The BigChilli August 2021

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Be a friend – be a Samaritan By Robin Westley Martin In these dark days of Covid, people from all walks of life in Thailand are facing desperate situations, with some even considering suicide as a way out. Offering them a lifeline are the Samaritans of Thailand, a group of volunteers who work tirelessly to make sure that those in difficulty always have someone to talk to. Khun Trakarn Chensy, Chairman of the Samaritans of Thailand, has devoted most of his free time to the charity since 1997. In this inspiring article, he explains how the organization works and what it takes to become a volunteer.


hat can I do? Where can I go? How can I feed my children? When can I go back to work? Why does no one care? The torment caused by Covid-19 that has spread across the world does not only affect people physically, by becoming sick. It also affects us mentally. And the resulting stress and trauma can be even more debilitating than the disease itself … it affects whole families, from children to senior citizens – even if they have not caught the disease themselves.

Families in lower income groups have been particularly hard-hit. In Thailand many of them toil from day-to-day, in the subsistence economy; they sell their wares on the street; they wheel foodcarts around; they work as taxi drivers; they work as maids, as cleaners in the hotel industry, as tour guides; they work in restaurants, in the entertainment industry, and more. Much of this work has dried up over the last eighteen months, and so have the meagre savings they may have scraped together over the years. Many are in

dire straits, and as things have recently become so much worse during the third Thailand wave of Covid-19 infections they are in despair. Depressed. Hungry. Sick. Worried. Nowhere and no one to turn to for help. And in their desperation, as they hit the all-time low, many have chosen to take the final solution … suicide.

But there is help, it is available. In 1953 an organisation known as The Samaritans was founded in the UK by Church of England vicar Chad Varah.

He had been disturbed by seeing some of his parishioners taking their own lives, as they saw no way out of the problems they were suffering. He was a man of great empathy, and he reached out to the people in his diocese, offering them a friendly ear, someone to talk to, someone to support them. To let them know that someone did actually care. Chad was surprised and elevated to find that this simple strategy of just being there to listen, to be sympathetic, to be a shoulder to cry on, was very effective, and he saved many people from taking their own lives. He recruited his friends and other members of the clergy to help, and within 20 years the network had expanded to cover the whole of Great Britain and Ireland. The Samaritans have now spread all over the world, under the original name, or in some countries under the name Befrienders. Here in Thailand they are known as the Samaritans of Thailand, and were set up 42 years ago by Dr. Udom Srisaengam (later to become Minister of Public Health) who had traveled to study at university in the UK, and was impressed by the work he saw the Samaritans doing there. On his return he started to offer counseling services in the Bangkok area, to the Englishspeaking foreign community. After he placed a classified ad in a newspaper, Dr. Udom soon began to receive calls from Thai citizens, and then gradually started to receive calls to the Samaritans’ call-centre from all over the country.

The callers were able to connect to a kindly and sympathetic listener in both Thai and English. Today, over 95 percent of the calls they receive are from Thais, although there is still a dedicated English language line. The Samaritans are currently training volunteers fluent in Burmese, to help out the large migrant workforce from Burma (Myanmar), many of whom have no work due to the closure of construction sites employing a large number of Burmese workers. Some of these itinerant workforces receive scant support from their employers, and are not entitled to any government welfare, being reliant on the goodwill of charities or caring locals. So what exactly are the Samaritans? What and who are they? Put simply they are a nonreligious organisation which believes that every single life lost to suicide is a tragedy. The Samaritans of Thailand work tirelessly to make sure that there is always someone there for anyone who needs someone. The knowledge that there is a friendly voice ready to talk with them, sympathise with them about the difficulties they are having, and to

know that their conversations will always remain private and confidential, can go a long way to help people rise up from the depths of despair they find themselves in. In the past most of the problems that volunteers heard about on their phoneline conversations with desperate people were relationship related (family, love, work). Today, the ‘Covid Effect’ has resulted in a different set of difficulties. The financial woes people started to experience are becoming ever more burdensome, as fear rises and the descent into abject poverty deepens week by week. People are calling the hotline because they feel they have nothing left to live for. So many jobs have been lost, and this is ongoing. Employers in the vast tourism industry, from the smaller to the medium-sized have workers to pay, but with zero customers they can barely feed themselves, let alone their staff. And the business owners themselves are often not eligible for state benefits. During the first lockdown, about eighteen months ago, everything just stopped dead, and everyone was completely unprepared. The situation since the onset of the third wave is even more urgent. The Covid Effect has seen the daily number of calls to Samaritans skyrocket, increasing threefold. From 10.000 calls per year to the hotline they have seen it spiral to over 30,000. Although the Samaritans of Thailand are doing their best, the number of

suicides has also risen. Not everyone knows about the Samaritans yet. As more people do become aware of them, and that there is someone willing to listen, they are certainly going to need more volunteers. It is not only the poor that are suffering, even the middle-income and the betteroff are also victims of the Covid Effect – it impacts us all. The Samaritans of Thailand are a non-religious, non-profit charity, and the people working on the helplines are all unpaid volunteers. If a person feels like they want to help, they can contact the head office, and go through a short interview, and once accepted they will begin a comprehensive training course. Most of the volunteers have their own jobs, and are drawn from a wide spectrum of society, businessmen, doctors, housewives, students, etc. The training is extensive, and will include basic psychology and role play, with a mentor who is an experienced volunteer. It takes about four to six months to complete, at the office, for about four hours every Sunday. but could be longer, depending on the individual. They will not be allowed to actively take calls until they feel comfortable and confident in themselves, and their mentors feel that they are ready. They are dealing with fragile people who may be in danger of losing their lives. The stakes are high. I spoke to Khun Trakarn Chensy, Chairman of the Samaritans of Thailand. He is a businessman, but has devoted most of his free time to the

charity since 1997. At their office in Bangkok, he is supported by the administrator and secretary of the organisation, Khun Taweewan (Toi) Tiangdee, who is the only paid employee, everyone else involved give their time and effort for free.

be suicides. During the present times the Covid Effect has led to a surge in call volume, and the Samaritans would love to add more people to their ranks. I asked him about the recruitment and training process: “We look for several traits during our selection of volunteers. They must be kind-hearted, must be a person who understands the preciousness of another person’s life, who is more of a listener than a talker, who has empathy, who is non-judgmental. Who is willing to do good things without being recognised for it.

He told me that although suicide in Thailand is a problem, it is not as bad as recent statistics released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has reported a rate of about 12 per 100,000 of population. Khun Trakarn says it is more likely to be about six per 100,000. Still not good, but not as bad as the figures released by the WHO. In Southeast Asia, Thailand comes in about third, behind Singapore and Sri Lanka. Khun Trakarn said that while he wishes that there was no reason for an organisation such as his, it is a sad fact of human nature that there will always

“Volunteers have to remain anonymous, and cannot talk about their work here. These are the basics. They might not have the skills, but we train them, a process that takes about four to six months. The first two days is theory, basic human needs, psychology, how to be a good listener. We follow this up by assigning them a mentor, who will be an experienced volunteer. They will look at case studies together, and conduct roleplay, with them sometimes swapping roles. “Only when the mentor and the prospective volunteer are both happy and feel confident and comfortable will we allow them to go live, and take a call. We have to be very careful, we are dealing with people’s lives,” said Khun Trakarn. I asked him about the differences between a Thai caller and an Englishspeaking foreign resident, and he expounded; “The vast majority of calls are from Thai people, naturally. Asian

and Thai people have a ‘face culture’ and this means that it is not natural for them to open up and tell others about their feelings or problems. They keep it all inside them until they reach a breaking point. “This is one way the Samaritans model really works for Thai people. They never see who they are talking to, and will not meet them. A caller can say, tell, or ask whatever they want, to the person on the other end of the line, secure in the knowledge that it will never go any further. They can trust in the anonymity. “There are many instances in which a Thai person will call when they are depressed about something, although they may not actually be suicidal. But such a conversation with a sympathetic listener might well help them never to reach that endpoint. “When we have a non-Thai Englishspeaking caller the situation is often a lot more serious. Our cultures are different, and a foreign caller to the Samaritans is often at a critical point, very close to taking their life. They see a call to the Samaritans as their final hope, their very last chance in life. “In rare occurrences a volunteer will recognise just how critical the case they are dealing with is. After an urgent discussion with their team leader or the Director, they will offer the caller a chance to meet face to face. In a desperate situation we have to do everything that we can to save this life.” There has been anxiety since the beginning that Covid-19 and the

restrictions brought in to contain it could lead to a mental health crisis and an increase in suicide rates around the world. Alongside the fear of the disease itself, and potential bereavement, other features of a lockdown, such as isolation, loneliness, the loss of social support networks, unemployment, stress within the family unit, and financial insecurity all impact wellbeing and are destructive to mental health. And as expected the suicide rate has indeed risen. I was worried about the effect on the volunteers that listening to so many harrowing stories day after day might have upon the volunteers themselves. Khun Trakarn assured me that the welfare of the volunteers is paramount. They cannot help if they are suffering in any way themselves. There are meetings and discussions between the people who take the calls every two months. And should a volunteer need help or support they have doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists that are readily available, if they are suffering from stress or other issues. In closing, Khun Trakarn offers this advice to people who find themselves in distress: “It’s OK to not be OK. Try not to lose hope, there is always a solution. Don’t isolate yourself and let your problems within grow. Let them out, excise them. If you feel that your problem is too awful, or too difficult, and that you can’t think of anyone to talk to about it within your family or group of friends, then call us … we are here, just waiting for your call. And we will be able to help you, somehow.”

Their credo is that every single life lost to suicide is a tragedy. Samaritans of Thailand work tirelessly to make sure that there is always someone there for anyone who needs someone. The volunteers listen, non-judgmentally to what you have to say. And if the volunteers think a caller needs further help outside the call, they can put people in touch with organisations that address problems of domestic violence, give legal advice, LGBT support groups, addiction, unwanted pregnancy, HIV (Aids), etc.

article you can see the value of what Samaritans of Thailand are doing, and you would like to become a volunteer, or could help with a donation, contact them at their office, or via Facebook. And if you or a friend need help, call the Helpline numbers below. Reach out, they’ll always be there. CONTACTS Online: Facebook: Samaritans.Thailand

If you, a family member, or a friend need someone to talk to, The Samaritans of Thailand are there for you.

Twitter: @Samaritans_Thai

Healing takes time, and reaching out to ask for help is a courageous step. Take it, and you are on your way.

Bangkok English Line: 02-713-6791 (With Inbox message of our call-centre system, we will contact you back within 24 hours)

The Samaritans of Thailand are a charity organisation completely reliant upon donations. If, after reading this

Telephone Consultation Helplines: Bangkok Thai Line: 02-713-6793. Every day 12.00-22.00

Chiang Mai: 053-225-977 to 78. Every day 19.0022.00 Office: for donation or volunteer Email: Office phone: 02-713-6790 Office phone 2: 063-516-3600




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Cover Story



By Joseph Henry

Trail Running hero Dad and his amazing daughters How Bangkok baker and single father Manfred Waibl uses his passion for sport to overcome enormous family challenges

Q We mostly see our heroes as great athletes, billionaire entrepreneurs or international celebs. But sometimes you come across ordinary people who are amazing role models, doing heroic deeds - without reward or fanfare. During a recent mountain Trail run, I met a father whose unconditional love for his two young daughters is truly inspirational, allowing them to dream big, and to never let a serious challenge stop them from achieving their goals. He's Manfred Waibl, 45, a single father from Innsbruck, Austria, who is passing on his passion for sport, especially Trail running, to help his children overcome enormous odds. “I've lived in Thailand for 15 years. Before coming here, I was on a 10-year work assignment in Hong Kong. My passion other than sport is artisan bakery and retail management. Currently I am heading the Central Food Retail Bakeries at Central Food Hall and the Training Department in our Retail Academy. Making bread is truly rewarding, from its creation to receiving customer appreciation. From hiking mountains to Trail running I started Trail running very young, about ten years old. About that time, I played in the national badminton squad, and we used to train in the forests behind the sports center for cross training. I remember signing up for a local Trail race and came first in my age group. I was awarded a giant trophy and was immediately hooked. All my family is into mountain sports, and we hiked over the mountains as far back as I can remember. My younger brother is still my Trail running buddy when at home. He knows the best routes. TheBigChilli


Cover Story I started real competitive Trail running during my time in Hong Kong to help balance a hectic work life schedule. Hong Kong is the ultimate Trail running destination in Asia. Within 20 minutes of the city you can find lots of trailheads, from easy rolling paths to very technical rocky mountain trails. I moved to Thailand in 2006. There were very few Trail races back then, even so they attracted 60-100 runners. Adventure dashes were very popular at that time, where you would trail run first, then mountain bike and usually finish off with a swim through a lake – great fun! A few years later, that same organizer decided to hold a Trail Race. It was the starting bell for an unstoppable movement in Thailand. Now you have races every weekend with events that you need to sign up many months in advance to secure a place. Races even have been recognized by world class athletes, and Thailand, with its beautiful mountains, has now the opportunity to become Asia's hotspot for this booming sport! But what is most important is the community of runners here in Thailand. Many friendships have been made, and every runner has improved through the years through encouragement from fellow runners. A great example is the Bangkok Runners Group. Everyone is very welcoming and supportive on and off the trail. When my life took a difficult turn six years ago, the camaraderie from that very group helped me stay afloat, which I am very grateful for today. Superhero father? A superhero is an overstatement. I have two daughters, Vanessa, 11 years old, and Valentina, eight, who I raise as a single father with a live-in nanny for additional support. It's a challenging role to be a father and busy executive, but also very rewarding with lots of love. Vanessa, my oldest, is the same as her dad, fully into sports. She is a striker on Lions FC Girls Football Club, did a few years of gymnastics, and plays badminton. Vanessa recently became a Trail runner after hiking for a couple of years on weekends in the hills surrounding Bangkok, mostly in Chonburi. She recently came first in a 10km Trail Race in the 12-15 age group, when she was just 11. She is an outstanding skier and might aim for Thailand's very first Olympic Winter medal in the future. When Valentina was born, doctors immediately told us that something was not okay with her. After a lot of tests and hospital visits in the first month, we got the news that she has cerebral palsy and might never be able to walk or speak. She was also fighting epileptic seizures. When she was two years old, her mother 16


When Valentina was born, we got the news that she had cerebral palsy and might never be able to walk or speak. She was also fighting epileptic seizures. When she was two years old, her mother decided to leave our family and start a new life

decided to leave our family and start a new life. That was a big blow! But instead of putting our heads in the sand, we tried everything possible to create the life she deserves. Endless therapy sessions and daily exercise at home, mostly swimming and joint massages, helped her tremendously. Over the years, she has improved, and now she can walk a few steps, eat by herself, and even started to speak a few sentences. She is loved by so many and likes to play with other kids. She is a real sunshine! Trail races with both daughters My inspiration comes from Mother Nature. I wanted to allow Valentina to feel the outdoors and not be strapped in a wheelchair. I firmly believe that breathing in the fresh air and seeing wildlife has helped her development. When she was three years old, during our vacation in Austria, I carried her to her first mountain summit and let her touch the snow; she loved it so much. I had already run over 200 races in my life, so I thought now it's time to give back and let my girls feel the race vibe. Those memories will stay forever. Special daughters Both are very loving and peaceful individuals, very respectful to their friends, and keen to learn new things. Vanessa is also very independent. Since the



Cover Story



age of six, she flies alone between Thailand and Austria as an unaccompanied minor to spend time with her grandparents in the summer and winter. We are a TEAM! We do as much as possible together! Running together Running together is always fun, even though it has become more strenuous recently as Valentina has gained a lot of weight – she’s 24kg now. But I will carry her as long my back allows me to do so. Vanessa is usually always in front; with the extra weight I can't follow her. The running community is very supportive; lots of people cheer and like to take selfies with us. It's also good weight training for me. Favorite moments running with my girls That just happened recently over New Year when we were on a northern Thailand seven-day road trip. On our last day, we stopped in Sukhothai and decided to climb Khao Luang in Ramkhamhaeng National

Reaching the exposed peak was spectacular in so many ways. The views were fantastic, blue skies, and the temperature was a splendid 12 C. All three of us thanked God for giving us the strength to do all this together and shared a few tears TheBigChilli


Cover Story



Park - 12km on a very steep mountainous terrain. Reaching the exposed peak was spectacular in so many ways. The views were fantastic, blue skies, and the temperature was a splendid 12 C. All three of us thanked God for giving us the strength to do all this together and shared a few tears. Nothing is impossible! Advice for parents who also want to participate in sports with their children Nature is the best classroom; you can learn so much in one day. We are blessed to live in Thailand, which has never-ending flora and fauna - monkeys, snakes, butterflies, birds, and plants. We have seen many of nature's creations and learned from them all. As for participating, start early with some short hikes; even it's only 1-2 km, kids can discover a lot. The ideal age would be five years and up. You will see that kids like to run on forest trails, and exercise stimulates the brain. Let them join a ‘3km Fun Run’,which most organizers put together for families. It's exciting to mingle with the pro athletes too. Let the kids take risks and get them away from online games and TV. But mostly, it's up to the motivation of parents to support them going into the great outdoors. I organize kids' hikes from time to time within a onehour drive from Bangkok, so every parent is welcome to join. See you out on the Trails!’’ TheBigChilli




‘Joe’ Henry Marketing communications expert

Name: Joseph Henry Nickname: Joe Born: May 3, 1967, in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada Education: Bachelor of Business Administration, Marketing, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. Family: All my family lives in Vancouver, Canada. I was in a long-term relationship with a Thai lady, however we did not have children, so I’ve no family here in Bangkok. Where do you live? I live in the Thonglor area of Bangkok. Profession: I am a Corporate and Marketing Communications expert with 25 years of experience in Asia. What is your present position? (Work, and name of company): CEO and Co-Founder of Vivaldi Public Relations 8


What does your company do?: Vivaldi is primarily in the business of consulting on reputation management strategies for companies organizations and major events through public communications channels like the media, online and social channels too. Any other business interests?: Right now, Vivaldi is developing new business services that will meet market demands requiring creativity, digital content, and influence in Thailand and internationally in the coming years. In this time of crisis we are seeing opportunities! First job – and why?: Through some friends, I had the splendidly good fortune to meet Khun Suddhitham Chirathivat, who at that time was the CEO of Central Pattana on my first visit to Thailand. It was not long after that he offered me a Marketing Manager position at Central Pattana. Without hesitation, I jumped at

the opportunity to move over to Bangkok. Early influences: My Father started his first successful business when I was six years old. I helped do simple odd jobs on his real estate restoration projects. Dad taught me about doing honest hard work to make money. From 8 years old onward, all I ever wanted to do was be a business owner. How long in Thailand?: I have been in Thailand since 1996, with a couple of years back in Hong Kong and Canada mixed into that. Where did you work before Thailand?: The first real job I landed was as a journalist and anchorman at TVB Network the biggest English TV Channel in Hong Kong. After graduation, I wanted to travel in Asia for a year, when I quite suddenly scouted by TVB and shortly afterward offered a very cool job. The opportunity to live and work in Asia as an expat was a much better way forward than being a backpacker. What brought you here?: After working at TVB network in Hong Kong, I went around the region to Singapore, Manila, then Bangkok to assess what type of marketing job opportunities were out there. I had some excellent offers in Singapore and liked it there, yet still, I fell in love with Thailand. How did your career progress? : While working for Central Pattana, I gained excellent experience and quickly built an impressive influencer network of business and social contacts in Bangkok. Yet, I yearned for more entrepreneurial challenges. In 1998, together with a partner, I jumped into the TheBigChilli



world of technology to start a era enterprise with an e-commerce enabling software for small and medium-size retail businesses. We moved to Canada’s Technology Triangle on Ontario where we built a successful business model, attracted investors, and became listed on the NASDAQ OTC market. Regretfully, we got caught up in the year 2000 market crash and did not survive. The exhilaration of believing that you will change the world was an experience that I will forever cherish. After recovering from that intense period of my life, I got offered a director level position in leading PR agencies overseeing Strategy, Business Development, and Client Services for clients like Nokia, H&P, Alcatel and Fed Ex. In 2004, I co-founded Vivaldi PR with my friend, well-known businessman Jobe Nakchareon. Your best-ever work assignment? The best work assignment was when Vivaldi PR got appointed as the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta’s official PR agency. Vivaldi has been blessed to have the privilege to work on a worldrenowned event that honors His Majesty the King. We’ve been the agency of record for 15 years, have become good friends with many in of the great people and around the organization. Vivaldi has won multiple 10


international sports industry awards for our outstanding work for the Regatta. Least enjoyable work project? Sometimes, in our business, you can get caught up in a client’s internal toxic infighting. Working in that climate is not much fun. Apart from your business, what else keeps you here?: Besides owning a few properties, a great company, the hot weather, the trail running scene, and many great friends here, Thailand has simply become my home. Who’s the most interesting person you’ve ever met?: I’ve met many interesting people over the years. One that stands out for me was the singer Alicia Keys. Most irritating?: I had one client hire my company for an event. It was very successful! He immediately started headhunting my staff, demanded our complete media database, and even threatened to withhold payment. Luckily, we’ve only ever worked with one such person. Do you keep up with the political situation in Thailand – and if so, how? I keep up with it only in the sense of how it impacts work or business. Favorite social medium? I am quite active on Facebook, Instagram, and Linked-in with about 20 thousand combined followers on all three. Each has different characteristics that I like. Facebook is a highly shareable platform that helps amplify personal and business content. Instagram is a good platform that showcases great photos and videos, and Linked-in stands out for its business networking. Will Thailand’s travel industr y eventually back from Covid19 and when is that likely to happen? Yes, most definitely. Have you ever met a person anywhere in the world that doesn’t rave about


Text and photos by Geoff Morrison - Instagram #siamscenes

Interview with a 5,000-yearold Water Buffalo Considered the backbone of Asia, buffalos have a five millennia partnership with mankind, bolstering society with their sheer strength, labour, meat, horns, hides, milk and butterfat. But their numbers are in decline 24


5000 Year Old Swamp Water Buffalo




Buffalo Island Coral -Thalee Noi

e all know buffaloes can’t talk. But few creatures have more stories to tell than this 5,000-year-old “backbone” of Asia. Thailand’s culture, beliefs and customs evolved as a “rice civilization” and Thai people have been seamlessly fused with water buffaloes in all aspects of farming since ancient times. On a recent trip to Thalee Noi (small sea) shared with some 45,000 resident and migratory birds, mangroves, marshes, mongoose and crab eating macaques, I was mesmerized by the swamp water buffalo. Here, a small water borne herd glided past our longtail boat, nurturing their young, gracefully embodying a sense of strength,




endurance, resilience, and calm we could all use these days. Inspired and intrigued, I took a closer look. If water buffalos could speak, they would reflect on five millennia of partnership with mankind, from Neolithic days in the Yangtze River delta, bolstering society with their sheer strength, labour, meat, horns, hides, milk and butterfat. The global water buffalo population is now about 172 million, with 96 percent of them in Asia, comprising 22 ‘River’ and 16 ‘Swamp’ varieties. In Thailand, however, there is a recent and alarming population decline. In 1987 there were about six million swamp water buffaloes, with numbers dropping to

Early Dawn at Thalee Noi

The scenic journey to Thale Noi

700,000 by 2015. Rice harvest mechanization and higher prices for buffalo meat and hide in neighboring countries have exacerbated the lightning speed demise. Are we so willing to watch our ancestral companions vanish? On Day Two at Thalee Noi, we ask our longtail boat guide to return to the buffalo herd seen the day before. From Sripakpra Resort we embark on a 6 am swamp excursion. Bamboo Yors etch the dawn horizon as we venture up the Pak Pra river into the great 457 km2 freshwater basin, one of Thailand’s most bio-diverse ecosystems. Approaching a small tree shaded island, our engine is silenced as we drift towards a mucky hoofmarked rampart at the shore. There, within a drift-wood TheBigChilli



The Buffalo Keeper

Young Buff's Wallowing in the Mud

enclosure, a shimmering black mass of humps, bumps and horns peer out. lone buffalo keeper emerges from nowhere, push poling his wood boat across the shallows to release the sea-gate. He explains to us the herds wander about freely during the dry season and are moved back to land in the monsoons. He prefers to raise more male buffaloes than females and calves as they have a higher market value. A herd of 120 large water buffaloes could be worth as much as 20 million baht. Peacefully and gracefully the buffaloes migrate into the swamp. They are free to enjoy the cool water, abundant grass and plants and are said to be important

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for balancing the ecosystem. Grazing by buffaloes increases native plant and wildlife diversity and enhances the process of photosynthesis. Many birds accompany the herds feeding on resident insects and flies. Buffalo hooves are large with two flexible joints for easier muckwalking. They wallow and use their horns to “shovel” mud onto themselves to keep cool and deter insects. Families are close knit, often with 5-8 related cows and offspring grouping together, perhaps with a bull. Young males live in bachelor groups. The next day, on the way to Hat Yai, a buffalo “skin and skull” street shop catches us off guard. Is this a renewable/sustainable practice or touristic abuse of a culturally iconic creature - I wonder. In Hat Yai Municipal Market, I search unsuccessfully for some water buffalo milk or meat products. 72 million tones of buffalo milk are produced annually globally. It contains higher levels of protein, fat, calcium, phosphorus and lactose compared with cow milk. It is ideal for cheese and considered essential for a proper Neopolitan pizza.

The whey is used in Italian Ricotta, Mozzarella and Mascarpone. The milk products seem to have potential. My quest towards future proofing the water buffalo continues. ornsiri Farm in Prachin Buri's Ban Sang district is an inspiring story where the owner and breeder, Khun Phromphiriya, diversified his buffalo meat herd into milk production. The result is “Siam Buff Milk” labelled and sold under Kasetsart University’s KU brand. Sornsiri Farm produces approximately 50 kg of milk per day along with a host of other products such as milk pudding, yoghurt and soap. Suan Samphran, near Nakhon Pathom, is another innovative agricultural practice - a model organic farm promoting sustainable agriculture, recycling, organic fertilisers and pesticides. “Live in” water buffaloes provide manure for the crops. A mechanical tiller rests by the water buffalos stall - an apt reminder of changing times. Sa Kaeo’s Kasorn Kasivit Water Buffalo Agricultural





New Born Calf at Kosorn Kasavit copy

Kosorn Kasavit Water Buffalo Training School copy

Training School, established by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn in 2008, focusses on preservation and training related to traditional rice/water buffalo farming. It offers intensive 10-day courses to tradition minded rice farmers. Farmers are incentivized to obtain buffaloes from the Royal Cattle and Buffalo Bank, set up by His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and pay back at discounted prices or in exchange for the buffalo’s future offspring. Kasorn Kasivit respects and cultivates the symbiotic relationship between farmer and buffalo. With 40 buffaloes and 20 farmers in training, the scale of the eight rai operation is modest and focuses on results. Seven expert “hands-on” teachers were selected from over 200 applicants. The herd’s older buffalos, such as Khun Dokkoon, and Khun Rumpueng, are also “teachers” since they teach both buffalos and farmers. Rising stars include Khun Tapaotong, a beautiful white albino, and the five or so Rudolph-like calves born annually. Traditional rice-growing practice is taught alongside animal care, farm financial and operational management skills. Every year Sa Kaeo province holds

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the Buffalo Su Kwan ceremony showing symbolic appreciation for water buffaloes, giving offerings to angels according to traditional beliefs. Changes in the traditional role of the water buffalo, and improved efficiencies in agricultural practice are inevitable. But equally important are the preserved cultural appreciation and commercial integration of this unique creature into Thailand’s future. As timetested water buffalo farming practices give way to the debt inducing, oil sputtering machinery ripping at the bank accounts of poor farmers, there are some small glimmers of hope for Thailand’s water buffalo. Without some quick attention, perhaps future interviews with the 5,000-year old-Water Buffalo will fall silent. Sources: Bangkok Post. (2017). Water Buffaloes Return to Wetlands. Bangkok Post. advanced/1193692/water-buffaloes-return-to-wetlands Bangkok Post. (2020). Cheers to Cheese, the Saviour of Thai Buffaloes. Bangkok Post. Hays, J. (2014). Water Buffaloes: Characteristics, Behavior and Human Uses | Facts and Details. asian/cat62/sub408/entry-2830.html Pakchuen, J. (2019). Saving the Water Buffaloes. Urban Affairs Magazine. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2020). Water buffalo | Mammal. Encyclopedia Britannica. animal/water-buffalo Tour on Thai. (2017). Kasorn Kasivit Water Buffalo Agricultural School. Tour on Thai. en/article/2298