‘Our Tha Cheen River’

Just last week, I was invited by a good friend of mine here in Suphan, on behalf of a few organizations including the Japanese Fund for Global Environment, to attend the release of a new booklet ‘Our Tha Cheen River’ at arguably Thailand’s finest educational institution – Mahidol University, Salaya, Nakhorn Pathom. Knowing I got this blog of mine up and running mind you, I was expected to write about it! So, here it is.

Last Thursday afternoon, after finishing off my last article for The Nation, I jumped in a Suphanburi-Bangkok passenger van and went to catch up with Mr Nicky (Ajarn Nimit Somboonwit, the booklet’s editor). Now, I knew where to get out all right, not far past Bang Yai on the edge of Bangkok, but I had no idea how far away the university actually was. I checked the details and I realized that geez…. I was gonna have to take a taxi to Nakhorn Pathom province – how much it was going to cost was frightening. No worries, Mahidol University, located in Salaya, is just outside Bangkok and I was there in a jiffy costing less than a hundred baht for the 10km journey.

My accommodation paid for courtesy of the Japanese was basic enough, it wasn’t even a proper hotel, it was a flat style hotel room with a university regulated 1am curfew. For dinner, we were invited out to one of the groovy restaurants in the Phutthamonthon Sai 4 area, an area renowned for its excellent Thai-style eateries, by Asst Prof. Ophat of Mahidol Uni. In fact, he is also the Head of Greenpeace, South-east Asia. I mean, this teacher certainly knew his stuff all right and we were soon joined by another lecturer, Asst Prof Solot, who specializes in anthropology and linguistics. As you could well imagine, the conversation that night definitely was not boring and was I surprised to meet Thais who spoke English as well as myself. By the way, the food was scrumptious, and also the beer for that matter.

Up nice and early for the book seminar’s opening ceremony, we were joined by 400 kids from various schools from the 4 provinces located on the Tha Cheen River, they are; Chainat, Suphanburi, Nakhorn Pathom and Samut Sakhorn. Also there, to get things started was the Permanent Secretary to Environment. We had a really fun half day, with Mr Nicky up there doing his teacher bit, showing the kids how to use the booklet and spread word of the needed improvement of the standard of the Tha Cheen River – infamous for being the dirtiest, most polluted river in Thailand. After this, he had a bunch of students up there on stage giving their thoughts on the booklet, and what they could do personally to make sure the river quality was gonna be improved during the allocated 4 year time-span, before 2012. Nervous at the thought of being pulled on the stage also to give a speech, the idea came to light and there I was talking about a subject I really didn’t know much about. Nevermind though, all the kids were more puzzled at this Farang speaking Thai, than paying attention to what I had to say.

Unfortunately, the education system in Thailand doesn’t teach much about the preservation of the environment and when it does, it only uses the same old unflattering black and white photocopies which simply bore the reader. The objective of this free booklet therefore, is to get the message across in a clear, bright and easy-going way, laid out for the kids to take notice – the language in it is basic, simple for the kids to understand. The booklet is aimed at those in Grade 4 – 8. Nicky said that even the rural farmers could learn a thing or two from it!

Nicky assured me that even though a lot of Thais are born on riverbanks, they have no idea on how to look after the actual river, a thing which main purpose is to serve as a place to chuck out the contents of your rubbish bin. This is mentioned in the book, a good reminder for kids and what they ought not to do with their endless supply of 7-11 plastic bags. The worst offenders of all are the countless amount of factories, which after being given the boot out of Bangkok a few decades ago, resettled upcountry along the Tha Cheen River. For them, the river is an ideal spot to toss their annual load of hundreds of tones of waste, both toxic and chemical. Next up are the farmers and their fervent use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The banks of the Tha Cheen are also home to innumerable pig farms – yes, all that pig waste also gets thrown in the river, the farmers completely indifferent to the villagers down stream who use the river to bathe and brush their teeth. Images which spring to mind are pretty repulsive to say the least. All this is explained clearly in the booklet.

((Ajarn Nimit, the editor (guy with the grey hair!) presenting a copy of the booklet to the Permanent Secretary of the Environment))

The Tha Cheen River was once famous for its huge variety of fish, some very rare. Unfortunately though, the fish population has severely dwindled and some species are now extinct. Here is a good example of how the fish have been affected. One of Suphanburi’s districts is named after one of the fish which once lived in abundance, ‘Pla Ma’ (horse fish / Sodier Croaker). Until this day, Suphanburi’s restaurants are full of Bangkokians who have specifically come to Suphanburi to taste this delicious fish. But however, there are no more ‘horse fish’ left in Bang Pla Ma, what is served on dishes is horse fish imported from Burma! Again, the booklet states all the different fish which once swum around happily in droves and what we have to do to save the remaining ones.

Besides all of this, the booklet affords an insight into all the work of the numerous organizations and their efforts to clampdown on this severe abuse of mother nature. And on a bright side, there is far more being down now than in the days of yesteryear. The booklet also gives an interesting summary of the history of the Tha Cheen River and all the places of interest in the areas 4 provinces. I’m sure a lotta kids are really gonna enjoy this book

Altogether, I had a fun and extremely interesting time – I certainly learned a lot. Not forgetting lunch at the university, wow…that’s top notch. And finally, I hope that this blog helps bring a little bit more public awareness to the plight of the Tha Cheen.

Anyway, on behalf of the organizations involved, I have 3 copies to give away for free. Just answer the easy question below and send it by email to steveblogs(at)gmail (Readers in Thailand only) First 3 correct answers i get, will get a copy.

1.What is the name of the longest river in Thailand?

**Just for the sake of Google’s search engine, the Tha Cheen river is also spelt ‘Ta Chin River’, ‘Tha Chin River’, ‘Tha Jeen River’ and ‘Ta Jeen River**

7 responses to “‘Our Tha Cheen River’

  1. Khun Stephen

    Thank you very much for your article.
    We are glad that you put the article on your blog! It is really interesting.

    I could know many cultural things in Thailand from the blog.
    I will keep checking your blog 😉

    Sonoko Miyatake

    Global Environment Centre Foundation (GEC)

  2. I hope the booklet is a success and the Tha Cheen river can be cleaned up soon.

  3. Thanks Steve for write about the tha cheen, i wrote the blog too about the book on my blog at oknation

  4. Steve;

    I really enjoy your fluent thoughts. Thanks a lot.

  5. Thanks for this post.
    It sounds very interesting, is this booklet also available for your readers back in cold Europe? Maybe a download link for a PDF-version?

  6. Stephen Cleary

    Hi Heinrich:
    Sorry, it’s not online but we could scan you a copy and send it through. It’s all in Thai, is that all right? Let me know.

  7. Sauwanee Wattanaboon

    Dear Steve,
    As a Suphan born and now living in Suphan by the Tha Cheen river for five months a year,my partner and I really enjoyed reading your ‘Suphanburi’off the beaten track!…you are spot on with every details…so good to read about your home town the way you see it yourself.
    Thank you for the article’Tha Cheen river’ to raise awearness and to look after our river,it is not easy to educate the villagers but we tried by setting good example and hope.
    We are missing Suphanburi and our beautiful river like mad and hope to bump into you oneday..perhaps in Tesco Lotus.
    Best Wishes
    Sauwanee and Andy.