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The Doctor's Consultation

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in Chiang Mai

Let's Go To The Movies

Life in the laugh lane

Doc English The Language Doctor

Welcome to Chiangmai


Chiang Mai FeMail

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

What to do about the New Year resolutions

By about now, you will be hoping your partner does not remember the New Year resolutions you rashly promised to follow. Correct? You are still smoking and have actually put on a kilo or two after the Xmas/New Year blow-out. So much for those two resolutions!
Stopping smoking and losing weight are the two commonest resolutions, and unfortunately, the hardest to carry out. However, the following may help you, and hopefully make you successful (so you don’t have to make the same resolutions next year)!
Let’s tackle smoking first. First off, smoking is stupid. You stand a much greater risk of getting any cancer (not just lung cancer), as well as all the respiratory diseases, so that you wheeze your way to the here-after. Not much fun at all, and I don’t care if your great uncle Albert smoked 60 a day and lived to be 103. The statistics will show that smokers do not do well and do die early, sometimes quite horribly. That’s the real facts.
There are many ways touted to help you stop smoking. These range from acupuncture, patches, gum, spells and seaweed. But there is only one sure-fire guaranteed method. It’s called ‘cold turkey’ and it requires just you and a bucket-load of resolve. Whilst some of the other methods do work, after 12 months the majority of the people who try these methods will have relapsed and are smokers again. Read the figures if you don’t believe me, the people who go cold turkey have the greatest chance of still being non-smokers at 12 months.
Having gone cold turkey myself 27 years ago, I can assure you that the first two weeks are not easy. You feel like licking ashtrays, you are so much crying out for nicotine. Do not fool yourself, it is an addiction, not a habit. However, after two weeks you can watch other people smoking and not get down on your knees to beg! But don’t even have one, to see if you have really become a non-smoker. If you give your body just a hint of nicotine, you will be off puffing 40 a day all over again.
Remember that the key to success is to commit yourself to being a non-smoker and stop, then and there. Not “next week,” “after my birthday,” or any other excuse. Commit and stop now! And the really good news is that after two years, your lungs will be pink and healthy again.
Now to the other New Year resolution. Losing a few kilograms. Again this is going to require some commitment from you, but it is not as difficult as stopping smoking. Obesity is produced by a habit, not an addiction.
The vicious circle goes as follows - you begin to eat too much, so your stomach expands to meet the input. However, if you do not ‘fill’ your stomach, you will feel hungry, so you continue to eat more to feel full. By this stage you are eating far more than you need in calories so you put on more weight. You try and diet but you feel hungry (and angry) all the time, so you give up and then give yourself the same New Year’s resolution again next year!
Here’s how to get over this problem. Rather than change the items in your diet, keep eating everything you eat at present - but only eat 75 percent of the quantity you usually have. This way you have cut your calorie intake by 25 percent and never had to count a calorie!
Weigh yourself on day 1 and do not step on the scales again till after three weeks. You will find you have lost weight - guaranteed. If you haven’t lost weight write to me and I will write back and tell you that you ate more than 75 percent.
Now control the weight loss at half a kg a week, so that you don’t end up with meters of flabby skin on your arms, etc. By the way, if you stop all alcohol for the three weeks you will really see the kilograms come off.
Enjoy the fruits of your resolutions!


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
I enjoy your writing. Enjoy this Christmas present.
Dear Big D USA,
My own secret admirer who doesn’t forget Hillary at the festive season. Thank you so much for the French champagne and the chocolates. You are number one in my fan list, Big D, my gorgeous Petal! While others tempt me with morsels and worse still, empty promises, you came across with the real thing. I had a little tipple at New Year and toasted you in French champagne, and it was “Mummmmm”! I hope you have a great year in 2008 too.

Dear Hillary,
Just a little reminder that the eyes of Canada are upon you Ms. Hillary! Happy, healthy and a wonderful 2008 to you and yours!
Love Lon and Ploy XO
Dear Lon and Ploy,
There seems to be a mistake somewhere. You mention XO in the letter, but there was no brandy attached to the email anywhere, and I looked most assiduously. Perhaps you should try sending it again, but make it champers, my Petals. I find brandy a trifle strong these days, but the bubbles in champagne do wonderful things around the teeth to get rid of those old food particles. Much more fun than flossing!
Dear Hillary,
Please forgive bad English, but difficult for Thai lady to write. Always farang man complain Thai lady cheat him, but you not hear from Thai lady about farang cheat and Cheap Charlie. Farang tell Thai lady he got big house in own country, have plenty money, will look after Thai lady, but after Thai lady take care him, he stingy and go back bar and go short time with friend of Thai lady, so Thai lady hear and kick him out. Farang man just say Thai lady no good. Not Thai lady no good, but farang man no good. Do many times to Thai lady.
Dear Nok,
Thank you for your letter and don’t worry about your English (though I did correct some spellings), everyone can understand what you mean. There are always two sides to any story and you have shown the readers that perhaps some of the people who write to Hillary might have caused their own problems. It is good that I can show the readers your point of view. I get the feeling that you have been hurt by one of these Cheap Charlie farangs, but I suggest that you look somewhere else for your boyfriend, and not in the bar either. You might have to look for different employment to be able meet some farangs that are not Cheap Charlie. Think about it, Nok.

Dear Hillary,
One of our mates is heading for disaster, sure as eggs. He had a girlfriend in the bar and he let her come and stay with him after one week. Of course it’s all lovey-dovey for a while, then the hand comes out for motorbike repairs, bad harvest, house for Mama and Papa and all the usual reasons to get a fool to part with his money. After she gets the car and a sack full of gold she’s off. Lesson 1. So it goes on again and again and again. He’s now on number 4 and it is just the same. Girl from bar, buy me gold and all the rest of the expensive stuff, and she’ll be off just like numbers 1, 2 and 3. We’ve told him to wake up to himself, but it makes no difference. What can be done about these kind of people, Hillary? We don’t want to see him cleaned out again.
Bill’s mates
Dear Bill’s mates,
Unfortunately there are some people in this world who just keep on making the same mistakes, time after time. The many books on relationships in Thailand are all built on that theme, but these people always decide that the message in between the pages isn’t for them – it is for other people. It sounds to me that he will certainly be cleaned out again while he looks for the jewel in the pig trough. I presume he is a youngster, so with any luck he will grow out of it, before the money runs out. Just be there for him when it happens, as it sounds as if he is beyond taking any advice. How many times do I have to point out you don’t go to a hardware shop to buy cheese?

Dear Hillary,
So many times when I ring a company looking to buy something I get a recorded voice (in Thai) and I have no idea what they are talking about and I give up in disgust. They miss on a sale and I don’t get what I want. Why don’t they take a leaf out of the American telesales marketing book? If they want to sell to me, they have to speak my language. Surely this is obvious? Do you agree, sweet Hillary?
P Doff
Dear P Doff,
Wake up, Petal. Get somebody who speaks Thai to ring up for you. Secondly, you could try learning enough Thai so you can do it yourself. Or thirdly, you can ring America and order what you want from there direct, in that quaint dialect called “American” English. Or fourthly, and probably the best option in your case, is to go back to America, where life will be simpler for you.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Nikon Coolpix S51 - Is this the ultimate compact?

I had the opportunity over Xmas-New Year to play with the latest (released end of 2007) Nikon point and shoot compact. What first took my attention was the fact that it was not much bigger than the family Canon Ixus, but was in fact slimmer, and had a claimed 8.1 megapixel capacity. Turning it over, the LCD took up almost all of the back and the main menu was partly pictorial. If one has to have a menu, which, as many readers know, I consider anathema, then pictograms do make it simple.
The owner of the camera was an American lady, who almost floored me when she said she chose the Nikon Coolpix S51 because it did not have a tele-style lens poking out the front! Having become used to mini-zooms in compacts, this observation interested me, but when I saw the size of the handbag in which the Nikon was being carried, I could appreciate her reasoning. With the tele extended, it would have been a hassle, and many people do not turn off their cameras, relying on the auto-turn off feature to do it for them. Interestingly, Nikon got around the extended lens by keeping the lens at a ‘right angle’ inside the camera body, and it is a three times zoom, with an additional four times digital zoom ability (but with corresponding fall off in image quality).
Returning to the megapixel range, I believe that 8.1 is still really over-kill, as if you want to take photographs to blow up to the size of a barn door, use an SLR and be done with it. It is ‘horses for courses’ every time.
The latest technology to be incorporated in digital cameras is Vibration Reduction, and this appears to work very well with the Coolpix, meaning that even at the longest lens setting the shutter speed does not have to be super fast, even though the shutter speed range capability is between 1 second and 1/2000th second, plus an additional four second shutter when taking fireworks in the ‘Scene’ mode. Other options in this mode include Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night portrait, Party/indoor, Beach/snow, Sunset, Dusk/dawn, Night landscape, Close up, Panorama assist, Museum, Copy and Back light. More than enough to cover most circumstances.
The LCD on the rear of the camera is a three inch one, and there was no getting away from the fact that this was a boon in composing the photographs. Camera manufacturers are beginning to understand that the user will always use the LCD in preference over a viewfinder, even though it uses more battery power. Ease of use is a fact of life for the average weekend photographer.
The in-camera flash appeared to work well, though will obviously have limitations because of its size, but includes Auto, Auto with red-eye reduction, Off and Fill-flash. Again, enough ‘creative control’ for the afore-mentioned weekend photographer, who might just have read the manual and understand that this camera can do a little more than simple point and shoot.
Another feature of the Coolpix (and present in other point and shoots) was the video recording capability which worked well, even in low light. However, if you are looking for the best in video, buy a dedicated video camera - anything else is a compromise.
The dimensions are approximately 92.5 x 59 x 21 mm, which is really ultra-slim, and at only 125 gm, is not so heavy as to tear the pocket off your shirt. These dimensions really do make this a camera to take everywhere.
Finally, the following is a quote from a user in the USA, “If you want something with a lot of manual controls that takes RAW images and gives you full control over the creative process, look elsewhere. If you want a credit card sized point-n-shoot that you can keep in your pocket / purse at all times that will deliver good point and shoot quality photos, you’ll enjoy this camera.” I fully agree. It is not trying to be an SLR that fits in your pocket. It is a very simple to use point and shoot for everyday family shots.

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Why people are worried, part 1

“The structures are here to stay but you have to run it like a prudent risk-taking venture, not like it’s casino night and you’re on a bender.” - CreditSights
Economists always talk of mean regression, the old maxim says that what goes up must come down but there is no doubt that business cycles today repeat the pattern of business cycles of the past. We can see this most clearly in terms of the credit bubble that is suddenly on everyone’s lips. The amazing availability of easy to obtain credit seems to be drying up. This boom has helped many people buy property for the first time and financed many business and corporate opportunities. However, those people who were deemed to be credit risks continued to be given money and now we are seeing why they were so regarded. It is now harder for them to get credit and this is filtering all the way down the chain. Investment houses and individuals all over the world are showing losses. This is further compounded by the fact that financial institutions now have debts that these investors will no longer purchase. Funds and shares are now going up and down with no real reason and even the biggest players in the market place like Blackstone and Bear Stearns are suffering.
Many people associate this with what has happened with the last few years. This is wrong. In fact it goes back to several things. These are: the failing of the savings and loan industry in the 1980s, the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s and the fall in the markets in the early 2000s. Most important of all is how governments around the world reacted to these problems.
For instance, in the US the Federal Reserve Bank reduced rates to the lowest level in twenty-five years so as to try and avoid further decreases in the markets. Even as he was enacting his famous ‘put’ Alan Greenspan recognised that short term credit could cause problems in the future. However, he did not know how badly it could turn out. The Fed was not the only government bank to do this. Others all round the world followed suit.
The fears that he expressed at the time now seem to be coming to fruition. The incredibly low interest rates of recent years along with amassed savings from many different fields meant that the price of property was being pushed up by availability of money. This preponderance of ready cash also allowed leveraged buyouts of corporate businesses throughout the world. The spiral had begun, investors in many guises threw all sorts of money at private equity companies and ultimately, although they might not have realized it at the time, new investment instruments such as derivatives and artificial debt instruments to make up the poor returns they were getting through the more traditional means. At such low interest rates extensive leverage was an easy option to try and access better returns.
The way this was done differed from how it was done in the past by the fact that these investments were a sort of financial instrument that moved the risk of default from the lender to the investor. What we don’t know is how it will all end up. This is what is creating the nervousness in the markets. As Alan Greenspan says, “These adverse periods are very painful, but they’re inevitable if we choose to maintain a system in which people are free to take risks, a necessary condition for maximum sustainable economic growth.”
Following the sub prime fiasco, what people are trying to make happen now is take the potential risks away from the leveraged financial institutions and persuade those who are better positioned to take them instead.
Economic growth, especially when America is taken out of the equation, is good, and even in the States, unemployment is still low. Thus far, the financial system has coped well with the most recent problems. However, the credit problems that people originally believed to be only relevant to one or two sub prime mortgage lenders are now starting to move to countries all over the world and many of the main lenders are being affected. The recent shenanigans at the Northern Rock Bank in the UK and Countrywide and others in the USA emphasise this.
The irony of all this is that this could have been caused by a system that was created to distribute and ease risk. What has happened though is that it has now become very easy for investors to purchase complex securities they did not completely comprehend. However, now that worldwide communication is so easy, efficient and cheap, markets can now be affected by the push of a button. So, if sentiment dictates a certain mood then it does not take much for the rest of the world to be affected. If the problems cannot be limited then all of this could cause a run on the markets and damage any potential economic growth.
At the beginning of this decade we were hit with the double whammy of the crash and 9/11. This forced us into a recession which meant the Fed cut interest rates in the hope of reviving the economy. However, two years later new jobs were still scarce and investment was not exactly at an all time high. On top of this, the rate of inflation was edging towards one percent. Given this situation, the Fed looked at how Japan had coped with deflation (i.e., where an economy suffers from declining prices, which in turn makes it more difficult to repay debts and means the central bank finds it extremely hard to try and stimulate growth).
Four years ago Alan Greenspan, who was at the time head of the Federal Reserve, said, “Even though we perceive the risks [of deflation] as minor, the potential consequences are very substantial and could be quite negative.” A short while later the Fed reduced the target for the vitally important federal-funds interest rate, a benchmark for all short-term rates, to one percent. This rate did not move for a year. The mindset behind this was that it would increase consumer confidence which would mean more housing being bought and people spending more in the High Street. This would result in improved exports and more corporate investment.
At the time Mr. Greenspan thought that this may cause problems but told his associates that it was an acceptable risk if it could ward off the threat of deflation. He later said, “Central banks cannot avoid taking risks. Such trade-offs are an integral part of policy. We were always confronted with choices.”
To be continued…

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

Hillside Rooftop Party is a go for January 26

There’s a rather ill informed comment on the Thai Visa web site referring to the forthcoming Hillside Rooftop Party suggesting that as the official period of mourning following the death of the Princess is 100 days, it is inappropriate to hold that charity event. The designated period for outsiders is 15 days and the party will now take place well after the end of that period - on Saturday 26 January. People should check before they send off anonymous mails. Also such notices always smack of cowardice to me. Why not sign something if you believe it? The same goes for missives to newspapers and I am surprised that national ‘papers’ such as the Bangkok Post publish so many unsigned letters and spoofs, written as so-called jokes.
Let’s hope that people who are inconvenienced by the change of date of the Hillside event do not ask for a refund. The generous thing to do would be to donate the cash and pass the ticket on to someone else who can attend on the new date. After all, the organisers need all the support they can muster in the complicated re-arranging of this ambitious social event. The committee and indeed everyone involved in the catering, entertainment, raffles and auctions all work long hours for no reward except the satisfaction of helping a worthwhile charity - in this case for disabled people. People who have been upset by the postponement (which was requested out of respect for the Royal Family, by the Governor of Chiang Mai, who will be attending the party on the 26th) might like to think of the ‘inconvenience’ they suffer and compare it with the daily ‘inconvenience’ suffered by people without arms or legs, or who are severely paralysed.
I went along to the second meeting of the group called International Citizens of Chiang Mai, which was held a few days ago at the offices of FM 96 Radio, near the Three Kings Monument. This is a large group of academics, students (mainly from CMU), environmentalists, local workers and concerned residents, both Thais and farangs. The single purpose is to pressure and work with the authorities in the long term solution to Chiang Mai’s pollution problems and those relating to the failing infrastructure of the City’s vital services. Much of the meeting was spent outlining those very real inadequacies and now the work has to begin. Luckily, it seems there is some positive work being done in the city and among the initiatives is a new hot line to ring if you see unauthorized burning. Contact 053 409 345. And if you want more information about the group their mail address is [email protected]
You will find a report of the meeting elsewhere in the Mail.
The classification system for movies, introduced hastily and without proper thought, might in principle have been a good thing. It works in many countries, including the U.K., purely as a guide as to which broad age range specific films are best suited. The new ‘rules’ in Thailand are to be implemented not by experts in cinema, sociology, teaching and so on but by the police and other ‘authorities’ who inevitably smack of censorship rather than informed advice and opinion.
Once the law has been observed, including important rules concerning respect for the Monarchy and so on, there seems no possible reason for restricting anyone above the age of consent from seeing any film. But the powers that be have indicated an upper age of 20 for certain works and even wanted it to be 24. Odd that you can marry, have sex with partners of either sex, vote or go into the army, drive a lethal vehicle, (among many other things), and yet you can be stopped from seeing a movie of your choice. Worse still, there is an option which could lead to the banning or severe censorship of some films. A backward step.
Probably the best news yet on the Burmese situation has been the reported ending of Indian arms sales to that sad country. You may recall that Laura Bush referred to this in her December diatribe against the Burmese generals on Human Rights Day, which was fully reported in the Mail. Of course, other countries may step in and supply weapons, but India is an important country and a democratic one, so it remains an important step. The dramatic fall in the revenue from rubies, which the junta needs to keep its vast army going, is also an aspect of the increasing effect of the embargo on trade.
Also, Qatar Air is the latest airline to suspend flights between their country and Rangoon, as from January 9. Air Bagan’s operation out of Burma itself has also suffered and hopefully less and less tourists will make this hell hole their destination. The increased offensive against the Karen Freedom Fighters has been widely reported and makes for dismal reading.
With just a few thousand soldiers they haven’t a hope against 400,000 Burmese soldiers, with or without Indian arms. All of this raises the problem of whether one believes in supporting Aung San Suu Kyi’s call for a boycott. She has tried to be conciliatory to her captors but I doubt whether she will budge on this matter. And indeed why should she? It is just 60 years since the British granted independence to Burma and after a very few years they were plunged into an even worse situation. The anniversary of their ‘freedom’ seems to have passed off quietly, thanks to thugs patrolling the streets and the army out in force. Even so, an entire nation cannot be kept subdued forever and the appalling events of last September will surely mark the beginning of the end for the junta. Or it will if the EU, the U.S.A., Australia and other committed countries keep up the pressure. And if the Asean group finally accepted their responsibility, it would surely make 2008 a happy new year.

Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Hitman 47: US Action/Thriller – This movie is based on a video game, which is an entirely different medium than film, and basically non-dramatic. Its roots show: we simply see one meaningless violent encounter after another. I must add that the first few minutes (under the opening credits) are terrific, as boys are shown being 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 of this unholy alliance is Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant), a killing machine who obeys instructions announced to him, “Mission: Impossible”-style, via a computer.
Overall, I think it’s an unfortunate combination of excessive violence, incoherent plot, and inane dialogue. There are several instances of a naked woman’s breasts hilariously pixilated by the Thai censors. This is one of the very few movies rated NC17 in Thailand, meaning, supposedly, that anyone 17 or under is not allowed to see it under any circumstances. Things have to be pretty bad and bloody to get this rating here, where blood on the screen is par for the course. And it’s rated R in the US for strong bloody violence, language, and some sexuality/nudity. Generally negative reviews.
Mum Deaw: Thai Comedy – A gentle, sweet, and sentimental story. Unmarried 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.” He explains that, 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.
Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (AVP2): 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, and who 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. It’s been the top film in Thailand for the previous two weekends.
This is also, along with Hitman, one of the 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 – The top film in the US for the previous three weekends. 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.
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.
Scheduled for
Thu. Jan. 17

Cloverfield: US Action/Sci-Fi/Thriller – This film has been swathed in mystery from the beginning, with not even its title revealed for many months – just that startling image of the Statue of Liberty without a head in front of a smoldering New York City. Now we know it revolves around a monster attack as told from the point of view of a small group of people, filming it with their hand-held video cameras. The movie’s publicity people are inundating the internet with fake news stories about early monster attacks, like on an oil rig off the Atlantic coast of the US, leading up to the big attack we’ll see next Thursday.
. . . 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 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: Mr. Burton’s film adaptation of Mr. Sondheim’s musical is as dark and terrifying as any motion picture in recent memory. Indeed, “Sweeney” is as much a horror film as a musical: It is cruel in its effects and radical in its misanthropy, expressing a breathtakingly, rigorously pessimistic view of human nature.
Rated R in the US for graphic bloody violence. The reviews: Universal acclaim.

Life in the laugh lane: by Scott Jones

The Clown Problem in America

At the recent Chiang Mai ToyRide, I saw my first clown in Thailand. She, or he, (her, or his, card said “Joker Man” and here you never really know for sure, especially with baggy clothes that could disguise the plumbing of a woman, a man, three goats and a water buffalo) was a world-class balloon twister who created most anything out of air and rubber including motorcycles, the entire solar system and several plates of Pad Thai that may have actually been hats for the children. She/he reminded me of performing friends in America when the clown population burgeoned in the 80s. Suddenly clowns were not just in the circus anymore - they were anywhere.
While dining at a fancy restaurant, a bunch of clowns would somersault in, balance the dishes on their heads and juggle the dinner rolls. Pandemonium broke loose when they ordered dessert - twelve-dozen, cream pies, face-size. Did they tip the waitress? Of course… over. Then it happened - a couple of clowns moved in next door. There went the whole neighborhood. They blew up their trimmed hedges and installed a trapeze in the elm tree. Soon the entire block was littered with bowling pins and big rubber baseball bats, their front yard filled with piles of pet elephant poop and their backyard filled with a cannon. You never knew when that thing would go off and a human cannonball would drop in. One morning a Volkswagen Bug pulled into the driveway, the doors flew open and thirty-six people got out.
What about their poor kids? Picture little Emmet sitting at his third-grade desk with his little rubber nose: He’s already bald, wearing his father’s make-up and his shoes are three-feet long. He’s wearing a hand-me-down polka dot suit with three huge buttons down the front. His friends have 10-speed bikes and pets, but poor Emmet rides to school on a unicycle, carrying a rubber chicken.
It’s difficult to imagine how many clowns currently live in America, since millions of them have yet to reveal their true nature. Congress is completely made up of clowns, and the President won’t admit he’s one. 75% of all licensed drivers are clowns. Some of your best friends may even be clowns, but you wouldn’t want your sister to marry one. The road to respectability has been rocky and clown rights were hard to achieve. Who can forget the seltzer riots during the 60s? Colleges are now required to fulfill their clown quotas. Students can major in Clownology by taking courses such as Fun 101, Advanced Faces and the Fundamentals of Falling Down. The name “clown” has slowly become unsatisfactory, as they now prefer to be called “Painted Americans.” But how many still remain in the closet?
I met a beautiful woman who apparently lead a normal life and asked her out. Her name was Bozette. We had a great time, so when I took her home, I didn’t dwell on the fact that she lived in a massive tent. I didn’t really notice her butler’s tuxedo was tattooed onto his body. What am I supposed to say about her roommates - the fattest lady and the thinnest man I had ever seen? She asked me to kiss her, but when she removed her glasses and her nose came off with them, I panicked. I tried to sneak out the back flap of the tent but was stopped by the strongest man I had ever seen.
Have you ever tried to make love to a clown? They just can’t get serious. When I took off all my clothes, she couldn’t stop laughing and dragged me into her bedroom. No soft mattress and stuffed teddy bears - just a tight rope, a net and real bear on a tricycle. After one close encounter of the clown kind, I was addicted and we tied the knot.
Spotlights danced across the big top of the Clownitarian Church as lions roared. Men with whips herded friends, relatives and an extended baboon family onto the packed bleachers, and then rolled a long red trampoline down the aisle. The Father of the Clown delivered Bozette in a wheelbarrow, surrounded by Clownsmaids and the Best Clown, while photographers with squirting cameras took pictures of bouquets of squirting flowers. After a tremendous three-ring ceremony, calliope music filled the tent and the audience burst into a rousing chorus of “Send out the Clowns.” We bounced down the aisle, jumped into her fire truck and drove off into the sunset.

Doc English The Language Doctor: Using Dialogue to make great English Speakers - part 2

This week we continue to look at ways to develop Speaking Skills. Try words that will help your child sound as polite as they possibly can in English by teaching them the P’s and Q’s (‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’) in the following exchange:
T. Can I have a _________ please?
S. Yes.
T. Thanks.
Teach your child the vocabulary they will need to help themselves learn English:
‘Sorry, can you repeat that?’
‘How do you say ‘_____’ in English?’
‘How can I spell ____?’
‘How can I say’ _____?’
Think about the exchanges you will need to have every day with your child and then write them down in a notebook to form dialogues, using standard English grammar and vocabulary. You might want your exchanges to sound more natural and so include a little slang and idioms. Try to make sure you speak a little clearer than usual top make the dialogue a little easier to understand. Use normal dialogue in normal situations, standard stuff that you will need in situations such as ‘Going shopping’, ‘At the beach’, ‘Making friends’, etc.
Finally, don’t be tempted to interrupt a Dialogue half way through by translating everything into Thai. Dialogue should be a little challenging and translating everything takes away the challenge for the learner. Try to explain what you mean in different ways or use a whiteboard and picture clues.
If your child is young and really shy, you can play a puppet game and carry out the dialogue as part of a role play exercise. In my experience adults can also be shy about speaking in English. They feel awkward and don’t want to make fools of themselves. If this is the case, swap roles. Whenever they speak English, speak Thai back to them. If your Thai is as bad as mine, your partner will have a good laugh, feel more confident in their own abilities and more relaxed.
Encourage all efforts to speak English and don’t criticize, simply model, try again another day if the dialogue didn’t work out. Become aware of the differences between the Thai language and our own. Often there is a logical reason why your child might be having a particular problem speaking certain words or phrases and you need to understand a little about Thai language in order to know how to correct it. Thai words don’t generally include a hard end consonant sound or a ‘th’ (which is why the end sound often gets left off words like ‘bike’ and ‘with’. Thais will often insert a vowel between two consonant sounds (such as ‘sa-wim’ (swim) and ‘pa-lay’ (play). There is often confusion between ‘r’ and ‘l’ and there are the more obvious differences in grammar, particularly in use of tense. I’m not aware of all the differences between the Thai Language and English, suffice to say that many are simply the result of the learner putting the foreign English word into their own logical language system (called ‘language interference’).
In the box are four dialogues for you to try at home with beginners. You can vary the response / questions and build on these, or make your own if they seem too easy. Remember to switch roles periodically. Encourage your child to ‘think outside the box’ and include new words.
I hope these dialogues work, if not you can make up your own. Try using a book you have read or a film you have watched and recreate some of the dialogue. Sometimes I encourage a silly dialogue or make deliberate errors to check that the student is listening properly, or to encourage them to think outside the box. Try it! It can make the dialogue more fun! You can build in more interesting dialogue this way and the students love correcting the teacher.
T. Ok kids, Who can tell me the date?
S. 3rd of October
T. 3rd Octopus? Oh dear! Where is the Octopus?
S. No October, you silly! (louder)
T. Octopus? No, I couldn’t eat a whole one. Don’t like the taste. Yukky.
S. October, no, not octopus! (shouting)
At this point the kids take pity on a poor, deaf old man and one of them writes the date on the board.
Sadly, that’s all we have time for this week. Remember, you can send your questions or suggestions to me via email at [email protected] Happy talking.

T. Hello.
S. Hello.
T. Can I have a cup/plate/spoon please?
S. Yes, here you are.
T. Thanks.
T. Can I have one/two/three more?
S. Yes.
T. Thanks
T. Hi.
S. Hi.
S. Where is the salt/pepper/sauce?
T. It’s over there.
T. It’s under/over/inside the cupboard.
S. Thanks
T. Hello
S. Hello
T. Where have you been today?
S. I’ve been to the beach / shops / work.
T. What did you see?
S. I saw the sea / some clothes / lots of boring paperwork!
T. Did you enjoy it?
S. Yes, kind of!
T. Hello
S. Hello
T. Can you see the red/blue/green car?
S. Yes
T. What is it doing?
S. Can you see the white/black car?
S. Yes
T. Which car do you like?
S. The Red one.
T. Me too / why?

Welcome to Chiang Mai:

The home of your dreams - or is it?

Staff Reporter
Almost the first thing that prospective incomers, particularly retirees, focus on is their new home. Having decided - sensible people - that it’ll be somewhere in Chiang Mai, the next question may well be “renting or buying”? Renting will be covered in a subsequent article, the focus here is on those brave souls who decide to ignore the present political and economic situation and take the plunge into the sometimes murky waters of home ownership in Thailand. Stress reactions to this suggestion may vary considerably - one farang husband of our acquaintance was heard to yell, “I’m not living in a mud hut in Thailand!”, at which point his long-suffering wife brought a Chiang Mai realtor’s website up on screen and showed the poor man the type of “mud hut” that could be purchased for the price of an outside khazi in the UK!
However, this option is sadly not all plain sailing and luxury living, seductive as it may sound. A great deal of care needs to be taken in researching options such as “location, location, location”, (where have we heard that before?), legalities, leases, (farangs are not allowed to actually own land, but may lease it for 30 years and may own any building on the leased land), quality of building, hidden costs, (occasionally very well hidden), maintenance costs, service charges, water supplies, internet access, telephone lines - we could continue this list to the end of the page, but we’re sure you take the point. From occasionally bitter, often confusing, and sometimes very amusing experience, many farangs who have trod this rocky road wonder whether renting during the time it took them to acclimatise to the reality of living in Amazing Thailand might not have been the safer option.
The first thing to remember is that a wonderful website written in perfect English does not necessarily mean a better home, a better price or even better service. Do not assume that, if your developer is farang, you will be better served - by the same token, do not assume that you will not be extremely well served by a Thai developer, despite any language difficulties you may encounter. Research is best undertaken by visiting a development with the agent, asking a great many relevant questions and noting the answers, then, later in the week, returning to the development and talking to home owners already in residence!
Many of the larger, more established “Moo Baans” popular with farangs are Thai owned and managed, with websites to match, which may not be quite the style Western internet users expect, but are still very well worth investigating. On such Moo Baans, you will usually be provided with an on-site communal swimming pool, gym and restaurant, as well as an established social network. Incomers bent on a property search may also find areas in the main shopping malls given over to models of house styles available in particular developments, usually with sales staff in attendance. Brochures are almost always in Thai, and usually little English is spoken. Try to visit as many Moo Baans as possible before you narrow down your choices to a particular area - rumour has it that at present around 40,000 homes are for sale around the city, so this may take some time, but will give you a great many options to choose from. Examine your lifestyle needs - do you really want to buy a car, (many Moo Baans are at least a 10 minutes’ drive from the city centre), will you be using facilities in town on a daily basis, do you need a choice of restaurants, bars, pubs, etc, to be able to function normally, or do you want to take root in the beautiful countryside surrounding the city, and try not run out of essentials which require a trip to town at an inconvenient time? Three months after you’ve taken up residence in your new home is perhaps not the time to reconsider your requirements! If you prefer to live in the centre of things, there is a good selection of quality condominium blocks to choose from, although a large apartment will cost around the same as a house with land further from the centre.
If you decide to lease land and have your property built, and are still living in your home country, we would recommend that, if you can spare the time, you make frequent visits in order to make sure that all is proceeding as you have agreed with your developer. In any case, make sure you are able to be in regular contact with your agent or the company who have undertaken the construction. Mistakes do happen, and you should remember that site workers may be immigrants hired on a very low wage who are often trained “on the job”. Consequently the actual quality and finish of the building may occasionally not be quite up to Western standards, although this is not usually imperative, as the property does not have to endure Western weather! If you have ordered specific fixtures, fittings, designs, etc, be sure to have your requirements fully understood and confirmed in writing (photos can help, but not always), and also make sure that items you have decided on are ordered by your builder at your point of decision, as you may not be able to duplicate if the store is out of stock. Starting your new life with a large expanse of floor tiles whose colour you hate is not a good idea!
The most important thing to remember is to find a good, English speaking lawyer who will check out every aspect of your lease, contract, etc, and who will make sure that everything is done by the book. Farang property laws in Thailand are complicated, and you will need to be sure that all is as you have been told by the developer. Further points to watch out for include “extras”, necessities which are not included in the quoted price of your build. These range from the walls round your garden, through bathroom fittings (some developers allow a certain amount for fittings, tiles, etc, and charge you extra if you want to improve on a basic standard which may be unsatisfactory in the long term), and also include topsoil and grass in your garden. This may be poor in quality, and you must make sure that all builders’ rubble is cleared before it is laid, as trees and plants do not grow well in soil which is contaminated by acidic substances. Paths, hard standing and gates may also be regarded as “extras”, as will insect screens, air conditioning, fans, extra wall sockets and stand pipes. All this may well add considerably to your budget. One particular problem may well be your kitchen, as Thai new-built homes do not include a fitted kitchen as standard. Try to arrange with a reputable supplier to fit your kitchen immediately after you arrive - do not leave it to your builder as it is fairly common for developers to add considerably to the actual cost of same from the supplier. If you are on site already, you will be able to monitor the construction and quality of the installation, and also ensure that you have paid the correct price!
If the Moo Baan in which your new home is situated is still under construction, make sure in advance what the maintenance charges will be, what they will cover, and at which point they will become due. It is possible, although unlikely, that a developer may decide not to, or not be able to, complete a Moo Baan - if there is nothing in writing regarding maintenance, an unpleasant shock may result! If there are lakes and streams on the land, make sure, again in writing, that the water supply will be maintained, and that it was correctly and legally installed. An almost empty lake and dry stream beds make great breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other nasties. You may well be offered a water supply from your own borehole; this can occasionally be unreliable in quality and/or quantity. If you are unsure, ask your developer if there is a city water supply available in the area to which you can be linked, and keep the borehole supply for watering your garden. Large, secure, gated communities seem to be the favoured option at present, and on most examples you will find yourself in a truly multi-national community, including, of course, many Thai families. This situation may well encourage you to learn Thai, which will be much appreciated by your neighbours and will also give them a chance to practice their English! However, if you decide you would prefer a more solitary life, there are many lovely small parcels of land available outside the main city area.
Finally, if the lease and build option seems too much to take on, remember the large number of finished properties available at present. You may even be able to rent a property for an agreed period of time, at the end of which, if you truly feel you’ve found your ideal home, you may be able to persuade the owner to sell it to you! Whichever option suits you best, you can be sure that, when everything is completed, living in Chiang Mai will surely fulfil your dreams!

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


Stuart Rodger, “The Englishman’s Garden”, Chiang Dao

A beautiful blue climber!

You may have blinked and looked twice at a glorious climbing plant covered with tiny blue flowers, and decided that it must be a type of Wisteria. Your next thought might have been “but Wisteria won’t grow in the tropics”. You would have been absolutely right - it doesn’t! However, a similar effect can be achieved by planting the climber “Petrea”, which can be bought either with blue-mauve flowers or in a white albino variety.

Petrea in bloom at Kam Tieng flower market.

You should remember that most climbing plants are very vigorous, and are quite capable of winding themselves around a tree, coming into bloom when they have reached the topmost branches and exposed themselves to the sunshine. They grow best when the roots are planted in moist shade, which encourages them to climb quickly towards the sun.
If you plant them in good soil underneath a first floor balcony, they will soon reward you with a glorious flowering display. Left in a pot however, they will quickly become root-bound, stunted and starved of the nourishment they will receive when planted in the good earth.
If you really don’t have room for an example of “Petrea”, or if you live on an upper floor with only a small balcony, there is an alternative. The climber “Clytoris,” (yes, the name is somewhat descriptive of the flowers…), has similar very pretty blue or white flowers, and is happy to grow in a pot. It produces abundant seed pods that you can collect and from which you can “grow your own”. The blue flowers are used by the Thais as a food dye; this beautiful shade of almost true blue is the rarest colour amongst flowers.

Take care! Every Boy Scout knows that a fire can be lit in dry grass using a magnifying glass - remember that droplets of water also act as concentrating magnifiers when you water plants in full sun, and can badly damage leaves and flowers. So - water in the morning or evening - your plants will thank you for it!

Chiang Mai FeMail

Welcome to this week’s FeMail; we hope you enjoy reading it! We’d like to start a “letters” column within the page - questions, comments, suggestions, anything you’d like to get into print! Also, if you’re having problems finding something you’d rather not live without, (apart from George Clooney), just ask - someone, somewhere will have the answer! Have a good week!
Just had a “sneak peek” in advance at Ethel’s letter to the Mail! Apologies, Ethel, but hand made shoes weren’t mentioned as we didn’t know about them! Duuuuuuh. Thanks for the info, you made our day!

Aileen Simpson
Dogs here and there
We’ve always loved dogs, for all the usual reasons - they’re cute and cuddly, they have good manners except when they don’t, they love you back even if it’s a bad hair day and you’re plotting to commit mayhem, and they wake you up at 2 a.m. to reaffirm their love! Or maybe to inform you that the tiny insect that just landed on the terrace is no threat. Then they insist you let them out so that they can supplement their daily protein intake by eating the harmless beastie. But we, and hopefully you, love them anyway, and always will.
In the UK, for more than 25 years, we kept dogs - we don’t mean one dog at a time, we mean dogs plural. Consequently, our soft furnishings were less than perfect and our carpets, (colloquially known as “FleaTown”), were in a condition that excluded dinner parties as a recreational activity. Bankruptcy loomed regularly as a result of the cost of veterinary services and designer dog foods, not to mention mostly ineffective but recommended carpet shampoos and flea sprays.
The dog plurality situation never dropped below two, although the usual total of our extended dog family was four, independent of wherever we lived and whatever we were doing. It wasn’t planned, it just regularly happened that way. Even though the heartbreaking downside of dog ownership is that humans usually outlive their pets, every time we lost a much-loved friend, another appeared, sometimes immediately, but always within a few weeks. It’s as if they know that there is a hole in your heart which needs mending. So, the companionship and the love continues, and continues, and continues…
At the point at which we decided that the UK was no longer our country, our furry family numbered only two - Maxi, our huge hairy hound, (GSD, actually!), and Petra, the Northumberland border collie, known affectionally as “the alien” due to her behaviour patterns being not at all doggy. Example - a real dog would never, ever regularly watch early evening soaps on TV… would it? Both of our darlings were senior dogizens, (ouch, sorry), and, of course, we couldn’t leave them behind when we emigrated, even after we had discovered that to transport them to Chiang Mai would cost the same as a very small condo in a block which wasn’t Hillside 4 or 5! Import duty not included - but I’m sure the large sum requested and given was appreciated!
One fine June day, we all finally arrived - the dogs with their tails wagging and us with ours dragging, more from worry about them than stress from the entire exhausting process of emigration. Immediate investigation of the new home followed, mostly by the dogs as we were too shattered to care. Every blade of newly laid turf was examined, some rejected and dug up, and some - well, you know what I’m trying to say… and so it continued. Tip of the year - if you are a committed gardener, do not, repeat, do not, entertain the thought of getting a dog. For the first time in our lives, we possessed a large garden, in a climate which would actually encourage plant growth. Next stop, the garden centre! Loaded up with unknown examples of the local flora, we returned home via a local market. and added an eight week old Golden Retriever puppy to our collection. Senior moment, big-time.
Tragically, but not unexpectedly, Petra died six months after we arrived, at the grand old age of 14 years, having had some health problems for the previous two years. A short while later, and in spite of her husband’s protestations, (sensible man!), a newly arrived friend of ours contacted Care for Dogs, resulting in Karin’s visiting her home with six dogs from the shelter. Moments of confusion followed, as five adults unloaded six small dogs into a fenced garden without noticing the gap in the fence. The smallest dog, of course, did notice, and took off into the Moo Baan, breaking the dog land speed record within the first 100 yards. Some 10 minutes later, Karin and I - the exercise was beneficial, honestly - finally recaptured her. Safely inside the garden, and only slightly out of breath - the dog, not me, I was shattered - she wound herself round my waist and refused to let go. You’ve guessed it - she let go once we were back at ours!
As a result, I discovered that Thai street dogs bear no resemblance at all to dogs as we knew them in the UK. Highly intelligent, fiercely independent, extremely agile - when did you last see a 12 inch dog jump a 60 inch fence? And a degree of fascination with everything which would shame Stephen Hawking. Definitely not your average one meal and two walks a day obedient lap dog! We couldn’t believe that an example of the same species we’d been letting into our homes and hearts for so many years could be so different and so amazing.
Our new arrival - Mimi - took two months to settle down, by which we mean becoming “Mum” to our ageing GSD, training Suki, the Golden Retriever, and sleeping on my bed. The necessary renovations to the garden took slightly longer and included a 70 inch fence! Subsequently, still fascinated with the street dog phenomenon, we took a trip down to Care for Dogs, where a 4 month old puppy decided to spend the afternoon chewing my husband’s ankle. Here at home with us ever since, she’s still doing it!
So, our extended dog family is now back up to four again - Maxi, Suki, Mimi and Ellie. We don’t leave the house for more than a few hours, we don’t go on trips to all the wonderful places we promised ourselves we’d visit, we don’t have any fish in our pond, we spend fortunes on furry toys, we spend more time cooking their suppers than we do our own, our sleep is regularly disturbed, and we sit on the terrace late at night surrounded by wall-to-wall dog. Everything’s perfect.

Care for Dogs is run by Karin, a wonderful lady who gives all her time and energy, (with invaluable help from committed volunteers), to providing a safe refuge for ill-treated, sick and unwanted dogs and puppies at her shelter. She and her team also visit temples and help and educate the monks in caring for the resident soi dogs. They facilitate and pay for sterilisation and medical care, and have introduced an education programme into local communities. Care for Dogs desperately needs donations and volunteers, so if you can help in any way, please contact Karin on 081 907 3260, or visit the website at