Archive for the 'Fredrik Öhrn' Category

What is art and what is painting – and how can either help?

In the infamous prison Bang Khwang in Bangkok, Thailand, prisoners are being trained to become painters, or artists.

In a full-page article in The Bangkok Post we get an explanation of the project. It is initiated by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri, and she says that "the aim is to equip the inmates with skills to make a living after they leave the prison."

So in order to prepare inmates in Thailand for the rough real world outside, they train them to become painters. Or as they also are referred to in the article: Artists.

According to the article the course took place between March 12 and May 31, two hours per week, for a total of 40 hours(?). (Explain to me like I’m a two-year-old how that adds up to 40 hours.)

69 prisoners were offered to take the class, 52 of them passed. It does not say why 17 failed. Maybe they were released before the class finished.

The "artists" that passed the class claims that painting helps them concentrate, it gives them hope for the future. Which of course is good. But what hope is it?

One prison painter says: "The art class is not just a candle, but a spotlight which shows me the way. I know I will not be jobless out there and will not return to a life of crime."

So apparently there is a shortage of painters, or artists if you like, in Thailand. The inmates works were mostly based on pictures; postcards and photographs. Nice views and, yes of course nude pictures were the most common motives. Walking the streets in my own neighbourhood I can say that it does not seem to be a shortage of artists nor painters that can produce cheesy pictures – rather the opposite actually. And considering that Thai authorities ban art exhibitions before they open due to risk of too many people showing up, uncontrolled in a public space, I don’t really know where these newly trained artists can go to sell their work.

All of this causes a bit of a dilemma for me to be honest; Bang Khwang has a large number of prisoners or inmates, some say 7 000 some say 11 000. We can just establish that the prison is HUGE. It has a nickname; ‘The Big Tiger’ – because it tends to eat people alive. Probably ‘eaten’ by a number of things, death penalty being one, diseases that they don’t get any cure or medicine for, killings and of course suicides.

If art or painting, helps these prisoners to feel better and to feel better about themselves that is great. Absolutely.

But 69 out of thousands – is that really something to write home about?

Secondly, if they decide to prepare the inmates for the real world, outside the walls, could there be anything else perhaps that could be of more use for them than to become artists? And of course something that could be of more use to the society.

I am not saying that artists is not of use to the society, real artists are. I just don’t think it is fair to the inmates to trick them into believing that they are artists, or painters for that matter, after 10 weeks, 2 hours per week of training – which by the way adds up to 20 hours, not 40. But is fairness considered in a prison where they still might be using shackles?

I’d say it does not matter – fairness should always be considered.

So I wonder if this is an honorary initative and the way to go for more prisoners – educate them to become artists in 10 weeks –  or if it is a waste of time and just silly propaganda?

Of course I don’t mean the usual ‘silly’ by the ‘silly’ I used, but I assume that is understood.

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Standardisation vs Money vs. Trust

Fredrik Öhrn, Bangkok

To have friends visiting is fun, for various reasons, except the obvious, you also get a different perspective on life in Thailand. You get some new perspectives, some perspectives and views are being confirmed by someone with a similar background, which also can be nice. You are also being reminded of how you used to look at things two years ago when I was completely new in this country, friends sometimes remind you of how things could be but also help you see how things are done in a different part of the world, where things also work out – in a different way.

Quite often you see signs that says “ISO:9000” in Bangkok and all over Thailand. The last 2-3 digits may vary, but you will always find 9 in the beginning and ISO first of all.

In Sweden and I assume, in the rest of Europe this is a sign of quality, it means that you have taken your company or organization through a process to make sure that things are done one way and that is the correct way.

One friend once saw a hospital with a huge sign on it saying “ISO 9000”, he was sure that it was the same hospital that I used to work for.

My friend wondered what ISO 9000 could mean at a hospital like Phyathai.

“Perhaps it is their environmental work?”, he suggested.

For some reason he excludes the possibility that it would have to do with overall quality, don’t ask me why.

I tell him that I quite often and in various places find these signs that says ISO:9000 and that I more than once wondered what they stand for. Really.

You often see the local buses – those from which it pours out black smoke – with a ISO:9000 sticker on the windshield.

“Yeah at least we then know it is not for environmental work”, my friend says. Perhaps it is for their work with Human resources promotion?” he suggests.

I can’t help laughing “Human Resources Promotion” or “Human Resources Program”? In Thailand?

We agree upon that ISO in this case probably means that the driver of the bus promises to close the door when he drives and only open it when he STOPS to pick up or drop off passengers. The promise to stop could also be part of this ISO certification…

The hospital I used to work for got an award from Reader’s Digest, “Most trusted brand 2007”, I saw the other day that my phone company has been rewarded “Most admired brand”, you can also belong to the honorable society of “Superbrands”. All these awards you can buy, you get a fancy logo that you can use on your website and in letters, more people will recognize you, buy from you and use your services –thinking that you have really been awarded or rewarded for something.

ISO:9000 you don’t really buy, it will cost you to get certified, but that is generally the cost of going through the process of becoming certified.

Perhaps they have misunderstood the whole thing, perhaps not.

So who and why can we trust? Really.

How can we possibly shine a little bit more?

There is something about the people in Thailand that I find a bit peculiar.

The question I ask myself though is, if it is about the people in Thailand or if it is about the general culture in a country of this, should I say ‘caliber’?

Asia and Thailand in particular, is what I know best so that is what I will focus upon.

In Thailand you can always, in any shop or with any company become a Platinum member – or if you are not so good a Gold member. The Thais seem to love it when they can be a ‘Diamond Customer’ whether that is in a fancy department store, in a bank or as a patient in a private hospital. Whereas a foreigner who is admitted to a hospital usually looks for the best treatment at the best price, the Thai patient looks for the most expensive alternative, which is usually to stay in the hospitals ‘Platinum Ward’. Preferably for a couple more days than what is really needed.

I am a customer with AIS, one of the choices for mobile phone communication in Thailand, the other one is DTAC and that means Telenor wich in turns means Norway – Scandinavia, Europe & The Western World.

If you use your phone over a certain limit and then also pay the bills on time you can become a member in ‘The Serenade Club’. If you are lucky, you become a ‘Platinum member’. And this means that you can go into their little shops in the fancy shoppingmalls, sit in white ‘leather’ sofas and drink tea or coffee – that they offer you for free. The coffee is of course ‘3-in-one’ (Coffee, Sugar & Milk) and instant. The staff does not really speak English, but they will offer you a new yearly plan for your mobile.

Then when I am in another country, I can not recieve text messages from friends and family that don’t have a Thai mobile number. It simply does not work…

I get it. Image is everything, not only here but almost everywhere. It’s just that I feel bad for the Thais sometimes. They are starting from the wrong end it seems. There are so many things to fix in Bangkok, in the rest of the country and they just want to be Platinum at Central Food Hall or at AIS.

When you exit the AIS Serenade Club and come out on the street, there is a man standing there with a charcoal grill on the packet holder of his bicycle. He is selling grilled eggs…

At DTAC, they have a Norwegian Managing Director, Sigve Brekke, who seems very well liked. He said in is inaugural speech to all his employees that from that day on it will be no more ties in the office. (That did not land very well with the Thai staff at first…) Furthermore, he and many of his staff are wearing jeans at work, which is unheard of here.

Tie and a jacket is the rule in a Thai office in general.

All part of the image. It is not who you are but who you look to be.

IF a Platinum membership would give me a better deal, automatically better treatment and better services along with better functionality, then fine – I would like it. But as it is now, the Platinum is just there for a little bit of shine, which they often think they are missing.

Now the phone system does not work properly, the nurses in the Platinum Ward do not speak English and the Internet Banking my bank offers does not allow me to transfer money to another bank or pay all of my bills there – only pay the companies that have signed up with this bank.

I am sure that this is not specific for Thailand in any way, I think it is common in any country that to some extent is struggling, may it be with food, money, self-esteem or Nation Image – or all of the above.

So we get a little bit of shine, but no functionality really, then what is the point?


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