City of Angels, Land of Smiles

The above title is my new address, where is it… yes, it’s the capital city Bangkok in Thailand. And, yes I have had that horrible writer’s or blogger’s block, probably experienced by many. Where all over the Christmas period I haven’t written anything. I am still rather blog shy, and wonder why anyone would want to read what I have written… anyway I will continue to write as things have got a lot more interesting in my life for sure =) Big smile!

I moved to Bangkok on the 31st of December, just gone. I wanted to move before new year, as last new year in England I promised myself I didn’t want to be in England the same time next year, (-Wet weather and dark afternoons in December post Christmas/January time may ring a bell to anyone who has lived in England) anyway I wasn’t in the UK… where was I? On top of one of Bangkok’s highest buildings and most luxury hotels The Lebua State Tower, sipping champagne all night, with an old friend who generously invited me to celebrate with her and her brother and his new wife, who were on holiday from England.

So, that was the start of my new life in Bangkok. Off to a really great start- which actuallystarted when I got off the plane, because I was traveling with a Thai friend and her children who’s family had actually arranged one of those special golf buggies to drive us through the airport past all queues to baggage claim! Real VIP haha!

 

 

 

 

I have been here 2 weeks now, and although the honeymoon period-thinking OMG I love this place, want to live here for ever- has worn off- slightly-, as now it’s time to start what I originally came here for –research for an MA-, I am still extremely happy here, in the rightly named; City of Angels, Land of Smiles.

I would recommend anyone to visit or live in this city. It is an international city, with people living and doing business here from all over the world. It has 24 hour service, you want something… you can get it whatever time and pretty much whenever/ however you like. It is very convenient for general living or pleasure seeking, with great nightlife and hospitality. I have made some good friends here, fast. There is potential and passion for whatever you maybe interested in. I have met people who have been very helpful and have introduced me to others, who are eager to show me their Bangkok. There is a feeling of energy here, I find lacking in the West, where development has reached a plateau and there is a lethargic lull. Here, without the restraints of as many laws as in the UK and other Western hang-ups and social problems, there is a real innovative and creative spirit in Bangkok, something I have noticed often in Asian people. Don’t get me wrong I am not criticizing the West, England is my home and I wouldn’t of wanted to be born anywhere else. I see the good points and bad points in countries all over the world. But from all the cities I have visited and lived in, including Sydney, London, Buenos Aries and Leeds etc, this harmonious place of tradition, modernity and beauty shines infinitely over the others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It turned out that the first condo I looked at was the best for over all comfort and cost, it’s a brand new building but humbly priced compared to others. Even the derelict, half-built skyscraper I over look has turned into a piece of ‘modern art’ in my eyes, as it is part of the city, one of contrasts. My street has pretty much every I need, and there is an abundance of shopping malls and markets with pretty much anything you can think of, just a short journey away.

Along with the luxuries and satisfaction of all mod-cons and modernity, Bangkok is still in Thailand- believe it or not! And, has all the Thai essentials to keep you happy and smiling inside- food, temples, sunshine and people just to name a few. I think I need to get over being constantly in awe at the size of development and facilities and the amount of wealth, prosperity and opulence available. Such as; universities, schools, businesses, factories, arts, culture and architecture. As beauty, efficiency, design and practicality are the norm here. People thinking of Asia or this place as a developing country, should think again. England seems left the dark ages compared to this vibrant expeditious city. Where the Pet Shop boys, ‘One night in Bangkok’… and the world’s your oyster.’ song still rings so true.

 

 

Like fire

An etching of Aung San Suu Kyi, by my father who met her in person in 1995.

Following on the theme of inspiration from my first post; I believe that it is so important to find inspiration or to allow yourself to be inspired. As without inspiration things would… well just linger or remain dormant. Inspiration is kind of like fire, once it touches something it can instantly ignite and consume it, and from that fire, can start another blaze. This is the way I would describe the beginning of the last project my mother and I worked on.

Distant cousins in Burma, Shan State

As a background: my Grandmother on my father’s side is half Burmese, she was born in Burma at the time of the British Raj, to parents who the father was an English telegraph officer and mother, a Burmese national. Anyway, to cut a long story short, my father and mother have both been interested and involved in Burma. And, unfortunately due to the current ‘political system’, or the ruling military junta more like, we have been involved as a family with various campaigns and actions supporting democratic movements in Burma and towards helping people who have been effected by the ruthless military dictatorship.

A recent photo of my Grandmother and me

Anita Roddick and my father standing in front of a Body Shop campaign which my father had created for two Burmese comedians, who were put in prison in Burma for telling a joke about the government. The images were made out of thumb prints members that the British public had used as a signature to show their support for the political prisoners.

Karen children and me working on a bead project, in a school for refugees on Thai/Burma border.

I went out to the Thai/Burma border in 2005 to work alongside my father, as an NGO working on an education and arts project with ethnic displaced people, most of these people were Karen refugees. I returned to the border town of Mae Sot in 2008, with my mother to donate money and medical supplies which my mother had collected from the UK. I also went Burma for a 2 week holiday to visit relatives. I met with my Grandmother’s last remaining brother Geoffrey and his extended family, also the family of my Grandmother’s other brother Charlie who had passed away only recently to my arrival.  Due to this personal connection with Burma, it is a country close to my heart, and something which I am deeply interested.

Back to the inspiration… In the summer, I attended a showing of a documentary film called ‘Crossing Midnight’. Set on the border of Thailand and Eastern Burma, Crossing Midnight tells the story of a remarkable community of refugees from Burma working against incredible odds to help their own. It was shown in London and afterwards there was a speaker from the Burma Campaign. Seeing this film brought tears to my eyes. Although, it has been edited to be more suitable for a wider audience, it had some really gory parts including footage of a man’s leg who had been the victim of a landmine placed by the Burmese army. You could see the bone sticking out of his leg where his foot had been blown off.

http://www.becausefoundation.org/films/midnight/index.php

www.burmacampaign.org.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The importance of this film was that it was not only informative about the situation in Burma, but also told a story with some personal insights into individual people’s lives and experiences. It reminded me that media is a powerful tool to spread awareness about the plight of these people. My friend Amy, who had invited me to watch the film and was working at the Burma campaign, had shown the film Burma VJ earlier in the year at university, this inspired me to show this film somewhere else, as a means to spread the message even further. I then suggested to another friend, Fiona, at university that we should put the film on for a group at university. Fiona organised this and it was held at the Thai forum, a regular group meeting with an academic forum for people interested in Thailand at the University of Leeds. Fiona had also previously organised a fund raising event in her local community where a guest speaker from Partners Relief and Development charity, who work assisting refugees from Myanmar (Burma) living in camps along the Thai-Burma border, had done a presentation and shown a film about the harsh conditions for ethnic people living in Burma.

http://partnersworld.org/usa/

Somewhere, amongst the conversation I had with my mother telling her about the about the film, the fire spread, and we decided to put on our own event. It was titled; a fund and awareness raising night. We advertised it all over Lancaster in community centers, the university and church groups. We approached local businesses, who were very generous in donating prizes for a raffle. And, we sorted out a great location at the Storey Institute in Lancaster. We had arranged for a guest speaker from Partners to speak, however due to the December snow, she was unable to attend. So, we changed the format of the night to show the film and that my mother and I would present some information about the film and the situation in Burma, after the film we would open a discussion amongst the audience and try to answer any questions that people may have. We decided that all the money raised from the event would be  donated directly to Dr Cynthias clinic in Thailand, that we visited in 2008. Dr Cynthia’s clinic was also a main focus of the documentary, ‘Crossing Midnight’.

The Mae Tao Clinic (MTC), founded and directed by Dr. Cynthia Maung, provides free health care for refugees, migrant workers, and other individuals who cross the border from Burma to Thailand.

Prosthetic workshop at Dr Cynthia's clinic, Mae Sot, Thailand.

http://maetaoclinic.org/

On the night, we were rather nervous at the thought of how many ‘bums on seats’ we would get, and of the prospect of standing up in front of an audience and explaining why and what we were doing.

In the end, the event was a real success. Lots of friends and family came to support us. We managed to raise over £300, and the phone calls and emails are still coming in with people wanting to donate money and do other things to help. From the beginning, we wanted to emphasise that the event was not all about the money, we wanted to spread the word about Burma and the plight of ethic groups who are forcibly removed from their land by the Burmese junta, as, like one of our audience said in the discussion after the film, these people are forgotten. We wanted people to know what is happening in Burma and what isn’t being done about it from the international community. Showing this film, although heart breaking and brutal at times, told the story how it is and really did get people thinking, about not only how lucky we are here in Britain, but it also inspired people in various ways. A member of the Lancaster Amnesty International group took the film from me to show at their group meeting, we had another request from a church group who will show the film and donate to the Mae Sot clinic. Other people said they would continue to fund raise and make the clinic their target charity the next time they did a sponsored run or event.

Mum doing her speech

I learnt so much from organising this event. I leant about advertising, human relations and management, and also that often people give you money because they know you. Despite the times of stress and worry it caused, I was really happy that it worked out in the end and we achieved our goals of fund and awareness raising. Even if it was on a small scale, it is important not to underestimate the effect of a ripple in a pound that can have far reaching effects. When donating the money we were informed that the money we raised was enough to train 3 health workers at the clinic. It was a prime example of how inspiration can spread and has inspired me for future events and projects.

Inspiration…

Inspiration! What a great word. That is, if you’ve got some. That’s what I needed to start this blog. I have been thinking about it for sometime now, as a great way of keeping a diary/ making new friends and expressing thoughts, amongst other things. I finally got round to choosing a name and registering my blog, and then it took me a while to get this far and actually write something! Now, I have started writing it isn’t as bad as it seems, and like many things, once you have done it once it becomes a lot easier the second time. However, that isn’t any excuse for me to start waffling on, as I could do. My name is Grace, I am 24 years old. I am from a city called Lancaster in the North of England. I recently graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in Thai and Southeast Asian studies. I am now studying an MA in research for which I was given a scholarship for from the Royal Thai Embassy in London. I have spent the last 3 months researching domestic tourism in Thailand. And, on the 30th of December, I will fly to Thailand for 6 months to carry out research for my MA. I will be looking at themes of nostalgia in a Thai domestic tourist context.. amongst other things like; eating lots of Thai food, experimenting with different mosquito repellents and hopefully encountering some mini adventures. I have decided to start a blog as away of documenting my experiences and ideas. Done =)