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Life in Chiang Mai  By Colin Jarvis



Schadenfreude is defined at taking pleasure in someone else's misfortune.  In a healthy mind this pleasure is really one of relief. The relief that it did not happen to oneself. It's why we laugh when we see someone slip on a banana skin.

Schadenfreude is creeping up on me. The rain it raineth every day, for months… and months. I feel particularly fortunate as I have hardly seen a puddle that lasted for more than half an hour on my moo baan.

Others have not been so fortunate. We have all seen pictures of terrible devastation in the countryside and many people, on other moo baans, have had their lower floors and gardens inundated on several occasions. Many local businesses have suffered, both from a loss of business and damage to their property. Some will never recover.

Widespread disasters often bring people together and sometimes create heroes. I always think it is the personal stories of individuals that help us understand the news, better than simply reading about the scale of the problem.

A friend of mine has a restaurant, near the Ping River. He had the foresight to build a restaurant about a foot above the street and therefore only suffered about 2 inches of water entering his premises. The businesses round about were not so lucky. Many had been built many years ago when, presumably, flooding was a less common occurrence.

My friend’s neighbours found that their cooking facilities were unusable, besides which they had an urgent need to clean their premises as quickly as possible. The restaurant immediately changed from a restaurant into a place where the local people could gain food and water and thereby continue their work.

As I wandered around Chiang Mai a few days ago I was horrified to see the thick layer of silt in the night market and other parts of the city. I was impressed by the way so many people were scrubbing and swilling the silt away, cleaning their businesses ready to open for work. They smiled and joked, worked furiously and seemed positive about the future rather than depressed about the past.

Many areas have suffered far more than Chiang Mai. We received a call today from a friend in Ayutthaya. She received a warning a few days ago about possible flooding in her moo baan and so she put all her possessions from the first-floor up to the second. The water is now halfway up the walls of the first story. Although furniture, electrical equipment and clothes, indeed virtually everything is lost.  What is more disturbing is that her business is renting out electronic recruitment. Her complete stocks have been destroyed. Almost overnight she has been made homeless and jobless.

I find it truly impressive that none of these people who have been affected by these dreadful floods are giving up. They keep fighting; determined to succeed somehow. Whilst they would like some money from the government and, indeed, some may be expected, they are not sitting down waiting for the government to solve the problem. The Thais are a truly resilient people.

Yet was just two years ago that concern was expressed in Chiang Mai because the reservoirs had not filled during the rainy season. We know that global warming is causing greater extremes of weather than in living memory. We also know that the tropics will suffer greater extremes than those in the north and south of this small world of ours.

There is no doubt that Thailand will receive similar volumes of water in the near future. In the towns and cities many floodplains have been built upon and there are fewer places for excess water to drain away. There will be similar flooding in future. Perhaps not next year, maybe not even the year after, but certainly within a decade.

One aspect of these floods is that many middle-class concrete houses have been affected. The owners of these houses may well start to put pressure on the government, both local and national.

Whatever else the government chooses to do it must face up to the fact that clubs will occur with increasing frequency unless strenuous efforts are made to avoid the problem in the future. This will require a great deal of money and sufficient discipline to avoid the worst ravages of corruption. I wish them luck.

As I write the Prime Minister has appeared on the news stating that it is likely that Bangkok itself will be affected. If this does happen perhaps the politicians will unite and decide to tackle this problem that they have been talking about for many years.

If nothing is done then, as the years go on, the situation will become worse and fewer of us will be able to enjoy the feeling of Schadenfreude.

Famous or Infamous?

My daughter, like most teenagers, would like to be famous. In the last week of September she almost made it. Her school became famous.

I was watching the Bangkok Post TV news the other morning when suddenly I saw pictures of my daughter's school and heard the words "Sacred Heart College". Later that day a colleague in the UK e-mailed me a copy of an article in the Daily Mail on the same subject. The subject was, of course, the fact that students had dressed up in Nazi uniforms, indeed one even attempted to act as Adolf Hitler's doppelganger, as part of the schools sports day.

This raises a number of questions. Should we expect children, living in a very different country from those in Europe and North America, to know about a war that happened 70 years ago? If we think they should know then why are we not teaching them?

The second question is why did the teachers not avoid the embarrassment of the school? t appears that the teachers had no idea what the students planned. It might have been a good idea had they done so but, knowing the school as I do, I admire the way that they teach the students to act on their own initiative and have seen some truly remarkable projects completed by the students alone.

The third question is whether or not we are overreacting to the fact that these children dressed up in Nazi uniforms and waved the swastika?

The answers to the first two questions are quite easy to answer and with very little controversy. If we want children in Thailand to know European history, we must teach them, or ensure that their schools teach this history. If we do think this then surely we must also ensure that European and American children are taught the history of South East Asia. How many such children know about the Opium Wars, the story of colonisation by European countries of this part of the world, the fascinating story of why Singapore is successful today and the history of Thailand over the last 2000 years? Does anyone in Europe, let alone Western schoolchildren, know of the Seri Thai (the free Thai army during the Second World War)?

Should the children who created this event have been better supervised by the teachers? I suppose the answer is probably. However if you encourage young people to use their own initiative sometimes they will make mistakes. It should be accepted that the Nazi uniform is very stylish and likely to be attractive to young people. As a fashion statement one can accept the style; the problem is the swastika and the deliberate linking with the Nazi party. I am sure the children will be supervised in future but I'm not sure it will be truly beneficial.

Now we have to tackle the very difficult problem of the revulsion that some people feel when they see the swastika.

It is about more than the appalling tragedy of what happened to 6 million Jews it is about the needless deaths of many millions of people, often in the most horrible circumstances. It may well be that the allies sowed the seeds of this dreadful period of history by their treatment of Germany after the First World War and that is an interesting debate but the fact is the Nazi party caused many Germans to become evil and many other innocent people to lose their lives in the most terrible circumstances. That is what the swastika stands for to people who know the history, to others it is simply a magical sign that can be seen in temples throughout Thailand and indeed is the symbol of the family of a friend of mine but they dare not use it.

A lack of knowledge of history for which they were not responsible, the fact that the swastika is a common mystical sign in Thailand and the fact that the uniforms are very smart may excuse the students for their actions.

The students, indeed the school, could be considered to be in good company. Not so long ago Prince Harry, the British Queen's youngest son, caused controversy when he, too, turned up to a party in a Nazi uniform complete with swastika armband.

Let me leave you with a true story which shows how emotional some people can be about the symbol of the Nazi party.

About 20 years ago I attended a sales conference as the guest of the sales and marketing director. The conference took place in Malta. The sales and marketing director had a nickname of "Hitler" within his company. During a dress rehearsal a film was shown of Hitler driving in his staff car and apparently pulling up outside the hotel following which the sales and marketing director appeared on stage dressed as Hitler giving the Nazi salute. There was absolute silence then the projectors and lights were turned off and all the staff of the hotel left the building. The sales and marketing director, a very intelligent and very powerful businessman, had forgotten that Malta had been awarded the George Medal for bravery in fighting the Nazis during World War II. He changed things for the conference! He became famous in Malta or do I mean infamous?

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Famous or Infamous?