Vol. VII No. 53 - Tuesday
December 30 - January 5, 2009



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by Saichon Paewsoongnern


Chiang Mai FeMail 
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Chiang Mai Women

A New Year’s Thought

Christmas in Burma

Opinion

 

Chiang Mai Women

Annie – baker, cook and singer extraordinaire

An occasional feature in Femail in 2009 will be stories of women who live and work here in Chiang Mai, and, in one way or another, contribute to the warmth and happiness of their local communities. Annie, a new friend to this writer, is a Filipina who has lived in Chiang Mai for 25 years, since she met and married her architect husband in Manila, choosing to live in our city because they fell in love with it, as have so many others.

Annie, pictured in the Mabuhay Restaurant’s beautiful garden

Annie met her husband while he was studying architecture at Manila’s Santo Thomas University; she herself was studying for her BA in education at Santa Rita in the same city. At first, they spent some time in Bangkok, with Annie working as a teacher, then moved up to Chiang Mai. One of Annie’s major talents, and something she loved to do, was to bake and to cook! At first, she made cakes, and sold them to restaurants—and she still does. Moist, yummy, creamy, flavourful cakes—it’s impossible to have only one slice! Their popularity led to the opening of Annie’s restaurant, Mabuhay, now in its 24th year. As with the cakes, Annie displayed her talent in cooking from year 1, searching out the best and freshest ingredients for her mainly traditional Filipino menus, and cooking them all herself—and, again, she still does! She is a grandmother twice over now, with her son, now 37, living with his family in Bangkok, having graduated in economics from Payap University. Of course, they get together every month- and not just for Annie’s cooking!
Annie’s other major talent is singing—diners at Mabuhay are treated regularly in the evenings to her lovely, warm voice, accompanied by her husband on keyboard, singing much-loved standards from past years. Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, the great Broadway hits, and love songs, (Annie’s favourites), from all the major 20th century composers. She’s always loved singing, beginning as a young woman in her church choir in Manila with masses, funerals and even singing in Manila Cathedral, and at university. If you go to the restaurant during the day, you’ll know Annie’s around—you’ll hear her singing as she prepares food in her kitchen!
Annie’s ‘favourite things’ include her best friend, Dr. Lina, (known and appreciated by many of us), and other close friends. She loves to cook for them, and then sit, talk, and pray with them as well. Dr. Lina’s children, and, we suspect, a good few others, see Annie as their second mother. She says, ‘When I left my convent school in Manila, I felt that I didn’t know the world’—the exuberant, joyful and loving woman she has become over the intervening years knows, loves and cares for her world, her friends, and her community.
Mabuhay Restaurant is located on Nimmanhaeminda Soi 2, and well worth a visit.

 

A New Year’s Thought

Farang Lady
Gythio, Greece - On the balcony of our small pension, separated from us by a piece of frosted glass, are a mother, father and daughter. They are Greek, and have come to the seashore for their vacation. The father is solemn, smoking his cigarettes while staring at the ground on the small white patio, framed by geraniums, and hanging washing. The daughter is an age I can’t determine—she has physical difficulties, which appear to be cerebral palsy. She has a teenage face, greying hair, and thick arms and legs that are controlled with great concentration. Her voice is high and strained so that, from next door, she sounds like a distant Mickey Mouse. They are parents forever, the plight in such a situation. But that is not why I am writing this. The reason I am writing, is the mystery and impact of the mother.
She is short and plump with a pleasant face, and stylish grey hair. She smiles all the time, and talks to me with a melodic voice sprinkled with laughter, like a small bird happy the sun came out. In the communal kitchen, she laughs and chats with me in the morning as we prepare our breakfasts, assuming I understand Greek. I don’t understand Greek, but I understand that she is a lesson, an inspiration, and a joy. As the Greek sun sets, she sits on her balcony, and sings songs, hauntingly beautiful songs, peaceful, and soothing.
This night, we are sitting on our tiny balcony, enjoying the breeze and the sight of the sea in late evening. Below us, we hear the tinkling happy voice of Mickey Mouse. I follow the sound, and see the mother and daughter sitting at the edge of the sea, having dinner. Under the white umbrella, on the other side of the narrow street, their conversation continues for hours, relaxed and joyous, in the warmth of the Greek night. Waiters race from the kitchen, balancing trays high above their heads. They sprint through the heavy, honking August traffic, reaching the tables like victorious athletes. The mother and daughter’s eyes light up with each plate placed on the table.
The evening is perfect. The mother has no embarrassment over the girl’s inability to eat correctly, or her strange, strained voice. No concern for the task that lay ahead, to walk her slowly across the street and help her up the smooth, white Greek steps to their room. For years she has lived with the heartache of raising a child with multiple problems.
Some of the greatest lessons in life come to us in tiny moments, unannounced. This afternoon, the mother is singing again, a haunting, beautiful song. A melodic message to remind me that people create their own happiness regardless of circumstances, for the emotion comes from within.
Find happiness, in the New Year, no matter what your circumstances are…it makes the world and those around you find it too.


Christmas in Burma

A relief worker
The evening sky was like black velvet sprinkled with gold sparkles. I pulled my hat down over my ears and was thankful for my wool sweater. Holding a cup of hot tea kept my hands warm. I was deep in Burma’s jungle, and it was December 1. All around me, Karen people were welcoming the Christmas month together. The Karen call this night “Sweet December.”
We were in a field, and a fire was burning. People who had walked from the villages close by to attend the big event stood close to the flames, enjoying the warmth. Many of them were barefoot; most of them were poorly dressed. Several children around me wore only a ripped t-shirt. I shivered in the cold. All night they sang Christmas songs. Songs reminding them of the birth of Jesus and the freedom he came to give.
A couple of miles away were the Burma Army soldiers. It did not seem to matter on this starlit evening. Or maybe it did. I couldn’t tell. Later all the guests got a present-a bar of soap and sweets for the children. In spite of the cold weather there was warmth in the air. Their celebration was a simple act of gratitude, love and joy.
A country at war. Children with hungry stomachs. Weather that was almost freezing, but no shoes. Diseases that spread faster and got worse because of the cold, but no doctors or medicines. And still, they chose to sing!
The freedom, the warmth, the safety, the wrapped presents and the yummy food that we take for granted, is but a dream for them. But the ability to enjoy small pleasures-a warm fire, songs that have been sung for generations, or even a bar of soap-is something about which they can teach us a great deal.
I was touched and thankful to be able to celebrate together with a people who have suffered for so many generations. As we celebrate Christmas, remember the 1.5 million people who are hiding in the jungles of Burma-on the run from an enemy who wants them gone- right now. Remember them in your thoughts, prayers, and gatherings. At Partners, we want to wish you a blessed Christmas, a time filled with joy and love. May some of the simplicity of the celebration among Karen Christians in Burma remind us of the true reason for the season.


Opinion

Global warming or the big freeze?

Elena Edwards
Global Warming – it’s in almost every news broadcast, on everyone’s lips, and we’re all being encouraged to make adjustments to our daily life patterns in an effort to head it off… in fact, it could be taken to be the latest ‘buzz word’. Yes, something very strange is happening, which may indeed have serious consequences for us all—and we’re all being blamed for our part in ‘human interference’ with the planetary balance systems.
However, contemporary wisdom on this subject is, it seems, now about to be challenged by an extension of scientific research which began some time ago.
Contrary to the common idea that the coal-fuelled industrial revolution started the rot some 200 years ago, highly advanced climate-related computer models are beginning to demonstrate support for a different scenario, in that the climate has been altering since extensive deforestation in Europe and the onset of agricultural development on a large scale on the Asian continent. Human influence, yes, but dating from the earliest days of human development into settled societies. The models are also suggesting that this development is actually preventing the world from descending into another glacial period, by changing an established planetary rhythm of periodic cooling which began more than a million years ago.
The theory behind this innovative research, of course, does involves human settlement and its climactic influence, particularly in Asia, where rice became the main crop at a very early stage. Greenhouse gases—methane from terraced rice paddies, and carbon dioxide from forest burning in Europe, both naturally occurring and for clearance purposes, entered the atmosphere, with the warmer temperatures at that time heating the oceans and reducing their ability to store carbon dioxide. This, according to scientists, was enough to set human- induced global warming in motion.
Other research, using fossil air trapped in 850,000 year-old ice core samples from the Antarctic, is identifying increased levels of greenhouse gases in this ancient air. However, the upward increase in greenhouse gases in this interglacial period really took off between 5,000 and 8,000 years ago, unlike the latter stages of previous interglacial periods, where the trend was downward. As ice ages have occurred regularly in the planet’s history every 100,000 years, along with predictable changes in its orbit around the sun, it would seem that the present state of global warming, accelerated greatly by our modern age, might well be delaying the onset of a further ice age.
A fascinating hypothesis—which seems to be gaining ground as each new piece of research is discussed within the scientific community. Had we a choice, which scenario, one wonders, would the human race have preferred, the consequences of global warming or the consequences of a big freeze, the like of which doesn’t exist in human memory, and against which our highly industrialised society would have had no defence or remedy?



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