6th Junior IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

 |  February 25, 2010

Citylife is pleased and proud to have been hosting the northern region’s Junior IMPACT Dublin Literary Awards for the sixth year. Over the years, standards of submission have been consistently high, with essays of great linguistic skills, wonderful creativity and originality. This year’s panel of judges were Sansanee Wannangkoon, Director of the Language Institute, Chiang Mai University,Tim Johnson from McClatchy Newspaper’s Beijing office and the editor of this magazine. The judges read and reviewed all essays submitted, many of which were from international schools, Chiang Mai’s Thai schools as well as many schools from other northern provinces.

Our annual awards ceremony was held on the 12th of February and was attended by many students, parents and teachers. Congratulations to the winner and runners up as well as the three students whom the judges selected to receive an extra judges choice award.

Winners and Prizes:

1st Prize: Dharit Tantiviramanond from Chiang Mai International School

10,000 baht cash, return air ticket plus accommodation for three person to attend the national awards announcement in Bangkok and certification.

Merit Awards: Daniel Henley from Lanna International School and Kanokporn Kaweeratanaphon from Nakornpayap International School
5,000 baht in cash and certification.

Judges’ choice prizes who received 1,000 baht each along with a certificate: Panutchanard Nipuna from Mae Chaem School, Nattakarn Limphaibool from Chiang Mai International School and So Nagai from Lanna International School.

Life is unfair. Sometimes people feel slighted, like when someone they know wins the lottery, but still they’re lucky compared to a poor beggar on the street. Either way there’s a difference in fortunes, and I can’t help but think sometimes that we humans have brought this upon ourselves, that society begets this imbalance. I personally experienced a manifestation of this notion with an old friend of mine named Suthat. We were close friends, but our futures would turn out to be very different due to the opportunities I had that he didn’t.

I lived in Chiang Dao, a small town 72 kilometres north of Chiang Mai, from when I was seven to when I was thirteen. It was a perfect place to grow up; my youth was free from all the stress and monotony of city life and I was privileged with a unique childhood as a half-western person in a rural Thai area. Throughout my life, Chiang Dao will always hold a special place in my heart and I doubt I’ll ever find another place that offers the same experiences that nurtured me there.

My family and I moved to Chiang Dao from Laos around 1998, and we built our own house in the outskirts of the town in 2000 where we lived until 2005. Surrounding our small property were many larger estates that were kept up by Thai-Yai (Burmese immigrant) people, hired by rich owners who didn’t live on the land but used it to make money through agriculture or kept houses there as holiday getaways. For example, neighbouring us was a large property owned by a prominent politician who only came and stayed there for two weeks during Christmas each year, but had to hire three families to maintain the place the whole year around. Naturally, the children in these families quickly became friends with my sisters and myself.

Suthat was one of these friends. He was a year younger than me and had a younger sister who got along really well with my sisters. He was part of the group of friends I found myself in when I lived in Chiang Dao, and I spent all my free time with this gang. Instead of going to shopping malls like city kids _ the closest thing Chiang Dao had to one of those was a 7-11 – we spent all our time playing cards, making wooden swords, fishing, and running around playing various ball games. A typical weekend morning would find me running through a teak forest that separated Suthat’s house from mine to watch the eight o’clock cartoons on Channel 9. Our favorite pastime was a trading card game I had bought in the US, and we would all get together and play it for hours on end. Over the summer breaks we would make movies with a digital camera and cheap props, and he was the only person I trusted to handle the camera effectively and safely. We always helped each other out; I would lend him my bike sometimes when he needed to go home quickly, and he would teach me how to fish properly when I had trouble getting a catch.

He was the closest friend I’d ever had. We treated each other equally; the obvious differences in ethnicity or economic situation never created any awkwardness in our relationship. Despite how close we were, reminiscing about him now I realise how far apart we were in terms of opportunity and how different our futures would be. His mother was never home, since she was a labourer for one of the large estates. He always had to go home at certain times to help cook a meal or to do some housework. In 9th grade he had to drop out of school to work. His father, a known drinker and gambler, had left the family, and his mother couldn’t generate enough income to support the children on her own. He didn’t have a choice, while because of my economic status I could choose to move to the city and enroll in an international school, and I did.

As far as I know, he’s still working for minimum wages as a labourer like most Thai-Yai people are forced to do, and has declined a financial aid offer from an education fund so he can continue to live as he is instead of going back to school. It’s a pity, because he was a smart kid. He caught on quickest with the English trading card game and its complicated rules, and even though he didn’t get good grades he often helped other friends who were having trouble with their homework. Sadly, the decision he made was also about practicality. Thai-Yai people have always been discriminated against, and from his point of view an education would have gotten him nowhere. The risk and time put into further education wouldn’t have been worth the money he could make for his family in the three years it would have taken to graduate.

It’s tragic how different our futures will be despite how much I identified with him. In my youth I never really comprehended that he would end up like he is now, even though all the other Thai-Yai people around me were in the same situation. I still have a picture of him in a group photo hanging on my refrigerator. He’s smiling and we’re all obviously having the time of our lives. I haven’t seen him for a while now, and he’s obviously changed since then. Sometimes I think that the spark of talent and wit that he had is gone, buried under calluses that formed from the years of hard work and bitterness. We live different lives now, and we were even different back in Chiang Dao. We were so close, but the vast invisible barrier caused by the unfairness of life and the limitations of society separated us far from each other.

We all have experienced this barrier in some way, and in my case it has caused me much grief. I watched my friend fall into a harsh but not unexpected situation, the causes of which he had no control over. And yet, if for some reason our society had evolved in a different way perhaps this wouldn’t have happened. Our society is flawed, and the first step towards finding a solution is by recognising the problem. Hopefully Suthat’s story will help in this way, and some day all children will have more choices and opportunities than he did.