I have been hard on some people recently: and on one in particular. But let’s put aside my accusations, scorn and incredulous distrust of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for one month and focus on some of the good around us.
And one doesn’t have to go far to meet incredibly inspiring people in Chiang Mai. Kindly philanthropist b/millionaires – Thai and foreign – give vast sums of money or tracts of land towards various causes. Love them or hate them, and in spite of never having converted a good harvest of souls, the tens upon tens of thousands of missionaries in the north of Thailand, from every denomination, have relentlessly worked for over a century to bring education, training, medicine and, bless them, love, to countless hill people neglected by we indifferent Thais. Shame on us. Anthropologists, historians, linguists and archeologists from around the world have joined their Thai counterparts in discovery: recording and publicising their findings of our cultural and national treasures and acting as safeguards of our heritage. Researchers, developers and academics, as common as the songtaew, work in fields as diverse and varied as pollution control and wildlife research. Artists, musicians and writers bring joy and meaning to our lives. Activists – women’s groups, political watchdogs, anti-human trafficking organisations, conservationists, child protection agencies — fight for what they believe in. Go to a party in Chiang Mai and you will meet world experts in tear sucking moths, northern Thai ceramics, Lanna script, Asian textiles, Buddhist studies, alternative medicine and all sorts of fascinating and often obscure topics.
Who cares for the street children? Who vaccinates mangy soi dogs? Who trucks up boxes of winter clothes to the Akha? Who brought back Lanna dance from near extinction to become our cultural ambassador to the world? Who got himself shot when, after repeated warnings, he kept writing about a corrupt local politician’s shenanigans? Who spends every Sunday at the local orphanage? Who photographs and paints rare and fading scenes of Lanna life? Who organises charity events raising funds for the needy? Who teaches English for free to orphans? Who organises cultural and informative talks so that knowledge can be shared with others? Who lives with no electricity and running water in the malaria infested borders helping refugees?
I think that Chiang Mai is a city blessed with residents who are very passionate. Every week an artist, photographer or sculptor walks into our office wishing to organise a fundraising event, a charity emails us to solicit support for yet another needy cause, or a new expat in town calls to ask where they can volunteer their free time to help others.
Charity starts at home and our home is a charitable one. So in this month of love I salute all of you who bring your love and passion to Chiang Mai and share it with those who need it.
This city’s got soul.
Citylife this month:
Talk about good deeds, as you can see from our front cover and main feature, there are now foreign tourist police volunteers patrolling our streets helping out tourists in their spare time, I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this programme. Driving around town in late December I suddenly realised that the entire city was festooned in flowers. So I hunted down the chief gardener of Chiang Mai and frankly was very impressed by his dedication in beautifying our city so that — in his words — people may smile on their way to work.
Other articles this month include a glimpse of spiritual McLeod Ganj in India’s Himachal Pradesh by Cassie Childers, a hilarious romp with Mike Atkins as he takes his first ride in a Chiang Mai bus, Jacquelyn Suter’s afternoon of rock and roll in Rangoon, Oliver Benjamin’s authoritative take (or so he tells me) on guitars and the resurrection of two of our most popular columns, Consular Tales by John Shaw and Mike Atkin’s Henry Beauchamp Remembers, both chosen to be featured in our Citylife’s Greatest Hits series to celebrate the 15l11 anniversary of our publication throughout 2006.
Enjoy the rest of the cool winds, have a lovely February and see you in sweltering March.