I'm sitting writing this blog to the sound of cicadas producing their screeching song outside my window, and the feeling of sweat running down my chest and back, which means to most Chiang Mai people it's the hot season. The rains here stop in November, and apart from occasional ‘mango' rain storm in March, they don't really start again until late May. It gets pretty hot during this period and daytime temperatures can hover around 40C (104 F) during the day from March to May. It's a dry heat though and for me it doesn't feel too uncomfortable. Coming from a cold, wet and miserable country, I actually enjoy this time of year: the bone I broke in my right wrist when I was nineteen but didn't allow to set properly because I took off my plaster-cast in order to go swimming, doesn't ache; my washed clothes dry in ten minutes; cold beer tastes as good as it looks in adverts. However, it's not all sunshine, so to speak. The hot season also brings poor air quality and the environmental and health problems associated with this.
For this blog I'm going to write about our hot season: the good, the bad and the ugly.
Let's start with something good. Around the middle of every April, Thailand, along with many other Asian countries, celebrates New Year. In the Land of Smiles this holiday is called Songran and generally involves drunken revelry and water fights. In most parts of Thailand this holiday lasts one or two days, but in Chiang Mai we keep throwing water at each other for a whole week. Schools, banks and government buildings are closed. Improvised food and alcohol stalls around the moat and Tha Pae road open, and the death rate due to drunken silliness sky rockets.
In years gone by I used to park my Honda dream near the end of Huay Kaew Road on the mountain-side of the old city and then walk with a few friends around the moat until we reached Tha Pae Gate. For most of this journey we only met Thais, and no matter how drunk they were, everything and everyone deserved a smile. We would stop at improvised ‘illegal' alcohol stalls and down a few rice whiskies at 8 baht a shot. This whisky, or lao kaow as it's known to locals, contains enough potential energy to send a rocket to the moon.
A leisurely 3-hour walk would eventually lead us to the Tha Pae Gate area and ‘farangs'. I realize tourists don't know the unwritten rules of Songran water fighting, but common sense should tell someone not to throw water at a person who obviously doesn't want to participate in the fun. The small minority who don't know the rules can poison Songran for some long-term foreign residents who stay at home rarely venturing out all through this week. Bah, humbug.
I've been talking about a generalized hot season, but I think it's important to mention that this year's season has been a particularly strange one. There have been consecutive days we experienced maximum temperatures of 23C when they should have been hanging around the mid to high thirties. There have been prolonged rain storms which have sometimes taken a few days to leave our valley at a time of year when the atmosphere should be so dry that large cracks open the soil; dust should cover leaves, so it appears trees are covered in a light sprinkling of snow. However, I've never experienced a hot season like this one before, and this is my twelfth. Is it just a freak year or are changes taking place? I guess we won't know until, or unless, a pattern over a number of years emerges.
One of the really nice things about the hot season this year is the improvement in air quality. For the first time since I arrived, mountains on both sides of the valley can be seen. I remember past years when Doi Suthep mountain disappeared for months in a smog of dust and pollution. The rain really has done a good job preventing burning and settling dust and all the nasty little particles emitted by motorized vehicles and fires. However, we can't always rely on nature to correct the selfishness of man. Despite the best intentions, I'm sure my efforts don't contribute a great deal to improving the environment. I would like to do more, but I always have an excuse to avoid participating in some of the projects started by locals which aim to clean our valley.
I recently bumped into Caroline Marsh, an old buddy of mine. She is someone who has got off her bum and is doing something. She is the co-founder of Chiang Mai-based independent ethical tour operator and has lived here with her young family for 20 years. The environment is a major concern for Caroline, and she actively works to improve it by participating in two organizations: the Lanna Community Life Network (LCLN) and Holistic Environment Urban Schools Program (HEUSP).
She agreed to tell me about her environmental work.
1. What is the LCLN?
The Lanna Community Life Network is a small and local stand-alone 'grassroots' community group with zero official funding, and a global mix of caring citizens.
The LCCN Mission Statement:
The Lanna Community Life Network (LCLN) is a community-based grassroots 'watchdog' group, whose efforts are principally focused within the greater Chiang Mai area while coordinating with the entire Lanna Region (the 8 provinces of northern Thailand).
We are highly committed to living in balance with the natural world around us and strive to achieve that balance through embracing what we believe are our fundamental human rights. We wish to ensure that the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we use are all healthy and sustainable. We also maintain that the streets and public areas which we share continue to be safe and accessible to all. We continually liaise with national and local government bodies in an effort to protect the quality of our local environment, as well as the health of all citizens of Chiang Mai and the Lanna Region.
2. What are its objectives?
We endeavor to educate citizens about the importance of cutting their carbon use for a sustainable future, while keeping shared resources under public control. To raise and sustain awareness levels among the residents of Chiang Mai on the importance of living in balance with nature while pressuring government agencies to serve the public interest with regard to the fundamental human rights we embrace.
3. What are its latest initiatives?
The People's Pledge with over 10,000 signatures, including the Mayor, Governor, members of the Chiang Mai royal family, heads of central government, teachers, students and parents.
30 easy-to-do actions that reduce the use of carbon emissions by 10% each year.
Zero burning which is a seasonal big one to conquer here in the Lanna region.
Reducing the amount of carbon particles entering our environment from vehicle emissions. This pollution is like each of us walking around with a burning cigarette in our mouths constantly.
4. How can other like-minded people become involved?
Caroline (English) 0831523621
Punika (Thai) 0892634422
We have a weekly Wednesday lunchtime meeting and a monthly evening meeting at different venues around town; more and more people are asking to join, and we'll start a membership signup on the website once it's up and running!
5. Can you describe the work you do for the Holistic Environment Urban Schools Program (HEUSP)?
I coordinate the HEUSP. This is a pilot project for 4 government and temple schools in the 3-Kings' district of the old city. We encourage kids and parents to plant trees and pledge to love and care for these trees. These trees protect the kids' school environment.
We organize an organic farmer's market every Friday at Puttispon primary school to encourage kids to eat healthy but affordable foods. We aim to keep them off the 7/11 sell-by date diet; our children also have a sell-by date as well!
Thanks Caroline for sharing this information with me. Caroline writes about her activities on her blog if you'd like more info and reading
That's it for this blog. It's now time to head back to the training room to talk about my past participles.
John Quinn is the course trainer at SEE TEFL in Chiang Mai