and be amazed at what you have helped make happen.
Finally, some difficult but unavoidable thoughts about the hill-tribes themselves. The inevitable future and only hope for these villagers is a slow but steady integration into modern Thai society. Education will do this, but only if it is designed to lead to a vocation with arrangements by educational authorities for an initial job placement. Such programs will help reduce prejudice in Thai society. Meanwhile, regarding the hill-tribes as a ‘tourist attraction’ is degrading, counter-productive, and not too far removed from the mentality that leads to human trafficking. It should stop now.


Diversity makes the world an interesting place!

Lanna Community Service members search for seeds

Esther Lee
Lat month, Lanna Community Service members had a little adventure on a rainy Saturday when, accompanied by Ricky Ward of the International Citizens of Chiang Mai group, we set out looking for a hidden treasure resting in the stillness; seeds!
“How many trees do you know?” was the first question he asked us at the first seed picking spot but we couldn’t name even five species - Ricky, however, has collected over thirty species that are most common in Chiang Mai. “I worked with trees for thirty years and now I am researching to find the right places for the right trees.” He works with the Thai army in Huay Tung Tao and gets some help from government bodies, individual friends and sometimes school groups. “I try to imagine what the forests used to be like and then plant trees and look after them.” he said, smiling.
That day, our ‘golden snitch’ was the brown wing shaped seed of the Yang Deng, a towering tree that once covered much of the area. “If you are working with nature you are all for preserving it. We need more than just narrow minded thinking that only human life is important,” Ricky said, as we dug up dead leaves to find the seeds.
He explained to us what is happening in Chiang Mai, right now, all around us. “They plant the wrong trees in the wrong places so they all die! Some species have only a few left so they just disappear. Thailand has to stop burning forests and rubbish and also restrict the places that cows feed so they won’t destroy the very young trees. The land where we plant trees has to be protected.”
At the Mokfa waterfall in Doi Suthep National Park, we were amazed to see so many rare species glistening under the waterfall. The water shattered into twinkling droplets, hugging our tired hearts. Ricky told us that “It’s really nice to live, enjoying the diversity of the world. Diversity is what makes the earth an interesting place.”
After we collected three sacks of Yang Deng, he told us a story. “One thing that we can do is take notice of His Majesty the King of Thailand. People in Thailand will remember when His Majesty’s elder sister was very sick in hospital and when His Majesty’s son got married, everyone in Thailand wore yellow T-shirts out of love and respect. When His Majesty went to hospital, every day he wore a different colour. When people asked him why, he replied that “it’s very interesting to have diversity!” People shouldn’t plant only particular trees like the ones with yellow flowers. Thailand has a wonderful diversity of trees and plants and we should treasure them, preserve them.”


Invitation to celebrate Independence Day at the USA Consulate

This year, the USA Consulate in Chiang Mai together with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12074 will celebrate the “4th of July” one day early, on July 3, and invite all USA citizens in CM to join them and enjoy a variety of good ol’ American food, drinks and fireworks.
All American guests must show a U.S. passport or its photocopy on entry; admission is 50 baht per person with kids 12 and under (also with passport or its copy) free. US Citizens may invite two non-US guests, who must arrive with their American host, by pre-arrangement with the Consulate. Please contact [email protected] prior to June 29 for further details and permission. An email confirmation will be sent, which should be shown at the entry gate together with guests’ photo-id.
The public gate, located across from the Municipal Office, will open at 4 pm, with no further admissions after 7 pm. Guests are requested not to bring bulky items such as backpacks and coolers and should note that there is no parking available at the Consulate. For more information, please call 053 252 629, (recorded announcement), or visit www.chiangmai.uscon sulate.gov.



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