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

Woman of the Month

Painted elephants head for European parade

A pungent problem with an environmentally friendly solution

Opinion

 

Woman of the Month

Rapipan Suansomjitr - successful in both business and charitable work

Elena Edwards/
Lee Roy Webster

Successful businesswomen in Chiang Mai face a difficult challenge, as the ‘glass ceiling’ here is several miles lower than in our home countries.

An incredibly rewarding life… Rapipan is pictured on the patio outside Des Joyaux Chiang Mai’s office on Mahidol Road.
For this reason, it was a delight to speak with the highly successful Rapipan Suansomjitr, manager with her husband of Des Joyaux Swimming Pools, Thailand. Seated comfortably on the patio outside her office, this slim, stylish woman explained that she has two obsessions—her company and her devotion to helping underprivileged children. At her feet sat the furry Shi Tzu representative of her third love, dogs, with her two tiny and very cute puppies and a Chihuahua cooling themselves in the office.
Rapipan’s company, Des Joyaux Thailand was formed 7 years ago, as an offshoot of the French company, founded in1966, which pioneered a completely new design and construction method able to be installed in as little as 2 weeks by a competent and careful team. The Chiang Mai branch was the first to be opened; since then the company has sold 3,000 pools and opened another 11 branches countrywide. One of the company’s strengths is its first-class customer service, from personal experience, this writer can confirm this, together with a 10 year guarantee on the pool itself and a 3 year replacement guarantee on the pump. Importantly, in these difficult times, the company provides employment for 250 people, and has not, so far, been forced to sack any workers, although further expansion plans have had to be shelved for the present. Rapipan believes that the crisis with soon be over, and that recovering markets will allow her to not only expand, but to fulfil another dream, the opening of a factory here in Chiang Mai which will manufacture pool components at present, imported from the main factory in France. She insisted that quality control will be strictly maintained through the supervision of a French engineer, and that the new factory would enable the company both to reduce its already favourable prices and to create more jobs for local people.

A quiet and cuddly moment in a busy schedule…Rapipan, shown taking time out with three of her beloved dogs.
However, expanding and running her company, although time-consuming in the extreme, hasn’t stopped Rapipan from following her heart and helping poor children.
In the past, she, a member and now the President of a local 35-member women’s branch of the international Lions’ Club foundation, has worked with Princess Maha Sirindhorn to build swimming pools in underfunded Golden Triangle schools for the use of underprivileged students. Her local club recently built an orphanage for 60 children, linked to a school with 300 students, and, last year, provided 200 bicycles for the use of students whose homes were some distance from the school. Hopefully, more bicycles will be provided this year. Rapipan believes that cooperation between foundations is essential—recently a small German charity contacted her in her capacity as president and requested that they work together-after ensuring that the charity is reputable, their request is being carefully considered. In the future, Rapipan may be able to help even more, as she has been selected as a candidate for next year’s Lions’ Club provincial presidency.
An incredibly busy life…but an incredibly rewarding one for this well-known and good-hearted Chiang Mai personality. The Chiang Mai Mail wishes her well in all her projects and in her business, and thanks her warmly for finding the time to talk with us.

 

Painted elephants head for European parade

Those of us from the UK may well remember the unexpected appearance around London of a number of life-sized sculpted and painted cows, which caused a media sensation and a lot of laughs some years ago, and were subsequently exported to the continent.
It seems that Chiang Mai’s got into the act now, with its very own totally Thai version, which will also end up in Europe—painted elephants! The well-known La Luna Gallery are holding a preview exhibition of a selection of the colourful pachyderms, designed and painted by a number of Thai artists, until the 26th of this month, after which they will ‘pack their trunks’, (ouch), and travel to Amsterdam.
The exhibition is in conjunction with Elephant Parade, (Thailand), who have already organised big parades of painted and other pachyderms in Rotterdam in 2007 and Antwerp in 2008, with the aim of both raising awareness in Europe of the plight of Asian elephants and raising money to support elephant charities in Asia. The Chiang Mai Jumbos will take part in the 2009 parade in Amsterdam, to be held this autumn.
The La Luna Gallery‘s exhibition will also include some new artworks, and rather more diminutive examples of painted elephants. Every home should have one…
For more details, please call the gallery on 053 306 678 or visit www.lalunagallery.com and www.elephantparade.com.


A pungent problem with an environmentally friendly solution

For those who didn’t realise…last Friday was World Environment Day! Although, for most of us expats, consciousness about the planet’s environmental problems lurks not too far from the front of our minds, it’s good to concentrate for even one day on our possible role in helping to reduce the threat and improve our surroundings as much as we can.
A new book, ‘2 Degrees—Cooling down the Planet with Both Hands’, launched on that one day by the United Nations Development Partnership in Thailand, (UNDP), may help us in this, and has an interesting reference to a Chiang Mai family, the owners of a pig farm in a Mae Rim village. As expected, given the smelly downside of being downwind of a pig farm, the owners’ neighbours became very unfriendly by the time the project was fully functioning! The happy ending came a while later, when the benefits of free gas for all from a never ending source of pig manure were realised.
Suthat and Kiangkham Khammakai were originally rice millers, but decided to augment their income by keeping pigs, feeding them on rice husk, bran and broken rice, the by-products of their rice mill. The idea, and the pigs, grew and grew until the Khammakais found themselves the proud but friendless owners of 300 pigs, each generating approximately 1.8 tons of manure each year!
The smell was so strong that neighbours complained of dizziness, breathlessness and skin irritations—the flies thought Christmas had come, and social sanctions were imposed. When wastewater from the farm polluted the local water supply, things got nasty, with over 100 neighbours signing a petition of complaint to the local governor. After trying every remedy in and out of the book, and almost at the end of his tether, Kiangkham struck lucky! During a seminar at the veterinary science faculty of Chiang Mai University, he heard about producing useable gas from pig manure. It was all downhill from there, helped by a grant for the building of a biogas pond from the Department of Energy Development and Efficiency, and a large loan from a local bank. The gas produced was enough for all 43 households in the village; since then, several more ponds have been built, supplying free gas for nearby villages. All’s well that ends well, and the Khammakais are now the most popular couple in the area!


Opinion: Women’s Rights and the Right to Privacy

Recently, the Thai government has come under criticism from international human rights groups for its appointment of a human rights panel who, it has been suggested, may well have little experience in the field. At the same time, considerable coverage has been given to the emergence of a strong movement, led by female academics amongst others, in the fields of women’s rights, domestic violence and other women-centred issues.
Meanwhile, here in our city, a leading female politician is being attacked by a ‘person or persons unknown’, in a gross violation of her human rights and her right to privacy.
For those who have not yet been aware, her ‘crime’, in the 21st century, here in Chiang Mai, is to have slept with her boyfriend. Not a big deal, you may well think…it’s her private life, after all, and she will be one of many thousands of women in the vicinity who are doing the same thing.
The violation, however, concerns the fact that a photograph of her in bed with her partner was somehow obtained and was published, both online and in print, by a well-known Thai daily newspaper; the CD from which the photograph was taken has now been copied and is being widely distributed around town. Sounds disturbingly familiar, doesn’t it? How many times, in our home countries, did we see similar attacks in the media, almost always, (with the possible exception of Bill Clinton), on successful and ambitious women?
However, the West is generally considered to have lower moral and ethical standards than are purported to be in place in Thailand, especially in the case of certain types of media publications, most of which ended up getting frequently sued. Here, Buddhism, with its specific ethical requirements, has a much more significant place in society than does Christianity in the majority of Western countries. The Thai concept of respect, is also considered to involve ethical standards. Respect for women, at least in certain quarters, would seem, however, to still be at the bottom of the agenda, particularly where politics are concerned.
Prominent members of women’s groups and other sectors have already made protest concerning the action of the newspaper. Chiang Mai University’s Mass Communications Faculty’s famous dean, Assoc Prof Sodsri Phao-inchan, stated last Monday that, ‘By publishing the photos and reporting the story, the media show they lack ethics’. Sodsri added that the Thai Journalists Association and other professional media professional should work to stop the propagation of such news reports, calling it a ‘serious violation against media ethics’. Former senator Tuenjai Deetes, who has long fought for women’s rights, said the published photos and story about the female politician had hurt both her human dignity and rights, adding, ‘This is a form of violence against women. She’s hurt emotionally’. Tuenjan strongly suggested that political organisations and women’s rights groups should urgently discuss ways to protect female politicians, stating that ‘When women climb to the top, some people will want to hurt these women’.
So, there we have it. A professional woman attacked where it hurts, in her private life; her relationship dragged into the public gaze, her human rights and her rights as a woman smashed to pieces, her rights to boundaries between her personal and public life destroyed. It is to be fervently hoped that only the salacious and the sick will take note of this violation, and that caring citizens will condemn the violators, whoever they are, for their inexcusable actions.