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Humanity, civilisation and dogs – Part 1
A Star Is Born
Humanity, civilisation and dogs – Part 1
Whilst some volunteers focus their tireless efforts on the activities
involved in operating the Care for Dogs shelter, others pull their hair out
about funding and promotion, a few more run around taking dogs to vets and
catching dogs to be treated, the remainder help in an equally important and
One such volunteer is Lek. She, of course, speaks Thai and deals with many
of the calls that come in to Care for Dogs. She also has her ear close to
the ground and, as a result, picks up on lots of situations involving dogs
and cats in need of human assistance. Recently, we were following up on a
tip from Lek, which took us into a very unpleasant situation and reminded us
that humanity and civilisation are things we take for granted all too
Many of the team were working together on that day; after we had visited Wat
Pha Dhara Phirom we made our way to the rear of the busy main road leading
from the city out towards Mae Rim quite near to Toyota’s Lanna Branch and
opposite Rama IX Park. We were directed to a derelict house with clothes
piled on the window ledges, rubbish everywhere and a stench of
rotting...everything and anything, in what can only be described as a bomb
site. We came across dogs and cats, leaping out of windows like a cartoon
film and making the counting of numbers living there extremely difficult.
Lek, who had been in contact with people living not far away and wanting to
help, had suggested there were in the region of 40-60 dogs at the site.
A woman was said to be living there, and to be caring for the dogs as if
they were her children. Indeed, there were many young pups in the house,
still suckling their mothers’ milk whilst clambering over torn mattresses,
glass bottles, other piles resembling the contents of our waste bins, dog
faeces, with goodness knows what else lurking in the puddles of rain water.
The ‘house’ was a mess but worse was to come. Next door we found a large
industrial type building in much the same state of disrepair as the house.
No glass in the windows, parts of the roof missing, the area surrounding the
building completely covered with waste rubbish – and so many dogs. There was
also another common factor, rows of plastic buckets along the outside walls,
catching rain water for drinking. It was certainly not being used for
anything else like washing, as we shortly found out when we met the
buildings’ inhabitants. There were several dirty, unhealthy looking (both
mentally and physically) men, none of whom were wearing shirts and few of
whom had any teeth! The dogs were running about everywhere, over piles of
similar sized detergent bottles, mounds of soft drink tins, oil filters and
all the other garbage that Chiang Mai residents had discarded. Behind a
metre-high screen, an old lady sat looking at photographs in a book,
oblivious to the world around her.
Some of the older dogs were blind, some nodding from nerve damage and others
quite wild. Our initial instinct was to rescue the younger dogs and then
come back to sterilise the females on another visit. Lek and Soraya spoke
with the men and persuaded them to allow us to help save the lives of the
younger dogs by taking them away and finding new homes for them. We focused
on collecting as many of the puppies as we could, trying to ignore the men
and what they were saying and shouting. We picked pups from crevices in the
rubbish, under broken motorbikes, inside of plastic bags or just sitting
wondering what was happening!
The youngest man amongst the group frightened us all by tossing young
puppies around using their heads as handles, and constantly clenched a pup
to his chest – apparently his favourite. We tried to take the puppy from him
but his wild and demonic eyes scared and intimidated us, encouraging us to
leave with what we already had in a basket we found in the rubbish.
The mess those dogs were living in was no place for a human to live. Yet
here there were both – a very distressing experience. Once in our truck,
away from the madness of the warehouse and back in our very different world,
we discussed our experience – all of us feeling as though we were suffering
from shell-shock! We counted the puppies and found we had rescued 15 – all
but the young man’s one favourite, which still remained clutched to his
sweaty, bare chest.
Lek will continue to keep in contact with the people that introduced us to
this place and hopefully they will be able to persuade the men inside the
warehouse and the old lady that lives in the house to allow us to help them
sterilise their female dogs to reduce the escalating population living in
that dreadful dump.
For part two of this story, see next week’s issue! With thanks to Care for
This was sent to me by a much-admired and very special friend – I just
had to share it with all of you!
One day I had a date for lunch with friends, including a little old lady
about 80 years old – all in all, a pleasant bunch. When the menus were
presented, we all ordered salads, sandwiches, and soups, except for our
“little old lady,” who said, “Ice Cream, please. Two scoops, chocolate.”
I wasn’t sure I’d heard right, and the others were aghast, especially
when they heard her add, with a big smile on her face, “Along with apple
pie.” We tried to act nonchalant, as if people did this all the time,
but when our orders came, I didn’t enjoy mine as I couldn’t take my eyes
off her plate as she wolfed down her “forbidden food.” The other ladies
showed dismay, as they ate their lunches silently and frowned.
The next time I went out to eat, I called and invited the same “little
old lady.” I lunched on white meat tuna. She ordered a parfait. I
smiled. She asked if she amused me. “Yes, you do,” I answered, “but also
you confuse me. How come you order rich desserts, while I feel I must be
sensible?” She laughed and said, with wanton mirth, “I’m tasting all
that is possible! I try to eat the food I need, and do the things I
should. But life’s so short, my friend, I hate missing out on something
“This year,” she continued, “I realized how old I was…I haven’t been
this old before, and so, before I die, I’ve got to try those things that
for years I have ignored. I haven’t smelled all the flowers yet. There
are too many books I haven’t read. There’s more fudge sundaes to wolf
down and kites to be flown overhead. There are many malls I haven’t
shopped. I’ve not laughed at all the jokes. I’ve missed a lot of
Broadway hits and potato chips and cokes. I want to wade again in water
and feel ocean spray on my face. I want to sit in a country church once
more and thank God for His grace. I want peanut butter every day spread
on my morning toast. I want un-timed long distance calls to the folks I
love the most. I haven’t cried at all the movies yet, or walked in the
morning rain. I need to feel wind in my hair and I want to fall in love
So, if I choose to have dessert, instead of having dinner, then, should
I die before night fall, I’d say I died a winner, because I missed out
on nothing and I filled my heart’s desire. I had that final chocolate
mousse before my life expired.”
With that, I called the waitress over. “I’ve changed my mind,” I said.
“I want what she is having, only add some more whipped cream!”
This is my gift to you – live well, love much & laugh often, and,
finally, be happy! Be mindful that happiness isn’t based on possessions,
power, or prestige, but on relationships with people we love and
respect. Remember that while money talks... CHOCOLATE SINGS!
A Star Is Born
Jean-Pierre Kirkland talks with Vanich Potavanich, conductor of
the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra
Have you ever met anyone with a deep-seated and irrepressible sense of
humour, someone you feel comfortable with from the word go, and someone
who fascinates you with his knowledge and wisdom from the very start?
Vanich Potavanich is one of those people, with his unassuming, genial
and engaging manner. He was born in Bangkok, in Bangrak, which many of
you may know to be the home of the infamous Patpong area. From these
humble beginnings, Vanich soon harnessed his talents, energy and great
enthusiasms and had a meteoric rise to fame.
Potavanich, conductor of the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra.
Acquiring his love and passion for music from his father whose record
collection inspired him, his early dreams were to become a singer and
hopefully make it as a pop star. However, that was not to be. Instead,
Vanich knuckled down to study and by the age of 17, while he was still a
student at Wat Suthi High School near to his home, he had become
principal trumpet in the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra. He then went on to
gain a Bachelor’s Degree in trumpet at Chulalongkorn University, still
near to his birthplace, but then a total uprooting took him to further
his career with a scholarship to Rotterdam Conservatoire in the
Netherlands. Here he continued his studies on the trumpet, but also
worked under John Georgiadis, the former leader of the London Symphony
Orchestra with whom he learnt the art of conducting.
Vanich loves his native Thailand and once his studies in Holland were
complete, he returned to Bangkok and very soon afterwards became the
chief conductor of the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra, a position he has
continued to hold for 10 years. But he did not stop studying and 4 years
ago gained a Master’s Degree in composition from his old Alma Mater,
Chulalongkorn University. What a talent and what energy this 37 year old
man has – it oozes from him at every opportunity – arguably the finest
trumpet player in Thailand, the conductor of one of the foremost
orchestras in South East Asia, a composer, arranger and – yes – a family
man too. Vanich is one of Thailand’s true maestros. Apart from his
conducting responsibilities, he teaches master classes regularly at
Payap here in Chiang Mai, several prestigious universities in Bangkok,
arranges and conducts soundtracks for films, including Indian movies,
arranges music for different groups of instrumentalists and chorus, and
yet still finds time to enjoy watching football and movies, as well as
playing some table tennis. He has also nurtured a great love for jazz,
especially New Orleans jazz.
When asked what he would do if he won the Thai lottery his answer was
not surprisingly quite a modest one for a man of his talents – build a
large house here in Chiang Mai, a city he also loves. And the first
things he would put in it would be the best hi-fi equipment money could
buy! His ambitions are equally modest too – he loves his current
lifestyle, working with musical friends and students and he just wants
to be able to continue conducting, teaching and composing. He has
already made several adaptations of traditional Lanna music and other
more popular Thai music and it is hoped that in the near future, Chiang
Mai will be hearing much more from this witty, almost cheeky, bubbly
personality, both in the concert hall and elsewhere.
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