Vol. VIII No. 16 - Tuesday
April 21 - April 27, 2009



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by Saichon Paewsoongnern


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

An unforgettable volunteer experience-the Children’s Shelter, Part 2

Prisoners in Doi Saket – Part 3

Opinion

 

An unforgettable volunteer experience-the Children’s Shelter, Part 2

Audra Hoffman
We leave the farm, heading north, and drive for over an hour, meeting up with 12 German tourists in a small village. From there, we all pile into three trucks for the rugged, dusty, 20 kilometre drive to the remote Lahu village. We pass endless views of rice paddies, orange orchards, and all kinds of mountain farms. The farmers wear the typical, broad, conical hats; babies are swaddled on their mothers’ backs. Many of the kids from our farm come from this tribe.
The homes are elevated on stilts; some are bamboo, some teak. Under the houses there are chickens scratching around or wild boar mothers tied to a pillar eyeing us suspiciously. The baby boars are running behind crates and peeking out, curious but tentative. As we walk thru the town, the children stop and look at us, shy and laughing. Not many farang come here—we look funny to them.
We visit the former home of one of the kids, Bandit. He came to us because he has a very rare skin condition. Sunlight burns his skin immediately and it peels off constantly. His parents had no money for doctors, so they just kept him shut up in a dark room. He was completely isolated and almost non-conversant when he came to the farm. Now he gets regular medical care and is a gentle and loving guardian to the younger children. We get to see his youngest sister, less than a year old. She has the same skin condition—her little face is already peeling.
We have a gorgeous meal with his family in their hut, cooked on a wood fire on a piece of concrete set in the floor. Sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves, stir-fried vegetables, grilled chicken and pork, chicken soup, and fresh fruit. The food tastes amazing—partly because our cook at the farm, Kru Aoh, went up ahead of time and helped the family prepare the food. The Germans are city folk and initially look uncomfortable sitting cross-legged on the bamboo floor, eating with their fingers. They watch us chatting and eating comfortably and before long they are enjoying their new experience. They are giddy.
After lunch we go to the home of several of our deaf kids, Bandang, Nos, and Ta. All three are deaf from birth. Their two sisters have hearing. Their mother makes hill tribe tea for us. She explains that the tea is very similar to coffee in caffeine content.
Next we go to Jacob’s house (pronounced Yakob). His mother is sitting on the floor of her porch weaving beautiful brightly coloured cloth, 4 inches wide in a 20 foot loop, on a small wooden loom. She leans back against a harness around her lower back to keep the thread taut. She makes the cloth into traditional Lahu bags to sell at the local market. One small purse takes her 2 days to complete, for which she receives 180 baht. Jacob’s father died a long time ago—he loves his mother so much that, even though he mow lives on the farm, he still takes her bags around to sell and sends the money back to her.
That evening, when we return to the farm, there is refreshing lemongrass tea and fruit waiting for us. The children already have their favourite Germans picked out and show them around the farm, teaching them some sign language. Kru Deang and the kids show them art projects. The dinner is amazing, a beautiful candle-lit affair.
We take the kids to the elephant camp and they have a ball. We teach them about the elephants; their life span, what they eat, etc. Of course they already knew all of this because they are hill tribe. They inform us of more details about their personalities, what they like, and funny stories about how they are so smart and mischievous. Hilarious!
There are a surprising variety of insects here, many of which are considered edible. You can eat ants, termites, caterpillars, etc. In fact, sometimes they beg for it. The ants move in on your orange juice like a cell of suicide bombers. One minute you have a beautiful pristine glass of OJ and then—Bam! the top is peppered with them.! I’m not pouring out any more orange juice. I have just given up and started drinking them. They don’t taste like anything—the hill tribe people do this all the time.
That reminds me of this two and a half year old girl who lives here on the farm. Her name is Lu An. Every morning when she sees me, she squeals ‘Kru Ja!’ with her tiny arms outstretched and runs over to give me a hug. The fact that she is always in dresses belies the fact that she is a hill tribe farm girl thru and thru. She has been told that I don’t speak Thai but I don’t think she believes it. Or maybe she thinks she can teach me all by herself. She is also learning sign so we spend our time together pointing to different things and teaching each other their names in Thai, English and sign. Earlier in the day I had pointed to the butterfly painted on her pretty dress and did the sign. She repeated it and we both laughed. Later she excitedly runs over to me grabbing my hand and pointing. At the base of a tree she points to a little resting butterfly and does the sign. I repeat it and we sit there cooing at it and doing the sign. Then she reaches out with her tiny delicate hand and smashes the poor thing on the tree. I wasn’t expecting that particular action and it was me who squealed this time, ‘Lu An, No!!!’ She thought that was hysterical and peeled the butterfly off the tree, tore its wings off, dropped it on the ground, and was off on her next adventure. I just stood there blinking. I silently start composing a lesson plan about the importance of butterflies in the pollination of flowers.
My accommodation is up-graded. The two founders of the shelter, one German lady nicknamed Ulli, and one Thai lady named Joy, had heard reports of my earnest desire to help and were so grateful that Ulli offered her room on the farm to me during her absence in Germany. It is a beautiful brick room with several lights and a great bathroom, sans granddaddy longlegs. Maybe I will smuggle some in from my previous room. It has an attached outdoor kitchen. All Thai people have outdoor kitchens, partly because it’s hot here and you don’t want to heat up the house, and partly because they think cooking in the house is unclean as it invites insects.
Outside of my new room is a tropical garden. Amongst the green leaves are some peculiar brown ones, pointed down. Inside is fine gossamer. They are the butterflies for the new season. They chose this place to give birth – to themselves, this time – in a silk womb of their own devising. I whisper to them ‘Good luck, and beware tiny girls in beautiful dresses!’

 

Prisoners in Doi Saket – Part 3

What have they done to deserve this? Part 3

Karin Hawelka,
Care for Dogs

Karin, Soraya and I returned to Doi Saket today, to check on the tragically caged dogs – on the way we called into, the local livestock department. Recently, a Thai government officer from Bangkok visited the shelter while on holiday in Chiang Mai. He suggested that we should contact the local livestock department and ask for their assistance with our work. On his recommendation, we introduced ourselves, in an effort to build rapport with this office.
For the past 3 years Care for Dogs has operated purely on private donated funds and have received no financial support from the Thai government. Until we receive a call from the officer whom we hoped to speak with today regarding assistance, we shall continue to press on with our activities – regardless of the fact that we get daily calls to rescue dogs from the streets of Chiang Mai and are receiving neither large local charity donations from social fundraisers or government assistance.
Arriving in Doi Saket, we met again with the owner of the caged dogs. We were returning the now sterilised mother of the 4 pups running around in the yard – we found the large black Labrador still locked in his tiny cage. The pups were very happy to see their mum! We set about de-ticking them with tweezers, taking off hundreds from between toes and jam packed ears, then sprayed them with tick & flea remover as well as vaccinating them against Parvo & Distemper and giving them a course of de-worming syrup.
The guy opened up the cage and ‘Murd’ bounced out, extremely pleased to be running around and greeting everyone with his boisterous yet playful manner. We looked at his penis again and felt justified to ask if we could take him to the vet for proper examination, as we strongly believed he was another TvT candidate. He agreed! Result!
By now, the pups were running around tick-free and full of doggy treats we had brought for them, but 3 of the 4 appeared weaker than the 4th. Two had diarrhoea, so we put Murd and the 3 pups into the car and drove a short way to the other factory area where the Rottie was still being kept in a cage. She, too, gained some freedom, albeit on a strong chain, and after a dose of de-worm and vaccinations, she was taken by her ‘handler’ for a shower and then led back into her cage.
The owner explained he wanted to redesign his factory area so that the Rottie could roam around free during the night. We will be back and keep up with our pressure to get her some improved conditions. You can imagine our elation as we drove away, very pleased with progress and looking forward to ultimately transforming the owner into an informed dog lover. Our elation, however, was short-lived, when one of the pups vomited in my lap. Worms! After a hurried roadside hose-down and extraction of the worms from the driver’s footwell, we drove straight to our vet, who ascertained that all 3 pups had signs of pneumonia and also needed assessing for TvT. But, at least we’re getting somewhere!


Opinion: A message to the world – Chiang Mai is not Bangkok

Elena Edwards
Surely everyone in Thailand, with the exception of core groups of protestors for whom violence seems to be now the norm, is devastated by the events in Bangkok and Pattaya last week, and the effect it will certainly have on the increasingly fragile state of the Thai economy. Many of us here in Chiang Mai will also have been devastated by the sensationalist and frequently inaccurate nature of worldwide media coverage during the unfolding sagas. Not only because of our concern for Thailand and its people, but also because we are all fully aware of the consequences to the tourism industry, essential as it is to the kingdom and to our city, already reeling from the effects of last year’s protests and the world economic crisis.
To put this somewhat in perspective, and allowing for the fact that the north of Thailand is a strong bastion of Thaksinism, we should examine reports from various governments’ tourism advisory services, which are again bracketing Chiang Mai and the north with Bangkok and its surroundings as no-go areas for visitors. Compare, for example, the riots at the G20 summit, held very recently in London’s city centre and East End. Violence, death, destruction of property. Yet, this writer does not recall reading any advice to UK-bound visitors to either cancel their trips or avoid London in its entirety and also Birmingham and Manchester, both of which are closer to London than Chiang Mai is to Bangkok. It might also be worth mentioning that, in almost any large town or city in the UK since 24 hour opening times for pubs, etc., was legalised, the scene on the streets at night, particularly on weekends, is a microcosm of the macrocosm in Bangkok and Pattaya last week. Including police, drunken violence, the occasional murder and a great many injuries. An examination of this comparison may result in the conclusion that a sense of proportion should perhaps be applied to any advice given concerning visits to Thailand.
Bad news travels fast—this morning, the Chiang Mai Mail received a letter from a man booked to travel to Chiang Mai within the next few days, asking our advice on the cancellation of his trip. At least he asked, and we were able to, in part, reassure him by stating that the areas in which our local red shirts have occasionally behaved badly are not areas in which visitors would be interested. Last Monday, I was at the moat, as were thousands of others, mostly in pick-up trucks containing at least 10 people of all ages and equipped with large amounts of water in dustbins, coolers and (this was original) an enormous glazed ceramic plant pot, plus various objects for the throwing of said water. A happier, more friendly, laughter-filled family occasion could not have been imagined, even although reports were coming in that red-shirts were present outside City Hall and on the superhighway in Lamphun. This was real, a people’s celebration of New Year. No ‘Water Wars,’ no threats.
So, hoping against hope that governmental and commercial tourism agencies in the UK, Canada, the USA, Taiwan, Malaysia, Australia, Russia, South Korea, Singapore, and probably a good few other countries, read this in the CM Mail’s online edition, please, guys, either leave Chiang Mai out of your over-cautious advice or find out objectively what the situation is, and, while you’re at it, please realise that the majority of your home countries are far more dangerous without riots than Thailand ever is, even with the present troubles. Most of you have consulates in this area, pick up a phone, send an email, ask for a report, and advise accordingly without overreacting. And don’t believe everything you read in the papers.



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