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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, 2013.

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 somewhat.

David and Ellen chatted at the start of the meeting which saw a full house and many members asking questions after the talk.

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 Meridien Hotel.

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 Rajavej Hospital

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 work.
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 give back.”
“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 of everyone.”

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

The changes in Burma

JJ Market celebrates newest Rimping store

A caring hospital