Vol. VII No. 8 - Tuesday
February 19, - February 25, 2008



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by Saichon Paewsoongnern


Columns
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The Doctor's Consultation

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in Chiang Mai

Let's Go To The Movies

Life in the laugh lane

Doc English The Language Doctor

Welcome to Chiang Mai

HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?

tech tips with Mr.Tech Savvy

An American Redneck in Chiang Mai

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Mobile phones and young children

My latest research has shown that mobile phones are a hazard to all children under the age of two. When swallowed, there can be serious effects, even requiring surgery, and the battery is decidedly toxic. Public health authorities are pushing for legislation to make mobile phone manufacturers label their phones with a health hazard warning.
If that was not chilling enough, Australian scientists are investigating if children are more vulnerable than adults to the effects of radiation from mobile phones.
Apparently, a study of 110 adults at the Australian Centre for Radiofrequency Bioeffects Research, partly funded by the Federal Government, confirmed mobile phones cause a change in brain function by altering brainwaves known as alpha waves.
The centre, at Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology, is now investigating the effect on 40 children aged 12 to 13, and 20 people aged 55 to 75 years.
Associate Professor Rodney Croft, from the centre, said while studies had been conducted on adults, the effect on children had, until now, remained untested.
“Although there’s a tiny effect on healthy young adults, there is a possibility that it could be much stronger in children or the elderly,” said the worthy professor. However, there was no indication from the adult tests if the effect on health was positive or negative.
Mobile phones are hardly new technology, although the latest 3G variety seems to be able to do everything from cleaning the house, watering the garden and washing the dog, as well as making and receiving telephone calls. There have been claims that using mobile phones produces brain cancer because people with brain cancer have used mobiles, and that is about as stupid as claiming that shoes are the greatest killer in the western society because 99 percent of people who died last year wore shoes.
Now the article I read admitted that scientists worldwide agreed there is no evidence linking electromagnetic radiation emitted by mobile phones to adverse health effects, but claims still persist that frequent use can cause headaches, nausea, problems with concentration, cancer and brain tumours.
The new Australian study comes as France’s health ministry warned parents to prevent children using mobiles when reception is poor or during high-speed travel. Authorities in France advised limiting the use of mobiles overall. This is almost as sensible as the (now rescinded) order in the UK that mobiles had to be turned off in hospitals because they interrupted cardiac pacemakers. I am yet to see a pacemaker which comes with the warning “Do not use mobile phones with this device. Communicate by semaphore flags only.”
However, there’s no smoke without fire, as it says in my local fire station and last month the National Research Council of US called for more studies into the possible health hazards of wireless devices and base stations on children, unborn babies and pregnant women.
Researchers fear children may be more vulnerable because the exposure dose received by a child’s brain is higher than an adult’s and their nervous system is still developing.
With one in four Australians aged six to 13 now having a mobile phone, children will also be exposed to radiation for longer than their parents.
A British study noted many cancers take 10 to 15 years to appear, and most testing had included few participants who had used mobile phones for longer than a decade.
Professor Croft admitted Australian studies using unborn or newborn mice had failed to find significant changes in growth rate, brain function and behavioural development. However, I also believe we should keep mobile phones away from mice as they can play havoc gnawing on the cases.
The professor of public health at the University of Sydney, Bruce Armstrong, said the French decision against excessive use by children was prudent. “We don’t know that use of mobile phones causes harm to children but we don’t know with certainty that it is safe in all circumstances,” he said.
And that, gentle reader, is what it is all about. We don’t know if anything is “safe” in all circumstances, but there is a burgeoning industry out there calling for funds to “prove” that shoes actually don’t kill people. Give generously.

 

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
I see a lot of girls in my local shopping center, and many are quite nice. I see them resting on the seats. I know you say we older farangs should stay away from the bars, but will I find Miss Right in the shopping center? Or do I have to lie about my age (I’m a pensioner) and go back to university? What should I do? I’m getting tired of being lonely.
Lonely Larry
Dear Lonely Larry,
What shower did you come down in, my lonely Petal? Must have been the last one. Will you find Miss Right waiting on the bench for you at the supermarket? No Larry, you will only find Miss Take there. Mistake if you talk to her and Miss Take all your money by the time you reach the checkout counter. These are freelance girls who can disappear very easily and you will never find where she went or came from (other than Aisle B next to the hot dog counter). They are more dangerous than the girls from the bars. At least Hello Sexy Man bar will still be there tomorrow, and the mamasan knows the ID of her girls. As far as lying about your age, that’s not such a bad idea. I heard of one 70 year old chap, when seen walking down the street with a cute 17 year old, told his friends it was easy. “I lied about my age. I told her I was 95!” If you are getting really desperate, talk to the girls in the optical stores. They are all well dressed and university graduates. You must be needing glasses at your age, so you’ve got a good excuse for being there. They also do eye checks for free, and that’s a free offer without a hoop of balloons outside either. Don’t despair, Larry. Just be nice to everyone you meet. Very soon someone will snap you up for whom you are, and not just to get their hands on your pension.

Dear Hillary,
One of the girls at my office has been very friendly to me recently. Holds my hand when talking to me in the corridor, and always goes out of her way to talk to me and smiles a lot in my direction. Her English seems pretty good, but I don’t know if she is married or not. She did ask me what I was going to give her for Xmas and this knocked me over a bit, so I did get her some chocolates. Where do I go from here?
Confused
Dear Confused,
From the sketchy details you have given me, Petal, it is very hard to know exactly what is in the lady’s mind. However, she obviously does enjoy her chats in the corridor. You say you don’t know if she is married or not, so how is Hillary going to know! But it is easy to find out. Next time you are having a chat in the corridor, why don’t you just ask her? “Are you married?” is not difficult to say, is it? If that momentous step is too daunting, just ask one of the other girls in the office if she is married. Thais are very inquisitive and all the office girls will know each other’s marital status (and ‘martial’ status too). Loosen up a little, or maybe you’d like to join Lonely Larry in the supermarket. The price check lady in the vegetable section is fairly unattached, I believe!

Dear Hillary,
My letter is a little bit different from all the usual no-hopers who write in to you. I’m a happy, single man, well off, get my pick of the ladies, so why am I writing to you? My only problem is that after a couple of nights, the ladies all want to move in with me. Some of them bring over not just a change of clothes, but a whole wardrobe full. I have no intention of settling down - and why should I? Like I say, I get my pick, so why spoil it. You must have heard the saying ‘why buy a book when you can join a library?’
Pete
Dear Pete,
How lucky are you? You get to wake up with the most adorable man in the world, in your opinion - yourself. Time to change your name to Narcissus, though I would suggest you take all the mirrors down in your bathroom, or you might find yourself falling in love just like the long departed Narcissus. Poor Narcissus saw his reflection and fell in love with it, and could not be away from it, and pined to death looking into the pool. Meanwhile the nymph Echo who fell in love with Narcissus also pined away, just like your ‘lucky’ ladies who try and leave their clothes in your wardrobe. It is not often I can indulge myself in mythology and poetry, but Pete, read this little poem penned many years ago by William Cowper (AD 1731-1800) and entitled:
“On an ugly fellow”
“Beware, my friend, of crystal brook
Or fountain, lest that hideous hook.
Thy nose, thou chance to see;
Narcissus’ fate would then be thine,
And self-detested thou would’st pine,
As self-enamored he.”
You may think you are God’s gift to women, but you’re just another meal ticket, Petal.


Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

The lens makes all the difference - Part 2

A couple of moths ago I wrote on What Lens? In the article, I commenced by stating, “Would you pay 2,000 baht for a camera, and 10,000 baht for the lens? Sounds stupid, I know, but I would. When you boil everything down to basics, the lens is the arbiter of the final image, not the camera.”
Through the article I strived to suggest what lens you might consider using in different photographic situations. When going for blue skies, I suggested that the lens to use to increase the blue color of the sky is the widest angle lens you have in the bag. To photograph your newly commissioned “genuine” Sunflowers by Van Gogh use the telephoto long lens and stand back. I finished by stating when photographing rampaging tigers I would use the longest lens in the world. A close up lens to photograph its dental work would not be my idea of fun! So it gave some rough guides as to what lens to use under different circumstances. However, that is not the complete story.
You can select the correct lens for the job in hand, but unfortunately, that does not mean your finished photograph will have all the sparkle and sharpness you might want. There is another factor to be taken into account when selecting the lenses for your bag - and that is quality.
I was reminded of this when I read a letter from an amateur photographer to a reputable newspaper (there are some others as well as this newspaper!). It went, “Love your sample photos, particularly the sharpness of the detail. I have the Canon 400D twin lens kit and do not seem to be able to get this clarity. Is it me or the lens?”
The photography columnist wrote back, “Here’s the sad truth of the matter. Canon’s retail price for the 400D body with two lenses - an 18-55 mm and a 75-300 mm zoom - is $1350. It is a bargain. You are getting a camera with lenses of film-equivalent focal lengths of 29-480 mm. That is amazing, until you consider that the Canon 100 mm f2.8 macro lens that we have been trying for the past two months costs $1000 on its own. And the 60mm lens we have also been using sells for $750. So two lenses for $300 starts to look a little improbable.”
In actual fact, photo lenses are excellent examples of the old dictum - you get what you pay for (or in Thailand ‘som nam na’)! For example, I picked up the kit lens that came with a Nikon D50 the other day. It was so light it almost floated away in my hand! I then compared it with any of the Nikon prime lenses in my bag, and there was the world of difference. There was also a world of difference in the end results.
It was not the camera body, it was purely the lens. The light plastic lenses in the locally made kit lens are not as good as the heavy optical glass lenses in the expensive prime lenses from the same manufacturer.
To be able to produce a kit lens at the price, something has to be sacrificed. Optics are just acceptable and resolution, autofocus accuracy, colour fidelity and contrast are all just good enough. They take acceptable photographs, and that is it. “Acceptable”, but not brilliant.
The photography columnist mentioned in his reply to the photographer with the twin lens kit that he had just been testing the new Olympus Zuiko 150mm f2 lens (300mm film equivalent). It was a compact 160mm in length and was heavy because it contained a lot of glass and mechanicals. He had never seen a zoom lens of comparable focal length that was as good. Sadly, it would only fit an Olympus or a Panasonic/Leica. And it costs $3470!
Just as you can’t buy a Mercedes with Toyota money, you won’t buy the best lens in a bargain basement body and kit lens special. Sad, but true.


Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

The Writing is on the Wall (St) part 1

Just for a moment try and imagine that your investment portfolio is US$100 million.
Then remember that within a traditional long-only equity fund the return is entirely dictated by:
- The direction of the equity markets
- The extent to which stock selection outperforms/underperforms the equity markets after paying the fund’s fees
- The manager’s discretion to choose how fully to be invested. Most equity funds range between being 95-100% invested and this tends to have more to do with inflows and outflows from the fund itself than with a strategy to adjust exposure.
So, if your US$100 million portfolio invests long only into the equity markets, it’s a hostage to the fates of the markets plus/minus any added value from picking stocks that outperform the broad market that they are part of, less any fees.
Looking at it like this helps to explain our preference for active, adaptive investment management that tries to reduce the reliance of the portfolio’s returns on the performance of just a single asset class at any given time. You might think therefore that we would welcome the latest investment trend from the United States - 130/30 funds.
Managing your US$100 million as a 130/30 fund, the fund manager has the ability to hold US$30 million in short positions, by borrowing stocks and selling them short. The short sales generate cash that is invested on the long side - combining the US$100 million initial investment with a further US$30 million of additional long positions, creating the eponymous 130.
The idea is that the short positions the manager is taking are balanced out by the leveraged long positions. So the net result is a portfolio that is still only 100% invested, but you get two portfolios for your money - a 130% exposure to upside and a 30% short exposure on weak stocks. Long/Short (L/S) investing of this nature is something that we are very keen on.
This was the technique behind what is generally recognised as the first hedge fund by Alfred Winslow Jones. This was done, extremely successfully, in 1949 and remains an extremely valid investment strategy today. In practice good L/S funds derive their alpha in a number of ways. Mainly, these are:
- Good L/S managers tend to be active stock pickers and not closet benchmarkers; their stock selection sets them apart from the dross that is the majority of unimaginative long only equity managers
- Additional exposure on the long side generates additional gains
In practice we tend to find that there is little contribution from shorts during positive periods in the market - the effect of these during the good times tends to be neutral at best and in many cases a slight drag on returns, but these come into their own during downturns generating a disproportional profit to substantially offset losses on the long book.
We regularly review how well our preferred L/S managers manage to capture the upside in booming equity markets and protect against the downside in falling ones. We remain convinced that well run L/S equity funds provide a better return over the complete business cycle with the added re-assurance of much less volatility and far less risk as any falls during downturn are either contained or totally mitigated.
So why are we not rushing to embrace 130/30? Well, there are a couple of reasons. One valuable feature of L/S is the ability to vary the exposure during market cycles. The most flexible funds are able to vary between almost exclusively long and completely market neutral (i.e. as short as they are long), even in some extreme cases taking a short bias. This provides the most flexible showcase for the L/S equity manager’s talents and tends to achieve better results than some arbitrary fixed allocation between the long and short ratio. In good times a fixed 30% short may generate negative returns hurting the portfolio’s overall return whereas during bad times, it may be less than the manager might choose to short if he had absolute discretion. L/S is an approach to equity investing that would benefit almost all investors but the benefit becomes diluted with the imposition of artificial restrictions such as 130/30.
The second reason we are not enamoured with 130/30 is that just about every US, European and UK investment firm has announced they are ready to launch a 130/30 fund. They have almost been tripping over themselves with announcements recently from the likes of Threadneedle, Resolution AM, UBS, Investec, Blackrock, Aegon that they are either moving into this space or at least considering doing so.
If all of these organisations had high quality stock-pickers to start with then you would not mind and you’d expect them to make a real success of 130/30. But with so many benchmark-huggers rushing to become active managers overnight then there is a real risk that, without the stock-picking expertise or the knowledge of long/short portfolio creation (a very specific science), these new managers’ short and long bets could fail to perform simultaneously - not exactly something we want to promote.
To be continued…

The above data and research was compiled from sources believed to be reliable. However, neither MBMG International Ltd nor its officers can accept any liability for any errors or omissions in the above article nor bear any responsibility for any losses achieved as a result of any actions taken or not taken as a consequence of reading the above article. For more information please contact Paul Gambles on [email protected]


Life in Chiang Mai: by Mark Whitman

Bombs, Boys and Burma

Before going any further I must tell you that the only near lethal thing I can concoct is a vodka-martini, but of course security people at airports cannot be expected to know that. So the following was partly my fault. I checked in at Suvarnabhumi Airport a week or so ago and in my carry on bag had packed a few items including shampoo and shaving cream in what I thought were allowed sizes. This proved not to be the case and my bag was x-rayed a second time.
The polite young lady checked through the potions and decided that three of them were above the current limit and asked me to throw them away. I explained that one of them was a very expensive shaving cream (Clinique, since you don’t ask) and suggested it be put into a plastic container and sent separately.
This means form filling. She calmly stuffed all items back in the wash bag with the admonition, ‘not do this next time’. Naturally I agreed and was free to create whatever bomb these gels and liquids were suited to. Like most people I am happy to have security checks rather than be hi-jacked or blown out of the sky but is there really any point to them if they are not enforced?
This return flight followed a few days in Pattaya visiting friends who bizarrely choose to live there and a couple of others on holiday. The place is coming to resemble a Bosch painting and in no way would I want to be there for more than a long weekend, whereas 25 or more years ago it was still pleasant with something of Thailand about it and did not boast the hundreds of bars and other distractions, least of all at Jomtien where I stay.
On my last evening I went to deliver something for a friend who had been in Chiang Mai, and headed home without going to Pattaya. It meant going to a bar in Sunnee Plaza, and I must say that was dismal experience with many youngsters, (some could have barely been in their teens), sitting around looking for customers. The owner of the bar I went into openly flaunted the law with many of his young lads being well under 18. There really is no point in organizations and authorities placing expensive advertisements and posters saying ‘stop the sex trade’ if the local police and others turn a blind eye to what is going on openly in the streets. Customers create the demand, bar owners arrange to fill it and glue sniffing, excess alcohol and cigarettes and unprotected sex naturally follows. The root cause is poverty and ignorance.
Personally, I don’t care what people do to their health or how they enjoy themselves provided no one else gets hurt in the process. Drink yourself to death, pollute your lungs. Fill up the hospital beds, if you must (and hopefully pay for the privilege). But with a law that quite rightly allows sex with people of 18, it seems reasonable that this should be enforced. Or is that just too prudish?
On my walk to Jomtien Beach I fell in behind a farang (50ish) and a Thai (30ish, I would guess) who were in animated conversation. The following requires no commentary, although my colleague Hillary might raise a wry smile as she sips her champagne and nibbles the Godiva chocolates.
Farang: I don’t understand it. I just DON’T UNDERSTAND!
Thai: What to understand?
F: Well for a start what I don’t UNDERSTAND is why he left me. For that…that guy. He’s older than me and I may not be that good looking but I’m better looking than HIM. I just don’t get it.
T: You not understand.
F: No I don’t.
T: No, I mean you NOT understand. Nothing to understand. This guy he offer more money than you. No matter if you good looking. No matter if you 25 and really handsome. Young boy he tell mama I really love this guy but he have no money. This old man he o.k. and he really like me, take care, plenty money. And mama say you forget young man and go with old man.
F: (The sound of silence…)
T: NOW you UNDERSTAND.
Meanwhile things go on much as before in Burma and, at the risk of saying I told you so, I must ask whether writers on the subject are really surprised about that. Last week there was a plaintive article stating that the generals had broken every ‘promise’. The crackdown continues, there have been no constructive meetings between Ang Saan Sui Kyi and the junta, diplomatic efforts are at a standstill and even New Zealand is working with the fascist regime. And the writer seemed surprised at this. Money talks, China is only concerned with trade, the Asean countries have ceased making noises. Not even a bark to go with no bite. Will the new government here be less sympathetic to the generals? I hope so. Will the opportunity for pressure during the run up to the Olympics be taken? Will America tighten its embargoes even more? Just possibly, but then other countries fill the gap. Will another in-country revolt be possible? And if it happens will they get more support this time? I begin to wonder if the optimism of September has evaporated entirely. Sad if that is the case.


Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
Charlie Wilson’s War:
US Drama - 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. How an unlikely trio of influential and colorful characters conspired to generate covert financial and weapons support for the Afghan Mujahideen to defeat the Russians in the 1980s - and armed America’s future enemies in the process. Snappy, amusing, and ruefully ironic. Rated R in the US for strong language, nudity/sexual content. Generally favorable reviews. At Airport Plaza only.
27 Dresses: US Comedy/Romance - Frothy, funny, and formulaic, a pleasantly predictable romantic comedy. Mixed or average reviews.
Valentine / Krit-ka-Jaa: Thai Romance/Comedy - Unremarkable Thai comedy with several love stories, except that here a “tom” lesbian and a transvestite switch bodies after a traffic accident in Phuket, and they get to like their new bodies, feeling even more comfortable than before.
Ghost-in-Law: Thai Comedy/Horror - The usual Thai combination of horror with slapstick comedy. 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.
Chocolate: Thai Action - A superior Thai action film that is a huge hit in Thailand, with a new martial arts star. Within the conventions of a martial arts movie, it’s really quite inventive. A young autistic woman has developed uncanny martial arts skills by watching television, and from living next door to a Muay Thai academy. She discovers a list of debtors in her ill mother’s diary and goes collecting, finding herself up against an organized crime ring.
CJ7: Hong Kong Comedy/Sci-Fi/Family - [* File contains invalid data | In-line.JPG *]Delightful! An extremely poor Stephen Chow finds a toy in the junkyard for his young son - a toy which is a sort of Chinese E.T. The movie is dubbed in Thai, and although supposedly without English subtitles, it did when I saw it. I thought the movie marvelously odd and quirky. The kid is great, and Stephen Chow is amusingly droll.
Death Note: L: Change the World: Japan Thriller [* File contains invalid data | In-line.JPG *]- What a pity that this fascinating film is shown here in a Thai-dubbed version only! (Despite that, I’ve now seen the film twice.) The character “L” who is the focus of this movie is an absolutely mesmerizing and unique creation. This prequel to the previous two Death Note films shows this youth in all his glory, as the world’s greatest detective, using his superior intellect and deductive skills to solve the most baffling crimes. No slouch intellectually, he is the world’s most infuriating slouch physically. He is skinny and hollow-chested, despite continually eating candy on a skewer. He single handedly keeps the eye-liner industry in business. His reactions to people are exceeding strange, especially with females and young children. His fate, as we know from the second Death Note movie and the 108 volumes of the original story in manga form, is to end the string of deaths due to the “Death Notebook” by writing his own name in it, thereby signing his own death warrant. It’s all very complicated and convoluted, a modern-day legend, and simply terrific.
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. Not for the faint of heart, not for the squeamish, not for dislikers of Sondheim. But you should give it a chance to work its wonders on you. Reviews: Universal acclaim. At Vista only.
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. An American gangster negotiates drug-running contracts with Golden Triangle drug lords during the Vietnam era. Generally favorable reviews. At Vista only.
Scheduled to
open Feb. 21
Jumper:
US Adventure/Sci-Fi - With Samuel L. Jackson. A genetic anomaly allows a young man to teleport himself anywhere. He discovers his “jumping” ability when he is a child, along with the fact that this gift has existed for centuries, and he finds himself in a war raging between “Jumpers” and those who have sworn to kill them.
Kod (Handle Me With Care): Thai Romance/Drama - A three-armed man from Lampang worries he might be considered a freak, decides to remove one of his two left arms, but his girlfriend likes him the way he is. (Really, I’m not making this stuff up!)
Kung Fu Dunk: Hong Kong/Taiwan Sports/Comedy - With superstar Jay Chou as an orphan turned Shaolin martial artist who somehow ends up playing basketball using his Shaolin skills.


Life in the laugh lane: by Scott Jones

123 reasons to live in Chiang Mai

Today the Internet informed me, and mankind, that the temperature in my former home state of Minnesota reached 40 degrees below zero…Fahrenheit. (It’s a moot point since 40 below is the very point where Celsius and Fahrenheit meet.) The lowest temperature was officially recorded in Embarrass, Minnesota, which says exactly what this information does for the image of Minnesota around the world.

It finally froze over in America.

It’s 83 degrees above zero as I write this here in Thailand, hence the 123 reasons to live in Chiang Mai, calculated in degrees of temperature difference. Somehow I endured similar weather as a child, trying to have fun in these life-threatening situations. We’d get up at dawn to watch the firemen chop the dogs of the hydrants. Squirrels would be throwing themselves against electric fences to warm up. To survive hitchhiking, you’d only hold up a photo of your thumb. You learn the advantages of layering clothing to keep warm, which basically means wearing everything you own. Flashers in overcoats are forced to run up and just describe themselves to their victims.
The cold is powerful. At my father’s cabin in northern Minnesota, we walked outside on a splendid, sunny day to see a thermometer reading of 57 below. To prove a local legend, we threw a bucket of hot water up in the air and watched it freeze into ice pellets before hitting the ground. Dad and I also demonstrated this miracle while trying to write our names in the snow with urine, though I don’t suggest this stunt for women. It’s hard enough for a man to avoid the cold teeth of the zipper, but buttocks frozen to the ground is a frightening possibility.
During a recent trip to Malee’s Nature Lovers Bungalows near Chiang Dao, a peaceful spot sometimes interrupted by Malee’s three-year-old son Peter, who has a little more energy than a nuclear power plant about to explode, I learned that a classic Minnesota cold calamity also occurs in Thailand. Me: “How Peter? He’s very quiet today.” Malee: “He put his tongue on the freezer and it stuck there.” Fact: bare skin, especially the wet kind, can instantly freeze to bare metal. This phenomenon has happened to every child in Minnesota at least once, or perhaps often to very slow learners or people with permanent brain freeze. Kids have a strange, uncontrollable desire that forces them to put their tongue on random metal in the dead of winter. In my case, it was the car door handle. My tongue and lips immediately became one with the handle. This terrified child didn’t calmly mumble, “Mom, would you please bring the hair dryer out here to the driveway?” My reaction was sheer terror as my head jerked backwards and left a frozen tongue fossil on the handle.
At a gathering here of several Americans and Canadians, I asked if this had happened to anyone else. The reaction was unanimous and matter-of-fact. Robert: “Sure, I put my tongue on a shopping cart.” Whoever: “Yeah, a door knob for me.” Todd initially said, “lamp post”, but then listed a few other odd items, which put him in the slow learner category. (I hope he doesn’t read this column and try the snow-writing trick.) Just imagine the trauma of poor little Robert wandering through a subzero parking lot in search of his mother with his tongue frozen solid on the handlebars. That memory alone is enough to keep him in Chiang Mai for life.
I am no longer cold-blooded enough to exist in Minnesota. Last year I was frozen there a few times during the summer. Considering the current climate of finances in America, I’m just hoping my funds are not frozen. Perhaps this cold cloud over America will have a warm silver lining during this year’s frenzied presidential campaign: maybe a few politicians will be forced to keep their hands in their own pockets.


Doc English The Language Doctor: Humanistic Language Teaching

Hello! I hope that your children are progressing well and studying hard. I had the chance to check out the Nintendo Wii game console recently and I must say that homework faces some stiff competition these days. I did not buy one because I think I’d never do any work with it lying around. When I was a kid there were no home computers and nothing on telly, so I did my homework out of sheer boredom.
This week we look at Humanistic Language Teaching (HLT). Essentially, this is a teaching approach that allows children to feel more valued, more involved in the teaching process and more in control of their own learning.
Like many teachers, I often feel that my lessons are in danger of becoming too teacher-centered, because I plan lessons, deliver them and then decide what is right and wrong in my own classroom. I am under pressure to deliver a curriculum, deliver facts and to get lessons started and finished on time. There is often little time for chat and for developing new ideas. Sometimes teacher-centred lessons can be really BORING for students. If you have ever sat in an adult class, or listened to a lecture, you must have found it really boring to sit there for ages without being allowed to interrupt or contribute to the discussion. It’s like being at a dinner party where you are not allowed to speak, your opinions are not valued and you have to listen to some windbag go on for ages about the price of butter in Foodland.
The HLT approach emphasizes a need to listen to students, encourage them, foster new ideas and share tasks. There is a focus on spoken communication, rather on just reading and writing tasks. The teacher is seen as a facilitator and equal to the student, there to guide the student rather than control.
So, how to begin as a Humanistic teacher at home? First, provide plenty of time for warm ups. Before rushing into homework tasks, ask your child about their day. Ask them what they liked and disliked. Take time to discover what they are learning at school and how it relates to their homework task.
Next, choose a subject to talk about and listen to your child. Let them practice talking without interruption. Value what they are saying, not how they say it. Perhaps you could discuss an event at school, what happened and why. Encourage and reward their efforts with praise, don’t criticize. The expression of feelings is very important in HLT. Let your child know how you feel about the event.
Check that your child’s homework is neither too hard nor too easy. If it is too hard and the child is unable to complete it on their own, send it back to the teacher with a note that a slightly easier task is required. If it is too easy, again let the teacher know. Generally teachers would not be offended by such an action. The child should be able to complete the homework on their own and it should also relate to what they are doing in class. Homework should be aimed at a level of ability slightly higher than your child’s current level of ability. For example, when reading, books should have a just a few new words and structures.
It does not matter if your child makes a few mistakes, as long as they try their best. Don’t correct any errors as the teacher will want to see these. Teachers use errors to gain a picture of a child’s development. If you correct them all, the teacher will get an incorrect picture of their current ability. Correct using hints and tips, never put the child down or make them feel inadequate.
When reading, ask your children to express opinions on the story and how they would feel in a similar situation. You can do this also when you watch TV together. Ask your children to make predictions on what will happen. They will have to imagine themselves in a different role to do this and think about other people’s feelings.
Finally, if your child is simply not in the mood to study, don’t force them. If you are able to coax them to the table, make sure they walk away from each homework session with a sense of accomplishment. Remind them what they have learnt and what they have achieved. Never give a back-handed compliment such as, “You did well, considering…” Always make them feel good about themselves. The point is not for your child to finish the work, or even to get it all right. The achievement is in the process of learning, not the product or result. If my students have tried their hardest and feel good about what they have achieved on any given day, then that’s good enough for me. If we don’t finish or even if they have learnt something different to what I intended because they chose the path of the lesson, than that’s fine.
I hope you enjoyed hearing about HLT. If you want to find out more you can check out: http://www.hltmag .co.uk and if you want some humanistic language exercises you can carry out with your children you can visit these child-centered sites for younger kids: http://pbskids. org and http://www.sesame workshop.com/sesamestreet. For older children, you might like to visit the BBC site at http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/ and click on links to ‘PSHE’ and ‘Citizenship’.
That’s all for now ladies and gentlemen. Remember you can mail queries, complaints and suggestions to [email protected] This week I would be particularly interested to hear your opinions and suggestions on Pattaya schools and on education in general, in the ‘Land of Smiles’.


Welcome to Chiang Mai:

Have car - or motorbike - will travel!

Now that you’re over the shock of pulling strings to get your driving licence, the next priority is the interesting one - finding your vehicle! We’re assuming, of course, that your first priority is to buy a car, rather than the ubiquitous Honda Dream motorcycle. What you may not have realised yet is that, in order to purchase a car in Thailand, you’ll need to make yet another trip to the Immigration offices. On this occasion, you should go to the small office on your left - the same place you went to for your proof of residency letter for your driving licence. This time, mention that you need proof of residency in order to buy a car. Or a motorbike. Or a lorry. Or whatever else you fancy! You’ll need the letter to enable the registration of the vehicle to be transferred to you. And, remember, you cannot get this letter unless your visa is valid for one year. If you’re only here on a 90 day tourist visa, you’re stuck with public transport, taxis, or tuk-tuks!
New cars are, in Thai terms, expensive, as are newer second hand cars. If you feel you’d be happy with an older model, the price can drop dramatically. Remember that most Thai owners do not drive long distances at 90 miles per hour for the life of their vehicle, so engines will tend to be in better condition in high mileage cars than they would be in your home country. Another reason for this is that car engines in Thailand don’t have to endure “cold starts” for a good proportion of the year! Bodywork, too, tends to be in better shape, as, with no snow and ice to contend with, roads are not salted here. The one thing it is essential to check, of course, is the air conditioning system, you would not appreciate its needing a recon in the height of the hot season, would you?
There are many retailers of used cars in Chiang Mai, most with large lots crammed with cars and trucks. Perhaps a more useful way to find what you want at a good price is to ask for recommendations to a good repair shop who are used to dealing with farangs, and who will search for the make and model you have decided on. Another way, (but you will need a Thai friend for this), is to watch out for cars parked along the superhighway, the major roads, and in the motor trade districts in town. These will have a “for sale” sign on them, together with a telephone number. Hence the need for a Thai friend…not only to start a conversation with the owner, but to start the bargaining process! We might also mention that, if you attempt this yourself, you may find that the price goes up dramatically when the owner realises that you are not Thai!
When you have found - or someone has found for you - a suitable vehicle, the next, and very important, step is to have it checked out by a reliable and knowledgeable mechanic. Given that the Automobile Association doesn’t exist here, (if it did it would speak Thai and be no use to most of us!), the best way to go about this is to ask around in the expat community for a recommended repair shop who are happy to provide this service. If problems are discovered, you may then decide to either look for another vehicle or cost out the repairs and have the afore-mentioned Thai friend try to bargain the price down accordingly. Remember, if something does go wrong, repairs, both mechanical and bodywork, will cost a fraction of what you were used to paying at home - unless you go to a main dealership, of course.
So, you’ve found your dream car - what now? You will have been given the car’s documentation by the owner, and will, of course, before payment, have had said documentation thoroughly checked over by the same Thai friend (or your recommended repair shop) to make sure that the vehicle is totally and absolutely legal. You now have to re-register your car in your name. Fortunately, you know exactly where to go to achieve this - the same place you got your driving licence! First, you have to take your car to the back of the building, where it will be given a short - very short - condition check, mostly involving emissions. Yes, the local authority IS taking pollution seriously! And, if we remember correctly, they do check the brakes, lights, etc, as well… You should give your documents and purchase receipt to an attendant; they will be processed and returned to you at the main building 3 days later. If your road tax has expired, you can renew it easily at the same offices when you collect your registration documents.
Final step - insurance, again obtainable at the same offices, or you may prefer to ask a friend for a recommendation. There are three levels of motor vehicle insurance - the lowest is, for all practical purposes, useless! The second level, comparable to an extended third party fire and theft insurance in the West, is usually considered adequate, and interestingly, includes transportation to hospital and basic medical care in cases of injury caused by a road accident. The third level is extremely “fully comprehensive”, but more expensive as a result.
Advice on the purchase of a motorcycle is similar; most people will be happy with a Honda Dream or similar, as ten million Thais can’t be wrong! Reliable and economical in use, easy to live with, a reasonable price when new, even cheaper in the cold season when the purchase price can drop by almost 50%, what more do you want? If you do want more - for example, a Honda 750, seriously “big” bikes can be purchased second hand in Chiang Mai for reasonable prices at specialist dealerships. Essential if you want to ride the mountain roads! However, if you are considering buying a second-hand bike, it is even more essential to rigorously check all documentation, and preferable to buy from a registered dealer such as Honda itself. We hate to mention this, but there is a strong market both here in Thailand and on the borders for stolen bikes, and a good few undesirables who work very hard to supply it!

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

The Cape Leadwort - two beautiful blues

Of all the colours with which flowers thrill us, the most luminous colour in shade of half-light is blue. At dusk, when reds turn black and other colours lose their brilliance, blue seems to glow, taking over, even stealing, the limelight.
One of the best plants for this effect comes originally from the Cape of Good Hope, the southern-most point of Africa. Its flowers are a beautiful sky-blue, one of the most effective true-blue shades that Nature shows us. Never out of flower, Plumbage Capensis develops into a bush of considerable size, averaging 6 feet tall by 6 feet wide. If you have limited space in your garden, it will react well to pruning to a more convenient shape and height if required.
Plumbage Capensis is readily available right now; this is a good time to purchase and plant, as this species prefers the dry season. It will, however, need careful watering until the rains come if newly planted. A new variety producing flowers of a particularly brilliant shade of blue is also now available. However, if blue is seriously “not your colour”, this lovely bush also comes in white!
For a wonderful display, you could pant the new, brilliant blue variety in the foreground, placing the slightly softer blue of the original version slightly further back, and finishing with the white variety further away. This will give an exaggerated perspective when viewed, a very attractive prospect. If you are concerned about placing bleu with other colours, remember that it looks startling with scarlet red, cool with silver foliage, and restful and rich with salmon pink.
The Cape Leadwort is, surprisingly, quite happy in a pot, which makes it a good subject for a window box, as it enjoys good drainage and will trail to your heart’s content. As it has no scent, you could try planting it with white Jasmine, adding silver Centauria as a contrast.

Tip of the Week

For your window boxes and hanging baskets, try adding some water retaining jelly, available where you buy your potting soil. This substance expands and absorbs water, and increases the water retentiveness of the soil itself.


Protect your important files - Move your My Documents away

Most, if not all, of us store our documents, pictures, music and video files in the most common place in the world - “My Documents”. Windows XP gives you the freedom to keep your My Documents folder in any location you wish.
Now you may ask, “Why should I move My Documents somewhere else?” Remember the day when the guy at your favorite computer store said, “Sorry Sir. Your Windows crashed, your files are lost and we cannot do anything about it but to format your computer.”
Let’s not let that day come back to us. Moving your My Documents away from C Drive or “System Drive” can save your files when your computer accidentally crashes or needs to be formatted for any reason. Plus, My Documents tends to be a very large folder as we have music and videos in there as well. By moving it to another drive, it frees up a lot of space in your C drive.
To do this, you must have a second drive, like D drive, in your computer.
Here’s a simple and safe way to relocate your My Documents folder in Windows XP:
1) First, you will have to create a “My Documents” folder in a new location. I recommend that you create one in D drive. The path should then be “D:\My Documents\”
2) On the original My Documents icon, which is usually on the Desktop, right-click mouse on the icon and select properties and you will get the “My Documents Properties” box.
3) Under “Target folder location”, click “Move”.
4) When asked to “Select a Destination”, choose the location of the new My Documents folder you have created earlier, which is, the My Documents folder under the D drive. Then, click OK.
5) Click OK again on the My Documents Properties box. You will then be asked to confirm if you want to move the files from the old location to the new location; verify and click Yes. The files in your old My Documents will then be automatically moved to the new one in your D drive.
Your My Documents is now officially moved to a new and safer location!
For more computer tips, log on to www.mrtechsavvy.com.

Does 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
Check out www.geogreeting.com – The coolest way to send greetings to your friend!


An American Redneck in Chiang Mai: by Michael LaRocca

Run for the Border: Part II

Yos made a friend on the Thai side of the border. On the Lao side of the border, there was the “friend” again, so Yos asked for directions to the Embassy. Friend informed him that he didn’t have all the pieces of paper he needed and thus couldn’t drive in Laos. This is why I never talk to strangers. I think the guy was full of it and Yos is far too trusting for a man my age, but what could we do? The clock was ticking, Yos was convinced he couldn’t keep driving, and it’s even possible he was right. It was Thursday morning, around 9. Embassy closes at 12. The plan was to apply for our visas Thursday morning, get them Friday afternoon, then return home fast. If we missed that Thursday morning window, and applied on Friday morning instead, we’d slam up against some holidays and get our visas next Wednesday afternoon. And that, friends and neighbours, would suck.
Yos’s face was something you wouldn’t want to see. Same look he had when the Thai Immigration heavies invaded our office a week earlier, the end result of which was this Laos trip. Friend’s news broke Yos’s heart. I quickly slapped some money into Yos’s hand, told him not to worry, and said we’d meet him at the Embassy in Vientiane. Friend and his associate, whom we shall call Sloot, were mighty quick to swipe our luggage. Whisk through paperwork for Visa On Arrival, “through the back door, haha” he said after Sloot literally did enter the back door.
Friend and Sloot had an associate, or so it seemed. I thought the guy was a gangster disguised as a monk. I still do, in fact. I didn’t see the bulge of a gun in his orange robe, but I don’t care. He didn’t look devout to me. Leaning on walls with that “air” of a gangsta - you know what I mean! I christened him “Enforcer” - but not to his face. By 10 a.m., we were in a van. Behind us, Enforcer and a monk who looked like a monk. In front of us, we’d eventually learn, a Thai lady who is in fact a Georgian (USA not USSR) with a lady friend who never spoke. In front of them, Friend behind the wheel and Sloot beside him.
Georgia Peach claimed to have rented this vehicle for the entire day, not to be associated with Friend and Sloot, and that she was only doing us a favour because of Southern hospitality. Enforcer, she said, was a monk who she either had “helped live in the US” or “would help live in the US”. She was firing it so fast and furious that Jan and I heard differently. Whatever. At the end of this surreal, stressful, and seriously messed up adventure, we were where we needed to be, at least 90 minutes before closing time. We didn’t get screwed out of any money. What we paid for our Visas on Arrival was the price posted on the wall and the Internet, and we didn’t pay for the ride. I still feel there was some screwage involved somehow. Just my instinct. Note from the future: Friend found Yos at the hotel later that evening. Okay, so he’s probably a pimp.
Applying for my Non-Immigrant Type B visa, as owner of a business, was quick and painless. I knew it would be. The Immigration Police in Chiang Mai, who told me to get out of their country, also told me I had perfect paperwork. No worries. Jan applied for a Non-Immigrant Type B visa, in her case as a prospective teacher for a university here in Chiang Mai. Guess what? New law! It wasn’t a law two days ago but now it is. All teachers must have a certificate stating that they have no criminal record. Nobody told us that before our trip, so we didn’t have one. Thank you, John Mark Kerr. Who didn’t, it transpired, even do it.
To be continued…



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