Vol. VIII No. 9 - Tuesday
March 3 - March 9, 2009



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by Saichon Paewsoongnern


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

Haircuts, presents and lunch

Fours Seasons hold benefit concert for Vien Ping Orphanage

The World of Shan Migrants

On the trail of the Phu Lae Pineapple

Novotel out – Mercure Hotel in

Haircuts, presents and lunch

Another fun day for Mae Wang village

Army-style haircuts were the order of the day for the boys – cool for the hot season!

George Powell
On February 20, the village of Mae Wang, 40 kilometres south of Chiang Mai city and home to 75 children and their single mothers, enjoyed one of 4 regular visits per year from HairPro’s Wit Boonma and his staff, accompanied by Dr. Carolina Thompson, past president of Soroptimists International Chiang Mai (SICM), and local philanthropist and fashion designer Tananan Willson. Mae Wang has a large number of single mothers and their 75 children living within its boundaries; approximately half are Thai and half are from hill tribes.
On the team’s previous visit, held on Mother’s Day 2008, 25 of the single mothers living in the village had received donations from SICM’s single mothers’ project. On this visit, Dr. Lina spoke with Chan Fong, one of the mothers, who told her that the donation of 5,000 baht had allowed her to buy school uniform, books and a daily lunch for her daughter Suthida, now 14 years old and in Mathayom 2, and that she still has money remaining. Suthida hopes to train to be a nurse, is the youngest of Chan Fong’s 3 daughters, and is the only one who is happy to look after her mother in her old age.
After a great lunch provided by the team, all the children were given belated New Year’s presents, and Wit, who had closed his shop on the busiest day of the week to go to the village, and his team flashed their scissors and began cutting the hair of every child and parent present – a Herculean labour if ever there was one! ‘Short back and sides’ for the boys seemed to be the order of the day! Over 100 of the best haircuts in Chiang Mai…given with love.
Many thanks go to Dr. Lina, Wit and Tananan. If any individual or organisation would like to be involved in any way with the project, please contact Wit on 053-430-544, or email on [email protected]

 

Fours Seasons hold benefit concert for Vien Ping Orphanage

The performers receive ovations from their audience after the benefit concert.

George Powell
On Saturday February 21, a very special concert was held at the elegant Intanin Room at the Four Seasons Resort in aid of Vien Ping Orphanage, attended by over 60 local residents and hotel guests.
Celebrated Thai musician, Mom Luang Usni Pramoj, a former graduate of Oxford University, a rear admiral and a privy councillor, led the musicians. Mom Luang Usni is a celebrated composer who plays the violin, viola and jazz trumpet – the latter with His Majesty the King! His younger colleagues affectionately call him ‘Ajarn Mom.’ At the Four Seasons concert, he was joined by Tasana Nagavajara on the violin, Kittikhun Sodpresert on the cello, Siripong Tiptan on the viola and Omporn Kowintha, also playing the violin.
The concert included the rarely heard String Quintet in A Minor, Opus 1, by famous Czech composer Antonín DvoYák, (1841-1904), which, as M.L. Usni explained to the audience, is ‘more Brahmsian than Bohemian.’ This was followed by M.L. Usni’s very own String Quintet in E Minor – his first attempt at composing chamber music. M.L. Usni explained, again, ‘Why a viola quintet? Like DvoYák, Mozart and Brahms, I love the added sonority of the second viola. Besides, again like DvoYák, I play the viola myself, at least most of the time. The first movement is the most formal in structure and feeling. The second movement modulates from E minor, not to G major as you might expect, but to G minor, and requires passionate playing. The third movement, would you believe, is a kind of Isaan tango, while the last, after its polite introduction, needs to be played with some abandon.’
After this delightful concert, over 40 of the guests enjoyed a dinner served from live cooking stations at the resort’s Cooking School. The evening raised a total of 30,450 baht, and, together with a 5,000 baht donation from Prem and two other anonymous donations, an amount of over 55,000 baht will be given to Vien Ping Orphanage, to be used to improve the building’s flooring.


The World of Shan Migrants

A talk by Dr. Amporn Jirattikorn at Suriya Gallery

Elena Edwards
An interesting evening, held recently at the new Suriya Gallery on Huey Kaew Road, included an informal lecture entitled, ‘The World of Shan Migrants’, given by Dr. Amporn Jirattikorn and based on her research and field work during 2005 and 2006 with Shan prisoners being held in Chiang Mai Men’s Prison. The event was well attended, with many thoughtful people having been drawn by the subject matter of the talk which was followed by an informal discussion and a great deal of soul-searching on the part of the audience.
The focus of Dr. Amporn’s talk was the changing attitudes of the Thai people and authorities towards migrants from Shan State, who comprise the bulk of Burmese immigrants working and living in Chiang Mai, contrasting with the attitudes of the Shans themselves. The Shan and Thai peoples share a similar language and culture. As a result, it is technically possible for Shan migrants to assimilate within Thai communities, as they are not, as are many other minority ethnic groups, confined in refugee camps. A perception by Thais of a kind of brotherhood with the Shan should be possible; however, the Thai authorities tend not to recognise the Shan as regards immigration and work permit status, and their lives in Chiang Mai are normally lived in workers’ camps in the city, being used as a source of cheap labour by factory owners and construction companies. As a result, the general perception of the Shan from the minute they cross the Thai-Burmese border is as aliens, no different from the Burmans, who are poorly regarded by Thais due to their behaviour during their 200-year occupation of a large part of what is now Thailand.
Even although the Shan have been, and are still, engaged in armed conflict with the Burman military, in Chiang Mai they are often perceived as drug dealers, criminals or prostitutes, in much the same manner as the hill tribe people. The Shan themselves see their escape to Thailand from the confines of Burma as a move towards modernity and a chance to better themselves, as well as to better support their families by earning higher wages. This is a false view, as they are immediately recruited into very low-waged jobs, given no training and often forced, in agriculture for example, to work with dangerous chemicals without being given protective clothing. Safety in other occupations, on building sites and in factories, is also a very low priority, and compensation in cases of serious injury is almost impossible to obtain. Shan migrants state that they want to leave the past behind, settle in Thailand, become ‘modern,’ work hard and earn more money, possibly ignoring the dichotomy between love of country and their dreams of a better life. Small wonder, then, that some migrants may make the wrong choices and become involved with drugs or prostitution, thus losing any meaning in their lives and, sooner or later, being arrested and sentenced to a term in prison.
Once in prison, there is almost nothing to connect them in any way with their culture or their home country. 10% of prisoners in the Chiang Mai facility – around 300 men – are Shan. They are allowed to listen to a radio service which provides at least a tenuous link with home through Shan music and the Shan language. They are also allowed to receive letters from outside. A sad tale was told of one prisoner who began an exchange of letters with a Shan girl on the outside. The prisoner fell in love with her speaking voice when she was interviewed during the radio programme. Sadly, she was already a victim of HIV/AIDS, and was soon admitted to hospital, where she died. Migrants are not treated with modern preventative medications.
However, even although Shan prisoners are, effectively, stripped of their identity, they do manage to bond as a group, preserving their links with their own culture by listening to, singing and even composing songs about freedom. Isolation and confinement create a longing for a nation. Some politically based songs make the point that, for the Shan people, prison and their home country under the junta are the same – no freedom! Many state that , after their release, they will cross the border and return to the Shan State, with the intention of joining the Shan State Army and fighting for that precious freedom which has been denied to them, both in and out of prison, for so long.


On the trail of the Phu Lae Pineapple

Kris Dhiradityakul
Of course, we all love pineapples, and probably one of our favourites is the smaller, sweeter Phuket version… particularly if it’s organically grown. Below is an account of a man who knows all about such delicious subjects.
Professor Anek Prateep Na Talang is a man with a two-fold mission – the promotion of the Phu Lae pineapple and of proper agricultural practices among local farmers.
‘There are two ways of farming,’ he explains. The artificial way, where farmers kill everything except their own fruit trees, removing weeds, grass and other trees. This may seem good for the grower’s trees, but the overall system is ruinous to the environment, as those trees are only growing because of the chemical fertilisers and pesticides poured onto them. In spite of this, their leaves are still bug-damaged, so chemical insecticides are used as well. Prof. Anek continues, ‘This is a vicious circle. Over time, more and more money is invested in chemicals in order to sustain the crops. One major reason why farmers cannot escape the trap of debt.’
Anek chose the natural, organic way. He did not plough the land – the grass grew wild. He used a minimum of fertilizer, showing local farmers how to escape from debt by practicing environmentally friendly methods. No chemicals, no burning! Anek rests assured that his farming will not harm the environment or the local people, and is lecturing to local growers about his experiences.
The professor is a Maths and Applied Statistics lecturer at Chiang Rai’s Rajabhat University, and is now famous as the ‘Pineapple Man,’ after three decades of working with the fruit. He was the first person to bring the Phuket variety of pineapple to Chiang Rai when he moved there in 1977. After several years of growing the Phuket variety, Anek realized that his future as a pineapple farmer would not last long because the Phuket cannot compete with the local Nampeung variety.
‘We can’t truly say if all Thai varieties of pineapple are from the Queen or the Pattavia root stock, although Phuket pineapples are genetically derived from Pattavia, while Nampeung is derived from Queen. The Nampeung was already very popular and highly marketable, but far more expensive than the Phuket. Even so, I decided to grow the Phuket variety as it is a lot cheaper.’ When asked if he had genetically combined the Phuket and Nanglae varieties, thus producing the new Phu Lae variety, Prof. Anek rejected it strongly, saying: ‘It’s all a misunderstanding. There is no way we could create a hybrid that way.’
However, the Phu Lae pineapple is still believed to be derived from a combination of Phuket and Nanglae. It is much smaller than both parent varieties, giving a crispier texture and is more convenient to carry. Most importantly, it is highly marketable, having now been added to the provincial OTOP list in Chiang Rai, and served on Thai Airways flights. ‘Simply put, the size becomes smaller because of the space the bush itself has,’ says Anek. ‘The smaller the space, the smaller the fruit.’
Anek’s discovery of the new variety, back when he was experimenting with new growing techniques, wasn’t intentional. After several years of modern farming, he began to realize that the more he instigated growth to make profit, the more money he lost! He decided to employ traditional methods, leaving the land undisturbed but adding peanuts to ensure it was fully covered. His Phuket pineapple garden was left unattended. He piled up leaves, branches and other scraps, and the soil became more fertile.
However, initial pessimism caused him to leave the fruit on the ground, believing it was not marketable. However, when he tried selling the fruit, it soon became highly popular because of its size. He began supplying other vendors, who, at first, were unsure how to remove the skins to make it easier for customers to eat.
So, a pineapple bush left to grow wild can inadvertently give the grower more profit! Based on this natural process, he reduced the cost of fertilizer and labour further by leaving weeds and grass on the land, which gave much-needed moisture and humidity to the plants. Earthworms took over the job of ploughing. Mother Nature took care of it all!


Novotel out – Mercure Hotel in

Andy Archer
The well-known Novotel on Chiang Puak Road was recently taken over by new owners Mercure, part of the Accor hotel group, who will be bringing a more individual and Lanna culture-based look and feel to the guest and public rooms, whilst improving overall standards.

Domenic Barth, the Mercure’s GM (2nd left), with his food and beverage manager, Phurit Nithisnatheakul (right).

Domenic Barth, the new GM, explained that, ‘Novotel was the first international hotel group in Chiang Mai, 15 years ago, setting new standards at the time. Mercure will continue this legacy and, by improving the quality of service, aims to bring back many local residents, both Thai and Expat, who have recently tended to overlook the hotel.’ Refurbishment will take 2-3 years to be completed.
Meanwhile, Domenic is planning to introduce new ideas to the Chiang Mai hotel scene, one example being children’s dining rooms. Being a parent himself, he often feels uncomfortable taking his children to hotel Sunday brunches, and also remembers the time when he was single and definitely did not appreciate children inconveniencing the diners!
Phurit Nithisnatheakul, the hotel’s new food and beverage manager, is proud of his new chef, Teekanun Mandachitra, who, he assured reporters, will insist on high standards in the hotel’s restaurants. From March 7, the hotel will introduce a regular Sunday brunch, a special lunch and a Saturday dinner buffet, all at affordable prices.



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