Scoring at soccer

In a country as soccer-crazed as Thailand, it’s surprising that there’s so little of it played here. To Englishman Darren Jackson, a former professional player with an FA coaching badge, this is obviously something that needs to be rectifed. Wth assistant Andrew Jeffries, he’s doing his bit to teach children how to play soccer well with his mobile Soccer Clinic, which has now been running for nearly two years.

“I’ve always been interested in coaching children. I met Andrew and he said why don’t you start something up? Go to sports manufacturers and ask if they want to sponsor you for equipment, T-shirts and so on.”

Jackson approached Nike, who loved the idea. “They were behind me one hundred per cent. I also needed a drinks manufacturer to supply drinks. I went to Gatorade who also loved the idea, so now they provide our drinks.”

And so the Darren Jackson Soccer Clinic was born. Boys and girls aged six to 12 who sign up for the clinic are trained by Jackson and Jeffries once a week for five weeks after school, and on Sundays they play against other schools. Then they play in a tournament arranged by local sponsors – such as Ecco and Global Silverhawks – at the end of the five weeks where they get to show-off the skills they have learned.

“During the training sessions I teach them ball skills, pattern plays, game rules and most of all team morale,” Jackson says. “It’s not until the weekend that I can actually get them to play good football.”

Jackson has just returned to the schools after the summer break, and says the response has been “amazing”. He estimates that he’ll be training up to 130 children over the next few months from Harrow International, ISB and NIST. “And I’ve started a Saturday clinic so I can reach other kids [who don’t go to these schools] as well,” he says.

About half of the children training with the clinic are Thai, and half are from overseas. There are a mere five girls playing at the moment, but Jackson is confident that just having these few will encourage other girls to start playing. They play alongside the boys. “It all depends on the child’s ability, not their sex.”

At the last tournament before the summer break, the Mums and Dads are out in droves, egging their sons’ teams on. Uthaivan Karatkul, whose 9-year-old son Lee plays for ISB, is there lending her support. She says that while the ISB tournaments her son has played in the past kept him interested, the children really just went out and played. “They didn’t really do any practise – maybe 15 minutes before a match. But Darren has been teaching them ball-handling and other skills,” she says.

Vizes Nakornchai’s son Tagore is also nine years old. He’s hesitant to attribute all of the children’s improvement to Jackson, as he says their coordination improves naturally with age anyway. “But he does enjoy it more. And he wants to study at Imperial College so he can attend Arsenal games on the weekend!”

Jackson is now planning on expanding his clinic to teach older children as well. “I can concentrate on training the younger children and Darren can progress with the older kids,” says Jeffries, who started playing soccer at schoolboy level in England, played several trials for Chelsea but became a sports teacher rather than a soccer star.

And playing soccer isn’t just about playing soccer. “The children are learning social skills,” Jackson emphasises. “I’ve had quite a few children who have been really shy, but once they’ve started playing they’ve come out of their shell and started to talk more to other children. It’s helping their schoolwork as well – teachers have come and told me that they’ve seen a big difference in such-and-such just because he’s joined the football clinic.”

Jackson and Jeffries both say the main challenge coaching here compared to England is simply the children’s ability. “Because they don’t play enough football,” says Jackson. “They go home, play on their computer, watch TV. There aren’t many parks around for children to play in.”

And Jackson is sincerely confident that there are more Zicos among the children he is training. He’s taking a group of his best players to Singapore for a weekend of matches, and eventually he’s planning on taking about 15 children to the UK, where they’ll play in front of scouts and have their shot at being signed to a team.

But first, Jackson will select a group of nine and 10-year- olds to train seriously for at least a year. “With the kids I have at the moment, there are around three or four boys who I would like to train and take to England. If I do take 15 boys to England, I think maybe 2 or 3 boys would be spotted. But there’s still a long way to go.”

The taste of Takumi

Takumi: it means skilful and clever in Japanese. And it’s an apt name for this stylish restaurant, tucked away on the second floor of the vast Merchant Court Hotel.

First impressions are important, and Takumi’s doesn’t let diners down here. The restaurant seats a total of 90, but there are eight elegant tatami rooms – which should be booked in advance, and contain some beautiful vases, of all things – lending an intimacy even to the main dining area. Takumi opened in August, and as such it still has a very ‘new’ feel to it, with pale woods and simple but elegant furniture sitting spotless beneath the soft overhead lights.

The Japanese sushi chef works on a black granite bench in front of four luminous tanks containing fish and other sea creatures – they’re for display, our charming and friendly waiter told us – not your dinner. They certainly inspire thoughts of freshness.

It’s possible, if you haven’t eaten much Japanese food before, to be rather overwhelmed merely by the menu in a Japanese restaurant. That could happen at Takumi, as well, with its extensive lists of kaiseki, shojin ryori, yakimono, nabe mono, udon and so on – but not if one of the waiters gets to you first.

Ours doesn’t hesitate to recommend a selection of dishes with confidence, despite the restaurant’s tender age. We start with a selection of very fresh sashimi (local, Bt280++, or imported 1,480++) and wash it down with some fiery warm sake.

Next comes soup. I try the tai shiru shoga zitate, a clear ginger-flavoured red snapper soup (Bt90++), which comes with chunks of soft white leeks, very tender fillets of snapper, and a delicate, well-balanced flavour. My partner tries the miso shiru, a soy bean paste soup with seaweed and egg (Bt70++), which also rates a good report.

You’ll need to be adept at using chopsticks to move the larger pieces safely from your soup bowl to your mouth (otherwise you sip directly from the bowl): the black-slated wooden placemats look too gorgeous to even think about spilling anything on. You could always place one of the sleek, earth- toned plates beneath your bowl if you’re nervous. (Be warned: my partner’s concluding words to the evening were “You’re not very good with chopsticks, are you?”)

Takumi prides itself on creating cuisine with roots in Kyoto, the city that served as Japan’s imperial capital for more than a thousand years. Kyo-ryori, or Kyoto cuisine, evolved slowly, and was influenced by its landlocked location, as well the customs of the royal court its townspeople served.

Kyoto was also the birthplace of shojin ryori, the delicate vegetarian cuisine of Zen temples, and kaiseki, a style of cooking originating from dishes served at ancient banquets.

So it’s only appropriate that our waiter has selected three types of shojin ryori for us to try: goma dofu, a steamed sesame paste tofu with wasabi sauce (Bt80++), taro imo age yaki, taro which has been boiled, grilled and then deep-fried (Bt80++) and hirosu ankake, deep fried bean curd with vegetables and sesame paste (Bt180++). The goma dofu is quite gluggy for western palates – while it’s more an acquired taste, the taro is an immediate winner. Putting the humble tuber through these various cooking processes turns it into something exquisite and even remarkable. The hirosu ankake, too, is outstanding, with a spurt of flavourful juice bursting forth from each piece of curd as it’s bitten into.

Various other appetizers, again selected by our waiter, arrive. Kamo rosu mustard, which turns out to be very tender roasted duck, steamed in soy sauce with just a delicate dab of yellow mustard on the side (Bt100++), is a favourite, while the hiyashi wakame, boiled seaweed in a fragrant sesame sauce (Bt200+), retains a satisfying crunch, and harbours the flavour of the sauce very well. The gyuniku tataki, grilled beef with a citron-orange reduction (Bt190++), is served chilled. Its succulence is matched by the sharp, clear flavour of the sauce.

Our party tries two types of tempura: yasai tempura, a standard mixed vegetable tempura (Bt120++), and a much more unusual dish, ebi taroimo koreander no kakiage, a shrimp, taro and coriander tempura that consists of diced shrimp and taro rolled in coriander and batter, and deep-fried into larger irregular-shaped chunks (Bt120++). At the table, we simply break off pieces to eat.

Yakimono, if you’re still wondering, is the term used for grilled dishes. The servings are small, and are usually served towards the end of a meal. Here we tried tori teriyaki, a deceptively simple but delicious dish of grilled chicken with teriyaki sauce (a mixture of soy sauce, sake and mirin) (Bt200++), and one of the highlights of our meal, kamo teriyaki negi hasami yaki, tender grilled duck wrapped around white leeks and served in a teriyaki sauce (Bt200++).

There are plenty of other paths your meal here could take: we don’t try any of the nabe mono – the one-pot dishes, typically made in earthenware pots called donabe which are glazed on the inside only, nor the udon (noodles). Takumi also offers special dishes based on foods that are in season: steamed sea bream rolled in buckwheat noodles (Bt150) and grilled cod with sweet sauce (Bt110) are just two of the dishes we have no more room for.

But we do leave just enough room for dessert. Our waiter warns me about my choice of Green Tea Mochi (Bt70++): “It’s not really something that westerners like…”, while she recommends the much less Japanese sounding Milk and Mascarpone Cheese Pudding (Bt60) to my partner, who happily nods his head. Others opt for good old-fashioned ice cream.

Mochi is a steamed vegetable cake, and this one comes with a generous dusting of fine soy bean and green tea powder (quite like tira simu, you have to watch your breathing as you eat it). The green tea flavour is strong, and the consistency is very thick and perfectly smooth. It was unusual; another acquired taste, shall we say.

Then I tasted the cheese pudding. If you get to Takumi, you must try this astounding, delicious dish. It was like fresh, no, very fresh milk turned into a delicate, creamy custard…

You don’t have to go far to find a competent Japanese restaurant in Bangkok these days, but you do need to make a little bit of a trip to find a Japanese restaurant as outstanding – in quality, foremost, but also in very reasonable prices – as Takumi. Do make the effort.

Open Midday-2.30pm, 6pm-10.30pm daily
Merchant Court Hotel
Le Concorde
202 Ratchadapisek Rd, 10320 Bangkok
Ph. 694 2222

Beauty and brains: Areeya ‘Pop’ Chumsai

Areeya ‘Pop’ Chumsai might be best known as a former Miss- Thailand-turned-military-officer, but she’s a journalist by trade and it certainly shows. “I guess you’ll want background information first,” she says thoughtfully when the interview starts. “I’m thinking, how many column inches do we have here? What should be the focal point of the story? I guess we should do this in chronological order, so it’s easier for you…”

This is Pop’s first interview in English for several years. “I haven’t done any interviews lately because there’s been no news really, and I’m usually very busy.”

But the former has changed very recently, with L’Oreal announcing last month that Pop is to be their new ‘ambassador’. Other ambassadors across the globe have included Claudia Schiffer, Andy McDowell and Gong Li. “I’m still in shock over it! I grew up with L’Oreal and the slogan ‘Because I’m worth it!’” she says.

Her first commercial for them, advertising their Plenitude UV Perfect sunblock, will hit televisions this month. The shoot took place outdoors in Malaysia from noon to 6pm for four days, so Pop says she needed the sunblock just to avoid getting a tan during that time: “So I know it’s a high quality product. I wish I’d had UV protection when I was training in the army.”

Such a prestigious appointment has come at the end of a very long road for the Thai woman who grew up in the US state of Michigan – she was the only Asian in her graduating high school class – and was never interested in modelling.

Her family had originally planned to stay just for a few years – they moved there when she was four years old – but ended up settling. “I would come back every two or three years for a visit. When I was about twelve, with braces and all, I came and stayed with my great aunt. She decided that I should start modelling. I was like, ‘Oh, god!’ I was as ugly duckling as could be. I had braces, really thick glasses.”

It wasn’t until she was 17 that the idea of modelling was raised again. Pop had come back to Thailand for several months over summer and Pop’s great aunt arranged for some modelling jobs. “I was a little kid, you know, and the money for modelling was good – better than my allowance. So it just sort of happened.”

Agencies approached her, but she returned to the US and finished high school. “I was always an observer. I spent my time in the library, I read a lot, I started writing, kept a diary.” Unsurprisingly, perhaps, she then won a scholarship to study journalism at the University of Michigan.

By the time she completed her degree at age 21, she had spent several summers completing internships at various publications such USA Today and the LA Times. “As a journalist, every day is an adventure. You meet new people, you’re out of the office, it’s a challenge. You talk to people and you learn something from them. You have to have discipline to take all this information and write it down. It’s like meditation in a way.”

She decided to take a six-month vacation, coming to Thailand and then travelling through Australia, New Zealand, Bali, Singapore and Hong Kong. She came back to Thailand with three months to go and little money left. Her lack of experience prevented her from landing a job in journalism, so she returned to modelling.

Then her great aunt noticed that the Miss Thailand pageant was happening. “I don’t like pageants, to tell you the truth. I’d never entered a pageant in my life. I just don’t like the idea of coming out, answering questions… Maybe it’s the feminist side of me that just thinks it’s really silly.”

But her aunt asked her to do it for her – she’d harboured hopes for her own two daughters to at least enter the pageant, but one was too short and the other refused to wear a dress. “My aunt said to me, ‘Do this for me, please!’ "

She remained reluctant. Then she auditioned for a facial cream commercial, and it got down to three models, the other two of whom were luk khreung. “The studio told me that if you’re ‘pure’ Thai, it’s very difficult to be a model. I was like, ‘Why? What’s wrong with Thai people?’ ”

Pop thought this was even more ridiculous. Her aunt suggested that she enter the pageant, win, and then snub them if they asked her to work for them!

“What turned me around was my aunt found me a sponsor. They offered me $16,000 just to enter the pageant. If you won, you got $20,000. I was almost getting as much as the winner. I was like, ‘I guess I can do it! I can put away my dislike of pageants!’ Lo and behold, I won the thing.”

After the exhausting one-year reign was over in 1995, she decided to do something completely different – “something more productive, more relaxing”. A friend of hers asked her to teach writing and editing at Bangkok University. Then she taught at Chulalongkorn University.

“I never went to school or university in Thailand, so I wanted to see what it was like. I’d wondered what my life would have been like if my parents hadn’t moved,” she says. “It was fun. In a way, being a teacher is actually a way to be a student. They kept me on my toes!”

Then her life took another unexpected twist. She was invited to become an officer at Chulachomklao Military Academy. “I’m a free spirit. I’m not very good with authority,” she admits. “But I thought to myself, this is a chance for me to understand the military and what it’s like inside.”

She could have simply volunteered as a teacher, but instead decided to do the six-month basic training and become an officer. “The cadets were wonderful. I enjoyed the discipline… I’d never done anything that crazy before. People who are journalists are very curious by nature.”

Now Pop’s a second lieutenant – she’ll become a lieutenant next February – and teaches English as required. At the moment, she’s averaging around three days per week. “It’s not too much of my time. I can do other things.”

Such as write. She has three books out – PopSpeak, Bootcamp and Thinking Out Loud, the latter of which she also designed and illustrated. She has plans for a fourth, a collection of columns, and then she’d like to take “a long leave of absence from writing columns which I’ve been doing for the last seven years – and that’s not counting the five years I’ve been writing since university study and internships!”

Currently she’s writing a column for women’s magazine Praew. “I’m hoping as a columnist that I’m like a little needle pricking people to think. I’m questioning authority, questioning life, but also having fun with it.” And early this month she’ll be a judge at the Bangkok Film Festival.

Essentially, Pop is having a ball. “I still feel like I’m on vacation. There’s no road map in life. If you’d told me while I was at university that I was going to become a Miss Thailand I would have laughed in your face! This was supposed to be a six- month holiday. It’s turned into a six year holiday!”

She’s single and contented with that, too. “I have too many male friends and not enough female friends – the gossip columns are having a great time because of this."

When I ask if she is interested in a husband and family eventually, she quotes the answer a woman whom she admires once gave her when she asked the same question. “ ‘I don’t want to be a wife, I want to be a lover!’ she told me. I was like, yeah, that’s it! When I asked her why, she said, ‘Well when you’re a wife, there’s no passion. But if you’re a lover, there’s that passion always there.’

“I don’t want someone’s last name. I’m not being a feminist for saying this, I’m trying to be a humanist. I would like to share my life with another person in equal terms of respect and deep passion. Who knows how long anything is going to last? One should be in a relationship out of choice and not obligation. With obligation, passion dies quickly.”

What would she like to do next? “I don’t know what life has in store for me. Whenever you find that your life is mundane or you’re not being challenged any more, you should move on. I think I’d like to study for a masters – maybe in literature or film.

“With the money I’m making from commercials I have enough to pay for my university degree. So I’m fuelled: my tank is full, I’m ready to have another adventure. I believe that every day really is a gift. I feel that every day, you wake up in the morning and it’s like birth…"

Moving at the speed of Tata

Two years ago, her name was everywhere. She’d just been named by Elle as one of Thailand’s “Ten Most Influential People”, and Asiaweek had included her in their 1998 list of the “25 Most Exceptional People in Asia”. She appeared in her second film, O-Negative, for which she also put out an album – her sixth – and she was selected to sing at the 13th Asian Games opening ceremony.

Then things quietened down – relatively – for the now nineteen-year-old Amita Tata Young. She left Grammy Entertainment, who she had been with for four years and six albums. She did appear on CNN’s Q&A Asia in May 1999, and was named by The Nation as one of the “Top 100 Most Influential Artists and Entertainers of the Century” in July, but compared to the rest of her whirlwind young life, this was a quiet period.

“After I left Grammy I had two years of freedom as a normal kid,” Tata, as her fans know her, says. “I went to school, I did my schoolwork, and then I would party with my friends. I’d go to the movies, spend time with my dogs, my boyfriend, my family. I had a two-year normal life. It was a great break. I needed it.”

But she’s quick to point out she doesn’t feel like she’s missed out by not having a normal adolescence. “I don’t regret any part of the rest of it,” she says. “It’s one person in a hundred who would have had the opportunities I had…”

Now that’s an understatement – more like one in sixty million, perhaps. But when I meet with Tata in the offices of, the new website she recently launched with friends, she could be any enthusiastic young woman who is sincere about becoming successful at what she does.

“Hi, I’m Tata,” she says in her American accent, with a direct look in my eyes and a handshake. She hands me her card, and ushers me into the office as she ushers out a group of Thammasat students. They’ve been interviewing Tata to help with their masters theses. She’s sipping tea, has skin so perfect it’s worth mentioning, and looks glowingly healthy without a skerrick of makeup.

She starts off our chat by asking me about myself. She’s as far away from the clichéd self-obsessed star as she could be. And when the tape starts rolling, something becomes clear: Tata’s well and truly back, now that she’s finally signed to entertainment company BEC Tero.

“We’re going to start with my first sitcom, which will be with Channel 3, and then there’ll be the music, and then the movies. “ She’s matter-of-fact, counting off what the next four years holds for her. “The deal that we have with BEC Tero is a four-year contract: two movies, two sitcoms, three albums.”

She thinks she’ll start working on her first album by the beginning of next year. “And it will probably be pop. I’ve always been comfortable with that type of music. But the reason we’re starting off with the sitcom is that I’ve never had a chance to be in a sitcom before.”

New experiences are something that Tata is cherishing at this stage of her career. “It’s going to be a romantic comedy, definitely. That’s basically how much I know right now. We’re still in the process of picking stories, finding the right characters, the right guy to act with me and things like that.”

And her next big screen appearance? “The movie will be awhile… “ When pressed for what it might involve, Tata confesses that she’s always wanted to star in an action movie. “I’ve done a dramatic one, and a funny one… never an action movie. Probably – well, maybe, that could be our goal!”

There are also negotiations underway for an international deal, but Tata’s staying tight-lipped about developments in that area. Except to suggest that she’d like to do an album in English.

And was the time between leaving the Grammy fold and actually signing a new contract difficult for her? “Of course. I’m young. I get emotional very easily. And it’s terrible when things are not true but people keeping talking. But I got through it very easily,” she says, dismissively. “I have a very supportive family. My parents are very supportive, and being in showbusiness has always been my dream – so I never wanted to let that go.”

One of the hardest issues Tata had to deal with was the criticism she got for leaving Grammy. “People said I was too confident. But it wasn’t that. The reason I left Grammy was that I’m still very young. I’d like to have new experiences, work with new people. I’m very young – that’s why I’m so motivated and I have a lot of energy.”

Tata puts her positive, can-do attitude down to the way she’s been brought up: while her mother is Thai and has taught her Thai traditions, her father is American, and has encouraged her to be confident.

“I don’t want people to see me as ‘Wow, what a confident kid!’ I just want them to see that I’m a motivated kid. I want to accomplish lots of things in life. There are no words that can describe how this has been such a big problem for me. I just want people to stop saying ‘Oh, she’s so confident.’ It’s not that she’s so confident. I have problems behind the scenes, but when you do something publicly – you have to be confident in what you do.”

While the hunt for a deal was on, Tata finished high school by completing the University of Nebraska’s independent study programme, and has more recently been working on the website, which launched in August.

“The CEO of Hatchem [the incubator company which owns], Chanond Ruangkritya, or ‘Ko’, is a very good friend of mine. He invited me to be involved with his incubator company first. And we had so many plans about what our first project was going to be…”

Two things happened next. The team working at Hatchem all started having what Tata calls “animal problems”. And Tata, who is a dog-lover and had been taking her dogs to shows – one of her golden retrievers is a current national champion – started noticing that Thais were becoming more interested in looking after and training animals properly.

“And so we thought: why don’t we do an animal website? Where we can teach people how to raise a cat, a bird, a fish, whatever. So we logged on, and looked for a Thai-language website that would explain almost everything about pets. And we couldn’t find one. So we had found our first project:”

(The name 108 comes from the Thai slang phrase roi paet, phan gao (108, 1009) which means ‘everything’, and roi paet (108) is the shortened form of the phrase.)

So far, Tata’s loving the dot com world. “I’m really enjoying this. I’m enjoying my businesswoman side!,” she enthuses.

But this isn’t Tata’s only business venture. She also runs a dog training school. “My parents weren’t into this at all. One reason I started the company is that a lot of people think I depend on my father because he’s my manager. I wanted to prove something to the public – that I don’t need him to do everything for me.”

She was motivated to get the school started when Scooby, her prize-winning golden retriever, was four months old. “You know how four-month old puppies behave – I wanted to put him into a school, and I went to look at one… It was terrible. It was like a prison. And I said to myself, why would you buy a puppy when you have to put it in there?”

Eventually Tata found a trainer who came to work with her dog at her home. “Then the economy worsened, the trainer was fired from his company, and I had an idea. I said, you come and work with me. I found more trainers, and now I provide trainers to go and train your dog at your house.”

Further study is also on the agenda, but not for a while and she’s not sure what she’d do. “I didn’t have career counselling like everyone else at school, “ she says, oblivious to the fact that she might not have needed it, given her tremendous career success early on. “This is why I’m doing all this work right now. This is why I’m involved in the Internet – maybe that’s what I want to study. I need to know exactly. I’ve always liked interior decorating. But I don’t want to waste my time studying for years if it’s not what I really want to do.”

When she’s not working, Tata might head to a beach or just to her kitchen. “I’m a very good cook! The best thing about cooking is to have someone who really appreciates what you make.”

Besides her father, Tata says her boyfriend, Sarun Vichayabhai, or ‘Pic’, really enjoys her cooking. “He’s a businessman. He just graduated with an MBA from Sasin (Chulalongkorn University’s business school). We’ve been dating for two years. Normal guy. Great. He’s an animal lover,” she reveals, as if that clinched it for her.

“I believe there are two important things to find out about a man. He must really know how to treat his mum well. Because that’s the way he’s gonna end up treating me. And the other is how he treats animals. If he’s into dogs or cats, he’ll also have a good heart.” She turns her attention back to Pic. “He’s young. Motivated. He’s a very supportive guy. And he likes to eat my food!”

Tata met him through her best friend. “I thought he was cute, but I didn’t like his attitude. It took me about two months to start to like him. He was very patient,” she says, with an almost wicked grin. “I wasn’t treating him that well!”

Which doesn’t sound like Tata, given her record of helping people and animals. Her official website,, donates 30 per cent its profits to the Human Development Centre, while promotes His Majesty the King’s animal charity. “We basically put up information about the charity for people, so they can contact them directly if they want to donate money. If any other charity group needs help, they should check out our website and contact us.”

And yes, of course Tata – and her friends – have more plans on this front. “We’re planning on opening animal shelters in Thailand. I want Thai people to think that a mutt is also clever. Usually they stick with pure-bred dogs and cats, but that’s not important. And I don’t want just one shelter – I want more, lots, so people can get to them easily.”

While all this is going on, singing is still Tata’s passion: she still takes singing lessons and attends dancing classes. “It’s how people know me. It’s what I’m most comfortable doin’,” she says. “I still try to keep my body fit and healthy. But it doesn’t seem like that – now I have this website, and my dog training school… I’m doing a lot of things at the same time and I enjoy it, but my body’s not keeping up with it very well – I have problems with allergies all the time. But I’m working on it.”

Just like she’s working on a zillion other things. And, knowing Tata, she’ll probably achieve what she wants to with all of them.