Quick Glance through Past Issues

 |  June 26, 2009

Citylife, now well into its eighteenth year, has, in a remarkable way, grown as Chiang Mai has grown. The first edition of what was then-not-so-succinctly called ‘The Free Chiang Mai Newsletter and Advertiser’ appeared in March 1992, with a horrible picture of Chamadevi on the front page. (The reason we celebrate our anniversary in July is because it was July 2002 when we changed the publication’s name to the sexier, Citylife.)

The aim of the Newsletter, the editors wrote, is to provide the medium through which Chiang Mai can communicate with itself. Once upon a time…is how we began, though this is not folktale but real life, the beginning of what could be a long-term contribution to, and communication with, the multicultural life of this city.

We think that the aims of the original editors have been upheld and expanded. Today Citylife is read not only by the original readership targets _ farang residents and their visitors – but also by a large group of English speaking Thai readers and a smattering of tourists. Our readers are basically residents who read English and are interested in this lovely city of ours, what and who make it tick, and what is going on. It is our advertisers who, by their loyal support, have made it all possible. But above all it is you, our readers, who have written letters to us touching on all aspects of Chiang Mai and who, when we have met in a restaurant or shop, have kept us on our toes with your comments and suggestions – not always sugar coated, but always appreciated!

Let’s check out some of our highlights and developments throughout the years…


It was this month in 1992 that we wrote of the recent passing of Ajarn Kraisri Nimmanahaeminda, ‘Custodian of the old Chiang Mai, midwife to the new’. His family name was actually Nim Han Min, but was changed into Nimmanahaeminda, of the iconic road today (currently spelt Nimmanhaemin). His family owned Warorot Market, but after a post graduate degree from Harvard University, he took an academic career path which included leading the Siam Society expedition to discover the Mrabri ‘Spirits of the Yellow Leaves’ tribe, penning numerous cultural studies and academic books about the north of Thailand, played a role in establishing Chiang Mai University, invented kantoke dinners (inspired by a luau during a trip to Hawaii), revitalised laquerware and numerous northern crafts, developed the Rincome Hotel (Amari) and succeeding in almost single-handedly revitalising much of Lanna culture.


A maelstrom of letters were the highlight of the year, kick started by ‘Annette’ who wondered where Chiang Mai had gone as it appeared “to have been franchised out to a number of American corporations.” Calling for a boycott of Burger King, Mr. Donut, and their ilk, letters in support or outrage took up pages in the publication for many months. Seventeen year old ‘Absolut Pepper’, a nom de plume of the current editor of Citylife, was also subject of controversy following an article about her experience in a meditation centre. One reader wrote in that she would never make a living from writing.


Much of the magazine content in the earlier years was supplied by readers, either in form of letters or brief opinion pieces. In October of the year, the bold headline on the front page was: FRUSTRATION! It was followed by four letters, all from Thais, two of them Chiang Mai University students, complaining of the lost way of life, of the dangers of bad and unsignposted road construction works, of the terrible garbage problem and of the many ugly condominiums – ‘so should we have condo-contraception?’


The first of many articles and letters on the spelling of Chiang Mai (one of Citylife’s unflagging pet peeves) by Major Roy Hudson. “Chiengmai…or is it Chaingmai, or Xiengmai, or should it be Chiang Mai? The answer is the Royal Institute which has its offices near the Grand Palace…It is important for the sake of uniformity that there should be official Romanisation of geographical names…It publishes a booklet showing how to spell every district, town and province in the country. The answer is: Chiang Mai (two words, which, by the way, means ‘New Town’.”


Happy Birthday Chiang Mai! Their Royal Highnesses the King and Queen attended a ceremony at the Three Kings Monument on the 12th April to commemorate the founding of Chiang Mai by King Mengrai 700 years ago.


A massive debate, between Chiang Mai’s city planners and developers and environmentalists and those wishing to preserve the city’s cultural identity, was the biggest issue throughout the year (and indeed for a few years to come) concerning the merits of underpasses versus overpasses. Thankfully, we got underpasses instead. Though it cost more, most residents agree that the cost was worth the avoidance of eyesores.


Current Editor, Pim Kemasingki first became editor of the magazine and perhaps rather, ahem, aptly, started the first pub and restaurant review column…

The Pub Crawl. It was also the first time the Nimmanhaemin Road, and all the businesses along it, was featured as an important city landmark it has become today.


The year of the internet, the magazine featured a flurry of articles, regular columns and letters about the coming of the internet age: tips on how to use it, grumbles from old timers about it and all sorts of speculations as to its future impact. In September we also launched the official website for the province of Chiang Mai, www.chiangmai.go.th. Though we were the designers and programmers for the initial site, today, while the site is still up and running, Citylife is not involved with its design or upkeep.


The first editorials appeared in the magazine, “What dreams may come? We have everything here in Chiang Mai. We have the potential; we just need the right politicians, quality education and determination. With such mixture of charm, heritage and development, Chiang Mai has nearly reached its potential, we have built up a city where there were ruins and villages a few hundred years ago. Now it is time to plan the next step.” Over the year, we covered topics ranging from tasteless signage and billboards, quality of education, political shenanigans, noise pollution, the rebirth of the economy post 1997 crisis, crime and lack of consequence and abuses of power.


The first mention of the double standards imposed by the Forestry Department in charging foreigners 200 baht entrance fees into national parks (versus the Thai fee of 20 baht). This, too, is an ongoing issue.


The Chiang Mai Newsletter changed its name to Citylife in July, then spent the rest of the year featuring a number of articles scrunitising the Thaksin Shinawatra administration’s Mega Projects – Night Safari, the Railway Park, the 1.2 billion exhibition centre, etc. We also reported that 68% percent of Chiang Mai people surveyed were happy with the government, then shuddered at the announcement that Panthongtae Shinawatra announced that by 2004 he would run for local politics in Chiang Mai.


By this time, Citylife was 12 years old and underwent a growth spurt. Our pages expanded, as did circulation. This was mainly supported by the astonishing number of new businesses which opened up…many of which were spas, décor and design shops, restaurants, boutique hotels and pubs. Our content reflected this and we featured many exciting new businesses such as hot air balloons, fusion cuisine restaurants, international schools and gay bars – all of which reflected the diversifying and growing dynamics of the city.


Citylife was the first publication to break the pollution story in the article, ‘Solution to Pollution’ which began an ongoing dialogue about the dangers of pollution levels in our city. The deputy governor of Chiang Mai, Prinya Parnthong was quoted: “You have sent a chill down my spine. Everyone talks about Chiang Mai being a hub for this and a hub for that, but it looks as if we can’t even sort out the problem of our most common denominator – air.”


“So my question is whether we are going to allow the tsunami of Thai Rak Thai to wipe out democracy as we know it before we start taking action?” kick-started the year which tackled subjects such as, “prostitution, paedophilia, poverty, pollution – and here is a nice break from alliterations – the big C, corruption”. There was also much fascination with the promised five star future of Chiang Mai which was slated to be the hub of all hubs. We also launched our publication and website, www.city-now.com.


As a reflection of the discontent of the times, Citylife got very political in 2006, here are some snippets: “Is it collective guilt and complicity that have rendered so many blind by this kleptocracy?…Though the arriviste was democratically elected, his government is not democratic. Money begot power and power continues to beget money…Democratically elected…and reelected, this government has been powered by the people. Powered and empowered not only by their votes and confidence, but also by their collective hope and faith.” – January. “It would do Thaksin Shinawatra well to remember that there is a recently evacuated cell available at The Hague.” – May. We also wrote an expose on the environmental degradation, over population and pollution on the Suthep-Pui mountain range.


In July, the editor wrote, “Like many of you, I dare speculate, it took me a while to awake from my slumber. It was easier to focus on seemingly more immediate, or at least more tangible, environmental issues than to look and fully absorb the magnitude of the global crisis. After all – and I am sure many of you have probably also wondered – what can I do? How can one person in over half a dozen billion, actually affect change?” Citylife pledged that month to take its two companies – Trisila and Asia News Watch – carbon neutral by January 2008. We kept our promise.


Citylife underwent a massive design and content change towards the end of the year in preparation for the anticipated maturity of our 18th anniversary. Though we are still evolving, the entire look and tone of the magazine shifted to reflect the levels demanded by Chiang Mai’s more sophisticated residents and businesses.


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