The Doctor's Consultation: by Dr. Iain Corness
Generics: are they a patient’s ‘right’?
Prescription drugs always seem
to be in the limelight. The latest allegation is that the ‘pre-release’
testing as required by the US Food and Drug Administration has been subject
to bias. Wonder of wonders, the drug company has only been publishing
positive reviews! The negative ones just fall through the cracks in the
cement! I can remember as a first year junior doctor, my boss being part of
a clinical trial of a new drug. The first three patients died on the point
of the needle. I wonder if that was ever published.
Cheap (generic) drugs are also in the news. Most people here know that you
can buy “brand name” medications, which tend to be expensive, or you can buy
“copy” generic drugs that tend to be cheap.
Let’s just clear up what generics is all about. What you have to first
realize is that all medications are chemicals, and somebody ‘invented’ them
in a laboratory. The ‘Trade name’ for the chemical compound is owned by the
manufacturing company, for example ‘Valium’ is the chemical diazepam, or
‘Viagra’ which is ‘sildenafil’. Valium and Viagra are trade names, while
diazepam and sildenafil are generics.
When you buy Valium, you are getting the diazepam chemical as invented by
that manufacturer, with all the purity and quality controls that a major
manufacturer has to abide by. However, when you buy diazepam tablets, these
can come from a little factory on a back street in Bangladesh or Pakistan,
with all the hygiene standards being applied that you may or may not like to
The large pharmaceutical companies legitimately say that if they do not have
protection, they cannot recoup the cost of the development of the drug – in
some cases, multi millions of dollars, and then develop new ones. However,
if after it has been invented, Pakky Pills produce the drug cheaply after
zero costs have been outlaid for its research. This is unfair.
Through this minefield walks the medical profession. In the developed world,
on one side are the large pharmaceutical companies saying that they need the
sales to cover costs and sponsor future research, but on the other side
stands the government, saying that the public purse cannot afford these
expensive medications, when cheaper, but chemically the same, alternatives
are available. These two opposing sides have arguments that are quite
In the developing world it is a little different. The end point consumer
does not have the money to buy the expensive original research
manufacturer’s tablets, and neither do the governments (who in most cases do
not have an all-encompassing health care systems).
To make it even more contentious, there are medications that could be called
‘essential’ for life. The ones that come immediately to mind are the AIDS
treatment drugs. Can you justify withholding treatment from the poor (people
or countries) just on price protectionism policies? Figures published in
Thailand claim that the same medication is available to the consumers
between 300,000 baht and 12,000 baht per year. For the poor, one is
affordable, one is not. For government or charity purses, ditto.
My stance on generics falls between the two extremes. For non-essential
drugs I believe the original manufacturer deserves a patent period and
generics should not be sold within that time frame. During that time frame I
would prescribe by trade name only and not generic. This covers medications
such as yet another BP reducing tablet, of which there are scores, or
another non-earth shattering antibiotic. These are not essential as there
are many alternatives.
However, for essential medications, generics should be allowed and offered
to developing nations, and to the poor, even though this may be within the
time frame. In other words, let those who can afford it pay, and those who
cannot should be assisted by the manufacturer, who can make their own
generic equivalent, as well as licensing other manufacturers to make their
So where do you fit into all this? First make sure that the ‘copy’ drug does
contain what it is supposed to and that the drug is released from the
tablet/capsule in the strength indicated. Or let your doctor prescribe –
it’s much safer!
Heart to Heart
You have often mentioned books that newcomers to Thailand should read
and you should add “Falangs in Thailand” to that list. This cartoon book
by Mike Baird is based on truth and everyone who laughs at the drawings
should also remember that (it is based on truth). The cartoonist must
have spent a lot of time watching what goes on in Pattaya, but what he
shows is the same for Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai. “Private Dancer”
by Stephen Leather is another that anyone who spends time in the bars
should read. Stay there long enough and it will happen to you, so be
warned. I hope this helps, Hillary. I enjoy your column.
Thank you for the information about suitable books, and I have looked at
both and do agree with your ideas. Unfortunately, I think many young
chaps who come here (and some not so youngs as well) don’t seem to be
able to read. Perhaps the cartoon books will be better for them, as long
as they realise that Mike Baird is being very satirical. We can only
hope, Petal. We can only hope.
When are you going to collect all your writings into a book? I reckon it
would have to be a great hit. I have mates overseas who read you every
week, just for the laugh at the poor saps who write in. I’ll buy the
Dear Reg the Reader,
It is always nice to know that the readers enjoy the column, especially
people like Big D from the USA who sends champagne and chocolates with
his letters. (Thanks again Big D!) We have discussed putting some of the
best letters together, but it is a lot of work, Reg my Petal. Maybe it
will be something for me to do when I retire. I’ll let you know and
autograph that first copy just for you. Of course the first copy will be
more expensive than the others, so in true fashion for these parts,
there will be around 1,000 first copies, just like the third 50 percent
share of many bars that is sold so often! By the way, I would rather
your friends laugh at my answers, rather than at the readers!
Can you help please? Do all Thai people ask you the most personal
questions? Things like “How much money you make? You married yet? Why
not? You got girlfriend? You want me to go with you?” Apart from the
fact that this is considered a very rude way of starting a relationship
in the UK, I also find it very embarrassing when I am over here. How do
I get these people to stop doing this? You seem to have the answers for
everyone else, so I hope you have some for me too.
Shy and Retiring
Dear Shy and Retiring,
Or is that Shy and Retired? You have to look at where are these women
who ask such direct questions. My bet is in a bar somewhere. They are
not in the habit of issuing a gilt edged invitation to dinner, hand
inscribed in Olde English. Be real and be thankful that ‘these people’
as you call them are interested enough in you to even ask questions.
There’s only one thing worse than being a wall-flower at parties, and
that’s not being asked at all. In actual fact, my turtledove, those
inquiries are very cleverly designed “standard” bar girl questions to
see if you are worthwhile bothering with at all. If you have no money
all interest will be lost immediately. Likewise if you are married they
will want to know if “You marry Thai?” or whether your partner is
waiting faithfully for you back home in the UK, while you contemplate
the unfaithful ideas. Lighten up and when you are asked next time just
say, “No money. Wife take all money to boy bar,” and then laugh a lot.
They’ll get the message and you will be left happily lonely, then you
can write me letters asking why does nobody talk to you!
The other night in the bar we had a discussion whether Thai females are
romantic. I say that they are, but my drinking buddies all say not. They
said that all they are interested in are large amounts of gold, and the
larger the better. Surely there are still some gals out there who
appreciate roses and chocolates (apart from you, Hillary)? I need you to
back me up here, Hillary.
Such a lovely name, and chocolates and roses are nice, but I prefer
champagne and chocs. Of course there are romantic ladies left in
Thailand, other than myself. It sounds to me as if your drinking buddies
are looking for ladies from the wrong watering holes. The professional
ladies who come to the surface with the buffalos in tow are certainly
only looking for gold. That is their business, their profession (and an
old one at that). However, by looking in the universities, offices and
even department stores, you will find ladies who appreciate being
appreciated. You are correct, Rose. Your friends are taking too narrow a
sample to base their findings. You don’t have rose colored glasses. Your
drinking buddies are looking at life through beer glasses.
by Harry Flashman
You and Andy Warhol
is the difference between you and Andy Warhol? Well, for a
start, you are alive and Andy Warhol is dead! However, Andy
Warhol lives on in his “art” in the ‘copy’ shops in Thailand.
The fluoro ‘Marilyn’ series in particular. However, Andy Warhol
left far more than Marilyn and the famous Campbell’s soup can.
He left a huge collection of photographs. Andy Warhol and
yourself are both photographers.
Andy Warhol was a complex character. He said, “I also take my
camera everywhere. Having a few rolls of film to develop gives
me a good reason to get up in the morning.”
He also did not think much of the technical side of photography,
“I love the new, small automatic-focus 35 mm cameras like Minox
and Konica. I think anyone can take a good picture. My idea of a
good picture is one that’s in focus and of a famous person doing
something unfamous. It’s being in the right place at the wrong
Andy Warhol was really a voyeur. However, he was a voyeur of
people who wanted to be spied upon, which gave it all a
pseudo-legitimacy. I looked through the book, Andy Warhol’s
Exposures, the other day just to see if his photos had any real
lasting ‘merit’ as photographic works of art. At the risk of
enraging all the Andy fans, really they were nothing but
‘record’ shots showing the glitterati set doing what they do
best – posing and poncing around.
But where Andy Warhol excelled was in the fact that he could get
to all the places that the celebrities would go. He was
accepted, and his poky little cameras with their on-camera
flashes were just part of Andy. The photographs are then only of
merit because of their subject matter, not for technique or for
final technical quality. Many are ‘blown out’ with the subjects
too close to the flash, others are blurred. However, the
majority are taken with the subjects looking away from the
camera – while they are still posing, rather than actually
posing for the camera using ‘eye contact’ with the lens. It was
a crazy way to take photos, but still one that helped Andy
Warhol to fame and fortune.
Even though the book Andy Warhol’s Exposures is ostensibly a
photo book, there being more pictures than words, it is really
about ‘exposing’ the private persona of the celebrity subjects.
People who did not really have (or wish to have) private lives.
Like Dean Martin’s ex-wife’s boyfriend. Yes, that’s the sort of
people you could expect to find being photographed by the famous
Campbell’s soup can artist. Of course, he also photographed Mick
and Bianca Jagger, ex-US President Jimmy Carter, a swag of
Kennedy’s, movie stars, transvestites and the works. As long as
somebody thought they were famous.
Andy Warhol was the ‘ultimate’ street photographer. Just as
Cartier-Bresson photographed the ordinary people, Andy Warhol
photographed the out of the ordinary people. His relentless
shots taken in Studio 54, the ‘in place’ disco are albums of
freaks, hangers-on, minor celebrities, aging movie stars,
starlets eager for any publicity, drunks, transvestites,
designers, people with designs on being designers, the whole
superfluous and superficial crowd. And Andy got them all, and in
some ways recorded an era for posterity.
So what was the point of this week’s column? Just that if you
want to contribute something to the world of photography, you
must take photos. It doesn’t matter whether you know anything
about the science behind it all – the important thing is you
have to have images.
In turn, those images must have a theme. Andy Warhol’s was the
rich and famous, wannabe’s and hangerson. You need to get a
theme too. Night life in Thailand has probably been done to
death, as also the women of Thailand, as beautiful and beguiling
as they are. However, if you are a true disciple of Andy Warhol
you would perhaps do a series on the transvestites of Thailand –
not in their beautiful stage outfits but rather dressed in
ordinary clothes, without make-up and shopping at the
Find a theme and start shooting today!
Money Matters: Paul Gambles
MBMG International Ltd.
Why people are worried, part 5
To continue the mixed metaphor from last week, the
snowball was getting bigger by the minute. Whilst some investors were still
okay with the ratings being given out, others began to baulk when the
defaults started to become apparent and increased with frightening speed.
This forced the rating agencies to rethink their original statements and
then lower the ratings.
More than a few of these CDOs were so complicated that many could not
actually be valued. However, it soon became apparent that even the big boys
were caught up in the mess and were made to admit that these securities were
not worth as much as originally thought.
Just over four months ago, UBS AG closed one of its hedge funds with a loss
of nearly US$125 million. A month later two of Bear Stearns hedge funds lost
over US$1.5 billion of investors’ money as it was taken by bad mortgage bets
and lost lines of credit. The trouble then became worldwide with companies
in the UK, Europe and Australia all suffering.
Even the Harvard Endowment Fund, one of the best ever performing funds of
all time, lost nearly US$350 million as the implications then spread to
private equity. However, this was a relative drop in the ocean compared to
the fund’s gains in this sector over the previous decade and as we’ve seen
already, this was just one exposure counter-balanced by many others and
caused nary a blip in the monthly performance of Jack Meyer’s endowment,
highlighting the real value of diversification. Even when the sub-prime
tentacles start to reach wide, genuine diversification will ensure that most
of your asset allocation remains unaffected.
Multiple asset diversification really spreads the risk. Dressing up your
newly polished CDO doesn’t. What we were told by the Wall Street vested
interests would spread the risk actually caused it to increase. The common
sense approach of Jack Meyer actually reduced it.
Many still do not understand how it all came about and there are lots of
fund managers who did not allow for this as their funds reacted in a
different way to what they expected. However, even though money is now in
tighter supply, arrogance still abounds from the Fed as they still think
that even if all of this resulted in problems with the housing and debt
markets the strength of the American economy shows that what they did was
the correct decision – assuming it does not lead into a recession.
From where we sit that is an awfully big assumption. You get this much debt,
you usually get a recession. You get an inverted yield curve, you usually
get a recession. You get a sustained bull run like this, you usually get a
correction. So why should this time be any different?
The arguments that it doesn’t seem to be on the horizon are very short term.
The reasons why there will be a recession are that structurally it’s
inevitable – all the conditions in which recession foments have been with us
for many years.
The reasons against it are that the immediate signs are present yet. We
wrote a piece at the start of the year comparing the global economy to the
Titanic. Full speed ahead, just because the seas look clear, doesn’t mean
that the berg isn’t out there and waiting. It most definitely is whether or
not we can see it.
At MBMG we’ve long been advocates of the multiple asset class approach to
diversification. S&P and Reuters Lipper number 1 ranked fund manager Sam
Liddle of our portfolio managers, MitonOptimal, visited Bangkok recently to
share his current thoughts and concerns with audiences at a range of events,
culminating in his presentation comparing the style of MitonOptimal (based
in Reading, Berkshire in the UK) with Jack Meyer’s - “When genius succeeded
- The Harvard, Yale and Berkshire Investment Master Class”.
A CD containing Sam’s presentations is available upon request and while any
attempted summary here will inevitably fail to do justice, these were the
highlights that caught our attention:
U.S. and Western slowdown is inevitable – MitonOptimal’s longer term funds
are reducing their equity allocations although the shorter term actively
traded funds are still looking for the red warning lights to start flashing
before they exit the markets.
Eastern equities will out perform the West – again the active funds are
currently drawn to China and Russia in particular (fundamentally they find
India less attractive) – although in a major worldwide recession the East
would get dragged down too.
Asian property remains more attractive than Western property but again with
the same caveats for equities but to a lesser degree.
The commodity story continues to look strong although recession would imply
a greater need to be selective.
Western currencies will continue to generally weaken versus Asian
currencies. Euro and Swiss Franc remain the pick of the Western currencies.
The case for gold continues to look compelling in the longer term.
Multiple asset class diversification is the only way to approach the pent-up
risk that is now looking to unleash itself into the markets as Alan
Greenspan feared it would all those years ago.
Adaptive allocation is a sine qua non – you see ice floes you slow down. You
see a berg you change course. MitonOptimal portfolios and the Ivy League
endowments will navigate safely through the coming crisis to the opposite
shore. Too many other portfolios will sink without a trace. And just like
the Titanic, the losses will be totally avoidable and unnecessary.
The above data and research was compiled from
sources believed to be reliable. However, neither MBMG International Ltd
nor its officers can accept any liability for any errors or omissions in
the above article nor bear any responsibility for any losses achieved as
a result of any actions taken or not taken as a consequence of reading
the above article. For more information please contact Paul Gambles on
Life in Chiang Mai:
by Mark Whitman
Movies and Movie
Younger readers may well not have heard of the French
director Marcel Carne who began his fifty year long career during the era of
silent movies, and died aged nearly 90, having made his last film twenty
years before. His great period was from the 1930’s until the mid 1950’s and,
for me, his masterpiece is probably Le Jour se Leve (1939). I mention him
because two of his best works are showing at the Alliance Francaise (their
offices are at the French Consulate, almost opposite The Chedi) on February
22 and 29, beginning at 8 p.m.
The first of these is Les Visiteurs du Soir (1942), made during the German
occupation and it is set in the Middle Ages. Two people (Arletty and Alain
Cuny) invade a nobleman’s castle and proceed to play the devil with lives
and emotions, until the ‘real’ one comes along. You may see the Devil as
representing the Nazis, or simply enjoy this wonderful film as a dark
comedy. The following week they will screen Les Portes de la Nuit (1946) set
in the first winter after the liberation of Paris. This is a complex
romantic drama with a great cast, including Yves Montand, who took over the
lead role when Jean Gabin went off with his lover Marlene Dietrich after she
had abandoned the film.
Let’s hope that the A.F. (you can find out more on [email protected]) show
Le Jour se Leve some time and, of course, more films by Robert Bresson,
their country’s greatest director, whose Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne shown
in December was for me the cinematic highlight of last year.
I don’t think I would expect to call the recent American film The Flock,
(which may still be on at Major, Airport Plaza), the highlight of 2008, but
I do think it is far more interesting than most critics do - and I include
my colleague from the Mail in this! Directed by the brilliant Hong Kong film
maker Michael Lau, (as he is now called since his Hollywood debut), it tells
the disturbing story of a social worker who is being let go by his
government department because he has become too obsessive about his work
with sexual predators, rapists, child molesters and sadists. We learn that
his work ethic is leading him to vigilante behavior as he sets about
teaching his successor the workings of his difficult profession. Richard
Gere is suitably crumpled and paranoid as the man, Babbage, and Claire Danes
is well cast and gives good support to the central role.
The theme of the movie is similar to that of a famous John Hopkins play
entitled “This Story of Yours”, later filmed as “The Offence”, and starring
Sean Connery. In the film, a policeman is so affected by the hideous crimes
he has witnessed that he becomes violently affected by them. The criticism
leveled at “The Flock” is that it is half thriller, half intense social
drama and that it is in awe of its nasty subject. I must say that I was
totally absorbed and often repelled by its power and its technical
brilliance. So far as I know it has not been shown in the U.S.A. or possibly
anywhere outside Thailand, although it was completed in early 2007. I doubt
whether the Americans will take too kindly to it, since it is highly
critical of the lack of finance and human resources devoted to the
department dealing with the sexual criminals who commit these vile crimes -
mainly against women and children - on average every two seconds in their
I mentioned a week or two ago the new rules on censorship in Thailand - it
appears that at least one important new movie, “Sweeney Todd,” is already a
victim of the censors’ scissors. The entry to and showing of this film in
Thailand has been delayed; by the time this appears most people will know it
is Tim Burton’s version of the great Stephen Sondheims’s musical of the same
title. It stars Burton’s regular collaborator Johnny Depp and boasts fine
credits. Seemingly it is being edited for violence - which is an integral
part of its story. I admit I have not yet seen the film version but I
seriously doubt whether it is anything but a serious, beautifully made
treatment of a major work. And yet, graphic Thai horror films and disgusting
screen pornography such as “The Saw” series and “Captivity” play throughout
the country on a regular basis. All censorship is to be regretted; when it
is in the hands of those who do not understand their work, it is doubly
Let's Go To The Movies:
Now playing in Chiang Mai
Chocolate: Thai Action - Superior Thai film about an autistic
girl who is a genius at martial arts. The movie was written for its star
“Jeeja” and she is indeed quite a discovery. She has been training for this
film for four years, and has no stunt double - she’s playing every scene
herself. Be sure to stay through the closing credits, which show shots of
stuntmen being injured during the shooting. If you’re going to see any Thai
martial arts film this year, make it this one - it’s got everything. Within
the conventions of a martial arts movie, it’s really quite inventive.
CJ7: Hong Kong Comedy - Delightful! Stephen Chow finds a toy for his
young son which is actually a sort of Chinese E.T. It’s dubbed in
Thai, with English subtitles. I thought it odd and quirky, perhaps with some
strange ideas of parenting, and with an unbelievable little bully in it at
the kid’s school who I wanted to kill! And an awful teacher. Some of the
dreadful and usual facts of life for young kids. It tickled my funny bone,
and I found myself laughing out loud at times. I think it’s a lot of fun for
kids and adults.
L: Change the World: Japan Thriller - This prequel to the previous
two Death Note films focuses on the popular main character “L” as he
uses his superior intellect and deduction skills to solve various crimes.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: US Thriller/Drama - A truly
gruesome work of art, with Johnny Depp outstanding in this brilliant Stephen
Sondheim musical/opera. I loved it. “What you will see is as dark as the
grave. What you will hear is some of the finest stage music of the past 40
years.” Rated R in the US for graphic bloody violence. All the throat
slashings have been censored in Thailand (with “pixilation” - along with the
label on the gin bottle!). Even so, I warn you, it is not for the faint of
heart, not for the squeamish, not for dislikers of Sondheim. But I think you
should give it a chance to work its wonders on you. Reviews: Universal
American Gangster: US Crime/Drama - With Denzel Washington and
Russell Crowe giving performances I found mesmerizing. Their ultimate
confrontation in a talk across a table is truly fine. A far-from-true story,
as it turns out, from our own backyard here in Chiang Mai, as a black
American gangster negotiates drug-running contracts with Golden Triangle
drug lords during the Vietnam era. Small parts filmed here in Thailand. This
is also censored, with the needles of the addicts shooting up, and guns,
fuzzed out and blurred. Generally favorable reviews.
First Flight: Thai Drama - A well-meaning enterprise beset with
technical difficulties, this film certainly has its heart in the right
place, as it attempts to create pride in the early years of Thai aviation
and the formation of the Thai air force, with a grafted-on love story.
Siyama: Village of Warriors: Thai Action - Three Thai students of ancient
Thai warfare are miraculously transported back to the time of an Ayuthaya
battle, arriving just as a battle is about to begin between the Thais and a
ruthless enemy, causing great confusion. Some very good battle sequences.
Enchanted: US Animated/Comedy - I was delighted by this film! It’s a
smart re-imagining of your basic Disney fairy tales, featuring witty
dialogue, sharp animation, and a star turn by Amy Adams. A full-blown
musical that commutes between Disney’s patented cartoon universe and the
“real” world with cleverness and grace, this splashy production reminds me a
lot of Mary Poppins, not least due to the “star is born” aura that
surrounds Amy Adams here, just as it did Julie Andrews 43 years ago.
Generally favorable reviews.
Suay Sink Krating Zab/Busaba Bold and Beautiful: Thai Comedy/Action -
Two friends live in the Bangkok underworld jungle passing their time in
small-time criminal activity till an old girlfriend of one of them shows up
and causes both of them to fall in love.
to open Feb. 14
Charlie Wilson’s War: US Drama - 97 mins - Directed by Mike
Nichols. Starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. That rare Hollywood commodity
these days: a smart, sophisticated entertainment for grownups - snappy,
amusing, and ruefully ironic. Rated R in the US for strong language,
nudity/sexual content. Generally favorable reviews.
27 Dresses: US Comedy/Romance - 107 mins - Frothy, funny, and
formulaic, a pleasantly predictable romantic comedy. Mixed or average
Valentine: Thai Romance/Comedy - Looks like the typical Thai low
comedy; a couple discover their sexes have been swapped.
Ghost-in-Law: Thai Comedy/Horror - Sounds like the usual: Father
gives newlyweds a huge mansion as a gift, but bride’s mother schemes to
wrest ownership for herself. The bride suddenly dies, and comes back to
haunt her mother-in-law and those that killed her. With the usual well-known
Life in the laugh lane:
by Scott Jones
Sick Trips: Part Two
Charity Farangs of Death here to hit you on
This year’s Give-Live-Ride Thailand Charity Motorcycle Tour started out sick
and ended in the hospital. Ron brought a lung disease from America, which
will undoubtedly infect people worldwide once they track his flight and
follow the lives of all the passengers who breathed in Ron’s germ cocktail.
Todd probably caught it at Tokyo airport by picking up the exact plastic
security basket that Ron sneezed on. Usually the most festive character on
the trip, Ron’s laugh was at half-mast, meaning only 500 people stared at
him whenever we stopped in small villages. He rode one day and soon went
back to Chiang Mai to become vegetable matter by the hotel pool. Todd lasted
the entire trip but I expect headlines to report: “Strange outbreak of
bronchial disease in massage parlors throughout northern Thailand.”
Clay had ridden for years, but mainly on straight roads, and after the first
“practice” day riding the Samoeng loop, I asked what he thought about the
ride. “Oh, gosh!” he gasped. The second day, after completing the infamous
1,864 curves to Mae Hong Son, I asked the same question. He beamed and said,
“Great!” Andy said, “That sign at Mae Hong Son should just say ‘One Curve’
because it never ends.” Clay successfully rode the 1,864 curves in the other
direction, but a dust cloud and road construction took him down near Chiang
Dao, though he avoided the stampeding trucks and tourist buses that love to
take a Farang souvenir home on their front fenders. He was baggage in the
truck for two days.
Everyone survived Mae Salong and Chiang Khong, but in a speck of a village
near the Laos border, a slow motion incident took the trip to its knees,
especially my left one and the scooter rider’s right one. A Honda Dream
lurches into our lane, time stops as bikes mate, but thank God, no one’s
under the bikes and no spare body parts are lying next to them. Joom is on
her back, motionless, her face colorless after an apparent overdose of
whitening cream; I fail to get up on one leg but succeed on the other, while
hearing breakfast cereal in my shoulder (Snap, Crackle, Pop); the
flip-flopped Dream rider is standing, bare feet intact with a scratch and a
swelling red knee. A sturdy chap to take a 1200cc Harley broadside, he has a
stern, wrinkled brow, broad back and thick legs as if his ancestors were
elephants or stone statues. Farangs, or Walking Dollar Signs, never win in
this situation. The ambulance whisks me much too quickly to the hospital in
order to assure I am completely broken to bits by bouncing around in the
back. All the villagers kind of look alike and I’m convinced the doctor, the
police, the nurses, the witnesses and the “victim” (him, not me) are all
immediate family members. I am prepared to pay for Mr. Dream’s hospital
bills until Thai Joom informs me that his statement to the police included
“Farang ran me down on purpose,” as if that added some credibility to his
The youngest doctor in Asia enters the emergency room wearing a t-shirt with
random letters and gym shorts, or perhaps an athletic diaper, visibly
displeased as if we had disturbed his play in the sandbox with the other
neighborhood children. In the X-ray room, the electronic buzz lasts far too
long and I’m sure Sister Nurse focuses the ray on my groin to assure no
little Scotties will be riding through town in the future. X-ray says:
fractured collarbone. Brother Doctor says: not need surgery unless bone
stick out shoulder skin into jugular vein. He and his baby-faced buddy
fasten a figure eight bandage around my shoulders, sized for a medium-build
Thai, whilst grunting, pushing, jerking and using their feet as leverage on
my spine, in order to break any ribs that aren’t already bruised. Cousin
Policeman offers me a deal: 2,800 baht to Mr. Dream for fixing his Honda and
“buying presents for the spirits,” which will be used for “buying spirits
for those present.” Plus 400 baht fine for “reckless driving,” although I
have to sign an official document in Thai that probably says “premeditated
attempted murder” and “if you ever enter village again, you face death by
517 Honda Dreams.”
I was not reckless and I was not speeding. I was passing a scooter like
everyone does everyday. Although I know that 99% of all Dreamy Honda riders
do not know they have a flashing signal, do not bother to use the standard,
invisible finger wiggle to indicate a turn, have never looked behind them
when entering a highway and only use a rear view mirror for combing hair or
squeezing pimples at stoplights, I didn’t honk before I passed. The
Unwritten Rule: Here you must take care of riders in front of you because
they have no clue what’s behind them. I have now permanently duct taped the
button so my horn blares whenever the bike is turned on. Next year we’ll
have The Charity Basket Case Tour on tricycles in a heavily padded room at a
hospital. If we ever ride outside, we’ll have a truck in the front carrying
massive speakers advertising Muay Thai boxing matches to get everyone’s
attention and one in the rear blasting out this warning: “Danger! Be very
afraid! Charity Farangs of Death here to hit you on purpose!”
Doc English The Language Doctor: Learning letter sounds
This week we look at how to teach children
to read and write using Synthetic Phonics (letter sounds). Often I find that
new (younger) students are able to recite the alphabet perfectly and can
recognise individual letters, but they are unable to blend letters together
in order to spell or pronounce new words. They lack creativity in writing
and have no confidence in spelling. They tend to rely on guesswork when
reading or writing and often fail to spell simple words. By teaching
synthetic phonics we can enable children to read and write independently and
creatively from a very early age. Most of all, by teaching synthetic phonics
and encouraging blending and fluency rather than accuracy when spelling, we
can inspire confident readers and spellers.
Synthetic Phonics is a method of teaching reading which first teaches the
letter sounds and then builds up to blending these sounds together to
achieve full pronunciation of whole words. The name Synthetic Phonics comes
from the concept of synthesising, which means ‘putting together’, ‘chunking’
or ‘blending’ letter sounds.
As children are introduced to the alphabet, they should be taught the letter
sounds as well as the letter names. After the first few sounds have been
taught, children can be shown how these sounds blend together to build up
words. For example, when taught the letter sounds /s/ /a/ /t/ /p/ /i/ and
/n/, the children can build up the words ‘tap,’ ‘pat, ‘pats’, ‘taps’, ‘sat’,
tin, pin, etc.
Most of the letter sounds can be taught in the space of a few months, at the
start of your child’s first year at school. This means that children can
read many of the unfamiliar words they meet in text for themselves, without
the assistance of the teacher.
Children can learn five or more letter sounds each week, as long as they get
enough practise with each letter and there is recurring practise and enough
repetition. On the Starfall web site (www.starfall.com) you will find most
of the common letter sounds and a number of activities for your child to
carry out to consolidate each sound. I would recommend teaching only one
sound per day, or less depending on how much time you have to share with
Study the letter sounds below. Enlarge and print out each sound, then place
each sound onto its own card. Encourage your child to make words by placing
cards together and ‘blending’ new sounds. Encourage children to notice how
more combinations can be made by combining vowels and consonants together.
I would encourage you to teach these sounds in order in which they are
presented. When speaking, some sounds occur more frequently than others,
which is why these sounds are not presented in alphabetical order.
The Letter Sounds (you might be able to think of a few more in your native
/s/ sat, /a/ ant, /t/ tap, /p/ pin, /i/ ink, /n/ nip,
/c/ cat /k/ kick, /e/ egg, /h/ hat, /r/ rat, /m/ mat, /d/ din,
/g/ go, /o/ off, /u/ up, /l/ lip, /f/ fat, /b/ bad,
/ai/ rain, /j/ jam, /oa/ boat, /ie/ pie, /ee/ seed, /or/ fork,
/z/ buzz, /w/ wig, /ng/ sing, /v/ dove, /oo/ foot, /00/ room,
/y/ yoyo, /x/ box, /ch/ chip, /sh/ ship, /th/ the, /th/ thin
/qu/ quick, /ou/ hour, /oi/ boil, /ue/ queue, /er/ term, /ar/ farm
The Jolly Phonics (http://www.jollylearning.co.uk/) site has a list of
actions you can use when teaching these sounds. Using sound, actions and
flashcards to represent the sounds help your child memorise the sound more
easily. This site also has more information on teaching phonics and
materials for you to buy online. Many of the materials highlighted are also
used for teaching phonics in UK schools.
I hope you have enjoyed this rather brief explanation of synthetic phonics.
If you would like more information on teaching your child phonics you can
e-mail me at: doceng [email protected] Could I also take this
opportunity to point out that I am not a medical doctor and so am unable to
answer any medical queries (I thought this was obvious, but judging from the
emails I received last week it clearly needs clarification!).
Before I go, I would like to briefly mention a very good website. The site
is principally for dyslexic children, but it also contains a great deal of
information and activities that any child can enjoy. It’s called www.
dyslexics.org.uk and it has a very good section on teaching your child to
Welcome to Chiang Mai:
A Licence to…Drive
Just in case last week’s article about
driving in this crazy city hasn’t put too many people off, this week’s
offering deals with the practicalities of getting started. The first and
most important issue being, of course, your Thai driving licence. There seem
to be many who suppose that they can drive here for an indeterminate period
of time using an international licence; however, we were informed recently
that such is only valid in the Kingdom for three months after arrival. This
is Thailand, rules change, opinions vary, but it’s better to be safe! Enter
the Kingdom on a one year non-immigrant visa, bring your home country
driving licence with you, jump through a few hoops, fill in the usual forms,
have another set of unflattering photographs taken, take a brief test which
will either blow your brain or send you into fits of hysterical laughter,
and you’re legal. At first for one year, then, whoopee(!), you get the five,
yes, five year licence!
The Licensing Bureau itself is located on the Hang Dong Road, 3 kilometers
south of the Airport Plaza intersection on the left, and is open from Monday
to Friday. Applications are not taken after 3.30 p.m. If you plan to drive a
motorcycle as well as a car, you will need a separate licence for each
vehicle. The paperwork you will need is fairly extensive, but can be easily
obtained. First, a certificate of residency must be obtained from the
immigration office at the small building on the left as you enter the
complex. Should you so wish, you may get this from your consulate, but you
will pay a great deal more for the service than the 300 baht that
immigration will charge. To issue the certificate, immigration will need
copies of the identity and visa pages of your passport, two small photos, (1
by 1.5 inches), and, of course, your 300 baht fee. Certificates are only
issued to holders of non-immigrant one year visas.
Armed with the proof that you do actually live here, you then proceed to the
licensing bureau, bearing in mind that your proof of residence certificate
is only valid for one month, so you’d better get on with it! Requirements
for this next step are as follows. Firstly, more copies of pages from your
passport. As the actual requirements do not seem to be set in tablets of
stone, the best idea is to take your passport with you and let the bureau
staff - very pleasant, helpful and with some English - tell you what you
need. Surprisingly, a photocopying machine is actually available! A medical
certificate may be required; to obtain this, apply at any hospital or
clinic. You will have your blood pressure taken - if it’s below a slightly
sub-lethal level you’re OK! A few questions may or may not be asked, and a
small fee will be charged (surprise!). You’re fit to drive!
The next requirement is yet more unflattering pics! This time the size must
by 1 by 1 inch, so small that you, probably fortunately, can hardly see your
face. A Polaroid service is located behind the Bureau building. The last is
a valid driver’s license from your home country, hopefully, if in English,
explaining the categories of vehicle you are entitled to drive.
Armed with the above, you are now in a position to actually apply for your
licence! This, if you are new to Chiang Mai and this is your first
application, is where the fun starts! You will be asked to go upstairs,
where you will be confronted with a rather stern-looking official holding
two 20’ long strings attached to a large black box with a light inside it.
As you look blankly at this contraption, the official will explain to you in
Thai what you must do next. He will then demonstrate by pulling two of the
strings, which will cause two vertical lights to move around in the box. At
this point, still looking blank, you may well attempt a tentative tug on the
strings, which will result in the official shaking his head and looking even
sterner. Keep pulling, you will either get it (get what?) right, or he, and
you, will give up…either way it’s probably OK, as a great deal of amusement
will have been caused to passing Thais, if not to the official himself. You
will also have to test your reaction times by stomping on a pedal placed on
the floor, and demonstrate that you can tell the difference between red and
green. Obviously, most Thai drivers tend to forget this part of the test
once they have a driving licence!
After this edifying, albeit confusing, experience, you should go back to the
counter on the ground floor, and present the slip of paper which confirms
that you have done - something. After a while, (quite a long while if your
visit has coincided with the lunch break), you will be presented with - joy
of joys - your Thai driving licence! Plus the two tiny photographs, which
you will then have to take to the laminating machine on your right - don’t
worry, it’s nearly over. Thirty seconds later you have a shiny new plastic
card, with the licence safely embedded and your unflattering photo almost
unrecognisable…lucky you. The good news is that when you renew at the end of
the first year, you don’t have to pull those strings again!
If your home country driving licence has expired, you will have to take a
written test and a brief driving test, which, we have heard, involves
driving around the test centre a few times to prove you know where the car’s
controls are situated, particularly the brake. The brief written test - good
news for those whose writing would baffle even a doctor, is a multiple
choice version in English for those who need it, using a computer; again, we
have heard that it’s almost impossible to flunk it! In case you need some
revision, a study booklet in English will be given to you before you take
the test. When you’ve passed, you will be given a temporary driving permit,
and be asked to pick up your new licence the following day. Simple, isn’t
This article is published courtesy
of the “Welcome to Chiang Mai” information folder, available as an
email attachment from: [email protected]
HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?:
Stuart Rodger - The Englishman’s Garden, Chiang Dao
a “Bonsai” bush with flowers
These days, much criticism is justly levelled at modern eating habits which
create obesity and ill health in both children and adults. However, it’s
also possible that Mother Nature programmed the over-consumption of certain
foods into humans in order to protect against starvation and cold - even
although we don’t actually hibernate!
The same principle applies to plants such as Adenium Obesum, (note the
second word, Obesum-obesity), as the swollen stem and roots of this species
enable it to conserve water in order to survive the long periods of drought
and full exposure to sun it experiences in its country of origin, Africa.
This plant thrives in Thailand as well, and has become very popular, both
for its “bonsai” appearance and for the fact that it is seldom out of
flower. There are a wide range of colours in the red, pink and white
spectrum to choose from; it will grow to the size of a small bush in the
Adenium Obesum is successful in pots as well as in the garden, and, when
established and maturing, the writhing, swollen stems, giving an ancient
“bonsai” effect, can be most attractive. Sometimes called “Antler horn
plant” as the larger growing varieties develop stems with a silhouette
reminiscent of deer antlers, this fascinating species is easy to maintain
and always showy.
Tip of the Week
If a plant is xerophitic, (prefers dry locations and climates),
keeping it in a pot helps to create the free drainage such plants
prefer. To assist this process, add sand, grit and plenty of crocks
or pebbles to the soil mix to ensure drainage from the bottom of the
Get trendy – add cool fonts to your computer
Aren’t you bored with those over-used fonts that are
pre-installed on your computer? Fonts like Arial, Times New Roman and other
basic fonts have become too common to be considered for trendy design work.
They do give a professional look, but we can always add some spicy
typography to our creative artworks.
Let’s get started then. Firstly, let’s get some cool fonts downloaded. Log
on to any of these websites and you will find an abundance of fonts that you
can download for free:
Remember to save your downloaded fonts in a convenient location, say, in new
folder called “Downloaded Fonts” on your desktop.
Having fun downloading them? Go ahead, download as many as you want. But
make sure you don’t crowd your computer with fonts. Some programs require
pre-loading your fonts which makes it slower to start up these programs.
This, sometimes, becomes frustrating.
Now to install those fonts you’ve downloaded, do the following:
1) Open the Downloaded Fonts folder you’ve just created.
2) If the fonts you downloaded were “compressed” or are in ZIP files, you
will have to unzip them first. Once done, you should have a list of files
that are True Type Font or TTF.
3) Select all TTF files that you want to install and press Ctrl + C to copy
4) Now open My Computer and go to C Drive > Windows > Fonts
5) Press Ctrl + V to paste the copied files into the Fonts folder.
To check if the fonts are installed, you can try using them on any text
editing or design program.
That’s it. Now get creative!
For more computer tips, log on to
The word computer seem like “100110110” to you? Ask Mr.
Tech Savvy for help. Or if you’d like to impress the ladies with your
computer skills, suggest a tip and find it featured here next week!
Go ahead, send them to
Till then… Tata ;-)
Just for Geeks
Amazing facts about the word “Google” – The
name came from the term “googol” meaning the number represented by the
numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros. “Google” is a verb which refers to
using the Google search engine. It exists as an official word in Oxford
English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. It was
chosen as the “most useful word of 2002”.
An American Redneck in
Chiang Mai: by Michael LaRocca
Run for the Border: Part I
We returned from Laos to hear that Gerald Ford was dead,
Saddam Hussein was dead, and James Brown was dead. Oh, sad, I loved James.
Why were we in Laos? Because Thai Immigration revoked my visa. Nice. You
think it’s hard getting a retirement visa? Being under 50 sux.
Yos is the first employee I ever hired in my life, and I should’ve just
stopped right there and rested on my laurels. My cat likes him, which is
probably more than I can say about you. Jea is our gardener. His friend was
to appear at 8 a.m. to drive us to Laos. Yos was to relieve him of such
duties from time to time. But, the night before, said friend was
unreachable. Next morning, same thing. If you ask me why, I’ll guess 1) his
wife said no, because Thai wives rule this nation and rightfully so, 2) he
was passed out drunk because that’s what Thai guys do, or 3) both of the
above. When Yos called me at 8 a.m. with the bad news, I dumped it all on
him. Get us a car and get us out of Thailand today, right now, fast!
I suppose the typical foreigner just packs up and goes home. Well, Chiang
Mai is my home. Miss Picasso lives here. Yos was the only person I knew who
could get me out of here and back on such short notice. And he did. He’s my
new hero. If you happen to live in or visit Thailand, you want to get out of
the cities and travel by car. This nation is so rural. Green, natural,
beautiful. Damn fine roads, too.
Yos and I had gone into the planning stage knowing the drive to Bangkok is
seven hours. So I got myself a map and ruler and deduced that Vientiane,
Laos, was five. OK, I’m a fool. Someone later told us it was eight hours.
The driver we didn’t have, to be exact. In truth, it’s over 12 hours each
way because of the curving climbing mountain roads.
Jan left Australia in 1998 and I left North Carolina in 1999, so you can
probably guess that our driver’s licenses have expired. Yos’ Virginia
license expired in June 2006, I’d guess. But fortunately, he has a Thai
license, unlike us, so we dumped all the driving on him, when his original
plan was to simply relieve Spud from time to time. Since our 8:00 a.m.
departure was bumped to 9:30 because of Spud, we hit the Friendship Bridge
at 10:30 p.m. It’s open 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Missed it by that much...
Nong Khai is a lovely little Thai town on the border with Laos. We found a
little hotel with two empty rooms, told Yos to shut up about sleeping in the
truck because I said so, and spent the night. The bridge opened at 6 a.m.,
we learned, but the Embassy in Vientiane opened at 8 a.m. Given that last
bit of knowledge, exhausted driver Yos stated we’d leave at 7:30. Since by
then it was so late in the evening, that worked for us.
The next morning, it was December 28. Jan’s visa expired on December 27, so
she became an overstayer. I thought I was one as well, but the reasons why I
wasn’t are just too boring to explain. Please note the “missed it by that
much” theme of deadlines and such. Yos is very good at stopping to ask for
directions. This is good, because he’s also very good at not knowing where
the hell we’re going. And hey, neither do I, but we’re making such good
time. Nah, that was a joke. He never went the wrong way, except when we
tried to find the Friendship Bridge again the next morning. But hey, we got
At the border, we parked the truck and did our visa/passport business. Jan
paid 500 baht for overstaying. I didn’t. Yos did whatever he had to do. Then
we got back in the truck and drove into Laos. Yos entered this adventure
with much fear and trepidation but was seriously into the land of excitement
now. Thai traffic is on the left and Lao traffic is on the right, but the
signs and markings made the transition easy. On the Lao side, the veterinary
people sprayed our wheels with disinfectant.
We were feeling great. Then we got screwed.
To be continued…
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