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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

“Slipped discs” - a very painful problem

I was reminded about back problems when I was rung by a Norwegian doctor holidaying in Hua Hin. A friend of his had sudden onset acute lower back pain, could not stand on one leg and just where did they go from there?
These symptoms we meet only too often. The patient is doing something and suddenly everything locks up and they are immobilized, frozen to the spot. I was once called out to a factory toilet where the chap was bent over the urinal, and too afraid to move, the pain was so acute.
Back pain is one of the commonest orthopaedic problems, and the often used terms such as lumbago, sciatica and slipped disc get bandied about at the dinner table. However, an acute bad back is not the sort of condition that you want to chat about over desserts. The condition can be crippling and not “cute” in any way.
Let’s begin this week with the “slipped disc” problem. First thing - discs do not “slip”. They do not shoot out of the spaces between the vertebrae (the tower of cotton reels that makes up your spine) and produce pain that way. The disc actually stays exactly where it is, but the center of the disc (called the nucleus) pops out through the edge of the disc and hits the nerve root. When this happens you have a very painful condition, as anyone who has had a disc prolapse (our fancy name for the “popping out” bit) will tell you. Think of the pain when the dentist starts drilling close to the tiny nerve in your tooth. Well, this is a large nerve! When the nucleus of the disc hits the sciatic nerve, this produces the condition known as Sciatica - an acute searing pain which can run from the buttocks, down the legs, even all the way through to the toes.
Unfortunately, just to make diagnosis a little difficult (if it were all so easy why would we go to Medical School for six years!) you can get sciatica from other reasons as well as prolapsing discs. It may just be soft tissue swelling from strain of the ligaments between the discs, or it could even be a form of arthritis. Another complicating fact is that a strain may only produce enough tissue swelling in around 12 hours after the heavy lifting, so you go to bed OK and wake the next morning incapacitated. And then you have to convince the employer that you did it on his time.
To accurately work out just what is happening requires bringing in those specialist doctors who can carry out extremely intricate forms of X-Rays called CT Scans, Spiral CT’s or MRI that will sort out whether it is a disc prolapse, arthritis or another soft tissue problem. The equipment to do these procedures costs millions of baht, and the expertise to use them takes years of practice and experience. This is one reason why some of these investigations can be expensive.
After the definitive diagnosis of your back condition has been made, then appropriate treatment can be instituted. The forms of treatment can be just simply rest and some analgesics (pain killers), physiotherapy, operative intervention or anti-inflammatories and traction.
Now perhaps you can see why it is important to find the real cause for your aching back. The treatment for some causes can be totally the wrong form of therapy for some of the other causes. You can see the danger of “self diagnosis” here. Beware!
So what do you do when you get a painful back? Rest and paracetamol is a safe way to begin. If it settles quickly, then just be a little careful with lifting and twisting for a couple of weeks and get on with your life as normal. If, however, you are still in trouble after a couple of days rest, then it is time to see your doctor and get that definitive diagnosis. You have been warned! Ask to see the best orthopedic chap too.


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
There is a shopping center very close to my office and they have the usual small boutique stands along the mall. There is a very pretty young girl in one of them and she always gives me a big smile. Lately she has been giving me a shy little wave as well. I would like to know a bit more about her, but how do I do it, Hillary? Some advice please.
Dear Ron,
Does RON stand for Run Over Now, or what? Ron, you are not going to be able to find out anything about your boutique girl from outside sources. There is no Hot Line for this kind of problem. The girl is doing one of two things - either she is interested in you, OR she wants to get you over to sell you some of her merchandise. How do you find out? It is easy, my Petal. Next time she waves, walk over to her little stand and say “Hi, How long have you been in this shopping center?” or something equally as easy as an ice-breaker. You will soon see if she is interested in you, or what you’ve got in your pants - not that! Your wallet! Even though I am not a gambling person, my money would be on the wallet option, I’m afraid. But you should pluck up courage and make the contact. It will be good practice for next time.

Dear Hillary,
I have a nice relationship with my Thai girlfriend, even though I only get to see her for about two times four weeks every year. We set up a condo together (it’s in my name) and she seems happy enough there, though I am a little worried by the amount she tells me she spends every month. She has a good job and should be able to live on what she earns, but every month she needs about another 40-50,000 baht to keep going. The money she tells me is for maintenance of the condo, then her mother who looks after her two kids up jungle needs money, then the phone bills seem astronomical, and on and on and on. I enjoy my times over there, but I am starting to think that maybe I’m getting ripped off somewhere down the line. Do you think I am?
Dear Marty,
It is well nigh impossible for me to say yes or no, my Petal, but 50,000 baht on top of her wages in a rent-free condo does seem rather excessive. Have you considered saying “No” to the requests? What would she do then? There is the other fact, that just because she has rent-free accommodation, does not mean in her mind that she owes you her life. You are prepared to be there for her for two months a year, and that is all. This does not appear to be a life-long commitment, does it? The condo is not in her name, and actually you could kick her out at any time. Agreed? She has no security, from a guy she sees twice a year, and who sends money. Where does that put the relationship? There seems to be a misguided impression out there that by throwing some money in a Thai girl’s lap this means you have some gorgeous girl now yours, and faithful forever. Commitment comes with that magic ingredient called “love” and best with a capital L. Thai girls are just as emotionally needy and looking for a committed partner as girls in your home country, but smile more readily. Two months in 12 is not a relationship with any depth, Petal.

Dear Hillary,
I have heard about golfing widows, but at least golf is played in the daytime, so the golfing husbands are home in the evenings. My problem is that I am turning into a football widow. Football matches seem to be played at any time of the day (or night) and he is always off to some pub or other to watch the game. I am not interested in football, or else I’d go with him, but I am getting lonely left at home. What should I do? Tell him it is football or me? (I’m afraid he might go for the football.)
Six Nations Cup Widow
Dear Six Nations Cup Widow,
If you make life difficult for your football mad mate, then he will go for the football and it will be an ‘away’ game every night. Men will always take the easy way out when pushed into a corner. They have no real goals in life, you see. Before you get right cross and relegated to Left Right Out, I would ask around to see if any of his football watching mate’s wives would like to come over for a hen session. Even if you are not interested, a night out at the pub might also be fun. Let him watch while you gossip with the other women there. That is much better for everyone, rather than sitting fuming at home, while plotting how to give your man a red card. See, it’s easy when you apply a little Edward de Bono lateral thinking.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Choosing a new camera

Cameras unfortunately become like a pair of favorite shoes. You know you need new ones, but you are loathe to throw the old ones away, even though they are on their third pair of heels and second set of soles.
For the avid photographer, the camera is almost an extension of his or her mind. Never mind Descartes’ ‘cogito ergo sum’, it’s ‘cogito ergo photographer’.
You become completely at one with the camera, you know how to focus, change aperture and shutter speed - the whole magic black box is under your control. How can you turn your back on such a miracle of engineering and photo-science? The answer is: with difficulty.
However, that is the crossroads that I have found myself. I have used 35 mm Nikons for years. Several FM2n’s, a brace of FA’s, a full complement of prime lenses (I have never owned a zoom lens in my life), and yet here I am looking at ditching the lot. Why?
Quite simply, I have come to the conclusion that film, even if it is not yet dead, it is at least moribund. Digital is here, and you may as well get used to it. And that means me too.
I had been trying to hang on to my film technology and was doing a half and half routine. I would get the film developed, but no prints thank you and getting the negatives converted to CD, and I would download the images to my computer. So I did end up with a digital image, via a film pathway. But this was neglecting one of the best reasons to go digital - the ability to know after just firing the button as to whether you really did get the shot. No agonizing wait. Any re-shoot can be done immediately, not days later. Crossed eyes uncrossed while you wait 10 seconds. Just how valuable is that?
There was another reason to look digital, and that is the new anti-shake technology. When I first started in photography, I could ruin my shots with camera shake through excitement or nervous anticipation. I had to learn to slow down and pay more attention to steadying the camera, but I have noticed that my shots are becoming ‘soft’ again. This I have to put down to the combination of age and some fungus appearing in my lenses. One is not curable and the other only partially so.
It is now 12 months since I began to seriously look at what the replacement would be for the Nikon system. The one I have chosen is made by an electronics manufacturer, in conjunction with an optical camera lens manufacturer. It is the Panasonic Lumix FZ-50.
This camera has 10 megapixels and can be run fully auto, and all other modes in between up to fully manual. Now this is an interesting camera, being neither the usual compact, nor an SLR, but something in between called a “Mega-Zoom”. Looks like an SLR, and to be honest, when I was using it I did not know it wasn’t an SLR, but the FZ-50 has a fixed lens like a compact. However, this lens is a 12 times optical zoom going from 35 mm to 420 mm, and made by Leica. And what is even better, you can manually focus and manually zoom. For an old “film camera” buff, this represents the best of both worlds.
One of the more recent advances in electronics has been image stabilization. The camera technology is making it hard for you to end up with blurred shots, and the Panasonic Lumix answer is called MEGA O.I.S. (optical image stabilization). With this system, you can do hand-held photography when working at a 250 mm range at 1/60 second shutter speed. Normally you would have to use at least 1/250 sec.
Another new addition is the Intelligent ISO Control. When the camera detects movement of the subject, the ISO and shutter speed are adjusted in a way that ensures the movement of the subject will be frozen. All good applications of electronic technology to make it even less likely that you will end up with a blurred picture.
Farewell film. Welcome digital photography.

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Friend or Foe?

After years as the fall guy for Europe’s trade unions and some politicians, private equity firms were visibly relaxed at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, thanks to state funds now being seen as the new scary faces of capitalism.
Sovereign wealth funds have existed at least since the 1950s, but their total size worldwide has increased dramatically over the past 10-15 years. In 1990, sovereign funds probably held, at most, $500 billion; the current total is an estimated $2-3 trillion.
So what does $3 trillion equate to in relative terms? It depends on the comparison: U.S. GDP is $12 trillion, the total value of traded securities (debt and equity) denominated in U.S. dollars is estimated to be more than $50 trillion, and the global value of traded securities is about $165 trillion. In that context, $3 trillion is significant but not huge.
It is, however, large relative to the size of some emerging markets. The total value of traded securities in Africa, the Middle East, and emerging Europe combined is about $4 trillion; this is also roughly the size of these markets in all of Latin America.
In today’s terms SWFs might be small relative to global traded securities, but they still have a lot of firepower: they are larger than private equity and larger than hedge funds.
Simon Johnson, the IMF’s chief economist, thinks sovereign-wealth funds will be worth $10 trillion by 2012, based on the likely growth rates of current accounts. Stephen Jen of Morgan Stanley has pencilled in $12 trillion for 2015. (The size of the US economy today).
Given this as a backdrop, it is probably not surprising that investors wish to woo them and politicians fear them at the same time. There can be no mistaking that their money has been sorely needed of late, with rich-world financial-services groups having been administered nearly $69 billion-worth of infusions from the savings of the developing world in the past ten months, according to Morgan Stanley.
However, the relatively friendly welcome sovereign funds have found, may turn out to be temporary. Before the credit crunch American politicians objected to Arabs owning ports and Chinese owning oil firms. On January 15th Hillary Clinton said: “We need to have a lot more control over what they [sovereign-wealth funds] do and how they do it.” Once an emergency has passed, foreign money can often be less welcome.
The big fear for politicians is that the managers of these funds have little accountability to regulators, shareholders or voters. Such conditions are almost bound to produce rogue traders. But so far there is no evidence of such “mischievous” behaviour, as the German government calls it and weighing the risk of such eventualities against the rewards of hard cash, on the table, right now, makes it clearly daft to raise too much of a stink.
Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute highlights the fears that governments have with the following examples. Suppose China were to buy Citigroup. What if America sought to take sides in a conflict with Taiwan and China and then threatened to shut the bank down? Or, from a more commercial point of view, suppose that Venezuela bought Alcoa and set about closing its aluminium smelters in the United States in order to move production to Latin America, as part of a strategy for development. And what if a country’s investment fund ran an active trading operation and - George Soros style, when he brought down the pound - decided to launch a large-scale speculative attack on another nation’s currency?
Although the risk that the funds may abuse companies and markets is theoretical, the danger of financial protectionism is all too real. The idea that secretive foreign governments are up to no good exerts a powerful hold on the collective imagination.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, have both issued warnings. A former American official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says that Washington is even now in a state of “high alert”. Yet, for all these imagined fears, it is hard to find examples of sovereign-wealth funds abusing their power.
Mohamed Al-Jasser, vice governor of Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, complained in Davos that sovereign wealth funds were being treated as “guilty until proven innocent” by politicians suspicious of possible ulterior motives. At the same forum, many other SWF managers proclaimed that their intentions were pure; they were investing for the long term, and had a total hands-off approach to the management of the companies they buy. “Our fund started in 1953,” said Bader Al Sa’ad, the managing director of the Kuwait Investment Authority. “Kuwait has been a Daimler shareholder since 1969 ... BP shareholder since 1986, we are one of the most stable shareholders of these companies.”
Stephen Schwarzmann, chief executive of private equity giant Blackstone, derided the notion that these funds were a threat: “It’s almost amusing to see that pools of capital that we have always dealt with now have a new name, sovereign wealth funds, and are seen as an inherent threat.” He described the funds as “model investors, smart, highly professional,” simply looking for the best possible return for their money. “When the Chinese investment fund took a 9.5% stake in our company there were questions in the press: ‘why do they do this, what are their motives?’”
“Well, it’s a non-voting investment, that was important for them ... they said they don’t want to vote.”
In politics, fear usually sells better than reason, but it would be rather hypocritical to erect barriers to foreign investment while demanding open access to developing markets. Most countries, for example, limit who can own banks, because governments often guarantee deposits and because confidence in banks underpins the financial system. Similarly, most countries curb ownership of defence technology and utilities. You do not need a handbook of new restrictions. And you do not need to make sovereign-wealth funds a special case: instead, you have clear, predictable rules that apply to everyone.
The big problem, however, is that for the most part governments can not ascertain what a sovereign-wealth fund’s objectives are, precisely how much money it manages and where it has made its investments. Already the funds use the full range of investment options, including hedge funds and private equity, which further covers their tracks.
Criticism of sovereign funds’ investments has by no means all come from recipient countries. China’s CIC seemed to have scored when it paid $3 billion for a stake in Blackstone, a private-equity group that listed its shares. Today its holding is worth closer to $2 billion and CIC has been severely criticised in Beijing.
The motives of the funds vary, and they don’t always make sense. Consider Abu Dhabi and Kuwait, which wanted to save their oil endowment for future generations, an admirable goal. But today they don’t look as clever as freewheeling Dubai, which has much less oil. Because the rulers of Abu Dhabi and Kuwait centralized their nations’ wealth in the hands of the state, their state sectors stifled their economies. Abu Dhabi’s fund may be impressive, but the entrepreneurial spirit of Dubai has done a far better job of putting sustainable wealth in the hands of his citizens.
In truth, such funds are nothing for Americans or Europeans to fear. If anyone should worry about them, it’s the people whose governments are amassing them. That’s because governments tend to be terrible at managing money that is best left in the hands of private citizens.
Maybe that’s why sovereign wealth funds are popular with dictators and semi-authoritarian regimes, which don’t have to answer for the consequences when they make poor economic gambles.
At the end of the day, whether SWF are to be feared or loved really depends on your point of view. Western Economies find themselves in a beggars can’t be choosers situation at the present time and is unlikely that this is going to change any time soon.
Governments may distrust Sovereign Wealth funds, but until the East and West even out the surpluses and deficits in their economies, sovereign-wealth funds will not go away.

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

It’s party time - That’s City Life!

Well, it was cause for celebration! Being back in Chiang Mai after a pleasant, busy and overly-expensive trip to the various tourist haunts in the south and Bangkok. So what’s the first thing to do on return? Simply head down to our favorite local restaurant, Ney Ney, on the Super Highway along from the Grand View Hotel. A table for ten please and keep those towers of beer flowing. It’s odd how some restaurants, whatever their style and ambition, always carry a sense of occasion and never fail to please.
In this local Thai eatery there always seems a pleasant buzz. The excellent guitarist-singer with his songs and repartee, the assorted lively groups, (mainly youngish Thais), and the smiling, efficient waiters make it a pleasure, which the fresh and inexpensive food enhances. There were just the ten of us, nine Thais and yours truly, and we were able to indulge in a veritable feast of food with non-stop Leo for a total of 2,000 baht. Just 200 baht a head. Or put another way the exact cost of a short tuk-tuk ride in Koh Samui.
The following night, Friday 14th, was an altogether more splendid affair. A real party. The like of which will rarely be seen again in Chiang Mai and certainly not until the baht weakens! The occasion was a ‘round’ birthday of a friend, Guy. Sadly this means we will have to wait a decade for a repeat. He had decided on taking over The House restaurant for the evening. And when he said ‘take over’, honey, he meant just that. It proved to be the essence of a great party. Weeks of thought, preparation and hard work had obviously been spent by the host, the management and the chef so that by the evening in question the whole event ran with a complete air of spontaneous gaiety, from the opening reception, through the meal and shows and disco, into the early hours of the morning. The blend of farangs and Thais, young and old, male and female, gay and straight was like that of a super cocktail. Delicious at the time, heady the next day and difficult to repeat. Khun Guy has set a high standard that will be difficult to follow, but then isn’t that the stuff that Chiang Mai legends are made of?
There was a once famous lady of indeterminate girth and age whose claim to that fame was based on an ability to organize wild and extravagant parties in Hollywood. Her name was Elsa Maxwell and if I believed in reincarnation I might think that she existed in a much younger and slimmer body in a large condo on the same floor as me. My weekend continued more sedately after that, but very pleasurably, thanks to a dinner party on the Saturday and the City Life garden event on Sunday. The host on Saturday was that bastion of the Payap music faculty, Bennett Lerner, whose latest, (indeed final), discs in his Debussy cycle are soon to be released. Having given us the pleasure of the Debussy Festival, he is all set to embark on one devoted to another great Frenchman, Faure. This will span many months and is a treat in store.
The occasion for his party was not the planned concerts, but the visit of Donald Ritchie from his home in Tokyo, where he has lived and worked for many years as a lecturer and writer. Ritchie has just published his latest travel book and was on a regular trip to Thailand. His specialization is cinema, but he is also an artist, an occasional composer and a man of abundant charm, which belies an acerbic tongue. Chat, gossip and conversation, especially about cinema, was the order of the day, with the recent film Atonement consigned to the dustbin of cinema history for its unfulfilled ambitions and stifling pretensions. We were at that most relaxed and reliable of Italian restaurants, Arcobeleno, and this regular gathering has become a real pleasure.
It was early up and out on the Sunday morning but by the time I arrived at the City Life garden some of the stalls were already busy, especially the groaning table laid out with decent second hand clothes and run by the indefatigable Sally and friends. It had been planned so that various charities such as School for Life, Lanna Dog Rescue and the Healing Family Foundation could present stalls and their wares and naturally take the profits, whilst other commercial stalls contributed to a central fund. The whole thing raised the first 25,000 baht to launch the next Hillside Rooftop event and was a wonderful success despite the heat, although I did notice one or two people from Friday evening’s ‘bash’ still looking a tad fragile. Since The House was also represented at City Life with their young barman turning out super cocktails it seemed as though we’d never been away!
Who knows what next year will bring at Hillside and whether with the current economic problems it is feasible to raise a million baht for a charity of choice. With so much demand on resources I really wish the largesse could be spread a little more widely next year, among different charities with at least one or two animal charities benefiting. We shall see. Just in case you thought I sloped off with a good book after that I should add that a couple of visitors from Stockholm turned up and wanted a little guidance for places to eat. They had read this paper’s review of The Riverside so we headed there and found a table on the terrace .Delightful. The other evening - they insisted - should be spent ‘a local place, mainly with Thais’. You guessed it. Isn’t this where we came in?

Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
US Horror - This is an American remake of the wildly successful Thai chiller which was the top Thai film in 2004. I just saw it, and this Shutter is a near replica in all respects, but with an American cast, and filmed in Japan. It is without doubt a classic spook story, with some real chills, about a couple who accidentally hit a woman while driving; thereafter they see a supernatural presence in the photos they take. A good suspense film.
The Water Horse: US/UK Adventure/Fantasy/Family - I loved this terrific film about the mythical “water horse” of Scottish legend. It’s not just for kids – in fact, if I were I child I would be terrified by some parts of it. Excellent portrayals by the large cast, and especially the kid. The monster is exquisite, and finely realized. Breathtaking scenery of Scotland (and New Zealand, pretending to be Scotland), and magnificently photographed. The boy’s rides on the back of “Nessie” are ecstatic and mind-blowing trips. See it! Preferably at Airport Plaza where the projection and music systems can do it justice. Generally favorable reviews.
Hormones / Pidtermyai Huajai Wawoon: Thai Comedy/Romance - A mostly endearing teen-oriented romance directed by Songyos Sugmakanan, who made 2006’s quite excellent ghost/coming-of-age story, Dorm, which I liked very much indeed.
Charlie Trairat and Michael Sirachuch Chienthaworn, both from Dorm, play a pair of schoolboys who are vying for the heart of the same girl. You know what you’re in for with a teen romance movie: tiny problems and minor heartbreaks magnified to earth-shattering proportions, signifying nothing.
The Spiderwick Chronicles: US Adventure/Drama/Fantasy - Freddie Highmore plays rebellious Jared, who finds a secret room in the old house his family has moved into, with a book written by his uncle depicting in exhaustive 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. But it has some truly horrific moments, like the old Disney classics, so if you’re under 8 or 9 years old, don’t say you weren’t warned. Generally favorable reviews.
John Rambo: US Action/Drama - The ex-Green Beret killing machine is living in Thailand and is recruited to ferry a church group of idealistic doctors on a humanitarian mission to Burma, despite the dangerous civil war there. When they are taken prisoner, he agrees to return with a small mercenary force to rescue them, setting up a battle sequence against impossible odds. Rated R in the US for strong graphic bloody violence, sexual assaults, grisly images, and language. Mixed or average reviews.
Step Up 2 the Streets: US Drama/Dance-Musical - A couple of vibrant dance sequences and some unintentionally hilarious bad acting. “Probably the single most racist movie that will be released by any major American studio in the first 10 years of the twenty-first century, not that anyone affiliated with the picture is aware of that fact.” Mixed or average reviews.
Atonement: UK/France Drama - A powerful story. The scenes on the beach at Dunkirk include some of the most masterly camera work of any recent film. It is a privilege to watch the result of director Joe Wright’s vision, like the experience of being transported in a time machine. Robbie and two Army friends stagger along the beach jammed with drunken or half-crazed soldiers awaiting rescue amid complete chaos, and, in one long, breathtaking sequence - a masterpiece of planning and execution - Wright gives us the whole spectacle, the soldiers milling around aimlessly, the beach, the sky and a Ferris wheel in the back, and the horses having to be killed because there’s nothing to feed them. Rated R in the US for disturbing war images, language, and some sexuality. Reviews: Universal acclaim. At Vista only.
10,000 B.C.: US Adventure/Drama - Director Roland Emmerich is a director committed to delivering old-fashioned, undemanding escapist fare - at all costs. And the costs are high indeed: In the name of visceral thrills and chills, he sacrifices narrative logic, emotionally involving stories, and intriguing characters with any semblance to real individuals. As he does here. I’m afraid I was mostly laughing at it, when I wasn’t cringing. But everyone agrees the visuals are terrific. Mixed or average reviews.
The 8th Day: Thai Horror/Thriller - Unusual Thai horror film which depends on psychological spooks rather than booms from the soundtrack to achieve its scary effects. A little girl is seen entering a house and disappears, with the proceedings watched by a medical student doing his thesis on the event. At Vista.
to open Mar. 27
UK Action/Sci-Fi - Authorities brutally quarantine a country as it succumbs to fear and chaos when a virus strikes. Mixed or average reviews.

Life in the laugh lane: by Scott Jones

The Year of the Rat Wars

It’s the Year of the Rat, specifically at my bungalow, and last week I officially declared war, though they attacked first. The death toll now stands at 10 to zero, not counting countless cookies, crackers, cereal, fruit, grains, whatever. I’m pretty sure they took a few cans of beer, too. Half the bungalow, including the kitchen, is outside. The metal porch beams are custom-made little highways that invite rats to scamper into the gaps between the roof and walls that have more holes than my Swiss cheese, which they also stole. At night they cavort above the ceiling, drinking my beer and fornicating, hissing, squeaking and running around like chickens with their heads cut off. They may even invite hens up there. Some of the neighborhood chickens have suspiciously beady eyes and thin grey feathers that actually may be hair.

Chiang Khong Delicacies: malnourished rats and stunted birds.

I never remember seeing a rat in America, except in horror movies where they lurk in sewers, drop down your shirt and finally eat the bad guy, though the word “rat” is frequently used to convey foul concepts. “Rats! [1] Did that ratty [2], rat-faced [3] ratfink [4] with the ratty [5] hair rat [6] on me because I was a rat [7]?” Definitions: [1] substitute for lots of bad words that start with “d”, “s” or “f”; [2] bad-tempered, irritable; [3] self-explanatory; [4] informer; [5] teased, messy; [6] tattle; [7] non-union contractor, especially during a strike. After a high-school session of kissy-face while parked by the river in Fargo, North Dakota, I had an embarrassing encounter with a muskrat, a marsh-dweller, four times the size of my nemesis here. Muskrat in headlights on road; brave macho man jumps out to impress and protect date by frightening predator; predator rears up on hind legs, bares yellow teeth and screeches, chasing Mr. Macho, panting and sweating, back to the safety of his car and hysterical date, who almost dies of a laughing attack, not of a muskrat attack.
Rat removal choices are diverse and dependent on the removers’ personalities. I choose “catch and kill.” I purchased non-poisonous, Rat Glue Trays, baited them with imported cheddar and peanut butter, and caught seven in two nights. I found three more, dead, a few feet from the porch, probably seeking final refuge with the masses at my bungalow after being poisoned by the neighbors.
“Catch and release” sounds splendid for folks with large rodent hearts and a lot of extra time on their hands. I considered this variation: rip rats the glue plate and stick them to the neighbor’s auto tire so they’re carefully released a few miles away on the highway. I’ve experienced the “catch and eat” phenomena a couple times: outside Bangkok after bad flooding when fried rat stands popped up everywhere next to the flooded lands, and recently in Chiang Khong on the street. I personally could never stomach a rat, but should have set up a stand selling fried glue tray rats with a sign heralding: “Fresh, home-grown rats that stick to your ribs!”
Totally puzzling to me is the “catch and train” option, after viewing many “pet rat” sites on the Internet. A pet mouse, maybe. I had a pet hamster as a kid: the cat ate it. Okay, a gerbil. But a rat? People go on and on about rat care and delve deeply into their sinister behavior with FAQ sheets answering: “Why do rats pee on each other?” This is feasible, but the next question - and I’m not making this up - was: “Should I pee on my rat?” Then, look it up yourself, “Should I flip my rat over and yell at him?” Here’s a verbatim comment from a deranged ratophile: “Show the little thug who is really in charge. Put some of your urine in a cup and set it aside. Grab the little imp and flip him on his back, aggressively scratch his belly and brush your urine on his nose, belly and sex organs. If he protests, yell: ‘No!’ [etcetera] Do this several times a day when you feel like it.” No comment. I’ll stick with “catch and kill.”
When I was first planning to come to Asia and had no clue I’d finally live in Thailand, my bedtime reading book explored diseases to expect and thwart with vaccination shots of massive germ cocktails: malaria from mosquitoes, yellow fever from yellow things, Japanese encephalitis from day-old sushi that makes your brain explode, attornis affidavitis which causes you to actually want to become a lawyer, and, yes, the Black Plague. The book actually said that the Black Plague still exists in the world in some places infested by rats. I pulled the covers over my head with a shiver and considered moving back to Fargo. I’m wondering if, near the Black Plague entry, there may have been a picture of my bungalow. By the way, there’s another house for rent in my compound. When the previous tenants left, they ripped off the roof and found a ten-foot python. It helped keep control of the rats.

Doc English The Language Doctor: Gettin Good At Spelin :)

This week we will learn how to use a method of teaching new words called ‘Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check’ (L.S.C.W.C.). It’s a great way for children of all ages to learn new vocabulary.
L.S.C.W.C. is a methodical way to learn new words in lists. It reinforces the ‘visual aspect of spelling’ and gets students taking notice of the flow and combinations of letters. It’s particularly useful for children learning ‘tricky’ words, or words that don’t follow the normal ‘phonics rules’.
To carry out L.S.C.W.C., first create a little book (or spreadsheet) with pages that look like this. Young kids may manage 5 words (rows), but you can include up to 10 columns or more for older kids.
Once you’ve done that, sit comfortably and prepare to carry out the following instructions together:
1. Write a list of words you want your child to learn in the ‘Look’ column. Words should bear some relation to each other. For example, the words could contain similar sounds, such as ‘run, bun, fun’, etc. Alternatively, the words could follow a similar theme, topic or situation, such as ‘kitchen, bathroom, bedroom’, etc. Try to include some words that your child might have heard or read and may recognise. It will better for their self-esteem if they get a few words right. Try also to include some new words that perhaps you are sure they won’t have come across before.
2. Encourage your child to Look at the first word, say the letters and remember the shape of the word, length and initial, middle and end sounds.
3. Discuss the meaning of the new word together, translating the word into your child’s first language if possible. Say the word together and think of a word that sounds the same or means the same thing.
4. Then ask your child to Cover the word by folding the Look column, over to the Cover column. Your child should try to remember and write the word down in the ‘Write’ column. If they are struggling, give them the initial consonant sound, or the middle or end sound.
5. Afterwards, encourage your child to self-correct and Check which letters were correct, by looking at the original word and writing them in the Check column and leaving gaps for the letters they missed.
6. Encourage your child to add in the letters that were missing, perhaps using a different colour pen.
7. Repeat steps 1 - 6 for the next word, until the list is complete. Focus on one word at a time. If your child really struggles with a particular word, save it for later and use it again another time.
The final result of your efforts may look something like the chart above.
Success should be reward enough; however, if you want to provide a more tangible reward, perhaps you could go book shopping together.
Try this activity once a week and your child will soon build up a good working vocabulary. Remember to increase the difficulty and try to include words that your child may be studying in school or using at home on a regular basis. Native English speakers can also try using this technique to learn Thai at home; it’s very effective.
OK, that’s all for this week. Remember, you can email me at docenglishpattaya should you have any specific enquiries about learning English at home.

Welcome to Chiang Mai:

Problems - are they different or similar?

Tess Itura
We tend to think of expat residents here in Chiang Mai as being older couples or singles, unaffected by issues of, for instance, alcohol or drug abuse. We tend to forget, or not even notice, however, that as life becomes more difficult, dangerous and expensive in our home countries, younger couples with families are choosing to leave home and relocate, or are accepting positions with companies here in order to experience a different, calmer way of life. One of the reasons, we have been told, is that education seems to be, at least at the several Chiang Mai international schools, of a better standard than in the home country; another is that their children, (or in some cases, grandchildren), may not be at such a high risk of violence, drug abuse, and other problems as they were in their country of origin. This last is a nice thought, but is it necessarily based on fact?
Everyone here must be aware of the fact that Chiang Mai is only a short distance south of the infamous “Golden Triangle”, which used to be the world centre for the growing of opium and the processing and exporting of heroin to the West and America in particular, but, surely, that was before Afghanistan took over that heinous role? And don’t we keep reading in the local paper how acres of opium poppies being grown by hilltribes people are regularly being destroyed by the Thai military? The truth, of course, is far from being that simple. Yes, the hilltribes traditionally grow opium for medicinal use, and are often “persuaded” to grow more than their needs, and yes, the Thai military, undermanned and underfunded by the previous government, are nevertheless active in suppression of the drugs trade, as are the police, but, for all their efforts, it’s like trying to stop a runaway train by parking a small car on the tracks!
The Golden Triangle did not come into being by accident, or because the area was suitable in some way for growing opium poppies - it came into being because its geographical location was a border area and also close to China. Then, as now, the raw materials, not just for heroin, but also for methamphetamine drugs, were easily and cheaply available, easily manufactured with cheap labour, and easily transported across the border into Thailand, with its more sophisticated transport networks, and thence to the rest of the world. The same problem exists along the whole length of the Thai Myanmar border, and is particularly acute in the south of the Kingdom. It is, of course, impossible to patrol an entire border area, so, surely, cross country cooperation is essential to stop, or at least minimise, the flow? One would think so…
Unfortunately, having those thoughts might not put one in the majority, as this does not seem to be a priority at present. High level talks with Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos have been conducted recently, and no doubt many agreements have been entered into which will bring economic benefits both to Thailand and to her three neighbours. But not a word has been published about any plans to deal with cross-border drug smuggling, nor does it seem that any attempt has been made outside Thailand to control the manufacture of the vast quantity of illegal substances that regularly find their way across the Thai borders. True, the new Thai PM is about to announce a new “War on Drugs”, conducted, it would seem, along the lines of ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra’s project of the same name. Most of us will remember the widespread media coverage at that time, with its accusations that 2,500 or so mainly innocent people were killed along with the 1000 drug dealers who were caught in the crossfire… Already, even before the new initiative is announced, a major country-wide Hilltribe organisation has made known its concerns that, during this new initiative, innocent minority groups may be targeted as the “easy option”, whilst, for the real drugs barons safely installed across the borders, it might well be “business as usual”.
By now, of course, it’s obvious that not all the illegal substances which arrive on Thai soil and travel down through Chiang Mai actually do leave for their destinations in the rest of the world. It is now, tragically, well known that teenagers here in Chiang Mai as well as adults, and Thais as well as minority groups, are involved, not just in using, but in distributing and selling to their peers. The “cash in hand” rewards of dealing being the fatal attraction for those living in poverty as well as for the greedy…In conclusion, nothing regarding this issue is very different than in our home countries, and the very same rules apply as regards protecting our children and grandchildren from becoming involved. Sad though this is, it will continue until all regional authorities in South East Asia come together to root out this appalling trade and its perpetrators. Thailand is now recognised internationally as a “transit country” on international drug-trafficking maps, and although the worldwide “War on Drugs” will certainly never be entirely over, at least the authorities in the countries bordering the historically notorious Golden Triangle could make a start with cooperative and coordinated bi-lateral strategies. In a worldwide sense, every parent and grandparent would agree that, surely, the protection of all children and adolescents against this scourge must be of greater importance than trade talks.

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

I wandered lonely as a cloud…

If, as it’s now “spring” here in Chiang Mai, you are feeling nostalgic for the familiar and much-loved Western sight of hosts of golden daffodils spreading as far as the eye can see, together with beautiful spring-flowering tress, don’t worry, as now is also the time in Thailand for trees to burst into bloom on bare branches and delight the eye. As a substitute for daffodils, the lovely amaryllis is in flower now, and can be grown “en masse” under the trees to spectacular effect. It can be left to proliferate by means of its bulbs, much as the daffodils in our home countries do. Thailand is awash with the older varieties and species of this flower, which are all much daintier and prettier that the huge new Dutch hybrid variety nicknamed “hell’s bulb”! Just as the dropping of leaves from Thai trees in the dry season initiates flowering, a similar “cause and effect” encourages blossom for these originally South African bulbs.
Let’s face it, daffodils, however lovely, are yellow, or white, or white and yellow, or…etc, whilst amaryllis comes in a great variety of glorious colours, even although the yellow version cannot quite match the glow of daffodil yellow! The red and orange versions are particularly intense. Try planting the reds underneath orange-flowering trees, whites under yellow-flowering Indian laburnum, the pinks under purple-flowering Laserstromeria, and don’t forget to put the yellows under white-flowering bauhinia. An amazing display…and what better way is there to break up the sight of parched, bare earth so common at this time of year under your trees?

Tip of the Week
Pruning Laserstromeria hard back after the seed has set and gone brown a few months after it shows can make sure the tree stays very small and that each new branch will flower in the following season on new stems no more than one metre long.

POP is good. IMAP is better.


Many business users already know what POP is and use it at their offices. For others who don’t, POP is a method that let users download emails on the server to their computer. In practical understanding, it allows you to download those emails on your Yahoo or Gmail account, or your own domain name emails, into your email applications like Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird, on your computer.
And why would you want to do that? Because you can read them while you are not connected to the internet. Getting the picture? This will also allow you store the emails “locally” on your computer which is a nice way to keep a backup of your precious emails.
So that’s POP. But what if you are a Super Multiple-Gadget user? You probably have a PC at home, another at the office, a laptop while you travel and a trendy mobile phone with you all the time. And you love checking mails, so, you check them all day on all devices.
POP will not help you much in this case. The downside of POP is that it is a one-way communication. With POP you only download emails from the server and that’s it. The server is not told if you have read the emails, replied to them, or even sent a new email. When you shift from your first gadget to the second your emails get downloaded again, and since the server doesn’t know about your previous actions, it will show nothing but new “unread” emails to you. Even more, your replied message is not available since you sent it from your first device.
How to get it all organized? How to make every action you do with your emails be common in all your devices? Here’s where IMAP comes in.
IMAP is an alternative method to “access” your emails from the mail server. Instead of downloading emails, you synchronize them. When you read an email, it tells the server that this mail has been read. And when you send an email, the same email gets “uploaded” and stored in the server as well.
Now when you use any other device, if you check emails using IMAP, you get the emails with their read or unread status. Your sent emails will be downloaded to your local “Outbox”. Even better, if you have organized your emails into folders, all folders will be automatically created and updated in all your devices. Way to go, IMAP!
However, all that glitters is not gold. IMAP does have a small downside. The storage space for your emails depends on your mailbox size allowed by the service provider. If you are a heavy email user with a mailbox limited to 100MB size, then you will have to delete emails every few weeks or so. This, therefore, will not let you keep an archive of your emails on the server.
Now, all the POP fans out there may wonder, “Should I make the shift?” Well, it’s really your personal preference. If you are a single-computer user then you may want to stick to POP as it already suits the purpose. But if you are the Super Multiple-Gadget user, then this suggests you switch right away. It will help you get organized in a very big way.
Note that when you move to IMAP, do so on all computers and devices and stop using POP. Using both will get it all muddled up.
Have questions? Email them in!


Q: Mario has a question about FlashGet download manager article featured earlier: How do you change the language to English if the FlashGet interface was installed with Thai language by default?
A: FlashGet supports multiple languages but it becomes a trouble when the program sets the local language automatically. However, there are two ways to fix this. The usual way is to go to the View menu which is next to the File and Edit menu, but of course it’s all in Thai! Well, if you want to give it a try, blindly click on the third menu and you will see “Language” (luckily, this is in English), and select “English” under this menu.
The second way to work around this may seem a little technical, but it’s easy actually. Go to C:\Program Files\FlashGet\Language and you will see a list of FlashGet language files. Delete all of them except for the one named “JCENG”. Restart your FlashGet and it won’t look “french” to you again!

Answer and Win!

Just for Geeks
In a web address like:, what does “http”, “www” and
“com” stand for?

Have the answers? Hurry! Send them to [email protected]
Earliest two entries win a stylish Apacer 1GB USB Flash Drive each!
Till then… Tata ;-)

An American Redneck in Chiang Mai: by Michael LaRocca

He’s still not a Picasso

Picasso drew first blood. She tagged kitten’s jaw and lips with a long jagged line. But his optimism is contagious and he continues to cuddle me. I might have to name him Scarface. Picasso spent the whole day being entirely too pleased with herself, and I was happy to see it until I saw his injury. He healed in two days, like Wolverine or Hulk or somebody. On the evening of the injury, the odd couple joined us on the bed, and Picasso actually let him sniff her back leg for a bit. But he had to push his luck, and grab and bite her tail. She smacked him silly, but she didn’t use her claws. It looked to me like she was gonna let him live. He bit her tail and lived to tell the tale? I won’t even bite her tail and she knows me quite well.
The next day, my brain woke up long enough to bring out the big bag of catnip. If the wrong people saw it, it could lead to a drug bust. After the duo bolted around the house in a surreal type of bonding, they slept the rest of the day. It’s a very big bag. I could just keep them in catnip comas for months, since Picasso recovers first.
After he’d been here two weeks, it was time for his booster shots. The vet asked me for the kitten’s name. I didn’t say Ambush, which was one of my early favorites, or Cato, which was Jan’s suggestion for the same reason. I settled on Barnabas, like the vampire, because when the kitten’s eyes are wild and his fangs are bared, and those huge bat ears make his head a triangle, he looks feral. He’s also brought many Dark Shadows into Picasso’s life, and I can call him “Barney Barney Barney”. Dr Thanakit Charoenmuang made a good impression on me, and Barnabas lived, so the next day it was Picasso’s turn for annual shots. If Barnabas had died, I’ve have found another kitten and let him test another vet. Picasso’s version of a Royal Taster...test kittens. Hey, do you know what it means when Barnabas looks confused? He’s awake. Doc doesn’t want to sterilize Barnabas until he’s five months old. I’m gonna see if I can convince him to do it sooner. Neutering. If it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for my son.
Are you in love with Barnabas yet? As I was writing the words above, I’d already decided he had to leave. He wasn’t letting Picasso sleep, following her everywhere and, unfortunately, unable to resist biting her twitching tail. She was never going to accept him, much less cuddle him. I was only keeping him long enough to get his vaccinations up to date and his bits removed. I was also determined to find him a very good home, and if I have to justify that, you’re an idiot. I was running some Saturday errands when I rode past the first vet I’d ever visited in Chiang Mai, and he was open for business. I had a little talk with him and learned he’d neuter a three-month-old. I pedaled home, scooped up a kitten, and took a walk. He was quite relaxed in the carrier, just enjoying the scenery. Barnabas spent the night at the vet’s office, sleeping off the anesthetic, and Picasso was the happiest she’d been all month. But then I brought him back on Sunday. Bad Daddy! For the record, Barnabas shrugs off drugs the way I do. I turned him loose in the house on Sunday morning and he was every bit as hyper as he’d always been. It was like he’d never left. Including the stress levels among the lovely ladies who live here.
My office is in my home, and one of my employees scooped up little Barnabas because Picasso was putting yet another cussing on him. Didi was stunned at Picasso’s cruelty. Jan saw Didi protecting little Barnabas, who is an awesome little cuddler, and asked, “Do you want him?” I think that Barnabas’s arrival was good for Picasso. I know his departure was. Hey, maybe I’ll adopt another kitten next month. Happy Birthday, Picasso.