The Doctor's Consultation:
by Dr. Iain Corness
How’s your insurance?
I was talking recently to a
local Lion’s Club and I advised them to seriously consider an annual
check-up. In my humble (medical) opinion, the advantages of finding medical
problems at an early stage far outweigh not knowing.
For example, correcting hypertension at an early stage makes medical sense.
You must agree that correcting hypertension is better than brain surgery and
intensive care after a stroke caused by high blood pressure, never mind pain
and suffering and living the rest of your life as a tomato or an even less
Likewise, correction of high blood sugar today beats having your leg
surgically removed because of diabetic problems in 20 years time!
However, Peter Smith from AA Insurance Brokers brought out an interesting
situation, which could be vitally important for someone finding they have a
chronic problem. If you have your check-up and find that you have high blood
pressure, and then go and take out insurance, it is too late. You “know”
about your blood pressure problem at the time of applying for the insurance,
so it becomes a ‘pre-existing condition’ and your insurer is within its
rights to refuse to pay for the further treatment of your blood pressure, or
for any other conditions caused by high blood pressure. Including the
The simple answer is to make sure your insurance policies are in place
before having the annual check-up. In fact, I strongly advise everyone to
take out medical insurance. You do not know what is round the next corner.
It could be a motorcycle coming the wrong way up a one way street. Even I
have insurance, and I work in the hospital, so I don’t really need it - but
I can also be run over in Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Nakhon Nowhere!
So back to check-ups. Many people work on the principle that they would
rather not know about any underlying or sinister medical conditions they may
have. After all, we are all going to die one day, aren’t we? I have always
said that despite all the advances in medical science, the death rate will
always be the same - one per person!
However, check-ups are inherently involved in that important feature called
the Quality of Life. Longevity alone, with no quality, just isn’t worth it
in my book.
The guiding principle behind check-ups is to find deviations from normal
health patterns at an early stage. Early enough that the trend can be
reversed before damage has occurred. Examples of this include blood pressure
(BP) increase which is generally symptomless, and blood sugar. It requires
sky-high sugar levels before the person begins to feel that something might
be wrong. And by then the sugar levels have affected vision, the vascular
system and many other systems, all of which can decrease your quality of
life in the future.
Respiratory conditions also rate high on the list of medical events that can
decrease your quality of life. Yet the majority of these can be found early,
and treated successfully.
Cardiac conditions and abnormalities, be that in anatomy or function, can
also very adversely affect your quality of life, but are very easily found
during a routine check-up. Various blood tests and an EKG can show just how
well the cardiac pump is functioning, and also how well it will continue to
function in the future. The inability to walk more than 50 meters certainly
takes the fun out of shopping, yet this can be predicted - if you have some
Another of the silent killers can be discovered in your lipid profile, with
Cholesterol and its fractions HDL and LDL, being intimately connected with
your cardiac status. Again a situation where detecting abnormalities now can
mean that you can get through the deadly 50-60 year age bracket in the
future with clear coronary arteries and a clean bill of health.
Renal (kidney) function and liver function can also be monitored through an
annual check-up, as can prostate size (indicated by the PSA blood test) or
breast tumors (by mammogram).
Take my tip, insure and get your check-up. That makes good sense.
Heart to Heart
Please save me from the choppy swirling seas of desire. Either that or
throw me a life jacket so I can enjoy the ride. You see, I think I
arrived in Thailand 30 years too early. Sure I like the food, the lovely
people and the cute way they slip 10 green chillies into my green papaya
salad just for a laugh. But I look around and feel inadequate. Where’s
my barely legal wife? Where’s my previous marriage experience? Where are
my offshore assets, my pension, my triple bypass? Am I a bit immature
for all this?
I must confess... After a couple of badly needed light refreshments, I
accidentally found myself a really good girlfriend. She is steadily
dissolving every reason I have to do a runner (although I still have a
few up my sleeve). I’m not completely afraid of commitment, it could be
a wonderful thing. But if I give up on the Dream, how will I ever write
the chapter of my life titled “The fork of tragedy comes with a spoon of
hope”? I could spend my retirement writing books and lecturing farang
newbies on the subtle differences between love and sex.
I can still ditch her, go home, work hard, get a big mortgage, a big
car, and a bigger bald spot. And in 30 years time, if all goes well, the
Dream will be mine. It will won’t it?
Dear Naïve Nick,
You’ve got it all wrong, Nick, my Petal. The fork of tragedy comes with
the knife to cut out the heart, and the ladies round here are excellent
cardiac surgeons. You are caught in a tragedy of your own making, and
you know it. Caught in the “choppy swirling seas of desire,” you
described it. And that is precisely where it (and you) become flotsam
and jetsam. There is a large difference between ‘love’ and ‘desire’. You
ask for a life jacket, and yet you know that there isn’t one. The Good
Ship Desire does not come with life jackets or even lifeboats. When that
good ship goes down, all hands go down with it. You are ready to lecture
to farang newbies on the subtle differences between love and sex. Or so
you say. There are no “subtle” differences, Nick. You are still in the
‘kid in a candy store’ phase, which hopefully will not take you 30 years
to understand and then live through. This is the dream, but it takes
resolve to be not just a dreamer. Slow down, sniff the sewers and apply
yourself to working here, rather than permanently playing. Mortgages and
bald spots will come in time, wherever you are. You may as well be in an
enjoyable environment with a great climate.
Is it impossible to get a Thai person to be anywhere at the correct time
for appointments? I make arrangements to meet people and by the time
they eventually show up I have a bill for 500 baht for beers while I was
waiting. This is not a random occurrence, but nearly every time. How do
you get them to come on time?
I’m afraid that punctuality is not part of the territory here. The Thais
are not ones to get upset by time constraints which westerners make up
for themselves, and I’m afraid you will have to get used to it. When you
know the Thais better, you can say how much it upsets you. How about
suggesting you pick them up if you are going shopping or to the movies?
You at least get to wait in the air-conditioned comfort of the car,
rather than forcing beers down your throat.
While I am sure many of the questions you get each week are not real,
let me assure you that mine is. I am a forty year old divorced (16 years
ago) British subject and I have a twenty year old daughter who lives in
England with my ex wife. After my experience in the UK I have not had
any real relationships with anyone over here, just the odd fling with a
couple of girls, and certainly nothing serious. Now I find I am becoming
increasingly attracted to a young Thai in our office. We go out some
evenings for dinner after work and I enjoy his company very much. This
next month my daughter is coming over for a holiday (I have not seen her
for four years) and can you see the problem? I want to introduce her to
my Thai friend, but do not know how she will react to her father having
a male friend?
Not real? Petal, yours is real, isn’t it? But for goodness sake, James,
you are 40 years of age, not 14. Your daughter at 20 years old in the UK
is probably dating two Pakistanis, a West Indian, the Huddersfield
United football team and her hairdresser is living in sin with a gigolo
from Golders Green. Wake up! This is the 21st century, not the 18th.
Stop worrying and start to understand that life can begin at 40. Or
alternatively remember that today is the beginning of the end of your
life, and start enjoying it before there isn’t any left!
Camera Class: by
Don’t believe anything you see
a look at this week’s photograph. A simple shot of an abseiler,
but how was it taken? Did the photographer grab camera, ropes,
cleats and all the rest of the paraphernalia to get it, risking
life and limb? Simple answer - no!
The shot was one that was taken to illustrate an article on
outdoors pursuits. I took it, and I can assure you I am not one
for heights or hanging from ropes and clicking away with the
free hand. The shot was taken in the horizontal plane, with an
assistant to hold the rope taught, so turn the newspaper 90
degrees and that was the original shot. Simple, easy and
illustrates the concept perfectly, even if it is a fraud.
Photography is one of the least truthful pastimes you can take
up. For the pro photographer much time is used in working out
how to achieve the end result as simply as possible.
Here are a few examples where the photographer has to stretch
the truth somewhat. Ever tried photographing champagne? There’s
never enough bubbles to keep art directors happy, so the
photographer drops some sugar into the glass. Only a few grains
are enough to give the almost still glass of champers that “just
opened” fizz look to it. You also have to bring the light in
from the back of the glass, as well as from the front. This
takes two flash heads, or at least one head and a reflector.
While still on wines, if you try and shoot a bottle of red wine,
it comes out thick dark maroon or even black. So what does the
pro shooter do? Well he has a couple of courses of action. First
is to dilute the red wine by about 50 percent and secondly place
a silver foil reflector on the back of the bottle. So what
happens to the half bottle of red that was removed to dilute the
wine? The photographer has it with dinner.
And so to food photography. This is one area where there are
more fraudulent practices than any other. Cold food can be made
to look hot by sprinkling chips of dry ice to give “steam”
coming off the dish. Not edible, but it looks OK. Cooking oil
gets brushed on slices of the cold meat so that they look moist
That is just for starters. Food needs good illumination.
Brightness is necessary to stop the food looking grey and dull.
If you want a “warm” look to the food, then you use internal
reflector tungsten bulbs as well, but be warned, if you use the
tungsten light as the sole source the food, it will turn out
very orange. Lighting is just so important. If you do not have
bright sparkly light then potatoes will look grey, and even the
china plates look drab and dirty.
In places such as the USA, there are very firm rules about
photographing food. You are not allowed to use substitute
materials which “look” like food, but are actually not. This
covers the old trick of using shaving cream as the “cream” on
top of cappuccino coffee for example, or polystyrene foam as
“ice cream”. Personally I think this is a load of ballyhoo,
because the photograph is just to represent what the food will
look like - you don’t eat the photograph!
Even in simple portraiture, the concept is to show the sitter in
the best possible way. For example, if the person has “bat ears”
the portrait should be taken with the head turned so that one
ear disappears from view. Not “lying” but presenting mother
nature in a different way. And always remember that when all
else fails, it’s a quick trip to the retouchers.
Another piece of photo-fraud I have done was inserting an
architect’s model of a hotel, as not yet built, into the aerial
shot of a beach resort city. It took two 12 hour days in the
studio to photograph the architect’s model and another day in
the lab to combine the images.
Never believe everything you see! Especially if I shot it!
Money Matters: Paul Gambles
MBMG International Ltd.
In the Kingdom of the Blind...
We always read Robert Skepper’s reports with a mixture of
admiration of his knowledge of the stock markets and what makes them tick
and also frustration at his inability to recognise that stocks are just one
piece in the giant jigsaw puzzle that is investment.
These are the attributes that make a successful stock picker but these are
not the qualifications needed for a successful multi-asset portfolio
manager. It’s difficult to find a stock-picker who can be completely
impartial about his chosen métier - there are not many that can progress to
becoming the most successful long/short equity mangers, harnessing the
positive power of stocks during the good times and exploiting the potential
of short selling to protect/enhance the value of the holdings during bad
times. Even good long only managers have a problem recognising that bear
follows bull as surely as night follows day because that would require them
to do what we suggested last week about CNBC - put up the ‘Gone fishing,
back in 3 years time’ sign.
Robert Skepper’s latest report exemplifies this - with his typical
Panglossian take on all things equity-related, he sees the recent
corrections as being good for the markets - claiming that central bankers
are likely to be heaving a sigh of relief that the bubble has burst before,
in his opinion, it spiralled out of hand, which he admits would have
undermined the real economy.
While recognising that a private equity bubble and property bubble
have co-existed side by side he feels that these have been nipped in the
bud, just in time. His view is that the steady tightening of credit,
orchestrated by the central banks over the last two years, has had its
desired effect and that writing down the USD20 billion or so of sub-prime
toxic loans will simply mean that the banks involved might end up losing an
amount similar to “all the juicy fees that they have earned from them in the
last 12 months... but it is not worse than that, and whilst one weeps for
the evaporated bonuses of these poor bankers, I think it has been stopped
long before the whole system got polluted with bad debt. That is in fact
very good news. The bubble has been burst before contagion has spread too
widely in the economic system. The same can also be said for the property
sector. The bubble is over in the U.S.A. - no more false boosting of
consumer spending via re-mortgaging the rising house values (now falling).
Spain was hit next, and the U.K. stock market has taking the view since last
January that the game was soon to be up in the U.K. also ... So again a
bubble has been burst but well before it had got dangerously out of hand -
as it did in Tokyo in 1989 where the Emperor’s palace and gardens had a
notional property value similar to the State of California - so the
following decade in Japan of falling property prices fundamentally weakened
the entire Japanese banking system with knock-on consequences for the whole
Unfortunately Robert, it is more widespread than that.
It’s not just sub-prime, it’s all forms of mortgage lending, Alt A and prime
as well. Properties are falling in value, loans have been over extended and
the majority have been overvalued. 104% LTVs (based on inflated values which
are now falling by the month) to reasonable married clients on 5 X combined
income aren’t really the bluest chip and there’s too many of those out
there. Self-cert, Alt A, liars loans, call them what you will - these are
really sub-prime by another name that only look good in comparison to the
new sub-best of prime borrowers who wouldn’t have merited any category in
more sensible times. Systemically mortgage risk has been totally mis-priced
but that only becomes evident when it all goes wrong.
It’s not just private equity collateralisation loans - sub-blue chip
corporate debt has been trading at unsustainably low spreads. Systemically
corporate debt has been totally mis-priced but that also only becomes
evident when it all goes wrong.
It’s not just in the US but also in emerging markets where debt has also
been trading at unsustainably low spreads. Systemically emerging debt has
been totally mis-priced and little discernment applied between different
emerging market fundamentals and prospects but that too only becomes evident
when it all goes wrong.
It’s not just debt - when the debt markets take such widespread pain then
the real economy starts to suffer too; liquidity suddenly disappears and
business dries up without the money to go round to support it. Suddenly
there’s no sustainable demand for property and massive oversupply quickly
builds up. Robert Skepper’s beloved equity markets react by going into free
fall. In support of his views Robert cites an article by Anatole Kaletsky
published in the Times recently.
Mr. Kaletsky’s basic premise doesn’t dispute our conclusion that the 02-07
bull market is over. How could he? He accepts that. However, even though the
demise of every major bull market has been followed by a major period of
economic and equity market consolidation, Mr. Kaletsky expects that the
consequence of this correction will be ... er, another bull market.
Why does he think this? Kaletsky claims that bull markets, like royal
dynasties, do not just die of old age nor do they expire for everyday
reasons such as a change in risk appetites or a corporate bankruptcy or two.
He lists the requirements for a real end to the bull markets as being:
1) The global economy must move into recession, decimating corporate
2) Interest rates on government bonds must rise sharply, to well above the
long-term economic growth rates; or
3) Stock markets must get so overvalued that equity prices start to fall of
their own accord, even without any pressure from high interest rates or
While I wouldn’t have set out the criteria like that I would make the
1) The whole point about the sub-prime contagion is that as we explained in
another recent article, the impact will be across most supply sources of
liquidity and therefore into most aspects of the economy. Liquidity is
disappearing rapidly. We may not be in recession yet but the markets have
recognised that the reality is imminent.
2) The yield curve has been inverted for some time now - real money costs
are distorted and this is another recessionary harbinger.
3) The biggest asset bubble in recorded history has taken place over the
last few years - if assets such as stocks and property aren’t overvalued at
current levels then they never have been.
Just as Robert Skepper tried to say that the only effects of the sub-prime
fall-out would be felt by the banks involved in the deals, Anatole Kaletsky
tries to argue that only LBO targets will suffer price falls. He therefore
believes that even though liquidity will dry up, money from somewhere
unexplained will rush to flow into equity markets. Quite why and how isn’t
explained - just take a leap of faith and assume that the money will be
there and that those holding it will be desperate for it to be poured into
equity markets, other than by saying that these now offer “unprecedented
value for long-term investors.” Ah, yes, the final refuge of the equity
scoundrel - a bad time to invest will eventually become a good one so
justify it as a long term investment. Unless there is a new investor class
of high net worth lunatics (HNWLs), we can’t foresee any stampede to equity
markets right now.
Kaletsky’s belief is ultimately founded on a personal creed that the US
economy is about to enter an expansive phase - would this be the same
lunatics that are buying stocks who will also be aggressively consuming or
is there another category of indefatigably rich consumers whose existence is
known only to Kaletsky?
He may be right - but the conditions for this to be so would be that:
1) Global liquidity would have to come from hitherto unknown sources
2) Abundant equity investment would have to come from Kaletsky’s HNWLs
3) Consumer spending would have to be driven by a group of persistently rich
consumers know again only to Kaletsky
If you believe all of that, then steam into the equity markets and worship
at the alter of Mr. Kaletsky. On the other hand ... maybe the equityphiles
are just becoming more and more desperate?
Both Robert Skepper and Anatole Kaletsky are right to suppose that not all
stocks will suffer equally and that there are still pockets of value out
there but they’re getting fewer, further between and riskier. A long/short
or equity hedge approach is rapidly becoming the only sensible way to expose
oneself to the risk of stock markets right now. As long term readers will
know we are a great fan of MitonOptimal. Though I may be biased about the
investment philosophies of Scott Campbell at MO and with my supposed
one-eyed take on things, the sooner people realise that a multi-asset
classed approach is the best way to counter all the investment problems that
we are about to be thrown our way then the better it will be for everyone.
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
Life in Chiang Mai:
by Mark Whitman
There’s been a shortage of concerts in the city recently
after a great flurry of activity at Payap a few weeks ago, so two events
this week are especially welcome. The first and bigger of the two is at the
main auditorium at Central Kad Suan Kaew to help celebrate the King’s 80th
birthday on Wednesday. It starts at 15.30hrs and is given by the Chiang Mai
Philharmonic Band and the Symphony Orchestra-both, I assume, ad hoc
Highlights include a concerto for flute and harp by Mozart, some light music
including a suite derived from songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and naturally in
the third section music by the birthday celebrant himself, the King, whose
music is justifiably popular throughout Thailand and beyond.
Just three days later at the AUA auditorium, a stone’s throw from Thapae
Gate, the Santi Music School will present a concert of classical music
(Brahms and Beethoven included) in conjunction with some guest players. It
starts at 17.30 and tickets are 200 baht with concessions. See you at both.
Another event not to be missed this week is the Fair, handicrafts, musical
and food event in Soi One off Nimmanhaeminda Road, which runs for the rest
of this week.
This annual event is a real treat, a relaxed happening that should appeal to
everyone. Let’s hope the nearby Amari Hotel has its open air pasta
restaurant again offering a chance to have otherwise expensive food at
market prices. And while you eat you can listen to live jazz, Thai or other
bands. There’s no admission charge but take some cash because there are
plenty of tempting stalls, plus dog charities, to support.
I’m not sure where the expression ‘not worth the paper it is written on’
stems from. Shakespeare in some form or other? Certainly it applied to
Shylock’s contract for a pound of flesh. It doesn’t much matter, since the
meaning is clear: a document, of seeming legality, signed by people of
seeming authority but which has no true value. The phrase sprung to mind
immediately I read a headline stating, “Burma to Sign Asean Charter’, below
which was the nonsensical promise for its members to find ‘a common position
to engage the Junta.’
So to ask a simple question. What validity would such a charter have? One of
the key points to the agreement is that it ‘would strengthen democracy,
enhance good government and the rule of law and promote and protect human
rights and fundamental freedoms’. Now I am well aware that few, if any, of
the members of Asean are blameless in such matters, with punitive laws, use
of the death penalty and treating homosexuality as a crime just for
starters. But Burma has a track record that is considered the worst in the
world. Since they are in some heady competition for that dubious title it is
impossible for them to be considered as legitimate signatories to such a
They would - just for a start - need to free Aung San Suu Kyi from house
arrest, free all political prisoners, make reparation to those injured,
harassed or tortured - including hundreds of monks - and move towards
Education and health care would need to be allocated the budget, which the
generals squander, or use to keep their 500,000 soldiers from rebellion and
freedom of expression and of the press to be restored. It is perfectly
obvious that they have no intention of doing any of these reforms, despite
the sops they throw out to the world press and to emissaries from the UN and
Fortunately the Charter has to be ratified by all ten member nations and
already the Philippines, via their Foreign Minister, Alberto Romulo, has
raised objections, stating the obvious. That if Burma signs and is then
allowed to continue as before then the Charter will not be worth the paper
it is printed on.
The generals are, it has to be admitted, cleverer in some ways than they
appear and certainly stronger and more devious that those who (seemingly)
oppose them. They make just enough gestures to appear to be moving towards
conciliation. This week some 30 plus Thai prisoners held in their notorious
jails will be released as a gesture to celebrate the King’s birthday.
Excellent of course but what about their treatment of hundreds of others
stranded on the Thai/Burmese borders, where mines are in place and work is
impossible? Thailand helps and feeds refugees, but it should not have to.
People do not flee a country in which they are born without reason. And if
you need further information as to why they flee may I direct you to the
excellent monthly magazine The Irrawaddy which is published in Chiang Mai
and widely available. You can also access their web site at
www.irrawaddy.org as no less than 31 million people did in September. The
people of Burma deserve our ongoing support and another headline which
stated that ‘Burma is the unexpected victor at the Summit’ needs to be
Life in the laugh lane:
by Scott Jones
Forget It: Part One
Since it’s my birthday this week, in honor of getting older and forgetting
more, I thought I’d write a follow-up to my “Forget It” column from the
past, but I couldn’t really remember if I’d ever actually written one. With
the invaluable aid of my computer’s memory, I discovered I hadn’t written a
column, but indeed included a “Forget It” chapter in my new book Life in the
Laugh Lane: facts, fiction and photos from America to Asia, which you can
purchase online at www. giveandlive.org or at a couple local bookstores.
(All profits go to the needy children at Children’s Garden orphanage near
Doi Saket, so you’ll be grinning while you’re giving.) Here it is with
additional incriminating evidence of my continual brain cell loss, if I
remember to write Part Two next week.
may have been me because I didn’t take the photo.
When I traveled across America on concert tours, my van would be filled with
somewhere between a million and a gazillion things. Slowly but surely and
stupidly, I’d forget stuff along the way until I had nothing left to lose
and would head back home. The obvious reason for this behavior is
psychological: a person leaves things behind because he subconsciously wants
to return there. (Could this be why I never left anything in Cleveland, the
Land of Cleve, the Mistake on the Lake?) I considered using the Hansel and
Gretel approach - leave breadcrumbs along the way so I’d be able to find my
way back home. Maps may work better, but I keep misplacing them.
It was difficult to retrace one’s steps on a national tour; even if I think
I might possibly maybe kinda sorta know where I left something, chances are
I wouldn’t be back in that area for a few years.
“Hello? Is this the Shell station between Boston and Bangor? The one with
the yellow sign, gas pumps and the phone? I think I left my leather jacket
in the men’s room and I’d appreciate it if you’d keep it for me. When will I
pick it up? Well, why don’t you wear it for a few years and then will it to
your son because I won’t be back there until I’m very old. Just tell him an
elderly man named Jones will stop by sometime during the next century.”
Socks, pens, combs and keys are absolutely impossible to keep. I might as
well buy these and sporadically fling them from the van. Or drop a few dozen
over the Grand Canyon from a tourist helicopter so I’d enjoy the experience
and have a vague idea where they went. Pens can be replenished from bank
tellers and store cashiers, but I’d never try to walk off with their socks.
If I haven’t lost a sock in a few days, a washing machine will eat one. It’s
the Universal Laundromat Law: “Every load of laundry costs four quarters and
one sock.” The machines should be honest and up-front about it with five
slots - four circular slots and one shaped like a sock so you could donate
the argyle of your choice. To ameliorate the problem of unmatched extra
socks, I have purchased all black socks so at least I come out even every
These are mundane examples when compared to some of my more sophisticated,
advanced forgetting techniques. While on a college tour, I still needed to
get snail mail, so every couple of weeks my assistant back home would box it
up and send it to a school where I’d soon perform. Sometimes I’d forget to
pick it up - or as I like to remember: they’d forget to give it to me - and
I’d leave town without the mail. This was a splendid way to lose something I
didn’t even have yet. The alien mail would go back to the university
mailroom (another word for “time warp”) and then on to another university
mailroom in a remote sector of the uncharted universe, and, once again,
someone had to remember that I must pick up the box, that someone certainly
not me. My assistant should have just thrown it in the trash in the first
Packages were once sent to a friend’s address in Nashville. He wasn’t home
when I got them, so I stopped 30 miles down the road and called to make sure
I’d picked up all the packages. The news? I had. The bad news? After making
the call, I left my address/appointment book in the phone booth. It takes a
severe commitment to stupidity to forget something because I stopped to call
to see if I forgot something.
Doc English The Language Doctor: Buying the right books
for your child
Do you have, or are you expecting to have
children in Thailand? Are they struggling to learn two (or more) languages at
the same time? Are they bored and de-motivated with learning English? If the
answer to any of these questions is an emphatic ‘Yes!’ , then this column
is especially for you.
Perhaps you don’t have children, but may also have a
partner or friend whose first language is not English. If so, you may also
find this column useful.
Every week we will provide tips and techniques for
teaching and learning English at home. We hope you find them useful.
If you have any suggestions or questions about teaching
English at home, you can also write in to the Pattaya Mail, or email
me at: [email protected] com and I will try to answer all your
questions, either by email or via this column.
This week, we go shopping for English books for your
child! Happy shopping!
Buying The Right Books For
Take your child to the book store and give them a budget
for books. You can also use books as a reward for good behaviour at the end
of the month. You will need to choose an even selection of fiction and
non-fiction books and you will need to find books that separate into these
1. Books that you want your child to read by themselves
2. Books that you want to read to your child
The books that you will read to your child can be
slightly harder (and a little more exciting), allowing your child to develop
their listening skills as well as their reading skills. However, the books
you want your child to read by themselves should contain text and stories
that are not too difficult for them to read and understand.
You should guide your children to books that you feel
meet their language level, but you should also allow them some choice. It is
better if you can find a Reading Scheme. A ‘Reading Scheme’ is a series
of books (usually stories) arranged in levels of increasing difficulty.
Stage 1 usually has few or even no words, stage two has more words of one or
two syllables, stage 3 has more words, words with more syllables, more
grammar patterns, etc. Each Reading Scheme story may contain similar
characters, or stories on a similar theme, which makes it easier for your
child to relate to and means they don’t have to learn about a load of new
characters or situations each time they read.
I find the ‘Oxford Reading Tree’ Reading Scheme very
good as children seem to enjoy the characters and stories (no I’m not on
commission!). It also contains many ‘high frequency’, or common words
that children need to learn in order to progress in English. However, any
other reading scheme that roughly follows an English, American or Australian
curriculum will do. Books printed in Asia are great because they are much
cheaper and you can afford to buy a lot; however, beware of buying books
with nice covers that contain dull stories and text. They may appear
child-friendly but in reality may be way too difficult for your child
(containing long, uncommon words, technical words, etc.).
When buying books specifically to read to your child,
these can be above their reading level. At first, try to find books that
reflect your child’s interests and your situation. For example, books that
contain lots of references to people, places or situations not found in
Thailand will be harder for your child to understand and the stories harder
to relate to.
Try to find books that appeal to you also, as your child
may reflect your taste in books. It’s important to talk about the story
during and after you read, so you want a story that appeals to you both,
otherwise you’ll have nothing to talk about!
Finally, buy books, talking books, magazines and
newspapers (such as the Pattaya Mail!) regularly for yourself also.
You should keep lots of books and magazines on display around the home and
be seen by your child to be reading regularly, so that they maintain a
positive image of books and reading.
Next week - reading for the first time with your child.