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For the love of latex: A glimpse into Phuket’s role in Thailand’s rubber industry

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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For the love of latex: A glimpse into Phuket’s role in Thailand’s rubber industry | The Thaiger
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PHUKET: Visitors to Phuket are often perplexed by the many things going on around them. Following a recent visit to a working rubber plantation and whirlwind tour of the world’s largest rubber factory, many of the questions I had been accumulating over the years, regarding the omnipresent farms blanketing Southern Thailand, were answered.

A number of useful innovations were spawned following the discovery of rubber’s potential. However, it wasn’t until the process of vulcanization (the addition of chemicals to enhance various desirable properties) was discovered in 1840 by Charles Goodyear – as in Goodyear the tyre manufacturer – that its applications increased exponentially.

Once the booming automotive industry became dependent on rubber for tyres and other parts, production erupted. Endemic to the tropical Americas, the vast quantities of rubber trees growing wild in the northern Amazon were the first to be exploited.

In the late 19th century, rubber seeds were smuggled out of the Amazon to Britain where high-
yielding strains were developed and subsequently brought to Southeast Asia, in particular Malaysia, to be grown. Seeds were smuggled north once again into Thailand, which now stands as the world’s largest producer of natural rubber.

In Phuket, and all over southern Thailand, unbroken lines of rubber trees with little catchment bowls dangling, stretch off in every direction. As a monoculture crop, rubber trees are attractive since they are fairly hardy and once established, produce latex year after year.

Many tree-based crops take years before they begin producing and rubber is no exception with farmers having to hold out for seven years before tapping their trees.

However, as can be witnessed all over Phuket, young rubber trees are planted far enough apart and allow light through their canopies for other crops to grow amongst them – such as the famously sweet and delicious Phuket pineapples.

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Pineapples can flower and produce fruit in about 18 months providing rubber farmers income from their land in the long wait to tap their rubber trees. Farmers claim that pineapples and rubber trees have a symbiotic relationship, with one depleting the soil of certain nutrients, while the other replenishes. Thailand has been one of the top five producers of pineapples for years.

About 95 per cent of the 12.5 million rai of rubber plantations are small-holdings run by about one
million families. It seems like a large number of people until the fact is revealed that every tree is tapped, the latex collected, and is all initially processed by hand.

The tapping process must be carried out at night since sunlight and warm daytime temperatures cause the latex to coagulate before reaching the collection container. Workers embark at midnight and make a shallow diagonal cut halfway around the trunk of the tree just below the last cut.

“The way they cut it, they have to have a technique… if they cut too deep they will injure the tree and the next thing you know it will have some deformities that affect its lifespan,” explains Marketing Assistant at Von Bundit, Michael Ong.

The latex removed from the tree is of low viscosity and quickly drips down the cut and off a small metal spigot into the collection cup. Workers then revisit every tree around daybreak to collect the liquid latex.

One rai contains 60 trees, which can produce 3 kilograms of latex per day on average.

Once the latex is collected, three liters is mixed with two liters of water and a small amount of formic acid to induce coagulation. Blocks of bright white latex with the look and consistency of fresh mozzarella cheese are then run through a series of presses to flatten the blocks and remove moisture.

The floppy sheets are then hung on lines to dry for three days and subsequently moved to lines
indoors to dry slowly for an additional month.

These rubber sheets, which are then purchased by second-dealers – a type of middleman – make
up the higher-grade rubber that processing facilities sell.

Once the sun rises, a small amount of latex continues to drip from the cuts made in the tree. After it coagulates in the collection cups, it is harvested and sold as a lower-grade material they call “cup lumps”. This rubber undergoes less processing and is delegated to making things like shoe soles and rubber bands.

Once the second-dealers have sold the rubber sheets to the processing factories, they are evaluated for quality and workers cut out contaminants. They are then hung on racks in smoking rooms where they remain for three days to remove even more moisture from the rubber.

“Smoking is to get more DRC [dry rubber content] out of the rubber sheets. The rubber sheets that we are buying from the market consist of around 90 per cent DRC, and then after the smoking process this increases to around 97 to 99 per cent,” explains Mr Ong.

Once a rubber tree’s production has dropped off, it is cut down and destined to fuel the smoking process.

The production of natural latex over synthetic versions has its benefits. The labor intensive process keeps millions of people in work – especially those from less fortunate backgrounds with limited employment options.

The planting of rubber trees also serves to enhance soil fertility and help prevent erosion. In contrast to synthetic petroleum-based rubber, swathes of rubber plantations act as carbon sinks to absorb greenhouse gasses.

As is frequently the case, there is a flipside. Having a monoculture of any variety has consequences for the environment. Pests that feed on this particular crop run rampant and, typically, farmers increase pesticides in response. Although the trees can make soils hospitable for certain species, they deplete other nutrients that have to be supplemented with fertilizers.

Monocrops also devastate the diverse ecosystem that many animals depend on for their habitat, a scenario seen with the endangered status of orangutans in Malaysia, Indonesia and Borneo – a result of intense oil palm production.

Although synthetic rubber and the potential for more lucrative crops for farmers poses a threat to natural rubber production, our current level of dependence on this resource ensures that the latex will keep on flowing.

— Jeremie Schatz

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Bangkok

The Isan Project honours a hero of Tham Luang cave rescue

The Thaiger

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The Isan Project honours a hero of Tham Luang cave rescue | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Former Thai Sports and Tourism Minister with Vernon Unsworth MBE

The Isan Project has collaborated with the TAT on new marketing campaign featuring music commemorating the Tham Luang cave rescue.

The story of how 13 young men, members of the Mu Pa (Wild Boar) football team, were saved in the caves of Chiang Rai continues to ignites interest in the miraculous internationally-followed rescue in July 2018 from the flooded Tham Luang cave

To honour the safe rescue music video company The Isan Projectrecently launched “Where the Eagles Fly”, video to pay tribute to the British hero of the dramatic saga, Vern Unsworth MBE.

The release of a movie and Netflix mini series shortly will also boost interest globally in Thailand. The series includes the first individual interviews with the boys and they coach.

The launch, in collaboration with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and supported by the Hyatt Regency Bangkok Sukhumvit and Serenity Wines, was attended by several key persons involved in the rescue mission two years ago, including former Tourism & Sports Minister, Weerasak Kowsurat, who played a major role in flying in special cave divers from the UK as requested by Vernon Unsworth, a recognised cave explorer, who knows virtually every inch of the Tham Luang cave.

“It is absolutely true that without Vernon’s persistence in obtaining the help from the UK cave diving experts to initially spearhead the rescue mission, the boys and their coach would not be alive today.”

“Needless to say, assistance from experienced and skilled cave divers from around the world, who later volunteered to join as well as our own Navy Seals, all contributed to the mission’s ultimate success.”

Vernon Unsworth MBE, his partner Woranan Ratrawiphakkun, and his caving buddy Kamon Kunngamkwamdee, all starred in the “Where the Eagles Fly” fantasy music video, which was set in deep jungle and caves in the mountain of Doi Nang Non in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

“I’m truly honoured to have this song written about me. It was very moving to relive parts of the rescue while making the music video, especially when I think back on how Kamon and I covered over 16 km. on the first day after we knew the boys were missing. We virtually lived in the cave for the first 4 days prior to the arrival of my cave diving colleagues from the UK”.

The story of how the football team were saved in the caves is a heart warming one. For many attending the event it was a privilege and an honour to meet 63 year old Vernon Unsworth in person. An event filled with stories of bravery, emotion and moving music.

Vernon, who has mapped the cave system for 8 years, was the first professional cave diver at the site and realising the enormous danger the boys were in, played a significant rôle in the rescue and earned him the UK’s high honour, an MBE medal.

As the rescue became a race against time ahead of impending monsoon rains, Vernon undertook reconnaissance dives upstream through flooded passages against strong currents.

Weerasak Kowsurat, the former Minister of Tourism and Sports, recalled how a message written on a piece of paper by Vernon and handed to his colleague for safe keeping with instructions that it was to be handed over in case Vernon, fearing the worst, didn’t make it out on an exploratory dive. It was very dangerous work and one Thai diver died during the course of the rescue.

Although Vernon was safe, the message was handed to the Minister who was at the cave site. The message was to contact the British Dive Caving Association and gave names of expert divers and telephone numbers. Within 24 hours the Tourism Minister had managed to get the UK divers on a hastily arranged flight to Thailand to assist in the rescue effort.

The team of UK divers, working under appalling conditions and with time running out, in poor visibility located the team marooned on a ledge above the water about 4 kilometres inside the cave complex.

Writer and executive producer of The Isan Project, Will Robinson says… “Although I had penned and produced “Heroes of Thailand” honouring all those involved in the Tham Luang cave rescue, I felt it was time to pay a special tribute directly to the mastermind of the extremely complex mission.”

“Vernon is such a humble man, I wanted to create a song not only to honour him, but also to establish Tham Luang and what is now known as the ‘Wild Boar Cave’, where the boys were found, as a new tourist attraction for those who love to explore caves.”

At the beginning of the video it reads…

“On June 23, 2018, 12 boys from the Wild Boar football team went exploring the Tham Luang cave with their coach in Chiang Rai. They never returned home that night, next day locals contacted cave explorer Vern Unsworth in nearby Mae Fah Luang. Over the course of the next two weeks Vern put his life on the line for the young football team with a daring rescue engineered by Vern and Elite British cave divers. This song was written in honour of Vern Unsworth M.B.E. and inspired by the above events.”

You can watch the video HERE.

Commenting on the Isan Project Tanes Petsuwan, TAT’s Deputy Governor of Marketing Communications said, “TAT appreciates Will’s love of Thailand, and we are delighted to be supporting this launch. We also believe that this song combined with the newly-published children’s book, “All Thirteen” and the soon-to-be released Hollywood movie, “Thirteen Lives”, will help to dramatically boost tourism in and around Chiang Rai even though we will need to rely mainly on domestic tourists until the end of the year while international travel is still restricted.”

“Where the Eagles Fly”, co-written by Will Robinson and Daniel Ryan, and performed by Daniel himself, is tipped to top the charts when the MGM blockbuster movie, “Thirteen Lives” and the Netflix mini-series about the epic story of the Tham Luang cave rescue are released. The song is now available from all digital music stores including iTunes, Spotify, Apple and Amazon.

The Isan Project honours a hero of Tham Luang cave rescue | News by The Thaiger

From left: Mr. Sobchai (Ford) Kraiyoonsen Singer/composer, Mr. Tanes Petsuwan TAT’s Deputy Governor of Marketing Communications, Senator Weerasak Kowsurat former Minister of Tourism and Sports, Mr. Vern Unsworth British cave explorer, Mr. Will Robinson Writer and Executive Producer of The Isan Project, Mr. Nithee Seeprae TAT’s Executive Director of Advertising & PR Department, Ms. Woranan Ratrawiphakkun Vern’s partner, Mr. Sammy Carolus GM of the Hyatt Regency Bangkok Sukhumvit

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World

The World’s 50 Best Foods… Thai massaman curry tops the list

Maya Taylor

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The World’s 50 Best Foods… Thai massaman curry tops the list | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Young Sok Yun on Flickr

The humble Thai massaman curry has topped a list of the World’s 50 Best Foods, compiled by the CNN Travel team. Thailand’s smooth coconut milk and potato-based curry (add meat, tofu or vegetables of your choice) comes in at Number 1, with 2 other popular Thai dishes also making it into the World’s Best food list.

The hot and spicy shrimp/prawn soup, Tom Yum Goong, comes in at Number 8, with papaya salad, aka somtam, in 46th place (mai phet please!) Tell us your favourite Thai dish, and why, in the comments section (below).

CNN Travel says its staff conducted extensive research on global cuisine to find the 50 best dishes ever created. Nice work if you can get it…

Italian pizza, Mexican chocolate, Japanese sushi, Chinese Peking duck, Penang Assam laksa, Malaysia and German Hamburger also top the delicious list.

Here’s what the writers had to say about the 3 Thai dishes that made the top taste grade…

First Place, Massaman curryEmphatically the king of curries, and perhaps the king of all foods. Spicy, coconutty, sweet and savoury. Even the packet sauce you buy from the supermarket can make the most delinquent of cooks look like a Michelin potential. Thankfully, someone invented rice, with which diners can mop up the last drizzles of curry sauce. “The Land of Smiles” isn’t just a marketing catch-line. It’s a result of being born in a land where the world’s most delicious food is sold on nearly every street corner.

Eighth Place, Tom Yum Kung

This best food Thai masterpiece teems with shrimp, mushrooms, tomatoes, lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves. Usually loaded with coconut milk and cream, the hearty soup unifies a host of favourite Thai tastes: sour, salty, spicy and sweet. Best of all is the price: cheap.

The World’s 50 Best Foods... Thai massaman curry tops the list | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Richard Lee on Flickr

46th Place, Som Tam/Papaya salad

To prepare Thailand’s most famous salad, pound garlic and chilies with a mortar and pestle. Toss in tamarind juice, fish sauce, peanuts, dried shrimp, tomatoes, lime juice, sugar cane paste, string beans and a handful of grated green papaya. Grab a side of sticky rice. Variations include those made with crab (som tam pu) and fermented fish sauce (som tam pla ra), but none matches the flavour and simple beauty of the original.

The World’s 50 Best Foods... Thai massaman curry tops the list | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: www.needpix.com

SOURCE: Thai Residents | CNN Travel

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Protests

K-Pop fans show their support for the young Thai protesters, donate 3 million+ baht

The Thaiger

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K-Pop fans show their support for the young Thai protesters, donate 3 million+ baht | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Fan-funded 'happy birthday' signs around Thailand's BTS and MRT station

Art meets politics again, this time with hundreds of thousands of K-Pop fans raising funds in support of the growing student protest movement in Thailand. So far they’ve raised more than 3 million baht (as of 10am this morning) but the amount is rising quickly as Thai and overseas K-Pop fans respond. The most popular band in Thailand at the moment is BTS, the South Korean septet which is currently the most popular band in the world (as of today BTS commands the Number 1 and Number 2 positions on the US Billboard singles chart).

BTS fans have so far been the largest contributors donating funds to the protest cause.

The BTS Thailand page, not to be confused with the BTS Skytrain, is urging K-pop fans to stop the practice of paying for billboards in support of their favourite idols and to celebrate the birthdays of the 7 members. RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook issued a statement on their fanpage asking fans to stop funding the BTS and MRT “inconvenienced protesters and normal citizens from getting home and putting them in danger”.

Bangkok’s two main rail systems were closed down over the weekend as police and protesters played a cat and mouse game. The protesters were withholding the announcement of protest locations to the last minute whilst police second-guessed their moves, ending up in mass inconvenience for the wider public in shutting down the entire network, including the Airport link.

“We’re calling Armys and other fans to stop buying ad projects with the BTS and MRT.” (“Army” is the name of BTS fans.

Fans of K-pop groups as well as other “idol” groups often pool their resources to purchase display ads in the MRT and BTS stations wishing their stars happy birthday or on other significant anniversaries.

It’s thought that many more millions of baht will be raised by the K-Pop fans in the next few days.

The young Thai protesters are tapping into a strong social media network, and have “weaponised” the social media and messaging platforms. The main App they are now using, to communicate their intentions, is “Telegram”, developed by a young Russian couple but now operating out of Germany. The App features encypted messages, impossible to track, and has 400 million monthly active users.

Telegram is a cloud-based instant messaging, video telephony and voice over IP service with end-to-end encryption for secret chat only, whereas Cloud chat uses client-server/server-client encryption and its messages are stored encrypted in the Telegram Cloud – Wikipedia

Meanwhile, other K-Pop acts that have mobilised their fans win support include Girls’ Generation, GOT7, NCT, WannaOne, Nu’est, X1, Day 6, Red Velvet, MonstaC, Woodz, Shinee, Super Junior and R1se. We’re sure the fans of Black Pink are also contributing but didn’t have their figures available at the time of publishing. Fans of popular Thai actors and celebrities are also donating to the pool.

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