I’m embarrassed to say that we are a kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants kind of magazine when it comes to content, rarely planning more than a month in advance. I would like to say that this is part of our strategy to provide you with only the most up to date and topical of contents, but that would be nonsense.
So it came as a surprise to me today as I sit and write this editorial hours before deadline (as usual) that I’ve just noticed that our three main feature articles this month are all about various branches of the government, a topic we have been trying to avoid for months since the era of government criticism has become, well, risky business.
Sitting here a month or so ago grumbling about the lack of freedom of press and pointing fingers of blame where we felt it was due, our 15 year old intern piped up that her father was a colonel in the army and that he spent his life helping people. Feeling slightly ashamed of our rather indelicate editorial chatter we learned that he led a rural development unit and decided to find out more. Aydan Stuart spent a day with him in his mountain headquarters and you can read all about the very progressive and hardworking unit which quietly toils away helping to build roads, schools, dams, hospitals and generally aiding those most in need. It was most enlightening and frankly very heartening to see another side of the army, far from the madding politics.
At the same time we had been receiving emails, phone calls — in fact we even had two irate gentlemen walk into our office demanding action — about the persistent problems at Chiang Mai Immigration. Unlike the average Thai person, who have no knowledge of the workings of, nor problems within, the Immigration Department — why should they? — I employ foreign workers and also have many foreign friends. I know of the frustrations encountered by so many foreigners living here and while I empathise and often share their frustrations, I’m also very aware that this is a delicate issue to tackle, requiring some degree of sensitivity (that pesky risky business again).
The Immigration Department, part of the Royal Thai Police, have rules and regulations by which they must abide, many of which are not only out of touch with the modern world but with the more progressive policies of our government. I have attempted this month to air some of your grievances and point out avenues of improvement within the system, and sat down to a very friendly, open and dare I say hopeful, interview with the head of the 5th region Immigration Division, however, there are no quick solutions as most of the personnel and financial limitations of the Chiang Mai office, as well as the archaic policies, are dictated from Bangkok.
Following our admittedly weak tackling of that intractable problem, I headed to another department for an interview. My old school, Regina Coeli, had told me of an alumna who was leading the Northern Food Valley project and suggested I interviewed her. Ambivalent about the subject (but decades after graduation still in awe of the nuns), I soon found myself scribbling into my notebook with mounting excitement as she laid out the workings of one of the most exciting government initiatives I have encountered in some time. With the aim to promote Thai agro-food products to the world, Northern Food Valley has become an incubator of innovation; a fast working, effective, cross-sector government funded organisation which is leap-frogging bureaucracy hurdles and bearing rapid and tangible results. Khao soy ice cream anyone?
It has been fascinating comparing these three government branches. To me they represent Thailand in a coconut shell. One foot rearing to race towards the future and one being dragged behind. We live in frustrating and exciting times.
Citylife this month:
Our recent intern Edie Wilson, a Fulbright Scholar who worked with us over the summer, returned to her teaching job in Si Satchanalai and writes what reads almost like a love letter to this small, and generally ignored historic town. Aydan takes a day off work to splash and frolic at the Grand Canyon’s new Water Park, which will likely solicit some heated emails next month and our cheeky columnist Tom Clegg spends a day at the races the only place in town where you can legally gamble.