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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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The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Just what is ‘healthy’ exercise?

There seems to be a train of thought out there, that everyone should attend a gymnasium to get ‘fit’. I too have attended a gymnasium - twice! Once was for three months, after I promised the gymnasium instructor that I would try it for the proscribed period. I have to admit that pedaling an exercise bicycle to nowhere I found a giant bore. I was glad when the three months were up. I did not feel any “fitter” either. The second time was at the end of last year before the Four Hour race at the Bira Circuit, to tone up my neck, back and arm muscles. That I found a giant bore as well, but I did feel that the muscles were stronger and did last the race without a problem.
Probably the commonest advice a doctor gives out at the end of the year is to lose weight and get some exercise. Was that part of the advice after your annual physical check-up? Very likely.
Unfortunately, there seems to be very little real understanding of what exercise should consist of, how often, what type, how long and what about sex? However, getting a little serious, exercise will be good for you, provided that you pick a form of exercise that is not harmful for you!
Now I know that looks as if I have put my money on both horses in the race, but take that sentence at its face value. Enough research has been done to show that regular exercise is beneficial for everybody, in both the physical and psychological aspects, but, and it is a big ‘but’, all forms of exercise have relative bodily risks, and this has to be taken into account before you buy a pair of expensive jogging shoes and tackle a 10 km trot in the middle of the day. True stories - a medical colleague in Australia took up playing squash when he turned 50 and dropped dead on the court of a heart attack, and another acquaintance of mine turned 40, decided he wasn’t fit, bought a bicycle to ride to work each day and was run over by a bus.
I read an article that advised non-slippery shoes for the novice exerciser and suggested you choose appropriate exercise according to your ability. Never exceed your limit. Remember that it is not the harder the better. If you have acute medical problems (such as fever, or pain), stop exercising. If you have chronic medical conditions (such as hypertension, diabetes, ischemic heart disease and arthritis), seek advice from your doctor or physiotherapist beforehand. All of these I agree with. If you are happy to take your body to your medical advisor when it is sick, take it back to your doctor for advice on how to tone it up as well.
The form of exercise should be one that you enjoy, and it may be gymnasium work, or jogging, or walking, or swimming or something else reasonably vigorous. It should be such that you raise a sweat, but not to the point of dehydration! Do not wait until you are thirsty. Take appropriate breaks. Do not over-exert yourself. Forget about “powering through the pain barrier”. Leave that for drug-fuelled cyclists in France.
As well as the form of exercise, there is the frequency. At least three times per week, 20-30 minutes (or more) is necessary each time, to derive the maximum benefit. But always remember, if there is dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath, chest pain, vomiting, nausea or severe pain during exercise, stop exercising immediately and seek medical advice as soon as possible.
Now I did mention horizontal folk dancing and some of you have been impatiently reading, while nervously fiddling with your expensive packet of Viagras, Kanagras, Cialis and other lead-in-your-pencil medications (I draw the line at tiger willy). OK, what about sex? The advisability of this form of exercise when you have some chronic complaint (such as hypertension, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, etc.), should be part of the advice you get from your doctor beforehand. The danger of over the counter willy stiffeners is that you don’t get advice with them.
A fitter body means better sex. OK?


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
Another year has gone and be honest, you must be tired of reading the same old stuff every week. Just how many idiots are there who come over to the LoS (Land of Smiles) and give away fortunes to these bar girls? Every week I read about another farang who has lost the lot to the village, the pig farm and the ailing buffalo, not to mention the motorcycle seller and the gold shop. These pensioners come over and get fleeced by the actresses in the beer bars. Surely they must understand that a 60 year old, no matter how many Viagra he takes, is not considered a great catch by a young woman, and all she is after is his money? What do you think, Hillary?
Dear (pistol packin’) Pete,
Put your guns away, Pete my Petal. I read the letters each week, and so do you, so you must know by now, just what I make of the situation. These girls are not robbing these men, they just very skillfully inveigle the unsuspecting visitor to part with his life savings! Voluntarily. And if she is happy and he is happy, where’s the harm done? We were all told that the stove is hot when we were young, but we all had to try anyway. Likewise your pensioner – he may have read the books, laughed at the cartoons, or even read my column – but they firmly believe that their situation is different, or she is different from the last one, or the one before that. Some folks never learn.
By the way, your chocolates and champagne appeared to have become detached from your letter. Please resend.

Dear Hillary,
Recent research from Cornell University indicates that female Wolf Spiders sexual preference may be determined by pre-pubescent experience. The fact is that the male of the Wolf Spider specie is faced with many of the difficulties and hazards that apparently confront your readers (and this writer) on a regular basis. Lady Wolf Spiders have a tendency to treat potential suitors as a mate, and/or, a meal - so that the more athletically challenged males frequently find themselves amorously devoured. Apparently the bite or bonk decision devolves on the efficacy with which our wandering male uses his forelegs, which can vary widely in color, during the extravagant courtship ritual. If she likes the color, and the angle of dangle, lunch may be put aside for an afternoon of hanky-panky. If the color of the well turned leg does not meet with her Ladyship’s approval, the admirer will find himself in a state of extreme prejudice, namely eaten! The university’s research has, however, gone on to show that said ladies are predisposed to potential heartthrobs, whose forelegs are of a hue consistent with her routine observations during formative years. Whilst I would be the last to suggest that the ladies of Thailand are akin to female Wolf Spiders, I suspect that many of your readers, and of course your wise and wonderful self, may indeed recognize some very salient similarities! My question to you, sophic and gnostic Hilary, is, what color do you feel I should seek for my legs, so as to optimize the potential for harmonious relations and forestall any prospective risk of succumbing to the less socially desirable attributes, of the noted Arachnid role models? I would add that at present my limbs are sort of pale and pink, but on the basis of your wisdom, I am prepared to ardently adhere to the recommended regimen. The researchers at Cornell tested color impact by painting forelegs with nail polish, but I was thinking more in terms of socks and shorts of an appropriately matching scheme. What do you think?
Dear SpiderMan,
Succumbing to the amorous nibbles of a Wolf spider does not sound like a preferred option to me, my Petal. Whether the ladies of Thailand are akin in their habits to the aforementioned arachnid and are guided by pre-pubescent hues sounds like an interesting theory worthy of a PhD any day, and I have heard of weaker excuses for spending many evenings doing ‘research’ in the chrome pole palaces. However, to make it easier for you, I have asked several of the gentlemen I know to ask the colour question for you, a sort of “hue’s who”, if you’ll pardon the expression. From this exhaustive poll which cost me several beers for my four companions, it appears that since 99.9 percent of all the ladies come from Isaan, the first colour that they remember seeing is Buffalo Black (Jotun paint number BB 1736). But before you go for the black leather pants and police issue patent leather pumps, you have totally misunderstood some zoological facts. Cornell indicated that it is the ‘forelegs’ that are used in the foreplay, Petal. Not the hind legs. Looking now at some basic anatomical differences between yourself and the Wolf spider, you have a basic problem. Lack of legs, Poppet. Spiders have eight and you only have four (not five, no matter how impressed you are with your anatomy). So not only are you several bottles short in the proverbial wine cellar, but you will also appear relatively legless to the marauding ladies. My best advice, SpiderMan, is to get out of the red cobweb suit and run away as fast as your few little legs will carry you.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Holiday photographic encounters

In all the flurry of activity when packing for the overseas trip, it is easy to forget to pack a camera (or two if you are a real enthusiast). However, everyone wants a photographic record of the trip, the event, the new experiences. After all, you saved for 11 months for this, don’t let it just become a casual conversation on your return!
Now before you add “Pack Camera” to the To Do list, there’s a little bit of photographic preparation to be done too. The first, and should be most obvious, is just to make sure the camera works. If you haven’t used the camera for some time, buy new batteries for it and put a roll of film through it before you go away. There’s nothing worse than finding out that the camera had a problem after you get back! If you are a digital person, then you should also take a few shots and look at them critically to make sure it is really working properly. Squinting at the small screen on the rear of the camera body does not truly show you what the camera has recorded.
Now, no matter where you go these days, someone has been there before you. And they’ve written a guide book about it too, so your next move is to actually plan some shots before you even leave Thailand. Research your destination properly and you should know what is likely to be a significant place, monument, castle, lake, waterfall, etc., in the area you will be visiting. When you read the Lonely Planet Guide or whatever, use a highlighter pen to remind you of photo opportunities.
Thinking about and anticipating “how” you should take any landmark will produce much better results when you finally arrive to take the picture. You will not be so over-awed that you just stand there and go “click”. You will be ready to try to show this segment of your trip with some photographic flair. It works, believe me!
It is always tempting to take photographs from the plane. There is one classic shot you should always attempt on every trip. That is the aerial. Shooting out of plane windows is not really all that difficult with today’s cameras, but there are a couple of catches. Firstly, pick a porthole where you can see a little of the engine intake in the shot. Adds drama and shows how you got up there! Shoot from the side of the plane opposite from the sun. This way you won’t see the scratches on the plane window. Use a wide-angle lens if you’ve got one, set the camera on auto and get as close to the window as possible, but not touching it (otherwise you get vibrations coming through to give you fuzzy photos).
Shooting the locals. Your research of the places you are going to will soon tell you if there are interesting “locals” which would make good photographs. Priests, tribes folk, indigenous people, policemen in uniform and the like all make for good shots and gives the “atmosphere” of your holiday. It’s OK to shoot when they are unaware of your presence, but if you want a formal photograph, always ask. Just wave the camera and smile if you can’t speak the local lingo. It usually works. If not, wave money! That always does.
If you are going to well known destination like London, Paris, or New York, then you will always be able to buy fresh film over there, but if you are going to the Mongolian Steppes, you may need to bring your own supplies. I also suggest that the digital folk take along some spare memory cards and download their precious images back here, where you know that everything (should) work correctly and not delete images unexpectedly.
Finally, you should think about how you are going to present the results. It is always a huge temptation to bring out folders of photos as soon as you get back. Wait! Sort them, keep the good, throw away the bad. Show only your best shots and everyone will be amazed at your superb photographs!

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

The impact of initial charges

When writing for this column we spend a great deal of time talking about which investments we recommend and why. However, to give us all a break, this week we will concentrate on the actual structure that holds the investments that you have. There are many choices and alternatives available to suit most needs. However, the one thing that should be made clear now is that funds should not be used for short term gain. Very rarely will the cost of setting up the fund and having, in certain instances, to pay exit charges be paid for within a few months. As aid above, there are many different products that will cater for what people want. This usually depends on such things as the potential buyer’s personal situation, nationality, residence, age, tax situation and investment strategy as to which platform and provider should be used. However, we are finding more and more that the product that is most applicable and flexible for clients is the offshore Personal Portfolio Bond (PPB). This is because it fulfills what most people need.
What is a PPB? It is a flexible unit-linked whole life lump sum investment policy. It offers you the opportunity to take advantage of a wide range of investment opportunities, in most major asset classes and currencies.
The investment opportunities include stocks, shares traded on major stock exchanges and collective investment schemes (including Unit Trusts, UCITS, Investment Trusts, OEICs and SICAVs). You have the convenience of holding all the assets in one portfolio and can change your investment portfolio at any time.
With a PPB you can create a truly personalised portfolio and combine it with the potential benefits of a life policy. It provides a great opportunity to achieve capital growth with the minimum amount of administration for you and your family.
Different fund managers can allow for different investment strategies. With a more traditional structure, if a particular investment is underperforming, changing strategy or fund manager may mean you suffer not only exit penalties and new initial charges on a new investment, but also a possible tax liability as well.
By choosing a PPB, you avoid this problem and can also enjoy the following benefits:
* Access to collective investment funds, and other assets such as Eurobonds, stocks and shares.
* A choice of competitive charging structures to suit your needs.
* 100% of premiums invested.
* Unlimited switching between fund managers and funds, even those of different currencies (a charge of 21 will be levied for a purchase or sale).
* Detailed quarterly valuation reports (plus NAV Global online) outlining your complete portfolio including information on investment movements, cash withdrawals and charges.
* Death benefit of 101% of the surrender value of the policy at no extra cost.
* Facility to invest additional lump sum premiums.
* Easy access to capital - total or part surrender at any time with the option to take regular withdrawals to provide an ‘income’ (an Early Withdrawal Charge may apply depending on the charging structure chosen).
* Choice of policy currency. Please note, if you nominate a Policy Currency other than that in which your premium is paid, you should be aware that a currency conversion will be required which could expose you to exchange rate fluctuations. Discretionary or blanket currency hedging available so that portfolios can be managed in or benchmarked against all tradable currencies, including Thai baht.
* Significant savings on some fund charges compared with investing directly in funds.
* Ability to transfer existing asset holdings into your bond (a tax liability may be incurred).
* Option to select your choice of custodian by using the selected custodian facility.
* Option to select third parties to help administer and manage your portfolio.
* Access to the leading global portfolio manager over 5 years to 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006# to manage the investments in your portfolio.
# Ranked 1st by S&P Global Asset Allocation, Dynamic/Neutral 2003, 2004, 2005 & 2006
So, how does this affect your back pocket and how effective is it from a cost efficiency point of view?
There are a number of ways to use bargaining power to negotiate some of the best terms available from external fund management houses in order to minimise and as far as possible absolutely negate all initial charges when acquiring units in any investment funds. This is not only a consideration that can impact when an investment is made but because if the need to actively manage investments, this also applies when underlying investments are switched or altered.
To illustrate this we should consider 3 common scenarios:
Investor A regularly scours the market for investment opportunities and invests directly into the investment funds that he believes will offer him the greatest opportunities for return. Once this has changed - maybe the funds increase dramatically for a period and the economic outlook for that holding is no longer as positive as it previously was - he will sell this holding and transfer into whichever fund he now believes is best positioned to make a return at that time. Over time he repeats this process several times.
Investor B invests into a unit-linked investment plan that acquired mirror funds - mirror funds are institutional copies of investment funds licensed by fund management companies (such as Fidelity, Templeton, New Star, Vanguard, etc.) to financial institutions (such as Friends Provident, Zurich, Hansard, etc.). The benefit of these is that they generally offer access to investment or re-investment with no initial charge (i.e., there is no one time cost to pay when you invest or when you switch funds). The downside, however, is that to feed the extra mouth that comes to the table, that of the financial institution, ongoing management charges will be higher.
Investor C invests into a Personalised Portfolio Bond - with this structure he has open access to almost any tradable investment and there is generally no switching or investment costs (other than nominal dealing/broking fees of around US$22.50, or the currency equivalent thereof per trade). Furthermore, the management fees that he pays would either be the same as Investor A or in many cases lower because of institutional dealing terms and certainly lower than Investor B.
To illustrate the impact of initial charges for actively managed portfolios, we have used the following examples:
Investor A and Investor B choose identical investment funds and make 1 (one) switch each year on the same date at the same price into the same funds. However, Investor B incurs a 2% initial charge on each fund switch. Investor C invests via a personalised bond and incurs only nominal dealing charges. We have assumed that he pays the regular, non-institutional fund management charges for the sake of simplicity, although in reality his management charges would certainly be lower and his actual returns higher than those stated below.
Funds shown below have been selected purely randomly.
What would be the impact on final returns, ignoring any other product wrapper fees?
In this particular example, there is an almost 28% difference in returns between the best and worst structures, ignoring the impact of any other wrapper charges. This demonstrates the compounding impact of initial charges over time when regular fund switching occurs. Please note that other fund switching examples used will demonstrate either smaller or larger differentials in final valuations. However, this does emphasise the need for selection of the correct investment platform as well as the most appropriate investment funds.
The three key elements that comprise return are:
Costs (at both the fund management and platform level)
Tax implications
Investment growth
All of these aspects are important - there is no point getting 2 out of 3 right but losing out badly on the remaining one, especially if it eats into all the gains you may have made. It takes experience to recognise what the optimum charging schedule is for a particular set of circumstances and accurately assess all 3 of these aspects and to be able to make suitable, impartial recommendations for clients of all nationalities and with every kind of background or requirement.

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

Mai bpen rai – no big deal

Can you imagine living with the frazzled skull of a person who gets upset by youngsters showing the tops of their boxers above low slung jeans? No, neither can I. But as we know such sad creatures exist - indeed there are whole communities of them, with the law on their side. They are the same people who use the word chastise rather frequently and one can only surmise that a glimpse of a boy’s boxers or a short skirt is rather more of a turn on (like the notion of corporal punishment) than they would care to admit . For such sad bigots it is not just the manner of dress that rankles but the expression of youthful rebellion or, perhaps, simply an assertion of independence.
One of the joys of Chiang Mai is that such matters scarcely impinge on locals or on us farangs, thanks to the notion of ‘mai bpen rai’ - it doesn’t matter, no big deal - which informs the Thai consciousness. It’s impossible to imagine a Thai getting fussed about what another person chooses to wear provided that it is clean and not immodest. This came to mind recently as I took the escalator in Central Kad Suan Kaew. Just ahead of me were three teenage Thais, one girl and two boys. One of the boys had his long hair tied in a top knot by a pretty bow. There was more than a hint of mascara, his glittering open toed shoes and painted nails raised no comment or furtive glances. In parts of the USA’s mid west he would have been arrested, to cries of ‘burn the witch’. No wonder we choose to live in this Thai city.
Having used the expression mai bpen rai, I am reminded that I used it last week to criticize the attitude of Thais towards road safety and the disregard for helmets, seat belts, traffic lights and so on. The night before writing this I was in a bar and the young Thai owner told me that his best friend had been killed on his motorbike the night before. He was his companion in a champion sports team, had one more year to go at University and was the only son of shattered parents who had sold land to pay for his now wasted education. Their future was grim and lonely and probably one of poverty. The dead boy had been drunk, not wearing a helmet and unsurprisingly had been in a fatal accident late on a busy Friday night. So what about Chiang Mai taking a lead over the rest of Thailand and starting to enforce some of the laws which already exist? How about a slogan along the lines, wear your jeans as low slung as you like, just don’t die doing it. Seriously if Vietnam can enforce this (as Italy did years ago, despite previous cries of it won’t work) then so can Thailand. Or is this one more measure in which Thailand will lag behind its neighbor, along with growth in tourism and the economy in general?
Tourism has fallen here after an unusually buoyant period brought on by the Royal Flora. Whether this can be redressed by the growing number of luxury hotels, condominiums and restaurants I rather doubt. When Le Meridien opens shortly, I estimate the number of four plus or five star hotels in Chiang Mai will have reached double figures and the asking price of 87 million baht for one condo off Huay Kaew Road must be something of a record. And a New Year’s Eve dinner at over 10,000 baht a head only enhances “them and us” scenario. Is this the way to go, I wonder?
Meanwhile back in the real world. Or rather up on the roof, high above it let’s not forget an important date on Saturday 26 January. The Hillside 4 Rooftop party in aid of a charity for the disabled kicks off at 7.30. The aim is to raise over one million baht to buy a specially converted vehicle (among other things) to help transport some of those whose lives are made better by the charity. The hard working committee are already confident that the cost of the vehicle will be raised, thanks to ongoing fund raising events, raffle and admission ticket sales.
What is needed is to raise the balance of the money for much needed items, including wheel chairs and special equipment. So if you have not yet bought a ticket (there were 400 on sale with just a few left) then either go to reception at Hillside or take a chance on the night.
Scores of artistic, useful and wonderfully luxurious prizes are on offer, via the raffles, silent auctions and there are three to bid for in a real auction. Any of them could be yours. And if not you’ll still have a good time. Tickets are only 800 baht, as last year, and for that you get two free drinks (there’s even a Miss Chocolate bar for the abstemious), food from various top restaurants served non-stop and plenty of entertainment. A chance to meet friends, indulge and help a good cause in one fell swoop. You need a very good excuse not to be there.

Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
Alien vs. Predator: Requiem: US Action/Sci-Fi - I found this to be an exciting, hyperactive, and confusing gore fest, with an excess of bodily fluids - blood from the humans and translucent slime from the non-humans. Pretty mindless, with truly banal dialogue, and filmed for the most part in murky darkness, making it difficult to know who is killing whom.
There are, however, people who feel passionately about this series of films; they wage endless arguments online about how true the films are to the original comic book “vision.” If you’re one of these fans, by all means go. One of the very few movies rated NC17 in Thailand. Rated R in the US for violence, gore, and language. Generally negative reviews.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets: US Action/Adventure - Absolutely preposterous and utterly implausible, but I thought it a lot of fun. 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. It’s a search for puzzling secrets hidden in the White House, Buckingham Palace, the Eiffel Tower, and Mount Rushmore. Mixed or average reviews.
I Am Legend: US Action/Drama - Will Smith as a 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.
To me, the first two-thirds of the film 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. See it, for Will Smith and for the technological marvels of a dead New York City, with lions hunting deer on Fifth Avenue! Generally favorable reviews.
His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass: US/UK Adventure/Fantasy - Still my favorite of the movies in town. The film is a grand, rich fantasy, beautifully done, remarkably detailed. Strangely, quite a failure in the US, receiving only mixed or average reviews. But see it anyway - I think it’s very enjoyable and eye-popping!
Alvin and the Chipmunks: US Animation/Comedy/Family - The reviews pretty much agree: It’s mediocre and immediately forgettable. The characters are underwhelming in their appeal, and lack the charm of their previous television incarnations. And the film suffers from too many toilet jokes. Generally negative 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 - An ordinary very low-class Thai comedy with well-known television and movie stars.
for Thu. Jan. 10

Hitman 47: US Action/Thriller - This is based on a video game, which is an entirely different and basically non-dramatic medium, and its roots show. The result, according to reviews, is simply one violent encounter after another. Reviewers note, however, that the first few minutes are quite worth seeing: “The gauzily ethereal opening credits, as boys are programmed to become assassins by what looks like a combination of the Roman Catholic Church and organized crime, all to the accompaniment of ‘Ave Maria’”. The offshoot in question of this unholy alliance is Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant), an unerring killing machine who obeys instructions announced to him, ‘Mission: Impossible’-style, via a computer of uncertain origin.” Rated R in the US for strong bloody violence, language, and some sexuality/nudity. Generally negative reviews.
Mum Deaw: Thai Comedy - Mum, played by Thai superstar Mum Jokmok, leaves his easy going, relaxed life in the quiet village of Yasothorn to head for Bangkok where he stays at a vacant house owned by one of his relatives. Something strange happens on the day he moves in: A young boy named Deaw approaches him and says, “Hi, I’m Deaw, and I’m your future son.” Apparently, in the universe postulated in this film, if Mum does not make love to Deaw’s future mother very soon, Deaw will be born as a puppy to the dog next door. I’m sure all this will be clearly explained in the movie.
. . . and looking forward to Thu. Jan. 31
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: US Thriller/Drama - with Johnny Depp in the Stephen Sondheim dark musical, directed by Tim Burton. First postponed from Jan. 3 to Jan. 24, it has now been postponed to Jan. 31. Keep your fingers crossed. As the New York Times critic says: “Sweeney Todd” is a fable about a world from which the possibility of justice has vanished, replaced on one hand by vain and arbitrary power, on the other by a righteous fury that quickly spirals into madness. There may be a suggestion of hopefulness near the end, but you don’t see hope on the screen. What you see is as dark as the grave. What you hear - some of the finest stage music of the past 40 years. The reviews: Universal acclaim.

Life in the laugh lane: by Scott Jones

The Birds

In Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film The Birds, everyday birds begin to harass innocent townsfolk, then peck out their eyeballs and finally attempt to eliminate the entire human race. It’s starting to happen near Chiangmai in San Sai, specifically at my bungalow.
The Problem: I spend 90% of my time at home outside in the kitchen or living room porch. The marauding band of twenty-some ragged chickens in the neighborhood would prefer to live there as well. Though profoundly stupid, they’re getting smarter, probably from their recent diet of human and dog food instead of their standard sticks and stones. Besides their 24/7 crowing, at midnight to alert us the sun may be rising in Italy, or at noon to remind us the sun is still up, and their destruction of anything vaguely organic in the general vicinity which is then promptly pooped onto the table, I have calmly entered the kitchen three times to confront a huge squawking, flying apparition in the air above my head, causing me to nearly poop in my pants. They lurk in the ceiling rafters and now, like the famous playground scene with the crows in The Birds, they perch in the trees next to our bungalow at night, prepared to poop on my head, infect me with bird flu and soon, I’m sure, to peck out my eyeballs.
The Quick Fix: Slay them! Though I eat chickens and recently dreamed I ripped the head off the most obnoxious rooster, I’m totally uncomfortable with the murdering part of the process. I’ve only shot living creatures with a camera. (Face it, Scottie: you’re chicken.) I’ve stooped to rock flinging, but I’m worried that, in an uncontrollable frenzy, I will only murder the windshield of my neighbor’s car. During an extended war with squirrels in the USA, my next-door neighbor snapped, scrambled into the attic and blasted seven holes through his roof with a shotgun. He still had squirrels, plus a new roof and a bill for $8,000.

I’ll trade you my camera for a gun.

The Complications: No one I know claims the chickens; the landlord doesn’t like them, but makes no move to remove them; the twenty-some ragged dogs ignore them because they’re probably distant relatives. I do not want to solidify my reputation as Demented Farang by demanding assassination or running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to catch chickens with their heads firmly in place.
The Solution: Clandestinely, I must catch and release these chickens in another location. I’d be willing to pay their airfare to India if I could indeed catch them. My web search for “catch a chicken” produced a popular computer game, a bluegrass picking tune and pathetic techniques used by farmers with relatively tame chickens, pens for them to go back to and personalities that allow these people to—and I didn’t edit this advice whatsoever—“sneak into the barn, cover yourself with straw and make authentic chicken noises until a chicken is tricked into walking up to you.” My chickens are wild, Thai and wily, and I’m not going to do this twenty-some times, even if I had a barn. Though only possessing the birdbrain power of a fence post, these fine-feathered fiends have learned to sprint away frantically upon seeing me, even when I’m not screaming, flailing my arms or throwing firecrackers. I did find the splendid “Hummer EZ Chicken Harvester” that wades through a crush of chickens, sweeps hundreds into a trough and deposits them in cages, but it must cost four times as much as my neighbor’s new roof. Please contact me if know of a local chicken SWAT team to remove the fowl invaders at night, perhaps Ninja warriors dressed in black, but definitely covert, non-violent and Buddhist.
Lessons Learned Online: The “eggs-citing” World Chicken Festival will be held in Kentucky featuring the new Red Neck Games. (Red Necks are American hill tribe members who burn their front yards rather than mow them, have family trees that do not fork and live in states with laws stating: “When a couple gets divorced, they’re still legally brother and sister.”) Besides fowl events, you can enter—check online if you’re a disbeliever—the Watermelon Seed Spitting Contest, Blind-fold Bobbing for Pig’s Feet, the Burping Contest (length and song recognition) and the Cornhole Tournament, the rules of which I will not venture to guess in a civilized newspaper like Chiang Mai Mail.
Back-up Plan: What do you get when you cross a chicken and a pit bull? Just the pit bull.

Doc English The Language Doctor: Using Dialogue to make great English Speakers - part 1

Hello! If you have been following this column, I sincerely hope that some of the ideas I have talked about have been successful and that your child is been able to make steady progress in English. Remember, a little bit of focused practice every day goes a long way!
Last week we looked at ways of ways of improving your child’s listening skills. We talked about the need to provide listening practice on a daily basis and the importance of asking your child questions (and encouraging them to ask questions too). If you buy your child a new toy you might try playing this little game to challenge your child:
Hide the toy (book, or object) in a bag. Reveal the toy slowly, asking questions such as ‘What is it?’, ‘Where does it come from?’ If it’s a moving toy or game you can ask ‘How does it work?’ Play the game a few times and then encourage your child to ask the questions instead, or even reveal the object themselves. This game also works well if the child ‘feels’ the toy whilst it’s still in the bag, without looking at it. This game works well with kinesthetic learners (children who have a preference for learning by touching things, rather than listening (auditory learners) or seeing (visual learners).
This week we look at more ways to develop Speaking Skills. Speaking is often seen as a major obstacle and learning to speak in a foreign language gets harder as children grow older, so start them very young! If you live in a bilingual household where two or more languages are spoken, make sure your child gets plenty of exposure to both languages and is encouraged to speak in two (or more) languages. Many Thais also speak Laos, Cambodian and many other languages and dialects besides, so make sure these are represented too in some way if you can. We don’t want our native languages here in Thailand dying out. Children have an innate ability to acquire language at a very early age, so don’t be too afraid that they’ll become confused.
This week’s lesson is designed primarily for young children learning English for the first time, but some of the ideas would also work with adult beginners.
One way of the best ways to develop speaking skills is to practice English using simple Dialogue. Dialogues work much better if they are meaningful, so choose a subject or scenario that you would both recognise and understand, such as ‘going shopping’ (don’t just pull a dialogue out of a text book). Dialogues should contain a small, useful exchange with a few words that might be encountered in every day life. The exchange should be as natural as possible. Try not to make the dialogue too formal or informal.
It seems to me that everyone in Thailand is familiar with the following Dialogue:
T. Hello.
S. Hello.
T. How are you today?
S. OK, fine thanks.
This dialogue appears to work well as fortunately most people are ‘fine’ all the time and even if they are not, they are usually too polite to say so. However, students can run into trouble if they don’t know how to react to new situations or questions. Children need to be encouraged to speak without being afraid of making ‘errors’ when speaking. To do this they need a relaxed environment and lots of opportunities to practice and be creative with the dialogue. Grammar and pronunciation should come second to ‘getting the message across’. If you want to encourage fluency in English, don’t over correct. Accept and praise any response your child makes using English language. Pay attention to the content of the message, not the way that it is being spoken. You can provide instruction later, perhaps at the start of the next session.
Rather than repeating a few polite phrases, it is more useful for your child (or partner) to be able to elaborate on or alter their response depending on their mood or situation. To become really fluent, children need to be encouraged to think creatively and to make and practice dialogue of their own, so this should be your long term aim.
Practice dialogue every day and switch roles regularly, varying your questions and your answers, so that your child gets to understand how the language patterns can be changed. For example, you can go through all the emotions and be ‘happy’, ‘sad’, ‘surprised’, ‘relaxed’, etc. The next week you can be ‘cool’, ‘hot’, ‘burnt’, ‘wet’, depending on the weather. Encourage your child to vary their response too. You can record or video your sessions so that your children can view their dialogue at a later stage, self correct and learn to appreciate the progress they have made.
You can build a few new words into your Dialogue every day. Don’t include more than a handful of new words each week (10-20) and don’t expect your child to understand them the first time round. Longer syllable words may be harder to remember so try to use shorter words at first.
To be continued next week…
Remember, you can send your questions or suggestions to me via email at [email protected] Happy talking.

Welcome to Chiang Mai:

Learning Thai – shall I or shan’t I?

The short, sharp answer to the above question is “it’s probably essential”!
By this, we don’t mean that you should aim to be totally fluent within a fairly short period of time, although some incomers do seem to manage this -the rest of us mere mortals who are still struggling after several years hate you, of course We do mean, however, that your life will be a great deal more comfortable and stress-free if you make the effort to learn at least enough to get you by, particularly in an emergency. Unless you have a Thai wife, partner, or very, (very!) good friend who is able to rescue you on a regular basis, everyday situations can very quickly become frustrating..
For example, your car is making strange noises, and the local garage don’t seem to understand …… your freezer is full of food at the time of the scheduled power cut which you didn’t know about as you couldn’t understand the local village’s loudspeaker announcement about its expected duration… your computer goes down and you can’t explain the symptoms… is this a bill, a receipt, or a final demand, and they’ve also got the amount wrong? etc. Add to these and similar scenarios the fact that Thais really appreciate your trying to learn their language, and the decision to at least try is almost made for you!
There are many options available in Chiang Mai, but we would recommend that, unless you have a major talent for languages, you concentrate on learning to speak basic Thai before you venture into the challenge of reading and writing. The only serious disadvantage of prioritising in this manner may well be that you miss out on two-for one offers, promotions, etc, in your local supermarket…
Chiang Mai University, the YMCA and the American Alumni Association provide intensive courses for those who have the free time and mental energy; however, most people seem to prefer to learn at a more comfortable pace either privately or in a small group. Prices are reasonable-you will expect to pay around 250 baht per hour or less for one-to-one tuition to as little as 60- 75 baht per hour for group conversation classes. Equipping yourself with a good basic interactive Thai language CD course can also prove very helpful as, however hard you study grammar in class, the time will come when you actually have to TALK to a Thai person! Don’t worry, instant paralysis of the brain and vocal chords is quite normal for at least the first few months!
There are also many private language schools in Chiang Mai who advertise Thai courses of various lengths and levels-standards seem in general to be acceptable, but they do tend to be rather more expensive, and you may find that your teacher changes half way though your course. If you decide to book a course, do ask how many students are already registered, as it does happen that applicants must wait for a considerable time after they have signed up and paid in advance in order for the school to get enough students to justify a new course. You should also remember that, if you cancel your course for any reason, you are extremely unlikely to receive a refund.
Should you decide to go for an intensive or language school group class, be sure to verify the maximum numbers allowed in each class. More than 8 people per class usually means not only that you will not have much opportunity to speak or be heard, but also that there may be too diverse an ability level for the class to be of benefit to the majority. Text and Talk Language Academy, a small school run by an English expat and his Thai wife, both qualified and highly experienced, have a good reputation both for class sizes and start dates. They are also very friendly and understanding with new students, which does help a great deal! Other courses offered there include a Ministry of Education recognised TEFL course, and English language courses for Thais. Their website, www. will give further details. Another highly recommended teacher is Ajarn Yai, who teaches a Thai conversation class group class at Hillside 4 Condotel, and also teaches at the YMCA. Check out her website,
A great deal has been written about students’ problems with the tonal aspect of Thai. Don’t worry too much about this, as, providing your grammar is reasonably correct, you should be able to make yourself understood. A fairly extensive vocabulary plus simple grammar is the key to being able to deal with most social and practical situations, and you really will find that Thais with whom you speak will be both appreciative and helpful. The only problem you may have if you attend several private classes with different teachers is that the transliteration system from Thai to English may be different, as there seems to be no standardisation. Again, don’t worry, just devise your own!

This article is published courtesy of the “Welcome to Chiang Mai” information folder, available as an email attachment from [email protected]


It’s rose planting time!

Stuart Rodger, “The Englishman’s Garden”, Chiang Dao
Right now the Kam Tieng market behind Tesco Lotus on the Superhighway is flooded with gloriously blooming displays of roses in all colours, delivered fresh daily. If you’re a lover of roses, it’s time to go along and spend many happy hours amongst the bewildering multitude of choices, and, of course, to finally pick out your favourite specimens almost at random, for all the blooms call out to you, “choose me, choose me!”
There must, surely, be a rose for everyone, amongst the bewildering display of every colour, shape and size imaginable. At 100 baht each, who can refuse the temptation? How about choosing one or two small bushes for display in your condo, enjoying them for a week or so rather than buying cut flowers, and then passing them on to a friend with a garden? A sure way to popularity with the recipients of your gift!
If you are fortunate enough to have your own garden, now is the time to plant, as roses thrive in the dry and hot seasons and will give you months of beautiful, continuous blooms as a result. You should cut the stems hard back after each flowering as this will help to keep your bush compact, prevent old leaves falling, and discourage black spot and other fungal diseases. Compost the discarded stems immediately and do not allow an accumulation of dead leaves to form at the base of the plant, as they will re-infect the plant itself.
The soil in most Chiang Mai gardens is not ideal for rose cultivation, but this shouldn’t prevent you trying - although there are some points to consider. Roses really are best grown in a garden; they do not take kindly to pots, and are happiest when placed in full sun. If you plant them in a shady spot, they will grow, but will become tall and spindly in an attempt to reach the sun. “Summer pruning” should be carried out all year round. When cutting a bloom for your favourite vase, cut the stem again at the same length of your original cut, and remove. If the plant becomes seriously diseased, cut back to ground level – and watch it quickly grow right back again, disease-free!
I do not, ever, under any circumstances, recommend the use of chemical fertilisers, disease preventatives, etc. These preparations are dangerous enough in the West if not carefully used; here they are deadly. The chemical content here often contains substances which are banned in the West, and is also far more concentrated. The same chemicals are often used indiscriminately in agriculture by people who have no idea of their content and suffer illness as a result. “Organic” has always been the byword in my own garden!

This is the dry season - if watering is a problem, use plants which thrive in dry conditions and leave your general planting to the start of the rainy season!

Chiang Mai FeMail

Nowadays, tradition seems to play a rapidly diminishing part in life in the Western world, due in part to economic advancement and living standards and particularly to the rapid rise in communications technology. Even the more remote areas in the major first world countries now have some access to the internet and therefore to the major media sources. Younger generations are exposed to consumerism, fashion, and the latest trends in a way never before possible, and as a consequence are rejecting anything seen as “old fashioned”.
A comparison between historical and present day social patterns may result in the realisation that the diminishing of traditional influences and values began in the West as late as the first third of the 20th century. Prior to that time, personal relationships in particular were conducted in a manner unchanged for many hundreds of years. The woman’s position in the home, the upbringing of children and their expectations, and the position of the man as absolute unchallengeable head of the family was a concept which permeated through all levels of society. Looking to the opposite side of the world, to Asia, similar concepts applied, although specifics, sometimes determined by the religious beliefs of the country itself, varied region to region.
Recently, the West seems to have deviated, in many respects, from these earlier concepts, the result often being that families distance themselves from one another or actually break down. Divorce is commonplace and causes little criticism, and elderly parents can no longer rely on being supported and maintained within the family structure by their children. Women, however, have gained freedom, respect and a control over their lives which they had never managed to attain in earlier times.
In Asia, however, tradition seems to still play a major part in everyday life for the majority. Here in Thailand, the traditional social order is still very important, and the structure of the family reflects this in many ways. Notionally, the man is still the unchallenged head of the household, and as a result is responsible for all decisions concerning the family. In some households, certain long established traditions, (for example, the man having several consorts in addition to a legal wife, similar to earlier times in the West), still exist. Although the woman may not appreciate this particular tradition, often (and somewhat understandably), she will be unable to influence her husband on this matter!
Under any circumstances, divorce is a difficult option, as it may well be argued that any children of the family would suffer some prejudice as a result, or that older parents may lose their support. Maintaining the extended family support structure is considered essential in Thai society - any action which affects this might well be regarded as unfortunate and would possibly involve a loss of respect to the instigator and also her parents. Similarly, until recent times, divorce in the West was also considered an unsuitable option for the same economic and social reasons.
In Thailand, daughters are expected to respect their parents, to accept their advice concerning personal matters, and to live at home until the time comes for them to marry. Modesty and chaste behaviour is considered correct, as in the past, and gratitude to parents for all that they have given is still regarded as the norm by older people. Traditionally, as in the West, it was not considered important for a girl child to be given an education, even if the opportunity and the finances were available, however, in modern times education is available to the majority of girls. This, of course, allows them to come into contact with modern Western culture, and may make following traditional rules somewhat trying! A combination excluding the excesses of modern Western society might well be the answer for this younger generation.
For economic and personal reasons, many Thai women now work as well as look after the home, the children and the extended family in the traditional manner. The husband is still the nominal head of the family, but, traditionally again, the wife controls the family finances, a concept which still exists across Asia as a whole.
Some highly educated young Thai women now seem to be making the decision not to marry, but to concentrate on a career. As a result, there are many women in good positions within large companies, and even some CEOs. Others have decided to start their own businesses, and are bringing a new look to many areas of commerce, particularly in tourism and retailing. Given the above, it is understandable that an intelligent and ambitious young woman may have to make the difficult choice between marriage and its traditional aspects and the commitment needed to succeed in business. Financial responsibility and support for a woman’s parents and extended family, however, is still considered an essential filial duty and is seldom ignored.
No society can stand still, it has to evolve, and Western society has evolved, particularly since the Industrial Revolution, to such a degree that it is almost unrecognisable, and, to many, unworkable and undesirable. In Asia, and in Thailand, many Western concepts are now being embraced, possibly without consideration of where this might lead. Although this is understandable, it would be a tragedy if many of the traditional elements still present in Thai society, such as respect for elders and support for the closely connected extended family, were to disappear as a result.

Welcome to Chiang Mai FeMail, the new Women’s Page in the Chiang Mai Mail. No knitting patterns, tips on house cleaning, (unless it’s how to avoid it), agony aunts, (unless you’re desperate!), no fashion tips, (except how to buy stuff at prices that make you smile), not even a recipe, as there’s already one on page 17! Just the “female” take on the experience of living a successful and happy expat life in this amazing city. Of course, we’d love your input as to what you would like to see here - ideas, please by email to the Mail. If you have any info you’d like to share with us or experiences you’d like to report, again, please let us know. This is your page, and, hopefully, an expression of life in the female expat community!
Expat women are often asked by their Thai counterparts about life in London, New York, California, or whichever country they left behind when they came to live in Chiang Mai. Our former locations may seem as exotic and strange to them as Thailand first seemed to us. The conversation inevitably turns to lifestyle, family structure and responsibilities, work, ethics and behaviour, at which point we begin to realise that a woman’s life here in Thailand may be very different from our own experiences in the West. The article below was edited from an account of many Thai womens’ lives and the traditions which determine them given to us by a graduate Thai female friend. It may help to explain the situation of many Thai women nowadays, and explores the fascinating comparison between this and the situation of Western women in the not too distant past. We hope you will find it as interesting and enlightening as we did!

Shoes, shoes
and more shoes!

I sometimes wonder where, on the “Reasons to live in Chiang Mai” list, female expats place “shoes”. In my case, it’s pretty high up, just below “wonderful weather” and “Housework? Me? No way, I’ve got a maid!”. This town is a shoeaholic’s heaven. Everywhere you look - in the street markets, the local shopping areas, the supermarkets, the malls, and even, if you’re lusting after designer goodies, in the department stores - you can’t get away from them, even if you wanted to. On my frequent visits here before the move itself, (mainly undertaken to make sure that my builder was still building), I suspect I visited more shoe shops than wats, and that’s not easy. The pay-off came every time I wore my most recent Louis Jourdan acquisitions in the UK, invariably accompanied by howls from my friends of “you paid HOW MUCH?”
Now I’m living here, of course, extravagant (in Thai economic terms) luxuries like designer shoes are indefensible, and who cares, as sandals are de rigueur all year! Even if they are all made in China … Sandals with so much bling attached that you need sunglasses to view them. Sandals in every colour of the rainbow but preferably shocking pink or acid green. Sandals with heels so high you don’t dare walk - even the plastic house shoes here look like they’ve come straight off the shelves somewhere in Manhattan! And all costing no more than a bus ride in London and a lot less than the subway fare!
The purchase of yet more footwear, however, may be slightly less enjoyable if you haven’t yet got round to learning some basic Thai. Below are some “useful phrases and sayings” - the more you practise them face to face with a Thai saleslady, the more shoes you will have in your closet!
This shoe is too big - roarng thao nee luuam gaernbpai kha
This shoe is too small - roarng thao nee lek gaernbpai kha
Do you have a larger size? - khun mee yai gwar nee mai kha
Do you have a smaller size? - khun mee lek gwar nee mai kha
Do you have it in white? - khun mee see khaao mai kha (for other colours see below)
Can you discount the price - loht raakhaa dai mai kha
These are pretty shoes, aren’t they? - roarng thao nee suay, chai mai
Black - see dahm, red - see dairng, green - see khiaao, blue - see faa, yellow - see luuang, brown - see nam dtaan, grey - see thao
With thanks to Ajarn Yai, (, for help with translations!

Frazzled farang lady asks “What’s wrong with my sarong?”
Judy Harcourt
For me, the most intriguing mystery in Asia is the illusive longi, sarong, or phatung. The ability to keep a phatung on one’s body is inborn. Like a spider spinning a magnificent web, Asian people are born with the knowledge of how to keep a longi on their hips.
Longis put me in high stress mode. Even with safety pins, Velcro, ties, and buttons, my longi begins to fall off before I leave the room. Women in Burma, Thailand, Indonesia and India have patiently given me instructions. After their explanations and demonstrations, they smile a big “and there you have it” smile. This happens only moments before my longi begins to loosen its grip.
In Burma, they wear a longi sewn like a tube. The Burmese men untie it and extend both arms quickly to their sides, snapping it tight. They then quickly tie a fashionable knot in front of their belly buttons. Very jaunty and very attention getting. Looking out of a 3rd story window in Yangon, Burma, I had the opportunity to observe a woman walking down the street, rearranging her longi. When she expanded the yardage, I solved the lifelong mystery of “what do they wear under it?” There was my answer - nothing!
Last year, I watched a woman walk across the bridge from Burma to Mae Sot. She had a dishpan the size of Spain on her head, fully loaded, and was wearing a longi. That bridge is a looooooong bridge. I followed and waited for her to adjust her longi. If she had looked down to adjust it, the contents of the dishpan would have stopped traffic. She never once looked down, she never once adjusted her longi. She walked right into Mae Sot with Spain on her head and the longi tight on her hips.
The uses for longis are endless. They can be a nightgown, shower curtain, baby sling, and shawl. They can be pulled high and wrapped around heads and shoulders. This is an emergency move, done only when the mercury drops below a dangerous 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
On March 23, 2007, the Bangkok Post reported: “During a rally for People’s Television, angry demonstrators reportedly threw bottles at officers trying to control the crowd. A middle-aged woman was seen taking off her longi and waving it to chase away the police.” This is not a pretty picture, but does leave us with the thought that every day there is a new use invented for the longi - and I still can’t keep one on!

Website of the week
This fairly new site is growing fast. Although there is not a great deal on Thailand at present, there are useful hints on living abroad, opportunities to post about your experiences and some good general information, plus the opportunity to communicate with female expats worldwide. For those of you who occasionally visit Bangkok, there are details of womens’ clubs there, as well as details of such clubs worldwide.