A year of news to inspire

A year of news to inspire

1. Life on streets put to good use

The past year had bad times - but some of the best times were given by the examples of these neighbours, who provided examples to be proud of.


Life on streets put to good use

Lamphai Intathep

City man Chaiyaporn Vattanaporn, 83, has a masters degree and solid professional background as a civil servant. Most men in his position would be spending their retirement years happily at home.

However, Mr Chaiyaporn, who graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the United States, decided to leave his home 22 years ago to spend his life on the streets.

Chaiyaporn Vattanaporn, 83, originally from Phrae, was given an award by Her Royal Highness Princess Soamsawali for his dedication to supporting people in hardship. Even after a cancer diagnosis, he plans to continue his work helping the poor in Bangkok. Lamphai Intathep

He has spent his time doing voluntary work for people in need for the past three years and, now suffering from cancer, plans to carry on with his mercy mission until his last days.

On Dec 9 the Office of Promotion and Protection of Children, Youth, the Elderly and Vulnerable Groups, which comes under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, awarded him the Prachabodi Award in recognition of his efforts. 

Mr Chaiyaporn, from Phrae, is among 45 people who have experienced hardship but are able to lead their lives in an exemplary way, the office found.

In a ceremony presided over by Her Royal Highness Princess Soamsawali, the awards were presented to 19 individuals in total, split into those who have helped people in poor living conditions, five organisations who have helped the less fortunate, and 21 media outlets which ran stories which helped people in hardship.

Mr Chaiyaporn was born to a middle-income family, studied at missionary school, took a bachelor's degree in public health at Mahidol University, won a scholarship to study overseas, and worked for the Ministry of Public Health.

Few young men at that time were lucky enough to study overseas. He also wanted to discover new things, so changed jobs often, he said.

"I also changed girls often and drank too much," he recalls.

Excessive drinking brought out aggressive and abusive behaviour in the young man, imperiling his future.

After one employer started a disciplinary probe into his behaviour, his two wives and two daughters left him.

Without a family behind him, Mr Chaiyaporn chose to leave home and has not been back since. His retirement life started as a homeless man sleeping rough in Sanam Luang.

Three years ago, staff from Ban Mitmaitree for Homeless People in Din Daeng district found him. They persuaded Mr Chaiyaporn to do voluntary work at a home for vagrants.

He worked as an interpreter to communicate with foreign visitors and translated papers from Thai to English and vice versa.

"I do not regret my past, and I will fix my future. I would still like to do something good for others," said Mr Chaiyaporn, who has fourth-stage prostate cancer.

When we spoke to him, he was about to leave his job at the home for vagrants and resume his life on the streets.

"I will do as much public work out there as I can. I am willing to turn my hand to almost anything: I can give directions to foreign tourists, clean the pavements and collect garbage by the roadside. I will do it until my last day comes," he said.


Brave Than now youth idol

Anucha Charoenpo

When Nitcharee "Nong Than" Peneakchanasak lost both her legs in a train accident in Singapore three years ago, she didn't give up.

Nitcharee “Nong Than” Peneakchanasak is upbeat even after the rail accident which took her legs. Pornprom Satrabhaya

And when she lost a court case against the rail operator for failing to provide passengers with enough safety, she again didn't lose heart.

"I will never give up," Ms Nitcharee said, after Singapore's High Court ruled against her appeal.

Ms Nitcharee appealed a lower court's decision, which found Ang Mo Kio station was "reasonably safe" at the time she was injured.

The court found the defendants, SMRT Corporation and the Singapore Land Transport Authority, were not liable for any negligence that resulted in her injuries.

Ms Nitcharee, 18, lost her legs after she fell onto the tracks and was hit by a train at Ang Mo Kio station on April 3, 2011. She was in Singapore to attend an intensive English course.

She claimed in her appeal that the rail operator SMRT and the Land Transport Authority were negligent by failing to ensure the station was safe for commuters.

She has not received any compensation from either agency, while her father has spent more than 3 million baht fighting her case.

Ms Nitcharee said she is planning to set up a Facebook page to act as a support group for Thai students studying abroad.

Shortly after hearing the court verdict in Singapore, Ms Nitcharee and her father Kittanesh travelled to Government House to meet Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

They asked him to set up a fund for Thai students studying abroad who may face accidents and have no one to turn to when they are in trouble.

Ms Nitcharee dreams of studying law and psychology when she gets older.

She wants to help people by providing them with legal knowledge and motivation when they encounter difficulties in their lives. 

The Matthayom 5 student at Mater Dei School still has another year to prepare herself for her university entrance exam.

While she is waiting for that, Ms Nitcharee takes part in a wide range of social activities organised by schools, non-governmental organisations, state agencies, the private sector and the media.

She says they invite her because they see her as a role model of someone who never gives up.

Ms Nitcharee has visited the veterans ward of King Mongkut Memorial Hospital to support soldiers wounded in the deep South and encourage them to get their lives back on track.

She has also spoken at events and hosts the TV show Sor Nor Banyen (Pink Station) on the digital channel New TV, where she interviews people who have inspirational life stories.

She said she never feels as though she is missing out on anything.

While she enjoyed her life before, she said the accident has motivated her to live life to the fullest.

On Youth Day this year, which fell on Sept 20, she was awarded the Youth Idol award in a project initiated by student groups from state- and private-run universities for her work in helping the public.


Aetas a costly lesson for city

Supoj Wancharoen

The Supreme Administrative Court’s order to demolish the Aetas Hotel this month wasn’t just a victory for nearby residents — it was a priceless lesson for City Hall.

A judge ruled the Aetas Hotel in Soi Ruamrudee was illegally built and must be demolished. KOSOL NAKACHOL

Residents in Soi Ruamrudee hailed the Dec 2 verdict, which marked a win in their legal dispute and stipulates that the 24-storey building must come down.

Those celebrating the win say it not only relieved their worries over the impact of the building on their daily lives, but might also inspire others to challenge injustice in their communities.

The case goes back to 2005 when a group of 24 residents were alerted that the Aetas chain wanted to build a luxury tower near their home off Phloenchit Road.

The news raised a range of concerns: among them, a crush of new traffic, air pollution from the vehicles and increased fire risk.

Instead of just watching the building go up and bearing the unpleasant impact, they began to question why the Pathumwan district office approved the building, given that Soi Ruamrudee is too narrow to accommodate such a tall building.

Under the Building Control Act, a structure higher than 23m, or eight floors, cannot be built on a road which is less than 10m wide. Such narrow roads can prevent fire trucks from reaching a highrise if it catches fire.

But the district office reportedly approved the project based on an old database, which says Soi Ruamrudee is 10m wide.

In 2008, the residents lodged a complaint accusing former Pathumwan district chief Surakiat Limcharoen and former Bangkok governor Apirak Kosayodhin of negligence of duty in approving the project.

Four years later, the court found the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration guilty, saying it wrongly allowed the construction to go forward.

However, the defendants, who included the building contractors — Lappratan Co Ltd and Taptimthorn Co Ltd — appealed against the ruling to the Supreme Administrative Court, which upheld the original finding.

The judge gave the Bangkok governor and Pathumwan district office 60 days to oversee the demolition.

The order may turn into a double blow for City Hall if Aetas sues the city. The building is worth about 3 billion baht, and the company would want to recover that cost as well as compensation for lost sales if it has to relocate the project.

Whatever the outcome of that case, residents of Soi Ruamrudee have already seen the fruit of their nine-year effort.


Locals laud boy's bus route map

Ariane Kupferman-Sutthavong

Two years ago, Somwasin Udomphol, now 18, started mapping out bus lines for locals and tourists to find their way around the city.

Somwasin Udomphol, 18, has mapped out bus routes to help locals and tourists find their way around Bangkok. Netizens applauded him when his map was circulated on social media. Chumporn Sangvilert

He came up with the idea when he saw tourists struggling to understand bus routes. The young man offered to map out three to four lines for the tourists, and promised himself he would do more in the future.

The challenge he set himself resulted in a bus route map for Bangkok, stretching from the Chatuchak area.

Netizens lauded the young man for his efforts when his map was publicised on social media in August.

While many commuters longed for better directions at bus stops, ultimately they received the advice they needed not from a state authority, but a young man who had experienced such frustrations himself, and wanted to help others in the same plight.

Mr Somwasin, born and raised in Bangkok, says he has probably used all transport modes available in the city.

For years, he roamed the city in his free time, travelling from one spot to the other, surveying bus lines and stops.

"I felt like I was performing a service for the community," he said.

Once he felt his map was ready, he uploaded it onto social media networks where news outlets picked it up.

Mr Somwasin's maps turned into an overnight sensation in a city where the bus routes are so tangled some commuters feel like they have entered a dystopian universe.

"People get confused when they get on a bus," he said.

"They're never certain it will take them to the right spot. I'm glad they can benefit from my map."

Mr Somwasin said he wanted to help commuters find their way around Bangkok, encourage more people to use public transport, and relieve traffic problems and pollution that plague the city.

Someone has now put up a copy of his map at the Victory Monument bus stop to help commuters.

"I'm happy when I see travellers studying my map,'' he says, adding that he sometimes visits the bus stop to watch commuters' reactions.


Cycling gets overdue push

Sirinya Wattanasukchai

When Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha mentioned cycling twice in his weekly "Return Happiness" TV programme and staged a PR stunt at the opening of a bike event in November, the country was ready for a change promoting greener modes of transport.

The prime minister is campaigning for more use of bicycles to promote tourism, solve traffic problems and encourage Thais to embrace a healthier lifestyle.

Cyclists ride their bicycles on an upgraded bike lane through Koh Rattanakosin in inner Bangkok. Pornprom Satrabhaya

He showed his commitment to the cause last Sunday when he rode on Bangkok's first complete bike lane and encouraged people to commute by bicycle.

Bangkok governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra was among the heads of state agencies who were quick to respond to Gen Prayut's policy, providing the city's first complete bike lane, and with the promise of more to come.

The Transport Ministry has also hopped on board, building new lanes and improving existing ones in Phitsanulok, Nan, Nakhon Nayok, and Nakhon Ratchasima provinces to attract tourists to cycling. The government also plans a bike-and-jogging lane along the Chao Phraya River.

In the capital, the governor has extended the original Phra Athit bike lane to cover eight kilometres around the old town quarters in the Rattanakosin area. He has promised another 10km of bike lanes, extending the original route, to be completed next year.

The upgraded route, with new green paint and a white bike logo, some modifications of ramps connecting footpaths and the designated lane, including safer drainage lids, starts from Ratchadamnoen Avenue and runs through Tanao, Kalayanamaitree, Sanam Chai, Tai Wang, Maharat, Na Phra Lan, Na Phra That and Rajini roads, before reaching Phra Athit and Phra Sumen roads.

MR Sukhumbhand has designated 232km of bike lanes around the city, though most need more work.

In re-developing the Phra Athit bike lane, the Bangkok governor pledged better traffic enforcement to keep motorists away.

Cyclists, who have campaigned for more than a decade to get a safer designated path for pedaling in the city, welcomed the move.

However, some active cyclists have spotted flaws in the Rattanakosin route that need to be corrected.

The clockwise direction isn't practical for cycling on the right. The lane is also too narrow.

But cyclists know too well that the biggest problem of the bike lane isn't the infrastructure, but recognition from other road users, be they motorists, street vendors, or motorcycle taxi drivers who fail to share the road with others.

Yet the Rattanakosin route – the first protected lane with yellow and green poles – is a good start for a city which in past decades has given priority to private cars over cyclists.

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