Vol. VII No. 39 - Tuesday
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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Mae Sai children at risk from brothel agents

Now you’ve heard it all – an elephant orchestra!

UK English, USA English – or slang English?

OPINION

 

Mae Sai children at risk from brothel agents

Elena Edwards
Mae Sai is most often mentioned in the media as a centre for drug-trafficking and the smuggling into Thailand of illegal immigrants. There is, however, an even darker side to criminal activities in this small border town – the trafficking of children into prostitution in Bangkok’s brothels, a practice which has remained largely unchecked for some years.
Current reports state that agents from Bangkok, smartly dressed and calling themselves professors, approach poverty-stricken parents and tell them they will provide respectable jobs and continuing education in the city for their daughters – most of whom are no more than 12 years old. Parents are promised cash sums if they allow the men to take their daughters. Subsequently, the children are being sold to brothels and held there until they have earned enough to cover their parents’ payments, the cost of their transportation and other spurious charges. Only then are they allowed to return home for short visits, usually at Buddhist New Year.
A 12 year old student at a local school, Noie Wongboonma, is reported to have said that her mother had just tried to take her from school and put her on the “bus to Bangkok,” the local euphemism for being sold to a brothel agent. She had refused to go, and said that she was very sad that her mother was prepared to let this happen. Her mother, who has apart-time job peeling garlic, said that a person had offered her daughter a job, but that she didn’t know what job, or where. She added,” Maybe it’s to sell herself. The man said that he would give me a lot of money if I would let the girl go to work for him.”
Thousands of girls have been taken from the area and forced into the sex trade. If and when they return on visits, they wear fancy clothes, garish jewellery and make-up and display mobile phones. The younger girls are fascinated by them, and, naturally wanting the same things, will go more willingly with the traffickers, says Ladda Benjatachah, who runs a government shelter for victims.
The Daughters’ Education Programme is based at a Mae Sai school, and is working to rescue young girls who are at risk. Teachers at the school are seeing the development of a worrying trend. Whereas agents still try to persuade the girls to go with them and mothers still try to take their daughters from school to sell them, the girls themselves are giving up on protection and a free education to sneak out and go with the agents voluntarily. The school’s director states that it is the lure of smart clothes, mobile phones and what the girls see as an exciting lifestyle which encourages them to go.
According to Police Major General Visut Vanichbut, “the trafficking problem in Thailand has got worse – much worse – because our people are more interested in the financial gains they can get from these activities than in stopping them.” It has long been suggested that traffickers pay persons in authority to overlook their activities.
In the past, Human Rights Watch has accused the Thai government of failing to stop the trafficking of Burmese women and girls across the border into prostitution. In 2007, the 4 ASEAN member states, including Thailand, who had previously inaugurated National Human Rights Institutions, signed a declaration of cooperation in which they agreed to work together on 5 areas of shared concern, one of which was people trafficking. It would seem that, here in Thailand at least, the talk has been talked, but no-one has started the walk. In the meantime, girl children as young as 12 are still being sold into sex slavery, as a result of which many will die of AIDS or abuse.

 

Now you’ve heard it all – an elephant orchestra!

Elena Edwards
By now, all of us ladies must have seen delicious dresses designed using elephant-painted silk—some of us may even own one, although what happens when it’s washed, I hate to think! And I’m sure we all agree that encouraging elephants to be creative—I suspect they enjoy that as much as we do-is far preferable to some of the other activities these amazing beasts are forced to undertake. Image my amazement, though, when I was told recently that Lampang’s Elephant Conservation Centre has an elephant orchestra!
Pachyderm paintings began in Syracuse 20 years ago, when a zookeeper in that town realised that his highly intelligent charges had artistic talent, and have been a feature of fundraising fixtures for many years. It took two other Americans, however, to realise that elephant artistic endeavour didn’t stop there. Richard Lair, who has worked with elephants for over 20 years, and who compiled an extensive study of Asia’s domesticated elephants for the UN, together with David Sultzer, a neurologist at Columbia University who moonlights as a composer and producer, hit on the idea and decided to develop it. Both men realised that elephants are natural music-makers, as their hearing is excessively keen and, in communication amongst themselves, they employ a vast range of sounds.
From the ancient Romans to Asian mahouts, handlers have noted elephants’ abilities to distinguish melodies-in modern day circuses, elephant are trained to react to musical cues. Richard and David organised a basic band composed of 6 young elephants at the centre and provided them with a variety of reinforced versions of traditional Thai instruments including drums, gongs, a base, a xylophone, harmonicas, and a thundersheet. They simply showed the elephants how to make the sounds, cued them in, and sat back, waiting for results. After a few practice sessions, they began to record the group’s performances, as they happened and without dubbing.
Amazingly, it soon became obvious that the elephants recognised and improvised melodic lines—the music they produced is described as haunting, meditative and deliberate, and often delicate. David, testing his ideas, put one bad note on the xylophone; the elephant whose instrument it was deliberately avoided the note for a while, then used it constantly, creating dissonance, which she obviously enjoyed!
Richard instructed the mahouts in a set of hand signals to cue the instruments in whilst he conducted the orchestra. Some of the elephant musicians worked out the signals without being instructed. It became obvious to David that his orchestra was improvising, and composing as they played. At first, the music they produced seemed difficult to understand, but music it was, and it was up to the listener to interpret it. As Richard said, “Just as there are many things we don’t understand about their music, there are many things they don’t understand about ours”.
Recordings of the elephant orchestra have been made into two CDs, together with an accompanying 12 page booklet explaining the project in full. Proceeds from its sale go to support a milk bank for orphaned elephants and a school to improve mahout training. Richard is sensitive to any charges of elephant exploitation, saying the elephants should not be forced into what he refers to as slave labour. He is convinced that his orchestra enjoys making music, and regrets that, with natural habitats vanishing and logging now banned, there seems little else for domesticated or wild elephants to do apart from becoming tourist attractions.


UK English, USA English – or slang English?

Elena Edwards
Most people may have heard of the Oxford English Dictionary of Slang… a famous reference book of what’s in and what’s out in the ever-changing world of cool words. “Cool”, of course, being the perfect example, as it’s been “in” so many times that no-one is sure if it’s “out”!
This essential tome for those who wish to be up-to-date in their use of somewhat “informal” English has just received an update, giving space to a number of newly coined slang words. For example, “stud muffin”, could well take on here in CM –it means an attractive man. “Fit”, referring to the female equivalent, mean sexually attractive—brining a whole new interpretation to fitness! Other examples include “hairy eyeball”, (aggressive expression), “mall rat”, (lurker in shopping centres—a favourite occupation of the young), “arm candy”, (a good- looking date) and “petrolhead”, (someone who’s obsessed with cars). Some of the new entries have actually been in common use for a long time. “Oggy”, the slang for a Cornish pasty – a traditional pastry parcel filled with meat and potatoes—is one example, as is our absolute, all-time favourite, the “Glasgow Kiss”, a head-butt traditionally delivered during a fight outside a Scottish pub at closing time! This one works best when it’s pronounced with a heavy Scots accent… Cockney rhyming slang often features in the dictionary—the latest is a “Britney”, (from Britney Spears) and refers to beers.
The book contains around 6,000 slang words and expressions, including 350 brand new words, whilst another 1,000 words have had their existing meanings expanded or altered. A must-have on anyone’s bookshelf, particularly useful when you need to let off steam but don’t want your Thai opposite number to understand what you’re saying through your fixed smile!


OPINION: The People’s Alliance for Democracy-what’s the fuss about?

Elena Edwards
Most of us, by now, will have a fairly good idea about the ideological conflicts behind the ongoing political upheaval and its resultant economic downturn. But how many of us realise the possible effects of a PAD government on the 70% of Thai citizens who are neither middle class nor comparatively wealthy? Much has been written about the progress or otherwise of the various PAD and anti-PAD protests, the risk of further violence and the recent enforced resignation of Samak Sundaravej, but we have heard very little from the silent majority whose votes, however obtained, helped elect the present PPP-led government. An occasional article, however, has attempted to make plain the PAD’s concept of that crucial word in their title, democracy. This concept may not sit comfortably with our Western interpretation. “People’s”, another word in their title, seems also to have an odd connotation, given their stated objective of denying the poorer inhabitants of this land, also people, their right to vote.
So, just exactly whom do the PAD consider should have this right? Their supporters would seem to be composed mainly of the middle classes, the urban and old- money elite, mostly in Bangkok, and the bureaucrats, all of whom must be well aware of the size of the voting block composed of the rural poor. The urban legend regarding both ex-PM Thaksin’s and the PPP’s success rests on one supposition—that votes from the north and the north east were bought on a grand scale. Whilst it is impossible to deny that vote-buying is a fact, it is equally impossible to deny that a poor farmer would happily vote without persuasion for a party which had granted concessions and improved his income and lifestyle by at least 40%. Whatever one’s feelings about aspects of Thaksin’s business behaviour, it should be noted that the World Bank itself praised his pro-poor measures.
For those who are unaware, the “new politics” of the PAD includes a plan to disenfranchise a huge number of voters by appointing 70% of its representatives, to be chosen from “various fields of activity” across the country. Only the remaining 30% of representatives will be elected. Speeches by leaders of the PAD have made their disregard for the rural poor and the farming communities obvious, calling them ignorant, ill-educated and even stupid. None of which, even if it were accurate, would preclude adult suffrage in a true democracy. The right to insult a large number of the electorate in this manner reveals a disturbing feudalism amongst the more fortunate elite, and also reveals a fear of the poor, who, in a democracy, should enjoy the same equal rights as the privileged.
As a noted political columnist wrote recently in The Nation, “The problem is not that upcountry voters don’t know how to use their vote, and that the result is distorted by patronage and vote-buying, the problem is that they have learnt to use the vote only too well. Over four national elections, they have chosen very consistently and very rationally.” Perhaps the PAD should note these words, and revise their strategies accordingly.
One question which may be asked is “How does this affect the expat community in CM?” The answer, at present, would probably be, “Not at all”. However, should a PAD government and its policies become a reality, with the vast majority of voters in the north and north-east having no say in the running of their country, their lives and their individual economies, the effect may be considerable, even taking into account the acquiescent nature of the Thai people in general.



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