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.”

Bangkok-style Bauhaus

Just the thought of renovating a home can make some people shudder; renovating a home while living in a foreign country presents an even greater challenge. But completely renovating a home overseas when you don’t even own it?

To Australian designer Kristina Zanic and her fiance, it seemed like the obvious thing to do. Bangkok-based Zanic is passionate about design and the couple have collected an eclectic range of items on their travels throughout Asia they wished to house in good taste.

They found a four-bedroom house built in the ‘60s in what Zanic calls “tropical architecture style”. The house is typical of 60s architecture, with exposed beams and wooden-framed windows. Houses in this style are not just plentiful in Bangkok, but are found right across Asia. “It’s basically a Bauhaus modernist style, with lots of concrete and brick work. What’s good about this style is that it’s spacious: it’s not boxy,” Zanic says enthusiastically.

Zanic negotiated with the landlord for reduced rent, in return for which she would completely renovate the place. “Everyone said ‘Oh my god! You’re not going to tackle this!’ The house was in disrepair. It was awful! There were fluorescent lights, and snail trails of wiring across the ceiling… We’ve really fixed up the structure to make the lines cleaner. It’s homey now. It’s very comfortable.”

The back patio area was one spot Zanic was enthusiastic about from the start . “I wanted to create a fabulous garden area. Much of the house is glass, so when you walk into the dining and living area, you see the garden immediately.”

The narrow L-shaped area was laid with terracotta tiles, bamboo walling was installed, and pieces of ancient pottery were placed around a garden setting. “It’s really inviting. It enhances the whole house. The outdoor lighting I’ve installed means we can use the area at night as well. ”

Zanic says she finds the downstairs living area, which looks onto the garden, the most interesting. “We’ve got a lot of artwork on display, a lot of pottery. Downlights create soft lighting – a complete contrast to the pure white light that was in the house beforehand.”

Zanic came to Thailand seven years ago. Today she owns design group City Space Design (htpp://www.cityspace.net) and has recently drawn on her love of designing beautiful items for the home with an Asian influence by opening a retail shop called Asia Motifs (http://www.motifdesigns.com).

So perhaps it’s no wonder that Kristina hasn’t had time to attack the top floor of her house yet: “I’m just taking my time – seeing where my moods take me, then designing something new, buying new fabrics and redoing things.” Nor is it suprising that Zanic plans on staying put in Bangkok for as long as she can.

Poetry in motion

A lover’s shirt, motorcycle taxi drivers, an extracted tapeworm, the letters ‘SP’, a hangover, the cremation of a friend. Sweaty palms, lubricated throats, mellifluous voices, nervous coughs and laughs.

We’re at the latest instalment of Bangkok Poetry, an initiative started by American Wesley Hsu last September and gathering momentum as word of its existence spreads. Every six weeks or so, the microphone at About Café/About Studio is switched on, the lounges fill with punters keen to read or listen in the glow of the café’s neon green, and Wesley takes the lead, breaking the ice by delivering his own polished reading for the evening.

How did Bangkok come to be blessed with such an event? “Prior to moving here last March I’d been a pretty regular fan of good spoken-word performance and ‘poetry slams’ in Los Angeles, Austin, and Chicago,” he says. After discovering there were no such regular readings happening in Bangkok, he decided to set something up himself.

The first reading was not auspicious. “Myself included, there were four poets. The microphone didn’t work, everyone showed up late, the acoustics were terrible. But it happened, which was something.”

The rules are simple and encouraging. “Any language, any length, any style,” Wesley says. “If people want to read prose that’s okay too, or use props or whatever. The only thing I ask is that people read original material only. I want this to be a celebration of writing as much as performance.”

Tonight the nine readings are all in English. There’s a mixture of men from the English-speaking world, and one Thai writer, Wipas Srithong, who has chosen to read one of his English poems. But there are no female poets, and Wesley despairs that the balance has consistently swung this way since the readings began.

Each reading has its own theme: tonight it’s movement. “It’s not intended to restrict the poets in any way, really – they can interpret it however they choose,” Wesley emphasises. “Mosly it’s to help anyone who can’t think of anything to write about.”

Indeed the poems tonight are loosely based on the word, with the inevitable twist of movement being a bowel-related thing coming with a delightfully detailed account of a tapeworm extraction. As the other poets deliver their words there are moments of pathos, beauty, hilarity and, inevitably perhaps, incomprehension. But what’s most enjoyable is that the entertainment is being provided by the people in the audience – and it’s not karaoke.

There’s a good sized audience sipping herbal teas and guzzling beers while they listen, but it’s been a struggle to get the numbers up. “The performance art scene is quite small here even among local Thai artists, much less farangs,” Wesley says. “Competing with the Bangkok lifestyle is probably the biggest challenge–people don’t typically have the attention span to listen to poetry, much less get off their duffs and write it.”

Once the scheduled readings are completed, Wesley encourages anyone who’s written a poem during the evening to get up and read it. He’s handed out a sheet explaining how to write a passable four-line poem. There are a couple of takers; there are encores. Wesley is so keen to encourage new poets to take to the stand he leaves the mike turned on for an hour just in case someone changes their mind and decides after all to read that sonnet slipped surreptitiouly into their back pocket.

Meanwhile, the dj has hit the turntables and the crowd is mingling. Everyone’s keen on giving their assessment of the evening – in fact, that’s really what the second half of the evening’s about.

“It was definitely interesting,” says one Thai woman. “I’ll come again. I didn’t understand all of it though, some of the more emotional stuff.” Well, even if English is your first language…

Meanwhile, Wesley is looking further down the track. “Sometimes I’ll let myself dream a bit,” says Wesley. “And anticipate the day when we’ll have a backup band, a packed house, full lights and sound board, and turn the whole thing into a rollicking slam like they hold in the Green Mill in Chicago.”

It may not happen in the next few months, but this is an event that could capture the hearts and minds of Bangok’s intelligentsia as they come to understand that “poetry is a way of taking life by the throat” [Robert Frost]. Or at least an excuse for telling someone you like their rhyming couplet, perhaps.

For further information, contact Wesley Hsu at [email protected]

Teeing off for success

They’re quirky bronze sculptures, they’re artistically creative and they have a distinctly golf theme – but golfers hardly ever buy them.

"Dedicated golfers don’t like to spend the money," says Charoen Ngoenchan, the sculptor who designs the limited-edition creations with titles such as "I Am The Winner", "There Goes The Ball" and "It Has Been A Long Round".

"Golfers like our products, but our market is not the golfer. It’s relatives and friends of the golfer. A lot of collectors buy too but golfers – never. They prefer to buy a new driver or putter."

Charoen works for his own art business, called Art Fun, along with business partner Chalitpan Niyomyam, another artist, and Charoen’s younger brother, Seksan, who looks after Internet aspects of the business.

The two artists met around five years ago while they worked for an interior design company, developing concepts and creating ideas for artworks in hotels. "We worked on over 20 hotels across the Asean region," Charoen says. These included the Radisson, Imperial Queen’s Park and Le Meridien President in Bangkok, the Pan Pacific in Kota Kinabalu and the Intercontinental in Phnom Penh.

Charoen studied visual arts at Chulalongkorn’s Faculty of Fine Arts and graduated around seven years ago. He then worked as an art dealer in a gallery on Silom before moving into interior design.

Chalitpan studied at Silpakorn University, and majored in graphic arts. He ran a shop at MBK selling souvenir and designer items he made himself, but found he had to create ten or so designs just to sell two or three. He, too, moved into interior design.

"But after the economy slowed, the company was affected," says Charoen. The company started letting some of its employees go. We started talking among ourselves about what we could do. I knew I wanted to be an artist again – I had stopped for seven years. So I started doing some sketching."

Fate was at work. Charoen was working in Malaysia, and had some spare time. "A friend who was a golfer started talking to me about golf. There was so much to talk about, and plenty of jokes," he says. "So I then had the idea of doing sculptures related to golf. I sketched over 500 designs in six months. After that, I started to actually make the sculptures, with another friend."

Perhaps fate had been at work even earlier: a group of Charoen’s friends had nicknamed him Tiger because he reminded them of the golf star, a long time before this plan hit the sketching board.

So far no money had been earned, but Charoen says he was having a lot of fun and new ideas kept coming to him. "I ended up actually sculpting nearly 100 designs," he says. The sculptor works in wax before casting a mould from which the bronze scuptures can be produced. "Then we decided to make a collection. We selected 28 to cast into bronze."

The small business’s first exhibition was held in October last year, at the luxury golf club Par 3 Master at Hua Hin, and they opened the doors to their new office at around the same time. "It’s easier to work with just a few people," says Charoen. "If there are many people, there are many ideas."

"Although getting the exhibition was not too difficult, selling the sculptures themselves has been a challenge due to the economic downturn," Chalitpan says.

There was, however, a lot interest from golfing magazines, TV shows and newspapers. "People called us, but the one problem is that bronze is expensive," says Charoen. "And our collections are made in limited quantities – we could sell a lot more for a lower price, but that’s not what we’re about."

They’re starting to sell their work over the web. "Our market is not really in Thailand – it’s exporting overseas," says Charoen.

At the moment the artistic entrepreneurs have distributors in Germany, Austria, Holland and Belgium. "In America, Australia and Japan we’re just talking, talking, talking," Charoen says. "Again, the problem is the price – when people compare our sculptures to other products they can import from Thailand, then we’re relatively expensive."

Charoen is currently working on his wax sculptures for their second collection, due to be ready by around March next year. "I also want to create some life-size sculptures, but I really need to find a sponsor to support me," Charoen says. "If there is no sponsor to be found, we will eventually have to sponsor ourselves! I want to make these life-size pieces in very small quantities, maybe ten pieces from one design." He hopes to target them to museums or golf courses.

For the Thai market, they are creating resin trophy collections, which they’ve been selling successfully to various golfing clubs across the country since January. And Chalitpan is concentrating on producing artworks with an Asian theme to export. These are hand-painted pieces with silkscreened outlines done on coffee-stained paper to produce an antique-like effect. "So far, these are bringing in more money than the sculptures," Chalitpan says.

And their business skills are developing along a steep learning curve. "We are not really businessmen," says Charoen. "Our background is that of artists."

"Actually we often lose money when we’re negotiating with customers," admits Chalitpan. " ‘Okay,’I say, ‘We can discount,’ when really I shouldn’t."

The two are happy with their current situation, and defend the commercialisation of their art. "We have nobody controlling us. We lead the artist’s life. We are relaxed, and we use our own ideas," Charoen says. "We try to make our art commercial – most artists cannot do business. Artists have to know the market. It’s very important beccause our future depends on it."

Charoen explains his philosophy behind making his art more accessible to people. "I think that people can start to learn about art through buying cheap art. If we were to sell only expensive pieces, very few people could afford to buy them. But if we try to make our works cheaper, then maybe in a few years the people who bought our work will start to buy more expensive pieces of art."

Charoen cites Ittiphol Tangchaloke, a professor at Silpakorn Univeristy who specialises in painting and mixed media as his favourite artist, while Chalitpan names Sutee Kunavichayanont, a masters graduate from Sydney University who creates installation works, as his.

And have they tried selling any pieces to Tiger Woods? "Not yet!" answers Charoen. "About three months ago one American dealer wanted to contact Tiger Woods for me, so I made lots of drawings for him. The dealer also ordered some of our products, but he hasn’t yet collected them, even though he’s paid for some of them."

The determined entrepreneurs are optimistic about their futures. "The world is a very big place!" says Chalitpan. "Just waiting for our products! Hey, maybe you can sell them for us in Australia…"

Art Fun are located at 30 Soi Chamchan, Ekamai Rd, Klongton Nua. Ph. 391 2508 or email [email protected] for further information.