Author

Robin Westley Martin

Art and one’s appreciation of it must be one of the most subjective things around… I can remember when I was first introduced to painting. My father – who had been to art school, had finished a portrait of my mother, which was stunning.  I, as a five-year old said, “Who is that beautiful lady?” Which goes to prove just how subjective art is. My father had painted my mother from his heart, with all the love he had for her transferred onto the canvas by his elaborate brushstrokes. But a five-year-old boy could not equate his father’s vision with his own perception. He only saw his mother as… his mother.

When I was older I was reacquainted with this painting, and was able to see it in a different light. Yes, my mother was indeed beautiful, and had been made even more so by the portrayal of her as seen through my father’s eyes.

So, from an early age I had been introduced to art, and my love and appreciation of it has endured throughout my life. In Thailand for over three decades, as a writer or editor for several magazines, I am fortunate to have been able to follow my passion for art in the Kingdom, through having been invited to many exhibitions and galleries, and even becoming friends with some of the artists. Today I would like to introduce you to two of these souls. Two people coming from very different backgrounds, and giving us very different artistic creations to enjoy, when we visit their exhibitions or showings in galleries around town. Or even to purchase one of their pieces, to appreciate in the comfort of our own homes.

First up I would like to introduce you to Arash Groyan. Arash was born in Iran – known as Persia in ancient days in Teheran, where he studied art at university, gaining a B.A. and a Master’s. Arash told me that from a young age he had been inspired by ancient Persian mythology, which continues to stimulate him to this day, in particular from the poem Shahnameh. 

Shahnameh is an epic poem by Persian poet Ferdowsi, and can be likened to Homer’s Odyssey or Iliad, although it is considerably longer, comprising some 50,000 couplets. The influence this literary masterpiece has had on Arash can be seen in many of his paintings.

Arash Groyan is one of the best exponents in the world of painting Persian ‘miniatures’. He has, though, made Thailand his home since 2009 and says said he feels comfortable living here, he likes the feeling of freedom and easy pace of life, and has made many friends…  Thai, foreign, and those from both within and outside of the arts community. It is important, he told me, for an artist to feel comfortable in his or her surroundings, in order to encourage the creative juices to flow.

Arash said, “As an artist, I’m always active. 2020 was difficult, because of restrictions on travel and a lack of exhibitions due to the worldwide pandemic. But over the past three or four years I have participated in a number of exhibitions, both in Thailand and around the world. The highlight for me, though, has to be an exhibition in 2018, at the Louvre, Paris, that I was shown in. I sold some of my art there, too. An unforgettable moment for me to find acceptance in one of the most iconic and prestigious art museums in the world.”

I have been to several well attended exhibitions and gallery showings featuring the work of Arash and other foreign artists in Thailand. His quiet spoken demeanour as he explains about his latest pieces of artwork to the interested visitors is absorbing… he draws you into his world. But I have seen more to Arash, firsthand. Whilst being an undoubted expert at his own chosen field, Arash is also an erudite scholar. His knowledge of art surpasses all boundaries, and he surprised me, as I heard him answering questions about one of the pieces of art being shown in the gallery. The piece was not his own work, or had not even been created by one of his many friends from the arts community in Thailand. This was a painting new to him. Yet Arash was able to explain in detail about it. From the medium used, the brushstroke work, the technique, the lighting, et al. I don’t think the actual artist could have done a better job of explaining about the piece had they done it by themselves.  

Arash’ talents focus not only on miniature painting, but also include other areas such as Middle Eastern rug and carpet design, stage and set decoration, and jewellery design. Arash has also acted in several films and television series in Iran.

The arts community in Thailand is a close knit one, that I feel rewarded to have been accepted into. A friend of both myself and Arash from this eclectic grouping of talented people, is Leyla Sandshiko, hailing from Elista, not far from Moscow. She has been ferrying back and forth between Bangkok and Russia for the past eight years or so.

Leyla is a rather different kettle-of-fish to the softly spoken (yet passionate) Arash. This is a girl that stands out in a crowd! Diminutive she may be, but her colourful clothing with matching accessories, energetic selfie-taking, and seeming ability to be in two or three places at the same time make her an unmissable focal point of whichever gathering you see her at.

Leyla told me her academic background is very different from that of Arash, studying finance and accounting, following in the footsteps of her mother and father, and other family members who worked in the financial sector for the government, However, it was also her parents who infused her with a love of art. They took her along with them to art museums and galleries, which she loved, and never missed an opportunity to go to. Her mother and father also bought works of art for their home, so Leyla grew up surrounded by paintings, sculptures and other artistic ephemera. After a few years of working in the business sector as an accountant Leyla decided that the rather sombre world of  account ledgers and numbers was not really for her. Which comes as no surprise to anyone who knows her.

Leyla is a bundle of energy, and always stands out in her apparel wherever she goes. After leaving the financial world, she embraced her creative energies and entered the world of exhibition management. She put on events in Moscow and its surrounds that were memorable for their inventiveness, Being at the forefront of these exhibitions gave Leyla another opportunity to showcase her creative skills, Most of the clothes she wore to the opening parties were her own design. They were loud, colourful, wild, and original… as is their designer. The influential people attending the exhibitions put on by Leyla took notice of her clothing designs, and it was not long before Leyla was making money from sales of her clothing, her designs, and accessories to go with them. She had also found time to create her own art. Unsurprisingly she favours the abstract genre. She told me that when she is in the throes of creating her artwork (usually in the hours of darkness) she goes into another zone, and does not really know what she is doing. In the morning, when she wakes up, she is often surprised at what she sees on the canvases. ‘Bloody hell… where did that come from,’ she thinks.

When she came to Thailand eight years ago she naturally gravitated towards the arts community in Bangkok, and was soon a regular at art show openings, where she quickly made friends, and was soon being invited to more and more openings. She has also had several solo and group exhibitions of her own at galleries around Bangkok. The latest exhibition was in Bangkok in January, called ‘Counterpunch 2’. Leyla became interested in Muay Thai, after coming to live in Thailand and she says that studying and training in the Thai martial art has given her a new lease of life, and even more energy. 

Leyla explained, “The main message of this series of artworks is to never give up! Be strong! Find your passion and follow it. Be free and do what you love and what brings you joy. Never worry what others might think about you. Even if you feel completely broken, stand up over and over again and follow your dreams. Create instead of destroying. Remember that there is always a way out of any problem, always!”

In the annus horribilis of 2020 the art world, the leisure sector, and even the business sectors were sent reeling, thanks to the global spread of Covid-19. Hopefully in 2021 we will start to see a recovery. Things will not be back to normal anytime soon, but there are a few things to look forward to. 

Arash did not let the extra free time he found himself with in 2020 go to waste. He worked on his art, and this year he will be having two group exhibitions in Bangkok, and another exhibition in October at the Louvre. He is also developing teaching courses in Bangkok, working on his jewellery designs, and completing the production of his painting training video courses.

But the thing I am most looking forward to is the collaboration between these people of two very different personalities and artistic styles. 

Leyla and Arash have become firm friends. Leyla is going to unleash her wild spirit onto a few canvases, and no one knows what will come out of that, leastwise herself. She will then give her canvases to Arash, who will interpose his own Persian miniature artwork within the free spaces of Leyla’s abstract designs. Arash and Leyla (and myself) are both excited to see what comes out of this idea of Arash’s, as it’s a juxtaposition of styles that has never been tried before. Look out for it in early April, at a gallery near you. Check out Arash’ website, or the Facebook page of Leyla for showtime. Hope to see you there!

 https://arashgroyan.com/

[email protected], @Lolis2001
FB: Leyla Sandshiko 

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The Covid-19 epidemic has affected everyone on the planet. It continues to do so and will impact the way we live our lives for a long time to come. Some people are fortunate in that they were able to WFH (work from home) although the quality of the work they were able to provide suffered to a greater or lesser degree.

Marketing companies were able to continue operations without too many problems. Educators were able to talk to their students via Zoom or Google Meet… but it hasn’t been perfect… for two years students have suffered from not being able to grow together with their peers, to learn the important social skills that are an integral part of human development.

The hospitality industry, however, does not have a WFH option. It has been decimated by the strictures that had to be imposed in the effort to keep the dreaded virus at bay. Hotels both large and small were forced to close their doors, as were restaurants, cafes, music venues and pubs. Many of these establishments over the last two years have had to shut up shop for good, as at least 80% of their revenue had all but disappeared. Covid-19 has terminated many businesses in the same way that it has terminated lives.

Whenever you think about holidays, and travelling away from your home, the first thing that you think about is where you are going to stay. It’s usually a resort, hotel, or guest house. These businesses have suffered greatly in Thailand over the last two years, and many of the people that work in them have also lost their livelihood… front office staff and receptionists, bellboys and room maids, waiters and waitresses, chefs and kitchen staff. All either furloughed or laid off. Then there are the ancillary workers that support hotels: taxi drivers, tour guides, concessionaires, musicians, etc. In Thailand the tourism industry across the board accounts for up to 30 million jobs, out of a total population of nearly 70 million people, so it is not difficult to imagine the disastrous effect Covid-19 restrictions have had on their lives, and on Thailand.

Tourists, when they visit Thailand see the bright lights of Bangkok, the traffic gridlocked streets, the neon nightlife, the packed beaches, crowded restaurants, glistening golden temples and smiling faces. They think of Thailand as not a lot different from their own country, apart from the always gorgeous tropical climate. But they do not see beneath the surface. In Thailand there is a vast chasm between the rich and the poor.

The minimum national wage in Thailand, set by the government, is about 14,500B per month (322GBP,  or 436 USD). So, it might surprise you that Thailand has become known as ‘The Land of Smiles’ because you yourself might find it hard to smile on such an income. Thailand’s citizens, though, are not tourists, and they don’t spend their wages in the lavish way that visitors to their country do, on their much looked forward to annual holidays. Thailand is still very affordable on a cost of living basis, and a Thai family can still have a good life, even if they are on minimum wage. If you get to talk to an expat who has friends or family ‘upcountry’, next time you visit take few days to visit rural Thailand, you will be surprised at what you see. I can guarantee that you will be made welcome in the villages… you are sure to be beckoned along to join a Thai family as they eat together outside their house. Hope you like the spicy food!

The villages upcountry is where most of the workforce in Bangkok come from, and the population of the city was reduced by several million after the onset of Covid in 2019. They all returned home to live with their families, unable to afford the rent or the higher living expenses in the city. Now, though, they are trickling back, and the hotels are happy to welcome their return. These people will have been trained in their various jobs or professions by the hotels, and as soon as they open up again, they will be good to go. As you will know if you have ever stayed in a hotel in Thailand, the staff are service oriented, friendly, always seem happy, and are always ready to brighten up your day with that ubiquitous beaming Thai smile.

The year before the Covid pandemic hit – 2019 – was a record breaker for Thailand and the Kingdom welcomed almost 40 million international visitors. This was reduced to around 6 million in 2020, but as we reach the end of 2021 the country is starting to open again.

We talked to industry expert Khun Marisa Sukosol Nunbakdi about the reopening of Thailand. She is a hotelier and is the current President of the Thai Hotels Association.

Khun Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi – President of the THA

Khun Marisa, you come from a family of hoteliers in Thailand, and you are also the current President of the THA. I would like to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview. Please feel free to answer as fully as you like. I assure you I will not interrupt you. I am looking forward to gaining the benefit of your experience of the hospitality industry. I would like to ask you a few questions, if I may.

The measures that had to be taken to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus have decimated the hospitality industry. As we reach the point where 50% of the Thai population has received two doses of the vaccine, and Thailand has started to open up to international arrivals again, what percentage of hotels, resorts, and guest houses are likely to reopen, and what changes are we likely to see? In Bangkok, and in other areas.

Khun Marisa: There was hope for good recovery for the domestic market towards the end of 2020. However, when the third wave came, after Songkran, Thai New Year, of 2021 – it resulted in a semi-lockdown that began in July. Many hotels reached rock bottom, and even the larger properties had to seriously review their financial standing. At the time it was estimated that 50% of hotels were closed and an accompanying 50% of the workforce had left the industry.

With the easing of restrictions that began in October of this year, hotels began reopening once more to welcome back domestic tourists, especially those properties in destinations close to Bangkok, such as Pattaya, Hua Hin, and Khao Yai. Now, with the lifting of quarantine restrictions for vaccinated international travellers originating from 64 countries, a lot more hotels are reopening. Although it is still true that even with the relaxation of quarantine regulations, that many hotels in key tourist provinces remain closed, especially those in the 3 to 4 star categories that cater to the group travel sector.

Results of THA’s monthly survey conducted in October showed that 67% of hotels have reopened, while 8% remain temporarily closed. And results have shown that nearly 60% of the workforce in the hotels surveyed are now back in employment.

The established hotel groups such as Accor, Minor, Hilton, and the larger 5 star properties have probably been able to weather the storm, albeit after taking a large financial hit. But approximately what percentage of the smaller hotels or guest houses have not been able to survive in Thailand? And how many in number? In what way were the ones that survived able to carry on? Change of focus? Sale of assets? Diversification?

Khun Marisa: Ironically, the micro SMEs are more agile and resilient. They require less funds to open, as they have less operational costs, and fewer staff. They closed temporarily and can easily reopen once demand returns. Resilience is based on the owner’s reserve of funds, ability to obtain loans, and having the required customer demand to cover fixed costs. Mid sized hotels that are independently owned and operated and carry a sizable staff number were hardest hit due to salary commitments. It was difficult for owners with large debt obligations to survive, no matter the size of hotel. Hotels with such owners have either sold their assets or ceased operations.

During Covid, larger 5 star hotels were able to gain revenue from the domestic market, F&B, meetings and events, and income from long term stays in hotels with built in residences.

Your family are prominent hoteliers of the larger types of property, how did Covid affect your businesses, did you have to close all your hotels? What happened to the staff at these properties? Are your hotels all ready to reopen, and are your staff still available to return?

Khun Marisa: We were hit hard like everyone else. Several of our hotels closed for a couple of months last year during the first lockdown, and again this year from July through to September. Some of our properties transitioned into quarantine hotels. With resizing of our organisation, and with the help and understanding of our staff, with reduction of work hours. We have been able to hibernate through the lockdowns, and were able to open to capture domestic business, when restrictions further eased. Right now, we are open and ready, and can’t wait to welcome back our international guests.

Now that hotels are opening their doors again what are the new protocols, health and safety, etc., going to be within the hotel environment, for both guests and staff? What services and facilities will be available in the superior properties, and what might be missing, during these early days?

Khun Marisa: Universal protocols for Covid-19 prevention such as mask wearing and social distancing must be observed. All hotels that can accommodate international travellers in the reopening phase are required have SHA (Amazing Thailand safety and health administration) hygiene and safety protocols in place and 70% of their staff have to be fully vaccinated. Staff directly serving guests must be fully vaccinated with two doses. Guests can be confident in their safety. All hotel facilities will be available to guests in the early days of opening, including spa facilities and meeting rooms, albeit with protocols in place.

Tourism is an essential part of the Thai economy, and in 2019, before Covid hit, 40 million tourists visited Thailand, accounting for over 20% of the country’s GDP. What can the government and the hotel industry do to persuade people to come back, what incentives can they offer, in order that tourists and businessmen will not choose an alternative destination?

Khun Marisa: Thailand is the first country in SE Asia to open up to so many countries. The message is out that we are vaccinated and are ready. Now travellers are still required to book a one night stay in a hotel where they must stay until an RT-PCR test is conducted and the lab results have come back. They must also buy insurance worth USD50,000 and do an RT-PCR test 72 hours before departure from their own country. The only sticking point right now is the RT-PCR test on arrival. If the test can be changed to an Antigen Test which bears quicker results, more people will come. Thailand has something for every single customer segment; we can cater our offers to meet the needs of specific niche markets: Foodies, Indian weddings, digital nomads, spiritual seekers, even elephant lovers… everyone! Our advantage is that once a tourist comes to Thailand, they will most definitely come back. Before Covid, around 60% of travellers were repeat visitors. So, our aim should also be to attract more first timers to Thailand.

Many reports have been circulated in the press about the ban on alcohol in Thailand. From the beginning of November, in some provinces’ alcohol was once more allowed to be served in restaurants. Until 9.00pm. However pubs, music bars and nightclubs remain closed. Tourists are not likely to return if they feel their freedom is being curtailed. Is the government aware of this, and what can industry associations such as the THA do to help?

Khun Marisa: Yes, the government is aware. Several associations within the industry, including the THA, have voiced our concerns that if alcohol is not permitted, it will hinder the decision to travel to Thailand. Since November 1st, the government has allowed alcohol service in restaurants with SHA certification in Bangkok. That’s a good step. It is understandable that the government wants to be careful about alcohol consumption, which could lead to people congregating in large groups, and creating a fresh outbreak.

Domestic tourism has restarted and is helping to mitigate the impact on jobs and businesses in some destinations. What are the lessons have been learned from this that can be applied to the industry when foreign tourist numbers start to rise once more?

Khun Marisa: In many ways, Thai guests are harder to please than foreigners. They have high expectations, and in the last two years, there was fierce competition for the Thai market, as well. Hotels had to adapt their marketing and service strategies to attract more Thais. A big lesson learned is that we must not rest on a few market segments, hotels must be versatile in adapting services to please more diverse markets.

How important are these early days of Thailand’s reopening? Word of mouth is the best form of advertising, and the opinions and goodwill of the adventurous tourists who are the first to return will be closely looked at by potential visitors to Thailand.

Khun Marisa: Thailand has put in safety protocols for international travellers, such as pre-and post-arrival Covid testing, and insurance. These necessary measures and linking traveller information through the supply chain of hotels and authorities has to be smooth and as convenient as possible for the traveller. They should be aware that if they are tested positive, they have to be quarantined. Managing risks and their expectations will be key to mitigate any complaints. As far as I am aware, most travellers can’t wait to return to Thailand. There is a lot of pent up demand. Making sure arrivals go smoothly to create tourist satisfaction will be everyone’s job. Public and private sectors need to continue to work together to rebuild Thai tourism to be sustainable for the long term.

How long do you think it will take before the tourism and hospitality industry recovers in Thailand, will we ever see a return to the figures we saw in 2019?

Khun Marisa: I am certain we our tourist numbers will reach pre-pandemic levels again; some experts predict this to be as early as 2023. There is still so much growth to be seen, especially in the Asia-Pacific regions with the growing middle class in many countries. This is where air travel is expected see the highest growth in air travel over the coming year. And our other western visitors will be coming back to a country they love visiting. The industry will recover strongly. I am sure of it!

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Social distancing, vaccination inoculations, face masks, hand cleansing, testing for the virus. All these actions have become routine, an all-to-familiar part of our daily lives due to the global spread of the Covid-19 Corona virus. These measures have success to a greater or lesser extent, but the variants that keep springing up seem to keep us all on the back foot. However, there is another way we can try to counteract the adverse effects of the virus, and we can do it ourselves.

Our diet. After all, we are what we eat. A heathy food regimen – and ingesting things that are good for us – has been proven to boost the body’s own defences by promoting a robust immune system. Now could be just the right time to look at how our diet might be able to help us in our fight against this insidious disease.

You do not necessarily need to make a lifestyle change – such as becoming a vegan or a vegetarian – to train your bodies immune system to be the best it can be, and we will be taking a look at every option available to us. Including the use of conventional and traditional medicines or herbal supplements, in this quest to help our bodies help themselves. 

First off I talked to a personal trainer, qualified nutritionist, and yoga instructor I have previously interviewed, Steve Pilot. Steve told me he became a vegan a decade ago, and was surprised to discover that a plant based diet can provide more than enough protein to maintain and even increase musculature. But can a plant based diet give any benefits to the human immune system, particularly during the ongoing challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, I wondered. Steve is a committed vegan and a fitness professional, but before he answered my questions he told me that there is no magic bullet, and that he, or indeed anyone, can fall prey to Covid-19. There is, as yet, no guaranteed way of ensuring you do not become infected.

Steve told us about his views on diet and health; “A balanced vegan diet is the most suitable for all age groups, from the very young up to those in their eighties, pregnant ladies, or even the infirm. With a vegan diet that includes cauliflower, pumpkin and chickpeas this will go a long way to boosting the body’s own immune system. For Covid-19 a good way to power up the body’s defences is with an infusion of turmeric and black pepper, mixed with the juice from a lemon to make it taste good. This is a potent little tonic, and it contains a ton of antioxidants. Also consider raspberries, goji berries, strawberries, and blueberries, these are super fruits that also contain a high percentage of antioxidants. A diet high in antioxidants reduces the risk of many diseases. including heart ailments and some cancers, as well as respiratory illnesses, which are one of the primary features of the Covid infection. Antioxidants scavenge free radicals from the body cells and prevent or reduce the damage caused by oxidation within the body. Vitamins are an essential part of a vegan diet. But eat fresh fruits and vegetables to obtain the best benefit, don’t go for the supplements found in pharmacies. However, essential vitamins not found in a vegan diet are vitamin D3, K2, and B12, so a vegan should look to be taking these supplements to maintain the best level of health and fitness. Studies are continuing, but preliminary results are showing that the Covid-19 virus doesn’t appear to find a vegan body a very hospitable home. So if you have been thinking about a lifestyle change now might be the perfect time.”

The second specialist that I talked to was Dr. Erik Fleischman, a medical professional from the States, who has been a resident of Thailand for many years.

I asked him a few questions: 

Are there any foods you could recommend that might help our body to deal with the effects of Covid-19, and is there anything we should avoid? He replied ​“The most important thing is to avoid food or drink with sugar in it. Viruses, as well as bacteria and fungi all rely on simple sugars to fuel themselves, feed and grow. Foods with a high sugar content decay the immune response and make a sweet environment for pathogens in the body to thrive.”

Which medicines for treatment would you recommend, for example – Favipravir, Ivermectin, or any of several others that you are aware of? “Anecdotally, I believe that of all the ‘home’ remedies, Ivermectin has the most hope of being an effective treatment medication. Nothing striking, but hopefully it can help to lessen the length of an illness and accompanying symptoms. Remdesivir is having significant successes, and the monoclonal antibody Regeneron is definitely a lifesaver for those at risk of severe infection with Covid-19.”

Are there any vitamins we should take, and why? Should we take electrolytes? “I suggest Vitamin C, 2000-3000mg per day, Vitamin D3 3000-5000 units per day, and Zinc 15mg per day, along with a good high B complex. These will all help to support the immune system’s fight against viruses. Electrolytes are good when you are dehydrated, but general hydration when you are sick is even more important.

Hydration and vitamins are important, so are 100% fruit juices a recommendation, or only plain water? “As I said previously, good hydration is important during any illness, but I’d stay away from fruit juices, the sugar content is way too high. I’d recommend warm water with lemon juice squeezed into it. This can add electrolytes and at the same time can sooth the throat, and a warm, strong ginger tea is good for the kidneys and the throat.”

Are there any OTC medicines that might be a help? “Take Ibuprofen and Paracetamol for pain, and over the counter medications such as cough syrup if there is a cough. Like any flu, Covid takes time to ease, control, and eradicate the symptoms.”

Thank you for your time, Dr Erik. “You’re more than welcome. Good luck to you and all your readers.”

The Mayo Clinic in the U.S. are world leaders in the development of new drug treatments. A spokesman from them said that although there is only one drug currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat coronavirus many medications are being tested. The FDA has approved the antiviral drug Remdesivir to treat Covid-19 in adults and children who are aged 12 and older. Remdesivir is an option for people who are hospitalised with Covid-19. Its administered intravenously by medical staff at a hospital, under strict supervision by doctors trained in virology. The FDA has granted an emergency use authorisation for the rheumatoid arthritis drug Baricitinib to treat Covid-19. Baricitinib is given in tablet form, and seems to be effective by reducing inflammation and having antiviral activity. The FDA suggests Baricitinib could be used in patients who are in hospital with Covid, and are on mechanical ventilators, or being given supplemental oxygen.

Researchers are also studying other potential treatments for Covid-19, including Favipiravir and Merimepodib. The corticosteroid Dexamethasone is another anti-inflammatory drug that researchers are studying to treat or prevent organ dysfunction and lung injury due to inflammation. Studies have found that it reduces the risk of death by about 30% for people on ventilators and by 20% for patients receiving extra oxygen. Doctors have warned, though, that Dexamethasone and other corticosteroids may be harmful if given for less severe Covid-19 infection.

Researchers are continuing to study the use of a type of immune based therapy. The FDA has granted emergency use authorisation for treatment by convalescent plasma therapy. Convalescent plasma is blood donated by people who have recovered from Covid-19. It is high in antibodies and may be used to treat people in a hospital who are early in their illness, or who have weakened immune systems. In the U.S. and other countries around the world research is continuing in its quest to find a way to deal with the virus during the pandemic.

Natural treatments

In Thailand the herbs to go under the microscope have been green chiretta (fah talai jone, or Andrographis Paniculata) and fingerroot (Chinese ginger, Boesenbergia Rotunda), DPM and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said recently. The Department of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine (DTTAM) has reported that green chiretta is effective in suppressing the Covid virus and hindering it from replicating. In July 2021 the Thai government approved the use of fah talai jone after a trial on prison inmates, in which 99% of 11,800 subjects with mild symptoms reportedly recovered. The government is hopeful that wider availability of the herb will help relieve pressure on the public health system.

Dhanin Chearavanont, Chairman of Thai conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Group, and one of Thailand’s richest businessmen, said that he has set aside about 100 rai (16 hectares) of CP Group’s land in Saraburi Province to grow fah talai jone. The herb is used to make an anti-inflammatory drug to treat coronavirus patients, and the company will also build a factory to turn the herb into capsules, and provide them to the public for free.

Vitamins, minerals and probiotics can help maintain a healthy immune system. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has informed that while natural remedies can have a positive impact on health that they are not a medically proven treatment for fighting Covid. But although no food or supplement has yet proved to be able to cure or prevent Covid, a healthy immune system and proper nutrition are fundamental in keeping us fit during these difficult times. They could be a precious defence, alongside social distancing, hand washing and vaccines. Vaccines against the virus which are now entering their second generation, and are designed to cope with the emerging variants.

Plants have been used for centuries in almost all cultures across the world as natural remedies to treat chronic infections, including viral diseases. More than 2,500 years ago, the father of western medicine, Hippocrates, said: “Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food.” The introduction of important medicinal food plants into the general public’s daily diet could be an easily achievable game changer in the fight against viruses and diseases, strengthening and improving people’s natural immune systems, and aiding general health.

I have found, after researching extensively, that there are a few fruits, vegetables and herbs that might help tackle Covid-19. Pomegranate peel extracts could help inhibit viral internalisation, when the virus enters the body looking for a host cell. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Banja Luka in Bosnia and Herzegovina found pomegranate polyphenols extracted from peels of pomegranate fruit can play a role in inhibiting coronavirus infection. The extracts have previously been shown to have beneficial effects for other diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, atherosclerosis, inflammatory diseases and even some types of cancer. Most importantly, they have shown significant antiviral activities against viruses other than Covid, preventing influenza virus entry and RNA transcription. They could be an aid in treatment or prevention of Covid-19.

Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. The idea that ginger can boost energy levels and the immune system and relieve the symptoms of other diseases, such as a cold, is rooted in its actual medicinal properties. Ginger has been used for centuries not only as a spice, but also as a herbal medicine to relieve pain, nausea and vomiting.

Dandelion, a plant that grows naturally in meadows and fields, is one of the many plants scientists are testing for potential use in the fight against Covid. A study conducted by scientists in Freiburg, Germany has found evidence that the common dandelion is able to block interaction between the spike S1 protein and the human ACE2 cell surface receptor (the protein on the surface of many cells the virus attaches itself to). Another study looks at data coming from Sweden and the UK, both consumers of dandelion as a food. It is thought possible that the plant can prove to be useful against Covid. Although we still know very little about the effects of dandelion on health, it is also being looked at for potential use against prostate and breast cancers.

Curcumin is a natural compound found in the spice turmeric, and is another promising herb scientists are looking at. A study published in the Journal of General Virology found that curcumin can prevent infection from transmissible gastroenteritis virus (TGEV), a coronavirus that infects pigs. Curcumin has also been shown to inhibit the replication of viruses including dengue fever, hepatitis B, and the Zika virus. In the context of Covid, it is thought that curcumin can hinder cellular entry and replication of the virus, but once again more evidence is needed.

A balanced diet that includes vitamin A, B, C, D, E, and K, together with micronutrients such as sodium, zinc, potassium, chloride, calcium, and phosphorus may help maintain general wellbeing and strengthen the immune system, thereby decreasing the chance of infection. There is ample evidence to suggest that vitamin D might help to protect against getting contaminated from developing serious symptoms of Covid. Vitamin D may ensure protection against it in two different ways; firstly, it helps to boost our bodies’ natural defences against viruses and bacteria, and secondly it has the capability to prevent an overwhelming immune system attack upon our own bodies, which has in some cases been seen to attack healthy tissue in the lungs. The suggested dietary dosage of vitamin D is 600 International Units. A deficiency of vitamins and minerals in our bodies leads to a reduced performance of our immune system, opening the door to the unwelcome guest that is Covid-19.

After my interviews and research, I believe that we will overcome this hellish disease that has caused so many deaths, emotional pain, and has resulted in so many livelihoods to be lost.

We will win… “The only way is up, baby!”

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Book review ‘Leaving Thailand’ by Steve Rosse

When we were thirty three years old, both Steve Rosse and myself were planning a visit to Thailand, to stay there for an extended period of time. We both had close relatives who were sick and we were worried about leaving them. Both of our relatives urged us to leave and follow our dream. We both did. That is how we arrived, and mostly, that’s where our similarities end. 

Steve spent most of his time in Thailand in the south of the country, either on Phuket, or nearby, and lived an eventful and sometimes crazy lifestyle. Which changed him in ways that he perhaps never expected… despite having read the classic novel A Woman of Bangkok, which he cites as one of the reasons he upped and moved to Thailand.

Part way through the book Steve notes that men are more lineal in their way of thinking, whilst a woman’s mind tends to flit about rather more. Steve enjoyed the company of many a lady while in Thailand, for longer or shorter periods of time, and his affinity to the fairer sex, I would say, has resulted in Steves’ way of thinking becoming a little more like that of the ladies that he adores. Not quite as lineal as he imagines a man’s mind to be.

As you read through his pages he takes us on a rollercoaster ride through many of his jobs, experiences, and the colourful people he met along the way. Both male and female. One moment he is a set dresser for an Oliver Stone movie, the next he is a newspaper columnist, the next he is working as a public relations chief for a five star hotel. 

The narrative moves without warning from a smoke filled room with a hack typing his latest story, to hobnobbing with movie stars on a Hollywood size movie set, to welcoming royalty in an elegant hotel property. Or living a romantic dream with the love of his life, on a beach – for five months, ten days.

While the title of the book is Leaving Thailand, most of it is taken up with stories of his life there, or reminiscences of it while he is back in the States. It is an interesting insight into a guy that came to live his life in Thailand at the same time as I did.

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Stu Lloyd is well-known in Thailand and Southeast Asia for his books on the region, and his ability to see the funny side of things in just about everything he comes across. His latest book ‘Tales From the Tiger’s Den’ is something of a departure from his usual style, as he takes time out to focus on other people who have lived in or around Southeast Asia or the Orient. They are businessmen, accidental entrepreneurs, authors, et al … but all have that spirit of adventure that led them to experience a life outside that of their homeland. We learn about the places they lived in, first-hand, from their reminiscences, delving into their best-remembered and most precious memories. It all feels very real. You might find yourself wishing you had had the same sort of experiences. Maybe you still can. 

The respected author of 39 books and many magazine articles, Jerry Hopkins, did something similar with his well-received anthology ‘Romancing the East’. Jerry passed away in Bangkok in his early 80s only three years ago. I think Jerry would have been pleased to read Stu Lloyd’s latest tome.

Tales From the Tiger’s Den sees Stu heading out to chat with the people he writes about, and has come up with an absorbing book that sheds a little light on times gone by, and also gives us an insight into the people who lived in them. A few are still with us, others, sadly, are not. But here they live on. 

The book looks at  twenty-one quite different people, some of whom you may already be familiar with, some not so much, and some not at all. No worries, here you have the tools to let you become a little closer to them all. For myself, I was immediately drawn to travel writer Harold ‘Steve’ Stephens, as I have been familiar with him for over 30 years, since I came to live in Thailand, and I have enjoyed reading many of his magazine or newspaper articles. Harold Stephens passed away in Bangkok, January 2021, at the age of 94. He was born in the USA, but came to the Orient via the armed forces, when the US had joined forces with the Chinese, to oust the invading Japanese. Harold was a true-life ‘action man’ who travelled the world and wrote about the places he had been to and the people he met. But actually, one of his friends, writer James Clavell, once mentioned that a book based around the exploits of ‘Steve’ (as he liked to be called) would probably be more exciting than even his own fiction novels. It would include Steve’s 200,000 mile sailboat trip around the world, studying at a university with Jacqueline Kennedy, driving the length and breadth of Africa, being employed as a ‘travel writer’ in Vietnam during the war, working as an extra on Mutiny on the Bounty, and becoming a drinking buddy of Marlon Brando, and, and, and…

You will enjoy reading about Steve, sure.

Stu does not leave the ladies out of things in Tales From the Tiger’s Den’, how could he. One of the most interesting ladies you will discover as you read is Marie Bohman, and one of her earliest memories is of a mob in India, shouting ‘Break your houses! Cut your throats! Throw you in the river!’ Marie was a young girl and she and her family were being threatened by an angry Hindi mob in the European compound of the Czech-owned Bata shoe company in Mokameh, during the times of independence from British rule, and the partition of India.

Marie, by now a pensioner, was speaking in 2006 to Stu for his interview in Sydney, Australia, in a large well-appointed house, along with her life-long friend Ivan Volenta. The connection between her and Ivan began due to both of their fathers working for Bata, and they have many similar memories of growing up during colonial-era India and its transition to a self-governing independent nation. 

They can remember the first township the company built, Batanagar, and the Eastern European and British kids they played with during the colonial times. The Bata empire went from strength to strength and took over more and more towns, where the local economies grew alongside the size of the factories and their workforce. Much of the childhood of these firm friends was spent living nearby the banks of the holy Ganges river, with freshwater crocodiles, vultures, dolphins, jackals, and snakes …  lots of snakes, Marie recalled. 

The strife and struggles the country and its people suffered during the end of colonial times remains fresh in her memory. She vividly remembers when the father of one of her school-friends was burnt alive, only a few feet away from the safety of his house.

But all was not bad; although she missed her parents while away at boarding school she gained a love of classical music, and her schoolmates included the Nepalese royal family, and a girl who would become the famous British actress Vivien Leigh.

Marie never married, and has never been back to India; Ivan took his son back on a visit to show him his heritage … both their lives are now so different, but even after living in Australia for 45 years, Ivan and Marie still enjoy meeting to talk about their early life.And Marie is writing a book about her experiences. Should be a good read. 

The eclectic mix of people you will meet in Stu Lloyd’s book, and their stories, will give you many delightful  insights into another world. Or maybe one or two of them might even mirror your own. 

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On December 12th a live music event takes place to carry the torch after the 2020 Ploenchit Fair was sidelined. 

Saturday, 12 December from noon to midnight Shenanigans Pub on Suriwong Road, at the corner of Patpong Road, will play host to Bangstock, a charity event being organised by a group of local residents to help support the British Community in Thailand Foundation for the Needy (BCTFN) after the cancellation, due to Covid-19, of this year’s venerable and much loved Ploenchit Fair.

Bangstock will feature eight bands, a British DJ, and a selection of special guests… who knows who will turn up on the day. Bangstock is throwing its doors open to all music fans and lovers of a good party, to enjoy and rock the street with food and drinks at all day happy hour prices. At the time of writing the bands are still being booked, but the Midnight Ramblers, Keith Nolan’s Cottonmouth, and the Dead Chilies are the first to have signed up to support this charitable event.

Bangstock will charge a 300B entry fee that is a direct donation to charity, as well as the profits from sales of food and beverages. A raffle for some fantastic prizes will be held, and a limited number of Bangstock t-shirts will be available for sale. Look for them to become a collector’s item.  

A group of concerned residents were worried that the loss of this year’s Ploenchit Fair had left a gap in the Bangkok’s expat party scene and would lead to a potential shortfall for the many charities that the BCTFN has been supporting for decades. The BCTFN are beneficiaries of this event, and are not sponsors or part of the organising committee.

Sponsorship slots are still available, and at the time of this press release, there is a plan to make a limited number of market booth spots available. For information please contact [email protected]

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Stardate: November 1957, Bangkok >>>

Stardate: November 2020, Bangkok …

No need to turn on your calculator, I’ll do it for you. Sixty-three years have passed since the first Ploenchit Fair was held in the grounds of the British Embassy, in the days of old-time rock n’ roll, in the heart of Bangkok. For all those years, amidst political turmoil and coups d’etats, disastrous flooding of Thailand’s capital, the 9-11 attack on New York’s World Trade Centre, and more …  come hell or high water the biggest, most well-known, and longest-lasting charity fair in Asia has proven unstoppable. But this year it’s a no no. The Covid 19 scourge that has made its unwelcome presence felt around the world has just found its latest victim.

 Ploenchit Fair 2020 has been officially cancelled, for the first time in its history. The committee of the British Community for the Needy (BCTFN) – that includes matriarch Carolyn Tennant (MBE), Jane Rodgers, Gale Bailey (MBE), Anna Whitcraft, John MacTaggart, and Khun Por. They are the hard-working team that organise the Ploenchit Fair each year, and they regretfully informed me of their decision in a recent meeting at their Sukhumvit Road office.  The rules and regulations during the time of Covid, and the strictures put in place by the Thai Government to keep its country safe have made it impossible to run the fair this year.

Whilst visiting their office I had an interesting chat with the team, and they gave me a brief history of the fair, which I will pass on to those who might not be familiar with this much looked-forward-to event on the social calendar for all who live in Bangkok, Thais and the foreign community alike. Including myself, who has been a regular fair-goer since 1988.

It started life in what seems like (was like) a different age, in 1957, as an event put on by the United Kingdom Charities for Thailand Committee (UKCTC) the forerunner of the present day BCTFN. To this day the format is essentially British, and similar events are held to this day in the UK’s cities, towns and villages. From the very beginning it has been a great day out for the family, and the kids, then and now, can enjoy a carnival-like atmosphere, with rides including a big wheel, fairground sideshow attractions, games, raffles, a visit to see Santa Claus (the fair is always held at the end of November) and Bingo for the ladies and their friends who avail themselves of  a harmless little flutter. While the kids and moms were enjoying themselves the dads and the twenty somethings had invariably graduated to the beer garden to enjoy the music of the day played by Thai and expat bands, on a rudimentary stage that had been set up on the back lawn of the Embassy. 

The committee laughed as they told me that often when the fair had closed for the day it took a long time to make sure that all the revelers had left the Embassy grounds before the front gates were locked and the place was handed back to the Ambassador. It involved a careful search for sleeping bodies under a bush, or other hiding places the imbibers of ale, whisky or wine had found for themselves to sleep off their guzzles of the day.

From these small beginnings the fair continued to grow in stature, and from an initial 2,000 to 5,000 or so attendees in the early days, at the height of its regard – in the 90’s – there were almost 20,000 visitors packing the Embassy grounds, at the peak of the its populariy.

Of course, as the Ploenchit Fair is a charitable function, it is all about how much money can be raised to disburse to the charities they help. And the up to 200 millon baht they have raised over the 63 years of its life, since the first fair, is an amazing achievement. 

Examples of the organisations they help include the People Eye Care Foundation, a group that provides free eye care for people in rural areas. An example of their work is cataract surgery, without which people would go blind. Last year they gave 50 cataract sufferers new lenses in both eyes. And a new lease of life into the bargain. The Wild Flower Home provides safe shelter, education, and takes care of the health of young, abused single mothers. The recent donations allowed them to expand the building to take care of a further 25 girls in need. A charity known as Rejoice is based in Chiang Mai, and gives much-needed aid to villages in the province with medical and social support to the poor, sick, elderly, and the underprivileged, including to the hill tribe peoples. The Sisters of Good Shepherd is a non profit making body dedicated to developing the quality of life for those in need. Irrespective of their religion, race, creed or lifestyle. The Fatima Centre that is a part of their organisation provides opportunities for women and young girls to break out of their families unending cycle of poverty, through skills and job training. These are only a few examples out of a long list of charities that benefit from the money raised every year by the Ploenchit Fair.

Apart from the BCTFN committee members, it takes a lot of effort and organisation to run an event of this scale, and as soon as one Fair ends, preparation for the following year soon starts. It is a gigantic effort, and receives support from the British Embassy, the British Chamber of Commerce, local businesses such as Boots, Tescos, BP Castrol, Central Food Hall, and a host of smaller businesses that hold stalls at the fair. It is all done on a voluntary basis, and on the day of the fair itself there are about 2,000 of these guys and gals giving their time and money for free. It is this coming together of the community that has made the Ploenchit Fair a success for so long. Even if you are not a volunteer, and only a visitor there to enjoy a day out with your family, you also are doing your bit. The money you spend there you can be sure is going to a good cause. The fair makes no money for itself … all profits made go straight to the charities once expenses have been paid for. 

In 2018, the fair returned for one last time to its founding home, the grounds of the British Embassy. The land containing the Embassy and the Ambassador’s Residence had been sold, and this was its swansong. I had been asked to help out by Paul Jackson, the Entertainments Director, and DJ at the fair for many years. He knew of my interest in music and the arts from the magazine articles I had written, and I was more than willing to help out. Paul moved back to the UK for an unspecified amount of time in 2019, and I was then asked by the committee to take on the role of entertainments manager and DJ, myself. 

Thus it was that I became part of the team for the 2019 Ploenchit Fair. It was fun being at the fair and treating the throngs of festival goers to my choice of music, which mostly consists of an extensive playlist of 70s, 80s, and 90s music, with a few more recent toons that I like thrown in, for the benefit of the young crowd of today. I am happy to say that the bands I booked enjoyed the gig, the audience enjoyed listening and dancing to their music … and even I was thanked by a few guys who told me it was great to hear some of the songs they had enjoyed in their teens or twenties.

There is a large community of expats in Thailand, many of whom have been here for an extended number of years. As Bangkok has grown in size it has not always been easy for these guys to keep in touch. But another facet of the Ploenchit Fair is that it has become something of a ritual for these long-term residents to always meet up at the fair – even if they only see each other once a year – this is their meeting point of choice. Much back-slapping takes place as they reminisce over a pint or two, remembering their friends of old, and the escapades that they used to get up to when they had first arrived in Thailand. Some of the conversations I have overheard at the fair are best kept secret. Whatever you happen to hear at the Ploenchit Fair stays at the Ploenchit Fair! 

This year the longtime sponsors of the fair are going to continue their support of the charities that have come to rely on the funding they receive from the BCTFN, and should you be able to donate a few baht, please do … every little helps. 

But we will be back next year, with a day full of excitement for the kids and their families, all the fun of the fair … and plenty of food, wines and beers to accompany the live music and my DJ set …  just wait and see! 

Robin Westley Martin

Robin has been living in Thailand and Southeast Asia for over 30 years. He first worked as News Editor for Business in Thailand magazine, before moving on to edit and write for the Thai Airways inflight magazine, and also Hotel & Travel, amongst others. He continues to work in Southeast Asia, Thailand, and further afield, as a freelance writer or editor for several magazines, covering a wide range of genres. 

Contact info:

 E-mail: [email protected] 

Facebook: Robin Westley Martin 

Line: robinsiam555

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These were the thought processes early in the New Year of 2020, of my daughter Sara, my partner Noi, and myself. I had recently returned from a trip back to the UK with Sara, and we had visited the quaint and historical city of Bath. We explored this spot extensively (very popular with Thai and Asian visitors) and to rest our tired tourist toes we had plonked ourselves down in one of the many cafes offering a traditional English afternoon tea. Sara and myself stayed there rather longer than we had intended, sampling several of their cake offerings, and Ye Olde English Scones. My daughter was enamoured with the homemade cakes and the whole cafe atmosphere, and it had planted a seed of an idea in both our minds. Last Christmas, over a family meal, we discussed our trip to Bath, and we decided that to offer a similar experience in the heart of Bangkok would be a good idea. 

Sara began scouting locations, and Noi, myself and she eventually decided upon the Ari district, a very popular area in which to hangout. We found a site, premises, and set about making our dream of an English café in Bangkok come true. Our research had discovered that Bangkok, over the last few years, has been the most visited city in the world, with 22.7 million international visitors per year. The next closest cities were London and Paris, with about 19 million.

All these plans, of course, predated the onset of the Corona virus pandemic that bombed out international air travel, and devastated the hospitality and service industries worldwide. But we had made our bed, had begun fitting out the café, signed contracts, and made heavy investments already. There was no going back. 

The first problem we encountered was the supply chain for our fixtures and fittings, that we had carefully chosen for the restaurant, much of which was going to be shipped from China. Uh oh! The epicentre of the outbreak. However, it did not turn out as badly as we expected. China was the first to suffer the consequences of the deadly spread of Covid-19, but was also the first to start its recovery. The lockdown in China began to ease in April, and shipments out of the country once more resumed.

When we had initially signed our contracts with the owners of the complex in which our café was to be located, the opening date had been set for April 1st .  Bangkok was deep in the throes of lockdown, and the city was as quiet as a teashop in an English country village might be. There was no traffic on the roads or on the pavements, and hotels, pubs, restaurants, and cafes had all been told to shut their doors by the Thai government. Opening in April was a no no.

For us budding restaurateurs this was a very worrying time. The first of April approached and receded. The first of May approached and receded. When were we going to be able to open our restaurant that we had sunk all our money into, and how would the business fare in the ‘new (ab)normal’.

We were looking closely at the effect this global disaster was having on businesses, and people’s lives in general. Millions of small to medium businesses around the world are not likely to survive the losses they have made during the enforced closure of their premises, which was enforced to avoid the contact spread of the virus. 

And the further burdens placed upon them, such as the restrictions on inner city mass transit systems means that footfall will likely be reduced. Places that rely on customers will also suffer from a reduction in clientele within their premises due to social distancing rules, resulting in less seating and table space. The extra costs of regular cleaning of their public and private spaces, and the cost of hand gel, etc, etc all have to be taken into account. All of this is going to eat into the profit margins, even of those establishments that survive and are able to reopen.

So, is this a good time to be opening a new place, without even the benefit of having created a name for itself, and having loyal customers. Errrmmm … no, I think not. But never say die, mai pen rai (never mind), forge on and let’s see what happens. 

The Thai government, halfway through May, announced that restaurants and cafes would be allowed to open their doors again on June 1st, and we breathed a sigh of relief. At last we could open, and hopefully begin to recoup some of the money we had invested in creating this little corner of England in one of SE Asia’s greatest cities. The extra time we had been given had allowed us to refine the décor, and get all the equipment fitted. The stuff from China had finally arrived, the freezer and chilled display cabinet had been delivered, the sink, ice machine and fridge had all turned up. And the Thai contractors had quickly completed installation of these essential café requirements. The interior décor, lighting, and seating was taken care of by the two ladies on the team.

As we readied ourselves for ‘go’ we set about sorting out our food and beverage deliveries and supplies. Our vision was of a little piece of England transported to Thailand, and our menu had to support this vision. I wanted to go the ‘homemade’ route, as I am not a fan of factory made mass produced food… I wanted our café to be special. Luckily, Bangkok is a cosmopolitan city, with a large expat presence, and many foreigners have made Thailand their home. In my work as a freelance journalist, I have been a gadabout in the city when times were more normal. I have had to attend numerous different types of function, and at them have made many contacts and friends, from just about every sector. Some of the English people I have met are in the restaurant business and when I had told them about my café project they were more than willing to help. Thus it is, that my new café has on its menu traditional English cakes, biscuits, pastries…  and of course that essentially English favourite, freshly baked scones with homemade strawberry jam.

The complex in which my café is located was due to have seven different outlets within it, but as of June 1st, only my place and a full service restaurant had opened. Governments and landlords all around the world, to greater or lesser success, have been doing their bit to lessen the adverse effect of the economic downturn caused by the strictures that have been put in place due to the Covid-19 virus. Many landlords have waived or reduced their rents, and I am grateful that the landlord of my property followed suit. 

We found two Thai staff who had previous restaurant or café experience, and on the first of June we nervously opened up for business, not knowing what to expect, as Bangkok was still nothing like as busy as it had been pre-Covid. The first two customers we had were two well-known bloggers in Bangkok, which proved fortuitous. A few more people trickled in during the morning, and by the afternoon more were coming, possibly having seen the review by the Bangkok bloggers. Over the next few days more customers and bloggers came, including some photographers and writers from magazines, for which I thank my friends in the media industry. The café is also proving very popular with the young crowd who are busily taking photos of the café and our food, which they post straight to the two most well-known social media sites, Instagram and Facebook… thanks!

I hope other places that are struggling with their new or established mode of business can do well for themselves and flourish during these difficult and challenging times. I extend a welcome to you all to come and chill out at my place… MARTIN’S English Café, Bangkok!

MARTIN’S English Café can be found on both Instagram and Facebook.

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Enjoying fabulous food is definitely something we do not need to experience vicariously, via the posts your friends and family flood your social platforms with, on a somewhat too regular basis. Thank you, but an out of focus photo of you eating your sausage and mash doesn’t really do it for me, even if the gravy does look pretty tasty.

The strictures that have been put in place to vanquish the virus during the global pandemic, such as self-quarantine and social distancing, have put the brakes on us going out to our favourite restaurant to celebrate a birthday, go on a date, or for any other celebration. When they are allowed to welcome us to their tables once more, we will see many changes in what is being dubbed the ‘new normal’.

The hospitality sector worldwide has been in nuclear meltdown, with hotels, pubs, cafes, and restaurants all being forced to close their doors. Some savvy restaurateurs embraced their tech knowhow and started offering the most popular meals on their menu for customers to eat at home, either by delivering the food themselves, or more likely by partnering with a delivery service, in Thailand such as Lineman, Grab, or Food Panda.

This is all very well but eating a restaurant meal at home takes away that special something you experience when going out; being served by attractive and attentive waiting staff and being poured a nice glass of red to go with your meal, for example. Eating a beef stroganoff in your dressing gown and slippers, while sitting on the sofa binge watching Breaking Bad, supping on a can of beer out of the fridge does not quite cut it.

But a homecooked meal can bring back a bit of intimacy, it is something you have prepared yourself, and the appreciative comments you receive from your partner or kids make your kitchen efforts worthwhile. Hopefully!

Should you be a little worried that your culinary skills might not be up to those of the chef at your local Italian (or even KFC), in Bangkok you are covered. No worries. A few enterprising Western expats noticed a gap in the market…  home deliveries… for those of us living here who fondly think of the foods they enjoyed back in their own countries, with their families. Deliveries in Bangkok during lockdown rocketed. Check out the online menus, make your choices, and you will soon be sitting down to a Cumberland sausage sandwich, a steak and kidney pie, or a rack of ribs in barbecue sauce. These guys have taken it upon themselves to supply you with a taste of home, in your far away from home Thailand retreat.

As well as the aforementioned delicacies you can partake of home cured bacon, a whole range of different sausages, meat pies, Tandoori chicken, beef stews, Lasagna, and so much more, that you will discover as you read on. On your TV’s back at home you are sure to have tuned into one or another of the chef shows, because they are popular across all channels and countries. Some of these chaps living in Bangkok – or maybe their Thai wives or girlfriends – decided to make a business out of their love of food. They make the sausages themselves, cure the bacon, bake the homemade pies for you, and deliver the repast right to your door. All you have to do then is cook the sausages or bacon to your taste or heat up the ready cooked pies or other meals. Close your eyes, turn up the aircon to freezing, and there you are, back in your living room, from whence you came.

We are going to look at four places today that you will be able to check out online. After choosing your taste of the day from their menu it won’t be long before you’re enjoying a homestyle meal in the comfort of your own place, musing, ‘Bloody hell, I shouldn’t have waited till Covid-19 lockdown before I tried this out’.

The first place we are going to look into is Uncle Cameron’s traditionally smoked meats.  Cameron is a long serving journalist in Thailand, and also bass player in the Midnight Ramblers, SE Asia’s top Rolling Stones tribute band. But the food string to his bow is his passion. Cameron has always liked cooking since he was a kid and he wanted to try out curing and smoking meat, so he found an inexpensive smoker, and figured out how to do it. A ham he did for a friend’s Christmas lunch came out well, so he carried on.

He bought a meat grinder, had a go at sausages, and it expanded from there… more culinary gear, refining recipes, trying them out on friends. ‘Uncle’ Cameron, in partnership with his wife, who he says is a superb cook, now has 18 products in his lineup that are a mix of ‘you-cook-’em’ and ‘heat-and-eat’.  

You cook ems are: a range of sausages (Cumberland, Italian, American Bratwurst, Toulouse, and Northern Thai Spicy Sai Oua sausages, plus custom ones on request), home cured and genuine slow smoked bacon (it takes nine days to make that and the pork loin ham), cured unsmoked Canadian pea meal bacon, and chunky bacon bites or ‘lardons’… same as the bacon but cut into cubes, and his favourite, specially spiced beef burgers. 

Cooked and ready to eat cured and smoked loin ham, smoked chicken legs or whole bird, smoked pulled pork, barbecue ribs with Cameron’s own magnificent homemade sauce, tandoori chicken legs, Uncle Cameron’s barbecue sauce on its own, and whole legs of ham – about 10kg. For the vegetarians or those who want to dress up their meat, naturally fermented sauerkraut – or Farang Kimchi, as one Thai customer has renamed it.

As well as individual customers Cameron also supplies a supermarket, hotels, restaurants, and pubs. Whatever you choose from Cameron’s menu I don’t think you will regret your choice. If he’s not too busy when he delivers (unlikely) you will find he has lots of stories to tell.

Next on the grub trail let’s delve into Ann’s Frozen Food. The range of food products Ann makes is on a grand scale, and if you can’t find something to tempt you, you must be on a fast. Ann is married to Patrick, with one beautiful daughter, Sarah. They have been together over 15 years and both have a long history of working with food for foreigners and Thais alike. Ann and Pat supply many hotels and restaurants around town, but this business has dried up until the hospitality industry is able to fully reopen. The personal sector, to deliver to families and individuals’ homes, grew during the lockdown and has taken up some of the slack.

Pat said, ‘We are more than happy to deliver our range of frozen foods to individuals and families. We keep our prices down and will easily fit into your household budget. All our food is fully cooked before being frozen and comes in microwave friendly packaging. You can order our food and it will stay safe and frozen for three months or more, and when you are ready to eat just pop it in the microwave and within minutes you will have a delicious homemade meal’.

This friendly couple said that during the lockdown their best sellers were lasagna, steak and Guinness pies, or Indian curries with naan bread. But check out their website, your taste buds will be drooling with anticipation.

Heading on down the menu of food providers, next up is Not Just Meat. Not Just Meat, or NJM, is a family owned and operated business. While Sean’s out talking shop with prospective customers, or making personal deliveries, Samantha, his bilingual Anglo-Thai daughter, manages it. Then there is Sean’s better half, Nok, she will be hidden behind the scenes somewhere looking after admin, finance and other duties. Sean has been in the meat and food industry around the world for over 30 years, the last 12 of them in Thailand. Together, in this new venture, they seem to have got things right, because everything I myself have tried from them deserves a 5 star rating, and I am a sausage connoisseur! My grandfather was a Master Chef, and Master Baker (no jokes please). NJM is Bangkok’s newest go-to place for premium-quality local and imported expatriate foods at great prices and offer their own spin on delicacies such as Cumberland sausage, English middle bacon, black pudding. lamb burgers, chicken, beef and pork pies, chicken tikka masala, lamb doner kebabs, and readymade meals.

Brits and Aussies looking at this list will be drooling at the mouth, and strange as it may seem, after I introduced my Thai girlfriend to some of these Brit delicacies, she has become a fan too. With her added Thai super spicy sauces, of course.

We might have saved the best of these Brit/Western style food delivery services in Bangkok till last. Phil Hudson and his Thai wife Suthima ran fine dining restaurants together in the UK and France, before deciding to return to Thailand, where they opened a bistro in Chiang Mai, offering European food, which ran for seven successful years before Phil decided it was time for him to retire. He and his wife moved to Bangkok, but Suthima was restless, and she decided to use her experience and skills to develop a range of stuff for home delivery. European home cooked food, and promote it on her Facebook page, and the Line app. She has been doing quite successfully for about three years now, her aim is to offer the best in original dishes, not factory food, using the best ingredients that we can find. What I find particularly enticing about the list of delectable food here is that they are not restricted to savoury items. They bake brilliant cakes and pastries too. The moist chocolate cake is to die for, lemon drizzle, English scones with homemade jam, brownies, the list goes on. Give their menu a look see, but don’t order too much, unless you also pay for a gym membership to lose the extra pounds you are sure to put on.

So, you see, then, that the curbs on going out that are in place now, and the way things will be in the new normal has not stopped you from being able to enjoy the visceral pleasure of eating delicious and tasty foods… with the minimum of effort on your own part, it has all been done for you.

Spark up your wi-fi, get your fingers flying across your keyboard, and check out the menus of these guys. I can guarantee that when you see the variety of dishes on offer it will be difficult to choose. But don’t miss out … click … order!

Featured outlets:

Uncle Cameron’s: https://www.facebook.com/unclecamerons/

Ann’s Frozen Foods: https://www.annsfrozenfood.com/

Not Just Meat: https://www.facebook.com/NotJustMeatBkk/

European Home Cooked Food: go to Line app, ID bangkokpie … you will be sent a menu.

Robin Westley Martin

Robin has been living in Thailand and SE Asia for over 30 years. He first worked as News Editor for Business in Thailand magazine, before moving on to edit and write for the Thai Airways domestic inflight magazine, and also Hotel & Travel, amongst others. He continues to work in SE Asia and Thailand as a freelance writer or editor for several magazines, covering a wide range of genres.

E-mail: [email protected] Facebook: Robin Westley Martin Line: robinsiam555

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angkok is a city of many sights, sounds, flavours, tastes, and aromas… all of which are essentially Bangkok. But I believe that another facet of Bangkok that makes it so fascinating is the eclectic mix of interesting people that this giant city has drawn into it, who have chosen to make it their home, or base of operations. I am lucky in my profession that I have been able to meet many of them. On one of my assignments around town I had chanced to meet Darren Royston, highly regarded choreographer and dancer from Britain’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). Over an interesting and illuminating chat I told him about my interest in music, comedy, and theatre in Bangkok, and he said that I should meet his friend Stefan Sanchez, a fellow Brit who was an opera singer. 

After saying goodbye to Darren at the end of the evening I thought no more of our conversation until a couple of weeks later when I received a message from Darren inviting me to meet Stefan, and also to go along to see ‘Fame, the Musical’ at Mahidol University’s Salaya campus.

I of course replied in the affirmative, and Darren arranged for me to meet Stefan on the corner of Sukhumvit Soi 33, where he and some friends would pick me up and drive me to the venue in Thonburi, on the other side of the river. I had no idea what Stefan looked like, but I imagined a Pavarotti styled type of guy, as I knew he was an opera singer. After a few minutes wait I spied an imposing figure with a beard, parading down the street, owning the pavement. This had to be the guy I had come to meet, I thought. It was indeed, and he greeted me with a booming ‘Hello, you must be Robin, nice to meet you’.

That first meeting turned into many more, and I am now happy and privileged to be able to include Stefan amongst my circle of friends. So, let’s learn a little about Stefan. Stefan Paul Sanchez is a baritone opera singer who studied singing and piano at the Royal Academy of Music, London, graduating with distinction, and has the honour of being the youngest ever baritone at Sadler’s Wells Opera with a major role. In 1998 Stefan was made an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music for his work with opera singers.

Throughout his career he has directed in the UK, Europe, USA, and throughout Asia, in productions of La Boheme, Tosca, Rigoletto, The Magic Flute, Le Nozze Di Figaro, and Carmen. In Bangkok Stefan has produced Savitri (Holst) and Tosca (Puccini) at the Thailand Cultural Centre, Blue Beard’s Castle at the National Theatre and the Mae Naak Thai opera at the Chalerm Krung Theatre. In 2011 Stefan was responsible for the transfer of Mae Naak to the Bloomsbury Theatre in London, taking 70 singers and musicians to London to participate in the production.

Stefan is the founder of Grand Opera Thailand, a professional opera company that provides training and performances in Thailand and other countries, and its associate, the company for Young Thai Opera Singers, which was formed in 2012 and has performed in prestigious venues in Thailand and overseas.  

I really got to know Stefan when I was covering the development of his 2019 Bangkok production of ‘The Workshop: A Dress Rehearsal for Life’. Stefan was the Producer, Napisi Reyes the Director, Darren was the choreographer, while Cherie Carter-Scott and her sister Lynn Stewart were co-creators of the whole shebang. Dr Cherie is currently a Bangkok resident, and has been a professional life coach since the mid-70s… she is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of motivational book ‘If Life is a Game, Here are the Rules.’ Together with her sister they had the idea that the individual stories of each of the people they coached in their workshops would make a great story. So, they set about doing just that! With Michael Pomije dealing with the financial and business aspects of the production they took on the mammoth task of putting on the production themselves. Ten years later down the line the end result was a world-class musical that a packed house of Bangkokians were thrilled by at the performance held in the Thai Cultural Centre in mid-2019 by Thai actors and actresses in English! 

I followed the production from the early rehearsals right through to the finale. Thanks to Stefan I got to see how a major production like this comes together. I was, though, an outsider looking in. The bond between the cast, the production team and the director only grew stronger as showtime approached. It was a privilege to have seen them all at work.

But there is another string to Stefan’s bow that has given him a chance to unleash his seemingly boundless energy in yet another direction. Voice Wellness. What on earth is that you might ask. Stefan explains in his own words; “I discovered during my work as a singer and producer that vocal health also encourages spiritual and mental wellbeing. I have always enjoyed looking at symbiotic relationships between different disciplines, and began experimenting with the casts of the shows I was directing, to find more connection between them, their voices, and the characters they were portraying. The results were amazing and led me to conclude that the process of rehearsing and training was not only to enable a better understanding of an opera character, but also of promoting a deeper relationship within the self.” 

Through Stefan’s voice wellness training you can learn about sincerity, strength, excitement, empathy, imagination, emotion, gesture, and how to make your voice vocally captivating. I can think of no-one better than to teach this. Once Stefan enters a room the dynamics change, he is a strong character with a deep confident voice that reaches to all corners of a room, without having to resort to shouting. His presence demands attention, without any need to strut around like a peacock. You just know that he is present in the room. 

A few weeks ago, Stefan invited me to a wine tasting competition at the Pacific City Club. There were 12 teams, and I was in Team Stefan. To cut a long story short our team came second. I was pleased with this placing. But Stefan always wants to be at the top, number one. He usually is!

 I hope you get the chance to meet him. If he is in the same room as you, you won’t miss him for sure!

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