Sunday, November 17, 2013

Loi Krathong and Yi Peng festivals are now

Loi Krathong was amazing!  This is the annual Thai festival where people make or buy krathong and float them in the river.  It symbolizes letting go of the past and welcoming the future.  Today I may get to the river and get some photo's of Krathong on the water.

Young Girl (her father behind her) selling Krathong 50 baht, fair price
The festival also coincides with Yi Peng, the Lanna or Northern Thai festival of sending lanterns into the sky. Hopefully we'll get some shots of laterns being launched this evening.   Those not familiar who want to read a bit are invited to the Wikipedia definition.

Yesterday I went to Tae Pae gate to see the displays from different countries for Yi Peng.   Then on to Suan Baak Had (the park near my home).   Enjoy the photo’s

Thailand Display at Tae Pae Gate

Singapore Display at Tae Pae Gate

Asean Display at Tae Pae Gate

Oh My!  We have a dragon in the lake at the park! 

Maliwan purchased two kratong made from some sort of bread.  We prepared them by inserting a lock of our hair, a coin, a candle and incense.   The incense is meant to connect with the spirits, the candle to light the way, the coin represents tamboon and the lock of hair is for identification.   We took the kratongs to the lake in the park, very near my favorite dragon.  The idea is to respect (pray to) the water asking for forgiveness of our discretion and asking for guidance for the coming year.      I just love this culture.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Autism in Northern Thailand

Gentle Reader,

Last minute article addition:   I only have 4 tickets left for the Bollywood Masala Charity Event.  Please contact me to reserve yours today!  I will be turning in my tickets and money on Monday.  If you need more than 4 contact Frank directly.  (See bottom of this article for details).

Autism is a reality in Chiang Mai as it is throughout the world. One expert report says that there are at least 200,000 autistic children in the Kingdom.    Here children severely effected with this malady might end up at the Northern Thailand School for children with disabilities.  They have some 30 students, many autistic, some with down syndrome and, if I understand correctly one or two, who suffer from severe Attention Defecate Disorder.  The school is a foundation under Royal patronage.
The Northern Thailand Center for Education of Disable Children
The school sponsors a small NGO called Chiang Mai Skill center which is located less than a kilometer away from the school.  The founder is Lukas Wyss who provides the autistic children with the opportunity to interact with horses and provide riding therapy and Hippotherapy.  I know very little about this type of work, but what I do know is that the children enjoy it immensely! 
On the buggy and ready to go
At the appointed time Lukas takes a horse drawn carriage from his barn to pick up children at the school.   The children at the school wait anxiously for the horse and carriage.  As soon as it's visible on the road there is a furfur of excitement (Imagine a bunch of kids looking down the road and seeing Santa Clause coming up the lane - that kind of excitement is what I'm talking about)!  The children then enjoy a carriage ride back to the skill center.
Horse and buggy plus happy children
At the skill center they use time grooming the horse and then go to a field especially prepared with soft sand where they take turns riding the horse. Each child is given therapy matching his or her needs. 
Ride a horse and work on manual dexterity, good plan! 
After the rides are done, the children return to the barn where they enjoy more time with the horses and a refreshing snack.  Finally they take the buggy ride back to the school.

The center has several urgent needs including water and toilets.  You can help!  Attend the Bollywood Masala Event, donate or volunteer.   Please take a look at for more information.

Are you going to be in Chiang Mai on Friday October 4th?  Would you enjoy an evening of Indian Entertainment and Indian Food while supporting a most worthy cause; autistic children?   Read on.

My friend Frank from Fashion King of Chiang Mai is organizing the evening.  Frank is a guy who always supports others in their charity work. Now is the time to support him and his wife Vinata in their efforts to support the autistic children at the   CM Skill Center.

The Empress hotel will host and they always do a great job.  The cost is only 1,000 baht per ticket.  Of course, larger sponsorships are requested.  See Frank for details or call him at 081-928-4575  or 081-733-5914.  You may also contact me directly at 089-556-4293; I also have tickets to sell

For only 1,000 baht you have the opportunity to help these children and enjoy an
Indian Bazaar atmosphere will be enhanced by live Indian music and dance
performed by professionals from Bangkok.  You will also enjoy a delicious Indian Buffet.  A complimentary drink will be provided on arrival. Door prizes, a silent auction and many stalls Will add to the excitement of the evening. 

6.30 – 7.15 pm. Registration
7.30 pm. Buffet opens

Followed by Music & dance

Tickets are available at Fashion King or directly from me.

Abundant Blessings,


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Bollywood Event to Help Autistic Children

Gentle Reader,

Are you going to be in Chiang Mai on Friday October 4, 2013?  Would you enjoy an evening of Indian Entertainment and Indian Food while supporting a most worthy cause; autistic children?   Read on.

My friend Frank from Fashion King of Chiang Mai is organizing the evening.  Frank is a guy who always supports others in their charity work. Now is the time to support him and his wife Vinata in their efforts to support the autistic children at the   CM Skill Centre and Thanua Withaya School.

The Empress hotel will host and they always do a great job.  The cost is only 1,000 baht per ticket.  Of course, larger sponsorship is requested and needed.  See Frank for details or call him at 081-928-4575  or 081-733-5914.

For only 1,000 baht you have the opportunity to help these children and enjoy an Indian Bazaar atmosphere will be enhanced by live Indian music and dance performed by professionals from Bangkok.  You will also enjoy a delicious Indian Buffet.  A drink or glass of wine will be provided on arrival. Door prizes, a silent auction and many stalls Will add to the excitement of the evening.  

6.30 – 7.15 pm. Registration
7.30 pm. Buffet opens

Followed by Music & dance

Tickets are available at Fashion King or directly from me (I'll have a book available by Saturday the 14th of September.

Abundant Blessings,

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I married the same woman twice!

I’ve heard of people marrying the same person twice but that usually entails a divorce in the middle.  I’ve done it with no divorce in the middle.   Some may argue that it’s just one marriage accomplished in two different stages, by my explanation is more fun.
On the 23d of November we were married in Maliwan’s village in Nan Rong.   Then we got busy with life.  There were new volunteer opportunities and writing projects for me and a new job and at the same time going back to college for Maliwan.   We’ve been busy!   I just realized that though I posted pictures on face book, I never wrote a blog article.   Let’s back up a bit.

Some time ago we decided to marry.   We picked a time frame some 14 months in the future.  We discussed this with her family and in typical Thai fashion left the choice of an exact date up to her mother, who of course consulted monks and fortune tellers to find the most auspicious date.  23 November 2012 was chosen.

Photo is not good, the food and fellowship was! 

Maliwan and friends
I made it perfectly clear that I was not going to be a part of any drunken fiasco very common at Thai weddings, especially village weddings.  She needed to have some sort of a party or perhaps lose face.  I refused to pay for any alcohol.  The compromise was simple.  I increased the dowry and she paid for the party.  Trust me when I tell you she spent less that 10% of what they were expecting me to pay.   Everyone came away a winner except maybe a couple of neighbors who had planned on a free binge.  You've seen it before.  20 people show up for the ceremony and 100 find their way to the reception.


Wedding Day, Maliwan's Father in foreground

The ceremony was simple, the people genuinely happy for Maliwan and me.   The next day we headed back to the North and resumed our busy lives.  Time has flown since.

Finally today, the 10th of July we managed to finish.  It wasn’t difficult at all, just tedious.   First she had to secure a copy of her divorce certificate and her family registry.  In the meantime I needed to get a notarized document from the American consulate which attested to my status and then get a legal translation of that paper.  Armed with these documents, my passport and her ID card we arrived at he office about 9:30 this morning.

Just because there is no ceremony is reason not to get ready!
There was no ceremony. That was done the 23d of November, but as far as I could tell was totally irrelevant to the proceedings today. The nice lady at the counter gave Maliwan a couple forms to fill out, all in Thai of course.  Four trips down stairs to make copies of things later we had accomplished two things.  First her family paper has been registered here in Chiang Mai and then our marriage was registered.  Maliwan commented that the people were much nicer than the ones she dealt with registering her first marriage. No, I couldn't resist the opportunity to make a comment about when it's right it's easier. 
Here we are with the certificate! 
They gave us a lovely folder with two copies of the marriage certificate.  Why two?  I asked.  Apparently this is just the way it’s done, one for her and one for me.  At first it made no sense. After thinking about it I’m guessing the reason is because of the fact that married people often live apart for economic reasons. Living in two different parts of the country having your own copy of various documents makes total sense. ( I remember my old driver friend from Bangkok, who I’m sure I met more than 40 years ago, telling me he will be happy when the Federal hotel closes at the end of the year.  He will go and live with his wife in Lampang  See the article “All things are impermanent” below). 


Monday, June 17, 2013

All Things are Impermanent!

My recent trip to Bangkok provided me with proof of this fact and once again reminded me of the Buddhist teaching that suffering is caused by trying to hold on to anything. After all, nothing really belongs to me and all things living and not are simply passing by.  Frankly I enjoy Bangkok a little bit less every time I visit though I do enjoy a couple days in the big city from time to time.  The main purpose of this trip was to visit the  JUSMAG Thai  compound so I could see the tri-care people and to register a better mailing address. After that, a relaxing hour in the pool at my favorite hotel, The Federal, and a meal at a great Italian restaurant called Limon Cello was also on the list. 

Three years ago when I started staying at the Federal there was a condo being constructed a couple hundred meters down the soi.  Last year a second one was erected. Perhaps I should have seen it coming.  When  I arrived to check in at the hotel I was immediately informed that the property has been sold to some big company from India.  

The Coffee Shop Front at the Federal Hotel
They will close the end of the year, knock down the structure and build yet another condominium on Sukimvit Soi 11.  My first reaction was an internal voice which screamed “No, you can’t do this to me”!  Fortunately a second later I recovered, mustered a smile and inquired what will you do when the hotel closes.   I’ll miss the Federal but hey, it isn't the only reasonably priced hotel in Bangkok.
Sukimvit Soi 11 with the Federal Hotel and Condo's behind

One of the drivers at the Federal is a fellow my age that used to work for various U.S. Army clubs during the Vietnam era.  Talking, we realized that he was at the NCO club in Lopburi at the same time I was stationed there.  Though neither of us are positive, we both suspect that we knew each other circa 1968 - 1969. Today we enjoy swapping stories about those times.   He actually remembers the amoebic dysentery outbreak though he wasn't one who was affected.  Let’s just say Charlie didn’t eat the lettuce and I did.
Old Guys, friends for a long time! 
Charlie took me to JUSMAG Thai and on the way he confided that when the hotel closes he will move to Lampang and spend his days help his wife with her small food stall, enjoy his time with family and not really miss much about Bangkok. Lampang is not far from Chiang Mai; we’ll see each other again.

The first thing I learned at JUSMAG was that my ID card, clearly marked ‘INDEFINATE’ actually expired (for the purposes of health care) on my 65th birthday; so much for permanency. No problem I now have a new ID card, clearly marked 'INDEFINITE' on both sides.  After receiving my new and improved ID card, I was able to register my new mailing address.   This will perhaps ease insurance matters. We will see. 

Dinner at Lemon Cello was delightful, as always.  The changing times along Sukimvit seem to be good for their business.  I notice that almost all of their clientele are Thai though the food remains authentic Italian and the service is still excellent.  The sign says Pizzeria but they have a fairly extensive menu; I'm particularly fond of the mozzarella and tomato salad and of course the cannelloni.  
Just down a little lane off of Soi 11

Rungnapa at the Limon Cello
Three years I’ve been going to this place and now I’m wondering if there can be a fourth or fifth.  All I know is that all things are impermanent! 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Totally Different Culture

Where to begin?  One of my mentors told me that if I didn't know where to begin then I should just start, so here we go.  The cultural differences between Thailand and other nations, especially those in the West are vast indeed.  One American friend who has lived and worked in Asia for most of his adult life commented that Thai culture is less similar to ours than other Asian cultures.  No wonder I didn't know where to begin.

Somewhere near my 3rd anniversary in Thailand I received an email from my son in which he used the phrase “A Totally Different Culture”.  It stuck.  Several mornings each month I walk down to Suan Buaak Haad park to meet with friends.  Recently I've started being more mindful of my surroundings and taking notice of things that we might not see elsewhere.  Tourists come here and snap thousands of pictures; we all know I still do the same thing.  But what are we actually seeing?  How deep are we looking?   Do we see what is important?  Important is, of course, a relative judgment made by each individual.  Perhaps this will become a series important to some and not to others. If that be the case, how best to organize the content and how deep to go will be the questions of the hour. For our purposes I will borrow a definition of culture from and modify it for focus. The behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the Thai culture.  

No discussion of Thailand would be possible without mentioning Buddhism.  When I  try and make sense out of what’s available to read and observe what is actually practiced, the subject of Buddhism becomes over whelming.  For today, let’s just say that there are five precepts which constitute the minimum moral obligation of a practicing lay Buddhist. They are:
  1. abstaining from the destruction of life.
  2. abstaining from taking that which is not given.
  3. abstaining from sexual misconduct.
  4. abstaining from falsehood.
  5. abstaining from intoxicants that cloud the mind and cause carelessness.
There are good Buddhists and not so good Buddhists, just as there are good Christians and not so good Christians.
Wat Phathathariphunchai, Lamphun
Another cultural aspect is the constitutional monarchy and its effect on the belief system of the Thai people. In Thailand the watch word is respect. To say that the Thai people respect His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) would be a serious understatement. They revere him!  His reign began on 9 June 1946, making him the and the world’s longest serving head of state and longest reigning monarch.  Queen Elizabeth’s coronation was on 2 June 1953.

What about economic conditions in Thailand?  How do they affect the daily life of the people here?  We, the foreigner, see the surface but rarely do we see anything deeper.  I for one know that the tourist dollar has an impact on the people in my community.  Much discussion can be heard about the quality of the high season and differences in revenues during the low season. Three years ago much was written about the adverse effect of the political demonstrations on the tourism industry.  Two years ago it was the floods that seemed to divert the tourists and their money.   One personal observation:  Three years ago most of the tourists in Chiang Mai were English speaking white people.  Today they are Chinese.

Stalls at the Chiang Mai Night Market, hours before opening
As we go forward a few of the things we might want to address are:  The idea of saving or losing face, Thai style communication, the importance of family, Thai circles of friends and associates, ethnic minorities, regional differences, the Thai education system and much more.

Abundant Blessings,


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Lila Thai Massage - A good business

Gentle Reader,

As the title implies, I like Lila Thai Massage. I became interested when I read about them some time ago.  Let me begin  with a quote from their newly updated website:

     “ The Lila Thai Massage was established by Naowarat Thanasrisutharat, former Director of Chiang Mai Woman’ Prison (2011-2008), to help support the lives of newly released inmates in society. She has dedicated the greater part of her 40 year career understanding and bridging the gap  between a non accepting public, and the problems released inmates encounter adapting to a new community. Prior to their release, these carefully screened inmates go through an extensive training program which allows them to make a living and contribute to society.
       “Unfortunately these detainees often encounter discrimination from employers who refuse to hire these skilled therapists. Sadly, due to lack of employment opportunities some return to a cycle of crime, and find themselves back in prison. The Lila Thai Massage was established to help eliminate this pattern of crime and lack of apportunity.
       “The Chiang Mai Women’s Prison ang the Institute of Skill Development have designed a 180 hour massage training course for these inmates, which are endorsed and meet the requirements of the  Chiang Mai Public Health Department. Thus, we guarantee you will receive a fully trained professional massage therapist. It is our cherished hope that you will see these former inmates in a positive light, and your kind patronage will allow them to proudly start a new life and support themselves and their families.”

 Khun Naowarat Thanasrisutharat
This idea of building a business while helping recently released inmates intrigued me so I started to do a little research and eventually had an opportunity to meet Khun Naowarat Thanasrisutharat. I learned that in 2007 three women came to her stating that with all their training they could not get a job because they had been in prison.  She decided then to open Lila Thai Massage.  From that humble beginning the company has grown to five locations employing more than 90 massage therapists.  As of 14 November 2012 there were 15 working at location #1, 25 at location #2, 10 at location #3, 21 at location #4 and 20 at location #5.
Khun Naowarat Thanasrisutharat & a few staff at Location #4
When I spoke to Khun Naowarat I learned that, today, not all of her employees come from the prison.  Approximately 15% are friends and relatives of the former inmates who heard good things about the working conditions and asked to join the company.   I also learned that each new employee is mentored by the more senior employees to insure a consistent massage technique is used.  The system works.

Lila Thai Massage is a family business.  Khun Naowarat’s son-in-law Khun Piyapong Chutipangvivale handles most of the media requests and oversees locations #1,#2,#3 and #4.  #4 is also their main office. Her niece looks over location #5.

Speaking with Khun Piyapong about the drug factor and learned that 85% to 90% of the women in the prison are there on drug related charges; no surprise.  I was reminded that, unlike the United States and many other countries, simple possession demands a prison sentence in Thailand. When I asked about the recidivism factor I was told that the women at Lila Thai do much better than the average.  I haven’t verified it, but I’m told that on average about 50% of the women in the women’s prison are repeat offenders.  

In the last year three women were asked to leave because of drug activity. Two failed a random drug test and one was known to be associating with drug dealers from her past. They cannot refer their employees to a drug treatment center because the centers would be required to report them to the police. They would automatically be back in court and back to prison. Rather, they asked these two women to leave inviting them to solve their own drug problem with the understanding that they could be re-hired if clean.

Lila Thai’s massage therapists seem to range in age from their mid 20’s to their 50’s which could be related to the length of sentence served before coming to work. These women are well aware that their past is a huge part of Lila Thai’s marketing.  If asked polite questions their answers will be frank. For something like three years I’ve been receiving massage at their shops.  I often ask how long they have worked there, where were they before and then how long they were in prison and why.  To their credit, and I suspect to the credit of Khun Naowarat, they never try to hide the truth about their past.  I even interviewed two of the therapists for this article (see below). Of the several women I’ve spoken to over the past three years all were in prison for drug related offenses and all came to work at Lila Thai upon release. Their time in prison ranged from less than two years up. The first lady I asked these questions to responded with “8 year, 9 month – I never forget”.  A month ago I thought I was going to have an opportunity to interview a woman who had spent 25 years in prison, but when I pressed Khun Piyapong for a specific time it became obvious that he wasn't going to arrange it, perhaps she wasn't comfortable. I’ll never know for sure. This is Thailand and the culture features a lot of indirection.

When I asked Khun Piyapong about employee retention he told me that most of the older women tend to stay with the company while some of the younger ones go on to other opportunities.  That made sense to me.
From what I can tell, Lila Thai Massage is based on an excellent business model and does in fact provide a good value. A couple of years ago the tourist population was predominantly “farang”(white English speaking people).  Today there are a much higher percentage of Chinese tourists.  The Lila Thai Massage website was recently revamped and is now available in both English and Chinese, telling me they are keeping up with the times and business climate of Northern Thailand .

As you can see on their website, their prices are competitive.  I’ve done a bit of snooping and I can tell you that this company does pretty well while others are closing their doors.  I like to think it’s a combination of good karma and a good business plan.  Massage therapists are paid by the job.  The compensation at Lila Thai is certainly as good as other massage shops and better than many.  Yes I know the exact numbers and no I’m not going to publish them.

I interviewed Khun Pae and Khun Koi about a week ago.  Although I interviewed them separately I’ll present their comments as though they were together.  The interviews mostly featured the same questions.
Khun Pae and Khun Koi
JN:  Thank you agreeing to do this interview.  Please tell me your name and can you spell it for me?
P:  Pae, เป้
K:  Koi, ก็อย

JN: How long have you been working here?  
P: 8 months
K: About 3 years

JN: Where were you before you came here?  
P&K: prison

JN: Why were you in prison?
P: I used drugs.
K: Drugs. Methamphetamine, using and selling.

JN:How long were you in prison?
P: 1 year, 11 months and 15 days.  Very bad, I will always remember.
K: 2 years 8 months

JN: How many people go back to prison after being released?  What percentage?
P: Not sure, maybe many.
K: More than 50% go back, I think

JN:Do you think you will ever go back to prison?
P: No.
K: No!  Prison is "Mai Dee Mack" (very bad)

JN:Did you learn massage there?
P&K: Yes.

JN: Did you have a choice in training at prison?
P: Yes, many learning programs

JN: Why massage?  
P: My mother thought I should learn massage.

JN: Do you like massage?
P: At first I didn't but now I do like it.
K: Yes, maybe I stay a long time

JN: You know the prison moved, right?   Do they still have the massage program?
P: Not sure.
K: Don’t know.

JN: Do you like this job and this company?
P&K: Yes,

JN: Do you think you will stay here a long time?
P: Yes I want to stay a long time.
K: Yes, maybe 10 years or more.

JN: Is that because of Griang Jai or do you really love it here?
P: No, I like it here.  (She was a bit startled and confused when I mentioned the Thai way of Griang Jai)
K: No I really Iike it, I love it, real life. (She grinned at the question as if to say, oh, you aren’t totally stupid – it was an interesting moment).

JN: What do you think you would have done if the massage training wasn't offered?
P: Not sure, I'm glad I have massage.
K: I would sell things in my family shop.  My family has a furniture factory in Banklong, Handong.

JN: Does Lily Thai ask you to take drug test?
P: (Pae didn’t understand the question and went on to explain that all the new employees are tutored by one that have been here a while.  She mentioned Koi as an example.  The idea is that every customer should receive the same quality massage with generally the same technique).  
K: (Koi didn’t understand the question either.  Test means proficiency test to them).

JN: May I ask some personal questions?
P&K:  OK

JN:  Where are you from?  
P: Mae Rim.
K: Banklong, Hangdong

JN: May I ask your age now?
P:  30 years old
K:  I born 1976

JN:  What about your family?    Married?   Children?  Parents?
P:  Mother is in Japan with her Japanese husband.  They were married 28 years ago.  No siblings.
K:  I went to prison about 6 years ago in February 2007.  My baby was born there on November 2nd, 2007.  My marriage ended at that time too.

JN: Your baby was born in prison?   What happened to her?
K:  I kept her for about a month and then my mother kept her.  

JN: How much formal schooling have you had.  Your English is quite good.
P:  I went to many schools, maybe 8 of them after high school.  (She giggled and admitted that she was a 'bad girl', meaning she wasn't too serious.   Her warmth and openness was very refreshing).

JN: Where do you live now?  
P: Chiang Mai.  We (mother and I) own a house.
K: I live with my parents and my baby.

JN: What is your life dream?   (The answers reminded me that these women are Thai and Buddhist).
P:  Take care of my mother, she took good care of me in the past.   It's hard now because she can't come to Thailand and I can't go to Japan.
K:  Take care of my daughter, want her to have good job and good life

JN:  Last question, what would you tell young people about using drugs?
P:  Not tell them.  Parents should tell them  They must learn for their selves.
K:  Drugs not good.  Don’t do, don’t buy, don’t sell.

Many thanks to those who made this article possible.