Hilltribe concert in Chiang Mai for legal status and against HIV/AIDS, human trafficking, and drug abuse

On November 3rd, 2007, we went to the second International hill tribe concert to advocate for recognition of legal status and the prevention of HIV/AIDS, human trafficking, and drug abuse. The concert attracted more than 20 popular hill tribe singers, from seven ethnic groups, who led the show with songs, entertainment and messages delivered in Karen, Hmong, Mien, Akha, Lisu, Tai Yai and Lahu languages. The show took place at Chiang Mai University.

Three years ago, Thailand’s first International Hill tribe Pop Concert, organized by UNESCO and Radio Thailand Chiang Mai, shook the mountains around Chiang Mai with a crowd of 4,000 stomping, dancing, jumping and singing fans. "The first concert was a major success – both as entertainment and in bringing attention to the issues facing hill tribe people ," said Dr. David A. Feingold, head of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Trafficking and HIV/AIDS Project and one of the event’s co-organizers. This year’s event was a bit smaller, mostly due to the weather conditions of rain which changed the location of the event in the last minute (probably with the result that many people couldn’t find it or stayed home due to the rain).

One of the main purposes of the concert was also to help educate lowland Thai people to think of the hill tribe people as citizens of the country and not simply a tourist attraction. Organized in honor of H.M. the King of Thailand’s 80th Birthday, the concert was furthermore an opportunity for highlanders to express their gratitude to King Bhumipol for his work in improving the livelihood and welfare of mountain people.

The concert, which was free of charge, was very well presented and we enjoyed the performance very much. If you get the chance to go next time the event takes place, do go – it supports a great cause and is very enjoyable at the same time.

Oxfam: Susie Smith Memorial Prize for a piece of published work in the field of HIV and AIDS

Oxfam Great Britain is awarding the Susie Smith Memorial Prize for a piece of published work in the field of HIV and AIDS. The Susie Smith memorial prize of £3000 will be awarded to an already published piece of work on HIV and AIDS from sub-Saharan Africa. Any type of piece – (e.g. poetry, fiction, article, chapter of a book) – of up to 10,000 words, in English, and published since January 2006, will be eligible.

The judges will focus on two key elements: quality of the piece itself (writing, analysis, insights) evidence of impact of the writing in the media and/or with people, governments or other institutions. All submissions must be received by 31 January 2008. You should include a cover letter outlining what kind of impact the piece has had and/or what it has achieved.

A shortlist of five will be published on Oxfam’s website in early April 2008 and the winner will be announced at the end of April 2008. They will notify who has made it through to the shortlist, but will be unable to advise any other applicants of the panel’s decision.

All submissions and cover letter should be sent to: Susie Smith Memorial Prize Submission Oxfam Great Britain Oxfam House John Smith Drive Oxford OX4 2JY Or emailed to: susiesmithmemorialprize@oxfam.org.uk . Oxfam regrets that posted submissions will not be returned. For further information, please visit the website: www.oxfam.org.uk/susiesmith or contact Oxfam directly at susiesmithmemorialprize@oxfam.org.uk.

Good luck with your writing.

Video: Samoeng loop motorbike trip, Chiang Mai

The Golden Triangle Rider website describes the Samoeng / Mae Sa valley loop as “…the best 100 kms ride in North Thailand“. We have done the loop several times now, and would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to get out of Chiang Mai and see some of the surrounding countryside and mountains for the day.

A few weeks ago, on a sunny weekend day, a group of us decided to do the loop to get out of Chiang Mai for the afternoon. It was the first time Tina and I had taken the video camera out with us on the bike…you can see the resulting 5 minute video below.

The Samoeng loop is usually about 100kms (if you follow the route on the GT Rider website), however we took a bit of a detour through some villages and rice paddies to go to the Mae Sap cave which meant that the trip ended up nearer 130kms. Unfortunately, as we didn’t have a torch/flashlight with us we weren’t able to venture more than a few metres inside the cave…so if you’re planning on heading there, take one!

If you’re interested in doing the trip yourselves – we recommend referring to the map on the GT Rider website. We would like to thank Death in Vegas for using a sample from the tune ‘Aisha’ in the video.

Excursion to ComPeung artist village in Doi Saket

This Saturday we went for an excursion to visit ComPeung artist village at Doi Saket. ComPeung is the first non-governmental artist-in-residence program in Thailand. Founded in 2005 by artists who believe places that resist the conventional art’s obsession with selling rather than content are needed. Alternative places that experiment with and question the role of art, artists’ positions, and the interdependence of art and society. ComPeung aims to be one of these places, open to all who share the importance and the compassion for creativity.

The actual ComPeung site, comprising of a total of 112 ares (2.8 acres), is situated in the outskirts of Doi Saket town and surrounded by hills, forests and natural lakes. All the houses in ComPeung are made from mud and bamboo and it aims at being environmentally friendly.

Local and international artist are invited to come and live there for one to three months. The artist pays 27.000 baht (860$) per month for housing, three meals a day and the right to utilize the surrounding space as they please. Artists also have the opportunity to exchange ideas and share experiences through the process of creating artworks, developing conceptual projects as well as participating in workshops and other ComPeung activities.

While visiting we spoke with Ong who is the manager of ComPeung. He is a very friendly young Thai man with excellent English. His idea for the village arose from travelling and his art studies at Chiang Mai University. He explained to us that they are also building a small hut for tourist/visitors to stay in for a shorter period of time. We enjoyed the afternoon very much and definitely recommend people to make their way to this off-the-beaten-tourist-track site.

For directions to ComPeung visit their website – http://www.compeung.org/indexB.html
You can view more photos in our Flickr account – http://www.flickr.com/photos/earthoria.

ComPeung artist village in Doi Saket

Podcast: Peace in Burma protest, Chiang Mai

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Last Friday evening, straight after putting the Givetoburma.org website live, I raced down to the Three Kings Monument in Chiang Mai to meet Tina and attend the Peace in Burma protest. You can listen to the podcast we made at the protest below.

Peace in Burma are a Chiang Mai-based coalition of people and organisations who support peace, freedom and democracy in Burma.

Peace in Burma protest, Three King

Since August 15th, when the military government dramatically increased fuel prices in Burma, thousands of monks started to lead peaceful demonstrations through the streets against the Burmese military government.

The fuel price rises were the catalyst that brought a population already striken with poverty onto the streets. The hikes hit Burma’s people hard, especially the poorest, forcing up the price of public transport and triggering a knock-on effect for staple foods such as rice and cooking oil.

For more information about the protests and fuel price rises, the BBC website has an informative Q&A here. To make a donation to help the protesters, please visit the Givetoburma.org website. To find out more about some of the Human Rights abuses against the ethnic minorities in Burma, please visit the Karen Human Rights Group website (the group I volunteered with when I first came to Thailand). Finally, on the BBC website is an interesting article called Burma unrest: Account from a monastery.

You can subscribe to the Earthoria podcasts in Itunes by clicking this link.

Podcast: The Sunday Market, Chiang Mai

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Every Sunday in Chiang Mai, from about 4pm until as late as midnight, a market known variously as the ‘Sunday Market’, or the ‘Walking Street Market’ takes place in Chiang Mai. The Sunday Market has, in recent years, become a bit of an institution in Chiang Mai – with many thousands of locals and foreigners turning up to browse, buy, and eat from the various street stalls or simply socialise with their friends.

The Sunday Market, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Sunday Market is also the best place in Chiang Mai to see genuine Thai style street entertainment. Right along the length of the Ratchadamnoen Road are pavement artists – from traditional musicians, Thai dancers and living statues to puppet shows and busking bands.

This weekend Tina and I headed to the Sunday Market with our recording equipment in hand, in an attempt to bring you some of the sounds and atmosphere. We hope you enjoy it!

Sunday Market location

Ratchadamnoen road, running East-West from around Tapae Gate (the East gate of the Chiang Mai Old Town) – every Sunday from about 4pm.


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Visit to a Shan refugee camp near Chiang Mai, Thailand

On Saturday September the 8th I went with a group of friends to visit a Shan refugee camp about 4 hours drive from Chiang Mai city. The purpose of the visit was to bring food, school supplies, medicine, and donated clothes etc. to the refugees and to spend a day entertaining all the children of the camp. This camp has existed since 2003 but has not got official status. Previous to this the refugees lived for two years in tents by the nearby Wat.

Shan refugee camp in The Chiang Mai area, Thailand

In order to ensure the safety of the refugees living in the camp I cannot write neither the name nor the location of the camp. Burmese refugees are illegal in Thailand , have no rights (to school, health facilities, work etc) and are constantly under the threat of being caught and sent back to Burma . Being deported back to Burma would for the most part mean imprisonment, torture and worse. Therefore, it is essential to keep the names and faces of the refugees anonymous. To read about news from Burma , please see http://www.irrawaddy.org/ .

In order to get to the camp we had rented two big vans in which we could have both people (9 different nationalities) and donations for the camp. We started the day making bags with food and sweets for the 200 children in the camp. After that we started the games. We played: football, darts, rob jumping, badminton, 3-legged races, tug of war, balloon dance and had a dance competition. All the games we rewarded with prizes of sweets (to all the kids). The children were all absolutely adorable and my biological clock was definitely ticking heavily (poor Thomas…). Also knowing that 50 of the 200 children in the camp are orphans just made me want to take a few home.

After many hours of play the children got their bags with food and sweets and a ceremony was held with a monk. The recording can be found below.

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At the end of the day the camp leader spent an hour telling us about the situation in Burma, the history of the camp and answered our questions. It was an absolutely mind-blowing day. Not only did we make the kids happy, help the camp, enjoy the beautiful landscape and fresh air, but we also learned a lot. This has enabled me to pass it on to you…