The changes in Burma
Best Friend Library at the Expats Club meeting
Garrett Kostin of the Best Friends Burmese
Library spoke to the Chiang Mai Expats Club at Le Meridien Hotel on May 25,
By Shana Kongmun
The Chiang Mai Expats Club welcomed the founder of the Chiang Mai
branch of the Best Friend Burmese Library, Garrett Kostin who spoke to the
monthly meeting held at Le Meridien on May 25, 2013. The meeting started off
with regular announcements including Jennifer who noted that the Travel Club
is meeting every second Monday at Sangdee Gallery at 7 p.m. and the notice
of Fashion King’s birthday auction for charity on June 9th, to be held from
4 pm at their shop in Kalare Shopping Center at the Night Bazaar.
Carol and Gill enjoyed the delicious pastries
set out by Le Meridien before the start of the talk on the current state of
affairs in Burma.
Garrett then spoke on the enormous changes seen in Burma since he spoke at
the Expats Club in 2010 when he first opened the Chiang Mai branch of the
Best Friends Burmese Library. “Things have changed tremendously since last
time, mostly for the good but often negative as well,” Garrett began. He
noted that Burma is rich in both natural resources and ethnic diversity,
both a boon, he pointed out and a great problem as has been seen recently
with ethnic violence. He briefly went over the history of Burma, from its
nearly 50 year - long absolute military dictatorship to the reforms that
have occurred since the end of 2010 including elections for Parliament.
He discussed some of the issues facing Burma including the ethnic violence
against Muslims, the Rohingya people who have been moved off land and into
refugee camps in Bangladesh or near prison camps in Burma. This, he said, is
one of Burma’s biggest obstacles to peace and stability, adding that
Buddhist led mobs led to scores of Muslims dead and yet nobody has been
charged in the crimes.
The second obstacle he noted was disillusionment by some of Aung San Suu
Kyi’s supporters including ethnic minorities who viewed her as the one
Burmese they could trust and yet she has so far failed to adequately condemn
the abuses against ethnic minorities. Others are disappointed in what they
see is her “cozying up to the Army”. Some note that she must be pragmatic
and if she does not want to be entirely sidelined she must work with them
David and Ellen chatted at the start of the
meeting which saw a full house and many members asking questions after the
The Library is still vitally important in Chiang Mai although they have
opened one in the Shan State last year, noting that many refugees refuse to
return; citing fears that the changes are short-lived, that many of the
ethnic minorities are still fighting and it is still dangerous at home or
that the while things are changing, the economy still cannot support their
return home. Many of the students learning English at the Library look
forward to the day they can return home with their skills and make the lives
of the people of their home villages better, either by teaching or by
bringing work to the area.
The Chiang Mai Expats Club meets every fourth Saturday 10 a.m. at Le
JJ Market celebrates newest Rimping store
The grand opening saw (from left)
Phairoj Phatsornpinyosakul, President of Thantraphan Supermarket Company,
Worakarn Tantranont and Voravat Tantranont of Rimping Supermarkets — cutting the
ceremonial ribbon with JJ Market Project Manager Apiradee “Oh” Tantivejakul. The
crowds then streamed in with many commenting how pleased they were to finally
have a Rimping on the West side of town.
By Shana Kongmun
The western half of Chiang Mai had reason to celebrate on May 23, 2013 as
Rimping opened a new store at JJ Market near Khamtieng market on Assadathorn
Road. The new store, while compact, is complete with all the goodies that make
the store such a success including their range of organic fruits and vegetables,
well stocked bakery and wine. The store was filled with shoppers on the opening
day, with many pointing out that while the fruit may cost more than in the
market you are also getting higher quality fruit. “I have to throw away half of
the fruit I buy from a market as the vendor won’t let me pick out my own fruit.
I may pay 30% more here but I get to eat 100% of my rambutans!” Ramlah said.
Rimping joins many small locally owned businesses at JJ Market, with coffee
shops, clothing and more available for shoppers, as well as that one of kind
thing, ample parking.
A caring hospital
Dr. Charlie and nursing staff at
By Shana Kongmun
I share many Thai people’s dislike or perhaps fear of hospitals and
doctors. Too often, it feels that the only thing they dispense is bad news and
high bills. I tend to avoid them if possible but a trip to Rajavej Chiangmai
Hospital to meet the staff, view the hospital and chat with the administrator
was a pleasant surprise.
Surprise number one was the affable Dr. Charlie, as he is known, who spoke
frankly about the hospital’s goals, plans and the future of medicine in
Thailand. Surprise number two was the outgoing and friendly staff at the
hospital and the ideals that drive them. And finally surprise number three was
that those ideals shaped everything the hospital does, from fees to charitable
Prof. Dr. Charlie Phornphutkul retired from Chiang Mai University to take on the
role of CEO of Rajavej Hospital in 2000; the private hospital was established in
1997 and continues to serve the community by taking both private paying patients
and those under the government social security health care scheme.
“We want to serve people from all walks of life, everyone pays the same price.
There is no double pricing here and the prices are moderate. This is the way to
do it. If you are in the medical service,” Dr. Charlie noted, “then you should
“Health care within reach”, is the motto of the hospital he added. He believes
it is the duty of everyone in medical service to make sure that everyone has
access to good medical care. To this end, about half of all patients the
hospital treats are under the government health care program. With compensation
from the government at a bare minimum; he notes that it does not cover the
expenses. However, he said that while doctors are not making money off these
patients they are gaining invaluable experience. More experience means a better
doctor, he added.
In addition to a policy that believes the patient is above profits and rejects
the notion of dual pricing, the hospital also wants to ensure their patients
feel comfortable and so provides several Japanese interpreters as well as
Burmese and English speaking coordinators. The hospital treats around 800
outpatients a day and has grown from 60 beds to 150 since its opening. Around
10% of those are foreigners. There are over 100 consultants that come in,
usually in the evening as most of them are from the Chiang Mai University
Medical School. He noted that government doctors do not make a lot of money so
most supplement their incomes with private practice.
The hospital is well known for its joint replacement surgeries and other
orthopedic surgeries; it offers not only all of the services one would expect in
a full service hospital such as medicine, pediatrics, ob-gyn and surgeries, but
also acupuncture and a sleep clinic to diagnose and treat sleep disorders such
as apnea. The dental clinic has seen tremendous growth as well as the renal and
urology. The private rooms are very reasonable, starting at 1600 baht a night.
“Cheaper than the Holiday Inn across the road,” Dr. Charlie laughed.
The hospital also offers medical services in far outlying areas, including
screening for cataracts and treatment. “Many of these people cannot afford to
make the journey into Chiang Mai for treatment. Although we get 6,000 baht per
operation from the government it certainly does not cover our costs.” Again, he
goes back to the idea that those in medicine should give back to the community.
An ideal more often preached than practiced in the broader world, but one that
is lived in the world of Rajavej, it seems.
Finally, he said, the world of medicine is changing, it is becoming more global
and someday Thailand will end up the same. Although currently there are many
hospitals in Thailand that offer medical care on a par with the top hospitals in
the world. But for now, he puts patient care first. “Government funding of
social welfare patients does not cover the costs. The hospital is profitable but
it is low,” Dr. Charlie said. “It (high profit) is not the point of having a
hospital, it is not to be a true business. It is to put health care within reach
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