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The Doctor's Consultation

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

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Life in Chiang Mai

Let's Go To The Movies

Life in the laugh lane

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Welcome to Chiangmai

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Christmas Disease - Too much plum pudding?

I know Christmas was last week, but actually Christmas Disease has nothing to do with Santa, but everything to do with Stephen. Stephen Christmas, that is. Stephen, a young British lad, was the first patient with a bleeding tendency recognized to have a different form from “classical” haemophilia (or hemophilia if you come from the left hand side of the Atlantic Ocean).
His condition was studied by researchers Biggs, Douglas, and Macfarlane 55 years ago, who discovered that young Stephen was missing a different coagulation factor than the more usual one (which is known as Factor VIII). They named Stephen’s missing factor as Factor IX, and his condition later became known as Christmas Disease.
Just to confuse the issue, we also call Christmas Disease by other names, including Factor IX deficiency, hemophilia II, hemophilia B, hemophiloid state C, hereditary plasma thromboplastin component deficiency, plasma thromboplastin component deficiency, and plasma thromboplastin factor-B deficiency. There’s probably more, but Christmas Disease has a much nicer “ring” to it. (Probably “Jingle Bells” at this time of year!)
From the diagnostic viewpoint, it is very difficult to differentiate between classical hemophilia and Christmas Disease (my editor does come from the left hand side of the Atlantic, so I will use ‘hemophilia’ to humor him). The symptoms are the same, with excessive bleeding seen by recurrent nosebleeds, bruising, spontaneous bleeding, bleeding into joints and associated pain and swelling, gastrointestinal tract and urinary tract hemorrhage producing blood in the urine or stool, prolonged bleeding from cuts, tooth extraction, and surgery and excessive bleeding following circumcision. (Why we have to chop bits off ourselves I do not know - I am quite sure any rational person would not like it, given the choice. Why stop with the prepuce? May as well lop the odd ear off as well. And please don’t write in, I am aware of the religious belief.)
Christmas Disease covers around one in seven cases of the total haemophilia incidence and is around 1/30,000 in the general population. This disease is also male dominated, being called a sex-linked recessive trait passed on by female carriers. This means the bleeding disorder is carried on the X chromosome. Males being of XY make-up will have the disease if the X they inherit has the gene. Females, who have XX chromosomes, are only carriers if either X has the bleeding gene.
Haemophilia has been noted in history for many years, and Jewish texts of the second century A.D. refer to boys who bled to death after circumcision (not an ideal way to go - see my remarks above), and the Arab physician Albucasis (1013-1106) also described males in one family dying after minor injuries.
In more recent history, Queen Victoria of Britain’s son Leopold had hemophilia, and two of her daughters, Alice and Beatrice, were carriers of the gene. Through them, hemophilia was passed on to the royal families in Spain and Russia, including Tsar Nicholas II’s only son Alekei.
Initially the medical profession thought that the bleeding tendency was caused by a structural defect in the blood vessels, but in 1937, a substance was found that could produce clotting in the blood of haemophiliacs. This was called AHG, or ‘anti-hemophilic globulin’.
However, in 1944 researchers found a remarkable case where blood from two different hemophiliacs was mixed, both were able to clot. Nobody could explain this until 1952, when the researchers in England working with Stephen Christmas documented there were two types of hemophilia. They called his version Christmas disease. So it became obvious that there were two factors at work and when the different bloods were mixed, they supplied for each other the missing AHG’s.
The actual names were assigned to these AHG’s by an international committee in 1962. Factor VIII deficiency became known as Hemophilia A, and Factor IX deficiency as Hemophilia B or Christmas Disease.
And a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.
Dr. Iain.


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
Well it’s Chrissy time again and I suppose you’ll be having a rest after guzzling the champagne and wolfing the chocolates. Did you get many this year? I really think you deserve it, listening to all those misguided males, so I hope Santa has a big delivery for you. Glad to see that Mistersingha wretch finally came across, even if it only was a bottle of Singha beer, and I bet it was a smally as well. Sorry I can’t send you anything at this time, but the postman doesn’t work where I am, it’s a bit too cold just south of Siberia. All the best and thank you for my weekly fun.
Dear Gordy,
Aren’t you a lovely man, but a bottle of bubbly on my table would have made you even lovelier! Actually now you mention it, Mistersingha excelled himself with a full 630 ml bottle (but I remember when they were bigger), so he’s getting there slowly. Very slowly! Glad to hear you enjoy the column, and as always I will be trying to assist the lovelorn out there, and there seems to be a never ending stream, with most appearing like rabbits in the headlights as they emerge from Suvarnabhumi International airport, with the girls waiting to pounce as soon as they have said their tearful goodbyes to the last wave of temporary stayers. Come back to Thailand soon Gordy. We need people like you - and bring a decent bottle of French bubbles and some Swiss chocks, that’s a good lad.

Dear Hillary,
One of the receptionists in our company is very attractive and I would like to get to know her better, but I have a problem. I am not the pushy type, so can’t just go up to her and ask her out. She knows my name even though we have 600 on staff, and if I meet her walking into work she is always very chatty and will hold my arm. She doesn’t wear any rings, so I don’t think she is married or anything like that. She did ask the other day what I was getting her for Christmas, and I almost fell over, but mumbled something like wait and see. I know I missed my opportunity again. Do you think she is interested? What is the next move, and please don’t say just to go and ask her out. I am naturally very reserved.
Bashful Bill
Dear Bashful Bill,
I feel for you, my Petal. I really do. You are from the UK I presume and it is nice to see you aren’t one of those dreadful lager louts that populate the bars this time of year. Even though Thai people are very welcoming and friendly, this girl seems to be giving you a message. You don’t need to be brave to buy her a box of chocolates and quietly present them to her for New Year. Or if that is too much, just leave them on her desk. Put a card with them saying “From Bill” and your phone number. If she rings you to thank you, then ask her out for dinner to nice restaurant. Not over the top, but one where you can chat and get to know each other a little. However, if she refuses the chocolates, just send them over to my office, marked “For my Darling Hillary”. I don’t care if I’m second best. I will appreciate them.

Dear Hillary,
I’m not like many of your other writers and pretend I don’t go to bars. I will come clean right off and say that I do spend a fair bit of time at night in the bars. I am single, and it’s a good way to meet people, especially some company for the evening. The old bill in the cup routine I think is very good because it shows that the bar trusts you not to lose a couple before you pay at the end of the night. Recently though I have been getting the feeling that my bill is not right, because it seems to be a lot more than I thought it should be. Is it OK to check the amount yourself before the girl takes the cup to the cashier? I don’t want them to think I don’t trust them, when they are trusting me. What is the usual thing?
Unsure Drinker
Dear Unsure Drinker,
You are having me on, aren’t you, Petal. Nobody is that naive any more, surely? It is your bill, and you pay it with your money. Of course you can check it. Mind you, if you are getting yourself to the stage where you can’t count past ten without taking your shoes off, you have a real problem. Is this the situation? You’ve got no real idea how many drinks you’ve had, or how many “lady drinks” you’ve bought in the course of the evening? That’s what the girls are there for, my perplexed Petal. They are there to make sure you drink up, and give her a drink too, so you can clink glasses together and say, “Chok dee” to show just how you have mastered the Thai language. You have the choice – go on the wagon for a while or take a pocket calculator into your favorite bars. Happy New Year!

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Digital - the final nail in the film’s coffin?

“It’s not the cough that carries you off - it’s the coffin they carry you off in!” Boom! Boom! So just what has that introduction got to do with digital photography versus film? Nothing at all, but I liked the verbal imagery!
Now here comes the real stuff. I have spent the last three months working with an assortment of digital cameras. Not one roll of film through my trusty and venerable Nikon FM2n in all that time. That is almost a world record from my end. And it (almost) spells the end for the Nikon.
There are many reasons for this, but not all of them are associated with “instant” replay. However, that factor, if nothing else, makes me swing towards digital. Being personally in many ways an ‘experimental’ photographer (“I wonder what I’ll get if I slow the shutter speed right down and move the camera during the exposure?”) has meant that I had to shoot several frames, varying every factor I could think of, then wait for D&P (developing and printing for those not old enough to remember print film in its hey-day)!
With the digital ability to see straight away what I got has meant that I do not have to wait for any gut-wrenching time to see if I did get the result I wanted. In commercial terms, this meant not having to set everything up all over again for a re-shoot. Sales of ‘Quikeze’ plummeted.
The digital evolution has continued to produce amazing results (by the way it is ‘evolution’ at this stage, the ‘revolution’ was more than 10 years ago now). Probably one of the more outstanding developments has been the recent addition of anti-shake technology. This has been a boon to the aging population that does not have the vice-like grip any more, but it goes much further than that.
What this has done has opened up new borders in photography. It used to be that the hand-held shutter speed was roughly the inverse of the length of the lens. So if you wanted to use a 250 mm lens, then you had to use a minimum of 1/250th shutter speed. At these faster shutter speeds, you were then stuck with having to use wider apertures to get the correct exposure and thus drastically reducing the depth of field that was possible. Now you can hand-hold at 1/60th with the 250 mm lens, meaning that you can reduce the aperture by two complete f stops which will mean a much greater depth of field. Now when you are photographing charging lions, you have a greater chance of getting them both in focus before you get eaten. But think of the great shots your relatives will get when they download the memory stick.
Memory stick, or memory card, brings me to another advantage that digital has over film. Get a decent sized chunk of memory, and they are not all that expensive, and you can get 1000 images on it before it is full. And you can download after one, three or three hundred photographs. A huge advantage over film where you were stuck with 36 unless you had one of the tricky 72 shot magazines, and if you wanted to see just the first half dozen, you had to hope the laboratory staff knew how to cut film in the dark. A precarious situation at times. I have lost more than one image through staff allowing light on to the unprocessed negative.
Now the digital picture is not all a collection of plus signs. In my three months I have found many problems, but most have been related to the equipment, and not the digital principle. My pet bugbear has been the almost universal over-complication. The manufacturers seem to work on the idea that why make do with a simple rotary knob or button, when they can produce an electronic menu, and then have the user scroll down through several pages, just to turn the flash off, for example? Technology gone mad!
There were other annoyances, but ones I could get around or put up with. The new dawn has come into my camera bag!

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

More on endowments

Following our recent article about the Ivy League super endowments, we’ve been asked whether this is a uniquely US concept. The answer of course is no; universities and other institutions around the world manage huge sums of money in various way for a number of different requirements. This year we’ve already touched on the ultimate super-endowment, the managed wealth of the Roman Catholic Church and several times over the last few years we’ve featured the successes of some Oxbridge endowments.
We’ve pointed out that previously being the guardians of a college endowment that is nearly 700 years old doesn’t necessarily reduce the pressures to achieve short term performance but it does perhaps provide a greater perspective about what the long term really means. For instance, the investment committee at Clare College, Cambridge, meeting only a very few times each year to make strategic decisions about the allocation of assets in the college’s endowment fund which now stands at well over $100 million (still a minnow compared to the combined $50 billion of Harvard and Yale - notwithstanding the use of the US definition of billion, that’s still a huge difference in scale). In fact, Clare is one of the smaller colleges and smaller endowments among the 31 Cambridge colleges with less than 700 undergraduate and graduate students. Clare College was founded in 1326 by Lady Elizabeth de Clare, granddaughter of King Edward I. Also, each college has its own endowment, managed in its own, idiosyncratic fashion, and the university has a separate one.
Some holdings of the Clare College Fund, including parcels of commercial property, have been in the portfolio for several years. When it comes to the stock market, the decision-making process is essentially simple but extremely impartial and enlightened. Do they want to be in the markets: yes or no? If yes, they don’t stock pick themselves but delegate this or take representative holdings (such as ETFs).
This allows them to concentrate on a few large global markets, avoiding regions that seem overpriced. This avoidance of over-priced risk has tended to yield extremely consistent out-performance during bear markets. While the fund does not disclose its performance figures regularly, Donald Hearn, Clare’s bursar, estimated that the portfolio’s value fell by a cumulative 7 percent in the bear market at the start of this millennium. This was during a period in which major stock indexes in the United States and Britain generally lost at least a quarter and up to half of their value - the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, for example, falling by more than 30 percent during that period and the NASDAQ fell by more than 50%.
The fund’s advisers and Donald Hearn are led by a Clare alumnus. He is former investment banker Andrew Smithers, an economist and the principal of Smithers & Company, which is a consulting firm whose clients include fund managers and other professional investors. Andrew acts as consultant to the fund and tends to look at mean reversion as a basis of calculating value - if an asset is undervalued relative to where long term history indicates that it should be then it is likely to be on the radar screen as a buy. Conversely if it looks overvalued and is held within the portfolio then it will be highlighted as a potential sale. Mean revision may not carry any guarantees in the short term but, over the longer term, all assets so far have essentially tended to follow this pattern.
The fund’s advisers have long argued that major stock markets are severely overpriced, especially in the United States. By their calculations, fair value for the Standard & Poor’s 500 is significantly below its present level. As a result, the fund has owned no American stocks for some considerable time, although typically stocks might comprise around 31% of the portfolio, with a realistic minimum and maximum around much higher or lower than that depending on equity market values, and a theoretical ability to allocate 100% or nothing at all to equities.
If all markets were currently at fair value, a neutral allocation for the fund would be as much as 70% to equities, including private equity, with a neutral allocation to property comprising the balance. However, as fair value recedes from these markets, then cash and bonds acquire greater fair value and become increasingly significant with the fund. The fund had held large equity weightings until 1999 when it sold them down significantly because of its view that the markets had seriously over-reached themselves.
Smithers’ core belief is that markets tend to reach a valuation extreme, then move to an extreme in the other direction, the S&P 500 ought to fall not just to its fair value (the best part of 50% below current levels) but will fall through that level. His views are partly based around Tobin’s Q, a measure devised by James Tobin, a Nobel Laureate in economics, that compares a market’s valuation with the estimated cost of rebuilding the component businesses from scratch, which is used alongside other valuation tools. Tobin’s Q is conceptually simple: It holds that the stock market is worth the replacement cost of its constituent companies and that investors should buy only when the price is considerably less.
“We take the tack that we are not good enough at stock picking or market timing to take detailed decisions like that... I wouldn’t claim we’re going to get it right every single year, but we have had a strong run for a long period,” Hearn recently said.
Our view is that over reliance on Tobin’s Q, like over reliance on any single strategy can cause an investment to miss out on opportunities and while we recognise that the fact that the Clare endowment is impartial about asset classes, only buying when it sees there being value and is active and adaptive in its asset allocation, the limitations of its more restrictive methodology means that it is only able to target an annualised return of around cash + 2.5% per year through the economic cycle, rather less than the Ivy League results and significantly less than the MitonOptimal approach which is available to all expatriate investors.

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

Happy New Year

While there’s life, there’s hope

A new year suggests optimism, although the notion of the world heading to ‘hell in a handcart’ remains difficult to shake off. Still, countering cliché with cliché let’s suggest while there’s life there’s hope. And here are a few things I’d hope for in Chiang Mai, Thailand in general and the world at large if 2008 was to be a ‘good’ year.
I’d love to see Chiang Mai, Bangkok and other tourist centers ban the use of elephants as begging tools. And elephants and all other animals being treated decently, as one would expect in a Buddhist country. No more snake and monkey attractions. Zoos where they regretfully exist being properly supervised or closed down (including the Night Safari) rather than remain as prisons.
And above all it would be marvelous to see the problem of stray and neglected dogs properly addressed, with owners made responsible for them and superb charities such as Care for Dogs ( one day being redundant or purely as an adjunct to centralized responsibility.
I’d love to see the Hillside 4 rooftop charity divide its proceeds between two charities next time, with some proportion going to animal charities. It was Anatole France who said, ‘Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s being remains untouched’. And he was right, in that animals are intelligent, feeling and indeed, in some cases, our ancestors. Dogs particularly are invariably forgiving and unlike humans never cruel. King Farouk of Egypt was notoriously cruel to dogs, something which is - like cruelty to children - inexplicable to civilized behavior.
And what about humans I hear you say. Well I’m all for intervention in peoples’ lives especially when they refuse to help themselves. So let’s hope that Thailand emulates Vietnam in strictly enforcing the wearing of helmets. Also in introducing a genuine road safety campaign and stricter tests. Thailand now has too many vehicles on the road to allow the present chaotic and lethal behavior to continue. The cost of mainly young lives cannot be equated with the Thai notion of ‘mai bpen rai’.
And in Chiang Mai specifically a couple of other wishes, besides a lowering of the death rate on the roads, including the continuation of work on the pavements would be welcome. They are a nightmare for the immobile and the visually impaired. And with March only a couple of months away are we going to get a repeat of last year’s pollution or will there be a better enforcement of restrictions on burning?
On broader issues it would be marvelous if there were a general improvement in the attitude towards long-term visitors and those with retirement visas. An easing of the laws on ownership of property would also be welcome and another leaf to be taken from Vietnam’s book. And if the new government wishes to be taken seriously by the outside world it needs to adapt a whole different attitude to the continuing – indeed worsening – crisis in Burma.
That country has been let off too lightly by all of the ASEAN states and despite brave words from Thailand’s former Prime Minister after the September atrocities nothing has happened.
It is impossible for them to be allowed to sign the ASEAN Charter and for that to be considered valid. As so near a neighbor and the country most directly affected by the plight of Burmese refugees Thailand could justifiably take the lead in pressuring the Burmese junta. Certainly – as the Philippines have promised to do – they should refuse to sign the charter until Burma moves towards democracy and adopts a human rights policy consistent with what is asked for.
Of course I could fill the rest of the Mail with other matters of concern and personal wishes. So just a couple of smaller ones – quite selfishly - how wonderful if there was a comfortable and regular outlet for decent movies, especially foreign language ones, so that we were not dependent only on the EU Festival and the Alliance Francaise. In fact to be greedy more access to good movies in general. And a substantial reduction in the tax on wines would make the fact that so few of the above will become reality easier to bear. In the meantime, Happy 2008 and 2551.

Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
Alien vs. Predator: Requiem: US Action/Sci-Fi – I saw this on Christmas Day, and it is just what you would expect it to be, a comic book brought to life, loudly. One reviewer writes: “A vile, joyless, murky, moronic, amateurish, contemptuous, numbing, unintentionally hilarious, and thoroughly diseased motion picture.” Sounds like he’s unacquainted with Thai horror films.
I found it an exciting and confusing blood bath and gore fest, with an excess of bodily fluids – blood from the humans and lord knows what translucent slime from the non-humans. Pretty mindless, and with truly banal dialogue. Rated NC17 in Thailand, R in the US for violence, gore, and language. Early consensus on this one: Generally negative reviews.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets: US Action/Adventure – The movie is absolutely preposterous and utterly implausible, but I thought it a lot of fun. I enjoyed it, but then I like very much Nicholas Cage’s persona and sense of humor. If you liked the first film, I think you will enjoy this one, also. For my money, Helen Mirren was a pure delight! She had a ball taking a vacation from her highbrow projects to let her hair down and do a fun thing like this. Mixed or average reviews.
I Am Legend: US Action/Drama – Will Smith as a brilliant scientist responsible for releasing a virus that apparently cured cancer but then went on to kill billions of people as well, and proved unstoppable and incurable.
I think the first two-thirds is fascinating and a fine movie, with a superb Will Smith, surprising in the depth and the range of his acting; then it degenerates into a typical zombie flick. But, after all, that was the story they had. See it, for Will Smith and for the technological marvels of a dead and overgrown New York City, with lions hunting deer on Fifth Avenue! Generally favorable reviews.
His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass: US/UK Adventure/Fantasy—I just saw it again, and again was quite captivated by it, even more than before. In a parallel universe, a young girl journeys to the far North to save her best friend and other kidnapped children from terrible experiments by a mysterious and evil organization. The film is a grand, rich fantasy, beautifully done, remarkably detailed. Strangely, it has gotten only mixed or average reviews. But see it anyway — it’s very enjoyable, and eye-popping!
Alvin and the Chipmunks: US Animation/Comedy/Family –The reviews pretty much agree that it’s mediocre and immediately forgettable: the characters are underwhelming in their appeal, and lack the charm of their previous incarnations. The film suffers from a surfeit of potty humor and rehashed kids’ movie formula. Mixed or average reviews.
Konbai The Movie: Thai Romance/Comedy – Usual low-class Thai comedy with the usual stars, mostly from television.
Yen Pe Le Semakute (Three Cripples): Thai Low Comedy/Action – With Jaturong Mokjok. Just an ordinary very low-class Thai comedy with well-known television and movie stars.
. . . and looking forward to Thu. Jan. 24
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: US Thriller/Drama – with Johnny Depp in the Stephen Sondheim musical, directed by Tim Burton. Sad news: this film, which I am greatly looking forward to seeing, has apparently been postponed from Jan. 3 to at least Jan. 24. Let us hope they don’t get cold feet and cancel it entirely. I really love this work; I must have seen it 12 times on Broadway.
This harrowing melodrama is set in Victorian England. Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) is living a simple life as a barber with his wife Lucy and his daughter Johanna (Jayne Wisener) when the lust of a judge (Alan Rickman) throws all of their lives into chaos. The judge has Benjamin Barker deported to Australia, and many years later he returns to England, under the pseudonym Sweeney Todd, with revenge in his heart. He wishes to reclaim his family and punish the judge and the society who destroyed it.
With the help of Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), a pie shop owner, Sweeney goes about seeking bloody vengeance.
I was very impressed by the review in the New York Times by its long-time movie critic, A.O. Scott, who called the movie “something close to a masterpiece, a work of extreme - I am tempted to say evil - genius” and ended his review by saying:
“It may seem strange that I am praising a work of such unremitting savagery. I confess that I’m a little startled myself, but it’s been a long time since a movie gave me nightmares. And the unsettling power of “Sweeney Todd” comes above all from its bracing refusal of any sentimental consolation, from Mr. Burton’s willingness to push the most dreadful implications of Mr. Sondheim’s story to their blackest conclusions.” Rated R in the US for graphic bloody violence. The reviews so far: Universal acclaim.

Life in the laugh lane: by Scott Jones

Father and his Flying Pontiac

Working part-time as a hood ornament on dad’s car

I don’t remember my father much in my early years, since he wasn’t there much, which is probably why my parents were divorced when I was seven. There was a huge child custody case in the courts when they separated: neither of them wanted me. I suppose I hoped they’d get back together, but in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t have to endure parents arguing and bitching and living a dead marriage. A likely scenario: My 95-year-old parents are in the courtroom to get divorced and the judge says, “Well, you’re 95-years-old and you can do whatever you want. Just tell me why.” Mother says, “Your honor, we were very happy at the beginning, and even though the love faded away, we stayed together for Scotty... but he’s dead now.”
Dad was a great singer, guitar player and entertainer. Before the war, he’d been a performer, the lead singer in stage bands at the ripe age of fourteen, sometimes using a megaphone when there was no microphone. Together we sang and sang. He’d let me stay up until 10:30 p.m. to watch The Liberace Show on television, and though I wasn’t really into some weird guy with candelabras and fur capes, any reason to stay up that late was okay by me. He took me to see Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Ray Charles - in Fargo, North Dakota in the mid-50s. After a Louis Armstrong concert, Dad said, “Let’s go find Louie.” We found the band bus behind the auditorium, and out of the darkness of its doorway, a strong, dark hand came out and shook a small, trembling white one.
I tortured his car a few times. My high school burned down when I was a freshman, so my class attended the other school on the other side of town, from one to six in the afternoon, which prepared me for life as a musician since I didn’t have to get up until noon. Our car pool consisted of five best mates, including my good friend, Dick Shook - yes, that is his real name - who we always thought should marry a woman named Vagina Trembled. All of our parents were doctors, bankers and business owners with massive cars from the 60s. Dad’s Pontiac had a hood large enough to hold sporting events. It’s truly amazing how many times you can make something that big spin around on flat, icy parking lots or the school skating rink.
Though Fargo is flatter than a linoleum floor but not quite as exciting, a few back roads near the river had slight inclines where we could make all four wheels of our fathers’ cars simultaneously leave the ground. The railroad underpass onto Main Street was also a splendid launching pad if you reached 60 mph by the top. Much to my dismay, the policeman who witnessed the Flying Car Phenomenon had enough wits to write down the license number and trace it to my father, who, after convincing the police he wasn’t the pilot of the Flying Pontiac, drove his associate’s car to the school and stormed into the cafeteria.
My mates had all hung out with good ol’ buddy Dad, who referred to us as “R.L.K.” or “Runny-Nosed Little Kids.” They called him “D.O.M.” or “Dirty Old Man.” Across a crowded room of 300 teenagers, fellow car-pooler Clint yelled at the top of his lungs, “Hey, Mr. Jones, you dirty old man!!!” My father’s trench coat accentuated the image of a dirty old man “flasher” and with 600 eyes burning into his body, the wind went out of his sails. After a stern speech and my promises to never drive faster than a snail while crossing my fingers, arms, legs and eyes, my friends harassed him about his new “flasher” look, commenting they’d heard he’d exposed himself at a flower show and gotten second prize for Dried Arrangements.

Doc English The Language Doctor: Teaching Listening

Hello! Welcome back to the column that tries to switch your children on to learning English. This week we look at ways of developing your child’s listening skills.
Last week we looked at ways of creating a communicative need (or reason) for children to speak in English at home. I suggested creating English ‘zones’ in the house (where English is the only language spoken), or a daily ten minute ‘English Time’ with your kids. In fact, any opportunity that you spend with your child has the potential to become a lesson in English. The trick is to be patient and to reward your child’s every effort, not to over-correct their mistakes and to gently introduce new grammar and vocabulary at an even pace. Pay attention to what your child is trying to say, rather than how they say it. Show interest in the subject they are talking about and ask them questions. This will encourage them to experiment more with the language.
This week we look at ways of improving your child’s listening skills. Just like babies, older children and adults need to listen to a lot of English before they can build enough knowledge of the language to speak it confidently. You can help develop your child’s listening skills by providing plenty of listening practice on a daily basis. Talk aloud while you are doing things together and constantly explain what you are doing, how and why you are doing it. For example, when shopping, explain what you will buy. Describe a product (colour, shape, etc.) and its function (to eat, clean, use in the kitchen, etc.). Ask your child to find the item for your shopping basket, based on your description. Train your children to listen and learn by modeling speech and language patterns (talking) and by and asking your child questions as you carry out your daily routines together.
Back home, before carrying out a listening activity I find it’s best to get the children to sit comfortably and ensure that I have their full attention (not easy sometimes!). Teach your child the importance of:
1. Good ‘Sitting’
2. Good ‘Listening’ and
3. Good ‘Looking’
Children’s understanding will be greater if they are looking directly at you when you speak. They can pick up visual clues to what you are saying from your facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice and intonation so use these to your advantage. Don’t just rely on words to carry the message across. Remove any distractions, such as toys and other family members! Reward your child with a sticker if they manage the three steps each and every time you sit down to learn together.
A good way to develop listening skills in early learners is through a method called ‘Total Physical Response’, or ‘T.P.R.’ for short. Basically, it works just like the game ‘Simon Says’. Make it a regular activity and your child will soon learn all the commands they will need to understand to survive during their first few English lessons at school. Play TPR every day. Ask your child to ‘Stand up’, ‘Sit down’, ‘Get a book’, ‘Open the book’, etc. Dedicate 10 minutes every day to this activity and make a game of it. Provide some kind of reward if they do it well. If your child responds incorrectly, don’t criticise them. Just smile, model how it should be done and then try again the next day. Repeat daily until they get it right.
Many children’s songs provide a great way of developing listening skills, as many involve a physical response. Check out the many songs and stories at: The Holey Cokey is my personal favourite. As well as teaching simple commands, it also helps children learn the names of parts of the body. It’s good fun too.
If the children are older, try using more complicated instructions in longer and longer sequences. For example, you can ask them to; ‘Stand up, run to the window and open the window!’ If you have more than one child learning English, make them compete against each other to see who can complete the activity quicker.
For older children, I find that teaching using Talking Books (usually available on CD from larger book shops) can be a good way of developing listening skills. Talking Stories are also available on the internet, some with text and some without. Provide your child with questions to answer whilst they read, to ensure they follow the story closely. Questions could include ‘Who are the characters’, ‘What happened in the beginning / middle / end of the story?’, etc. Providing your child with questions will ensure that they become active listeners (and not passive) during each listening exercise. You might also try Children’s Radio. or BBC News and Radio online for non-fiction news stories. Children can also make their own talking books using a microphone and then listen to their stories to help them self-correct their own speech.
When you are teaching your child a new word, be aware of the speed that they can follow speech in English and their limitations; try not to speak too quickly and provide a visual clue if you can (such as a picture flashcard). Try not to ‘Ummm’ and ‘Errr’ and don’t use words with too many syllables at first. Don’t use too many words at once or too many idioms. Speak a little slower than you normally would and speak clearly, pronouncing end consonants and not trailing off towards the end of the sentence. As far as you can, use normal speech with natural intonation and normal grammar patterns. Don’t be tempted to skip grammar and speak ‘Thinglish’ (Thai/English mixed together) as this won’t improve your child’s understanding in the long run and it will also reinforce errors. You can allow your child to talk using ‘Thinglish’ at first, but you should suggest gentle improvements to their speech over time to improve their fluency. If your child does not understand you the first time, don’t be tempted to SHOUT! It’s not their hearing that’s the problem – just the way you are presenting the new vocabulary.
When you are reading to your child, you should remember to ask questions frequently to check that they are listening and following the text. Ask them to describe what happened in the story, or point to the illustrations and see if they have listen and that they understand who the main characters are, or what they are doing.
Next week we focus more on developing Speaking Skills. I hope you enjoyed this week’s column. Practice ‘Active Listening’ yourself. Remember that ‘A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he gets to know something’. Listen to your child and they will learn to listen to you.
That’s all for now folks! Remember, you can send your questions or suggestions to me via the Pattaya Mail, or you can email me at [email protected] I hope to hear from you soon!

Welcome to Chiang Mai:

A Brief History of the Lanna Kingdom

The first true Thai kingdoms came into being in Northern Thailand, as since at least the 11th Century the Tai peoples, a tribal group originally located in South Eastern China, had been slowly migrating to the area, and also into Northern Laos and Vietnam. In the North of what is now Thailand, the Tai began to form their own tribal city states; in the areas populated by the Mon and Khmer peoples they settled amongst the indigenous population. By the mid 13th century, the highly developed cultures of the Mon and the Khmer had broken down, and the Tai had begun to integrate their small city states into a large and powerful area.
In the late 13thcentury, Prince Mengrai , born in 1239 in the Chaeng Saen area rapidly expanded his fiefdom southwards. He eventually fought and captured the declining Hariphunchai kingdom, based in what is now Lamphun, and made that city his headquarters. He founded new cities, and established many Buddhist monasteries throughout his entire kingdom. On 12th April 1296, the, by now, King Mengrai, having chosen the most auspicious location, began construction on his new capital city and power base, Chiang Mai (New City). In the following years he continued to integrate the more isolated city states into his kingdom, the Lanna, which subsequently became one of the most powerful in the South East Asian interior area.
King Mengrai is known not only for founding the new Lanna kingdom, but also for forging a Northern Thai identity based on a new Indianised form of Buddhism and on a humane legal system, itself possibly based on that of the Mon. His vision of his new kingdom began a period of art and culture, the apogee of which occurred during the reign of King Tilok and his two immediate successors, in the mid15th to early16rh centuries. This Golden Age still resonated after the Burmese invasion in the mid 16th century, and finally ceased altogether at the beginning of the 18th century. At first, Lanna was an occupied vassal, still ruled by princes of the Mengrai dynasty, although rulers were chosen by the Burmese authorities. The last member of that dynasty died in 1578, subsequently princes were chosen form the older Lanna ruling families , but the real power was held by the Burmese governor.
From 1600 a.d. onwards for a period of 200 years, sporadic unsuccessful attempts were made to liberate the area from Burmese rule, although for a brief period Chiang Mai was occupied by the Thai state of Ayutthaya, driving the Burmese further to the north. This incessant state of warfare impoverished the area, leading to great hardship. However, by the mid 1700’s, the Burmese state, grown weaker due to constant warfare and desperate to retain control, attacked and completely devastated Ayutthaya in 1767. In reparation, Chiang Mai joined with the central Thai states and finally forced the Burmese out of Thailand.
In order to achieve victory over the Burmese, the Lanna rulers had agreed to become direct vassals of the King of Siam, whilst keeping control over their own regions. By 1775, Chiang Mai had been recaptured, but, decimated by years of warfare, was in a poor state and practically deserted. The city was finally rebuilt, and its ruler and people re-entered the city in 1797. A resettlement programme was initiated throughout the North, bringing back people from outlying areas to which they had fled. In this manner, albeit reluctantly, Chiang Rai and Chaeng Saen were repopulated.
In the early 19th century, British interests in a weakened Burma resulted in a relatively stable political and economical climate in Thailand. Trade increased between the kingdom, its neighbouring countries, and even with the West. In the Lanna area, still semi-independent from Bangkok, teak logging concessions were granted to British companies.In the last years of the 19th century, the great Thai King Chulalongkorn began to modernise and standardise the entire legal and administrative basis of the state, thus beginning the tremendous task of integrating all the independent vassal states, including Lanna, into Thailand itself. In 1932, all of Thailand became a constitutional monarchy. The last Prince of Chiang Mai, Chao Kaew Nararat, died in 1939.
This article is published courtesy of the “Welcome to Chiang Mai” information folder, available as an email attachment from welcometo [email protected]