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Vol. XIV No. 40
Friday October 6 - October 12, 2006

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Updated every Friday
by Saichon Paewsoongnern

 

 

COLUMNS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Money matters

Snap Shots

Modern Medicine

Heart to Heart with Hillary

How I see things

A Female Perspective

Learn to Live to Learn


Money matters: Multi-manager view

Graham Macdonald
MBMG International Ltd.

We have been eulogising Miton Optimal, now lets see why. These are the views of Sam Liddle of MitonOptimal:
Ivorian government bonds, Chinese wind farms, Montenegrin apartment blocks and gemstones from Mount Kilimanjaro. These are the investment opportunities that your kindly stockbroker uncle never dreamt about, let alone suggested should be part of a balanced portfolio. The unstoppable march of the former communist states, their insatiable demand for resources and inexhaustible supply of cheap labour took emerging markets and associated asset classes such as commodities to new all-time records or prices not seen for a quarter of a century.
Yield compression (in other words lower dividend income from stocks, lower interest rates from deposits and bonds and lower rental yields from investment properties) in the world’s major equity, bond and property markets has led investors to look elsewhere and this has caused an enormous flow of liquid money into higher yielding assets, including emerging markets, creating an over-bought situation, where these assets have become much more expensive.
The substantial fall in emerging markets does not diminish the longer-term attractions. China will continue its urbanisation, with all the well-aired consequences for resource demand which in turn will keep commodity supplies under pressure and prices high. Brazil and the African nations, as the principal source of these commodities, will continue to benefit from China and India’s expansion.
Months before the turn of the millennium, an article appeared in an obscure Russian academic journal. Natural resources, the writer passionately argued, offered the key to Russia “regaining its former might. Russia’s natural resource potential defines its special place among industrial countries,” he wrote. His name, then little known outside his country, was Vladimir Putin. His determination to restore Russia’s standing as a world power through its dominance of Europe’s energy supplies remains as resolute now.
Gazprom’s market value was just $14bn in 2001. It hit $269bn at the end of April, helped by Russia’s dismantling of the “ringfence” that had limited foreigners’ right to buy the 49 percent of its shares not owned by the state. That made it the world’s third-biggest company by value after General Electric and Exxon Mobil.
The projections of the volumes of business that would be transacted online and of worldwide internet usage which fuelled the bubble of 1999/2000 have all come true despite the collapse in the share prices of companies associated with this in 2000. The “gorilla stocks” of that time are still going strong - Yahoo, Amazon, e-bay. Similarly, the expansion of the emerging markets of China, India and Russia will not be derailed by recent stock market falls and the better quality companies associated with this will continue to perform strongly in the future.
For this reason, MitonOptimal will continue to invest into market weakness in these areas. All the MitonOptimal funds were carrying significant cash weights before the end of April. Even its more aggressive mandate CF Miton Global Portfolio, held cash at 32 percent of the fund, having banked profits from Asia, emerging markets and Japan but, following the recent correction, the fund has bought into mining shares and emerging markets through Investec Global Gold and Mining.
The emerging economies are the world’s natural deficit countries but, in 2005 ran an aggregate current account surplus US$336bn, just over half of the counterpart of the US deficit of $666bn. More than six years ago, MitonOptimal recognised that it must look east for opportunity, not west, and has weighted all its portfolios with this in mind with variations according to the different degrees of risk tolerance between its funds.
MitonOptimal’s funds have held no direct investment in the US since 2000 (except the market-shorting Gartmore Govett US bear fund).
Sam Liddle is the lead manager of MitonOptimal’s Global Fund – ranked best risk-adjusted Aggressive Sector Sterling multi asset fund to 2006 by Lipper.
“Winning such a prestigious award so soon after the fund passed the 5 year mark [becoming eligible] is very pleasing. The twin objective on all MitonOptimal funds is to deliver above average performance with below average volatility and these awards vindicate our asset allocation driven investment process.” - Sam Liddle
Don’t just take our word, or even Sam Liddle’s word for it. The performance of Miton Optimal has been recognised as being outstanding by all the leading measurement criteria over the last couple of years:
Lipper Awards
Global Portfolio – 1st place in Mixed Asset GBP Aggressive Sector in 2006
Special Situations – 1st place in Mixed Asset GBP Balanced Sector in 2006
Special Situations – 1st place in Mixed Asset GBP Balanced Sector in 2006
S & P Fund Awards
Core Diversified/Extra Income – 1st place in Asset Allocation Dynamic/Neutral Sectors in 2003, 2004 and 2005
Investment Week Awards
Special Situations – Highly Commended in Asset Allocation in 2005
Global Portfolio – Highly Commended in Asset Allocation in 2004
Multi-Manager Awards
Strategic Portfolio – 1st Place in Balanced Managed Fund Sector 2004 and 2005
An article in the Financial Times published at the very start of 2006, described Miton Optimal as “Substance more than style” confirming that, “A tremendous amount of research is done on the managers who look after the funds in the Miton Portfolio”. There’s not much more that we can add to that…

The above data and research was compiled from sources believed to be reliable. However, neither MBMG International Ltd nor its officers can accept any liability for any errors or omissions in the above article nor bear any responsibility for any losses achieved as a result of any actions taken or not taken as a consequence of reading the above article. For more information please contact Graham Macdonald on [email protected]



Snap Shots: Give your shots the golden glow

by Harry Flashman

Have you ever looked at a photograph of a lady and just noted that there seemed to be a sparkle about her which your shots do not have? And you probably thought that this was some magic that the professional model could impart to the picture! Wrong. That magic sparkle was given to the photograph by the photographer. And you can do it too.
That magic was produced by using a reflector. Silver or gold. Nothing is surer! So why do you need a reflector in this age of electronic bells and whistles? If they are so damn good, why aren’t we all rushing around with silver and gold reflectors tucked under our arms? Or why doesn’t the new digital SLR have a ‘reflector’ button that can be selected? The simple answer is that the optical result is too difficult for the electronic brain and then we get too complacent and end up saying that the results we get are “good enough”, or we were just taking snapshots anyway. However, if you really want good results, then you should look at making and taking reflectors with you. Really!
Many years ago, I shot calendars for a concrete company. These were not shots of concrete trucks or bags of cement – these were 12 shots of ladies. There was also a fair amount of skin shown on every page. Now these were all of fair skinned ladies, but it is amazing how white skin can end up looking totally anaemic on film. These girls needed a little bit of a tan. Bring on the gold reflector! Ah! That golden glow! But the ladies over here are already tanned, I hear you cry. Yes, I know that, but even the dusky damsels come up better on film with a golden glow.
So what else does a reflector do for you? Or rather, for your photographs? Well it allows you to photograph “contre jour” as they say in the classics. That is having the light behind your subject (generally the sun) and then you can throw some reflected light back into the subject’s face. If you do not do this, the usual result is something closer to a silhouette than a portrait – a bright halo around the subject which then becomes so dark in the face that you cannot distinguish the features. But with the reflector, you can push the light back in and pick up the details.
So that was the gold reflector – what about the silver one? Well, if you want “clean” and bright light on a subject anywhere, the silver reflector will do that for you. I use this type of reflector when photographing silver jewellery for example. Mind you, if you are photographing gold jewellery you must use a gold reflector or otherwise the gold necklaces look silver on film.
The reverse side of the reflectors – the white side, is actually very good to shoot chrome and I used this to good effect when shooting motor cars. Grilles and bumpers really sparkle up when the white reflector is brought out. If you want to lighten up or brighten up one side of a portrait, the white sided reflector also works well here.
Now, if you haven’t got a commercially available reflector, help is on its way. Here’s how you make your own. Get some white “foamcore” – that lightweight plastic material that is often used to make signs (any sign makers will have some). Around 1 metre square is fine and get two of them. Now go to the newsagents and buy some gold wrapping paper and some silver wrapping paper. Cover one side of the “foamcore” with silver and the other piece cover with the gold paper and you have two lightweight, portable silver and gold reflectors, with white on the reverse. And it has cost you less than a couple of hundred baht.
You will be really amazed by the way the use of a reflector can put a different atmosphere into your photographs – especially portraits. Try taking the same shots using different reflectors and note the differences for future use. They will have that professional sparkle.


Modern Medicine: Coughs and sneezes spread diseases

by Dr. Iain Corness, Consultant

The above catchy title for this week is unfortunately not original. I remember the famous British comedian Tony Hancock singing this when sitting in the waiting room before going to donate blood in the skit just called The Blood Donor. Probably from the mid 1950’s, but someone out there can correct me.
However, coughs and sneezes are upon as again. My friend John in the office has had a cold for three weeks ever since coming back from an overseas trip. Others out there have told me they have had a cold for what seems to them like three months. It really is a condition that makes you miserable. Drippy nose, sneezing, croaky throat sometimes and generally feeling sorry for ones self.
Colds characteristically come at the change of seasons, and right now we have had a change of season at least four times a day. As I write this, the water is streaming down outside, after three hours of brilliant sunshine. My car leaks too, and you can add smelly carpets to the discomforts of this time of year.
Now if you think you are having a hard time of it with this cold of yours, wiping your nose with a tissue every five minutes, think about how it was for the more primitive civilizations who did not have such tissue paper luxuries. By the way, did you know that the reason we have buttons on the sleeves of jackets was to stop the wearer wiping his nose on his sleeves! True!
Your cold, or Coryza, as we medico’s call it, is not produced by a bacterium, but by another of those annoying viruses. This is why antibacterial agents (called antibiotics) do not work for the simple cold. You can swallow as many as you like. In fact, not much works for it, but there are a few options to make life a little better while we wait for our natural resources to get over the condition.
The first thing to do is to dive into your supply of paracetamol which you keep at home or if you don’t, then that is what you get at the pharmacy, not antibiotics. Take two 500 mg tablets four times a day, keep your fluids up, prop yourself up in front of the TV and make the most of your enforced 24 hour holiday. It does help get you better quicker. Paracetamol comes as different trade names such as “Sara” and “Tylenol” and “Panadol” – just read the packets carefully.
Staying away from other people in the office or wherever is an important factor too. I am not going to directly accuse John of passing on his virus to the local multitudes, but I’m sure he hasn’t helped. The cold virus is very contagious and hangs around in the air every time you sneeze. When you do this, you release millions of virus bodies in the moisture droplets in your sneeze, and they have the potential to go and infect the next person who inhales them. Or even groups of people. This is why colds run in epidemics – so don’t get too close, please!
Of course, there are times when the cold progresses into something else. The sniffles turn into a really sore throat, you start to wheeze and cough up green or yellow coloured phlegm and you begin to run a fever. What has happened is that another infecting organism has come along and hit you while you are down. This is particularly likely if you are a smoker, because the oxides of nitrogen in cigarette smoke depress your ability to shift mucous and funnily enough lowers your resistance too. Just another of the three million nine hundred and ninety seven good reasons to give up cigarettes!
Now it is time for the appropriate medication – and your doctor can advise you on this. Please don’t just go to the pharmacy and grab some “antibiotics”. That is not good medical practice. Let your doctor prescribe! He or she knows which particular bug or groups of bugs are going around at present and can tailor your medication for both you and your bacteria.


Heart to Heart with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
In regards to your response to Hirsute Harry about the electric vibrating hand massager, I would think the interest of many readers might have been piqued. Mine certainly was. For a period of nearly a year I would stop into any pharmacy or pharmaceutical type store (Boots, Watson, Fascino) looking for just such a device. I left one in the States as it being a 110 vac would make it useless in Thailand’s 220 vac environ.
If you have a way to get back to Harry about the electric vibrating hand massager such as the name and location of said barber shop or even better, where such a massager could be obtained, it would be most appreciated. I’m sure the barber shop might be inclined to give you free trim for the increase in business.
Chris a Faithful Follower
Dear Faithful Follower Chris,
Those that know these things tell me that you can get a step-down transformer to bring the Thai 220 volts down to the American 110 and your problem is over. Hillary does it again (pats myself on the back)! Now I am an electrician as well as everything else!
Dear Hillary,
Thank you for your understanding advice. It gives me some hope. I shall treasure and follow it. One probably must never give up loving, as it is not only showing gratefulness to one’s partner, but, I understand, it is also a major way to self-transcendence, self-realization and self-transformation. Thank you for your good wishes.
Despairing
Dear Despairing,
I am glad that my words have helped you get through what is obviously a very difficult and trying period of your life. Just keep being the man you always were, and life will unfold that much more for you. As you correctly say, it all helps in self-realization. Congratulations on coming up again.
Dear Hillary,
I remain utterly flabbergasted that every week, or it seems that way, you will get another letter from a broken hearted male who has lost another house and several ounces of gold to another young Thai hussy. That is after the buffalo has had its expensive injections to get it on its feet again. Does nobody warn these people that this is the most likely outcome? Perhaps you should have a notice inserted in the paper that Thai women are a wealth hazard!
Browned Off
Dear Browned Off,
Are you hurting, Petal? It sounds that way to me. You obviously have not been following the advice in these columns over the last few weeks where many writers have suggested that newcomers should be locked in a hotel room until they have read Woman of Bangkok, or Private Dancer. You do not say where you came from, but all the western so-called developed countries have their own wealth hazards in the men and women stakes. These are called divorce settlements and alimony (or even ‘palimoney’), after which these are resulting in many men walking the streets in Thailand ruing the fact that they have lost several houses and cars and been made poor by the women in their own country. In America they are even drawing up “pre-nuptial” agreements as a form of “damage control” to try and quantify and contain the loss on splitting up. Since more than 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce in the western world, that’s a lot of houses out there in the matrimonial maelstrom. Hillary remains absolutely flabbergasted that people such as you protest so loudly your amazement that this happens here, as if it didn’t in your own countries. If you don’t believe me go your local Chicken Pluckers Arms in the UK and take a straw poll of how many men have lost everything but their shirts to some English women. You get off lightly over here. Hillary does also take you to task, branding all Thai/Farang marriage failure females as being hussies. Would you say the same about British women? Or Americans?
Dear Hillary,
I have been living with a Thai girl for five months. I’m told that according to Thai law, a girl residing with a man for over six months gains the rights similar to ladies living in common law for two or three years in some European or American countries. That means the right for financial support after termination of co-habitation. Have you may have some insight into this.
Cautious.
Dear Cautious,
The situation, as I understand it, is that there is no statutory period of time under Thai law for the girl to become a “common law” wife, as there is in Europe and America. If the man and woman are living together in a marital situation, she cooks for him, looks after him and shares the marital bed, then if it can be proved that this is the case, the time period could be under one year. However, there has to be a distinction between this situation and a “mia chow” (“rented wife”) where there is no expectation of this continuing for any great period of time and the financial consideration given to her is there for that rental purpose. Just where that leaves you, my Petal, only you can say.


How I see things

by Boxer
Woof! Thanks to the dog for taking over the ‘lead’ the last time. Perhaps she was right that ‘I had left my brains behind’. Other two-legged friends were not so polite, ‘What brains?’ No aged faring should be swinging around in a roof space two stories up ‘in this heat’. As usual I have a defence. Past readers will recall that I am having an ongoing saga with the farang builder. Well one evening we noticed water on the kitchen floor, having mopped it up as we thought it was a spill. However, the next evening plenty more water and spreading. Check the sink pipes no problem; remove kick plate no signs of dripping but plenty of water and outside water also spreading across the paving. The water pump was not working overtime but the outside water meter was about to take off.
Conclusion: looked like a mains leak so off with the water supply. Around midnight when I had expected it to have at least stopped it was showing no signs of abating so that destroyed the initial theory. Next morning let my builders dig up the ground and I will look in the roof for pipes and to turn off the solar panels, which are the highest water points. Well that’s my excuse, just missed a ‘second’ and ended up on the floor. By the way, there were no taps up there and in fact most of the pipes had been hidden in walls!
I obviously looked worse than I was because even the Thais decided to leave me alone rather than ‘sweep’ one up, as is normally the case, anyway onto the rear seats and the wife took me to hospital. This reminds me of something that happened a few years ago when why my wife was testing her theory part of the UK driving test. One question said, ‘You find this motorcyclist lying unconscious in the road, what do you do.’ She picked, ‘Drag him to the side of the road and remove his helmet’. Needless to say, as a motorcyclist, I said you do neither of these things first!
Now I wonder what your experiences of the medical services in Thailand are? One of my companies used to offer a ‘mystery shopper service’ to various sectors, so although it is not very scientific I thought I would start off by recalling my experiences and scoring on a 1 to 10 (10 the best).
Arrival at Bangkok Pattaya Hospital emergency. Immediately they bring a trolley up and although rather difficult to get me out of the back seats I presume that as I was talking, dragging me out was the quickest, no checking for broken bones, etc. Onto the trolley. Score 4
Wheel me in whilst asking for my name. Fortunately I believe that as they had me on the books and I did not look like passing away and money was not asked for first. Again moving to the bed from the trolley had to be controlled by me, no skid etc. Score 4
The locum doctor looked at the hand and asked about the leg, which seemed a good idea to me. Score 6
Again in the X-Ray moving from trolley to table was difficult. Score 5.
Another doctor then came in and had the hand cleaned up. He explained that the cut on one figure was quite serious regarding the nerves and would require stitches so proceeded to clean up and stitch. The X-rays had not shown up anything but again he was concerned (due to my moaning no doubt) and sent me for more X-rays but this time I did not have to move from the trolley. Score 10
Back in the ward and yet another doctor who confirmed they had found a crack in the pelvis but not serious, just rest for about two weeks. Mentioned that I had had a similar fall some eight weeks previously (in the UK) when I broke my wrist but not followed up. Score 6
All finished, supplied with crutches, lots of tablets told how to use them and to report back daily for bandage cleaning. Score 8.
Bill for all this about 10,500 baht. Now obviously in many countries it would be free but I consider that it would have cost a lot more if one paid for it. Score 10
So far we have been back to have the dressings done on several occasions and the cost has been about 450 baht; it’s been immediately and without appointment. Score 10
However, on one occasion I pursued my original concerns that I have had two similar accidents both of which seemed to happen when I lost a ‘second’ of my time. They recommended a neurosurgeon and straight off to see one. A MSI scan was suggested to which I agreed but by the time I had visited the booking in department there were several treatments, a night in and extras totalling 45,000 baht, with the ‘caveat’ that there may be further extras. Wow. I appreciate that this is a business and being a salesperson myself I understand the need to sell services but, I never oversold, especially unnecessary items. Because I am not a medical person I cannot answer if they were necessary but will give them a score of 5 for service. The costs included being wheeled around so, remember, if you can walk next time do so.
My overall score based on what was done, efficiency and cost is 8, not bad in my judgement and certainly all explained in English.
Anyone want to add to this? Although we have the right to remove the gory bits!
Woof Woof for now
[email protected]


A Female Perspective: Her Excellency Yael Rubinstein

with Sharona Watson

Sometimes, I am lucky enough to meet people who are genuinely special. They possess a kind of intense gentleness which makes me feel warm inside. Their good nature flows from them and fills any room they are in. Upon meeting them, I sense their strength and intelligence. They are dynamic, sharp witted and confident. And when this kind of person is a woman, I feel a kind of kinship.

Her Excellency Yael Rubinstein: my kind of woman.
Such a person is Her Excellency Yael Rubinstein, Israel’s first female Ambassador to Thailand. One of only five female Ambassadors from around the globe currently in Bangkok, she regards the others as her firm friends. “We meet once in a while through various lunches and dinners and whenever I need to ask someone something, my choice will of course, be one of my friends. We are very close; almost like a women’s club!”
She’s my kind of woman, that’s for sure, balancing a high profile and demanding professional life with a personal life which literally spans the globe. She has been here since August 2005 but her husband, world renowned economics wizard and ‘game theorist’ Ariel Rubinstein, hasn’t come to Bangkok with her. She’s here with their son, Yuval whilst their daughter Michal is also in Israel, doing her military service. That’s pretty tough. It is the first time that they have divided their family.
“It’s not simple,” explains Yael. “To any of my previous missions abroad, we all went together and of course in Israel, we were together. But there comes a time in life when you can’t really wait for the others members of the family to join you. After the army, my daughter wants to go to university, then do other things in life.”
Her husband divides his time between universities in Tel Aviv and New York. You can’t get further apart than that. So what was the lure of Bangkok for her? “I am really fascinated by the East and it was very flattering to me to be offered the job of Ambassador to Thailand. It’s a very big one, a kind of hub. (She is also responsible for Cambodia) I was offered other ambassadorships, but I decided to take this adventure.”
Thailand is Yael’s third posting abroad. Her first was as spokesperson for the embassy in London when her daughter was just three months old. This was followed by a spell at the Israeli Mission to the UN in New York and her posting previous to Bangkok was as non-resident Israeli Ambassador to Slovenia, Slovakia and Croatia.
In London and New York at least, her husband (a ‘trailing spouse’ no less) was able to find work as a visiting professor of Economics. “He found a way to fulfil himself,” she tells me. Her work as non-resident ambassador in the Balkans involved travelling to one of the countries in the region every five or six weeks for two or three days of intensive meetings. “It was very interesting but you really miss a lot,” Yael explains, “You might meet some high profile people like ministers, or journalists, but you don’t really get a feel for the country. You miss the culture and meeting people. However, I’m very proud that we are going to be opening permanent embassies in Croatia and Slovakia. I didn’t want to be resident ambassador there because it would have been a little bit like ‘déjŕ vu’ and I really wanted to explore something different. I came to a certain age I think!”
Whatever her age, she looks very youthful still. It’s almost unfair. She’s also very, very attractive. Perhaps her healthy looks are the result of her bi-weekly tennis lessons, or the rock climbing that she enjoys with Yuval, when they can get away? They plan to go diving as well, “I wish I could do more cultural things or engage in more spiritual exploration. I want to enjoy this beautiful country and experience the great things that Thailand has to offer.”
In my work, I am sometimes subjected to sexist prejudice. Some men it appears, have difficulty listening to women. On occasions (and I don’t like taking this drastic step, never mind admitting to it) I have to get my husband ‘on to it’. It’s a ‘male voice’ thing. Does Yael feel the same? Does she ever encounter a similar kind of problem? “Absolutely not. Perhaps it’s because my staff are making the connections, but whenever I ask for something, or I need something to happen, I never have any problem.” Her eyes sparkle when she says this; somehow I can imagine that she doesn’t have too many problems of this sort. Anyway, as you might expect, besides her ambassadorial ‘sisters’ she has “a lot of friends among the male ambassadors”.
I wonder whether as a diplomat she has to ‘behave’ in a certain way. “What way?” she retorts, almost offended, “Frankly, I behave the way I feel. I’m a very open person, very spontaneous. Of course, whenever I’m in a diplomatic meeting either here or in Cambodia, my job is to present the position of the state of Israel. Sometimes there are very difficult issues, sometimes we disagree on things, but we are human beings; sometimes there will be conflict, but I really believe that you need to be yourself. If you can connect with people, then your message will have far more meaning. It’s the best way to be successful.” Does she find that she has to ‘put her foot down’ a lot? “The last word is mine because I’m responsible for the embassy, for better or for worse.”
It’s important to note that the position of ambassador has nothing to do with politics - it’s not a political appointment.
Yael is a career diplomat. She started in the ministry of foreign affairs and she’s worked damn hard to get to where she is now. “It’s not something you just walk into!” Happily, her husband has always encouraged her. Reciprocally, she fully respects that he wants to stay in Israel. How do they stay in touch? “In modern life, by email, phone; communications today mean its possible and better to do it this way than to ask someone to do what they don’t want to do. I mean, he visits of course and I will be going back to Israel relatively regularly as well. I think it’s much healthier this way. After all, many businessmen travel abroad without their wives.” Quite right. But is she happy? “Yes,” she said and smiles, “very happy.”
Next week: The downside of shopping
[email protected]


Learn to Live to Learn: The school with a soul

by Andrew Watson

Suporntum and his students: Unlimited love is all around.

I must have visited hundreds of schools over the past few years on a journey that has taken in all the continents of the globe. From English Comprehensive to Indian private, from consciously international to determinedly parochial, every school offers something different and something unique; sometimes positive, sometimes negative.
I feel that I have been fortunate to witness the very best and the very worst in people, organisations and places and frankly, very little surprises me anymore. But it’s surely true that the most beautiful things can often be found where you least expect them. So it was for me recently, when for the first time (I am ashamed to admit) I came across a school with a soul so powerful and so resonant, that I was greatly moved. A soul? Yes, a soul. The Redemptorist Vocational School for the Disabled is a place of great sanctity, profound peace and corporeal compassion. It is right in the middle of Pattaya and until this visit, I had no idea it was there.
You can tell an enormous amount about a school from the level of integrity evident in its leader. Suporntum Mongkolsawadi is Principal of the Redemptorist School. His bright eyes sparkled with passion as he guided me with calm and gentle intelligence through the philosophy of this special place. Almost every corridor and corner is adorned with sage phrases, expressing the values of the school. I almost expected to see “Learn to Live to Learn” up there!
What does Suporntum think this brings to his school? “This is one of the ways to remind people to think about the meaning of life. We live to care for other people.” I was reminded of Chris Wright, education guru in the UK, who is not ashamed to ask his students to consider what it means “to be human”. Also C.K. Chesterton, who eloquently suggested that education is simply “transferring the soul of a society from one generation to the next”.
To many in education, especially those who refuse to ‘act locally, think globally’, the world is a place where sometimes it is easier not to care for other people. One of the messages emanating from the Redemptorist School was that all our lives are enriched by simple good things and one of the most simple truths of all is that there is someone else to think about other than yourself. Talking with Suporntum, I felt as if I was being invited to share in a sense of common humanity. I was feeling the soul of the school. You can’t buy it. High private school fees or a leader’s empty rhetoric don’t bring it. It’s like magic. It’s that integrity word again; if the people who work in the school don’t believe, it’s unlikely that you’ll feel belief when you visit. Can you see the students’ art work? Can you hear the music?
Getting philosophical, I asked Suporntum what he thought was the purpose of education. “Education is the way to live. It is how to live with dignity and values. It’s not about certificates, or fitting into the system, but a way of living.”
What does this mean in terms of the Redemptorist school? “We give students the opportunity to overcome their disability. The philosophy behind the school is that we help students to help themselves and therefore, society. In order to help themselves they need good vocational education, good practical skills. When they first come here we have a discussion. We ask them, ‘Why have you come here? What do you want?’ They say they want to live independently, to have a job, to take their proper place in society. To be able to earn money for themselves.”
One of the consequences of being known as a very beautiful place is that lots of people want to come to the school. Education here is free to the 180 students. How do they cope with the demand? “We are limited by space. It’s not easy. At the same time, we are trying to promote the way that we work as an example to the government and to other schools. Being in good physical condition does not mean being without disability.” A good mind, a good heart, you might say. Suporntum is touching on something pretty extraordinary about the work that the school does. They are changing people’s ways of thinking. Suporntum acknowledges that it’s not going to happen in a hurry; “maybe in thirty years” he smiles.
What does Suporntum look for in a teacher? “Willingness, enthusiasm, knowledge, skill … the relationships between teachers and students here are very strong, beyond formal teacher/student relationships. Here, it is like a family. Many of our teachers are disabled and most of them graduated from the school. They are great role models for the students.”
None more so than Suporntum, who is a remarkable man. He graduated from the school in 1988 and was Head of the Computer Department before becoming Principal. He has been teaching at the school for 19 years. He is married to the delightful Nok, the administration office manager, and they have a baby daughter approaching a year and a half.
Suporntum has never been able to walk. When he was young, wounds on his ankles became infected and doctors advised amputation. Now, he moves faster than seems prudent around the school in his wheelchair. But it’s not so easy to move around Pattaya. So he’s trying to change this as well. He’s something of an activist, lobbying government to amend nationwide laws, policies and regulations which discriminate against the disabled. Where does he find the strength for that? “We learn from what we have seen. We work very closely with the Association of Disabled in Thailand. I have strong belief (he’s a Buddhist) and good family support.”
The Redemptorist School is part of the Father Ray Foundation. (www.fr-ray.org) What was it about Father Ray, I wondered, which has created such a strong sense of identity and belonging? Why are people from around the world attracted to a little place like Pattaya, to the orphanage and the school? Suporntum’s answer is immediate. “Love. Unlimited love is all around. Father Ray gave unlimited love to everyone.” As indeed, does Suporntum.
Next week: Pragmatism or Idealism?



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