Vol. VII No. 38 - Tuesday
September 16 - September 22, 2008



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by Saichon Paewsoongnern


NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Chiang Mai and northern provinces flooded again – more deaths

Chiang Mai Friends meet with Immigration

Ex-Chiang Mai Kayan women arrested in Sattahip tourist village

Political situation costing Chiang Mai 100 million baht per day

Help with visa and immigration questions

Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai to benefit from new Laos-Thailand route

Chiang Rai ethnic teenagers’ film wins Ministry of Culture prize

Traditional Lanna arts skills taught at Chiang Mai temple

Lampang to bid for Chinese investment in regional logistics centre

Help needed for new CM residential project for cerebral palsy victims

As the Mekong rises again,controversy over dams continues

Chiang Mai pharmacists targeted by border drugs gangs seeking ingredients

Drunken bag-snatcher caught red-handed

 

Chiang Mai and northern provinces flooded again – more deaths

A villager gathers his family’s valuables in the aftermath of the flood.

The strong current even washed away vehicles.

Many people in the affected area are now in need of immediate help.

Saksit Meesubkwang
Storms and torrential rain have again been threatening lives, livelihoods and property in the north. Chiang Mai’s Office of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation has stated that Fang, Mae Ai and Wiang Haeng districts have experienced flood conditions, with the water level in Fang recorded as dangerously high, with local villagers urged to move to higher ground for protection. Chiang Mai city and its surrounding areas have also been affected, although at the time of writing the level of the Ping River is still 1 metre short of its critical point.
Drainage problems are making the problems worse in outlying areas, with 40 pumps being made available to remove stagnant water. Suthep Road and Huey Kaew Road together with the surrounding low-lying areas were flooded to a height of 3 metres in places, causing traffic chaos, and the Mae Kha canal overflowed, causing severe flooding to homes in its area.
Streams in the area rose rapidly and overflowed during three hours of torrential rain, vehicles were carried away by the water, and electricity services were cut.
Two more deaths were recorded in Tha Wang Pha district, Nan province, with another person reported still missing, and many residents sustaining injuries as a result of floods. Homes and businesses were damaged, flood relief kits were handed out to villagers and mobile medical units were sent to the flood-hit areas.
In Chiang Rai province, the Mae Sai River, which forms the border between the Thai town and Tachilek in Burma, burst its banks September 7 and flooded surrounding low-lying land and commercial district on both sides of the border.
Vendors and tourists were advised not to cross to visit the Thalor market, as it was again inundated with flood water and cross border trade was badly affected. Thai and Burmese authorities are cooperating in providing help to victims of the floods.
In Wiang Pa Pao district, a reservoir has overflowed, causing serious flooding the area. Local officials are waiting for the water levels to recede before they can estimate the damage. The Mekong River is again showing abnormally high water levels, posing the threat of further severe floods across its basin.

 

Chiang Mai Friends meet with Immigration

Chief helps promote understanding

Police Colonel Prayut Chommalee (5th left) pictured with guests of honour
at the CMF/Immigration meeting and lunch at the Shangri-La.

Elena Edwards
Last Wednesday, September 10, residents of Chiang Mai and CEC members joined the Chiang Mai Friends group (CMF) at the Shangri-La Hotel for a meeting with the Superintendent of Chiang Mai Immigration, Police Colonel Prayut Chommalee.
Guests of honour at the meeting were the Mayor of Chiang Mai’s representative, Sudchai Kannakulsoonthorn, Panupan Chandhrapanya from the Tourist Authority of Thailand, Kittikorn Jeewongsuriyakul from the Chiang Mai Tourist Police, Chalermchart Nakarungkul from the Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce, Alan Hall, president of CEC, and Dr. Carolina Thompson, president of the Chiang Mai branch of Soroptimists International.
Having welcomed the Superintendent of Immigration and the special guests, Duenpen Chaladlam, president of the Chiang Mai Friends group, gave a brief description of its work both in the educational and environmental fields and in the all-important task of continued integration between the Thai and expat communities in the city. She stated that the aim of the meeting was not just to receive an outline of immigration law and have questions answered, but to promote harmony and understanding between Immigration and other municipal departments and the foreign community in Chiang Mai. Finally, she introduced the interpreter, Pinyo Duangcham, attorney at law and former president of Rotary Club Chiang Mai Airport District 3380.
Colonel Prayut began his talk by explaining that he had transferred from the south of Thailand to take up his Chiang Mai appointment just 9 months ago. He welcomed the opportunity to have an informal talk with expat residents, as there had been some recent changes in immigration law which had caused problems.
He went on to highlight several issues, including work permits, the 90 day reporting requirement of the “retirement visa,” the financial requirements for first-time applicants for a retirement extension, the rules regarding charity work and volunteering, and other related issues.
The audience’s submitted questions and the answers given by Colonel Prayut focused mostly on clarification of visa issues. He stressed first that although expats in many cases were granted visas in their home countries before emigration to Thailand, only the interior Immigration service could grant them the right to actually stay in the kingdom after the initial period, dependent in the visa, usually 90 days.
A valid reason has to be given to ensure an extension of stay. He explained the process of changing a Non-Immigrant “O” visa to a “retirement” visa, and confirmed that, for first-time applicants, the three month deposit of 800,000 baht requirement does not apply. It applies, however, for subsequent annual extensions.
Colonel Prayut explained that, at the present time, the only visa change that Immigration in Chiang Mai are allowed to make is from Non-Imm O to a retirement extension; any other changes must be in Bangkok or outside Thailand. However, a new law will be announced soon which will allow Chiang Mai Immigration to do everything in-house.
As regards the at-present controversial issue of work permits, Colonel Prayut stressed that no work, either paid or voluntary, can be legally undertaken by foreigners in Thailand unless a work permit has been granted by the Labour Department. Those awaiting the issue of a work permit are not allowed to begin work until the permit has been granted. As regards volunteers, it may be possible to obtain a letter from Immigration detailing the nature of the volunteer work and the charity concerned. This letter should be presented to the Labour department, who can then issue a 30 or 60 day permit. It was not made clear whether this temporary permit could be extended. The Colonel also stressed that if a foreigner invests in a company and owns his legal maximum of 49%, even if he only attends board meetings and does no other work, he is legally required to obtain a work permit. This is to satisfy Thai labour law, which differs from Immigration law.
Colonel Prayut reminded residents that they most carry their passports at all times, as it is their ID in Thailand, and also issued a reminder that those who have relatives or friends from outside the Kingdom visit with them must report their details to local police. The Colonel is also concerned that expats understand the necessity of complying with the 90-day reporting requirements, and stated that if an expat is unable to report in person due to sickness, etc, he/she is able to use a friend, (a power of attorney is required), or to send the relevant details by post. If a person is planning to change a Non-Imm O visa to a retirement visa, they should apply one month before the expiry date of their original visa to allow time for the necessary paperwork to be completed.
Many more minor points were made and individual problems discussed; at the end of the session, the more than 130 attendees agreed that the meeting had been a success, both in clarification of important issues, and in encouraging communication. Many thanks were given by Duenpen to both Police Colonel Prayut and the other special guests, with particular gratitude to the interpreter, Pinyo, for his clear, exact, easy to understand and comprehensive translations.
It is to be hoped that this will be the first of many such meetings between CMF and representatives of other Chiang Mai authorities, as understanding of and compliance with legal and civil requirements is essential to the process of integration.


Ex-Chiang Mai Kayan women arrested in Sattahip tourist village

CMM Reporters
A number of women members of the Kayan sub-tribe of the Karen minority group were arrested September 10 at their specially constructed replica village near Khao Cheejan, Na-Jomtien, Sattahip. Their sponsor, who had persuaded the women to relocate, was also arrested.
Police stated the 11 women were officially regarded as aliens, who had been temporarily allowed into Thailand from Burma, but who had not registered themselves at their new location within the legal time limit. The accused man argued that his replica village complete with Kayan women wearing neck rings had encouraged tourism in the area, giving visitors the opportunity to witness the Kayan lifestyle and buy Kayan-made souvenirs without the necessity of travelling to Chiang Mai for the experience. He also insisted that the Kayan women had benefitted financially from the increased number of tourists visiting the village. He was charged with moving the women to Sattahip, and with helping them to avoid arrest. At the time the replica village was set up, Western media reported that they were being exploited, an accusation vigorously denied by a local politician, who stated that they were better off there than starving to death in their home region. It was not stated whether the women would be returned to Chiang Mai as a consequence of their arrests.


Political situation costing Chiang Mai 100 million baht per day

Saksit Meesubkwang
According to Narong Tananuwat, the president of Chiang Mai’s Chamber of Commerce, the PAD protests in Bangkok combined with the high level of political uncertainty and the threat of further violence are affecting the economy of Chiang Mai to the tune of 100 million baht per day.

Narong Tananuwat, president of the Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce.
The tourist industry is particularly badly hit, with reports of a high percentage of cancellations affecting both hotels and airlines. Prior to the demonstrations and the declaration of a state of emergency in Bangkok, 12 flights per day were arriving at CNX; these have now dropped to 6 per day, some of which were not full. Narong asked that the state of emergency be rescinded and that parliament be dissolved in order to bring the situation under control. He stated that the city of Chiang Mai does not want demonstrations to disturb the peace, and that if people felt they must protest, they should do so in a lawful manner without resorting to violence.


Help with visa and immigration questions

Elena Edwards
Immigration law is perhaps the most important issue for expats resident in Chiang Mai, whatever their status. Complicated and frequently changing both in the law itself and in the issues surrounding it, interpretations by advisors are often varied or oblique, leading to confusion and insecurity.
The ultimate reference point is the Immigration service here in Chiang Mai. With that fact in mind Chiang Mai Friends, the Expats’ Club and the Chiang Mai Mail would like to request that anyone who has specific questions regarding visa and work permit procedures and laws submits them by email to their preferred organisation, which will then pass the query on to Immigration. When the correct answer has been received, a reply will be sent to the inquirer. The Immigration office has suggested that questions and answers clearly expressed in the English language could also be displayed at their offices for quick reference. Please send any questions to either [email protected] .com, e[email protected] or info @chiangmaiexpatsclub.com.


Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai to benefit from new Laos-Thailand route

CMM Reporters
A Memorandum of Understanding, (MOU), was signed between Thailand and Laos Friday 6, confirming a transport agreement between the two countries which will hopefully cut transportation costs, improve efficiency and boost tourism in the northern provinces of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
The MOU, signed by the Thai Land Transport Department’s acting director-general, Chairat Sa-nguansue, and his Lao counterpart, Viengsavath Siphandone, relates to a new route from Luang Prabang in northern Laos to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Private bus companies will be encouraged to invest in and use the route, and the government-owned Transport Co., Ltd. will be asked to set up services. In a boost to tourism, new routes for buses travelling between Laos and the north-eastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima to Pattaya in the south will also be established, as, according to Chairat, both destinations are popular with Laotians.
The transit of goods between the two countries, vastly increased during the last year and presently involving 452 companies and approximately 10,000 trucks per day, is also expected to receive a further boost. The two countries have an agreement which permits vehicles to pass border checkpoints using a special license plate.


Chiang Rai ethnic teenagers’ film wins Ministry of Culture prize

Elena Edwards
A short film entitled “Buddy,” made by a group of ethnic teenagers in Chiang Rai for entry into a competition run by the Thai Ministry of Culture, has won one of 11 awards and will be shown abroad as well as in local schools.
The 5 minute film’s production team, comprised of 8 boys from Therdthai village in Mae Fah Luang district, Chiang Rai, are all part of a youth group which is active in forest conservation and environmental protection. When they were told about the training workshop and competition, they decided to join, as they believed that using modern media techniques would be an effective way in which to show their attitudes towards their cultures and communities. Some of the boys’ parents were not so keen, and regarded the entire exercise as a waste of time; one Muslim family was afraid that their son would miss out on his daily prayers.
The intensive 10-day workshop taught the group about all aspects of short film-making, from writing a screenplay to filming and editing. It proved quite a challenge, to which the Therdthai boys adapted with enthusiasm. Their winning film, produced within the allowed two days at the end of the workshop, tells of an old man’s search for a friend with whom he had lost touch, and deals with the changes which have taken place in Chiang Saen city in the years since the friends had parted. The sympathetic way in which it was handled by the youngsters speaks volumes about their bonds with their communities and their social awareness.
Out of the 44 entries, “Buddy” received an award for best picture, a tribute to the talents and hard work of the group. But, according to the boys themselves, the most valuable lesson they learned whilst working closely together on the project was the true value of friendship.


Traditional Lanna arts skills taught at Chiang Mai temple

Elena Edwards
As the traditional Lanna areas in the north of Thailand embrace even more Western ideas in order to pursue what is seen as a “modern” lifestyle, the danger that skills relating to traditional Lanna arts and culture will be lost is becoming more acute.
To counter this disturbing trend, Wat Lok Molee, located in the heart of the city, has given over its compound to become a living museum where local artists in wood carving, lacquer gilding, silverware embossing and porcelain decoration can not only display their masterpieces, but can teach local people their crafts.
A spokesman from Chiang Mai’s cultural council said, “In the old days, every kind of art was born in the temple – it was like a school. Now, in modern times, a temple is just a temple, and the old skills are not being passed on to the younger generation. Here, we are hoping to revive awareness of those traditional skills, and make Wat Lok Malee a learning centre for the practice of Lanna arts”.
A local woodcarver, Petch Viriya, affirmed that “The northern arts will definitely vanish if the younger generation does not carry them on”. Both locals and visitors come to the Wat to be trained in skills new to them by the artists, who hope that the folk wisdom of Lanna arts, having survived for more than 700 years in the city, will be protected and preserved by the new initiative. They believe that the disappearance of Lanna traditional arts will result in the disappearance of the identity of the northern culture itself.


Lampang to bid for Chinese investment in regional logistics centre

CMM Reporters
Lampang governor Direk Kornkleeb is hoping to attract Chinese investors to the province in a bid to establish a regional logistics centre and transport hub in the wake of the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand’s cancellation of a similar project in Chiang Saen.
At a recent meeting between government authorities and the private sector, Direk stated that the provincial administration planned to acquire over 5,000 rai of public land to accommodate the planned project. The land, located in tambon Ban Ueam, Muang district, is at present under the administration’s supervision. “We will also prioritise ‘green’ industrial estates and job creation schemes for Lampang residents,” the governor added.
It is expected that the proposed new industrial site will benefit from the government’s ongoing project involving the establishment of Lampang as a major transport hub of the economic development zone in the Mekong sub-region. Laos, Vietnam and Thailand are to be linked with China via a bridge, yet to be built, across the Mekong River on the Thai/Laos border.
The project has the full support of the private business sector in Lampang, and Chinese investors have expressed interest in setting up premises to process agricultural products arriving from China for distribution in Thailand.


Help needed for new CM residential project for cerebral palsy victims

CMM Reporters
A new residential project run by the Chiang Mai Disabled Centre will open in Chiang Mai on October 1. The home, located near Mae Kue market on the road between Bor Sang and Doi Saket, will at first house three severely disabled boys suffering from cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus. Two of the sufferers are aged 12, the other is aged 14, and all three come from extremely poor and disadvantaged backgrounds. One of them, a hill tribe child, was abandoned by his mother and kept in a bamboo cage, the second’s father has TB; his mother is mentally disabled and unable to look after him. The third boy was formerly living with his disabled father after his mother had deserted them. The new project desperately needs a serviceable refrigerator, wall fans and donations to support the cost of an ongoing supply of Pampers and soy milk. Please, if you can help, contact the centre on 086-185-5852.


As the Mekong rises again, controversy over dams continues

CMM Reporters
As the Mekong River’s water levels rise once again, Lao villagers and residents on its banks are afraid that this year’s floods will rival or even surpass the devastation caused in 1966, when the river burst its banks without warning. During the resulting chaos, Vientiane itself became a huge lake, tens of thousands of homes and agricultural land were under water and residents rescued their possessions and livestock by boat. Much of central Laos was badly affected.
Last month’s floods were the worst since 1966, and caused damage to homes, businesses and farmland. Whilst the clean-up goes on, the question in locals’ minds is not the weather, but concerns the Chinese dams constructed 15 years ago further upstream. The fact that release of water from a smaller Laotian dam in August exacerbated flooding in its area is not lost on residents along the Mekong’s course.
Although the Mekong River Commission, (MRC), stated that such speculation is unfounded, saying that the storage capacity of the Chinese dams is too small to make a difference, and that tropical storm Kammuri and its wind direction was to blame, Chiang Mai based Living River Siam told the Bangkok Post late August that the three dams’ total storage capacity is a massive 16,683 million cubic metres, enough to regulate water flow in the northern Mekong River areas, including a large part of northern Thailand.
Environmentalists continue to slate the blasting of rapids and the dredging of the river to allow passage to large Chinese ships as a cause for the severity of the recent floods. Deforestation in Laos is also thought to be contributory, with forest areas reduced from 70% to 40%, causing rain to run off rather than be absorbed and held in the ground. Lao authorities, unwilling to risk their relationship with China, are backing the MRC’s stance.
As the controversy continues and the water rises again, the Lao authorities have announced that 150,000 people in 7 provinces were affected in August’s floods, with 5 people being killed, a cost of damage of approximately 300 million dollars and the very real threat of a rice shortage due to damage to farmland.


Chiang Mai pharmacists targeted by border drugs gangs seeking ingredients

According to several sources, a shortage of “Ice,” the crystal precursor used for producing methamphetamine pills, has driven clandestine chemists along the Thai-Burma border to look for drugs used in northern Thailand for the relief of colds and coughs.
“Not all of the popular medicines are serviceable,” according to a pharmacist in Chiang Mai. “Only those that contain pseudoephedrine are useful for the drug producers. I think they have an expert chemist over there,” she remarked, “because extracting pseudoephedrine from these drugs is not a simple job.”
The price of “Ice,” 580,000 baht per kilogram in early August, has rocketed to 900,000 baht. “However, there are only buyers – no sellers,” said a trader in Tachilek. The situation is such that gang leaders across the border are dispatching agents into Thailand to rummage the drugstores and purchase all drugs that contain the required ingredient. “Sulidine (a cold-relieving tablet) is only 1.5 baht here,” said a driver in Mae Hong Son. “But they are offering me 2.5 baht each plus expenses to send them to Mae Sai on the border with Tachilek.”
Meanwhile in Tachilek, according to an informed source, the buyers are even offering one YaBa (methamphetamine) pill for every two cold relief pills. “Ice,” known as pingkoi in Chinese, is imported from China and India. “I’m not sure what’s going on,” said an anti-drug official in Chiang Mai. “But maybe China is getting more serious now.”
Methamphetamine can be produced from ephedra, a plant known in China as mahuang which is at present not subject to legal restrictions of any kind, unlike the opium poppy. Its alkaloid ephedrine can be replaced by pseudo-ephedrine, an active principle widely used in nasal decongestants, and can even be obtained from benzaldehyde during the sugar-refining process, according to “YaBa: Production, Traffic and Consumption of Methamphetamine in Mainland Southeast Asia,” a report published by the Institut de Recherche sur l’Asie du Sud-Est Contemporaine (IRASEC) in 2004. (SHAN)


Drunken bag-snatcher caught red-handed

Saksit Meesubkwang
On September 9, an Austrian tourist, Gernot Langmann, (27), on holiday in the city with friends, became the victim of a drunken bag-snatcher whilst sitting with his friends at a restaurant on Rachapakinai Road.

Pictured is the bag-snatcher, Sa-Ard Buachum, who was immediately arrested for his crime.

Gernot had placed his bag, containing a digital camera, documents, credit cards and cash, on the seat next to him when it was snatched by the thief. Police were immediately called, traced the robber, Sa-Ard Buachum, 25, to nearby Mulmaung Road, and arrested him.
After being identified as the thief by Gernot, Sa-Ard told police that he had been drinking with a new friend, Kuk, until they were both drunk and had run out of money. They decided to rob a tourist in order to be able to continue drinking. After the theft, Kuk, who had been waiting with his motorbike, saw the police and drove away, only to be arrested later.



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