Columns
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The Doctor's Consultation

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in Chiang Mai

Let's Go To The Movies

Life in the laugh lane

Your Health & Happiness

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Be a wise consumer

As a patient, you are a consumer. A medical services consumer. As in all situations where you are a consumer, it is worthwhile being informed before anything is done. That is the same as for buying a new fridge, to being operated upon for cancer. The message is one of being informed, rather than being overly worried.
This is particularly true when looking at drugs you are being given. What are their names? What are they for? How long do you have to take them? Will they react badly with the medications you take regularly?
However, being fed pharmaceuticals is only part of the medical consumer picture. What about the ordering of tests? Now some will say, “How would I know what tests should be done? I’m not a doctor!” And of course, that is correct - but, never forget, gentle medical consumer, that you are the one that pays for the tests, not the doctor who orders them! Find out what and why. And by the way, the doctor does not get a ‘backhander’ for ordering the tests either.
As a consumer it is your right to be an informed one, so do not be embarrassed to ask the doctor why any particular test is being proposed. I should also point out that you should ask in a friendly and un-challenging way. Your doctor will be happy to tell you that the reason for a proposed Ultrasound examination, for example, could be to look for gall stones, but to challenge the doctor by saying “Is this test really necessary?” would be enough to put your doctor in a defensive mode, rather than an informative one.
The intelligent consumer is then one who has become involved in his or her own diagnosis, and is following the logical steps that the doctor is doing to come to a final diagnosis. Initially there are a number of possible reasons, and this is called the differential diagnosis stage. Finding which condition it could be gives the ‘definitive’ diagnosis.
After the tests to determine the definitive diagnosis, the next step is treatment. If this is done by medicines, make sure you know what and why, but if the next stage involves surgery, then again, as a wise consumer, you have to be informed. You should enquire as to what the operation entails. What part(s) of you do they intend to remove? What would happen if they don’t operate? What is the likelihood of success or a cure? Remember, however, that in Medicine we never give 100 percent guarantees, but we can say that there is a 99 percent chance that everything will be fine - but we need that leeway, even if it is only one percent.
Never forget the simple fact that you have the final say - no surgeon can operate on you against your will. But I say again, make sure you are fully informed. For example, if I were 90 years old and my doctor were to tell me I had some form of cancer that was going to entail horrendous operations which would have me in hospital for months to recover from the operation and then I would probably be unable to get around afterwards, then I would want to know some more details. Lots more details. If the operation was successful, how much longer would I live? Would I be able to do everything I do right now? What will happen if I don’t have the op?
On one hand you may live for another year but spend six months in hospital, while on the other live for six months and only spend one week in hospital with no operations. You make that choice! But make it an ‘informed’ choice.
Finally the ‘consent’ form that you sign is an ‘informed consent’ form. Have all your questions answered before signing. If you are unsure of some detail, ask the doctor to explain it again. It is your life, and your choice. If you need explanations in your own language, the better hospitals employ foreign coordinators to assist you. Ask for one if there is any doubt. Remembered to be an informed consumer.

 

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
After reading all your advice given to all these people with huge problems, I can’t see why any westerner with half a brain would want to settle down with one of these Thai birds. The culture thing is too wide and the hidden stuff that they go on with would have to get you down in the end. I don’t reckon you’ve got to have a degree in sychology (sic) to see that. It certainly isn’t brain sergery (sic), is it? There’s nothing wrong with the western women.
Andy
Dear Andy,
Well aren’t you the one! Certainly happy to knock your western buddies, even if you can’t spell - try “psychology” and “surgery” my Petal. I can see that you’re not a brain surgeon either, are you? (Or if you are, there’s no hope for mankind.) For most of the western males living in Thailand, what do you suggest? The women they are going to meet are Thais, not western women, and most have already fled from their own society (and their own western women) some time ago. Certainly there can be problems crossing the great cultural divide, but they are not insurmountable. No two people can live together without the occasional problem, but I and many, many happy western males would disagree with your idea that it is impossible to settle down with a Thai lady. And these are people with whole brains, not just the half a brain people you seem to knock around with.

Dear Hillary,
My wife is forever coming home with some new herb, or magic potion for me to drink, run on or whatever. She has a friend into all this stuff. She tells me that it will make me stronger, live longer, and in fact cure everything. I know the Thai people believe in all these Thai herbs, but do you think they can really make any difference?
Herbie
Dear Herbie,
Petal, I’m not an expert on herbs, though I can tell you a lot about extracts of coco beans used to make chocolate and a strange liquid which you get by crushing grapes and leaving the mixture to ferment in dark green bottles. What you have missed, in all this quest for herbal truth, is just why is she doing this? To keep you alive and well for many years to come. You should be very happy that you have such a loving wife, Herbie. Just drink the mixture and say thank you. However, just make sure she’s not poisoning you for the insurance money!

Dear Hillary,
I am going to be coming over to Thailand at Xmas for my very first time. I want to see as much as I can of the country in the three weeks of my holiday. Should I rent a car, or take trains? Should I rent a guide? How much will it cost? I know you probably can’t answer all my questions, but maybe you can steer me in the right direction.
Harry the Holidaymaker
Dear Harry the Holidaymaker,
You are quite correct, my Petal. How can I possible answer all your questions, when you give me such little detail. However, I can tell you that while trains are a travel option, the train system does not cover much of Thailand, and if you want to find natural unspoiled places, then forget the train. Busses are a much better way of seeing the countryside and every province is well served with busses. I would recommend you go on the VIP air-conditioned ones. Slightly more expensive, but well worth it. The Tourism Authority of Thailand www.tourismthailand.org can steer you in an even better direction than I can, and you might be able to give them better indications of what you want. By the way, there are guides and “guides”. You will find no trouble finding one of the latter in any beer bar, and yes you will have to pay them for the privilege - that goes for both types of guides!

Dear Hillary
My work colleagues have all decided that I am gay because I don’t live with anyone, while they all are living with a succession of local girls. Every week I hear another tale of woe and how they have been cleaned out, lost the lot, clothes cut up and everything. Every week I thank my lucky stars that this is them not me. Then they just go straight back into another relationship, which ends up just like the previous ones - a disaster. They seem to think that I have something against women, while I don’t, but they keep on saying over and over, “Got a feller yet?” I haven’t got anything against gays either, it’s just that I’m not one. How do I get them to understand at work?
Straight Sam
Dear Straight Sam,
Jai yen yen! Maintain a cool heart! They are only keeping this up because you continue to rise to the bait. When they get no reaction from you, they will eventually stop. It may seem hard, but just a “Suit yourself,” response and nothing else will produce the desired result. By the way, don’t comment so much on their relationships and they will give up commenting on your (lack of relationships) too.


Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Stay away from cats and kids

At some stage in your photographic life, someone will ask you to take some shots of their child, or their cat. My sincere advice is to take all your cameras and lenses and start running. These are two very difficult subjects.

Cat pic by Ernie Kuehnelt
The problems are multiple. While every mother and pet owner wants wonderful photographs of their charges, it is very difficult to get one that you will be happy with, let alone the owner of kid/pooch/cat (delete those not applicable) is happy with.
The biggest problem is the short attention span demonstrated by children and pets. Something they can be interested in will last around two milliseconds if you are lucky. Hang about composing, focussing and fiddling will see the child turn round, the dog will start licking its nethers and the cat will just stalk off, tail in the air. Or all three.
The answer is to be forewarned and therefore fore armed. You have to visualize the shot first and make it happen second. It is not a case of following the child around and going snap, snap, snap and hoping one will turn out OK. It won’t, and you’ll get tired.
What does help is to look at photographs in magazines and books, and when you find a pose that you like, then work out how the photographer got the shot. By the way, this is not cheating or blatant copying, which I am totally opposed to, all you are doing is seeing how you can technically get a pleasing result.
Chances are, when you have found the shots you like, that you will find that to get the shot, the camera is on the same level as the subject. This goes for about 99 out of 100 shots of alert kids/pooches/cats. When they are asleep, then take from above – the 1 in a 100 shot! This is Rule Number 1.
It is for this reason that pro photographers have a couch they put kids on – just to bring them up to normal camera level. Likewise, those demented photographers who make their money by photographing animals do the same. After all, you look a right proper idiot crawling round on your belly taking shots in front of the startled owners!
OK, let’s get down to action with your kids and animals. Begin by setting the scene and you begin with the background. A dull mottled material background works well as it does not have fussy details to take your eyes away from the main subject. You should also position this background at least 1 meter away from where the subject will be placed. You can either paint this background yourself, or you can buy rolls of it from professional camera houses.
Now position something in front of the camera to represent Phido or Philip. Place it where you expect the subject to sit and pre-focus and set your exposure details (or just set the camera on Auto and let it do the work). Now look through the viewfinder and make sure you have all of the background material in the frame, as well as the child/animal sized dummy. A large stuffed toy can be used for this purpose. If you have a tripod, it is a good idea to use it here too.
Now get a favorite toy (for the humans) and some bacon fat for cats and a box of matches for dogs. Speed is now the name of the game. Position the child where the stuffed toy or whatever was seated and give it to the child. Start snapping NOW! If you are lucky, you will have caught that “magic moment” of childish glee. If you’re lucky.
With the cat, have the owner smear the bacon fat on its mouth and it will reward you with the tongue lick shot. With the dog, rattle the matches and it will prick its ears up for that “alert dog” look. That is just before it lunges at you from the table! Stay away from kids and animals. You have been warned.


Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Portfolio Construction - Part 14

Interesting data from Mellon Capital Management shows that the 64% of their managed portfolios that allow the money manager to use derivatives achieved average returns of 17.3 percent a year from 1989 to 2005 whereas the ones that didn’t managed returns of just 13.7%. We’ve long complained about ill-informed regulators whose well-intentioned actions increase risk and reduce returns for the public that they are paid to protect. We’d like them to study Mellon’s figures pretty closely and we’d be interested to know what their conclusions are. That’s not to say that the difference in returns is entirely due to the use of futures or even that these figures are completely representative but, as of the end of last year, Mellon’s tactical asset allocation portfolios comprised $32.9 billion so we can’t just ignore the data either (well the regulators probably will, but we’ll keep banging our head against this particular brick wall of bureaucracy).
William Hoskins, Mellon’s director of fixed-income explains that “Portable-alpha strategies have really made futures much more valuable than cash bonds, to the extent managers are doing more complex strategies that involve portable alpha, you’ll definitely see more use-of futures.”
Just by way of explanation, portable-alpha strategies typically involve using derivatives such as futures contracts to leverage exposure to a benchmark. For example, futures costing $450-$1,350 allow investors to capture price changes on $100,000 of underlying five-year to 30-year treasuries or $200,000 of two-year notes (ten-year U.S. note futures are the most frequently traded contract on the CBOT). Assets that would have been invested in cash bonds to get beta, or the return that derives from a benchmark, can thus be freed up to invest elsewhere in pursuit of alpha (additional return over and above that of the benchmark).
Last year Russell Investment Group, the largest adviser to U.S. pension funds, conducted a survey which found that 87 percent of its clients allow the use of derivatives. Jeff Hussey, head of U.S. fixed income at Russell, points out that while previously managers targeted to beat the fixed income benchmark by 1% per year, that has now, in many cases increased to 2% per year because of the extra opportunities afforded by these methodologies - “Fixed-income managers are catching up to what hedge funds have to offer.”
Partly this is a reflection of the increasingly sophisticated extent of economic markets and investment managers. Partly it also reflects the need to seek out yield and return. Low bond yields are encouraging pension funds and other investors to take more radical approaches to meet their targets for returns. The yield on the 4 1/2 percent Treasury note due in May 2017 was 4.67 percent on May 9. The price of the securities was 98 21/32. As of May 9, the yield on benchmark 10-year notes, which averaged 6.7 percent during the 1990s, hadn’t been higher than 6 percent since August 2000. Add to this the limited opportunities in the corporate bond market where yields also are low by historical standards.
Michael Materasso, a senior portfolio manager at Franklin Templeton Investments believes that treasury futures constitute “a very important portfolio management tool,” and admitted that he had increased his trading of Treasury futures by about 20% last year. Franklin Templeton, which manages $124 billion, uses futures as a hedge, selling them to reduce the interest rate risk in their corporate bond holdings. By selling the treasury futures and holding corporate bonds they aim to make and lose exactly the same amount whether interest rates rise or fall. By buying corporate bonds they have exposure to interest rates, by selling treasury futures they neutralise this and therefore they isolate the additional return achieved from holding corporate bonds (currently around 1% per year).
Components of MBMG’s global portfolios have been interest rate futures and derivative strategies to good effect for some time - Castlestone’s Sable fixed income Plus fund has generated returns of 8.4% per year since 1998 despite the fact that T-Bill rates fell as low as 1% during that time. As T-Bill yields are generally regarded as being risk-free returns or cash equivalents then anyone who’s been hoarding money in the bank during the period should have a look at this smarter alternative to keeping sums just held on deposit.
Offshore portfolio construction is a highly-specialised skill and having researched the matter extensively we believe that there are still only a handful of players dotted around the globe who can consistently add value to individual portfolios. It would be great if there were more, but there aren’t so we’ll continue to use the best available and be thankful that we can do this and not have to try and bumble our own way through the minefield, guided only by those who have the largest advertising budgets!
 

The above data and research was compiled from sources believed to be reliable. However, neither MBMG International Ltd nor its officers can accept any liability for any errors or omissions in the above article nor bear any responsibility for any losses achieved as a result of any actions taken or not taken as a consequence of reading the above article. For more information please contact Paul Gambles on [email protected]


Life in Chiang Mai: by Mark Whitman

Rubies are big business for Burma. At least for the generals who have stolen some 750 million dollars since they appropriated the gem mines and ‘employed’ their workers as slave labor. People are said to be still buying these blood red stones, coated with the blood of those who die to dig them out. They are sorry about it, but not sorry enough to stop buying. Even in the USA which allegedly boycotts them you can still buy these death stones, provided they are cut and polished elsewhere and then imported. Some boycott.
The protests in Chiang Mai and round the world continue and main targets here are the Indian and Chinese consulates. There are also rallies at the Three Kings Monument and a whole series of prayer vigils. These are small gestures that must continue but pale into insignificance when compared to the recent protest sent to General Than Shwe asking for the release of the legitimate leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
This impressive and restrained letter was signed by no less than 59 former heads of state from throughout the world from Lech Walesa of Poland and Lee Hong-Koo of South Korea to Sir John Major of the UK and Chuan Leekpai of Thailand. And 54 more equally distinguished men and women who represent the views of the civilized world.
Meanwhile Burma with a population of around 50 million boasts an army of some 500,000 or one in a hundred. They consume nearly half of the country’s wealth. Meanwhile three per cent of that is spent on health care. In addition there are the police, secret police and the thugs who do their bidding with such crass brutality.
These people must have friends, family, loved ones. The very people they help oppress. What turns a son or daughter into the kind of creature who will maim, torture or kill someone they may know? Can it be something as simple as a wish for security, an income or schooling for their children? Is it fear and its ally ignorance or the desire not to be a victim? Nazism flourished in such a climate.
The generals in Burma are greedy, some are sick and old. They cling desperately to their wealth and power, corrupted by power and seduced by their vulgar wealth and cruelty. They are beyond redemption. But I return to my earlier question. What of the half million ordinary people who do as they are told? How many are actually deserting the forces as have been reported? The rest will be called to answer for their actions and will say they were only obeying orders. Didn’t we hear that in 1945?
This attitude has nowhere been better explained than in Francois Bizot’s classic account of his capture and period in Cambodia during the dark days from 1974 when the Khmer Rouge started their offensive until their final collapse in the late 1990s. Writing of a soldier who crosses enemy lines in a desperate effort to see his sick wife he writes of this former peasant as follows.
“He served for the money, not for the cause. Despite his profound hatred for the North Vietnamese, who now controlled the site of Angkor, taking the inhabitants (and the temples) hostage and lodging in the very places where he himself had spent his childhood, he made no connection between his own motivations and the army’s objectives. He did not see that the military, with whom he could not begin to identify himself, might defend the interests of the peasants. What he was interested in was his own tranquility, the lost monotony of the days repeated over centuries on the enamel patchwork of the fields.”
This wonderful book, “The Gate” can be read as an adjunct to the work by George Orwell, “Burmese Days.” And in any of the second hand bookshops around Thapae Gate you will find them in a variety of editions. Look for Orwell’s collected essays that contain “Shooting an Elephant.” A great work and a definitive statement on the last days of British colonialism which led in turn to the horrors that have dominated Burma for 45 years. Looking back over – say – the last century the people there have hardly enjoyed freedom. Something which is everybody’s right.
And talking of right I end on a quote from a modest little film called “Wichita,” in which a sheriff – talking to his son – gives a piece of advice that has always stuck with me. “It’s not a matter of who’s right that matters, but what’s right”. You may well ask who ultimately decides what is right.


Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
The Kingdom: US Drama/Thriller – Jamie Foxx. When a terrorist bomb detonates inside a Western housing compound in Saudi Arabia, the FBI assembles an elite team for a five-day trip into the country to locate the madman behind the bombing. On landing, the agents discover, unsurprisingly, that Saudi authorities are unwelcoming of American interlopers. A good, exciting film, but I found the point of view confusing; it brought up serious issues, and then pussyfooted around to avoid offending anyone and causing international ill will. Rated R in the US for intense sequences of graphic brutal violence and language. Mixed or average reviews.
The Last Legion: US/UK/France Adventure – Colin Firth, Ben Kingsley. A fantasy action-adventure in the vein of The Sword and the Stone set against the Fall of Rome and its last emperor, 12 year-old Romulus Augustus, the boy who ruled Rome for one day before losing everything. I found much to like in the film, and only wish it were better. Generally negative reviews. Unfortunately a Thai dubbed version only, and only at Vista.
Black Family (Krobkrua Tua): Thai Ultra-low Comedy – Thai family robs bank to save farm. Directed by Bumrur Phonginsee, responsible for the reprehensible In Country & Melody, whose trailer so sickened audiences here and at the Bangkok International Film Festival, where it was given incessant viewings to the disgust of international visitors. You know the one with the floating excrement in the hot tub.
Doraemon: Nobita’s Dinosaur 2006: Japan Animated/Family – An animated feature-film in which a boy and his friends get extremely attached to a baby dinosaur. Extraordinarily emotional at times (I’ve seen parts of it) with some quite nicely designed animation. Kids should love it. Unfortunately in a Thai dubbed version only, and only at Airport Plaza.
Invisible Target: Hong Kong Action – Big time cops-and-robbers in Hong Kong – loud, fast, action-packed, adrenaline-pumping, explosive, and overall entertaining. Reviews say the pace is good, the acting effective; character development is handled deftly, and the story is told with enough gusto to keep us riveted throughout. (Thai dubbed version only, and only at Vista.)
Stardust: UK/US Adventure/Fantasy – Robert De Niro is a flying pirate who dances and tries to outdo Johnny Depp – a performance not to be missed! It’s a delightful fairy tale for everyone, funny and romantic, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It has enough visual razzle-dazzle, good and evil humor, and well-drawn performances to create a lively, fantastical experience. Michelle Pfeiffer in particular gives a wild, wicked portrayal as the witchiest of the three witches. Not at all just for kids. Highly recommended for people who liked Pirates of the Caribbean and such. Generally favorable reviews.
Body #19 (Body Sop 19): Thai Thriller/Horror – Man gets some clues in his nightmares that lead him to morgue drawer #19, and to gradually unraveling the mystery of the dead body inside. A first-time effort by director Paween Purijitpanya that is mostly standard Thai horror with some interesting twists, slow, sometimes beautifully shot, usually with excellent camera work, and which has some nice evocations of mood. A director, I think, to watch.
Underdog: US Action/Adventure – From his beginnings in a 1970s Saturday morning cartoon, Underdog has been transformed into semi-CGI animated life in a talking animal live-action film. Superdog flies around, fights evil, and does good. Unremarkable, mostly forgettable, but I thought it pleasant enough, and mildly amusing. Quite accessible for Thais, who seemed to enjoy it. Generally negative reviews. At Airport Plaza only.
Resident Evil 3: Extinction: US Action/Sci-Fi – Unaccountably popular in Thailand, raking in ungodly amounts of cash. It feels very much like a video game, with rooms to explore and levels to achieve and zombies to shoot. Great moody desert vistas, a creepy ghost town Las Vegas, fascinating underground grid structures, scary laboratories where icky research is being performed – it’s all perfectly lovely to look at! See it if you’re into a lot of senseless action. Rated R in the US for strong horror and non-stop violence throughout, and some nudity. Mixed or average reviews. Thai-dubbed at Vista, English at Airport Plaza.
Scheduled for Thursday, October 18
Unlimited Love: Thai Romance/Drama – A couple of likeable leads in a Thai love story.
The Reef (Shark Bait): US Animation – “Absolute carp.”


Life in the laugh lane: by Scott Jones

The Battle of the Bulges

After recent hip surgery in the Hell Hospital in India, the War of the Nurses reached a pivotal battle around Post-Op Day Four. A special force of one Nurse Commando flanked by two scowling bodyguards barges into the Bad Children’s room and advances menacingly with large syringes the size of cattle prods. The taped medical manhole on my wrist now sits high on a hill of pus created by the fermenting reservoir of all the shots from the last few days. You can’t see veins or bones in my hand because the skin is thin and stretched like a water balloon ready to burst. And it hurts.
Commando Nurse: “Time for shots.”

Bad children battle nurses in Hell Hospital.
Bad Child: “No, thanks. Too much pain. Look.”
Commando Nurse: “Give shots.”
Bad Child, resolute: “Not here, maybe somewhere else, like in your arm.”
Commando Nurse, advancing with bodyguards: “Must give shots.”
Bad Child, hiding blimp hand under the covers: “Come any closer and I’ll break both of your legs with my bedpan!”
I would have tried to strangle her but couldn’t do it with only one hand. My Thai mate Joom jumps between us while making the sign of the cross with my cane and a curtain rod. It’s a standoff, but they finally back off, and later switch the manhole to the other wrist. I do not understand how they can ignore my pleas, look at my bulging hand and imagine they would add four more syringes of liquid. Maybe they just want to see it explode.
Nasty scarlet bumps that itch, break open and ooze overrun my back, like measles or chicken pox or whatever I had as a child. I think it may be curry pox, since Curried Whatever has been the sole menu item. A skin doctor is summoned who says it’s a reaction to all the antibiotics and shots, and suggests pills instead of injections. Yes! Vindicated! The nurse probably missed my artery and just kept tapping and pressing and shoving the medicine around to my back and out my pores.
A scarlet welt or bite or something on my Thai mate Joom’s leg starts itching and swelling and expanding – from 3 centimeters to 13 to 30 in a half an hour. A Nurse Patrol escorts her to the Emergency Room from my hospital room and I expect I’ll never see her again. An hour later she returns feeling better after a tetanus shot and the swelling has already subsided. Unlike in America where we’re taught tetanus comes from stepping on rusty nails, the doctor explains that insects carry it in India, perhaps by mosquitoes or the dreaded Hospital Bed Bug armed with a rusty scalpel.
For several days Joom had taken over the chore of giving my sponge bath in bed after watching miscellaneous nurse hands on my naked body. The next morning, very close to the middle of the night, a persistent knock on the door rouses us way before dawn—at 4:45am Joom staggers to the door, opens it a crack and Nurse Nuts announces she’s here to give me my bath. Coursing with rage and adrenaline, Joom picks up our refrigerator and chases her down the hallway. Later that same morning at 6:15 a.m. another Nurse Clueless wants the washcloth from our kitchen. We’ve traveled thousands of miles and are paying thousands of dollars and this wacko worker ant wants our washcloth at six a.m.! Their jihad tactics have escalated to psychological warfare. Joom turns into Exorcist Girl as her ears steam, her head spins around three times and green projectile vomit flies onto the nurse’s chest.
Thank god I had Joom to ward off the nurses, but near the end of our trip, Joom tried to help a little too much. Somewhere in some city, Joom picked up all of our bundles and trotted down the street. I was momentarily bewildered as I looked around for my cane and then realized she had grabbed it with the bags and was carrying it away. “Honey! Thanks for your help, but I have to carry the cane. Joom? Please come back! I’m trapped! I don’t want to spend my life in India!” Luckily she came back and took the beggar home.


Your Health & Happiness: Risky behaviors of youth need more attention

Risky behaviors of youth exacerbate their vulnerabilities to not only preventable diseases, disabilities and deaths, but also to socio-legal implications of such acts. Risky tendencies of youth, particularly the young girls, put them at increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV, and unwanted pregnancy.

The monthly forum organized by the Health and Development Networks and the Northern Coalition on AIDS provided some thought provoking statistics on risky behavior among Chiang Mai’s youth.

This issue was in focus at the monthly NGO Forum jointly organized by Northern NGO Coalition on AIDS (NNCA) and Health & Development Networks (HDN, www.hdnet. org) in Chiang Mai.
Like Bangkok, Chiang Mai has been developing rapidly. Many youth from neighboring districts and provinces come to Chiang Mai to study or to find opportunities for work. These youth stay away from their parents and native homes, and often are more likely to indulge in risky and violent behaviors.
Youth get organized as gangs indulging in different kinds of risky and violent behaviors, including drugs, sex, in-fighting and quarrels. “The youths compete with each other in making scores. The girls make scores by picking up as many sexual partners as they can. In contrast, the boys make scores by causing as many violent incidents as they can” said Bird, a youth participant.
“I am quite concerned about the rising violence among the girls. The leaders of the youth gangs control their members well. Among the 27 youth-gangs in Chiang Mai, there are 22 male and 5 female gangs, with about 3,820 members. It has been less than one year since the young girls started organizing themselves as gangs, and there are about 300 members at present. We should be more concerned about these young girls since they are far more vulnerable, especially to unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion. We have been working with around 40 female members of such gangs, between ages 14-23 years” said Ms Laddawan Chainilpan, who has been running the project on reducing risky behaviors of youth in Chiang Mai since 1996. Ms Laddawan was the key resource person for the NGO Forum this month.
Ms Laddwan Chainilpan who is of 62 years now, runs this project to educate youth-gang members about reducing risky behaviors, and provide face-to-face counseling in an informal and safe setting. The counseling sessions vary in nature, depending upon the broad range of psycho-social factors that impact the youth. The youths are also encouraged to play sports and engage in other activities for regular physical exercise and well-being.
“I started to fell negatively towards the public when a warrant was issued to arrest me for a crime I didn’t commit. I had to run away to another province. Finally the police found that another gang had committed that crime” said Bird, who is now involved with Ms Laddawan’s project.
Most people view these youth as odd ones, and wish to keep their educational institutions ‘clean’, says Ms Laddawan. “These youth must not be chased away from colleges” she remarked.
“We should not look down upon these youth” said Ms Laddawan asking people to think about why these youth to indulge in risky and violent behaviors. “If the public looks at the youth negatively, the youth too will feel bad towards the public” said she, encouraging everyone to be more empathetic to these youth, who need more understanding and compassion.
“When they were selecting people to serve as the members of Chiang Mai Children Council, I applied as one of the candidates and got selected as the Deputy Chairperson to work with children in educational institutions” said Bird. “I felt so delighted. Initially I felt very reluctant to even apply because of the inherent fear that I would be discriminated against in the selection process. I wanted the people to know that though I used to be a bad person, I need a chance to improve myself. I wanted people to know that I can be relied on.”
“I wish that someone could help. Please don’t let everything depend on me alone. I wish to see a good sustainable structure in place so that these youth continue to get help in reducing and staying away from risky behaviors” said Ms Laddawan, urging more individuals and organizations to come forward and demonstrate commitment to the cause.
Ms Laddawan cautioned on the critical need to work with these youth to prevent them from growing into organized crime syndicates facing very serious legal implications. “All of us need to lend a helping hand. You can help provide counseling or organize an activity outside” she appealed.
Violent and risky behaviors undoubtedly put youth at risk, particularly the young girls, who need much more attention, empathy and assistance. More civil society members and government agencies need to come together with sensitive policies and collaborate to strengthen such initiatives which are reducing risk-taking tendencies in youth, and help them get back to a safe and healthy life.
This monthly NGO forum was organized by Health & Development Networks (HDN) and Northern NGO Coalition on AIDS (NNCA). For more information, please contact: [email protected] (in Thai) or [email protected] (in English). Website: www.hdnet. org; phone: (0)53-449 055 Ext 114