Samantha Brown – Southeast Asian-based journalist and editor

Recruiters make searching easier

27.08.2001 (12:00 am) – Filed under: Finance ::

Looking for a change of career, but not sure where to start looking? Need to fill a position quickly, but don’t have time to advertise and screen applicants yourself? Recruitment companies, steadily becoming more widely known and utilised in Thailand, could be your answer. And if you’re a candidate, the only cost involved is your time.

Country general manager of global human resources specialist Manpower, Simon Matthews, says that only unscrupulous agencies – the sort occasionally drawing bad press – charge candidates for placing them in positions. "Reputable companies only charge the client," he emphasises. Even that cost only becomes payable when a candidate commences work, and is refunded if the worker doesn’t stay for a minimum guaranteed period – usually two to five months, depending on the recruitment company. The cost ranges from around 12 per cent to 33 per cent of the placed candidate’s annual salary – the higher amounts are for executive placements. Costs for temporary staff varies widely.

Both Manpower and Adecco, another global human resources specialist, provide staffing solutions across many industries, meaning they accept resumes from a broad range of candidates. Both companies assess candidates’ skills before placing them on their books. "We don’t provide career counselling, but we do talk to people about their expectations, and let them know if they’re unrealistic," says Mr Matthews. Manpower offers some complementary training opportunities – self-paced computer courses, and courses in time management, presentation and negotiating – but not on a scale comparable to countries such as the US. Plans are underway to increase training opportunities. "To equip people with skills makes them more marketable, and from our point of view, it makes them easier to place," says Mr Matthews.

Adecco, too, will provide complementary training where necessary.

Unrealistic expectations can also be a problem from a client’s perspective. "Someone might want an executive secretary, with five years experience, bilingual, computer-skilled – but they’re only willing to pay up to 20K," says Adecco Consulting’s general manager Aree Petcharat. "The current market rate would be 35K up to around 40 or 50K, so we need to explain that they should drop some of their requirements if that’s what they’re willing to pay."

Furthermore, Aree maintains that local companies need to be educated about the benefits of using a recruitment company’s services. "Local companies often think our fees are high. We need them to understand that paying that fee is an investment in their company. And when we find the right people for their company, they are going to bring in more income for them."

ISM Tech recruit only in the IT area, meaning candidates and clients get a service tailored to their needs. "We’ll test a candidate’s technical skills, as well as do reference checks, both personal and on what they did and didn’t do in past jobs," says president Peter Fischbach. "Because we focus on IT, we have a lot of contacts in the area, so we can usually just call one of them."

There are also executive recruitment specialists, such as Pricewaterhouse Coopers, which have some 35,000 resumes on their books. Their executive recruitment partner, Munthana Thamlikikul, says that it’s important for executive recruiters to have a thorough understanding of their client’s business and operations. "We can then advise our client on whether the position they wish to recruit for is the right one," she says. "For instance, a client might wish to recruit a financial controller. We might examine their operations, however, and find they only need to recruit at the manager level. This suits their business better, and also leaves room for the employee to be promoted later on."

Interested in applying? Ms Munthana says that it helps if candidates send a concise, up-to-date resume. "Include your experience, and state your preferred position and companies you’d like to work for. Also include your current salary and expectations. All of this helps us to place you."

Temporary work may be just the ticket

20.08.2001 (12:00 am) – Filed under: Finance ::

While the crisis years have been bleak for many, experts say some sectors are now showing strong demand for employees. While there is a trend towards these jobs being temporary rather than permanent, they can be a great way of getting into the market, and can still provide employees with satisfying work.

Country general manager of outsourcing specialist Manpower, Simon Matthews, says that he’s noticed a higher numbers of applicants seeking positions with his company over the past few months. "I haven’t done any sophisticated analysis, but this might be because the economic situation is improving: when people feel secure, they feel more comfortable looking for a new position."

Nevertheless, he added that there are still a lot of people without jobs seeking work. According to the National Statistics Office latest Labour Force Survey, unemployment in Thailand was 4.8 per cent for first quarter 2001. This was up from 3.7 per cent for the previous quarter, indicating that it’s still a tough market out there.

Mr Matthews says there is currently demand for jobs in the IT and manufacturing sectors: "from the highly technical positions to the maintenance and service staff". He has also noticed growing interest among companies wishing to upgrade their human resources functions, and a need to staff more call centres as companies relocate their service centres here.

Adecco Consulting’s general manager Aree Petcharat says that her company is also experiencing an increase in demand for telecommunications and IT workers, particularly in the internet and ecommerce areas."The big retailers are also expanding, and there is growth in some industries where foreign investors are coming in to take advantage of BOI [Board of Investment] privileges, such as high technology manufacturing."

In all these industries, she said jobs growth is evident both on the technical and non-technical sides. "There is very high demand on the technical side because our universities haven’t been producing enough graduates in this area," she said, adding that the situation is slowly being rectified, but employers are still requiring people with at least three to five years experience under their belt.

On the non-technical side, demand for people to work at call centres, in customer service, and marketing is high. "But there has been a high demand in these areas for some time," Aree said.

There is also evidence of a growing trend away from permanent positions towards temporary positions, mainly at the operations level. Aree says this has been driven by the 1998 Labour Protection Act, which increased the amount of severance pay given to departing employees. "This sort of cost is a burden on the big companies – those employing thousands – because their growth in revenue isn’t matching their growth in costs."

Manpower’s Mr Matthews adds that companies anywhere are generally reluctant to employ permanent staff after a recession, even when the economy starts to improve. "Nobody wants to be a hire and fire company," he said. "Hiring temporary staff allows companies to get through peaks and troughs more easily."

Aree says that companies are increasingly seeking multi-skilled staff. "For example, if an accounting graduate also has some marketing skills, that would be an advantage."

Job seekers are expected to have a grounding in English – which has long been the case – but she says a third language now doesn’t go astray either. "Mandarin or Japanese are useful," she said. "Or French, German – but I’d say the Asian languages are more in demand."

Being open-minded towards accepting a temporary position can be an important step towards entering or re-entering the workforce. "People here still want to find a permanent rather than temporary position," Aree noted. "However, if a new graduate takes a temporary job, it will make them more attractive to a permanent employer."

Furthermore, it’s not unusual for a temporary position to turn permanent. "New graduates lack this understanding. There is particularly a lot of potential with temporary jobs in multinational companies."

Sugary sweet, but palatable

16.08.2001 (12:00 am) – Filed under: Movie Reviews ::

The Princess Diaries

There are few G-rated films that adults can happily stay awake throughout without the help of coffee and maybe a crying baby (Meet the Parents, for instance). The trailer for The Princess Diaries suggests that it would be a most unlikely film to scrape into that elite group, so to see the full film, which is a very watchable, well-executed comedy, is actually a pleasant surprise.

The basic storyline: geeky girl with frizzy hair and thick glasses is transformed into a beauty who gets the guy. Yes, there’s not an awful lot originality contained within The Princess Diaries, the cliches abound and the story’s sugary-sweet to the point of saccharine saturation. And yes, it’s a far cry from the celebration of female independence that Nurse Betty pulled off, but it’s a story with a soul still worth bearing. Friendship and following your heart are at its centre.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for audiences watching this film will be that Julia Andrews is still alive (oops, blew it for you). Looking frighteningly like Glenn Close, she plays the imposing, upright Clarisse Renaldi, queen of the tiny European country Genovia. Following the death of her son, Queen Clarisse turns up unannounced in San Francisco to inform her granddaughter Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) that she’s now heir to the throne of a country she didn’t know existed.

Mia is unimpressed. Curly-haired, bespectacled, clumsy and shy, Mia says her sole aim in life is to become invisible. Her artist mother has kept her ex-husband (the dead guy, divorce was amicable) and daughter’s royal heritage a secret, in order to give her a normal childhood. But with her father’s untimely death – he left them when Mia was young to carry out his princely duties (go figure) – that childhood comes to an abrupt halt.

Mia decides to submit to the princess-moulding talents of Clarisse, but defers the decision of whether she will actually become a princess until the date of a royal ball. Her intellectual development is covered in a brief spiel by Clarisse about the "classics, political science, arts" she’ll be able to study as princess – conveniently forgetting that even commoners can do this. Clarisse’s teaching strengths instead lie with the physical. What that entails is utterly predictable, as we sit through scenes of Mia falling off chairs, Mia smashing important pieces of art, Mia dropping things and Mia being an all-round clutz.

Mia’s makeover is placed in the hands of the macho Paolo, who breaks his brush as he tries to get it through her hair. (Alas, there’s no explaining exactly what’s wrong with curly hair, which will certainly disappoint curly-haired people.) In retaliation, he breaks Mia’s glasses, demanding she wear contact lenses instead. It’s all been done before and there shouldn’t be anything wrong with wearing glasses; but this can almost be forgiven as we also watch Mia being swept away by the school hunk Josh (Erik Von Detten). She lets her best friend down and is (amazingly) oblivious to the attentions of Liam Gallagher lookalike Michael Moscovitz (Robert Schwartzman, son of Talia Shire, nephew of Francis Ford Coppola and cousin of Nicolas Cage). There’s no prize for guessing the lessons she learns and who she ends up with.

Spouting homilies about the importance of princess-like behaviour is certainly rather passe; the weight of this film is carried on the shoulders of its solid actors and by enough good one-liners to keep you smiling. Bodyguard Joey (Hector Elizondo) in particular has fun with his overly serious role, while Heather Matarazzo as Mia’s best friend Lilly Moscovitz brings an enjoyable gusto to hers.

The Princess Diaries isn’t going to change the lives of anyone – we are, after all, talking about a film that has been dubbed Pretty Woman for children. But it could provide a little reassurance for teenagers stuck inside braces, glasses and clumsy limbs that their ideas and voices matter. Older girls will probably scoff at the candy-coated story, but younger ones just might find themselves coming out feeling a bit better about themselves.

Singing for their souls

06.08.2001 (12:00 am) – Filed under: Movie Reviews ::

Duets

The world of karaoke must be filled with quirky, offbeat characters. It must be riddled with people who truly live to don sequins and suede and stride up on stage to belt out tunes for fun and prize money. Duets promises to capture these very people in that very world, to show their hearts and humanity, their dreams and their drive. Instead it delivers, for the most part, mundanity and a muddled message about the soulless nature of American society today.

Duets is comprised of three interlocking stories about pairs of characters brought together by karaoke. It’s an often awkward and overly-loose plait. Occasionally the right notes are hit, but for the most part it’s all just a little off-key.

Firstly there’s an ageing karaoke hustler Ricky Dean (Huey Lewis), who is oddly reunited with the daughter he’s never met, Liv (Gwyneth Paltrow), over his ex-lover’s casket. He’s heading – as will all the characters – to a karaoke competition in Omaha. Liv tags along and discovers she’s got her father’s voice; but can she win his affection too? Lewis shows that although he can carry a tune very well, his acting skills are clunky and robotic. Gwyneth is in gawky mode, all flailing limbs, doe-eyed stares and hallmark-card sentimentality.

Then there’s Billy (Scott Speedman), a sweet-natured person whose girlfriend is sleeping with the guy he owns a cab with, and karaoke-addict Suzi Loomis (Maria Bello, whose performance is one of the film’s highlights), who steals beggars’ cups and offers to give guys blow jobs in lieu of cash when she’s shopping. She only tells Billy that she’ll be nice to him, however, and he agrees to drive her across the country.

The final pair are a middle-aged corporate businessman Todd Woods (Paul Giamatti) and an ex-prisoner the cops are again hunting, named Reggie (Andre Braugher). Todd’s having a mid-life crisis, but has been saved by karaoke. When he picks up the hitchhiking Reggie, it’s clear that Reggie’s going to have his chance to be saved too.

Although the film revolves around all its characters, Todd is the focal point, and this is one of the films problems. Having spent the past 18 months of his career trying to ruin a turtle’s breeding ground in the name of a new fun park, he’s suddenly wondering about the values of corporate America. Couldn’t he see from the outset that what he was doing was screwed? Yet somehow we’re supposed to feel sorry for him as he turns proselytiser, warning others about the conversion of America to strip malls, but finding himself whole again when he’s standing in front of a blue-screen karaoke machine, popping beta-blockers to still his nerves.

Yes, it’s this art-form from Japan, home of the neon light and consumerism, that’s supposed to be giving Ricky his new lease on life. "I can’t go back to being who I was before. I sing. I’m different now," he tells his baby-faced wife. Somehow I don’t think director Bruce Paltrow is aware of the irony of karaoke being the safety net of Ricky’s leap from sad middle-class existence, that he has to find solace in adding his unique voice to tinny background music that’s usually the last thing in the world anyone would really want to dance to.

But in Duets, the crowds are joyful. The crowds clap wildly and mouth words that don’t match the music actually playing, and they look like they’re really digging the music too. It just doesn’t gel.

The characters peppering this meandering road movie are either flat or too much of a caricature themselves to be believable. Fatally, I found myself wishing to watch a documentary about the real people who inhabit this intriguing world of glitz and glamour. Now there’s an idea for a good movie…

Finally, it finished

02.08.2001 (12:00 am) – Filed under: Movie Reviews ::

Final Fantasy

Some films are enjoyably bad. You can rip into them with your friends afterwards, laugh at how there was that big hole in the plot towards the end, and whine about their obvious flaws and fatal errors. But Final Fantasy, the latest cinematic hi-tech sci-fi video-game tie-in, is so bereft of any heart or soul or interest that even complaining about it seems an absurd waste of time.

Let’s start with the positive: the computer-animated special effects, which have been trumpeted endlessly in a blaze of PR prior to the film’s release. Indeed they are diverting and eye-catching, at least for the first ten to fifteen minutes. The scenery is occasionally alluring; but most of the time I couldn’t help thinking that the vast landscapes resembled closely the sort of images teenage hoons airbrush onto the back of their panel vans in Australia. And people are getting excited about putting that on the big screen and watching it move?

There’s an overall gloom of dinginess throughout Final Fantasy, and you may be forgiven for wondering if someone forgot to turn the lights on in the tech-heads’ workrooms. Or maybe they spent so long in there tweaking and fiddling to create their new world that they forgot to occasionally go out and get some sun in their own.

It is reasonably intriguing to check out the reality of the human characters. A number of reviewers have criticised the technical geniuses responsible for the film for not quite managing to capture the idiosyncratic look of real people. However, according to Reuters, director and writer Hironobu Sakaguchi says that:" Aesthetically we felt it would be more interesting if we stepped away from photo-realism and created our own look."

So instead, marvel at how the mouths move too slowly for the speech of the voice actors, say oooh at the strangely smooth gestures the characters make when they walk, and frown at the way a character’s face can alter so much from cut to cut.

Whether or not you like the style of the futuristic world, the real problems begin when the excitement of the new fades and you start to look for good old-fashioned cinematic ingredients, like narrative and character. You don’t have to look for long to realise there’s nothing there.

The story is set in 2065, 34 years after a meteor has crashed into Earth, bringing with it a species of phantoms – which are pretty cool undulating, glow-in-the-dark cretins looking like dragons and giant crustaceans – that can suck the lifeforce out of humans. A war has been raging since, with survivors living in walled cities hiding from the deadly beings. The government is about to launch something called the Zeus canon to destroy the meteor. But Dr Aki Ross (voice of Ming-Na), a compassionate scientist who looks uncannily like a Bridget Fonda, and her mentor Dr Sid (Donald Sutherland), believe that this will damage the Earth’s "gaia", or spiritual centre.

Their theory, sprinkled with a confusing blend of superficial Buddhist and animist tenets, is as yet merely a theory. To prove it – and save Dr Aki’s life – they’re trying to collect the eight spirits (yes, go figure why) that will together neutralise the evil phantom force. She’s helped out by various soldiers, including her love interest, Captain Gray Edwards, a Ben Affleck-clone (Alec Baldwin). Their on-screen kiss is suitably one-dimensional.

Clearly none of the films reputed US$140 million budget was spent on plot development – although a fifth of it was spent on rendering Dr Aki’s hair attractive. Nor was the remainder spent on script development, with lines like "This city may be lost, but we’re not" and "There’s a war on. No one’s young anymore". You’ll just want to laugh out loud.

If you worship technology or video-games, Final Fantasy might flick your switches. But in case you haven’t caught my drift so far, my switch stayed firmly unflicked at off.

Speaking his mind

01.08.2001 (12:00 am) – Filed under: People ::

Chanin Donavanik might be impressed with the Thaksin administration’s vision for improving Thailand’s tourism industry, but he’s not happy with the way things have gone so far. "They have a good vision but they have not implemented the vision well. Instead of trying to solve problems, they’ve made them worse."

So what has the executive director of Dusit Thani PCL and president of the Thai Hotels Association done? "I have complained to the government already," he says.

Going on Chanin’s past experience, they would do well to listen. A willingness to constructively criticise — and get positive results – has been a leitmotif of the 45-year-old’s life. "A lot of my problems are created because I don’t try to please people," he confesses.

At first it seems difficult to imagine this softly-spoken, unassuming man breaking with entrenched Thai traditions. But Chanin thinks deliberately and chooses his words carefully before speaking; it’s easy to deduce that he?s been a persistent voice of reason in business rather than a young and loud upstart.

And his persistence has pulled the company through hard times.

Chanin had originally embarked on an academic career at Chulalongkorn University’s faculty of commerce and accounting, after spending ten years studying in the UK and the US, where he completed an MBA. He returned to Bangkok in 1979, aged just 22. Soon the recession of the early 80s hit, and the business founded by his mother, faced with the competition of new international hotels, began to flounder. Filial duty called.

Was it a difficult transition from academia to the business world? "A little bit," he says. "I had been teaching a lot of theory about what to do and what not to do in business but the real world is different — especially in Thailand."

The biggest challenge he faced, however, was overcoming prejudice about his age. "It was difficult to make older people — not just my mother and the board, but anyone who had twenty, thirty years experience – realise that someone young can still contribute."

Chanin took control of business development, and with the help of hotelier friends in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Japan, he began to see the Dusit’s future taking shape. "[These friends] saw me as someone young and when they travelled to places sometimes they’d invite me along. I learned that the Dusit would have to change if we wanted to improve ourselves."

The company focused on improving its food and beverage services, and increased the size of guests’ rooms. By 1985 the hotel had opened a branch in Chiang Mai, and Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Rai soon followed. In 1992 the company bought into its first overseas hotel, in Texas; Indonesia, the Philippines and Europe came next.

"We made a few mistakes," says Chanin. "Here in Thailand we know the mentality of the people. Overseas, when we went to these new places, we were blind: we didn’t know the local customs, what kind of service was expected, what kind of restaurants local people liked. There were always new things to learn. But that made life fun, also."

The 1997 crash saw various partners pull out of deals and the company’s operations were substantially curtailed. Chanin doesn’t think the crisis period is over yet; in fact, he sees business as being one ongoing crisis period. "There’s always some crisis in a business. The crisis of 1997 was financial; today the issue facing the Dusit is working out which way we are going. Would we like to be a small but international-standard operator based in Thailand, or would we like to be a regional player? Should we be competing at the Marriott level or the Hyatt level or the Mandarin Oriental level?"

At the moment, the Dusit faces a few specific difficulties. One is a well-publicised court case over land ownership problems with their Pattaya resort. "We are one hundred per cent — or at least 99 per cent — confident that we should win," says Chanin. Another is negotiating with the Crown Property Bureau to extend the lease on the land underneath the flagship Dusit Thani. "We are having some difficulties talking to them because what they want is very high. We need to negotiate."

But Chanin brushes everything off as manageable. "With any company, there are always problems. The issue is how to make sure that you are working well together, moving forward together."

Chanin warms to a discussion of how Thai organisations can improve themselves. "The trouble with Thai organisations is that a lot of decisions are in the hands of the boss — the top one or two people. We don’t allow our young people to make mistakes; once they don’t know how to make mistakes, they are afraid of making decisions."

As well, Chanin says that senior people are too sensitive of criticism. "That’s why I always fought with a lot of people much more senior than I am: they could never take even a constructive criticism of what they did. It’s always a one-way communication, and it’s wrong. This is what’s destroying Thailand."

Chanin is equally candid when discussing the tourism industry’s problems today, criticising both hoteliers and the government. "Those who want to do well must travel quite a lot, but Thai hoteliers don’t like to travel. And when they do travel, a lot of them stay in hotels that aren’t expensive, and they usually go for Thai or Chinese food when they go to restaurants."

Chanin argues that this is a false economy; instead they should experience top hotels and a variety of restaurants, so they can come back and make improvements themselves. "A lot of people think that I spend too much money when I travel – but it?s the cheapest learning experience there is."

He also believes hoteliers have failed to target themselves to their customers. "The owners have built hotels for themselves – so you see a lot of funny looking hotels everywhere! If they had asked customers what they wanted, they would have told them, something Thai."

As head of the Thai Hotels Association, Chanin has been trying to talk to the government for the last four years. "But the government has not been a very good listener," he laments. "A lot of people think that hotel industry is doing well, but in fact hotels are doing well in seven destinations only: Phuket, Chiang Mai, Samui, Bangkok to a extent, Pattaya, Hua Hin and Krabi. Only 30 per cent of hotels are doing well. Seventy per cent are bleeding very badly."

Chanin believes a major objective of the government should be to solve the internal problems of Thai International, the Tourist Authority of Thailand, and the various aviation authorities. "Unless these tourism-related organisations are working together well, then nothing else will work."

When he’s not thinking up constructive ways of improving his industry, Chanin says he likes to read. "I like to read about what people have done. And philosophy – not business anymore." He’s also been learning golf.

Would the father of three — he has two daughters, aged 12 and 14, and a 16 year old son – recommend this industry to his children? "I like the industry because you meet a lot of people, and you have the opportunity to travel a lot. But if they prefer something else – I’ll leave it up to them. For me the most important thing is that they are happy and really enjoy what they do."

As for his own future, Chanin believes that turning fifty will mark an important step in his life. "In five years, I would like to see us being a good regional hotel company. Then I would like to step back a little bit and hopefully there will be other people who could take care of day-to-day affairs. I would like to work more on policy and strategy; a coaching role."

He would also like to teach more. "But, you know," he confides, a little weary perhaps of the battles he has been fighting for so long, "my dream one day is really to become a monk."

Rehabilitating hope

01.08.2001 (12:00 am) – Filed under: Current Affairs ::

The sun dips into the horizon over the ocean off Chonburi province, the water taking on muted hues of pinks and blues. It?s a tranquil and fitting backdrop to the reception at the Ocean Marina Yacht Club, being held to celebrate Omega?s donation of funds to the Royal Thai Navy?s coral rehabilitation project. The Navy band whoops it up on one side of the pool; diver and model Sirinya Burbridge is on hand as MC; we press members sip our beer and enjoy the fresh barbecued seafood under the darkening night sky.

The next day we head out on Navy Coastguard boats to experience what appears to be an archetypical tropical paradise of white sands, green palms, and inviting seawater. But that?s precisely the trouble with marine environments: they hide any damage to their ecosystems under the very waters that make them appear so idyllic in the first place.

The birth of the Navy?s coral rehabilitation project stretches back to 1993, when the Navy built a wave breaker to allow ships to enter and leave its port base at Satthahip.

?The construction destroyed the environment,? admits Lieutenant Issares Lertangtam from the Royal Thai Navy Coastguard. The coral surrounding Ko Tao Moh near the base initially survived, but was at risk of being killed from the sediment now floating in the water.

There was, however, a chance to save this precious marine life if a method to safely transplant it could be devised, and a place to transplant it to could be found. The Coastguard surveyed the area and concluded that Ko Kham, a nearby island of just over sixty acres, would be the best place for the coral to have a second chance at life. The waters surrounding the island were declared as an underwater national park.

Around this time, Divemaster Thosaporn Hongsananda, who was then community service director of the Rotary Club of Prakanong, heard about the plans. Having dived at numerous sites around the country, he had seen the environment of many coral reefs slowly being destroyed. ?From my experience and study I knew that it was vital to conserve coral reefs as well as increase the overall coral reef population,? Thosaporn says.

He proposed that the Rotary International Fund support a continuing coral reef rehabilitation project in conjunction with the Navy; in 1994, the Rotary Club of Prakanong was granted 700,000 baht to donate to the Navy for this project. The one-off move to save Ko Tao Moh?s coral would be turned into an ongoing project to rehabilitate at-risk coral from other locations.

By 1995 the transplant was ready to take place. As coral is incredibly sensitive to its surroundings ? and will die if exposed to air for longer than three to five minutes – moving it was a risky operation. The coral had to be ?planted? in cement blocks, each weighing 30 kg, and then left in its original location for ten to fifteen days. Then it was quickly moved to its new location, where divers carefully lowered it into the sea. Despite the risks, close to one hundred per cent of the coral survived the move.

But in 1998, things took a turn for the worst. The El Nino effect swept the world and hit the Gulf of Thailand, causing temperatures there to rise by one to two degrees Celsius.

?Many marine organisms died, and as a result the environment changed tremendously,? says Lieutenant Issares. Around half the coral that had been successfully transplanted to Ko Kham died that year. But the project pushed on.

?It?s difficult to calculate the cost [of moving coral] ? but it?s a lot of money,? says Issares. The cement into which the coral is planted, the use of the ships and staffing costs all need to be taken into account when budgeting for such a project.

In 2000, one of divemaster Thosaporn?s students happened to be Thamonwan Rienpaiboonas, Omega?s marketing and sales manager. They discussed Omega?s successful ?No water, no life? global marketing campaign, a campaign that has seen the watch company support numerous ocean exploration missions and various ocean-loving sportspeople. ?This gave me an idea: that the project initiated by the Rotary Club of Prakanong, in association with the Royal Thai Navy, should remain active by Omega joining in with its support,? says Thosaporn.

Omega agreed that the project fitted well with its objectives and sponsored the training of a civilian volunteer diving team by Scuba O, Thosaporn?s diving instruction company, to work not just on this particular project, but also on any others concerning marine environmental issues across the country.

The Chonburi reception in June formalised Omega?s financial commitment to the project, while the daytrip on Coastguard boats to Ko Kham allowed divers to demonstrate just how it is they are able to safely transplant coral. ?Fifty pieces were moved on that weekend,? reports Issares, adding that the Coastguard has developed considerable expertise in this area of marine conservation. ?In the future, if we discover that other coral needs to be moved, we know how to do it.?

Marine-lovers can only hope that the need for them in the future isn?t too great.

Helen’s newest role

01.08.2001 (12:00 am) – Filed under: People ::

She?s a supermodel, VJ, businesswoman, spokesperson, celebrity, but there?s one role that one of Thailand?s favourite faces isn?t quite used to yet: that of mother.

Helen Berger gave birth to daughter Haley D?iana Berger in May this year. ?Everyone?s asking me, ?How does it feel to be a mother?? I don?t know how to answer that,? she confesses. ?I just don?t feel like a mother yet ? right now she just sleeps and takes my breastmilk. When I hear her say ?mum? then I?ll think, okay, this is the real deal!?

Helen?s a bundle of emotions: happy, excited, tired, worried, angry. Articulate as ever though, she?s keen to recount the birth of Haley, which in a word she describes as ?traumatising?.

?The birth?s story is awful,? she says. ?It was like the worst experience of my life.?

Helen had spent her pregnancy giving interviews promoting natural childbirth and emphasising the importance of a healthy outlook and body throughout pregnancy. But Helen?s visions for the birth of her own child were not to be realised. ?All of a sudden we were in there, going through labour. It had been like six hundred years and the doctor came in and said, ?We recommend a Caesarian.? "

Helen was against the idea and asked for a second opinion, which confirmed the first doctor?s diagnosis. She and husband James consented, and she was then given a choice between having a general anaesthetic or an epidural. Wanting desperately to be awake for the birth, she chose an epidural. ?For nine months I had been planning to hear the baby?s cry and to see my husband?s face at the birth.?

But the last thing she remembers of being pregnant is a desperate feeling of not being able to breathe. ?The next thing I knew I was waking up hours later, flat on my back throwing up. They said ?Here?s your baby.? "

She later found out that the epidural needle had been inserted too far, causing her to pass out. ?I was druggy, wasted ? like your worst, worst, worst hangover. I was not welcoming to the baby ? I was just really annoyed.?

Helen isn?t sure how things managed to go so wrong. ?I?ve been trying to look at it from all angles. It?s only been six weeks since I gave birth; I?m still very sensitive about it. I get very depressed some days because I had planned for so long, really wanting to be pregnant and to be there when she arrived. The whole thing, I missed it.?

Luckily, she says, James had a video camera that recorded the nurses putting the baby on her breast after the birth. ?If I hadn?t seen that connection I don?t know how I?d be feeling. Just seeing that on the video made me think ?OK, at least she knows I?m her mum!? "

Her pregnancy had been normal, although she struggled with morning sickness day and night for the first five months. The biggest change was her weight, which rose steadily during the nine months. ?I gained 40 kilograms,? she says with healthy nonchalance. ?I lost 17 kilograms within the first two weeks after the birth. The rest is kind of steady and will probably stay that way until after I stop breastfeeding.?

As her body changed, so too came the realisation that her life had truly changed. ?I was not out partying, not staying out till the early hours of the morning anymore!?

Changes continued, of course, with the birth. ?It?s true what they say: you do NOT sleep. She sleeps through the night soundly now, but you?re still on alert, still on standby, like your pager will go off any second.?

And the first time she went out for lunch at a restaurant with girlfriends she didn?t make it through. ?The first thing I noticed was people smoking. It had never bothered me before because I used to smoke. But all of a sudden it bothered me a lot – a lot. I had to go home. That mother instinct kicked in.?

Helen and James have eschewed the help of a nanny for at least the first four or five months of Haley?s life. But with James working hard on his fledgling business, Helen has found the load heavy. ?For the first three weeks I was really on my own. I felt depressed and lonely, even though my girlfriends would stop by and see me. You?re confined and you feel like no one knows what you?re going through,? she says. ?But it?s beautiful, the whole thing, as you watch her each day.?

Her mother rang when Haley was three weeks old to tell her she was making a surprise visit. ?I was in tears. I was like, I really need you mum! You should have come yesterday!?

It was a special time for Helen and her mother. During previous visits, Helen says she had always been busy and hadn?t bothered to spend quality time with her. This time was different. ?Talking is all we did. We were inseparable. I felt like we really bonded – it took 30 years for us to really get along. For the past nearly 13 years now [since Helen came to Thailand] we got along, but it was always me looking for my own identity, trying to get away, starting my own life.?

Career plans are on hold now, but Helen will eventually go back to work. At the moment it?s a struggle for Helen to settle on a new image for herself in her own mind. ?I still have this image of myself as a model, personality, VJ. I didn?t want to let go of that; I still don?t want to let go of that. I?m finding it hard.?

Helen says she wonders how people will cope with the fact she?s now a mother. ?You can?t always be that fun, carefree person, pushing people?s buttons and pushing the limits of what people are going to accept in society in their pictures. You have to start taking responsibilities for your actions, for society.?

At least on one front she?s still making a stand. ?I won?t let breastfeeding stop me from going out. It feels so natural. I don?t care what anyone else is thinking and I?m not going to deprive Haley of that.?

In the meantime, Helen?s watching her daughter develop a personality just like her own. ?What goes around comes around,? she laughs. ?She already shows a stubborn streak. I can see that she?s going to be tough. She?s going to be a go-getter. She?s not going to be sit back and be weak.?

The most important qualities she?d like to teach Haley are compassion, kindness and fairness. ?That?s what I want to show her. Not so much teach her but show her, and she?ll learn from that.?

As for her relationship with her husband, Helen says the change a child made to their lives was at first a shock in terms of how little time they get to spend together. ?It?s been tiring, but very rewarding. We look at her and we say ?Oh my gosh we did this!? And we high five each other!?

So will Baby Berger Number Two be on its way some time soon? ?The first week after Haley was born, I was absolutely not going to have anymore children. But now I can see that I would. I think I?ll continue until I?m 35; then I can stop and enjoy it all.?