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Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

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Life in Chiang Mai

Let's Go To The Movies

Life in the laugh lane

Doc English The Language Doctor

Welcome to Chiang Mai


tech tips with Mr.Tech Savvy

An American Redneck in Chiang Mai

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 imagine!
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 understandable.
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 drug.
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  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
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.
Dear Kevin,
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.

Dear Hillary,
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 first copy.
Regular Reader
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!

Dear Hillary,
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!

Dear Hillary,
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.
Dear Rose,
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.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

You and Andy Warhol

What 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 time.”
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 supermarkets.
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 [email protected]

Life in Chiang Mai: by Mark Whitman

Movies and Movie Monsters…and Censorship

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 country.
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 abhorrent.

Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
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 acclaim.
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 reviews.
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 cast.

Life in the laugh lane: by Scott Jones

Sick Trips: Part Two

Charity Farangs of Death here to hit you on purpose!

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 dream.
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 ( 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 your child.
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 language!):
/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 ( 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. and it has a very good section on teaching your child to read.

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 it!

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

Adenium Obesum, 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 right conditions.
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 pot.

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 them.
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 [email protected]
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 there.
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…