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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

HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?

tech tips with Mr.Tech Savvy

An American Redneck in Chiang Mai

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Should you worry about being overweight? In a word – YES!

The western world currently has an epidemic of obesity, and guess what, the Asian world is rapidly following. Thirty years ago, it was rare to see an overweight Thai. Not any longer. What has happened?
Quite simply, our diets are far from healthy, and that includes both food and drink, especially the kinds of drinks that come in dark green or brown bottles. I am sure you know the types.
The problem here is the fact that being overweight puts a strain on the cardiovascular system, which sends the blood pressure up. That in turn affects all the organs and systems, and everything goes pear-shaped from there on, as well as your body shape.
You are entering the world of Syndrome X. Unfortunately Syndrome X, which is otherwise known as the Metabolic Syndrome, is a classic example of what we medico’s call ‘co-morbidity’. This is the situation where one disease process or ailment affects, or “X”aggerates, another disease process you may have. In these situations, the combined effects can be life threatening. It is also a syndrome possessed by around 40 percent of adults over 40.
Now there can be many occasions when you have more than one ailment at one time. You can have a sore throat and a broken leg all at the same time, and these conditions have no real bearing on each other. The broken leg will get better and the sore throat ditto.
However, the combination of diabetes and obesity can be disaster waiting. The combination of diabetes, smoking, obesity, hypertension and high triglycerides (blood fats) is cardiac dynamite. Your conclusive heart attack is a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’. The risk factors stemming from all those conditions become not a case of simple addition, but are multiplied.
The problem from your point of view is that most of these factors come on very slowly, and become part of your daily living. You’ve smoked for years and never had a smoker’s cough, so why stop now? Every time you get some trousers made the waistband has to be that little larger. Your belt has been let out two more holes over the past two years. Your doctor said you had a “Little bit of blood pressure” three years ago, but you haven’t been back to check, as you feel quite OK in yourself. Your ‘triglycerides’? “My what?” Your blood sugar? “It was OK last time it was checked five years ago!”
The big problem is that the “Little bit of blood pressure”, even say 150/100, can produce a very dangerous situation when the person with that BP has elevated blood sugar as well. Or smokes. It is the multiplication effect again. Whereas you can (almost) ignore mild elevations like 150/100, if you have nothing else wrong, ignoring it when there are other conditions co-existing brings up that co-morbidity problem again. And the likelihood of a cardiac calamity.
Likewise, a “little bit of extra weight” that we all excuse ourselves for carrying, may (just ‘may’) be fine for someone with no other medical conditions, but represents an enormous risk factor for someone with the Metabolic Syndrome.
For those who like figures with their information, here are some chilling ones. Between 87-100 percent of people with fatal coronary heart disease, or a non-fatal heart attack had at least one of the following risk factors – smoking, diabetes, increased blood fats and high blood pressure. Syndrome X, or the Metabolic Syndrome, is characterized by having diabetes, increased blood pressure, and raised blood fats. Can you now see the importance of doing something about weight, blood fats and blood pressure? I for one would not like to be sitting with a condition that gives me between 87-100 percent chance of a cardiac problem.
So what is this week’s message? Quite simply, if you have diabetes, do something about the other risk factors. Stop smoking and get your BP and blood fats checked. If you don’t even know what your blood sugar level is, then get a check-up and find about all of it!
In the meantime, take 100 mgm of aspirin each morning. It is cardio-protective. I do!

 

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
I read somewhere that all Thai girls want is to get their hands in your pockets, and once they have cleaned you out, that’s it. No money, No Honey as the T shirt says. Is this really true? I have met a few nice girls every time I’ve come over, and although I pay for everything when we’re out together, I think that’s natural. I pay for everything back home when I take out a woman, so what’s the difference?
Confused Charlie
Dear Confused Charlie,
The difference is you get more fun out of the relationship here, my Petal, or that’s what I get told by my gentlemen friends. It is nice to see there are still gentlemen in this world, and if you are paying, I’ll have a bottle of Veuve Clicquot when we go to dinner. Of course you can have what you want as well, I’m not stingy. Please let me know a week or so in advance, as I will have to fit you in to my crowded appointment book, though with promises of Veuve Clicquot you do go to the top of the waiting list.

Dear Hillary,
I have been reading your column and have enjoyed it very much. As I am going to be over there in March for the first time I am writing. It seems that everyone I ask (single men like myself) talk about being at the bars as the way to meet the Thai girls (workers). I’m not a big drinker so will I offend if I do not drink a lot or wish to leave to go see music, movies or see the country.
Bob
Dear Bob,
I can assure you that the ladies from the bars have not the slightest interest in how much ‘you’ drink, only in how much ‘they’ drink, while you are paying of course! This is because they receive a percentage of the cost of the ‘lady drinks’, while they get nothing from the price of your drinks. This is how they make money, as they are ‘working’ women, getting their monthly salaries plus extras. It works like this, since you have not been here before, Petal. They generally receive a small wage (or retainer), and then their lady drinks percentage plus a percentage of the so-called ‘bar fine’ which is what the punters (like you) pay for the honor and glory of taking one of the blushing young ladies away from the bar to see music, movies or the country. Anything else is a private arrangement between the lady and the customer, as you have to realize that there is no prostitution in Thailand, because the government said so. And in the statute books has said so since about 1966. While you are paying for things, you will not offend; however, when the money runs dry, then it is a different story.

Dear Hillary,
You are always saying that we should be looking for a mate anywhere away from the bars, but what if we’re not looking for a mate for the rest of our lives? I’m here for a couple of years at max, and I don’t need a wife dragging round behind me all over the world, as I don’t know where my next assignment might be. All I need is home comforts while I’m here in Thailand, so surely the bar is the best place to find one? You have to agree.
Jerry
Dear Jerry,
So you are looking for a ‘comfort woman’, that’s fine, but, you have to understand that your lady who will supply those home comforts also realizes that this is a short term relationship with no real depth. That being the case, do not expect anything better than purchased comforts, and there is no reason to be ‘true’ in such an arrangement. These girls are very skilful at separating men from their money.

Dear Hillary,
Can nothing be done about the song taew drivers? For a tourist city they give the place a bad name with their stand-over tactics and demands for fares much greater than should be the case. No wonder the foreign tourists look for taxis, but unless they have their wits about them they will again be quoted exorbitant fares, rather than using the meters. Until our city fathers meet the song taew monopoly head on and produce a real public transport system, this will always be a third world tourist destination.
Public transport Pete
Dear Public Transport Pete,
Unfortunately you are quite correct, my Petal. The song taews which do not have any fixed or marked destination will always be a turn-off for tourists, as the majority of the drivers do not speak another language. Why would you expect them to get on transport with unmarked destinations? Perhaps it is time for the TAT to get involved and issue ‘tourist bus’ licenses for drivers who meet a minimum standard in communication. Hillary has given up with the song taews, taxis and tuk-tuks, and uses motorcycle taxis when possible. They appear to be a friendlier bunch and will heed the “cha-cha” (slowly) instructions. You do have to barter first, but that’s part of the fun of living in the ‘third world’.


Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Bored with nothing to do? Try photography!

One of the quickest ways to get old is to retire and have nothing to do. There is a limit to how many times you can sit on the beach, or play golf. No matter how much of a beach fanatic you are, or an avid golfer, there can certainly be too much of a good thing. This is why I ask you to consider photography.
As one gets older, physical activity is important – just getting out of the house or condo is an enjoyment in itself. This is where photography is so good. Give yourself a small photo project and out you go and illustrate it.
Photography is also an ideal pastime for our seniors, because it is something that can be picked up and put down at will, it is not too physically demanding, and modern cameras can assist in the areas where age has taken some toll. And the end result is something that can give you great joy, be that award winning sunsets or just pictures of the grandchildren.
To play golf you need golf clubs. To play photography you need a camera. Get one with autofocus (AF). There are many reasons for this, but since sharp focus is necessary for a good final print, let the camera do it for you, when sharpness in vision is something that becomes very problematical as you get older. Provided you can point the camera in the right direction, the camera will do the rest.
Most AF ones are a little more expensive, and work by moving the lens in and out electronically to focus on the subject in the middle of the viewfinder, just as if you were doing it yourself. They do this quickly and accurately and will usually give an audible ‘beep’, or a green light in the viewfinder to let you know the focus has been set. Do not be afraid to try the new advanced cameras, they make life easier, so just use them to your advantage.
Another problem often associated with aging is stiffening of the fingers. Will this make it difficult to thread the film into the take-up spool? Forget it! A digital camera does away with film and any of the problems associated with it. Nothing could be simpler or more fool proof.
Zoom lenses also save you having to go the distance. Is it just too much of a hassle these days to walk up to distant objects to get close-up details? Then a zoom lens will do it for you. With a zoom lens it is no problem at all to get a close-up, a wide angle and a distant shot from the same camera position. Maybe an autofocus digital compact camera with an inbuilt zoom lens is just the camera for you. Just push a button to make the zoom bring the subject closer or farther away.
As we get older, we are also more prone to the shakes. Today’s digital cameras can even compensate for the tremor, with anti-shake technology. This makes photography for seniors even easier.
Today’s camera manufacturers have taken the tears out of flash too. Most new cameras have their own in-built flash which comes on when the light levels are too low, will set their own flash power and give you perfectly lit indoor night shots every time.
So there you have it, retirees. There are cameras available now which can get you into photography! If you once had the ‘photographic eye’, then that ability is still there. All you have to do is get the equipment to let you use and enjoy it again. Look for suitable AF digital compacts with built in zoom, anti-shake technology and auto flash.
Pricewise you are looking at spending something over B. 10,000. There are plenty of choices in the marketplace. Something from the major brands such as Nikon, Canon, Olympus. A hint to the family around birthday should suffice.


Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

This is not the first credit crisis and it won’t be the last, part 1

Everyone in the markets is buzzing about the potential beneficence of some of the world’s big banks at creating a central fund to get them out of the sub prime mess they are now in and which, in many cases, was largely of their own making. This is not the first time it has been done.
Those of you who are regular readers of this column know I have a penchant for history and cyclical finance. It was a century ago that almost exactly the same happened in New York. A group of bankers had, after many days of haggling, produced an agreement which promised to raise USD25 million (USD10 billion today) to be used as loans for businesses in trouble.
The person who had pushed this deal through was none other than JP Morgan himself. By doing so he had managed to put an end to the financial panic that had gripped the markets at the end of October in 1907. This run on the markets had almost ruined New York’s financial centres.
To understand the worry we need to look back a few years. In 1906, the Dow Jones had doubled in just three years following a large bull market. However, gold, to which most of the world’s currencies was pegged, did not manage to keep up with this and so hard cash itself was difficult to come by. This credit squeeze may sound familiar to today’s problems with property substituted for gold.
The troubles of a hundred years ago were very similar to those today. The world’s greatest power, Great Britain, was trying to get over the cost of wars (Sudan in the 1890s and South Africa in the 1900s). Staggeringly, the mother ship of The Empire had almost run out of money. Comparisons could be drawn with modern day USA, now carrying the highest amount of debt that history has ever recorded, in the aftermath of the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Also, the great financial centre of the world (London) had coughed out millions in insurance for the great San Francisco earthquake in 1906 (as opposed to the tsunami of 2004) and there are even parallels in the Bank of England’s then bailout of the collapsed stock exchange in Egypt requiring the collateral of millions of Pounds of gold to shore up the whole financial system, as opposed to today’s Northern Rock debacle.
So, the problems were already there but then they got dramatically worse and involved the unregulated smaller finance houses that operated like commercial banks. In mid-October there was a run on the Knickerbocker Trust. This was a company which was trying to finance a bid to take over United Copper. In the end it did not work out but people panicked and wanted to take their money out of the Trust. This then snowballed into people wanting to withdraw money from other trusts too. This was further exacerbated by the clientele of small banks in the farming belt taking out ready money at harvest time - millions of dollars in deposits disappeared from the financial system all at the same time - now that really does strike a chord with the queues on the street corners outside Northern Rock branches.
Obviously, help was needed but from where and how would it come? These days the ECB, Bank of England and the Fed have been giving billions to the markets to avert problems both great and small. A hundred years ago though, there was no central banking system and people had to rely on individuals to set things right.
JP Morgan stepped up to the plate. The wealthy, whether individuals or nations, listened to him and had confidence in his recommendations. It was patently obvious that he could not save everyone and he and his team had to decide who could be rescued and who would be left to fend for themselves. He persuaded the leaders of the major banks and trusts to put money into a war chest of over USD8 million. Once people heard about this, things within the banking system to calm down. The problems hadn’t actually been solved but rather diverted away from the banking system. In fact they shifted to the equity markets, causing the stock exchange to promptly crash.
To be continued…

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


Life in Chiang Mai: by Mark Whitman

By the time these notes appear I shall be on a short holiday, first in Phuket, then Samui, (using up a voucher bought at the Hilltop 4 charity event), and finally Bangkok. Nothing very original there, but given only a few days break one tends to settle for the familiar. In the main most of us are unadventurous travelers, even more so with age. This partly accounts for why so many places in Chiang Mai are exceptionally popular while others of similar merit remain neglected.
The bright Swiss manager of an enormously successful restaurant on the river told me recently that his marketing and other in-house surveys showed that less than one per cent of his custom resulted from advertising whereas a mention in a popular guide book easily surpassed that. His remark was borne out by two English friends who were down town in the city last week and chose to eat somewhere simply because it had a notice outside stating, ‘Recommended by Lonely Planet’. They didn’t consider when it had been ‘recommended’, by whom or how enthusiastically. Like Pavlov’s dogs, the bells had been rung and off they went to eat.
I have only been in Phuket twice in recent times, having found that it has lost much of its former appeal over the past two decades, (go back a bit further and it was truly a form of ‘paradise’). The first of those trips ended with the tsunami and the second, about 18 months ago, showed that whilst the buildings and much of the infrastructure had been repaired or replaced, it was now more crowded and glitzy than ever. And horrendously expensive. Still, it should be pleasant to visit a few friends there and wonderful to see that clear emerald sea. What a pity that even Ny Havn has become commercialized, where once it was a quiet and lovely beach. Mention of paradise reminds me that there is an area in Patong which bears just that name. No place could be more inaptly named.
Annoyingly, whilst I am away I shall miss the first Ex-pats’ Club meeting that I have wished to attend in months. The new(ish) Mayor has agreed to hold a Q and A session with farang residents and visitors. To be honest, I stopped going to the meetings mainly because they last over three hours yet contain only 30 minutes or so of value: surrounded in that kernel of interest by interminable chat, lame jokes, raffles and, worst of all, by laborious introductions of new or would-be members, whom we will never recognize again. Who’s new at this table? Well, I’m Myron and this is my wife Esther, (the man always speaks: cue mild applause). We hail from Kansas, (cue further ripples of applause). We’ve been here for just four months and have rented a condo and are planning to stay in this simply beautiful town; (cue wild clapping). Has someone just found a cure for Alzheimer’s?
Still, no one can deny that the Lady Mayor is a refreshing change and I think we can already see evidence of a concern for the future welfare of the City and its citizens. Hopefully, the high level of pollution will be tackled as part of a five-year plan and we shall all benefit from the ‘Big Clean Up’ operation, which is at present underway in and around the moat and will no doubt spread outside. I’m not sure where her jurisdiction lies in terms of traffic control and enforcement of the law but, until we see a radical change in terms of speed limits, obeying of traffic signals, the wearing of helmets and more rigorous tests and so on, a five year plan won’t interest a few thousand people. We may have a clean moat by Songkran, but by the end of that festival hundreds of people will no longer be alive, largely thanks to dangerous (and drunken) driving.
I stopped near Thapae Gate the other day to let an elderly man on crutches get across the short stretch from Starbuck’s to the square. He was so grateful he almost fell down on his crippled knees to thank me, as other vehicles continued to ignore him. The same would have applied to any vulnerable person and I cannot understand the contempt that is displayed for pedestrians by those on four wheels or two. People are not allowed to cross roads, even with pedestrian lights in their favor. They scurry or run and hope for the best. These potential victims might have enjoyed a meeting I saw advertised recently where a group, who meet fortnightly to discuss weighty subjects, chose Life after Death (without even a question mark!). An intriguing topic, since even though there is absolutely NO proof of such a thing, many people seem to spend their lives preparing for it rather than the live the one life they surely have. I would sooner debate whether there is life before death. As I saw them leave their room they looked thoughtful, as well they might, after discussing the unknown. Indeed, the unknowable.
As always, Shakespeare had a few words to say on the topic and I was reminded of this recently when reading Melvyn Bragg’s biography of Richard Burton. A book made fascinating by the inclusion of the actor’s notebooks and diaries, which though self-indulgent in the manner of all actors, were riveting.
Burton recalled how bored audiences had become by Hamlet’s soliloquy, mentally dozing off as soon as “To be or not to be” was uttered. He was an actor who delivered different interpretations and even different words as the mood took him. Unlike a greater actor, Michael Redgrave, who did the same, Burton’s variations were often because of boredom or drunkenness, whereas Redgrave did it through intellectual probings of the text - much to the annoyance of his fellow players.
Burton could have learned much from Redgrave and others of his caliber who embraced cinema not just for the money but because they realized that it was another, subtler, discipline. He was never interested in movies, seldom watching them, or the work of his peers, and the result shows in his acting which is seldom integrated into the final product. He made scores of films, but less than a handful had any merit. His obsession, apart from himself and words, was Elizabeth Taylor who, though not his intellectual equal was much cleverer, (especially about movies), and ‘brighter’. She famously won two Oscars whereas he had the distinction of being the actor with the most nominations, but he never won the statuette he coveted until his death, aged 58, from a lifetime of massive indulgence - including three bottle of vodka (or the equivalent) and 100 cigarettes a day. Plus unlimited affairs, the details of which would fill another book. And indeed have on more than one occasion.
The Oscars came and went last month, predictable in most cases. I note how the effect on a career, (and it will be the case this time as well), is often negative. Obscure actors make a huge success of a role and their career is all but sunk by the heavy price tag and acclaim with which they are garlanded. For a great actor such as Spencer Tracy, it did not matter. He knew that he was incomparable, so receiving Oscars went with the territory. He was another heavy drinker, a tormented Catholic and loved Katherine Hepburn, whom he could not marry since he never sought a divorce from his estranged wife. He was not, though, sufficiently in love with her to allow Hepburn top billing. When this was suggested, ‘because she’s a lady’, he replied, ‘This is Hollywood, not a ******* lifeboat’. It’s also reported that, when they first met, before their many films together, she was nervously introduced to the great man and said, (ever the professional in terms of a screen presence), ‘You’re not very tall, are you?’. He replied, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll soon cut you down to size’. Eight movies and a lifetime of love and mutual admiration later, he died, and her screen ‘letter’ to him is the most moving tribute from one person to another that I have ever seen, heard or read. But then, Tracy had the quality of greatness and stillness about him, whereas all Burton had was talent.


Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
Atonement:
UK/France Drama - A beautifully crafted movie with an engrossing story. Nominated for 7 Oscars, and winner of the BAFTRA Film award for best picture. “Only rarely has a book sprung so vividly to life, but also worked so enthrallingly in pure movie terms. A dazzling adaptation of Ian McEwan’s celebrated 2001 novel, it’s a period piece, largely set in 1930s and ‘40s England, about an adolescent outburst of spite that destroys two lives and crumples a third.” There are two long sequences that astounded me. One that went on forever, without a break, travelled over the wartime French beaches showing English soldiers waiting to be evacuated. The other was Vanessa Redgrave’s long and effortless demonstration of acting genius at the closing. A very highly-regarded film. Rated R in the US for disturbing war images, language, and some sexuality. Reviews: Universal acclaim.
10,000 B.C.: US Adventure/Drama - A ridiculous action and spectacle piece set in a wholly imaginary prehistoric time, where they speak English and there is an incredibly advanced civilization that has built vast, impressive pyramids. Not to be taken as a reflection of current scientific thought on prehistoric man, despite the filmmakers’ extensive two-year research effort at the La Brea Tar Pits and the Tala Game Reserve in Durban, South Africa, studying the bone structure of prehistoric creatures. The film is marvellously photographed in the cold and snow of a New Zealand winter, in the hot and humid climate of Cape Town, South Africa, and in an arid desert landscape in the African nation Namibia. I’m afraid I was mostly laughing at it, when I wasn’t cringing.
The Mist: US Horror - Opinions differ wildly on this film: some love it, some hate it. I loved it, but it has an unremittingly bleak and jaundiced view of mankind. Terrified townspeople are trapped in a grocery store by a strange mist, and there are “things” lurking in the mist. Mixed or average reviews.
Across the Universe: US Musical - Julie Taymor’s bold, beautiful, visually enchanting musical 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. Generally negative reviews.
Charlie Wilson’s War: US Drama - Snappy, amusing, and ruefully ironic - but after an additional viewing, I find the tone all wrong. See if you don’t agree that the point of view is conflicting and confusing. Entertaining, yes, as long as it lasts. Rated R in the US for strong language, nudity/sexual content. Generally favorable reviews. At Vista only.
Scheduled to open Mar. 13
The Spiderwick Chronicles:
US Adventure/Drama/Fantasy - A broken family moves into an old house that has been in the family for years, in hopes of “starting over.” Freddie Highmore plays two roles, twin brothers Jarod and Simon, and does an impressive job at keeping the two personalities distinct and different. Jarod, the protagonist of the film, discovers a book written by his uncle depicting in explicit detail the creatures of a “hidden world” all around us. He reads the book, and in the process awakens an evil Ogre and a horde of goblins hell bent on obtaining the knowledge hidden within the book to destroy mankind, and creature-kind as well. An excellent and richly detailed family film. Generally favorable reviews.
Rambo: US Action/Drama - Rambo has retired to northern Thailand, running a longboat on the Salween River. On the nearby Thai-Burma border, the world’s longest-running civil war, the Burmese-Karen conflict, rages into its 60th year, and Rambo, despite himself, soon becomes involved. Rated R in the US for strong graphic bloody violence, sexual assaults, grisly images, and language. Mixed or average reviews.
The Water Horse: US/UK Adventure/Fantasy/ Family - A young Scottish boy finds an enchanted egg. Taking it home, he soon finds himself face-to-face with an amazing creature: the mythical “water horse” of Scottish lore. A fine family film that takes a classic tale and infuses it with extra imagination, sly humor, heart, and inventive special effects. Generally favorable reviews.
Fool’s Gold: US Adventure/Comedy - Reviewers say that there’s little chemistry among the performers, humorless gags, and a predictable gold hunt storyline. Generally negative reviews.


Life in the laugh lane: by Scott Jones

Blue-eyed Monsters

Answering a cry of distress, I find Joom, tears in her eyes, pointing and shouting, but in a pinched whisper, “A blue-eyed monster!” My first mental picture is “Farang?” - perhaps me, or the neighboring French guy who only qualifies in the blue-eyed category - or all the blue-eyed monsters mating with the brown-eyed parasites on Loi Kroh Road. “In the second flower pot!” To warrant such terror, my next thought is “Snake!” - top of the list in Joom’s terror category. Cautiously approaching the hanging periwinkle, I see nothing, but then, like every horror movie, I glance up expecting a two-meter, blue-eyed cobra to drop onto my neck from the roof. Just as I think she has lost her mind and head toward the house for sedatives, I spot the blue-eyed monster: a major, 35 centimeter long, green caterpillar, fat and smooth with amazing eye-like spots, hereditarily developed to scare birds and Thai women.

Shamefaced Tigger with mini pile o’ poop.
As a 10-year-old nerd with thick glasses and teeth braces in Fargo, North Dakota, I spent days collecting insects, imagining one day I’d be an official entomologist, a bug scientist: a respectable nerd with thick glasses. I raised caterpillars, tended ant farms and, unfortunately, frantically netted, mercilessly gassed and zealously mounted way too many innocent victims. It’s time to pay for my sins. After fifteen minutes of gentle coaxing and convincing Joom, while watching their cute little magnetic feet grab onto stems as they devour our tenderly cared for flowers, we transfer four blue-eyed monsters to a plastic container filled with leaves and race into town to do errands. Top of our list: replace the bedroom mosquito net Joom quickly attacked with a scissors to fashion a breathable cover for the container. Upon returning, we find lethargic monsters with nothing left to eat, their mass of leaves replaced by artistically shaped piles of poop. Joom names the younger yellow-brown guy (girl?) in the pre-green stage, Tigger, friend of Pooh. Considering his/her impressive amount of poop, I name his/her pal, Poopsie, similar to Pooh. The other two become Dumper and Crapula, and boy, can they eat! And poop. A leaf is gone in seconds! Just imagine a pizza half your size, your ten feet clutching to the crust; demolish it in a few moments before moving on to your next fifty pizzas - while pooping them out the other end, but you don’t have to dwell on that part.
As I recall, and the Internet confirms it, caterpillars live on what they eat, and some eat nothing else, similar to my cousin who, even at a Thanksgiving feast of delectable dishes, demanded a hamburger and fries. I put Poopsie on a stalk of impatiens flowers and she remains motionless as if I’d set her on, and requested she eat, a flagpole. Remembering all the tiny green worms I’ve mashed protecting garden plants and imagining a cheap food supply, I put a cabbage leaf in the container. The next morning Dumper is bored, sitting on the untouched cabbage, which might as well have been a spare tire, surrounded by poop and no periwinkle leaves. Identification is essential to determine and locate their diet, much more difficult than owning a dog, when all that’s required is: find pet shop and say, “Dog, old, big. Give me that bag.” A butterfly/moth site assists with identification; if you know the country and scientific name of the plant, it gives you bug options. Upon entry of Thailand and “Catharanthus roseus,” Dr. Science’s name for periwinkle, up pops a picture of the Oleander Hawkmoth! I enter “McDonaldus disgustus” and a picture of my cousin pops up. I suggest changing Tiggers’ name to “Ole” for Oleander, a Norwegian name honoring my heritage. She says, “That’s not very Thai” as if Tigger, Poopsie, Crapula and Dumper qualify.
Although we can buy cheaper, bigger oleander plants than our cherished periwinkle, Joom’s former floral sweethearts are immediately sacrificed to her new bug buds; the hanging pots become netted gobbling centers. We discover No. 5, name him, or her, Cate (short for Defe Cate) and now each blue-eyed green monster has its own private plant condominium. I’m hoping this fickle behavior doesn’t go unchecked. A beautiful bird lands on Dumper’s plant, disposes of him and Joom sacrifices Crapula to keep the bird (Swallow) happy. Soon a stunning Siamese kitten (Catula) chows down the bird, then a dashing puppy Dogula devours Catula, the handsome wild piglet Boarzilla takes down Dogula and finally a magnificent tiger, named Tigger in memory of Tigger, eats me.
Our dream is to marvel at the wonders of life and metamorphosis from caterpillar to cocoon and perhaps catch the brief moment when Mister, or Miss, Oleander Hawkmoth, enters the world, unfolds its lustrous wings and flutters away to deposit eggs on all the local periwinkle and oleander which soon become dead stems. If you don’t see me for a few months, it’s because the Internet says the process may take days or months…or it could be the tiger.


Doc English The Language Doctor: Private tutors

Hi, welcome back. This week I want to talk about private tutors. They come in all shapes and sizes and many parents ask me what to look for in a private tutor, so here goes…
First of all, you need to ask yourself if your child really needs a tutor. Are you just hiring one to impress the neighbours? Does your child have enough free time to play and relax after school, to make friends and chat with mum and dad in the evening? Is your child in danger of being ‘over-schooled’?
Certainly children starting at a new school may benefit from a little extra help from a tutor, especially if the school curriculum is unfamiliar to them. A tutor may also be useful in the run up to an important exam. Your child may benefit from English language tutoring if they are not a fluent native speaker (or reader and writer). If your child has special educational needs, or feedback from teachers indicates that they are struggling at school, then again a tutor may be able to help. Tutors can also help your child if you feel that they are not being challenged enough in school. Tutoring can be short or long term, but there should be clear objectives set and you should explain to your child why they are receiving help from a tutor and what areas of education the tutor will be helping them with.
Some schools provide extra help for children who (for various reasons) are not able to meet the challenges of the mainstream classroom, and for children who find the challenges not great enough (the ‘gifted and talented’), so you should enquire at the school to find out what help is already available in class before you engage a tutor. The school may also be able to recommend a tutor. Some teachers and teaching assistants often work after school carrying out private tutoring, so you should make subtle enquires as to their availability.
Before you engage a tutor, think about in what areas of learning your child really needs additional support. If they are having problems with a particular subject area, such as Maths or Science, then you need a specialist subject teacher. If your child is having problems learning English, then obviously you need a trained English language teacher.
These days anyone can obtain a teaching certificate online, or even for a few baht on the high street. Both methods I thoroughly disagree with. Neither method will guarantee a prospective tutor (or teacher) has a work permit in Thailand and neither will give you the experience or right to teach a child (and charge for it). The minimum qualification for teaching English in my opinion is a CELTA or CertTESOL. Both require an undergraduate degree as a prerequisite for the course. The course takes about 4 weeks (yes, only four weeks) and only a limited amount of time is spent actually teaching. Most of a language teacher’s experience and knowledge is actually gained ‘on the job’ after they complete their Certificate. A TESOL or CELTA does not qualify a native English speaking language teacher to teach at a Primary or Secondary School in their native country. You need a BEd, or PGCE (or equivalent) in order to do that. If you are employing an English tutor, check these qualifications carefully and check they have a valid work permit. Ask to see a prospective tutor’s personal and professional reference and ask them basic questions to gauge their experience. Do they have a professional attitude to teaching or is it just a holiday job? Do they have children of their own, or experience working with children? What are they going to teach your child and how will they assess your child’s needs?
I don’t necessarily feel that you need a native English speaker to teach your child English, as long as they have proper certification and relevant experience. There are many Thai teachers, Thai and Filipino teaching assistants at my school for example who hold teaching qualifications from their native countries, speak English fluently and who have a great deal of knowledge experience and enthusiasm for working with young children.
Once you have engaged a tutor, agree the ground rules. Find out if they will supply text books, or if you will have to buy them yourself. Agree how many hours they will spend with your child every week. Agree how much notice you need to provide to cancel a session on either side, the rate of pay, etc. You may find it easier to employ the tutor via a language school so that they can deal with many of the formalities I have mentioned above. However, that will mean that you will have to travel to the language school on a regular basis and the cost may be higher.
That’s all for this week. Next week we continue to look at personal tutors. 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:

We’re here - We’re settled - What now? - Teaching in Thailand? Part I

The culture shock’s faded, you know your way around town, you’ve set everything up according to your dreams, you’ve made new friends and discovered new activities -what now? Maybe you’re getting just slightly bored, maybe the high baht is affecting your monthly pension, maybe you just want a challenge, or maybe you’d decided in the planning stages of your move to find some work once you were settled. Most new arrivals who fit in to the above categories of need will decide that they might try teaching English, either in a local school, at a commercial language establishment, or privately. After all, didn’t you read all about teaching in Thailand on the internet, and didn’t it sound easy, fun, and remunerative! That’s if you consider that an average of 20,000 baht per month is remunerative enough…
Unfortunately, as with everything you read on the internet, it’s difficult to determine information from disinformation, and even more difficult to connect with both sides of the story. Yes, there are teaching jobs for native English speakers here in Chiang Mai - although not nearly as many as there used to be - and no, the experience is nothing like the experience of teaching in the West! So, the rest of this article and next issue’s follow-up, will concern the realities. Whilst reading, please remember that This is Thailand!
Up to two or three years ago it seems that it was comparatively easy to walk into a teaching job with just a basic Teaching English as a Foreign language, (TEFL), certificate, obtained by taking a Thai Ministry of Education - approved four-week TEFL course at an approved language school with approved instructors. Since several media reports of paedophile teachers being arrested and deported, and more particularly since the October 2006 and later rule changes following the September military coup, the position of teachers here has changed, some say significantly. All government schools and most independent schools now absolutely insist on at least a BA degree, although it can be in any subject, including “soft” subjects. Work permits are much harder to obtain, and are probably now the exception rather than the rule, which, of course, means that if you are caught without one, you will be, at the very least, deported. This was always the case; however, much more stringent checks are now being made. Checks are also being made on the validity of degrees; a fake degree purchased in, say, Bangkok, will, if discovered, also result in deportation. “Life experience degrees”, offered for purchase over the internet, seem to occasionally be accepted, but it is not considered a good idea, as the authorities are now becoming aware of them. If you are fortunate enough to be offered a work permit, you now have to provide certification of your conviction-free status obtained from the police authority in your home country. You may still be able to get a teaching job at a local school without a degree, especially if you have excellent spoken English, but it is very likely that it will be through a commercial language establishment which has contracted to supply a particular school. This route to teaching can be fraught with problems, including non-payment of wages due and termination of employment when you insist! You may also be able to teach as and when required at a commercial language school, but “as and when required” may not mean to them what it means to you! Also, you will not be paid during school holidays, one of which is almost three months long and is taken during the hot season!
If you are offered a job teaching in a junior school, please remember that children in those age groups are not necessarily expected to actually learn anything, and, with class sizes up to 50, it might well be considered a small miracle if they did!
Many friends of ours, plus the owner of a very reputable language and TEFL training establishment, are of the opinion that the only skill most private junior schools require of their English teachers is that of baby-sitting! Not a good start if you really want to make a difference and care about your own standards, as many new entrants to teaching do. Secondary schools seem to be slightly better, but, again, class sizes are relatively high, and discipline in schools at all age levels can be a serious problem. You will usually be given a Thai classroom assistant, the majority of whom speak very little English. As you, at this point in your life, will possibly speak very little Thai, communications problems can and will arise, in addition to the ones you are probably already having with the pupils. Another problem you may well occasionally encounter is that of prejudice, as, should this unfortunate attitude be present in the home, even young children will pick it up from their parents, although encountering this does give you an opportunity to at least broaden the more receptive young minds… Also, please don’t think that, if the Thai staff seem to like and get on with you, you’re in there for life - you are just as likely to lose that job at the end of your first term. Difficult though this is to explain, it would seem that this is a “fashion” here, and that good teachers can be replaced with other good teachers “off the shelf”, as it were. Wrong, of course. Beware, therefore, of schools which seem to be advertising for English teachers before the start of every single school term, as they will be either following the fashion, or are so awful no self-respecting teacher would want to stay after their first term!
Even considering the above, which applies mainly to government and private schools at the junior/senior levels, and not to the universities, (public or private), or the international schools, all of which seem to have good reputations in all fields, the general attitude amongst employers seems to Westerners to be odd, to say the least. A TEFL graduate with a totally unrelated low grade degree, few communications skills, an unintelligible regional accent and a 6 month tourist visa is more likely to land a job at a reasonable school than an older, well educated TEFL graduate with an excellent command of spoken and written English and a long-stay visa, but with no degree. Some while ago, there seemed to be discussions going on at a fairly high government level which involved the consideration of a two-tier approach to teaching in Thailand, and the possible approval of non-degree holding teachers according to their ability. Unfortunately, this seems to have been forgotten. Another “forgotten”, but absolutely essential fact of life is that, like it or not, the English language is regarded as the world-wide language of business, politics and technology. Thai school children are not, in the main, being well served by the present system, to the future detriment of the economy and progression of the country as a whole. There are many, many farangs here who, because they were educated in the years after the war, at which time a degree was not necessary in order to succeed in their ambitions, are far more qualified to teach their language than many who are actually doing so. The present attitude and regulations are not conducive to the aim of educating Thai children in this essential skill. The above is the bad news, check out next week’s issue for the better news!

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

Ying and Yang

In my garden in Chiang Dao I have used a concept which has resulted in the “Ying-Yang Garden”. Before I began, I asked myself, “Is it possible to bring philosophy into gardening design?” The reply was, “Why not?” After all, the ancient idea is that everything in the universe has its opposite, and both sides can only be in harmony if both exist in equal proportions!
For example, plants which thrive in desert conditions are exactly opposite to aquatic plants; as a result, in my garden, the huge rosetted blue leaves of Agave Americana are placed in juxtaposition with the small, also rosetted, blue flowers of the water lily, both remarkably similar in shape and colour, and both serving totally different functions.
Nature has been experimenting with all its geometric formations over millions of years, and, as a result, has used them in multifarious ways. One of the greatest joys of gazing at plants must be to observe the startling variety and inventiveness of colour, shape and form, all brought about by trial and error over those millions of years.
Lessons can be learned in this fashion, and it is humbling to stare in the face of such results. Of course, man has often intervened to speed up the processes involved, bringing forward as a result new and very controversial arguments which perhaps we’d better not go into here!
Getting back to the creation of a “Ying and Yang Garden”, if you wish to try this there are, as usual, some points to remember. Using opposite colours to create contrast is one obvious idea; this can produce startling results with a combination of purple/yellow, red/green or orange/blue. Using decorative and meaningful features such as water, (representing vapourising), and organic rocks, (the permanence created out of fire), can be very effective, especially when combined with delicate ferns, and maybe even fossils! Paving stones can be offset in the “Ying-Yang” manner, and edging plants can be of opposing types - a cactus and a fern, for example. The “dark” symbol could be black pebbles, the “white” a pond - these ideas will adapt as well to a small garden as to a larger area. The possibilities are endless - I hope I’ve got you thinking!

Tip of the Week
When designing a garden feature - be bold! If you find you have a choice, don’t consider it a difficult decision; choose the bigger of the two options. If you choose the smaller, chances are that you will later find that it looks small and slightly mean…you’ll be amazed at what you can get away with, even in a small garden!


Hate slow downloads? Let download manager help you

It gets very frustrating when you come across some interesting and useful downloads online and it takes just way too long to download them. We always blame it on our poor internet connection speed. Yes, we’ve all been there. And when you sit and wait for that download bar indicator on your screen trying to fill it up with the tiny boxes and suddenly the internet connection just cuts off. Aaah! What a pain!
Wish you had a way to overcome this?
What you need is a download manager and there are a lot of them that are doing a good job in solving download frustrations. One of most popular and the one that I would recommend is FlashGet.
Unlike the default download feature on your system, with FlashGet, if your internet decides to take a walk or you decide to shut down your computer, the download is automatically paused and can be continued when the connection returns or when the computer is switched back on. But what’s more important is the way FlashGet can enhance the download speed greatly. It can split the file being downloaded into multiple parts and download each part simultaneously. So, if you’re downloading a 3 MB file, the download manager can split the file into parts of 1 MB each and download them in parallel, increasing the speed by up to 3 times!
FlashGet can also help you download multiple files at the same time and you can easily manage the download list on a single interface.
So, let’s get started. First we shall download the latest version of FlashGet from http://www.flashget.com/en/download.htm. Of course, you will have to bear the pain just “one-last-time” for this 4 MB download. Patience is a virtue!
Installing the application is quick and easy. Just follow the instructions provided.
If you happen to be a Mozilla FireFox fan, to use download manager you also need to install an Extension called FlashGot. Get it easily from https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/220
Once the installation is done, you will notice a small white box with FlashGet logo on the top-right corner of your screen. This box is called the DropZone. Whenever you want to download something, all you have to do is drag the download link into this box and it will start downloading the file automatically.
If the DropZone is not what you like, get it out of your sight by right-mouse clicking on it and unclick “Show DropZone”. Now to download something: just right-mouse click on that link and select “Download with FlashGet” for Internet Explorer users and “FlashGot Link” for FireFox users.
Files are downloaded to the “Downloads” folder on your C Drive by default. To change this, go to Tools>Default Download Properties and change “Save to:” to your preferred location.
Have fun downloading!
For more tips and tricks to enhance the way you use your computer, visit www.mrtechsavvy.com.

Just for Geeks
Google Earth is one of the greatest innovations so far. And there's always more to it. Check out Google Mars - www.google.com/mars

Does the word computer seem like “100110110” to you? Ask Mr. Tech Savvy for help. Or if you’d like to impress the ladies with your computer skills, suggest a tip and find it featured here next week!
Go ahead, send them to [email protected]
Till then… Tata ;-)


An American Redneck in Chiang Mai: by Michael LaRocca

Redneck on a bicycle!

February 9 was when I first learned about the Chiang Mai Sunday Bicycling Club, so I joined them on February 10. There were over 200 of us, stunning the dogs into silence. Old, young, rich, poor, Thai, farang, slick new bikes and battered wrecks. It was a pleasant little 20 km ride, and I learned to slow down.
I also picked up a schedule, so I went into the February 17 ride knowing it was 56 km. More my style, I thought. There were over 50 of us on this trip. So there I was, lying on top of a mountain. My bike was stuck in gears 19 through 24 when I really needed the lower gears. I wasn’t carrying enough water because I’m an idiot. The mountain paths were thick sand. I wore out my brakes on the downhills and wore out myself on the uphills. So as I lay on the ground waiting for the dizzy spells to pass, with no clue how much further I had to ride, I thought, “At least it isn’t raining.” I made it home, by the way. Ten hours after leaving. To the best of my knowledge, nobody died.
My third week, February 24, I was properly humble as we did a historic tour of eight wats, led by the history professor from CMU whose name I don’t know because I’m the most linguistically challenged farang in Chiang Mai. But I like him. Let me note here that I don’t understand Thai, so I just follow people. And as a novelist rather than a journalist, I just make things up and spread random misinformation.
I think we had over 50 riders this time. At the third wat, we made an ice cream vendor very happy. How happy? She followed us to the fourth wat. She rummaged around in the “English” file in her brain and said to me, “Ice cream.” Too bad I don’t like ice cream. It’s a good day to be a vendor whenever we show up.
I am very much a non-conformist. But part of our mission - and please note how quickly “Chiang Mai Sunday Bicycle Club” became “us” - is to be visible. These rides make my natural grumpiness vanish and I become another smiling ambassador for good will towards bicyclists. I’ve learned to wai without crashing. The mountain trek also made me aware of how important it is for us to see each other. So, well, um, I bought some neon spandex. It’s skin tight, so it shows how very much I am not a hansum man. But fortunately, my lovely Australian bride is my age, and thus has the same eyesight, so we can fade into a soft blur together.
Week two, over 50 of us rode past my house. Week three, as we were riding past my office, our leader told me, “Do you notice we have no police? We are our own police. The people in the cars see us and they love us. They wish they could be us, but they are not brave enough to ride bicycles. We are the colors of Chiang Mai.”
That’s right.
We meet every Sunday morning at Tha Pae Gate at 7 am, except that most folks are late because hey, what’s the rush? You’ll see parts of Chiang Mai you’d never see otherwise, and nobody cares if they weren’t the parts the group originally planned to visit. It’s about the journey, not the destination.
We eventually do a little warm-up ride around the city, reconvene at 8:30, and then do the real ride. So you can join us early and then defect, or sleep in and join us later, or ride with us for everything. Up to you. We also seem to alternate between short rides and long ones, and there’s no reason you can’t abandon any ride early if you feel like it. It’s very common, lots of people do it!
If you don’t have a bicycle, buy one. You’re brave enough. Y’all come.
http://www.cmcycling.org has more information in Thai.
http://www.chiangmaiexpats club.com/events.asp has more information in English.