Looking to the future: Aquatech Asia 2001

The ability to supply water to people in the future is intricately linked to the health of the environment, so it wasn’t surprising that both environmental issues and looking to the future were underlying themes of Aquatech Asia 2001. The event was held for the first time in Thailand, at the Bangkok International Trade and Exhibition Centre from March 6 to 8.

As permanent secretary of Thailand’s Ministry of Interior, Mr Chanasak Yuvapurna, noted during his opening address, "Water supply is one of the key issues in the new millennium, not only for cities and governments, but also for the entire population. Whatever decisions we make today will have effects on the water quality and supply of the future." With 76 companies and organisations exhibiting at Aquatech Asia 2001, attendees were in a good position to improve their knowledge of the latest advances in the water industry, and so make better decisions for their – and everybody’s – future.

The opening ceremony was followed by a presentation by Mr Chanasak to the winners of the second Asia Water Management Excellence Awards, sponsored by the Regional Institute of Environmental Technology (RIET) under the patronage of Aquatech Asia 2001 [and support of Asian Water?]. In 2000, eight nominees vied for the four awards; this year, 25 nominees put forward their names, an indication of the increasing seriousness with which the awards are viewed.

His Royal Highness Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, Sultan of Yogyakarta, Indonesia, won the individual award, STMicroelectronics from Singapore won the industry award, and the ABS-CBN Foundation of the Philippines won the NGO award. In the government category, no award was given due to a lack of sufficient documentation submitted by nominees. "This is certainly not to say that government organisations are not good enough to receive an award," said Dr Philippe Bergeron, director of RIET. "We are convinced there are plenty of government organisations across the region which certainly deserved the award."

With the formalities dispensed with, visitors were free to browse the exhibition, which included a spread of both private and government organisations, and suppliers of industrial, municipal and residential equipment and services. Marcel Ewals, general manager of organisers Bangkok Rai, said that many companies were very interested in Thailand. "Privatisation is on the agenda here, so many international companies are knocking on Thailand’s door."

In fact 70 per cent of organisations present were international, including German giant Bayer AG, Dutch companies Eijkelkamp Agrisearch Equipment, Iwaco (Asia) Ltd and Siemens, and others from Asia, Europe and America. The USA Pavilion featured 19 American companies, while the Netherlands country stand showcased the products of ten Dutch organisations. Local branches of Osmonic Asia Pacific, BWT Permo and Thames Water International also exhibited.

Several companies used the exhibition as a launching point for their move into Asia, such as American water-filter company Aquaspace and Italy’s Maddalena, a manufacturer of measuring instruments, while larger companies believed attending such an exhibition was important in terms of maintaining a presence. Thames’ Gary Wyeth said that the company wanted to let people know they were working on large projects in Thailand. "Being here doesn’t really help business, as there are only two organisations here we do business with [the Provincial Water Authority and Municipal Water Authority]. We’re quite happy to just let people know we’re here."

Bayer’s Roland Ragozzini said their booth was also about getting their name out among people. "We’re here to make our presence felt and want to make as many people as possible aware of the features of our products. We might get some additional business, but it’s more to do with prestige."

While the exhibition demonstrated that meeting people is still an intergral part of business, several exhibitors showcased the potential for the Internet to help. Thaienvironment.net, a year-old website featuring 5,000 Thai environmental product producers, was there to make itself known to foreign distributors hoping to penetrate the Thai market, while the non-commercial Netherlands Water Partnership demonstrated their website, www.nwp.nl, which helps the organisation be a single contact point for people seeking information on the Dutch water sector.

Both exhibitors and visitors were largely pleased with the exhibition, although some were disappointed with its size and numbers. Satit Sanongphan, deputy director of exhibitor US Asia Environmental Partnership in Thailand, said the exhibition had assisted American companies looking for joint ventures or partnerships with local firms. However, he added that the American exhibitors had hoped to meet with more end-users. "It may be because of the timing of the show – some visitors have commented that the show closed too early, and was not open on Saturday or Sunday, so it makes it difficult for engineers, managers, and maintenance specialists to come."

BWT Permo export manager Fabrice Lombardo said it was important to be at this exhibition. "You can’t say you are an international company today without also being in Asia," he said, adding that this exhibition was about business, while Aquatech Amsterdam was more about prestige. "We’ve made very good new contacts. We are a bit disappointed with the other exhibitors – it’s too small. And the organisers could have done more advertising to educate people about the exhibition."

Richard Rosen from Summit Research Labs, manufacturers of wastewater treatment chemicals, thought that attendance had been excellent. "There has been a good mix of end-users, water authorities and distributors. It’s been very well-organised. Normally you can find something wrong with a trade show, but this one has been very, very good."

Delegate Frank Evans, a consultant with the South Australian Water Industry Alliance, described the exhibition as excellent. "It’s the people that you meet, the networks that you make that are extremely important. I’ve seen some similar exhibits before, but there’s always some new technologies and approaches that you’re not aware of." However, visitors Laura Sirvent and Dr Juan Salas, from Baynard JR International, came from Spain for the event and were disappointed with its size. "One day is enough to visit – Aquatech in Amsterdam is ten times bigger. We also thought there would be a lot more Asian companies exhibiting," Ms Sirvent said.

The conference running in conjunction with the exhibition, "Focus on Asia", attracted more than 250 delegates. The first day focused on technology developments, day two saw a focus on management practices, while the final day – which attracted an extra 66 delegates – featured a range of technical papers on water treatments.

Suwat Wissurak from Thailand’s Provincial Water Authority attended the conference to learn about the latest in water technology and found it quite educative. "Mostly it’s been very good, although some of the technology being discussed is too high [to be relevant for us]." Siemens manager Jan Mahn said he listened to several useful papers, but had hoped to hear more about visions for the future. "The relevant papers covered integrated processes, and focused on implementing these into the market. I would have liked to hear more about strategies and solutions to improve business, especially in Asia."

Improving business in Asia was indeed what most exhibitors and visitors hoped to achieve from attending Aquatech Asia 2001. While most agreed it would take some time to gauge the financial success of the event, there’s little doubt that it gave people a valuable opportunity to meet and exchange ideas – and those are priceless.

A forward-looking enterprise

When Dr Philippe Bergeron, director of the Regional Institute of Environmental Technology (RIET), discussed the process that the jury followed to choose a winner from industry for the Asia Water Management Excellence Awards, he emphasised one thing: that the award was not about recognising innovative technology. "The industry award is not here to award technology per se, but to award the application of technologies in a particular industrial context, which lead to substantial water saving and conservation."

The jury trawled through several nominations from companies who pointed out that the technology they had developed was very efficient. "We answered them: look, bring us examples of where your technology has been applied, because that’s where you really get results."

The jury hit on a winner, however, when they looked at the applied technologies used by STMicroelectronics, one of the world’s ten largest semiconductor manufacturers. The company runs 17 primary manufacturing sites across the globe and has over 35,000 employees. "Wafer fabrication consumes a huge amount of water due to the need to wash and continue washing to avoid dirt coming into contact with the wafers," explained Dr Bergeron. "This company has been extremely efficient in reusing and recycling water, especially in their plant in Singapore." Wafers are used in the production of integrated circuits. In 1991, each wafer produced by the company required 3.5 cubic metres of water. Now just one cubic metre is required.

Mr Ted Li Hai Ming, a senior EHS engineer and a "site environmental champion" at the Singapore plant, was there to accept the award. In an interview afterwards, he noted that this wasn’t the first award the company has picked up as a result of its environmental efforts: since 1991 it has received 24 environmental accolades. "Our CEO [Pasquale Pistorio] is very committed to environmental protection, and that’s why he has put real effort – and investment – into this area," he said. Mr Pistorio believes that sustainability is "better than free because it provides a real competitive advantage".

The company has an "Environmental Decalogue", or ten environmental commandments, which provide a blueprint for it becoming "environmentally neutral". Among other things, it states that the company will meet the most stringent regulations of any country in which they operate at all their locations, and will comply with all international protocols one year ahead of deadline. Conservation efforts involve it reducing total energy consumption by five per cent per year and reducing paper consumption by 10 per cent per year. In regards to water, it aims to reduce draw-down by five per cent annually, and hopes to reach a minimum of 90 per cent recycling ratio in two pilot sites – yet to be chosen – by 2005. The target for other sites is 40 per cent.

Mr Vlatko Zagar, director of the company’s safety and environment division, was interviewed by Asian Water in November 1998 about the company’s pioneering zero-discharge water strategy, where the objective is to achieve an "industrial ecosystem". This is where inputs and outputs of pollutants are minimized, and by-products are designed for reuse in other processes. Mr Zagar said then that such a system "integrates the three major external factors of the wafer fab operation [energy, chemicals and water] into a synergetic transformation, from that of wastage into economic and environmental benefits." It is the many successful steps that the company has implemented as part of this strategy that contributed to their winning of this award.

Mr Ted Li spoke with enthusiasm about what has been achieved so far in regards to the four main "paradigm shifts" that are part of the zero-water discharge strategy: reducing the use of chemicals, segregating wastewater, using a total water management system, and developing "cogeneration" technology. "We try to minimise the reduction of chemicals in the first place. When you use less chemicals, you use less water to wash the wafers – there is some correlation."

Wastewater from different processes has different characteristics, and must be treated accordingly before it can be reused. ST segregates the different types of wastewater, and treats them accordingly. "For example, wastewater from the "backgrind" process, is highly contaminated by dissolved and suspended silica," explained Mr Ted Li. "Filtration by conventional methods is difficult because these fine particles tend to clog the membranes irreversibly." However, the company developed a process where both dynamic EPOC micro-filtration membranes and a continuous de-ionization unit are used together to achieve a near 100 per cent recovery rate of water. This approach is now followed by many companies in Singapore.

For the remaining waste stream, however, the maximum expected recovery rate is about 70 per cent. ST will soon choose two pilot plants for which they will aim to achieve 90 per cent, recovery – thus new technology must be adopted. "What we are working on is ‘co-generation’," Mr Ted Li revealed. This is an energy system that produces both electricity and heat from natural gas. "We want to use this excess heat from production to assist in cleaning the extra 30 per cent of water." Based on current technology, cogeneration is not an economically viable option in the industry. "We haven’t put a price on what it would cost, but at the moment we may as well buy water from the PUB," he said. "Hopefully, within a couple of years, our project will be successful."

Mr Ted Li has been with STMicroelectronics for four years. Although he was equipped with a masters degree in chemical engineering and a bachelors degree in marine biology from the University of Queensland, when he came back to Singapore he spent several years working in a family business. Then he decided he wanted to put his background in the environment, health and safety area to use. "With my biology and chemistry background, this field was very appealing," he says.

He joined STMicroelectronics and realised he had found a company in tune with his own ideas. "I had a very good mentor in Vlatko Zagar. He is very knowledgeable in this area, and I have learned a lot from him." He attributes many of the Singaporean plant’s improvements to Mr Zagar, and believes that the plant, particularly in regards to its environment practices, is among the best in the corporation.

Now that the company has received an Asian Water Management Excellence Award, he can truthfully say it’s one of the best in Asia.

Saving a precious resource

"It’s an emergency. There’s a real crisis with our watersheds," Mr Marlo D Mendoza warned the press after accepting an Asian Water Management Excellence Award on behalf of Bantay Kalikasan, the environmental arm of the Philippines’ ABS-CBN Foundation. "In a few more years, those provinces now developing quickly will want to use the water supplies that are going to Manila. We don’t want to wait until people start fighting over access to water. We need to be forward-looking, to try to inform the public, including decision-makers, about the necessary steps to be taken [to avoid this]."

Bantay Kalikasan, a media-based group supported by a multi-sectoral network of government agencies, private organisations and NGOs, is responding to the crisis with action. Rather than continuing to open up new watersheds, Bantay Kalikasan argues that old watersheds should be rehabilitated. So in 1999 they launched the "Save the La Mesa Watershed Project", which aims to rehabilitate, develop and protect the 2,700 hectare La Mesa watershed. The watershed contains a 600-hectare reservoir supplying some 10 million Manila residents, and is the last forest left within the metropolitan Manila area. Around 45 per cent of it is denuded.

How are they going to undertake such a massive project?

"Our strength is to be able to capitalise and facilitate environmental initiatives by leveraging our media resources," explained Mr Mendoza. ABS-CBN, a broadcasting foundation, gives Bantay Kalikasan three minutes of prime TV airtime, worth US$15,000, every day. Bantay Kalikasan links with advertising and other companies and organisations, which sponsor environmental messages, which are then broadcast. "Because we’re an environmental program, companies known to be pollutants are automatically screened out," he added. The Asian Development Bank has also provided grants for particular outputs.

Using the airtime, the group has brought the watershed issue into the homes of thousands of viewers. "Our challenge is to teach the Filipino public that forest care – or the non-care of it – affects the water supply, the air they breathe and therefore their very own lives."

Dr Philippe Bergeron, director of award-sponsors RIET, was clearly very impressed by the NGO’s strategy. "It’s very, very clever. It’s the first and only arrangement in the region, and in my view, it’s the sort of thing that should be duplicated everywhere," he said. "They have been very innovative."

The publicity campaigns are matched by projects on the ground. For the La Mesa, this involves planting trees in the degraded area. It costs approximately US$80 to reforest a single hectare – or about US$2.50 per tree. More than 6,000 volunteer tree planters have participated since May 1999, and hundreds of individuals, schools and companies have adopted hectares or trees. The survival rate of trees is over 90 per cent. "We have more than 300 hectares planted already, and our target is 1,200 hectares to be planted in four years. And we put up a guarantee – whatever happens to that hectare for the next three years, we are obliged to replant it."

Of course, forests are not only important in terms of water resource management, and this is another message the group is attempting to publicise. Trees help control soil erosion and flooding by controlling the siltation of reservoirs and river systems, they provide sanctuary for wildlife, and help clean the air. According to Mr Mendoza, it takes ten mature trees to deal with the carbon dioxide from a single car. "So if you have a car, you should contribute ten trees," he said.

Forests also provide recreation areas. Once reforestation is complete, the group plans to turn 30 to 50 hectares of the area into a park. "There are no parks in metro Manila. We want to create a pristine environment where people can spend their leisure time," said Mr Mendoza. Furthermore, the park will be a way for the project to become self-funding – and to expand to the other 400-plus critical watersheds across the country. An entry fee will be charged, and visitors will be able to access an information and nature centre, and exhibition area.

Essentially, Bantay Kalikasan, which employs 25 full-time staff, sees itself as being a coordinating body overseeing loose coalitions formed for various issues. "The groups are already there in the Philippines," said Mr Mendoza. "Our job is to tap them, harness them, and like a puzzle get the different groups together. Once we’re able to analyse the problem, we’re able to come up with a very good plan and strategy."

Bantay Kalikasan was born in 1998 as a result of the deteriorating environment in the Philippines generally, but in particular due to mounting frustration over a ten-year campaign to get the government to pass a clean air act. "We found out that there needs to be a facilitator, or a leader, to direct the actions to be taken," said Mr Mendoza. "As a media organisation, you can do that." The new group’s efforts led to the act being passed within six months. Following that success, the group has taken up other environmental issues, including watershed conservation.

According to Mr Mendoza, problems with watershed conservation stem from the fact that watershed management, development and protection have been isolated from water distribution – that is, water utility companies are not responsible for the care of watersheds. "Whoever sells the water should be charged a watershed management fee, to be put in a fund to put back into conserving the forests." Water companies are in fact among Bantay Kalikasan’s biggest donors – but institutionalising payment is their ultimate goal. "If it’s institutionalised, they’re forced to do it."

Mr Mendoza is both a licensed forester and an environmentalist. After being involved in various other foundation programs, he was called on to assist with Bantay Kalikasan due to his environmental background. The major challenge for the group so far has been learning skills for dealing with the media and advertisers, and carrying out marketing and awareness building. "But we have had many experts to help us," he said.

For Bantay Kalikasan, winning this particular award is very important in assisting it establish credibility. "We have to show that we are a leader," said Mr Mendoza. "Winning will help us to raise funds, and partner with equally credible institutions. It will also help build our morale, and motivate staff."

Putting their best foot forward

Twenty boys living in Thailand aged 11 and under will don their team colours and proudly head out onto a field on Saturday to do what they love most: play soccer. Only this time they won’t have the advantage of playing on their home country turf. They’ll be hitting a pitch in Singapore, playing against children in teams from Singapore and Malaysia.

After nearly four weeks of serious training, eleven-year-old Marut Srichawala is tired but excited. "Training has been very hard. It’s been intense," he says, sounding almost pleased about a slight ankle injury that’s keeping him off the field for the day. But he’s pursuing his destiny. "My dream is to become a soccer star. I want to play for Manchester when I grow up."

Left mid-field player Rikhi Anandsngkit, 11, says that he’s enjoyed training and has improved. "It’s been good, but also tough. It’s good because I’ve improved my stamina and my skills. When I grow up I want to be a pro." Man U would be his team of choice, but Real Madrid or Barcelona would also fit the bill.

Pongpisut Limgul, 10, a goalkeeper, is looking forward to the three-day trip. "I’m very excited because I’ve never gone to play soccer in another country. And it’s the biggest tournament I think I’ve ever played in."

Thanks to former professional soccer player Darren Jackson, who has been training schoolchildren in Thailand since the end of 1998, all twenty boys might be one step closer to their dream of making it in the professional world of soccer.

"I don’t really know the level of the kids in Bangkok compared to teams outside of here," Jackson says, explaining how the 11 and Under Asia Tournament came about. "I have a friend in Singapore [Paul Masefield] who’s also coaching children and we came up with the idea together of running an international tournament."

A connection in Kuala Lumpur added Malaysia to the plan, which involves holding three tournaments this year, one each in Singapore, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur. "It will give a good indication of what level they’re at," says Jackson.

While there is a Bangkok soccer league that the children could also play in, Jackson says that although the standard of play overall is probably about the same, the coaching isn’t professional.

If all goes well in Singapore, Jackson hopes to run a trip to the UK – where the best soccer players can earn up to 50,000 pounds a week – and where some of the more talented boys might be spotted by scouts. "Boys are picked at age 14, and as transfer fees become more expensive, clubs look to select up and coming players to keep under their wing."

This means honing the skills of the best 11-year-olds for at least another year or two before going.

But in the meantime, Jackson and the boys themselves are pleased with the progress that they’ve made. Just confirming that the trip would go ahead caused a dramatic increase in commitment to training among the 90 children he currently coaches. "Their training had really slumped. They were joking around and weren’t serious about it. When I mentioned Singapore, things really changed."

Anne Sinthunont, mother of Nicholas, 11, noticed her son’s enthusiasm rise when going to Singapore became a possibility. "He loves to play soccer, and as soon as the opportunity came up to go to Singapore, well there was lots of excitement. He started saying I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to try harder."

After the announcement, Jackson trained all of the children for a month, and then selected the best 20 aged 11 and under. The youngest in the team is eight. "They’re starting to play good football, they’re passing the ball around. If you just dangle that carrot in front of them, they will do what they have to do to get there."

Jackson, who has an FA coaching badge from England, has played for England under 21s, Oxford United, Reading, Hong Kong and Finland. His roaming clinic for children aged six to 12 operates at various international schools and on Saturdays for any child interested. About half the children are Thais, and half are from other countries.

But participation in the trip doesn’t come cheaply. Local sponsors Dtac, Global Silverhawk (Santa Fe), Nike, Gatorade and Ecco assisted in providing equipment, but the training and all-inclusive trip has cost each child approximately Bt20,000. While this is a small addition to what a student at an international school pays in fees, for others the sum is huge.

Tongchai Orktachan, or Rambo as he prefers, impressed Jackson so much with his potential two years ago that he’s been attending the clinic since at no charge. When some of the parents and teachers at NIST [where the boys train] heard that his family was unable to fund the Singapore trip, they chipped in to foot the bill. The trip will be both the first time Rambo has travelled by plane, and the first time he’s left Thailand.

Rambo says he’s very tired from the training, but playing soccer is fun. "I’m not really thinking a lot about [the trip]. I’m very excited and I would like to win." He estimates he’s improved by 50 per cent over the past few weeks. And he wants to play for Thailand when he grows up.

Getting a foot in the door

While soccer fans in Thailand have their eyes glued to their televisions watching Euro2000, former professional soccer player Darren Jackson is focusing on soccer a little closer to home. If he has his way, 15 potential soccer stars from Thailand will be heading to the UK for youth matches to be played against local teams by the end of 2001.

“The teenagers from here – whether they are Thai or another nationality, but living here – will play in front of scouts from clubs around the UK, and could be signed on the spot,” Jackson, who is from England, says. “Scouts are out in force at the moment with the Premier League being so huge. Boys are picked at age 14, and as transfer fees become more expensive, clubs are look to select up and coming players to keep under their wing.”

But there is a lot of work to be done yet. Twenty boys aged around eleven or twelve need to be selected and trained intensively by Jackson and his assistant, Andrew Jeffries, for eight months. Fifteen boys will then be selected for a further four months’ training before taking off to the land where the best soccer players can earn up to 50,000 pounds a week.

Many things are still in the pipeline, such as arranging for a match to take place prior to a Manchester United Premier League game, but with Jackson’s contacts – he formerly played professionally for England Under 21s, Oxford United, Reading, Hong Kong and Finland – he is confident of pulling it off.

Jackson is also searching for sponsors for the trip, to make the costs lower for those picked to go. “I’m looking for an airline and other companies that would be willing to sponsor the boys. I want to keep the price as low as possible so that the kids I do want to take can all go. But whatever happens, the trip is going ahead.”

Jackson, who has an FA coaching badge from England, has been training schoolchildren in Thailand since the end of 1998.

“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 went to 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 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 weekends they play against other schools. Then they play in a tournament arranged by local sponsors – such as Ecco and Nike – 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.”

The most recent tournament was held at NIST school on May 28. While the competition was sponsored by Global Silverhawks, the main prize was donated by Nike – one of ten soccer balls in Thailand signed by the Brazilian soccer team when they were here last, which went to the best player, Varin Narula. The prize for top goal scorer was sponsored by Gatorade, and went to ‘Rambo’, while the player of the tournament was awarded to Colin Vaghn.

“The children play in English premier league colours, with each international school having its own kit,” Jackson explains. “There’s also a Nike and Gatorade kit, and two other sponsors have sponsored tournaments. “

As at any Saturday soccer match anywhere in the world, 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.

Uthaivan says her son’s skills are improving – and all the papers he writes in English are now about soccer. “And going to England is a great idea! I hope my son will make it. It’s good for the kids to have this goal – it will make training fun.”

Vizes Nakornchai’s son Tagore will turn 9 in July. He’s hesitant to attribute all of the boys’ 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!”

Nakornchai believes that it’s important for children to develop team skills. “To work and play in a team is equally as important as developing individual skills,” he says.

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, and played several trials for Chelsea.

“But nothing ever came of it, so I became a teacher,” he says. He worked at St Johns International School,teaching swimming and physical education to primary kids, but has now left to assist Jackson. “He’s got to the stage where he needs more help. You can see the difference with the ones Darren has been training – the change, it’s fantastic.”

Jackson estimates he is currently training around 80 children, from schools such as Harrow International, ISB and NIST. The split is about 50-50 between Thais and children from other countries. “I’ve just started a Saturday clinic so I can reach other kids [who don’t go to these schools] as well.”

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 seemed to come out of their shell and they’ve 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. That’s the big difference between English and Asian children – a lack of space and lack of practice. The only time they get to practise is at school during the week or if they join a club.”

“English kids tend to play at breaktime, lunchtime, after school, after dinner, weekends, so they improve more quickly,” Jeffries adds.

And Jackson is sincerely confident there are more Zicos among the children he is training. “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.”

“Some of them are excellent,” enthuses Jeffries.

“They’re so young, as well,” Jackson points out. “In England, they don’t get serious coaching until they’re 13 or 14 years old. My children at seven or eight are taught the basics. They can all kick a ball. The hard part now is getting them to play as a team.”

But for those who are chosen, it will be a tough road ahead. “Very tough,” Jackson says. “I want them to do well when they’re in England. It will be a lot harder than what they are doing now during the week. I’d expect more. They’d be playing at least three or four times a week with me. By the end of the year they might be in with a good chance. At the least, they’ll have a trip they’ll never forget.”

Saving the endangered

In the dead of night, the turtle makes its way up the sand slowly, leaving a trail like a tyre-track in its wake. Nobody has laid eyes on this reptile since she left this very beach between ten and thirty years ago – but probably nobody saw her even then. She’s spent her entire life swimming to a feeding ground that only she and her fellow turtles know about, but now she’s back to propagate her species. She’ll lay and conceal around 100 eggs in a shallow nest before slipping back into the ocean as surreptiously as she came. And she’ll do this three times a season every three years or so during her breeding life. She’ll live to sixty if she doesn’t get caught in a fishing net before then.

After 50 days incubation, her eggs will hatch – assuming they haven’t been poached – and the baby turtles will make their way immediately into the sea. Somehow, the location of their birth will be etched into their makeup, and the females will be back here in a few decades, if not to this very beach, then to one in the surrounding areas, to take their turn nesting. A mere one in one thousand eggs will become a mature adult turtle.

There are seven marine turtle species living in the Earth’s warmer oceans. All of them are endangered. Four species come to nest on the 15 kilometres of pristine beach on Ko Phra Thorng (Golden Buddha Island) in Thailand’s southern Pha Nga province.

But they don’t come in the great numbers that they would have just decades ago. Their numbers have dropped largely due to humans disturbing nesting sites: for a long time, turtle eggs have been a delicacy and fetched prices large enough to make poaching them a worthwhile endeavour for the inhabitants of the island or passing fishermen.

Many turtles also lose their lives by being accidentally caught in fishing nets. In other areas in Thailand such as Phuket, turtles have lost their nesting grounds due to unbridled development – when a turtle senses bright lights on a beach, she won’t lay there. It’s not known whether she’ll try another beach or whether her eggs will be lost.

But now these secretive creatures might have a better chance of survival, at least in the Andaman’s tropical waters. Italian marine biologist Monica Aureggi has worked on Ko Phra Thorng protecting the turtle nests and educating the locals about the ecological importance of the turtles for the past four nesting seasons, which run from December to May.

Monica, who holds a masters degree in biological conservation, was sent to the island, located about halfway between Phuket and Ranong, by Chelon, an Italian non-government organisation dedicated to the worldwide conservation of marine turtles. A partner in the island’s only resort, Golden Buddha Beach, contacted Chelon to inform them about the turtle nests and to see what they could do to protect them. Chelon organised to work in collaboration with the Phuket Marine Biological Centre, and sent Monica to Ko Phra Thorng where she set up a research and protection station at the resort.

At the start, Monica worked alone and without Thai, yet she still managed to communicate with some of the local people. "We became friends very slowly. For the first two years, I don’t think the people here trusted me. During the third season, a researcher from the Marine Biological Centre came to visit, and I think he realised then that I was a serious researcher. Now we have a much more active collaboration programme."

The Oliver Ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) is the most common species that comes to Ko Phra Thorng, with nests being found every year by Monica and her ever-changing team of volunteer assistants on their daily patrols along the beaches. The huge Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) also comes to nest, but less predictably, while the Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) nests rarely. "We had some in 1996 and some late this season, too," Monica says. "The harksbill, the species with the most beautiful carapace, has been reported in the area, but we have never found any nests."

Monica collects painstakingly precise data about the baby turtles, or hatchlings, which are kept in captivity until they are old enough to safely be released into the ocean. When I visit Monica, she is looking after nearly 30 turtles aged from a few weeks to one year old. Two one-year olds have been kept due to illness, while most of the others will be released in a few weeks time. Twelve will be kept as part of a "head start" program, a conservation technique popular in Thailand and other parts of the world, where animals are kept until they are older and sturdier before being released back to their natural habitat.

But there are problems with keeping the turtles in captivity: they become vulnerable to skin lesions and can behave aggressively towards each other. Indeed, one of the one-year-old turtles being kept currently has completely lost a flipper due to another turtle’s aggression. "Ideally they should be kept in separate tanks," Monica explains. "But we simply don’t have the facilities here to do that."

Monica emphasises that she is not a veterinarian. "I don’t really like to keep them for a long time. Plenty of things can go wrong. I check regularly for viruses and bacteria, I change their water daily. I carefully monitor their food intake. If you overfeed them, algae can grow on their carapace, attracting bacteria." Two turtles have died under her care due to lung problems.

Monica and her volunteers have an arduous job. From December they rise daily at 4:30 am to patrol the beaches, looking for the tell-tale trails which will lead to a nest. Ideally, the nests are not moved, but marked so everybody can be aware that the area shouldn’t be disturbed. During the day they work on looking after the turtles which have already hatched. Monica says the work is physically very difficult during the peak of the season from December to February. "I almost physically collapse by February," she says.

Volunteers who visit the island from overseas pay for their own flights, accommodation (provided at Golden Buddha Beach Resort) and food, and make a payment to Chelon to assist in the funding of their projects. The volunteers stay for a minimum of two weeks, and some have stayed for up to two months.

No Thai volunteers have as yet been to Ko Phra Thorng, which is something Monica would like to see changed. "Thai volunteers will still need to pay for their accommodation and expenses, but they don’t need to make any payment to Chelon. Ideally, this whole project should be taken over by locals," she says.

This season, only one Green and seven Olive Ridley nests have been found – in the previous two seasons 12 to 15 were found. She says the numbers were also low during her first season, four years ago, and that this could be a natural cycle – but nothing can be deduced with certainty. The long life span of the turtles makes studying their habits a long term commitment.

Keeping the turtles in captivity gives Monica an opportunity to practically teach the local children about them. She instigated an education project with the help of the Marine Biological Centre in three schools, one in each of the island’s villages, soon after arriving. "You can’t just tell people to stop doing things. You have to explain why it is a good idea not to poach the eggs. Once people understand, they are usually helpful."

This year, the programme involved giving three lessons in each school on the turtles, with the fourth lesson falling on Children’s Day in January. A special turtle release day was organised, where the children released the turtles that had been saved into the ocean. "I think everyone enjoyed that part of the program very much," Monica says.

The efforts of everyone involved are finally showing signs of success. "People now keep the nests safe when they find them, and they call me if they see any poaching taking place. There has been no evidence of poaching this year."

But the deaths of turtles caught in fishing nets is continuing. Monica hopes to get funding, perhaps from the United Nations Environment Programme or another environmental organisation, for Turtle Exclusionary Devices to be fitted to the nets of fishemen who fish the area, which would effectively allow the turtles to escape. "I would like to start going to the pier to talk to the fishermen and encourage them to bring any turtles they catch to me. People say I’m crazy but I think they would be reasonable when they understand the animals are so endangered."

Currently Monica is studying the effects of sand temperature on the determination of an embryo’s sex – a study that will need to continue for at least three years before yielding any results. Furthermore, she plans to start tagging and tracking the turtles. Following the end of this season, she will also work on articles to be translated into Thai and published in local scientific journals. "I want more Thai scientists to be aware of what’s happening to turtle populations here."

And Monica will be here for seasons to come. "I will keep doing this job indefinitely. I have such a strong passion for the job!"

You can contact Chelon for further information on how you can help financially to save the turtles by emailing [email protected] If you’re interested in being a volunteer, email [email protected]

Spinning a yarn

Mention the name Jim Thompson to anyone living in Thailand and they’ll probably show you their JT silk tie or scarf, wax lyrical about how beautiful his Thai house museum is and then top that off with their theory about how the American ex-Office of Strategic Services man disappeared in Malaysian jungle in 1967. He’s a well-known man.

Thompson’s famed revival of Thailand’s silk industry alone would make – well, a good mini-series. Throw in the fascinating story behind the construction of his residence and top that off with the questions surrounding his disappearance and you have the bones to a really meaty mini-series. Which is exactly what the crew at production house Image and Montage, under contract to Nation Multimedia, claim to have created.

With its debut episode due to be screened on iTV on April 1, Silk Knot will chart Thompson’s life in full, and promises to reveal fresh information about his disappearance – although the production team isn’t letting out any secrets just yet.

Ten hours of 16 mm film have been shot for the 10 million baht series, which is a fictionalised account of a journalist who decides to investigate Thompson’s vanishing. Details of Thompson’s life in the series, however, are all based on fact. It’s in Thai with English subtitles, and the intent is to distribute it overseas.

Eric Bunnag-Booth, international marketing manager at JT Thai Silk and also the person responsible for the day-to-day running of the JW Thompson Foundation (a non-profit organisation under Royal patronage), explains that this isn’t the first time someone has sought to do a film about JT.

“When [iTV] contacted me about the mini-series, I thought that if anybody wanted to do something on Jim, they would be most fair,” he says. “We have been contacted throughout the years by producers from all over the world wanting to do a blockbuster on the life of JT – but they have all been more concerned about his CIA connections and disappearance than his revival of the silk industry in Thailand.”

Beverly Jangkamonkulchai, media relations manager for JT Thai Silk, says she’s been impressed by the amount of research the production crew has undertaken.

“They found out a lot more than we knew,” she says. “For instance, they found a restaurant he used to go to in the States, and an old issue of Vogue that mentioned him.” The crew also visited the site of his disappearance in the Cameron Highlands, but understandably enough found few people around who remembered anything about him.

The company assisted in providing props for the filming – ranging from the house itself, which involved juggling both tourists and the crew traipsing through the house simultaneously, to loads of silkworm cocoons.

“They asked for a lot!,” confesses Beverly. “But we liked their ideas. For the weaving village scenes they needed cocoons and this was a big request for us– the volumes they required were quite high.”

The screening of the mini-series will approximately coincide with the grand opening – an exact date is yet to be set – of the exquisite new building located at what insiders are now calling the Jim Thompson ‘complex’: the site that was originally Thompson’s former residence but now includes the separate extension.

The company bought the land at the end of 1998 to protect the entrance to the house.

“Over 110,000 people visited the Museum last year,” Eric says. “We were afraid that somebody would take advantage of the site and destroy the feeling appreciated by so many. We hope that the new structure is in tune with old.”

The new extension consists of a shop, an upstairs bar with electric fans – fan fans, that is – and a banquet hall which seats up to 100 people and also doubles as an exhibition space.

It appears that plenty of people think the space is sophisticated enough to start booking for their dos – the Finance Minister booked in to host a dinner during UNCTAD. Beverly says that groups can book to have a tour of the house, cocktails in the bar area , Thai entertainment and then dinner in the banquet hall. The Oriental is their caterer of choice – “they know where things are in the kitchen” – but you can BYO restaurant if you prefer.

The opening of the building caps what could be described as a two-year renaissance at the company. It has deliberately sought to become associated with young, hip designers and artists such as Nagara (who created the Nagara for JT line) and Montree Toemsombat (see box story) in order to revamp their image as a shop for well-to-do tourists.

The Nagara for JT line was launched during October 1998, and Nagara is now a permanent member of the team, creating three collections a year.

“JT was perceived as being conservative,” Eric says frankly. “Being part of the new generation at JT I wanted to introduce a new image to the public… Nagara has raised JT’s profile – but, please, visit our home furnishing showroom: you’ll see that our designs have always been unique.”

They’ve also diversified their product range to include items such as handbags and toys. “Even our neckties have changed,” says Beverly. “People used to complain about them being too wide for Western tastes [Ed: never!]. So we now have more looms at our factory to allow us to produce new styles.”

Seems like it won’t be long before you’ll be able to mention Jim Thompson to people living anywhere in the world and they are likely to know you are talking about a Thai silk label – and an intriguing man’s living legacy.