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The Doctor's Consultation

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in Chiang Mai

Let's Go To The Movies

Life in the laugh lane

Doc English The Language Doctor

Welcome to Chiang Mai


tech tips with Mr.Tech Savvy

An American Redneck in Chiang Mai

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 throughout pregnancy.”
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 during pregnancy.
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 ovarian cancer.
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 dead cow.
Now I must go and have a cup of coffee. I don’t have to worry, I’m male!


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
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?
Dear Perplexed,
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.

Dear Hillary,
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?
Punctual Pete
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.
Dear Hillary,
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?
Dear Sam,
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 atmosphere.
Dear Hillary,
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?
Dear Depressed,
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.

Camera Class:  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 of filter?”
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 processed here.
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 super-selective.
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 returns.
• 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 wrong.
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 happened:
* 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 [email protected]

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 referendum.
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 muscles.
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 emerged.
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: Mark Gernpy

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 average reviews.
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 dubbed only.
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.

Happy 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 come in.
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 class.
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 inexpensive.
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]


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 area.

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, is a website in the form of a blog. It has weekly posts of articles that have been published in the Pattaya Mail newspaper.
There are many free and paid blogging tools provided out there, some of the common ones being, and 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’s easy to set-up and easy to customize blogging tool.
Let’s get it started; creating a blog with
1) Log on to 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 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 Make sure it is available for grabs.
You have an option of going advanced if you decide to host your blog on a domain name that you already own, just like But for a starter, I suggest you go with the basic option of having your blog hosted with 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 [email protected]. 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

Michael LaRocca
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 hero.
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.