The Doctor's Consultation: by Dr. Iain Corness
Is caffeine a killer?
Did you have a cup of coffee
this morning? If you did, and you are pregnant, then one more cup in the
next 24 hours is dangerous, according to some researchers. However, if you
are not pregnant, you may be reducing your risk of ovarian cancer, one of
the top six killer cancers! And where does ‘decaff’ fit into all this?
Every week in the lay press you are bombarded with horror stories of what
dangers we all face. These horror stories come from reports done by
legitimate researchers, picked up by the media and away it goes from there.
On the surface, it all seems very probable. Take the two cups of caffeine
and be ready to miscarry item. Dr De-Kun Li of Kaiser Permanente Division of
Research, whose study appears in the American Journal of Obstetrics and
Gynaecology said, “Women who are pregnant or are actively seeking to become
pregnant should stop drinking coffee for three months or hopefully
Dr Li and colleagues study involved 1063 pregnant women who were members of
the Kaiser Permanente health plan in San Francisco from October 1996 through
October 1998. Women in the group never changed their caffeine consumption
What they found was women who consumed the equivalent of two or more cups of
regular coffee or five 340ml cans of caffeinated soft drink - were twice as
likely to miscarry as pregnant women who avoided caffeine.
This risk appeared to be related to the caffeine, rather than other
chemicals in coffee, because they also saw an increased risk when the
caffeine was consumed in soft drink, tea, or hot chocolate.
Hold on a second! Now we have expanded to study to cover hot chocolate as
well? The study of 1063 pregnant women in the two years from 1996-1998 is
also a very small percentage of women world-wide who drink coffee while they
are pregnant. What other commonalities were there in the 1063 women, that
maybe they didn’t look for or ask about? Just being in San Francisco might
be enough, perhaps?
However, two days after the shock-horror miscarriage item hit the world
media, there was another report. Researchers now claim the much-demonized
substance may fight cancer.
After studying more than 80,000 women, US and Australian experts found foods
containing caffeine - such as coffee, tea, cola and chocolate - may reduce
the risk of ovarian cancer, the sixth-most common cause of cancer deaths
among Australian women.
According to Assistant Professor Shelley Tworoger of Harvard University in
Boston and her colleagues - including medical epidemiologist Associate
Professor Dorota Gertig of the University of Melbourne and Victorian
Cytology Service - caffeine was beneficial, but decaffeinated coffee showed
no health benefit at all.
For reasons they cannot yet explain, the group also found the beneficial
effect of caffeine was strongest for women who had never used oral
contraceptives or postmenopausal replacement hormone therapy.
The researchers analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study, an ongoing
assessment of the well-being of 212,701 female registered nurses that began
in 1976 when the nurses were aged 30-35.
Every two years, researchers at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital
checked up on the surviving women. After studying the nurses’ history,
Professor Tworoger and Professor Gertig’s group found only a very small
association between smoking and mucinous tumours, a rare form of ovarian
cancer. They also found no connection between alcohol consumption and
Oncologist Ian Olver, head of Cancer Council Australia, said the finding was
interesting and based on a very comprehensive study. “It’s well worth
looking into further,” Professor Olver said.
In the meantime, Professor Olver said coffee and chocolate couldn’t hurt and
might even help. “My standard advice is everything in moderation,” he said.
The whole research really hangs on Professor Olver’s statement, “It’s well
worth looking into further.” And research salaries and equipment costs
money, and where does it come from? Make the biggest claims with the
greatest amount of shock-horror and funding will be forthcoming. Mark my
words, the chocolate manufacturers will jump on this like blowflies on a
Now I must go and have a cup of coffee. I don’t have to worry, I’m male!
Heart to Heart
I am a single, mature English lady who has lived here for 3 months, why
is it that you don’t see white ladies out with young Thai men? There are
lots of old and young white men out with their Thai ladies or Thai men
for the evening, but not the other way round.
I know you can visit male go-go bars and get a handsome man for the
evening but where do white ladies take their handsome Thai men? Is it
because Thai men don’t like to be seen out with white ladies? I would
love to take a handsome Thai man out for a meal, a drink and dancing,
and I’m sure there must be plenty of ladies like myself who would love
to do this also. So how do I address the balance, any suggestions?
Goodness me, my Petal, just where in England are you from? Some strange
little village where the height of excitement is the Maypole dances, and
that’s only once a year? What is stopping you taking your handsome Thai
man anywhere? It certainly is not “because Thai men don’t like to be
seen out with white ladies.” On the contrary, Ms Perplexed, in some
areas a white English lady would be looked upon as a bit of a prize,
just like the trophy wives the English males like to get. I think you
have some sort of psychological hang-up, and it is you who is afraid to
be seen with a Thai man, not the other way round. As you say, there are
plenty of male go-go’s and you don’t even have to go out of that locale
to find a nice place to eat. Be brave, and let me know what happened
after you took the public plunge! I am quite sure nobody will have
thrown nasturtiums, or even aspersions.
I am always on time for appointments as I think nobody should have to
wait for me. My girlfriend is always late for appointments and says she
is Thai so it doesn’t matter because everyone in Thailand is always
late. Am I right or has she got it wrong?
Dear Punctual Pete,
Whilst I applaud your sense of timing, it won’t do much for you in
Thailand, other than give you ulcers, Petal. You see, in Thailand, since
your girlfriend fully expects to come back again, why hurry through this
life? Enjoy it a pace that is easy to maintain. Everything will still be
there tomorrow. The Thai people understand Thai time. However, if it is
appointments with foreigners, then both sides expect you to be on time,
so in that case, leave your girlfriend at home. Either that or secretly
wind her watch forward by about an hour.
With all the controversy about the smoking ban in pubs and restaurants
and everyone up in arms about it, what do you think? Or are you some
kind of reformed evangelical anti-smoker as well? Where do you stand?
And I presume that should be Sam the Smoker, judging by the tone of your
letter, so where do I stand? Well, Petal it all depends what time of
day. Early in the morning I stand over the sink and brush my teeth (or
more correctly, tooth). Later in the day I stand beside my desk and read
my mail from lovely people like you. However, to be serious, I am
certainly no evangelist, though I am a non-smoker. So I am pleased about
the bans because I don’t come home from my favorite pub with my hair
smelling of tobacco smoke. That’s a plus for me. The old phrase “There’s
no smoke without fire” should be changed these days to “There’s no smoke
without a fiery disgruntled smoker!” I think you have to swallow the
fact that world opinion isn’t with you, Sam, so you are going to have to
alter your habits somewhat. By the way, I do not believe that the
commercial world is going to grind to a halt because of a smoking ban.
The shopping centers have been non-smoking areas for some years and they
are still raking in profits. Pubs and restaurants will survive and the
customers will still want to eat and drink, despite the doom and
gloomsters. You go to restaurants because of the food, not to sniff the
Last year I came over to Thailand for a holiday, and despite all the
warnings, I purchased a condominium for a girl and each month I would
send her money so she didn’t have to go back to the bar. Last month I
decided to surprise my lady by flying in for a couple of days. I found a
supposed friend of mine from the UK staying in the condo with her. He
was paying her too it turned out. Hillary, is it always like this?
It takes two to tango, and while you are bitter about your girlfriend,
Hillary would be more annoyed with your “friend” who betrayed you. I
think it’s high time you selected both your men friends and your
girlfriends more carefully. The local girls who work in bars do not have
the security of rich families or MBA’s. They live by their wits. Don’t
forget that, Petal.
by Harry Flashman
Wall Art with Wow!
When you take any shot, you should be hoping that the end result
will make people go “Wow! How did you get that effect?” Most of
those photographs are difficult to do, and the end result often
a case of trial and error. However, this week I will show you
how to get a Wow image, and you do not need any special
equipment at all - other than an ‘old’ film camera.
This week’s column refers very much to wall “art”. When you hang
something on the wall, you want an image with ‘Wow factor’ that
has an immediate effect on people. This trick will give you that
image with Wow. The end result will be such that people will say
for years, “How in heck did you take that? Was it a special kind
Well, the good news is that you do not need to know anything
about filters, let alone use one. The next piece of good news is
that you also do not need to know anything about f stops,
shutter speeds, zoom lenses, reciprocity failure or the like.
Any film camera will do – even a cheap point and shooter!
The first step is to pop down to the photoshop and buy some
slide film. Don’t worry if you haven’t got a projector, never
used slide film before or any other of the excuses. If you
normally use 100 ASA print film then get some 100 ASA slide
film. Do not get the Kodachrome type that you have to send away
for processing, just get ordinary slide film that can be
OK, load the camera with the slide film (it’s just the same to
load as print film - for most cameras, put in the cassette, pull
the tail across and shut the back of the camera!)
The final result looks best with landscapes - include some sky,
or seascapes where you include a yacht or similar close up, or a
river scene, and finish the roll of film.
Now take the film back to the shop for processing and here is an
important part. You ask for E6 slide processing, but do not
mount the slides! Leave the slides either as a roll or cut into
strips of six and put in sleeves like your usual print film
negatives. Impress this on the girl behind the counter. You do
not want them mounted. Repeat the instructions!
When you get the slide films back, just hold them up to the
light and select any one shot that you like the look of. You can
choose the image in the shop even. You don’t have to be
Now talk to the girl behind the counter, saying, “I want you to
print number X as if this is a negative. I know it is slide
film, but I want you to print a picture, using this slide as the
negative.” It will probably take quite some repeating before the
technician will reluctantly take the job on, with much warnings
about it will not look right, etc. Ignore all warnings, just
have faith. While you are at it, tell them that you do not want
the usual small size, but get an enlargement done straight off.
10” x 8” is sufficient and costs less than 100 baht. The
photoshops generally call this size 8R. Repeat your
instructions, tell them you know the color will be wrong and
leave them to it.
You see, what happens with color prints is that the processing
machine recognizes certain colors in the normal negative and
converts that to green for grass, blue for skies, etc., in a
photochemical way. By giving the autoprocessor grass that is
already green and skies already blue totally confuses its auto
brain (and the girl in the shop usually) and it will produce a
print with the wildest psychedelic colors you will ever see.
Expect orange trees and yellow skies - you can get anything! It
is almost impossible to predict, but the end result will
certainly have that Wow I promised you. Try it this weekend. You
will not be disappointed.
Money Matters: Paul Gambles
MBMG International Ltd.
The Writing is on the Wall (St) part 3
One notable side-effect of Meyer’s success was that the
performance-related compensations for Meyer and his team significantly
exceeded those paid to either endowment managers at other universities or to
faculty staff at Harvard and which were widely reported in various
Massachusetts publications. The end result of which was that Meyer and a
number of key team members relinquished their posts in 2005, although
Meyer’s skills have been retained as an external consultant at the same
market prices, but somehow paying amounts to a consultant is different in
the eyes of Harvard’s faculty staff and creates less difficulties.
Meyer, along with his counterpart David Swensen at Yale, had shown how to
successfully integrate hedge fund, private equity, and real asset holdings
into their portfolios, thereby increasing returns, reducing risk and
enhancing overall efficiency. A good barometer of this was the downturn of
2000-02, when the super-endowments massively outperformed the free-falling
markets, despite having also generated better than average returns under the
preceding favourable market conditions.
This made uncomfortable reading for many pension plans and as Michael C Litt
has pointed out in his excellent writings, the more sophisticated ones
decided to more closely examine the Harvard and Yale models. Many decided
and even publicised their views that “alpha is a zero-sum game”. They said
the rest of the investment world pays for the additional returns generated
by the super endowments and that only a very, very few pension funds and a
limited number of investment managers, such as MitonOptimal, knew what they
were doing. This is because operating within SEC frameworks doesn’t permit
the flexibility to generate alpha in the same way that super endowments or
offshore funds can as both fall under different regulatory regimes.
So, in one sense the super endowments are a happy accident of fate - because
they don’t have to follow the anachronistic SEC rules pertaining to
portfolio management. They can profit from the opportunities that SEC
regulated funds have to forego. Mind you, the space that the SEC rules has
created is huge and so far only a small handful have exploited that, from
Alfred Jones to Jack Meyer to David Swensen to Sam Liddle, Martin Gray and
Scott Campbell at MitonOptimal. But it is not just these people, the team at
Frontier have been achieving good results as well. By the use of the
multi-asset class approach they have done well whilst not exposing their
clients to too much volatility. This is done by:
• Exposure to eight asset classes: traditional and alternative.
• Asset allocation inspired by the large US University Endowment Funds.
• Diversification across asset classes generates different risk adjusted
• Six assets classes accessed through low cost index replication.
• Disciplined and systematic rebalancing.
• Three funds offering different levels of exposure using leverage.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating and all of the above cannot be
One of the least understood aspects of the global economy over the last few
years has been the way that central banks ensured that liquidity was pumped
feverishly into all markets creating equity, private equity and property
bubbles, while at the same time talking in severe tones about inflation and
hiking interest rates. This may not be quite smoke and mirrors but certainly
a case of doing one thing while pretending to do the opposite.
Policy makers are now committed to at least giving the impression of cutting
interest rates but are faced by the dearth of liquidity in the credit
markets. Three-month LIBOR rates hit a 20-year high recently. The falling
asking price for swaps shows that there is an expectation that rates will
gradually fall over the next 5 years.
In the third quarter of 2007, in the aftermath of sub prime, the following
* Morgan Stanley announced write-offs much higher than Wall Street expected.
* UBS has reported a CHF 4,000,000,000 loss on its fixed income division,
taking the entire bank into the red, heralding a management restructuring
that has cost 1500 jobs and warning that the outlook would be difficult for
the Swiss behemoth if credit markets don’t improve.
* Chuck Prince, chief executive of Citigroup, has faced calls for his
removal since the bank revealed it suffered US$6bn of write-downs and losses
in the third quarter after turmoil in the credit markets.
* Deutsche Bank’s results saw a write down of US$ 2,200,000,000 and a profit
warning (along with UBS, CitiGroup and Credit Suisse).
* Merrill Lynch have taken a US$5,000,000,000 write down, dismissed many
senior executives and are expected to suffer the consequences of their
exposures for some time to come. Their CEO, Stan O’Neal, did issue this gem
of an understatement: “While market conditions were extremely difficult and
the degree of sustained dislocation unprecedented, we are disappointed in
our performance in structured finance and mortgages. We can do a better job
in managing this risk.”
The toll of big bank losses from the credit squeeze has already topped
$20,000,000,000! These people are going to want their money back. We all
know who is going to pay for that!
All in all a lot of red faces on Wall Street ... and these are among the
best known names when it comes to managing other people’s money.
What this implies to us is that debt is at a premium now - borrowing is
difficult and this is likely to impact the real economy whatever the central
banks do. This will be one of the catalysts for the imminent severe market
downturn which will see borrowing costs forced lower as liquidity gradually
returns to a stagnant market. It’s looking as though things won’t pick up
for a couple of years. That’s not just our opinion - it’s what the credit
markets are telling us based on money supply.
The above data and research was compiled from
sources believed to be reliable. However, neither MBMG International Ltd
nor its officers can accept any liability for any errors or omissions in
the above article nor bear any responsibility for any losses achieved as
a result of any actions taken or not taken as a consequence of reading
the above article. For more information please contact Paul Gambles on
Life in Chiang Mai:
by Mark Whitman
Choose any color you want so long as it’s black…
So Henry Ford reputedly said when offering his countrymen
the first cheap car, later affectionately known as the Tin Lizzy. Ford, of
course, was interested in profits and a one color option helped that, but he
was also happy to provide something which people could not otherwise aspire
to. This occurred to me when I read that the Burmese junta was offering a
referendum in which the populace, (not including those in exile or
innocently suffering in jails), would be offered a chance to vote in a
This was allegedly a further step along their hypocritical ‘road map’ to
democracy, somewhere in the next 50 years, with which they placate weary
watchers of their farce. Unfortunately the voters are being offered Ford’s
choice, since the legitimate opposition - or rather the elected leader Aung
San Suu Kyi - is to be offered no part in the so-called election process.
Thus an announcement of the referendum is made with some publicity in
Singapore in February and shortly afterwards its validity is cast aside.
I recall an advertisement from my youth where a bully kicks sand in the face
of a skinny fellow sitting on the beach with his girl friend. The little guy
enrolls in a regime to build up his strength and later comes back to tackle
his tormentor. No such luck in the case of Burma where all those who
regularly receive sand in the face, turn the other way.
There is already talk that the new government here will ratify the Asean
Charter in June, and that by December the others in the group will endorse
the whole thing. The Philippines, who initially refused to sign up because
of Burma’s appalling human rights record, have modified their stand (which
would have made the Charter inoperative since it needed 100% ratification),
and thus another chance of standing up to the bully is lost. A group nearest
to Burma and indeed embracing that fascist state will give up the chance to
influence it, and meanwhile the rest of the world siphons off Burma’s gas
and oil and other reserves and the people get nothing.
And, by the way, do you know the reason given by the generals for denying
Suu Kyi a role? It is because she was married to a foreigner. It is worth
recalling that this poor man, a British academic, died a few years ago of
cancer and the regime would not allow her to visit him before he succumbed.
Looking back it might have been wise for her to have left Burma, although
she would not have been allowed to return, and fought against the regime
from the outside instead of remaining where her heart is - with her people.
She sacrificed freedom, (of a kind), and has since been treated with
contempt by the generals who makes noises about ‘progress’ and have
absolutely no intention of doing anything. How they must snigger behind
their porky hands at the skinny guys on the beach, flexing non-existent
Last week, I squeezed in a short mention of the still current season of
Filipino movies at the Alliance Francais and my film colleague mentioned it
at length. Even if you read this late on Tuesday or Wednesday there will be
still be a handful of films worth catching. You will also find that the
vastly popular “The Blossoming of Maximo Olivero” is available on DVD as are
some other movies by that most famous Filipino director, Lino Brocka.
The film season ends on Friday, (there are two shows each day at 5 pm and 8
pm and admission is a nominal 30 baht), with “The Bet Collector”, (2006),
which I have not seen. But an undoubted highlight is the classic “Manila by
Night “, (1981), which will be screened on Thursday evening. This will be
the original director’s cut and not the version that was widely seen after
the Marcos regime censored it because of its critical and highly graphic
depiction of life in the capital. Although I have not seen it for many
years, I feel sure it will still retain its power and integrity. The same
should be true of Brocka’s “Insiang”, (1976), which help forged his
reputation after a screening at the Cannes Film Festival. Sadly, he was
killed in a road accident, but remains a dominant figure in Filipino film
history for his intense social movies, which are enhanced by wonderful
performances and deep compassion for his often misfit characters. I am sure
that without his influence such movies as Maximo Olivero would never have
We are enjoying a little feast of good movies in Chiang Mai at present (with
some important commercial works promised) including the rare chance to see
Kon Ichikawa’s reworking of his “Murder of the Inugami Clan”, which,
surprisingly, played at Vista Kad Suan Kaew and was a great treat. Also soon
on screen at the Gymkhana Club are the first of two classic Ealing Studios’
films, showing on March 16 and 28, in what I hope will be regular
screenings. The first is Robert Hamer’s masterpiece “Kind Hearts and
Coronets”, a truly sophisticated movie and - dare I say it? - a rather
un-English work from that most English of studios. After that they will
screen the enchanting “The Lavender Hill Mob”. Shows begin at 7.30 pm. So
things are looking up. All we need now is for the British Council to emulate
the Alliance Francaise in its work and begin to show some interest in
cinema, other arts and social concerns, and I for one would be encouraged.
But - that seems a forlorn hope.
Let's Go To The Movies:
Now playing in Chiang Mai
The Mist: US Horror - There seems to be a wide divergence of
opinion on this film, from those who love it to those who hate it. A group
of terrified townspeople are trapped in a grocery store by a strange,
otherworldly mist, and there are “things” lurking in the mist. Mixed or
Michael Clayton: US Drama/Thriller - Back again! And isn’t it about
time you go again? With George Clooney (Best Actor nominee), Tom Wilkinson
(Best Supporting Actor nominee), and Tilda Swinton (winner, Best Supporting
Actress). I think it is simply terrific - smart and challenging, but never
to the point of confusion, Michael Clayton is a dramatic thriller with a
sharp script and faultless cast. Michael Clayton (Clooney) is what is known
in the legal world as a “fixer,” or in the character’s own pejorative
version, a “janitor” who cleans up legal messes for VIPs and corporations on
behalf of a prestigious New York City law firm.
Roger Ebert has this to say: “It is just about perfect as an exercise
in the genre. I’ve seen it twice, and the second time, knowing everything
that would happen, I found it just as fascinating because of how well it was
all shown happening. It’s not about the destination but the journey, and
when the stakes become so high that lives and corporations are on the table,
it’s spellbinding to watch the Clooney and Swinton characters eye to eye,
raising each other, both convinced that the other is bluffing.”
Rated R in the US for language. Reviews: Universal acclaim. At Airport Plaza
only, once a day at 17:10!
Across the Universe: US Musical - Here is a bold, beautiful, visually
enchanting musical where we walk into the theater humming the songs. Julie
Taymor’s Across the Universe is an audacious marriage of cutting-edge visual
techniques, heart-warming performances, 1960s history, and the Beatles
songbook. It’s all played with such conviction, that it’s hard to dislike
but hard to take seriously. Unadulterated white, middle-class baby boomer
nostalgia. Mixed or average reviews. At Airport Plaza only.
The Ghost and Master Boh / Phi Tawaan Kab Archan Taa Boe: Thai Comedy
- Previews show this to be your usual Thai low-class comedy with the usual
stable of comedians.
Soul’s Code: Thai Mystery/Thriller - Ghost thrills, Thai style. At
Airport Plaza only.
Jumper: US Adventure/Sci-Fi - Boy, is this a bad movie! I try very hard not
to be negative, so here goes: If you check all your brains at the door, you
might enjoy the mindless action without worrying about the truly stupid
script. And for sure you will enjoy the scenic places he “jumps” to.
Kod (Handle Me With Care): Thai Romance - A three-armed man from
Lampang worries he might be considered a freak, decides to remove one of his
two left arms, even though his new girlfriend likes him the way he is.
Kung Fu Dunk: Hong Kong/ Taiwan Comedy - With superstar Jay Chou as
an orphan turned Shaolin martial artist who ends up playing basketball. Thai
Charlie Wilson’s War: US Drama - Snappy, amusing, and ruefully ironic - but
after yet another viewing, I find the tone all wrong. See if you don’t agree
that the point of view is conflicting and confusing. But entertaining, yes,
as long as it lasts. Rated R in the US for strong language, nudity/sexual
content. Generally favorable reviews. At Vista only.
Chocolate: Thai Action - A superior Thai action film that is the top
film in Thailand for two weeks now. 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.
Death Note: L: Change the World: Japan Thriller - This film is being
shown here only in a Thai-dubbed version, with no English subtitles! It
deserves better treatment, to be seen by a wider audience. It’s mythic
storytelling of the best kind, and the character “L” who is the focus of
this movie is simply fascinating. Though a teenager, he is the world’s best
detective, and as he hunkers in a chair with his arms draped to either side
like broken wings, with his gaunt look and caved-in chest, he looks for all
the world like a vulture, calmly surveying the scene.
Scheduled to open Mar. 6
10,000 B.C.: US Adventure/Drama - Not content merely to destroy
our planet, Hollywood’s disaster master Roland Emmerich is now using his
special effects time machine to obliterate our past. Emmerich, who is best
known for directing effects-heavy, script-light modern day disaster movies
like The Day After Tomorrow and Independence Day, has turned his
attention to early man. This prehistoric epic follows a young mammoth
hunter’s journey through uncharted territory to secure the future of his
tribe. Did you know that 12,000 years ago everyone spoke English?
Life in the laugh lane:
by Scott Jones
Happy Cabby, Crabby Cabby
I have a love-hate relationship with Bangkok. I hate to go there and I love
to leave it. I never go to BKK unless I’m on my way to somewhere else or
have something that must be done there. It’s the Land of Too Few Smiles: too
big, too busy, too stinky. I take metered taxis so I don’t have to coat my
lungs with noxious fumes while battling tuk-tuk drivers over inflated fares
and hearing their vile requests to take me to ping pong ball shows in
Patpong. Our latest trip: an hour flight from Chiang Mai and a two-hour cab
ride to the hotel. Cabby One was reasonably personable, but possessed. We
careened down the freeway to halt at the exit for a half-hour, pray we get
to the stoplight before tomorrow and marvel how people exist in this
humongous labyrinth of concrete. After another half-hour inching our way to
Chinatown and another half-hour of not finding the hotel, we lugged our
luggage the last few blocks, struggling through the press of flesh as
elderly Chinese ladies with very hard, tall hair shoved past us.
Cabby with Bangkok Bambi
I respect anyone who chooses the cabby life since I voluntarily sentenced
myself for three months to that profession in my hometown Fargo, North
Dakota. BKK is not Fargo, which is small, quiet, flat and square. Make your
own map of Fargo: get a piece of graph paper, draw a railroad track down the
middle and number each line in four directions from the center. It takes 20
minutes to get anywhere from anywhere, unless interrupted by feet of snow or
a tornado that deposits you in the next state. I took people to, but hardly
ever from the airport. Planes were full of folks escaping, but few wanted to
I only remember three taxing taxi experiences in Fargo: Near Death 1, Near
Death 2 and The Grim Cycle of Poverty. Near Death 1 was a 12-hour, Sunday
shift when I had only three riders, made $7.45 and almost died of boredom.
Fargo is inherently boring, but imprisoned in a cab, it’s life threatening.
Near Death 2 happened routinely when called to pick up a massive, obese man
who lived in a seedy hotel, always wore the same seedy overalls and had
never bathed since he was a seed inside his mother. Like a cartoon, you
could almost see the steamy odor rising from his body as he waddled to the
cab. Whether 40 below or 40 above, I had to hang my head out the window like
a dog to survive the ride to his seedy café. The Grim Cycle of Poverty
started at the Roundup Bar, populated by down-and-outs who feast on 7-course
meals for breakfast: a six-pack of beer and a shot of Jack Daniels. I took
the quintessential drunk with a bulbous nose composed of 14 swollen, red
pores to his ramshackle house with drenched laundry hanging outside in the
pouring rain, heard wifely screaming from the inside, then, with electric
razor and toaster in his paws, to a pawn shop, then back to the Roundup. My
taxi meter said $9.50 but his new pawn wealth only totaled $9.00. I
contributed 50 cents as he staggered back into the bar, broke again, having
successfully enraged his spouse, lost his appliances and given all his bucks
to my boss.
BKK Cabbies Two thru Four were the surly variety that doesn’t look at you or
say anything and treat you like inanimate cargo, a load of meat in the seat.
Trying to plan a ride for a 9:30 am meeting on Sukumvit Soi Whatever, we
asked three drivers when we should leave our hotel the next morning. Cabby
Five said, “very busy, 7 am”. Cabby Six looked shocked, put his head in his
arms on the steering wheel and whimpered, “6 am”. Cabby Seven was a novice,
insane, had probably just stolen his taxi and said, “8 am”. We took middle
ground with 7 am and found Cabby Eight the Great, who flew just under the
speed of sound, blared techno-disco-wacko music and at times had two wheels
of his taxi up on the cement barriers of bridges while creating new lanes of
his own. For 75 baht, we arrived in 55 minutes with an hour and a half to
marvel at more concrete. Trying to get a ride back, Crabby Cabby Nine said
no, as if we’d asked him to take us to New Jersey. Cheeky Cabby Ten wanted
350 baht. Chatty Cabby Eleven took us for 200 baht, told us his entire life
story and wanted to live with us.
Okay, I do love Bangkok for one reason: all those 10,000,000 people live
there and not here in Chiang Mai.
Doc English The Language Doctor: Frequently asked questions
‘Just how do children learn a new
language?’ ‘What’s the best time to learn a new language’ and ‘How quickly
can you expect results?’ Parents tend to ask me these questions all the
time. Generally I say that it depends on the individual child, how much
exposure to English they have had, how competent they are in their native
language, how motivated they are, how much support we as teachers can give
them, etc. Actually I don’t usually know the answers as there are so many
factors at play. However, I do know that parents can have a major influence
over how quickly their child can acquire a new language through supporting
their child at home.
If your child is learning Thai and you want them to learn English, what is
the best age for you to introduce your child to the second language? Most
language research has shown that to become truly fluent it helps if your
child is exposed to both languages simultaneously, preferably in infancy and
in natural situations (not formal lessons). I do feel that younger children
appear to make incredible progress in English compared with later years, as
they are not shy and they learn quickly through play. They are not
embarrassed about asking a million questions and they need the answers right
now! Research has shown that the early years are perhaps the best time to
acquire a new language (there are cognitive reasons relating to the
development of the brain and social reasons also - children being less
inhibited at this stage and parents and carers perhaps being more willing to
listen and help the younger children).
If your child first learns Thai and then English at a later stage, there is
a chance that there will be ‘language interference’ affecting your child’s
ability to learn the second language (English). Language interference is
common in Thailand as most Thais learn English at a stage later than
infancy. This is why some Thais insert a vowel into a word that has two
adjacent consonants (“I go sa-wim”) and ignore the end consonant sound in
words like ‘like’ and ‘out’ (because they are applying Thai pronunciation
rules to English words - quite logical really).
Often children learning two languages simultaneously may be slow to start
speaking for the first time. This is because they have to listen to more
language input than the average child. Be patient with them, if you live in
a house where more than one language is spoken, then this apparent
reluctance to speak is natural.
Children who are introduced to a second language in pre-school may stop
speaking their first language for a period of time (known as the ‘silent
period’). If your child is starting at an international kindergarten, expect
them to be a little confused over which language to speak and when. They may
speak in sentences that mix the two languages together. This is an effective
strategy and should be encouraged during the early stages of learning a
language. Don’t worry; your child will learn to differentiate between the
two languages at a later stage.
Often in an international school environment, children starting late in the
educational system do not get enough support in their native first language
(such as Thai) and this can cause academic failure as they are not strong in
either language. Research has shown that children who are strong in their
first language make better second language speakers, so encourage your child
to study hard in both English and Thai. Amazingly, children who are fluent
in more than one language also do better in other subjects such as Maths or
Science. It’s as if learning more languages helps them improve cognitively.
It also helps them socially because they can make friends from countries
other than their own!
I generally find that children starting school for the first time with
little or no English have a really tough time. They are generally silent for
the first few weeks as they are unable to communicate and join in with
lessons without a great deal of support. They find listening for long
periods very tedious and frustrating so short, fun easy tasks are best at
first and teachers employ lots of different methods (using gesture, picture
clues, and translation) to help students understand.
Children need lots of encouragement to keep them buoyant and tasks that are
pitched at their level. It’s important to be aware of their motivational
levels during the first few weeks. If your child is starting at an
international or bilingual school for the first time you should talk to them
daily about what they have studied and try to set some time aside to talk
and practice English with them. Show interest in what they are doing in
school and encourage them to invite new friends round. Buy them books to
encourage them to read in English and new stationery to help them study in
So how long does it take to learn a language? Experts say that most children
(with non-native English speaking parents) can learn basic interpersonal
communication skills within 2-3 years, but it really depends on the daily
opportunities they have to speak and practice English. The ability to join
in and study all lessons in English and use English as a ‘working language’
make take another 3-5 years. For students studying English for only a few
hours a week, the process may be much longer. This is assuming that English
is not generally spoken at home.
There is a need for increasing numbers of bilingual speakers in our
continually shrinking global economy, so encourage your child to take up a
new language. Having failed to master Thai I have taken up Chinese, so I may
be ‘biting off more than I can chew’. However, learning a new language helps
me emphasize and understand what my students may be going through, so
perhaps you could try it too. There are plenty of language schools around
Pattaya and many of the classes offered are not expensive, so go ahead and
learn a new language yourself!
That’s all for this week. As always, if you have any queries about English
education you can mail me at: doceng [email protected] Enjoy spending
time with your child.
Welcome to Chiang Mai:
Shops, stores, markets, all your needs - but where? Part II
Again, this week’s “Welcome to Chiang Mai”
article is mainly for new arrivals and those reading this online and
wondering what to bring with them when the big day finally arrives. Or, more
likely, what to leave behind… Clothes, for example - everyone’s aware that
winter boots, coats, sweaters, etc, are unlikely to be of use even in what
is euphemistically referred to as the “cool season” here. As you finally
pack your 7-10 suitcases and worry about excess baggage charges, you’ll
probably be feeling pleased that you’d found the time to dump the lot in
your favourite charity shop. But remember, you will probably have a sea
shipment of books, some furniture, electrical appliances, etc, to follow -
all that warm clothing, blankets, etc, will be welcomed with open arms by
groups here who collect for the Hill Tribe villages, where the temperature
drops to freezing on a regular basis in the winter months! And you will know
for sure that your items will be going straight from your 20-foot container
to the people who really need them!
Maybe, just maybe, you’ve put on some weight in your last few years in your
home country, but have kept a few much-loved items of clothing against the
day when you finally decide to diet - never fear, the minute you get off
that plane, that day is here! And you don’t even have to diet! Most new
arrivals find that, after a few months on fresh, good quality food, lots of
cheap, in season, fruit and vegetables, and less protein intake, the weight
just falls off. So, the charity shop misses out again and you get to wear
your size 6 (USA), or size 10, (UK), jeans that you had packed in a
justified spirit of optimism. The writer of this article, did not, however,
receive such advice, and left 5, (yes, 5), pairs of classic Levi 501’s in
the UK. Not a happy bunny.
Shoes, however, are one thing you don’t have to worry about. As mentioned in
the Mail’s FeMail page some weeks ago, Chiang Mai is a shoeaholic’s
paradise. Not only beautiful sandals starting at a price of around 100 baht,
and decorated with any amount of “bling” you require - and here “bling”
seems to be obligatory - but also good leather shoes, sandals, and handbags,
all comparatively cheap. One of our favourite shops is situated on the right
as you walk into the Central Shopping Mall at Kad Suan Kaew, and features a
range of “Findig” brand leather shoes and handbags. It also features very
regular sales and special offers with very large discounts! Mmm.
Very large shoe sizes are more difficult, however, but it’s quite possible
to have your shoes made to your design and size, again at what will seem
like an amazing price.
These days, clothes in larger sizes are a great deal easier to find all
around town. Unfortunately, since the growth here of fast food outlets such
as McDonald’s, Burger King, Kentucky, etc, we notice that young Thais are
also increasing in size at a considerable rate. Even though this makes it
easier for Western shoppers, it’s a sad reflection of the times in which the
entire world lives. Tesco Lotus have a good selection of everyday items
including nightwear, sizes now go from S (usually resembling Western size
0!), to XXXL, although actual size seems to vary item to item, so always try
before you buy! As regards underwear, some very pretty bras can now be found
in larger sizes both at specialist stores and in the supermarkets, but
briefs to match still appear to be made for the equivalent of a 10 year-old
in the West! Strange…
Another very comfortable and attractive option, is to go for traditional
Lanna style clothing, mainly wrap-around skirts, pants, etc, in riotous
colours and patterns, often with the requisite amount of “bling” thrown in
and tops to match! A great place to shop for these is the upper floors of
Wararot market, by the River Ping. Or, if you are feeling creative, browse
the wonderful fabric shops in and around the same market, take your purchase
upstairs, and have an outfit made right there. Silk and cotton, very
suitable for the local climate, are both widely available and are
An admittedly upmarket but gorgeous selection of traditional style clothes,
including richly embroidered Hill Tribe skirts, pants, jackets, bags, etc,
is to be found in the “Lanna “ section at Airport Plaza, just off the Hang
Dong Road. There you will also find lovely, mainly silk, evening wear for
that special occasion, as well as all kinds of traditional style home
accessories. However, these items for the home are comparatively expensive,
and can quite often be found at far better prices further out of town along
the Hang Dong Road and at Ban Tawai, the famous, enormous, fascinating and
“must-see” Furniture Village, more of which in a later article.
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 queen of flowering
trees - Amherstia Nobilius
We are so very lucky here in Chiang Mai to have the absolutely ideal
conditions for growing what is considered by many to be the rarest and most
beautiful of all trees. Rare because it is the only species in the genus,
and because it hardly ever sets seeds, even when the attractive red and
yellow seed pods are actually produced. The red flowers with their yellow
and white blotched lips dangle in long streamers which can easily grow to
one metre in length, and on which each flower mimics an unknown and exotic
insect pollinator, possibly extinct for a thousand years or, at least, never
seen outside the tree’s native land, Burma.
Ameherstia Nobilius was discovered in the early 18th century in a monastery
garden in Kojun adjacent to the Saluen River, by the Director of the
Calcutta Botanical Gardens, Nathaniel Willich. The monks preserved the
tree’s great beauty by layering its limbs in the soil to root. Willich named
the tree in honour of a great collector of rare plants, Lady Sarah Amherst,
who also had a lovely long-tailed Asian pheasant named after her!
Amherstia is a “handkerchief tree”, in that the young leaves dangle like
large limp pink handkerchiefs at the end of the branches, looking most
attractive for about a week before they turn green. Both the young leaves
and the flowers are edible. The tree prefers a little shade in order to
develop a moist, rich root in calcareous soil, present here in Chiang Mai.
The long dry season here is particularly suitable to the tree’s cultivation,
as it need this to initiate its flowering. There is absolutely no reason
why, living here, you should not try to grow this beautiful tree and show it
off to your neighbours and envious visitors!
Tip of the Week
When planting a tree, place an upright large diameter pipe reaching
to the bottom of the hole before you fill it in. This will enable
you to get water, through the pipe, to where it is needed,
underneath the roots. This will encourage the roots to grow
downwards which will stabilise the tree, and, at the same time,
avoids wasting water as you will not need to “flood” the immediate
Be your own Journalist -
start a Blog
Yes, we all have heard of it. Many of us may already have
one. But yet, we didn’t know it is now very easy to create one of our own.
The concept of writing a personal blog is very much an old one. The early
bloggers started posting even before the Y2K craze of the year 2000. But
that was the time when the online freedom of speech was only accessible to
tech geeks. To have a website or a personal webpage at that time wasn’t so
easy for the non-techies until recent times. For common internet users, if
they wanted to have a personal website, they had to have knowledge of all
that HTML, or Java or...Hoof! Let’s stay away from those for now!
Getting to the basics of what a Blog is; a blog (also called weblog, from
combing the words web and log) is a personal webpage or pages which has
entries or “posts” in reverse chronological order. It is more like an online
personal diary for some, and a platform to communicate ideas and thoughts to
the world on a particular subject for others. What’s special about a blog is
that it allows interactivity between the “blogger” and his/her readers.
While the blogger publishes thoughts, the readers can give feedback by
commenting on the posts. Even more, a blogger can post photos, videos,
music, audio or podcasts picked from around the web or even a creative work
of his own.
For an idea, www.MrTechSavvy.com is a website in the form of a blog. It has
weekly posts of articles that have been published in the Pattaya Mail
There are many free and paid blogging tools provided out there, some of the
common ones being WordPress.com, Blogger.com and LiveJournal.com. Take a
look at all of them and get a idea of what it is all about. These websites
have a simple walk-through in setting up a blog making it very easy for you.
For starters, you might want to look at Blogger.com’s easy to set-up and
easy to customize blogging tool.
Let’s get it started; creating a blog with Blogger.com:
1) Log on to www.Blogger.com and click on “Create Your Blog Now”.
2) You will be asked to create an account and provide some information. If
you already have a Google or a Gmail account, you can use the same email as
your Blogger.com account as well. Your Display Name will be the name which
will be used at the end of every post or in every comment you write on
someone else’s blog. Once you’re done, click Continue.
3) Next, choose a nice Blog title and an easy-to-remember Blog address. Be
creative but at the same time, use short and simple keywords which say
something about the subject of your blog. The Blog address will look
something like http://harrythehiker.blogspot.com/. Make sure it is available
You have an option of going advanced if you decide to host your blog on a
domain name that you already own, just like www.MrTechSavvy.com. But for a
starter, I suggest you go with the basic option of having your blog hosted
with Blogger.com. It will be easier to manage and maintain for beginners.
Chosen your Blog address? Click Continue.
4) Now, choose a template that suits the subject of your blog. If you are
going to be writing about Nature, you would want to have your blog based on
green color. Again, be creative but simple. You can customize this template
or switch to another template later as well. Click Continue.
5) Your Blog is now created! Clicking “Start Posting” will take you to the
“Create Post” page. Creating a post is as easy as composing an email.
Explore the tools available. Once you’re done with writing your first post,
click “Publish Post”. Go to your Blog address and you will find your first
blog post there!
6) Click on all the tabs above to get an idea of the tools available for you
to enhance your blog. You can customize the template, fonts and colors in
the Layout tab.
If you have questions or want advice, feel free to write to
All feedback is welcome!
Just for Geeks
Want to be a part of saving the world’s
environment? Save paper, ink, trees and of course - money. Start now
with GreenPrint -
The answer to last week’s Just For Geeks – Answer and
Win! question “Who created Google?” is:
Google was created by “Larry Page and Sergey Brin” - Students of
Stanford University. The idea was started as a research project in the year
2006 by the two geniuses and has grown to be the biggest search engine in
the world today.
The lucky winners to win an Apacer 2GB USB Flash Drive each are Ewan and
Howard Bloom. Congratulations!
Till then… Tata ;-)
An American Redneck in
Chiang Mai: Run for the Border: Part IV
Next day, Tuk Tuk Man came through, and Jan and I picked up our
passports at the Embassy in Vientiane with our lovely new visas. Happy
happy. Our driver vanished briefly, someone suggested he was visiting the
toilet. Then we descended into extremely juvenile humor, as three 40+ adults
are wont to do. Driver must have wondered what the hell we were laughing at.
Yep, guy, we are laughing. In English. Haha!
After we did all the stuff we had to do at the Friendship Bridge to return
to Thailand, the three of us walked from the bus to our car. Not a whole lot
of distance, but we were visible and popular and so forth. After the fifth
taxi driver offered us a ride, and Yos rebutted him far more kindly than I
ever have. I said, “We’re Calico Consulting, dammit, we have a car.” Yos
found this far funnier than he probably should have. Apparently I have this
effect in Asia. And Jerry Lewis is a genius in France. Go figure.
Lemme give you the book report, just because I have nothing better to do. I
left an autographed copy of Vigilante Justice at the hotel in Nong Khai. I
left an autographed copy of Who Moved My Rice? atop a wardrobe at the hotel
in Vientiane. I left an autographed copy of Rising From The Ashes in the
magazine rack in the hotel lobby. I left an autographed copy of Vigilante
Justice on the shuttle bus that takes people across the Friendship Bridge.
Considering how stealthily I drop off books, be glad I’m not a bad guy. I
use my powers for good and not for evil.
If the rotting brain still serves, the drive from Chiang Mai was 12 hours
but the drive back to Chiang Mai was 14 hours. Night time. But since we left
Laos at 3:30 pm, at roughly the halfway point Jan decided we should stop and
have a real meal. This experience was one I shall always treasure.
We stopped at a restaurant. Yos told us that he chose this one because, if
we’d driven a little farther, everybody would stare at Michael and Jan. I
love his laugh. My friend, everybody in Asia stares at us. I don’t know
about Jan, but I no longer care. Fading eyesight has its advantages.
Eventually, Yos wanted us to look at the TV that was behind us. They were
showing a story about an old lady who was breast feeding a cat. Much
footage, and as Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up. Eventually
Yos said, “Amazing Thailand.”
Quite late in the trip, Yos had no idea which way to turn. He stopped at a
guarded apartment complex to ask for directions. Three guards chose to speak
to him, and back in the truck Jan joked to me that he would get three
different sets of directions. And, well, it wasn’t a joke. “What do I do?”
Yos asked me. And I’m pleased to report that I can still read a map. As a
child, I was lost all the time, but as a copy repairman in Tampa, Florida, I
made a very deliberate effort to teach myself a sense of direction,
map-reading, and other orienteering skills. I’ve still got it. I acted like
Yos’ employer for about 10 minutes and got us on the road we were supposed
to be on. Then I let him take over because he is, to repeat myself, my new
Lemme skip ahead through the wonder of time lapse photography. Or my short
attention span. Or both. I think you quit reading hours ago. Bite the wax
tadpole. We surprised Picasso by arriving at 5:30 in the morning. She did a
whole lot of shouting at the door. Just awakened shouting, if you ask me.
And with the opening of a tin of tuna, you and I know this little diatribe
draws to a close.
We’ll have to do it again in 90 days. But I won’t write about it. Promise.
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