Daniel Sencier


One day you’ll be reading this, and I’ll be dead! It might be this edition, fresh off the press, very unexpected; I hope not! More likely, you’ve found an old copy of Expat Life in Thailand in the magazine rack of a Starbucks in Sala Daeng. You’re there, hiding from the chaos outside! The shouting and screaming of hundreds running swiftly through narrow streets, care nothing of who they might target next! The police and soldiers stand by powerless as the onslaught spreads; it’s a free for all! All thoughts of tomorrow are gone, today’s all that matters! Your heart’s pounding, your body is clammy, your mind is racing. How did I get here? What could I have done differently? It’ll be too late soon to have a voice; the dead are silent, everything they ever said distorted and forgotten, leaving others with just, ‘how you made them feel.’ The only things left, films, sound recordings or scripts like this, unchanging, frozen for eternity, just evidence that you were here once! I’ve experienced many funerals and can’t remember one which wasn’t farcical in some way.


At my father’s, his then current partner, dear old Ivy, sat near the back of the church out of respect for my mother and her children. We, in turn, felt so sorry for her obvious grief that we sat in the remaining seats behind.The priest had to shout from the altar, his voice echoing over thirty rows of empty pews between him and the rest of us! We didn’t know what my father would have wanted, so there we all were, actors in a B movie comedy! I dislike those European funerals with the big ugly black limos, the distraught family, some doing their best to look distraught, many just wanting to be seen to be there, to ‘pay their last respects.’I’m not even sure what that means! If you want to ‘pay your respects,’ do it when I’m alive so I can have the pleasure of that meeting! Visit while you can, I sincerely don’t want your company when I’m dead, when it’s all one-way talk. If you don’t like me, let’s make friends. Know that sometimes, it’s too late! Don’t whisper to my spirit after your free tea and sandwiches; you’ll be talking to yourself. Don’t wait to read my obituary, it’ll probably never be written! Learn about me while I’m alive, speak now, hear my story and tell me yours; I’d like that! Why does it cost six times that of a business class ticket to fly a dead body to another country, when you’re not even eating from the flight menu? If I die overseas, that’s where I want to remain.

Old hands

I don’t want a funeral, though I know my body must be disposed of, I want it all done with minimum fuss. Buddhists do it best, don’t you think? Avoid flying in from anywhere to see me dead; I’d rather you gave the fare to someone in need. Ashes? Sure, you can have some, but don’t talk to them, it’s not me! I’m here now. Talk to me! When my father was alive I didn’t make much effort at keeping in touch; I had a young family, it could always wait until another day. What I’d give to talk now, tell him where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I’d hug him for the first time! When he died, I felt a part of me went with him; that way I still feel close. When my mother went, it laid ruin to what was left; all sleeping demons arriving at once!So, where do I believe we go when we die? We tell our children, “You go back to where you were before you were a baby.”I love that! After nearly 70 years, dipping in and out of religion, searching for the truth, I finally found what sits comfortably, and it’s simple…


I don’t know, and nobody else does; Hindus, Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Atheists, say your piece, but if you claim to know, then you’re in immediate conflict with billions of others. Why should you be right and they wrong? There are roughly 4,200 organised religions in the world. I say ‘organised’ to indicate they probably have a leader, a headquarters and a bank account, but some faiths may only have one person with their own set of unique beliefs; like me!

Look at the top five:






2.2 billion

1.5 billion

1.2 billion

1.1 billion

535 million

Old laundry

When a member of one of those dies, they all have very different scenarios in ‘what happens next,’ and all deal with it in very different ways. So, where my open spiritual mind says and feels that there could indeed be a ‘God Almighty’ would that God really have 4,200 different versions of ‘what happens next?’ Or do we desperately research all 4,200 to find which one suits us best? I know that random reincarnation wouldn’t suit me at all, coming back in the life form of anything from a goat to a jellyfish, a pigeon to a tuna, all have obvious downsides; and I can think of worse! Having started out as Catholic and experiencing up to 20 other religions over 60 years, I’ve now parked my soul in the Buddhist bay. My belief is that those who believe there’s nothing after death are just as wrong as those who believe there’s something, because the truth is, we don’t know, and that gives me comfort.

Old wash machine

It means we enter the final journey knowing there might be nothing, but also that there might be something; an element of hope. After all, if there is some higher being, an Almighty God, they will surely understand why we mortals might, looking at the evidence, have doubts about the ‘masterplan.’Yes, the dust from my body will float along with yours, journeying for eternity throughout the cosmos, scattering over millions of light years.

The energy that makes life possible will dissipate, just as a candlelight does when the wind gusts. As to what happens then, I don’t know; you don’t know, nobody knows! So, go now! Grab your weapon, reload and take your chance amongst the bellowing mob outside. Revel and rejoice in the festival of Songkran, where you can die safely a thousand times. I’m gone, but your voice still matters. Talk, shout, scream with joy! I’m where we go when we die.

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April fools day

Probably the largest non-religious festival celebrated in the western world, yet its origins are as uncertain, as whether you’ll fall victim in April this year. The earliest mention of April Fools’ Day or All Fools’ Day came in 1686 England when biographer John Aubrey described April 1st as a “Fools Holy Day.” Way before that, the Roman spring festival of Hilaria, the vernal (spring) equinox paved the way for similar events through the centuries. Held around the 25th March in honour of the first day of the year that was longer than the night, it included festivities, games, processions and masquerades, during which disguised commoners could imitate nobility to devious ends. Back to today, you’re gifted an opportunity once a year to get your own back on ‘the boss’ under the protection of “April Fool” but make sure they really do have a sense of humour, or you could end up toast!

This is not a practice restricted to individuals but taken up by many large organisations over recent years, perhaps most famously in 1957 when the BBC reported on Italians harvesting spaghetti from special trees. This resulted in several hundred asking for information on how to cultivate the ‘spaghetti tree,’ followed by complaints of being humiliated when the truth came out! So, whatever prank you line up, before you cause too much anxiety, make sure you shout, “April Fool!” which will hopefully bring you some forgiveness. With an Irish background, I grew up drowning in jokes; it was April Fools’ Day every day! My conversations were so peppered with similes, metaphors and sarcasm that foreigners could barely understand me. However, none of those jokes were designed to hurt, just to make others laugh, which encouraged me to learn even more. Irish jokes were something I could live with, in part because I could relate to an element of personal reflection! My mother, born and bred in the Republic, used to say things intended as serious, but we would all fall about laughing.


“Our Daniel has one of those new ‘sat lav’ things in his car now,” or “I’m too scared to ask Google, they might think I’m stupid.” She once saw a rabbit hopping by the side of the road and remarked, “Daniel, do you think that’s a real rabbit?” Stunned, I replied jokingly, “No Mum, it’s one of those new hi-tech ones.” She explained with a straight face how she’d never heard of those things, but what a good idea they were! She would always start a scolding with, “Look at me, this is no joking matter!” We’d all freeze, trying to look petrified, but the slightest twitch from one of us and we’d all crack up, scattering to avoid the far-reaching (low-tech) broom! There are the thousands of great jokes that you learn and memorise, stored in a giant ‘Gatling gun’ that you release without warning when the time’s right… Sean and Mick are walking down the road and Sean has a bag of doughnuts in his hand. Sean says to Mick, “If you can guess how many doughnuts are in my bag, you can have them both.” Would that offend you? Maybe if you were Irish? Unlikely though! Travelling the world, I recognised that in some cultures, jokes don’t exist.

When living in Johannesburg, our TV reception was poor, so I informed our friend Freedom that I’d wait for nightfall and go steal the satellite dish from our neighbour’s roof. He was shocked and explained that it was illegal to do such a thing. When I explained that I was joking, he was even more confused. “So, it was a lie?” he said. I replied, “Yes, sometimes a joke can be a lie, but that’s OK because it’s a joke.” The following morning, he came to tell me that he was going into town, and I wished him a safe journey. He said, “No, I’m not going to town, it was a joke.” I forced a laugh but failed miserably, then sat with him to try and clarify, and we had endless fun practising.

Blondie women

So, what is a joke? “A ‘joke’ is a display of humour in which words are used within a specific and well-defined narrative structure to make people laugh and is not meant to be taken seriously.” (Wikipedia) Does that do it for you? Why did the chicken cross the road? In Bangkok? Undoubtedly suicide with a guaranteed outcome! Knock! Knock! Who’s there? Cash! Cash who? No thanks, but I’d love some peanuts! Don’t worry, my wife took four takes on that one! Jewish, Catholic, vegetarian, football, Essex girl, mother-in-law, race, sex, disability, tragedy, any subject now becomes ammo for jokes. After 9/11 the first jokes came out the same day on social media, and I’ve seen it happen with anything that occurs around the world.

Why? Maybe that’s the way some of us handle things when they get so bad! “Death smiles at us all, all we can do is smile back.” (Gladiator) Then there are the camouflaged jokes; these are the worst kind because they’re always aimed at individuals or minority sections of society. A joke designed to hurt or offend, maybe not intentionally, but under the guise of “it was just a joke,” but often doesn’t feel that way to the receiver! Did you hear about the bulimic stag party? The cake came out of the girl! How do you make a blonde laugh on Saturday? Tell her a joke on Wednesday. Not so good for bulimic blondes! My mother-in-law and I were happy for 20 years; then we met each other. Why don’t ducks tell jokes when they fly? Because they would quack up! A bit more general, so less offensive unless you’re a wellread mallard! Having had a cancer scare recently, I can relate to this one… An old soldier went to a clinic for an MRI and was put into the machine by an attractive, young technician. Sometime later, after snoozing to music, the examination was over, and he was helped from the device by an older guy. The veteran gasped, “Wow! How long was I in there for?” Tell your joke, but be aware of your audience.


What may seem very funny to some could be offensive to others, and if your amongst strangers, you should be doubly careful. Billy Connolly, a master of the profession, said, “I’ve always been fascinated by the difference between jokes you can tell your friends, but you can’t tell to an audience. There’s a fine line you must tread because you don’t know who is out there in the auditorium. A lot of people are too easily offended.” The older you get, the more jokes you’ll have heard, sometimes the same ones coming around incessantly, like Jehovah Witnesses. Still laugh out loud, it’s good for you! I even laugh at jokes when I don’t get them, it seems fair on the teller! If you’ve got a joke that would make me cry laughing, please send it because I haven’t done that in years! Laughter is a wonderful medicine, it improves your health, and it’s free, fun and easy to do. It triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural ‘feel-good’ chemicals, allowing you a greater sense of wellbeing. Laughter burns calories, improves circulation, makes you more popular, inspires hope and one day, if you’re lucky, you may even die laughing! Monday 1st April, beware, it could be you!

Joke words
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I’m here today with thousands of others, no idea why, I can’t ever remember not being here! I’m trying to memorise everyone’s name, but they all look so alike! It’s incredibly crowded, everyone is talking at once, I can barely hear myself think! Food is plentiful; it’s as if they don’t want us to stop eating, though it’s a bit boring and hard to pick up as it moves by so quickly. They look after our health and any time I see someone sick they are whisked away immediately, though I’ve never heard back from anyone as to what the hospital is like.

We see the sun shining through when the big rusty doors open at the end, but it’s always over too quickly, and we all wonder what it’s like beyond those doors. We’re told that one day we’ll all be out of here, so we must be patient! We were chosen, apparently, because we were the fittest and a special day awaits us all, but it only comes around once a year. We never get any news from the outside world, just the occasional sparrow that drops in through the ceiling grid to steal our food, but they never stop to chat.

A pigeon told us once that we’re in a sort of ‘holding camp,’ but he was too busy throwing bread over his head to elaborate. I’ve heard ‘holiday camp’ mentioned by the human called ‘vet,’ who said she was really looking forward to spending just two weeks in one; so that’s reassuring. The pigeon also mentioned ‘Christmas,’ a time when you get lots of presents and take part in a big feast, so I’m looking forward to that too; more variety than we’re eating now, surely! There are no toilets so the floor is a terrible mess, but every night this giant machine slowly screams along, spraying everywhere, picking up everything and dropping straw behind it.

When it bunches us all up at one end we jump over it, that’s how I know I can’t fly; we are more scared of crushing each other than of the machine, which does leave the floor clean and comfortable! Maybe we’re being punished for something terrible we did when we were too young to remember; there must be some purpose to all this! Every day seems like the last here and you lose track of time, wishing something different would happen, anything really! I believe in a beginning and an end, so this must be the middle, but I’m not sure how far we are from either end.

Well, somebody heard me because something different has started to happen! Towering machines belching black smoke have arrived outside, I can hear them, I feel the throbbing through the ground and everyone is getting very excited. The rattling feed conveyors have fallen silent, and the big doors screech as they slide open, and yes, they are staying open! It’s cold, windy and raining outside, but the smell of crisp, fresh air has filled our lungs with so much goodness, we’re all just taking deep breaths, staring at each other; hoping this moment will last forever!

The machines seem to be offloading lots of youngsters; they’re not sure what’s happening or where they are, all running around like headless chickens! One shouts, “How long have you been here?” I shout back, “Nearly a year I think, but it’s our turn to join in the feast, so we’re leaving on that machine you arrived on.” They all look so scared, I guess like we did when we arrived, but they’ll soon settle in and look forward to the ‘Festive Season.’ The men loading seem anxious to get us on board, they are acting a bit rough, kicking out sometimes, but one mentioned “piecework” so I guess they can’t be that bad. “First lorry ready!” shouts one of the humans.

On the road now, so crowded we can’t move, but at least we can’t fall over and the fresh air is filtering through every tiny space, fluffing up our feathers, making us all look so much more elegant. As I peer through the open vents, I feel so lucky, I can see what’s outside, and it’s more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. Creatures, like us but a lot smaller, soaring through the sky, other animals grazing in the lush green fields, young ones playing with their mothers; I wonder if I did that when I was young? Maybe I had a mother? Humans, just like ‘vet,’ pushing prams, old people feeding pigeons, young humans playing with dogs, oh such a wonderful world, I feel so blessed to be part of it.

We’re turning down a bumpy side-road now, the rains getting heavier, turning white and flaky, and I see a sign pointing to somewhere called ‘Abattoir,’ sounds so French, exotic even. As we arrive, another lorry pulls out, a huge colour picture of one of us smiling on the side. I didn’t even realise we could smile, and now I feel silly because I’m trying to. ‘Happy Turkeys’ it says on the side of the other lorry, but I wonder why they can’t see out as we can? Our engine has juddered to a halt; the doors are opening, more shouting, looks like this could be the end of the line.

It’s amazing how exciting the unexpected can be! As the doors open to our new home a terrible smell, a stench of fear rushes out to engulf us! Nobody wants to go in, but the humans are getting angry and prodding, kicking shouting, forcing us forward. A pigeon by the door mutters, “Only the author can save you now.” “What do you mean?” I replied, “How can we contact this Author you speak of?” “His wife has read the first draft, it upset her greatly and she’s already spoken to him, so you’ll have to wait and see.

He does have the power to save you; the Author can change anything!” Wait, something strange is happening, my wings suddenly feel strong, bursting with energy, and the others are furiously flapping too. Many have started flying out of the lorry in front of me, bumping into each other, squawking loudly as they soar into the cloudy sky. This is amazing, we can fly, but how is that possible? We are all in the air now, circling in a big flock above ‘Abattoir’, looking down at the humans who all seem to be in disbelief. But where do we go now, what do we do, who will lead us? The same pigeon flaps past, I’m sure he’s grinning, “Don’t worry, you’re safe now, the Author’s wife saw your plight, so he’ll script you to a place where you can all have a wonderful time, after all, it is the Festive Season!” “Happy Christmas everyone!”

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After a long time away, I deal with returning to England in much the same way as I enter a cold  swimming pool. There’s no point in dipping my toes first, the whole process is agonisingly slow, and I’m afraid that one day I won’t be able to do it; such is the change in a country I once knew so well. No, I march straight down to the deep end, take a deep breath and dive into my hometown agricultural show; English again in a flash! Penrith is and has been for centuries, a key hub in the Cumbrian farming community with tractors, sheep and horses passing through town as regular as tourist caravans.

It’s as old as towns get, with evidence of a settlement dating back to 500BC and was the ancient capital of Cumberland. Our house is relatively modern, dating back to around 1680 and on a back street that used to be the main London Road. Agricultural shows are held throughout England from around June to September, and the date is set in stone regardless of the weather. Bad luck on the day could see a complete washout, or at best everyone wading through muddy fields, steam rising from the rich mix of soil and dung, an almost creamy taste to the air if you allow the imagination to flow! In the north of England, maybe it’s the frequent memories of all those ugly days that makes it oh so wonderful when, as with this year, the Penrith Show was blessed with sunshine.

Although all these shows vary in size, they carry a very common theme throughout and every town/village holds great pride in putting together an amazing catalogue of events where there really is, ‘something for everyone.’ The most obvious on display, just through sheer size, are the horses, and these range from mighty shires capable of pulling massive loads, to tiny ponies smaller than some dogs! The jumping events are a spawning ground with young country folk trying to outgun each other, not just over the sticks but in the fashion stakes too; all farmers seemingly addicted to the principle of strength through breeding! Massive bulls, cows, sheep,  pigs and then to the dogs, rabbits  and chickens, many smaller than  starlings.

“Every town/village holds great pride in putting together an amazing  catalogue of events where there really is something for everyone.”

A prize-winning cow can produce, on average, 8 gallons of milk per day in exchange for 100 pounds of feed, which can include grain, silage, hay, soybean meal, plus vitamins and minerals. You’ll see these interesting facts on display everywhere and what a great idea, getting everyone interested in so much often taken for granted. If you’re a southerner, you might be excused for thinking there are two or three varieties of sheep, but I lost count at this year’s show. The rams seemed out of proportion with reality, some as large as small bulls and showing no fear of anyone.

Others, small and timid, huddled in the corner of their pens, terrified of the surroundings looking, well, as  bewildered as sheep can. The same for the pigs really but they seemed far harder to keep clean, farmers running ahead of the judges, tools at the ready, continually trying to clean up the dung before the huge animals could joyously roll around in it, savouring every steaming squelch!

The sheepdogs always pulled a big crowd, their skills looking vastly enhanced against an animal with similar intelligence to a pigeon, but unable to fly. But you could bring your pet dog and win prizes too, as long as they would obey the simplest  of instructions and not try to eat or become over-acquainted with the other dogs! Cats? I didn’t see any all day; maybe I missed the ‘cat tent.’ Poultry? A sea of chickens, ducks, geese and every other feathered thing you could think of under one giant marquee, but not just birds, their eggs too! I made the mistake of asking a judge just how they decided on the best egg; I was still glued 10 minutes later!

Size, shape, colour, uniformity, balance, and then when broken, whether the yolk sits centrally to the white, the colour, volume, opacity, shell thickness… it went on, and on… then, all 3 or even 6 had to match; synchronised eggs!  Judges were vastly experienced and travelled hundreds of miles  to presideover these fiercely contested events!

At the Penrith Show, you soon begin to realise that you can enter almost anything for a prize, not just  a horse, rabbit or pig but peas, dolls, strawberries, bread, knitwear, wine, jam… even recycled junk models; such is the nature of this special summer day. As a child, I had a pet chicken called ‘snowy’ who followed me around the yard everywhere. One day I noticed  she was missing, so at dinner, while tucking in, I asked, “Grandma, where’s Snowy?” She told me that Snowy had  gone on holiday, and I accepted that, after all, we all needed a holiday. Even the white feathers in the yard hadn’t given me the obvious clue that I was sadly eating my best friend! Well, nothing much has changed, because kids at the show petting rabbits, chickens and sheep seemed oblivious to any connection between them and the food/butcher’s stalls around the ground.

I feel it more open and honest in Thailand, with children well aware from an early age that they are actually eating  animals and a clearer relationship with their food. Shouting, grunting, cheering and clapping ahead? That had to be the Cumberland wrestling! A simple rough circle scored on the grass and two willing opponents who are told to, “tekk hod!” It’s strength and skill from there on to try and get the other person either on their back, out of the ring or break their hold, and it’s best of-three.

The crowd never get bored as each bout lasts around 3 minutes and there’s no break between the next pair coming on. Under 12’s, under 15’s, under 18’s then it goes by weight, up to 12 stones and then ‘any weight’ where the giants or ‘plumb uglae ans’ come out. In recent years they started a ‘Women’s Open’ which is proving extremely popular with the men and this year took place in the only torrential downpour, everyone watching from the packed beer tent, exploding  in rapturous applause as many a country lass displayed their art in gladiatorial style.

Hospitality tents dotted around with free canapés and Champagne if you happened to be a customer, but plenty of hot dogs, burgers, tea and coffee for the commoners. The biggest surprise of the day…” Thai Food” cooked in a wok by a lovely woman from central Thailand, and as friendly as all Thai’s are! I practiced my little Thai to greet her and then quickly broke into English just in case she asked me anything! Had I seen that five years ago I would have dreamt of living in that wonderful country, now three years in I feel so lucky, it’s a reality.

The display of vintage tractors was a must because they gave contrast to the new equipment available to today’s farmers, ranging from hi-tech quad bikes with GPS to monster combine harvesters, more at home in a Transformers movie.  I thought back to my Grandad, who in 1935 had won the All Ireland Championship for turning a straight furrow with a horse and single plough and wished he could be there to see how easy life would get.

Tens of thousands once worked the land in Cumbria, whole villages in full employment, but machines have replaced them all, strawberries being the final challenge. A breathtaking day, all in all, where the local community met with those who put the food on our plates but rarely see eye to eye with us, ‘townies,’ who endlessly complain about animal rights, chemical pollution, muck on the roads and most other things that make ‘countryfolk’ so delightfully different!

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My knowledge and impressions of this country had been painted as a child, watching World War II films and then later when transfixed by the TV series, ‘Shogun.’ Having made many Japanese friends in Bangkok, I knew that without exception, they were honourable, friendly people with a set of social standards that I respected but didn’t pretend to understand. Their national cuisine was even more challenging to me than my growing Thai repertoire, so I was looking forward to being tested! Visiting Japan had been a lifelong dream, and because of distance one I thought I’d never fulfil, but as good fortune placed me in Bangkok, once distant lands became close neighbours.

I’m here at the end of a two week flying visit, now in my hotel room on the final day; so, was it as I’d expected? People often compare countries… “Austria is similar to Switzerland,” “Cambodia is a bit like Myanmar,” but Japan is like no other country I have been to! Having been cut off for centuries in self-imposed seclusion until about 150 years ago, it developed in its unique way to become what we see today, an ultra-modern society still cemented by deep traditional and cultural values.

First, I noticed that everything here works, it’s so organised and efficient, so clean and safe, dare I say, a bit like England once was? I saw many a school empty out and very young children setting off for home, not an adult in sight, a happening of the past now in my own country where everyone is afraid their child might just disappear one day! I did see a policeman once, but this is a self-policing society where the public know what behaviour is acceptable and tend not to go off-piste.


In England it is completely acceptable to be drunk in public, so it’s a common occurrence and some city centres resemble war zones on the weekend with police stretched to their limits. Here, it’s not acceptable, so it’s something you rarely see and when you do, it’s just ‘silly’ drunk, not ‘violent’ drunk. Doesn’t that make things a bit, well, robotic? Not at all, it makes it very Japanese, and though I’m not sure how it works, it does.

As in most parts of Asia, you get massive society bonus points as you get older, so at 66 maybe I just sensed that and felt very at ease here. The food had to be the number one thing I wasn’t looking forward to, coming from a very sheltered background where everything was wrapped in pastry, I had no idea I was even eating part of an animal until the age of twelve. Thailand had been a good training ground, and I soon found I could eat most things as long as it’s glazed dead eyes weren’t staring from the plate. Having pointed that out in one small hotel, they had great fun making sure there were no eyes involved in any of my meals, with alternatives, such as sliced pork in place of baby squid.

The things that stand out most in any country you visit are those that differ most from your own, so forgive me when I dedicate space to this subject. Toilets! Around the world they have their own designs, the more you travel, the more surprises there are, from the 3 bucket system in Zimbabwe to the standup toilets of France. A world league table, however, would see Japan sitting firmly on top with international demand for their Rolls Royce of small rooms always on the increase. As you open the cubical door, the toilet lid rises to a single chime, as if to salute, then blue/white light floods the bowl as a fragrant mist hisses in, sanitising the immediate area.

That came as a shock first time, as I was reluctant to sit on any electrical mechanical device hovering too close, but you soon develop trust as you’re touched by the warm welcoming seat. As the sensors locate you, the water flushes gently to remove any possible trace of the last person, and that’s when I noticed the ‘control panel.’ So that nobody outside could hear my ‘toilet sounds’ I could press to make a rumbling wind/water noise, like a small aircraft quietly ditching into the sea at distance. When the main performance had passed another button allowed warm water to wash, pulsating, before being gently blow-dried; an awesome experience, if like me, you had never used a hi-tech bidet.



This was not a 5 star hotel exception but a magic delight installed even in public toilets, and if I ever return to my own ‘cubical challenged’ country, I’ll source immediately! The bullet trains travelling at over 200 miles per hour (320km/h) are impressive to most, but as a train enthusiast, I was in heaven. Make sure you get a ‘Japan Rail Pass,’ only available from your own country before you travel, as this can be used on not only most trains but also on buses and other forms of transport nationwide, saving you a lot of money. Sixteen carriages of luxury, soundproofed, always on time, travelling through the countryside and numerous mountain tunnels at speeds normally associated with flying machines; I was spellbound.

Even photographing one passing through a station, you had to be very prepared, because as soon as it came into view, whoosh, it was already too late! Cities are cities wherever you go, and that’s the same in Japan, plenty of interesting stuff but finding your way around, not easy! We did our best, but you could spend a week in every one and still not do them justice. In general, the smaller the town, the better things were, if only because the smaller places here hadn’t been completely wiped out during the war, so they had far more history/buildings standing.

Yes, visit a castle or two, a few geisha houses and some shrines, all synonymous with Japan, but unless you have a particular interest in these, you’ll soon become “castled and shrined out.” Spend time travelling through the different areas, meet the people and visit the markets of today, and you’ll begin to know this wonderful country. Get involved in the culture, take part in a ‘tea ceremony,’ try/hire a kimono or hoari, learn some basics of the language before you go, stay in a ryokan and bathe at an onsen; soak in Japan.

We travelled from Tokyo in the east as far as Hiroshima in the west, zigzagging on the super-efficient transport system, staying in large cities, smaller towns and mountain villages. If you go to any of the ‘top places to visit’ there’s the inevitable ocean of tourists, and sometimes you’ll just have to go with that, but it’s better to wander off the track a bit to feel the spirit in your bones of this beautiful, unique country. It’s expensive, far more so than Thailand, more on a level with Australia and the USA but you can keep costs down if you research for the best hotel offers and book tickets for tourist attractions in advance.

lady drink


Hiroshima had to be the highlight of our visit, not only because of the terrible thing that happened on that dark day in 1945 but also to witness the beautiful city that has risen from those ashes. It was an extraordinary feeling standing at ground zero where so many died back then, and so many more in the years that followed. People looked knowingly at each other, there was no need to speak, it was the strangest of experiences, as if there were souls all around observing us.


Hiroshima now stands as a world monument for peace and a hope that no other population will ever have to face that experience again, and we can only hope! I’d like to return one day, for longer next time and perhaps take in some of the areas we weren’t able to visit. For now, I leave at least knowing that I know Japan. She’s no longer a mystery across the seas that I’ll never be lucky enough to visit, I’ve kissed her on the cheek, and she’ll stay deep in my heart forever.

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The English National Curriculum is widely recognised as the gold standard for education in numerous countries distant from its shores and delivered by an increasing number of teachers who have abandoned ship for a better quality of life. Why? It’s not just the money but the dramatic change at home in, “what it means to be a teacher!”

Today, endless government bureaucracy still churns away in a futile effort to continuously compare one school with another, sacrificing everything in its path. Over 3,700 teachers were signed off long term sick last year due to pressure of work, anxiety and mental illness, not being able to keep up with having to justify almost everything they do. English children are some of the “most over￾assessed in the modern world,” and this assessment process continually changes, the rules being relentlessly tweaked at the whim of passing government ministers, just to make their mark.

Many years ago, money mattered, but now in England we see a society where, sadly, only money matters. Teaching, along with nursing has always been seen as two of the main vocational groups, people who do the job for the love of what they can achieve for other people, however, in a business led society they have become as sheep to the wolves.

For decades now, schools have been squeezed to make savings and at first, there were viable savings to be had, but now the juice has gone andall is dry, but the squeeze continues. Of course, there are many factors in play when we look at ‘well-run schools’ but when times are tight, where are the cuts made?

• Pay
• Staffing levels
• Special educational needs(SEN) staff
• Building maintenance(external/internal)
• Training/courses
• The basics (pens, pads,paints, etc.)

When you start to freeze or reduce any of the above, it’s only a matter of time before the whole house comes tumbling down. To add to this problem, schools are often run by unqualified head teachers, no longer a requirement under law, and managed by a board of governors, who although sometimes comprise of some excellent candidates, often attract the most ‘unqualified’ individuals who know little to nothing about educating children!

It’s not a job that many in the community want, more for status and power, a very different reason for being associated with the school than the teachers who often fall victim to these mini-regimes. So, is it any better overseas? Surely these problems must exist everywhere? Using Thailand as an example, when a teacher starts with an international school in Bangkok, they might be surprised to expect the following:

• Similar or higher pay than in England
• Free or subsidised accommodation
• Around 30% less tax 45 hour week
• Class sizes around 16
• Free medical insurance
• Paid annual flights back to the UK
• A general cost of living less than half that of England
• A yearly bonus equivalent to one month’s salary
• Respected as a high-ranking member of society
• Sunny and warm all year round
• Close to many countries that their friends dream of going to
• Free school places if you have children
• On the downside, no pension provision, but they can start their own So, does that sound too good to be true? There must be a catch, surely? “Will I be worked like a dog with no spare time?” No, that was your nightmare back in England:
• Buried in paperwork, planning, assessments, data gathering and reports for class sizes up to 40
• Working a +55 hour week (often more)
• Dipping into your own pocket to make things special for your children
• Being part of a system where you don’t feel valued or respected, just tired and disillusioned Teachers in Thailand are highly respected and valued members of the community. When you greet a teacher, you use the title “Kru” and hold your palms together as high to your head as you would for monks or older people.

The late King Bhumibol stated that, “Education and those directly responsible for it, namely teachers, are of great importance. The people’s education is the indicator of the advancement or the decline of a country. The work of teachers, therefore, means the life or death of the country. Teachers have to be equipped with three significant qualities, namely good knowledge, good morality and good ability and should perform their duties completely and well.” The standard of international schools in Thailand is exceptionally high with graduates moving on to universities both locally and around the world.

As a teacher in one of these schools you can expect to be ‘valued’ and it comes as a shock to newcomers, their eyes starting to fill when realising what is expected of them and what they’ll get in return. They double check everything that’s being said, the weight almost visibly lifting from their shoulders as their hopes for the future reignite!


“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So, throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade wind in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
– Mark Twain

Many young teachers in England are now seeing their training as a means to an end; the end being a great life working abroad. They embark on a degree course followed by a teaching qualification and the only thing that keeps them going is the thought that one day, they’ll be at the airport! Travel expands the mind like nothing else can, seeing the world, meeting people of other nationalities and cultural backgrounds help to make you a better, more rounded adult.

Doing this before you have children makes sense, but as many have found, raising a young family in Thailand can be a marvellous adventure for all concerned. Yes, you might feel homesick, and you’re sure to miss family and friends, but your family will love to visit, and you’ll soon make loads of new friends in what will most likely turn out to be the biggest adventure of your life!

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A combination of Lebanese and Indian food was the magnet that drew us to this gem of a restaurant in bustling Sala Daeng, and we really didn’t want to leave! An immediate sparkling welcome from the beautiful restaurant supervisor, Khun Boonruang, started what was to be one of the most pleasant lunchtimes that we’ve experienced anywhere in the city.

The combination of excellent food and great service in pleasant surroundings and at a fair price is not easy to pull off, but here, Al Saray wins on every count. The restaurant is perfectly laid out, crisp, clean, sophisticated and an ambience that only exists where naturally happy people are enjoying their work. We decided to go for a complete mixture on the menu and the delightful hostess had no problem in explaining every dish in detail, even allowing me to practice my limited Thai as we laughed through the menu. The choice wasn’t easy; we could have ordered everything!


Several others were dining, all very happily chatting, tucking into a display of what our possibilities were. A couple who I spoke to said they have lunch there every week and feel like one of the family; such is the attraction of this well-kept secret. I envy anyone who hasn’t tried Lebanese cuisine because it really is “in a league of its own” and you still have your first time to look forward to. It marries into Indian food at Al Saray thanks to the skills displayed by sheer genius in the kitchen where new creations come as natural as light through the windows. Head Chef Hassan Farran, born and trained in Beirut and New Delhi born Chef Sampooran “Sam” Singh Panwar, give an undeniable stamp of authenticity to their extensive menu.

Our dishes started to arrive and on visual alone, I knew we were in for a treat; aromatic spices and herbs drifting in a haze behind the waitress as each creation landed. A full and detailed explanation was delivered as to how we could best enjoy each dish and recommending selected accompaniments. Mezzes of overwhelming variety, tender lamb and chicken, curry to set my palate on fire and humus to die for; the feast began! Did we manage a dessert? It would have been impolite not to, so on recommendation we both went for Kashtaliya with pistachio, rosewater and honey, skilfully served to our plate by a professional hand. Wow! I still dream of it!


Upstairs we found a private function room, ideal for business lunches or family parties, exotically decorated and in keeping with the surroundings on every floor; a virtual palace! As we left, we were accompanied to the door and thanked with the utmost courtesy, wishing us a pleasant day onwards. We’re looking forward to our next visit, and because it’s right beside the BTS Skytrain, we could very easily become “part of the family” at Al Saray.

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Most people don’t know if they have high cholesterol, as there are no obvious symptoms. The first sign may be a heart attack!

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance made in your body, vital for the building and functioning of healthy cells. The health of your heart as you age is a cumulative process and the earlier you start to make healthy decisions, the more you will benefit. One misconception is, that you can ignore your levels for a lifetime and then take action after a bad test result. However, there may be a significant buildup of plaque and though medication may help, it could be too little, too late.

There are two types of cholesterol:

‘Good’ cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein)
• Helps remove cholesterol from arterial walls
• Cleans up unneeded cholesterol‘Bad’ cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein)
• Too much LDL can lead to cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries, which may result in stroke or heart attack.

What are the risks?

High cholesterol is one of the major, but controllable, risk factors for heart attack, stroke and coronary heart disease because it can both harden and narrow the arteries. 54% of heart attack patients have been found to have high cholesterol.

Causes of high cholesterol:

• Unhealthy diet
• Low physical activity
• Smoking
• Excessive alcohol
• High blood pressure
• Diabetes
• FH gene (inherited familial hypercholesterolemia)

What can you do to lower your risks?

Diet – think before you eat!

A small amount of fat is an essential part of any healthy diet and is also a source of essential fatty acids, which the body cannot make itself. Fat is crucial to the body’s absorption of vitamins A, D and E, as these are all fat-soluble vitamins; meaning they can only be absorbed with the aid of fats. Fat that is not used by the body cells to create energy is converted into body fat. All fat is high in energy and a gramme of fat provides 9kcal (37kJ) of energy, more than double that of carbohydrates and protein.

However, fat is broken down into two categories:
• Saturated fat or trans fat
• Unsaturated fat

Eating too much saturated fat, or trans fat, increases your cholesterol levels.

Cutting down on your saturated fat consumption and replacing it with foods that contain more unsaturated fat, will improve your cholesterol levels.

Recommended consumption of saturated fat per day:
• Men aged 19 – 64 years should eat no more than 30g a day.
• Women aged 19 – 64 years should eat no more than 20g per day.

Always consult a health specialist if your circumstances suggest you may benefit from individual advice on dietary control.

Saturated fat:

Most of the saturated fat in our diet comes from animal products, such as pork, beef, lamb, chicken, duck and other poultry (poultry skin is high in this fat).Dairy products, made from whole or even two percent milk, such as butter, cheese and cream cheese, contain significant dietary cholesterol. There are also plants that are high in saturated fat, and these include, palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut and both coconut butter and oil.

Unsaturated fat:

The two unsaturated fats are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, and both of these may help to give you healthier cholesterol levels if used in place of foods containing saturated fats. You will find these healthier fats mainly in oily fish, such as salmon, trout and herring but also in avocados, olives and most nuts (unsalted). Other particularly good sources are vegetable oils, such as soybean, sunflower, olive and rapeseed.

Trans fat:

This is the one to avoid above all others! Hydrogen is added to liquid vegetables, turning them into a solid in a complex industrial process. Also referred to as ‘partially hydrogenated oils’ or ‘fatty acids,’ trans fats are found across the board in fried foods and very much so in bakery items, such as pizza dough, pastries, pasties, cakes and crackers.

Crucially, trans fat raises your bad (LDL) cholesterol and at the same time, lowers your good (HDL) cholesterol, a process closely linked to the increased risk of stroke and heart disease.

How to select low saturated fat products in the shops:

Look out for labels with ‘saturates’ or ‘sat fat’

High = More than 5g saturates per 100g
Medium = Between 1.5g and 5g saturates per 100g
Low = 1.5g or less per 100g

Some suppliers have coded these either red, amber or green, allowing you to quickly focus on the green, healthier foods.

Eliminating trans fat:

So high are the health risks from trans fat that for many years now, health organisations worldwide have taken steps to gradually squeeze this product from the food chain. Food manufacturers, national supermarket chains and restaurants are now behind a coordinated campaign of labeling, allowing customers to choose the healthier options, for both eating out and when at home.

So look out for labeling when you are buying your food at the shops and make decisions carefully in restaurants, to limit what you eat of these foods:

• Fatty meat and processed meats (e.g. sausages)
• Dairy products, including eggs, butter and cheese
• Food fried in saturated fat, especially trans fat
• Coconut and palm oils, and coconut cream
• Hard margarines
• Ghee
• Lard, dripping and goose fat

Tips when eating at home:

Mince – Use lower fat mince and if you’re worried that it’s too fatty, brown it first and drain the excess fat.
Milk – Use low fat -1% milk on cereals and in hot drinks.
Bacon – Back bacon is far less fatty and make sure you grill it.
Eggs – Poached or boiled eggs are great, if you fry, then do so without oil.
Chicken – Go for the leaner cuts, such as breast, but always remove the skin.
Chips – Better if cooked in the oven, shaken with a little sunflower oil and leave the skins on. Avoid deep frying.
Mashed potato – Pour in a little low fat (-1%) milk instead of whole milk or butter.
Pasta – Use tomato-based sauces, far healthier than creamy or cheese sauces.
Yoghurt – Look at the labels and choose a low fat / low sugar.

Tips when eating out:

Thai – Steamed or stir fried with fish, vegetables or chicken breast are better for you than curries, which usually
contain coconut cream/oil (high in saturated fat)
Chinese – As above, look out for stir fried low-fat dishes, such as chop suey or Szechuan prawns.
Indian – Dry and tomato-based dishes, such as madras or tandoori are going to be better for your cholesterol than creamier korma, masala or pasanda dishes.
Kebabs – Avoid doner kebabs when you could be enjoying a shish kebab.
Coffee – Ask for a smaller one, perhaps without cream, but cut out that large mug of whole milk coffee with sugar!
Snack time – Forget the high sugar, salty, fatty stuff, such as chocolate, doughnuts, pastries and cakes, and try these:
• Fruit
• Unsalted nuts (with dried fruit)
• Currant bun (slice)
• Fruit loaf (slice)
• Malt loaf (slice)

Foods that help to lower cholesterol levels:

Many foods help to lower your cholesterol levels and they are usually low in saturated fats. Make these plant based foods part of your regular healthy diet to lower cholesterol:

Oat bran, porridge and oat breakfast cereals Adzuki beans, butter beans, kidney beans, mung beans, lima beans, navy beans, pinto beans, split peas, etc. Baked beans Pearl barley Red or green lentils Vegetables rich in soluble fibre, such as  okra, aubergine, turnip, sweet potatoes  and mango Citrus fruits Soya products, milk, yogurt and mince chunks Tofu Almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, cashews, peanuts (always unsalted) Bread containing 50% oat flour or oat
bran Remark: You don’t have to worry about eating enough cholesterol, as your body will produce sufficient, whether you consume it or not.


Join a gym or turn your life into one:

• Stop using lifts and escalators (walk or run upstairs)
• Park as far away from the shop entrance as you can
• Cycle or walk for local trips (exercise your arms as you walk)
• Do simple floor exercises at home When you’ve started healthy eating and regular exercise, you’ll feel far more able to tackle other contributing factors, such as smoking and drinking. Your whole body and mind will benefit from your new approach to a healthier way of living.

What now?

Book in for a cholesterol-test at a reputable hospital and find out how things stand. They’ll give you some crucial information on how to keep your good and bad cholesterols at optimum levels.

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“He was a genuinely nice guy of the traditional school, loved crap jokes, loved his partner Natty, his daughter Laura, and loved life with all his heart.”

Martin died at Eastbourne General Hospital in England at 5pm on 16th February 2018, his partner Natty and his daughter Laura at his side. Martin and I had often joked about death, I guess when you get to a certain age that’s all you can do. We agreed that whoever died first would wait to meet the other, wherever that was, we didn’t profess to know. We did agree that all organised religion was a crazy manmade invention, designed to control populations and that we were going to rise above that.


He was a genuinely nice guy of the traditional school, loved crap jokes, loved his partner Natty, his daughter Laura, and loved life with all his heart. He was intrigued by the idea of writing and always interested in what I was working on next, often contributing ideas when I was stuck with an imagination that knew no bounds. I often told him that if he went first, I’d write about him, he’d laugh, I can still see the smile, hear the chuckle. “What’s to write about?” he’d say, little knowing that his last 6 months would provide a story that could save the lives of others, if only I could get the message across.

So, the $10,000 question now is, if Martin had had medical insurance, would he still be with us today? Maybe, maybe not, you decide… (he’d have liked that). Martin had been with Natty for nearly 3 years, meeting on the internet, as my wife and I had 10 years before. She was from the Philippines, mine from Yorkshire, very similar cultures and food, so I’m told! Like any couple they went out, often with us, had fun, smiled a lot, enjoyed holidays and looked forward, as many do, to a future full of things that make life worth living.

After a visit to England, Martin was delighted that his family seemed to have accepted Natty and he’d also decided that Bangkok would be his future home as he loved it here. He had dozens of friends made mainly through the Bangkok English Speakers Lunch Group, where he was an ever popular Event Host. Decisions we make every day can affect the rest of our lives, we all know that.

Some of those decisions seem so minor at the time, not even fully thought out, even though they can go on to have long-term catastrophic consequences. So, when Martin had a bad cough, after delaying perhaps a little longer than he should have, he decided to get checked out at his nearest hospital, also knowing that it was far less expensive than many others nearby. His cough, became a chest infection, then pneumonia and in a surprisingly short time, he was hooked up on life support, knowing he had no medical insurance, but hoping he would get better, soon.

Natty and I were with him when his heart stopped, the monitor flatlined and the alarm came on. He was essentially dead for a few minutes before the doctors brought him back, we were in a state of shock, unable to take in what had just happened, I’ll never forget that! The worse part about that hospital were the accountants, the most important department in any hospital here because you have to pay if you want treatment to continue. They would come to his bed every Friday to take his credit card, like uncaring robots, maybe they were! Martin’s daughter Laura flew over to support Natty and began the long process of trying to get her father better while trying to fund the process; something that proved extremely arduous.

A family decision was made to move Martin to a better hospital, even though far more expensive, a place with a specialist chest unit. Nobody was aware until that point that the hospital he was in was not equipped to look after someone in his condition! It’s alright to say in hindsight that Martin should have gone to this better hospital first, but he didn’t and I would have probably done the same given the circumstances, but at least now his chances of recovery would surely improve? He did recover and was eventually discharged, though extremely weak and still looking very unwell.

He wanted to be fit enough to fly back to England where he could not only have free treatment under the National Health Service but could also be closer to friends and family. This came about eventually and he and Natty flew back to a bitter winter in England but a very warm welcome from his daughter Laura, who had singlehandedly refurbished his flat as a welcome home surprise. Martin was over the moon! He started the process to ensure Natty’s visa and was soon making plans for a return to Bangkok, convinced he could now get the best treatment and make a full recovery.

The cost to Martin of his experience in Bangkok was over 2 million Baht, and would later also cost him his life, because on his return to his home country he was constantly in and out of hospital, struggling to regain health, tragically, eventually losing that battle. Natty stayed for the funeral, over a month after Martin’s death, such are the winter queues at the crematoriums. Her visa would have run out soon after so she was lucky in many ways not to have that as an added problem.

husband and wife

However, back in the Philippines now, trying to pick up the pieces of her life, she has discovered that she wasn’t even named in Martin’s will. She’s shocked, bewildered and mainly lost for words as she comes to terms with her situation, best described as dire, the past 3 years just fond memories. Martin often told me that if anything happened to him, Natty would be well taken care of, and I know he loved her and meant that, so what went wrong? I guess it was just one of those things that we all intend to do, but don’t ever get around to, because it never becomes top of our list, and hey, we’re never going to die, are we? Solicitors in England are now trying to sort out some support for Natty from Martin’s estate, and are hopeful of a good outcome, but until then, she has to rely on friends and relatives for essential support.

Martin, now’s your chance, come on, what advice would you give anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation to what you’ve just experienced? “Daniel me old mate, firstly they should at least have some basic medical cover, but if they haven’t, as many expats don’t, still avoid going for the cheapest hospital, it could work out far more expensive in the long term.

Secondly, if they have a partner who they love and care about deeply, make sure they provide for them in their will; especially if they have nothing! Thirdly, thanks for the promised write up, I’ll do the same for you one day if I ever get out of this place!” Don’t worry Martin, we’ll look after Natty, take a rest and hang around for me, though I might be some time yet; I hope!

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Thailand’s prestigious Kensington International Kindergarten showcased ‘design and philosophy’ at this year’s 4th annual Next Generation Learning Spaces conference in Singapore. Directors, Nitiphan Phanwiroj and Varaporn Kanchanawat portrayed a passionate vision that became an outstanding reality and now a key benchmark for future schools throughout SE Asia.

Filling a building with eager, happy children and providing a team of dedicated, qualified teachers and then calling it a ‘school’ is no longer an acceptable starting point in modern education. We have to revisit the ‘building’ because unless we get that right, our expectations may not be met.

“Bridging Pedagogy, Spaces and Technology to Enhance Learning Environments” was the marker for the 4th Annual Learning Spaces conference held in Singapore in May 2018.

Nitiphan Phanwiroj, Director of Kensington International Kindergarten, accompanied by fellow director, Varaporn Kanchanawat, were invited to the conference and proudly represented their country as the flagship International school from Thailand. As a prominent guest speaker, Nitiphan focused passionately on the Kensington story, how starting their dream school was meticulously planned several years before the first child ever walked through the door.

He states that, “This intricate process can be broken down into four clear phases.”

Understand- A clear understanding of the future curriculum and philosophy that you’re going to develop, including the learning spaces. This must include the owners, head teacher and other key management whose feedback to the designer and architect are crucial.

Define- Script beliefs so that they become real, draw working spaces to start the creation of a Learner-Centric Eco System that will support the school’s philosophy and curriculum. Dedicate time to this because soon, you will have to convey your vision to the designer/architect.

Design- Choose your designer/architect well, research tirelessly, then communicate and translate your vision of what will be your unfolding dream. Explore all possibilities and options and don’t be afraid to test them and learn.

Make it come alive- Select the right Head Teacher, the right leaders and staff who understand the curriculum and buy into your school’s philosophy, so they utilise the learning spaces and make it come alive! Don’t be distracted by internal/external pressures, stay with your beliefs and commit firmly to your goals.

“Define beliefs and Define spaces to create Learner-Centric Eco Systems that support the philosophy and curriculum.”

Today, Kensington International Kindergarten is not only a Thai national icon of school design/philosophy but has attracted attention from governments and educational experts throughout South East Asia. Results at graduation are a resounding success with pupils regularly gaining places at some of the most prestigious schools in Bangkok.

Has this futuristic development, “Uncovered the optimal design that supports philosophy and curriculum while enabling multiple sources of stimulation to encourage the development of physical, creative, cognitive, emotional and social skills?”

Varaporn smiles confidently, “We know that our purposeful school design, the professional team who work here and our pupils are exceptional but we are never complacent. We are all lifelong learners and we owe it to each other and society as a whole to continually strive to improve education for future generations.”

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