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The Doctor's Consultation

Your Health & Happiness

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


tech tips with Mr.Tech Savvy

An American Redneck in Chiang Mai

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Men and the hewers of stone

With the current push for women’s health clinics and practitioners, it is easy for men to feel left out. After all, you’ve no uterus to become cancerous, and although you do have vestigial breasts and it is possible to get breast cancer, I don’t suggest you go looking for breast lumps every month after your non-existent periods.
However, there are some specific male areas, and these centralize around the genito-urinary systems. In the medical business, Urologists are sometimes called the hewers of stone and drawers of water, because much of their work deals with kidney stones and assisting men to be able to pass water adequately. We men do suffer at times, it’s not only the ladies who have ‘specific’ problems!
Your urinary system is a remarkable collection of organs, beginning with the kidney, the “super filter”. The kidney filters the blood and allows the important stuff like blood cells and nutrients to continue waltzing around your circulation, but taking out the nasties, and at the same time helping balance the acidity/alkalinity of the body. Clever little organs, the kidneys!
To keep your kidneys in top shape does not require special kidney exercises, you will be pleased to know. In fact, there is nothing you can do ‘physically’ to make the kidneys perform, but fortunately there are some things you can do to keep them in top condition.
The first is to drink plenty of water every day. And by ‘water’, I mean the plain and simple H2O style water, not the stuff that has been mixed with hops, distilled with grain or left to age in oak casks. Making the kidneys exercise, to filter and regulate the circulating blood volume, is simply carried out by drinking several liters of water every day. Yes, it is that easy. On your desk at work keep a glass of cold water beside you and empty it every 30 minutes.
The advantages you get from this are enormous. First off, you have immediately lowered the chances of forming kidney stones, a potentially dangerous (and always painful) condition. Being a card carrying coward, I have always preferred the drinking water option to the lying in bed groaning with pain alternative. In fact, around 15 percent of people will experience stones in their lifetime (especially in the hot climates) and men outnumber women between two to three times. We also know that if you do not change your lifestyle, you are very likely to develop another stone within two years after the first episode. We men do suffer at times, it’s not only the ladies who have ‘specific’ problems!
The kidneys drain to the bladder by two tubes called Ureters. These do not do much, other than connect the kidney to the collecting vessel (bladder). However, if a piece of stone gets stuck, you will soon know about it. Renal colic sorts out the men from the boys! Ultimate pain!
From the bladder, the urine gets introduced to the outside world by another tube called the Urethra. This is short in ladies and is the reason that women get Cystitis (bladder infections). It is longer in the men folk, allowing us to stand up to pee and become obsessed with how long or short it really is. After the age of 40 give up the ‘Who can pee the highest’ competitions.
However, we chaps have another problem in that region, as far as getting the urine from the bladder to the far wall of the urinal. This is called the Prostate, and it encircles the Urethra and when enlarged, closes down the internal diameter of the pee tube. This makes it difficult to pass water and you dribble on your shoes. The prostate can also become cancerous, an even less pleasant state of affairs. We men do suffer at times, it’s not only the ladies who have ‘specific’ problems!
Yes, you can have a check-up for this area too. Just ask to see the hewers of stone and drawers of water!


Your Health & Happiness: Researchers find three more “Obesity Genes”

Battle to find slimming “wonder drug”

Staff Reporters
Scientists in Seattle announced last week that recent research has resulted in the discovery of three more genes related to the development of obesity. The research report, published in the journal, “Nature”, identifies the three genes as LP1, Lactb and Ppm11. All three appear to promote weight gain; as a result it is hoped that pharmaceutical drugs could be developed which would attack the genes. Any pharmaceutical company which managed to beat all the rest in a race to develop such drugs would reap enormous financial rewards. However, as in all gene- blocking medications, stringent tests would have to take place to ensure that side effects were kept to a minimum. It would also have to be borne in mind that such side effects might take many years to become apparent. Medical experts and doctors, however, remain skeptical, and continue to stress that a combination of diet and exercise is the only successful method of losing weight and keeping it off. They consider that a breakthrough in available treatments based on recent discoveries concerning genetic predisposition to obesity lies far in the future, whilst the obesity epidemic and its effect on health is very much in the present worldwide, with the numbers of those affected set to double by 2050.

Thailand’s Medical Council warns against castration

No, it doesn’t give you a feminine complexion overnight…

Staff Reporters
In a reaction to a recent fad amongst Thai transvestites, the Medical Council of Thailand has issued a warning against getting cheap castrations in the hope that a more “feminine” appearance may be gained as a result. Such operations, it states, can be dangerous and there is no guarantee that the desired results will be achieved.
A well-known gay activist, Nalee Theerarojjanaphon, initially made the Medical Council aware of the problem by reporting the case of a 16 year old Chiang Mai boy who had undergone castration in the hope that it would improve his complexion. Clinics were warned that to perform the operation on boys of under 18 years of age was illegal without parental approval; licences would be withdrawn and premises closed for one year if the law was found to have been broken.
A medical expert from the Ministry of Public Health, Supachai Kunaratanapruk, stated that there was no medical evidence that removal of testicles can change sexual appearance or skin condition. Complete sex-change operations are available in Thailand, but are extremely expensive and require a long period of psychological and physical preparation. Castrations, on the other hand, cost approximately 5,000 baht. Natee believes that the upsurge of interest in the operation has been fuelled by advertisements for the service on the internet.

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
I never realized I was smart until I came to Thailand two years ago. Let me explain why. I have always used my common senses back home and here in Thailand and I never had any problems but to many farangs (foreigners), they just can’t help themselves. Thailand receives the world’s biggest jackasses and fools and every week I see or hear about some farangs who gets into some problems with bar girls or Thais and complains and cries about everything and everybody here. I’m tired of these fools and jackasses bad mouthing Thais and Thailand. If they don’t like it GO HOME and stay there. Why do we get so many ugly, foolish, ignorant, disgusting farangs who makes us all look bad in front of Thai people?
Happy Camper
Dear Happy Camper,
You don’t sound all that happy to me, Petal, your letter is full of grumps and grouches. I agree that there are many foreigners who don’t seem to use much common sense (why is it called ‘common’ when there’s so little of it around?), but I think you are overstepping the mark when you start painting your jackasses and fools as being “ugly” and “disgusting”. I also agree that there is nothing to be gained by foreigners when they start bad mouthing Thais and Thailand, and you do have to wonder why they left their own countries in the first place. There can be many reasons I believe, and not all of them are lawful! Of course it is not too difficult to see why some of these people become cannon fodder for the sharp-shooters in the bars. It must be difficult to survive the “Buy me cola, darling” when all they are used to in their home countries are women who want to put them down all the time. “What are you looking at,” being a standard western woman’s response to a bright appreciative smile. Perhaps you should be producing a lapel button which says “Don’t complain to me - I like it here!” Finally, don’t let the idiots spoil it for you. You don’t have to drink in beer bars, and if you take the effort to learn the language, then you don’t have to talk to the foreigners either, as there are 60 million Thai people out there who would like to know about you and your country of origin.

Dear Hillary,
After getting to know one of the bar girls quite well in my local beer bar, she asked me for some money to send to her mother as her daughter was sick and stays with her mother. It wasn’t much, only 5,000 baht and I really didn’t care if she repaid me or not. The only problem is she’s come back to me twice more since then and it’s starting to add up. It’s now 25,000 baht and that’s getting up a bit, even if she doesn’t charge me anything any more for short-times and stuff. How do I tactfully tell her that there’s no more loans and I’d like her to start paying back the money I gave her? And please no sermons, my buddies are good at doing that, but they’ve got no answers for me.
Dear Sam (the sucker),
The whole situation revolves around the phrase “the money I gave her”. She looks upon it as a gift, which you did originally, but now you want to change it into a “loan”. It’s a little late for that, my Petal. No matter how many short-times, as you quaintly put it, you are never going to see the 25,000 baht again. How do you tell her tactfully that the well has run dry? Quite easily, next time she asks, just say no. She won’t fall apart, she’ll just move on to the next customer. That is the occupation that these girls have chosen. They live by their wits and the guilty consciences of the suckers they fleece. Kiss it good bye, literally and metaphorically.

Dear Hillary,
I met a woman at the party last night and I can’t get her out of my mind. I didn’t get her name as we only briefly saw each other across the room, before she flitted away, so I haven’t even spoken to her, but there was that spark of magic there in her eyes promising just so much. Can you help me find her again? I think I am going mad with desire. She was wearing a yellow dress, and with her dark hair and dark eyes, the effect was fantastic. I must find her again.
Dear James,
What sort of a love struck calf are you, my myopic Petal? How would Hillary know where to find your lady with the bedroom eyes? I wasn’t even at your party. Or perhaps I was and enjoyed it too much? Oh my goodness! Perhaps the woman was me? Was I wearing yellow last night? Did she leave a glass slipper by any chance? Back to reality. Have you had your hormone levels checked recently? You are not going mad with desire young man, you are just mad. But to show that Hillary has a heart, I have published your letter. If any woman answering to your description calls, I will let you know. Promise.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Looking after your investment

When something costs very little, we tend to look after it the same way. When we are looking at 50 baht items, they are easily replaceable with loose change. The same does not go for cameras.
In fact, some of today’s cameras, even in the consumer range, are no longer cheap. It is difficult to find any half-decent camera less than 10,000 baht, and that is far too much money to be needlessly throwing away. So here are some tips on how to look after your photographic investments - investments that can be quite big ticket items too.
To show you the money that can be involved in photography, my favourite lens was a 40 mm Hasselblad wide angle, with a huge bit of glass on the front, that would cost in Thailand today over 200,000 baht. Worth looking after?
However, even humble point and shooters will benefit from being looked after. Any camera will give you better and more reliable service, and not let you down when you are about to take the one shot that will make you millions of baht in the international news market.
The first concept is to understand just what it is that will go towards destroying your camera. Usually these are simply dust and grit, moisture and condensation, battery acid and being dropped. Looking after your investment is then a simple case of countering the above factors.
Moisture and condensation are the easiest ones to counter, but the dampness comes from more than just being caught out in the rain. Thailand has a hot and humid environment. How many times have you taken your camera outside from your air-conditioned office and found you could not see through the viewfinder because it had steamed up? That is condensation. The way round this is to keep small sachets of silica gel in your camera bag, or in the little “socks” you keep the lenses in. When the silica gel changes colour you can pop them back in the micro-wave and rejuvenate them very easily. Many bottles of tablets come with perfect little sachets in the top of them.
There will also be times when you get caught in the rain, or you may even want to get rain shots. The camera body is reasonably waterproof, but you should carefully wipe the outside of the case dry afterwards, and especially blow air around the lens barrel and the lens mount.
Dust and grit is the ever present danger in the environment. Ever had a small piece of grit in your eye? Often, I will wager. Small particles such as that can be very bad for the lens focusing and zooming mechanics too. If the camera back is opened, while changing film for example, any airborne grit can get into the shutter mechanism and damage it, or even just get stuck on the spring loaded pressure plate that runs on the film. This can leave a linear streak on the film, damaging every negative in the series - and ruining your prized photographs. There is really no secret here. Load and reload in the cleanest environment you can, and carefully blow out the back of the camera every time you open it up. Never brush bits away with your fingers - your sweat is corrosive!
That leads us to the even more serious type of corrosion - leakage from batteries. Just about every camera in the world these days has a battery, even if it is just to drive the needle on the light meter. Acid leakage (and even acid fumes) from a battery can totally ruin a modern camera, getting into the electronics so that it never works properly again. The answer here is to discard the batteries every twelve months, even if they seem to be fine, and if you are not going to be using the camera for an extended period, then take the batteries out altogether.
Finally, keep your camera in a soft case that can absorb some shocks. Not the silly leather or plastic thing it came in. If you have not got one - then go out and buy one today. They are very inexpensive, especially when compared to the cost of the camera! Protect your investment!

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.


Commodities have continued to be positive despite the recent turmoil in the world’s markets. The real question is how long can they continue to do this?
Quite naturally, people are concerned about what is happening in the US, especially as the American consumer continues to cut back on spending. However, the general consensus is that commodities will stay strong due to continued development in Asia and large infrastructure projects all over the world.
This is not just in the short term but also the long one. This is because of the urbanization of Asian economies such as India and China. Also, over the last thirty years there has been a distinct lack of investment in much needed infrastructure due to the cynicism of politicians building for today to get re-elected and not tomorrow so people can benefit. This shows that commodities are going to be as much needed in the West as they will be in the East. Finally, there is the need for new investment in alternative energy sources which will mean further use for commodities.
Our old friend Supply and Demand will be critical in the pricing of commodities with the price of a particular commodity going up when it is needed whilst others go down.
What is beyond doubt though is that the value of commodities in general will continue to increase and any times of surplus and lower prices are not going to last long.
What is beyond doubt is that China has a massive thirst for commodities and this is not going away any time soon. It is having a positive spin off for Africa, as growth rates are stronger there because of Chinese investment. This, in turn, offers some interesting investment opportunities, if one has the stomach for risk. Anyone thinking of this should only be thinking of the very long term.
Many fund managers now agree that emerging markets are generally in great shape and Asia can decouple from the west in the near future. I am not so sure about this as a large percentage of the Asia population is still bordering on the poverty line but, without doubt, the middle class in urban areas is increasing by the day.
One fund manager working for Invesco thinks that inflation is down to cost push, not demand pull, hence interest rates will not curb inflation. This doom and gloom merchant (right up my street!) also reckons that global food stocks are very low at the moment and doesn’t see that changing any time soon. He is also predicting that interest rates are going to 1% in the US and hence the dollar has further to fall.
As we have said before, unlike money, you can’t print gold. Even if sub-prime were to be solved in the very short term, most people think this will effect the price by USD100 - therefore, gold is going up because of inflation, not just uncertainty. Also, gold bull markets usually last 10 years, the shortest before that has been 7 years. We are still a couple of years short of that target. Another bullish factor for gold is that South African mines are operating at 90% capacity and will probably do so until 2012. The IMF is holding a lot of gold, but the US is the largest voting member of the IMF and they have never agreed to a gold sale. The gold producers are now closing their hedges. What is interesting is that in terms of gold holdings, the Gold ETFs are now the 7th largest central bank in the world.
So as to help those who are bullish on commodities, below is an analysis of how we expect commodities to perform:
Base metals – In the short term the market will be flat due to a lesser demand from the western world and a current large surplus. There may even be falling prices. However, there continues to be a good, strong demand in the Middle East and Asia for aluminium, copper, lead and tin so prices will rise before the end of the year as the surplus is eroded and supply cannot cope with demand. The aluminium market is currently very tight, but could get a lot tighter if the Chinese start electricity rationing.
Steel and raw materials - General opinion is good for these as steel manufacturing is predominantly in the control of the developing world. Also, the de-stocking of steel in 2007 has left markets tight in North America and Europe. In iron ore and coking coal, spot prices are up to 100% higher than current contract prices, which are forecast to rise at least 50% for the year beginning April 2008. Thermal coal prices have also gone up quickly as rail and port traffic jams in Australia have disrupted supplies whilst demand for coal in China remains particularly strong.
Energy - Prices now seem to have settled at high levels due to sustained high demand. Supply, though, continues to disappoint, with non-OPEC countries failing to deliver increases as forecast and OPEC itself reluctant to increase output too rapidly.
Soft commodities - These have had an excellent run recently and look to get stronger due to such things as biofuels and government regulation. As agricultural land is in short supply due to the requirements of the energy sector and so, crop rotation will be high and prices volatile. Brazil is a great way to play the soft commodity theme, as the country is agriculturally rich.
To conclude, commodity funds have evidently become popular again, with USD100 billion of new funds bought to the market in the last couple of months. Also, one should not forget that there is a 95% correlation between the share prices and the commodities themselves and it is worth remembering that if the Chinese were to increase their gold holding it would take away three years of supply from the market. So, should commodities be part of your portfolio – ABSOLUTELY!

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

First, sterilize the needle before inserting under the finger nails to avoid risk of infection…

A kind reader wrote to me after an article which was headed “You may take the Thai out of Thailand but…” mentioning that my attribution of its sentiment to the photographer Bruce Weber was not accurate. Well, I had only said he made it ‘famous’. My correspondent said he knew of its use in relation to the first World War after which he produced, “You may take the boy off the farm but not the farm out of the boy”.
Most likely it precedes that too, and if I knew my Shakespeare better I’d bet he said something along the same lines, since there seems nothing that that the greatest writer ever to put quill to parchment has not said in one form or another. Mentioning Shakespeare reminds me of the most arrogant thing I have ever heard; his own gravestone epitaph devised by the once highly revered writer - especially by himself - Theodore Dreiser. It was to read, “Shakespeare, I come”, and no doubt did so in this case and the one which follows.
I’ll attribute though - at the risk of a further correction - the saying “Hell is other people” to the writer and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Certainly it stems from his play Huis Clos, which has its tiny cast confined to a room and proving just that point. Since the fame of that play and its resultant film, the remark has become everyday parlance, bandied about at airports and elsewhere so that it has lost the impact, as has the remark “Hell on Earth”. This sentiment was used recently on the poster for Rambo IV, the Sly Stallone movie shot in Thailand and ‘dealing’ with the situation in Burma. The film, which may still be playing in Chiang Mai, has John Rambo being sought out by a group of American missionaries intent on taking supplies, medicines and the ‘good book’ to the oppressed victims of the Burmese junta. It reminded me of the mail I received- and mentioned in this column - last autumn from that country where the writer said, ‘We are in hell’. Then and there it seemed to have force and meaning. Not far from us in Chiang Mai and yet a million miles away, it seems. Well, Stallone’s movie never recovers from the use of actual footage of atrocities at the opening of the film, since no recreated brutality could equal that and, to be honest, it is just simplistic bang-bang heroics, although its heart is in the right place and the message forcefully put. It serves to remind the world that a group of people have, entirely for their own selfish ends, ruled and terrorized and impoverished an entire nation for decades and have done so with unspeakable brutality.
And yet we are told - and have had it reported in newspapers in Thailand and throughout the rest of the world - that these generals and their thugs and soldiers who deny human rights, condone rape and imprisonment and torture are not as bad as they are painted. And this is because they meditate and are Buddhists. Do they meditate within earshot of the gun fire and screams of the victims in the cells or as they peruse the advice given to torturers to make sure that needles are sterilized before use on their charges, to avoid infection and risk of early death. It’s all right, we learn, to inflict excruciating pain on a fellow human - just don’t kill them - yet. President Bush seemingly thinks the same, since he has condoned the continued use of waterboarding by the C. I. A. amongst other horrors. We are assured that he is another devout man who prays daily. So that’s all right as well, then.
I was reminded of the hypocrisy surrounding such excuses in a small and wryly amusing way last week when a famous film writer, visiting Chiang Mai, mentioned a Catholic friend who maintained that he eschewed bad thoughts and committed no sins for at least 12 hours either side of confession since this made him feel even more ‘pure’. Presumably his penance and the absolution which followed were not quite enough. How easily some people let themselves off the squalid hook they hang themselves on. Let’s hope that history and the courts which will one day judge these monsters will be less lenient. Of course one does not have to be complicit. I’m a great believer in the adage that if you are not against something you must be for it. I wonder who first said that.
A propos of which I went along to the peaceful demonstration outside the Chinese Consulate last week, where opponents to the tragic events ins Tibet and Burma met. Of course, such gestures have little effect, they are merely an act of conscience. It needs big actions by important people to attract a response. Last month Steven Spielberg resigned from his role as creative director of the forthcoming Olympic Games. The actress Mia Farrow had goaded him into this and she is working to ensure similar actions from others involved. How good it would be to see the Prime Minister of Britain decline his invitation to the games. He, like his predecessor Tony Blair, is a regular church-goer but seems disinclined to let actions speak as loudly as fine words. Too late now for the games to be boycotted I suppose. But at a personal level that is easily done. No trips there or to Burma. No absolving the leaders of those countries from blame, just because they meditate.

Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
No Country for Old Men:
US Crime/Drama/Thriller - Oscar 2008 Best Picture, Best Directing, Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem), Best Screenplay. Violence and mayhem ensue after a hunter stumbles upon some dead bodies, a stash of heroin, and more than $2 million in cash near the Rio Grande. With Tommy Lee Jones. Rated R in the US for strong graphic violence and some language. Reviews: Universal acclaim.
Congratulations to the two movie venues for bringing this film to Chiang Mai - I never expected to see it here. It’s a widely acclaimed picture, and the craftsmanship is superb. The archfiend played by Bardem is the most terrifying portrayal you’ll ever see.
However, having gotten that out of the way, I have to say I really didn’t like the picture. I admire the skill with which it was made, but I found the characters for the most part repulsive, and I simply don’t want to see so much violence in my entertainment. It’s the Academy’s choice for “Best Picture,” not mine. But this is a minority view, as the film is highly regarded.
Doomsday: UK Action/Sci-Fi - Authorities brutally quarantine a country when a virus strikes. The consensus is it’s a pale imitation of previous futuristic thrillers, minus the cohesive narrative and charismatic leads. I say it’s repugnant, and utter trash. Rated R in the US for strong bloody violence, language and some sexual content/nudity. Mixed or average reviews.
Baan Phee Perb : Thai Horror/Comedy - The usual.
Fool’s Gold: US Adventure/Comedy - US Adventure/Comedy - A modern-day treasure hunter is obsessed with finding the legendary 18th century Queen’s Dowry - 40 chests of priceless treasure, lost at sea in 1715. Has little chemistry among the performers, humorless gags, and a predictable storyline. Generally negative reviews.
Hormones / Pidtermyai Huajai Wawoon: Thai Comedy/Romance - A Thai hit! And I like it! An endearing Teen-oriented Thai romance directed by Songyos Sugmakanan, who made 2006’s excellent ghost/coming-of-age story, Dorm.
Now I’ll reveal a secret about the movie: not in any of the advertising and publicity, but very much in evidence in the film, is one of Japan’s best known porn stars, Sora Aoi. Well, former porn star, now that she is appearing in main-stream films. She definitely has curves in all of the right places, and is quite a - how should I put it - vibrant personality. She attempts to drive one boy’s affections away from his true love, in a passionate encounter on the beach. Does he stay true to his love? See it to find out.
Hormones has four interwoven stories, and at the moment my favorite has to do with Joe, a nerd. He is hapless dealing with women, but he tries very hard, and has decided to concentrate on the most popular girl in school. He’s a scripter - he scripts out his life, writes out appropriate dialogues, and has them posted around him for use as needed. He’s better at writing than speaking, so that’s how he expresses his love - like with signs: a huge sign at the school playground, or a whole pack of signs, like cue-cards, which he shows to his girl one at a time, standing on her doorstep, while she is wondering what is with this guy!
Shutter: US Horror - This is an American remake of the wildly successful Thai chiller. This Shutter is a near replica in all respects, but with an American cast, and filmed in Japan. Without a doubt a classic spook story, with some real chills, but I think the Thai version is superior.
The Water Horse: US/UK Adventure/Fantasy/Family - I loved this film about the mythical “water horse” of Scottish legend. Excellent portrayals by the large cast, and especially the young boy. Excellent British movie-making, with a lot of heart. See it! Preferably at Airport Plaza where the projection and music systems can do it justice. Generally favorable reviews.
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, take heed. Generally favorable reviews.
to open Apr. 3
Vantage Point:
US Drama/Thriller - Eight strangers with eight different points of view try to unlock the truth behind an assassination attempt on the president of the United States. Critics say it’s exciting and has an interesting premise, but fractured storytelling. Mixed or average reviews.

Life in the laugh lane: by Scott Jones

Kicking Ash

Today officially begins Clean Week #2 - last week we quit smoking. She quit once. I quit three times: Tuesday till Friday night, Saturday morning till last night and again today. We went to the allergy clinic when her skin rashes became unbearable, after her neck turned red and inflamed when I kissed it. The doctor said she’s allergic to either the polluted air in Chiang Mai, to cigarette smoking or to me. I told him I wanted another opinion. He said, “I think your breath is killing my office plant.” She decided to keep me if we stopped smoking by taking the doctor’s advice and medicines. We set a quit date and started popping expensive pills a week before it while focusing on all the ugly, wicked, bad and nasty parts of the disgusting habit. Doctor Allergy said to avoid friends that smoked, but we couldn’t think of any. We’re the people we’re supposed to avoid.

Got a light? I hid these from the doctor but he took away my matches.

It’s rough to understand what the pills actually do, though they’re touted to reduce the craving desire. The fine-print warning on the pamphlet lists a raft of “common adverse reactions”: insomnia, hypersensitivity, rash, anorexia, agitation, anxiety, depression, headache, tremor, dizziness, taste disorders, concentration and visual disturbance, abdominal pain, constipation, lack of energy, sweating and fever, which are the same adverse reactions of smoking, minus the lung cancer and death. The insomnia is formidable, stealing from us those peaceful, unconscious, smokeless hours when we have no desire for, or capability of, lighting up. Would I rather smoke until I’m dead or just stay awake until I kill myself? I lie sleepless every night for hours, ruminating relentlessly: “Did I sleep yet? I don’t know, did I? Wait! I think I just slept…but maybe not. Did I dream I smoked or did I get up and smoke? Honey, will you please bring the sledge hammer to the bed?” She quit taking the sleepless pills after a few days, just before the black bags hanging under her eyes were resting on her shoulders.
Most of my life I didn’t smoke and hated cigarettes. I started as a junior in college, but my mother said she’d quit if I’d quit, and if I didn’t, she wouldn’t send me any more brownies. Luckily her mouth-watering delicacies were way more addictive than stinky cancer sticks, so termination was simple. I smoked again while traveling overseas for two reasons: 1) In 1972, everyone smoked; 2) When you’re thumbing across Turkey and are picked up by gypsies in a horse-drawn wagon, who, though dirt-poor, offer you a gesture of friendship in the form of a grimy coffin nail, you either smoke it or stab them in the heart. I smoked for a few months then quit for 28 years.
I’m not sure how something I hate crept back in at age 50, possibly because of a personal midlife crisis, though I’d rather blame it on my neighbors, well, the one neighbor who smoked…and on crazy Brit Paul who lived with me for a month before leasing my house when I moved south. Fiercely intelligent and equally as ridiculous, we’d party too hearty and daily smoke scads of, as he called them, “gaspers.” One night I came home to find him in the backyard, smoking and meticulously burning his “flaming car accident victim costume” for a Guy Fawkes Party. I shout, “How worried should I be that my future renter is using my expensive set of barbeque utensils to roast his clothing on my Weber grill?!” He says, “Oh! They’re not my clothes. They’re yours.” (Cheeky Limey stole them from my Salvation Army donation bag.)
Why stay with that something you hate? The only marginally positive reason for smoking is the companionship with other druggies, like singing the blues with your buddies while everybody drinks themselves to death. It’s the destructive, abusive relationship you can’t leave. Let’s call her Anita Drag. You’re sick of her; she beats you up; she’s even illegal in public places, but you still want her all the time. You have to take her everywhere even though she smells revolting and your friends hate her. She tarnishes your image and your teeth, but you can’t stop sucking her butt, you pathetic ash hole.
Dr Allergy also suggested we tell everyone we’ve quit so they’ll give us support. This column informs all citizens of Chiang Mai in hopes that I’ll get accolades and encouragement on the streets, but mainly so I absolutely cannot start again, because anyone that sees me will know I’m a spineless addict, stuck on Anita Drag, still kissing ash.

Doc English The Language Doctor: Many theories on the subject of ‘Language Acquisition’

A few parents have asked me ‘What is the best time for my child to start learning English’? This is an interesting and perplexing question. Obviously we want our children to start learning English early enough for them to become proficient, but if they are learning two or more languages at the same time, won’t they become confused? I’ll discuss the various theories on the subject of ‘Language Acquisition’ as best I can, so that you can make your own mind up.
Language Acquisition is the process by which we learn a first (or second) language. Normally most of us learn our first language when we are babies and our second language when we are older, perhaps at Primary school or even later when we are adults. Some people seem to be better at learning a second language than others (I place myself in the ‘others’ category).
Most theorists on the subject of language acquisition are generally divided between two ‘camps’. The first camp believes that children are born with an innate ability to learn new languages (the ‘Nativist’, or ‘native’ theorists). The other ‘camp’ of theorists believes that we are not born with the skills to speak a language. This second camp believes that languages are something we learn from our peers and language skills are passed on from generation to generation (the ‘Nurture’ theory). There are also a substantial number of theorists who believe that both camps are right and both theories on language acquisition are true. In addition, there exist a great number of theorists who probably don’t give a hoot and wish everyone else would stop arguing and get on with solving the problem.
If you go with the ‘Nature’ theory, then it seems everyone has an ability to learn a language from birth, no different from birds learning to sing, or dogs learning to bark, even if they are born and left in isolation from birth. However, some case studies have proved that children who have been denied opportunities to talk at a very early age (perhaps through neglect or isolation) often never reach full fluency in their first language, let alone their second.
Many theorists believe that there is a ‘Critical Period’ for learning a new language and that this period ends at age 12. It does seem to me that although I think it’s possible to learn a second language at a later age, younger children have more success learning languages than adults. Children who learn a second language at an early age seem to be better at speaking without a trace of an accent! Despite the theories, however, there is no excuse for not trying to learn a second language well into adulthood.
So why are kids better than learning languages than us adults? There are several reasons for this. The first is that they are less inhibited. Younger children are generally pretty confident and they don’t get embarrassed when they make little mistakes speaking. Generally we find this ‘cute’ and we provide them with lots of encouragement and opportunities to use their language skills, such as playing games with them, singing songs, asking and answering questions, etc.
As our children grow older, they become more aware of the world around them, more self-conscious and shy about making mistakes and sadly we are perhaps less forgiving of their mistakes too. Their little language errors are no longer considered ‘cute’ and may be so swiftly and brutally corrected by the teacher that it’s not uncommon for older children entering a second language situation to enter a ‘silent world’ and cease talking altogether, rather than put up with criticism from their teachers and peers.
As children grow up, the school curriculum changes too. Whilst younger children have plenty of opportunities to play and talk in the classroom, older children must spend long periods reading, writing and listening to the teacher. Speaking opportunities and opportunities for discussion may be less common (except in an ESL or EFL classroom of course) and children may choose to make friends only with children who share their native language.
Anyway, for the reasons I have mentioned (and more besides), generally I would say that the earlier your child can start learning a second language, the better. Generally your child won’t become confused between the two languages, as long as you provide equal practice in each language and you don’t over-do it! Most theorists agree that parents play an important part in children’s language acquisition. Children need an extraordinary amount of language ‘input’ when they are young. They also need a great deal of practice using the language in a nurturing environment where they are not criticised, but allowed to experiment with the language (perhaps using ‘Tinglish’ (Thai/English) to start off with and then gradually evolving two distinct, parallel languages).
If you are thinking of enrolling your child at a bilingual or international school or kindergarten, ask about the opportunities your child will have to speak, listen to, read and write the language. Look around the school, talk to the staff and students and observe a lesson or two. Will the school provide the ‘nurturing’ environment your child will need? What special provisions and support does the school provide for new students? Whatever age you decide to start your child learning a second language, you want your child to be supported and to see the process of learning a language as an enjoyable one and a positive experience.
That’s all for this week mums and dads. As always, if you have any questions, suggestions or complaints, you can mail me at: docen [email protected] Enjoy spending time with your kids.


Stuart Rodger - The Englishman’s Garden, Chiang Dao

Gossamer thin angel wings - Tough as old boots!

You may have noticed, outside Thai houses, delicate tissue thin leaves in wonderful unleaflike colours being carefully nurtured in pots, watered daily and making a glorious display in pink, white, red, black-veined, or blotched colours - any colour seems possible as long as it’s not the normal green of leaves in general. These are Caladiums and you would be forgiven for thinking that they are rare, expensive and in need of painstaking care and attention; especially when you notice that each leaf has been individually staked with a stick and carefully wired. Well, if you want to lavish this sort of attention on these plants - go ahead - it will have its rewards, particularly if you want to enter your specimen plant into competitions at flower shows and win prizes! However, you don’t have to go to those lengths, as these plants are very difficult to kill and will, surprisingly, grow in full sun without scorching. If left without watering during the dry season, they will die down to their underground corms and merrily re-emerge when the rains come! What a lovely surprise to look forward to each year - but don’t forget where you planted them and dig them up by mistake! If you have a collector’s mentality, these plants are great, as they display an infinite variety of forms. It’s great fun to choose your favourites, but it’s a gamble too, as the small young leaves display camouflage colours to protect them during their juvenile stage and look completely different in their adult foliage! With their clearer colours and sometimes strong veining, they seem to be shouting “Here I am in all my glory - come and find my arum - like flowers and pollinate me!” Grown from meristems, there are exceptionally good named varieties and the adult form can be looked up. If grown from seed it’s rather like gambling on the lottery as you may have picked a new prize winner! Even if you didn’t, there’s no way you can be disappointed as all your plants will be beautiful and sometimes quite spectacular!

Tip of the Week
When using a clay pot, place a broken piece of pot, (crock) over the hole in the bottom, as this will prevent the roots and soil from blocking the hole and causing water logging. Free drainage is essential for most plants to allow the roots to breathe air - if they can’t do this they will drown and die!

We love our computer, let’s keep it clean

Let’s be honest, we are the laziest when it comes to computer maintenance. We know how to copy, download, transfer and install files and programs on our computer so much that it half turns into a box of junk. When the computer is overloaded with unwanted or never-used files, the question is, “Who’s going to clean that up?” Of course not the computer!
Keeping your computer clean is the first step to making it run faster. A computer can only run smoothly if we maintain and do clean-ups regularly. There are a big bunch of files sitting in your computer that were temporarily generated, copied or downloaded onto your computer, especially when you surf online. These files help in loading visited web pages or opened program files faster. After a few days, most of them do not have much use and can be removed from your computer safely to re-gain free space.
Here’s the simplest way to get rid of that old junk on your computer. Trust me; it’s really quick and easy. Many of you may already know this, but let’s face it, when was the last time you did a disk cleanup?
Let’s go…
1) Go to Start>Programs>Accessories>System Tools and open the Disk Cleanup utility program.
2) You will be prompted to “Select Drive” for clean up. Being the most crucial one, let’s start our clean up with C Drive. Select the drive from the list and click OK.
3) The program will scan and analyze “junk” files which can be removed from your computer to clean up space. This can take awhile depending on the temporary files on your computer.
4) Once the scanning is done, you will get a list of file types that can be deleted. By default, some of them will already be selected. Apart from those, you might want to select “Recycle Bin” as well, if you decide to clean up that too. Another one you should choose to clean up is “Temporary Files”. Click OK and when you are asked to confirm the clean up, click “Yes”.
5) The cleanup utility will take awhile to do the work for you.
6) Repeat the steps if you want to clean up other drives as well.
Told you it was easy! Make this a regular practice, at least once a week and you will stop thinking about buying a new computer.

Just for Geeks
According to, about 20% of the world’s population is using the internet today. While the world’s population is 6,606,971,659*, there are currently 1,319,872,109* internet users around the world.

* Estimated values

The answer to last week’s Just For Geeks – Answer and Win! question “What does “http”, “www” and “com” stand for in a web address?” is:
http stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol.
www stands for World Wide Web (of course!)
com stands for commercial.
Wasn’t that easy? Once again we had a lot of entries coming in. The lucky winners to take away Apacer 1GB USB Flash Drive each are Pete Eades and Russ Blohn. Congratulations!
Till next week … Tata ;-)

An American Redneck in Chiang Mai: by Michael LaRocca

Redneck on a bicycle

In our last less than thrilling episode, I was following a group of neon-clad hard-core bicyclists to an unknown destination, unable to speak Thai and one of the few farangs in a group of over 50. We were going north, north, and north some more. Ignorance is bliss, so I must have been ecstatic. I eventually found the other 50+ riders at Rajabhat Agricultural University. We did a bit of climbing. Beside me, one Thai yelled “gear one, one, one, one, one.”
There was a rest stop at the top of this paved road, where I found many Thais lying on the ground. “Sleep!” one guy yelled. But then, on the dirt path, our leader yelled “Go go go go go!” I jumped on my bike and “goed”. This was a mountain path. Thick fine sand with tiny pebbles. Up and down hills and mountains. Some tough riding that almost killed me.
Note to self: Get bicycle fixed because the lower 18 gears will be useful on the next mountain. Actual near-death thought: At least it’s not raining.
Eventually, after sitting down and letting the dizzy spells pass, I caught up to the group again. I’ve been told that getting lost, and using cell phones to find each other again, is a feature of every long ride, and again part of the fun.
“I see a bunch of trees. They’re green. And some grass. What do you see?”
We rested in a beautiful area. Lots of flowers and stuff. Benches. So quiet and relaxing. Asked six people for directions and got six different answers. Found a scale model of the campus and took digital photos of it. Took a “victory photo” of our little band of five while I wondered just how far behind us the rest of the pack was. Finally, one of our scouts returned and told us the way home. And he’s a stronger man than I am. Without that rest, I might not have made it. Oh, and be sure to take enough water. I restocked at the workers’ cooler. Many riders offered to share, but I’d feel guilty. Better to steal from the equally generous workers when they’re not looking, because I’m so silly.
Back on the paved road, which we’d been sitting only 10 minutes away from, I saw a sign that said Chiang Mai 26, Mae Rim 10. As our band of eight wandered on home, I wondered “Are we really 10 km past Mae Rim? How’d I miss that?” The answers are “yes” and “I don’t know.” Eventually, I motioned the last of the leaders on by. I was no longer gasping for air, but I wasn’t a ball of energy either. “Y’all go on ahead, I’ll live.”
In Mae Rim, when I stopped for more water, I was passed (again) by the tandem bicycle. Big smile and wave. Wait a minute. There’s no way that bicycle handled the mountain roads. I think they sat at the rest stop until we left, then followed us. Note from the future: The guy is now my bike mechanic, so maybe I shouldn’t write that about him. Elvis would kill for his sideburns.
Later, I was passed by a truck with six bicycles in the back, and six neon-clad riders waving at me. Still later, a familiar guy waved at me from a songtaew stop up ahead. Two more of us, parked. “Me. Tired. Too tired.” I smiled, waved, coughed up a little blood, and resumed my ride.
Just kidding about the blood. This leaves at least 30 riders unaccounted for. As slow as I was riding, surely someone would’ve passed me. Dogs, cats, granny bikes, small children on foot. Instead, I assume those other riders haven’t been to the mountaintop.
Ten hours after leaving home, I returned, exhausted, dehydrated, in pure agony. My neck was redder than ever, I was still gasping for some oxygen, and Picasso squinted at my stench.
We ride again Sunday !