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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

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

Are you ready for your Coronary Conclusion?

Those who are avid health (or sickness) watchers will know I really mean “Coronary Occlusion”, but it was too much temptation to use Mrs. Malaprop and end up with “Coronary Conclusion”. Because quite simply, that is what it can turn out to be - your conclusion.
The sad part of all this doom and gloom is that nine times out of ten you can actually avoid the Coronary Occlusion, the fancy name for the condition also known as a “heart attack”.
Before launching into the real factors in the situation, a little understanding of what constitutes a heart attack is in order. I think everyone understands that you have both red blood cells and white blood cells. The function of the red ones is simply to carry oxygen to the tissues, so that the tissues can survive. The heart muscle is no exception to this rule. This hollow muscular pump needs oxygen just like all the other organs you keep inside you - spleen, kidneys, lungs, bowel and so forth. Take my tip - keep them inside you if you possibly can!
However, the inside lining of the heart (muscle) is smooth and impermeable to the oxygen tied to the red cells. In other words, the heart does not get its nutrition from the blood it pumps through it. In fact, the blood supply to the heart is through some specialized arteries called the “Coronary” arteries. These run along the outer surface of the heart muscle and then split up into smaller tributaries which dip into the heart muscle to supply it with oxygen.
Now if we are to consider that the heart muscle is probably the most important muscle in the human body (well, physiologically it outranks the other much more highly publicized muscle in males!) then it becomes important that this heart muscle gets a good supply of blood. And the quickest way that the supply can get altered is by blocking off the coronary arteries. This is most usually done via a slow process by which a small obstruction in the artery slowly gets bigger and bigger until eventually it blocks off totally and the heart muscle “starves” of oxygen and that section of the heart muscle, supplied by that artery, just dies. We have a name for that death of heart muscle too, and it is called a “myocardial infarction”.
This event of blocking is called a Coronary Occlusion, which may end up as a coronary conclusion if the section of dead muscle is large enough! The actual death of the muscle resulting in this myocardial infarction is often shortened to the simple M.I. (the heart muscle is called the myocardium). But of course, the simpler name is ‘Heart Attack’.
In short, cardiac health is mainly involved in keeping the coronary arteries clean and clear. This is where our old friend Cholesterol comes in. You see, the deposits inside the artery are generally made up of this chemical and other blood fats. This makes a “sticky” patch in the artery and some blood cells get stuck there. This causes a clot to form and you have all the precursors needed to block the artery, with the occlusion leading to the infarction, and to your family claiming early on your life insurance policy.
To be able to keep your arteries clear you need to have nice low cholesterol, which can be done by diet plus medication if required. But first you need to know what your cholesterol level is. This requires a blood test, which can be done at your favorite hospital.
The most likely candidates for a heart attack are overweight, hypertensive smokers, with high cholesterol. If this is you, do something about it today. Well, perhaps that’s being a little bit too melodramatic, but you are certainly one of the cardiac high risk people in the population.
As I wrote at the start of this article, whether or not you have a coronary conclusion can be under your control. Stop smoking, lose weight, keep your blood pressure in the normal range and keep the cholesterol low.
You can drive your own destiny. Start today.


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
After saving for three years, I have been on an extended holiday here in Thailand for the past six weeks and will be going back to Blighty in two weeks time. I have had a delightful guide and non-complaining companion who I found I in a bar who has been with me for all that time, and I have looked after her well in return including a weekly allowance of 15,000 baht for her to spend on anything she wants. I would like to give her something when I leave for her to remember me by, and want you to suggest something that she will like. Please keep the suggestions within a reasonable budget. I am not a Cheap Charlie but it is the end of my holidays.
Dear Chris,
What do you really expect me to say, my Petal? Why not buy her a house, a motorcycle and a year’s free veterinary bills for the family buffalo? You’ll be able to get all that for under five million. And since you don’t want to appear as a Cheap Charlie, throw in a house for Mumma and Papa as well. That’s another 800,000 baht as houses are cheap up-country. Chris, come down from the clouds, you have had the services of what we call a ‘mia chow’ (rented wife) for the past six weeks, for which you have already paid 60,000 baht a month which is well above the going market price. She will remember you by whatever you have bought her until it has been converted into folding currency (“He was the nice farang man who bought me this gold chain which I am now taking to the pawn shop”). Enjoy what is left of your holiday and spend your money on yourself.
Dear Hillary,
My wife always forgets when her visa runs out and it always ends up with me having to pay for her overstays. I even said I would handle it if she wanted (we have a secretary in the office who handles all this stuff), so that this did not happen all the time, but she asserts her independence all the time and calls it interfering if I say I’ll take charge of it. This has happened more than just a couple of times too. If she would only get her visa in line with mine, it would be so much easier. I am getting a bit tired of it. How do I make her see some sense? I don’t want to run her life, she is perfectly capable of doing that herself. I just don’t like unnecessary hassles.
Dear Vic the visa,
You have a problem that will even be difficult for Hillary to fix, but as always I am ready for the challenge. You don’t say whether your wife is from the West, but I’ll guess that she is. I believe independent western women should be given their independence, so why are you paying for her overstays? With independence comes the responsibility for your own actions, but she is making you responsible for her actions. This is not independence at all. This is subjugation. She doesn’t want independence, she wants to be the boss. Vic, you have to put your foot down, give her all the independence that she wants, with everything that goes with it. If you are lucky, she will amass such a huge bill from her overstays that she will be deported. Don’t pay for the return ticket either. Some people learn the hard way.

Dear Hillary,
You may think this is silly, but I’m from America and I am not used to going into a bar to be propositioned. I don’t want to have someone ask me where I come from. It is my business only if I am married. I don’t want people to know how much money I make. How many children I have is my affair. Why doesn’t someone tell these girls in the bars that not everyone wants to tell them personal details? All I want is a quiet beer!
Dear Chuck,
What are you worried about? Is there some dark secret you are hiding from us all? A skeleton in the closet? Are you on the run from the DEA? Has the CIA got a file on you? Has your ex-wife been employing private investigators to find you to slap the alimony claim on you? Or worse, has the IRS found out about your fraudulent claims for 2005/6? My next question is why are you drinking in beer bars? These girls aren’t from the CIA or the IRS, they are just doing their job as drinking companions as well as they can and you’re lucky they can converse as much as they can. If you don’t want the girls to talk to you then don’t drink in beer bars. It is like going to a rock concert and complaining they’re not playing Mozart. It’s the old horses for courses thing, Petal. If you just want a quiet beer, you can buy a bottle of beer from the supermarket and sit alone in your room or restrict your drinking to the more up-market watering holes!

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

The Golden Glow

Do you know the one factor that stands out in professional glamour shots? It is what I call the ‘Golden Glow’. That is what emanates from those wonderful photographs of people positively ‘glowing’ with health and vitality and have you ever wondered whether people actually look like that? Sickeningly brimming full of goodness, and golden hues just radiating from their every pore. Well, I am sorry to tell you, but like so many things in photography, it is a fraud! A photographic ‘trick’ but one that you can use to your own advantage. A trick that will cost you about 100 baht for the equipment and three minutes to master!
However, all photographic tricks still have to conform to the basic rules of physics, in particular the rules of light. Light travels in straight lines and will bounce off any non-translucent object. And that, quite simply, is the scientific basis to this trick.
The ‘golden glow’ that comes from the subject in the photo is really just reflected golden light, bounced back on to the subject. People shots benefit from this warm healthy look and when you use the technique properly, and the results can be spectacular.
Now in the photographic sense, the natural golden glow comes in the late afternoon, with the sun getting low on the horizon. There are good scientific reasons why this is so, but here is not the place to discuss them. Just accept the fact that late afternoon sun is the “warm” time. Take pictures at this time of day and you will get that golden glow - but our photographic trick will allow you to get that warm golden glow at any time of day - and control it as well, something you cannot do so easily with the sun as your light source! The celestial light technician can hide behind clouds at any time.
What you have to do is build a light reflector that reflects that warm color. Go to the newsagent and get some gold foil paper. The sort of wrapping paper you use for wedding gifts. It may be embossed or patterned, and in fact it is better if it is, but must be gold in color. Glue the gold paper on to a sheet of cardboard or polystyrene sheet approximately one meter square. You do not have to be deathly accurate or neat. If the surface gets a little ‘scrunched up’ that is fine too. Your capital outlay is probably around 50-100 baht. Not bad, so far!
Now you have a reflector, which if you play with it near a window for example, will shine “gold” on to any subject. You are now ready to impart that golden glow.
The best photos for this exercise are people shots taken outdoors, with the sun behind the subject. This we call ‘back lit’. You will find that the subject’s hair becomes very bright around the edges, almost like a ‘halo’ effect.
Now for the addition of the golden glow. To do this, you position your reflector to shine some sunlight back towards the subject (that is why the sun should be behind the subject). Prop the reflector in the best position to give the degree of golden glow you want (I generally just prop it up with the camera bag, or you can get an assistant to hold it for you) and look through the viewfinder. See what a difference this makes? The ugly chin shadow has gone as the light is coming upwards, and the subject now looks brilliantly glowing and healthy. The one meter square reflector will also impart catch lights to eyes to make them sparkle as well. The end photo has shiny hair, bright eyes and a golden complexion radiating warmth. A fabulous picture.
Now, the downside! It is more difficult to get the correct exposure setting in the backlit situation. If your camera has a Backlight button, then use it. If not, walk in close to the subject so that the persons face fills the frame, and take your exposure reading from there. Use the exposure lock, or just memorize the readings and put them in on manual mode. It is worth it.

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

More on Commodities - part 1

In late March, we discussed why commodities need to be part of a portfolio. Given the fact that the financial world continues to be in turmoil and there are agriculture shortages, the need to explore alternative energy sources, changing food demand and a growing water supply crisis ... there are good reasons why you should be looking to buy into this sector! Global food stocks are very low at the moment and there is no reason to believe that this will change any time soon.
It would be quite difficult not to have some awareness ... in one issue of Hong Kong’s ‘South China Morning Post’ on Monday February 25, 2008, six different articles outlined why these areas collectively represent the most topical growth sector with excellent potential returns over the next few years:
1. Drinking water crisis in Northern China, despite huge snowstorms and disrupted weather patterns over Greater China in recent weeks.
2. Record spiking price increases for wheat.
3. Sugar gets sweeter as commodities gain preference ... grains have lagged other commodities in recent years.
4. Alternative energy in China ... plans to increase solar energy electricity output four-fold within 2 years.
5. Indian farmers courted by politicians ahead of elections … “Thousands of villages still lack roads and access to medical care, schools, clean water and sanitation.”
6. Subsidies benefit farmers and boost rural consumption ... ongoing and increasing demand for commodities at 8 different phases...
People also forget the knock-on effect of all this. For instance, let’s just take China as an example; there are tax breaks to improve the standard of living for Chinese farmers. These farmers are producing grains and livestock to feed China, one fifth of the world’s population. By having a more disposable income to spend on living standard changes such as improving diet and housing, farmers are providing extra employment both directly on the farm and, indirectly, others by purchasing new goods, e.g. a fridge. This then gives further and expanding employment for the people manufacturing the (presumably Chinese) fridge. More fridges means more commodities used in the manufacturing of the fridge. More fridges means the demand for electricity goes up to run the fridge. This, in turn, then means that therefore more fuel and ultimately, alternative fuels, will also be needed.
The cycle goes on as fridges enable people to store more food of a higher quality, thus enabling changes in global food consumption. This means new soft commodities with potential high earnings coming on to the market. And so on and so on. Basically, China is recognising its position as an emerging economy, one likely to become the next driving force behind global economics. Many people are seeing this. Although soft commodities may appear to be a crowded trade in the short term, the longer term story remains compelling.
These are interesting times. Let’s look further afield, if soft commodities continue to do well then one must look at Brazil as it is a great way to play the soft commodity theme, as the country is agriculturally rich.
Also, as discussed earlier, 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. So, Africa in turn offers some interesting investment opportunities.
It is generally thought that the Emerging Markets are generally in great shape and many fund managers feel that Asia can decouple from the West. BUT inflation is a worry, with emerging market managers, gold fund managers and commodity managers believing that the inflation genie is out the bottle already. Despite the fact that platinum and gold have been having a rough ride of late almost everyone agrees that the long term trend is still upwards.
Inflation is the key. Some fund managers believe that we are in a state of cost-push as opposed to demand-pull so lower interest rates will not curb inflation. They think that interest rates in America could go down to as low as 1.00% which means the US dollar has further to fall. Unlike money, which the US has been printing like mad recently, you cannot print platinum or gold. Also, gold bull markets usually last 10 years so we have some time to go yet.
The facts for commodities go on. South African mines are operating at 90% capacity and will probably do so until 2012. The IMF holds a lot of gold, but the US is the largest voting member of the IMF and they have never agreed to a gold sale. Gold producers are now closing their hedges. Now it really gets interesting, in terms of gold holdings, the gold ETFs are now the 7th largest ‘central bank’ in the world.
With regards to platinum, it is even worse (or better depending on which way you look at it). The market was tight before the power outages in South Africa, now it is just mad. Couple this with the knowledge that jewellery demand has still not fallen for platinum and so fund managers reckon that this precious metal may well reach USD3,000 by the end of the year.
To be continued…

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

Life in Chiang Mai: by Mark Whitman

“Do nothing ‘till you hear from me…”

A few weeks ago in one of the national papers there was a strip cartoon showing an elderly lady seated on a sofa with a young boy. She’s bemoaning that fact that people don’t communicate anymore, never write letters and don’t talk much. Soon computers and text messages will rule the world. The boy replies that the way the world is going, it will probably have ended before that happens. She replies, ‘You’re such an optimist’.
I thought of one of the ‘messages’ implicit in this when a couple of people chided me for not including contact details other than websites when writing about two dog charities recently. Not everyone wants a computer! So you may get in touch with Care for Dogs ( by telephone on 086 913 870 or 081 907 73260 or call there at 12 Moo 11, Wiang Dong, Nam Prae, Hang Dong. For Lanna Dog Rescue, which also helps cats, (www. you can ‘phone on 086 192 6311 or 053 212 810 or contact them at 6/9 Huay Kaew Road, Soi 3, Chiang Mai. They both need donations, volunteers and most importantly welcoming homes for their dogs, who are neutered, vaccinated and brought back to health before they are rehoused.
Also harking back to an earlier column I mentioned a writer whose chosen epitaph was Shakespeare, I Come! He was not the only one with delusions of grandeur. The poet Gertrude Stein once asked a friend (Jacques Lipchitz). “Besides Shakespeare and me, who do you think there is?” Not that one minds people with inflated egos if they have talent and for actors at least that goes with the territory, but a sense of humor helps relieve the arrogance.
I prefer W.C. Fields’ epitaph. The actor suggested for his gravestone, ‘I’d rather be here than in Philadelphia’. And the great playwright Eugene O’Neill asked for ‘There is something to be said for being dead’. Another poet, Langston Hughes wrote his own epitaph and for his ‘exit’ music asked for the jazz standard, ‘Do nothing ‘till you hear from me’. He may have inspired a writer friend of mine, David Shipman, who opted for Fred Astaire singing, ‘Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again’. Yes, a sense of humor helps and as James Thurber, (no doubt among many others), remarked, “Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone’. Certainly most Thais I know subscribe to that.
At the risk of recalling another point made here, a word - no a plea - in respect of Chiang Mai’s current face lift. The Mail and this column has been supportive of the clean up campaign and the efforts of the Mayor and others to improve the city’s infrastructure and cleanliness. With the pavements around the moat and the water itself greatly improved would it be too much to ask for a blitz on the sidewalks which most of us actually use. And use it must be said in fear of injury - or worse, thanks to some motor-cyclists who use them also! How about a start on the length of Huay Kaew Road which is a busy street with shops, schools, the CMU, restaurants, offices, condos and hotels throughout its length? There are pot holes, broken trees, broken paving stones and numerous ugly and dangerous hazards from one end to the other. Look after the tourist areas by all means but don’t forget the people who live here.
I don’t know how many words will be in this piece. I start and eventually end my ramblings. A few hundred I guess. None of them important in themselves of course, since it is only by juxtaposition that words, filmed images, individual notes, colors on a canvas become remotely significant. Like people? No man entire unto himself and all that. Well it occurs to me that by the end of the forthcoming Songkran Festival a similar number of people, mainly Thais and a few farangs, to the words here will have died, mainly as the result of careless and selfish behavior. They may not see themselves as important but in relation to others they are. They will leave behind friends, family, fellow students and misery, loneliness and poverty. How much longer will the casual driving tests, lack of enforcement of safety regulations and tolerance of lethal actions be tolerated? Sorry guys, a few road blocks to catch youngsters without helmets is fine as far as it goes, but is not nearly enough.

Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
Vantage Point:
US Drama/Thriller - Eight different views of an assassination attempt. I find it amazing how they can take such a fascinating idea and muck it up so badly - in script, acting, direction! Turns into a really mindless car chase. Mixed or average reviews.
No Country for Old Men: US Crime/Drama/Thriller - Seeing this yet again only reinforces my viewpoint that it’s simply too violent and mindless for its own good. Beautifully done, yes, with outstanding performances and intense and well-controlled direction. Javier Bardem is a nightmare come true, and one of the most frightening screen portrayals I’ve ever seen. But it’s way too violent for me, and I don’t get the point. Especially the point of the story that’s told at the very end of the film, supposedly wrapping up the film’s message.
I’d prohibit the film from being shown if I could. Too many kids are going to think Javier Bardem too cool for words, and try to emulate the neat way he kills people.
This is the 2008 Academy Award’s Best Picture, Best Directing, Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem), and Best Screenplay. A hunter stumbles upon some dead bodies, a stash of heroin, and more than $2 million in cash near the Rio Grande, and makes the deadly mistake of deciding to keep the money. With Tommy Lee Jones. Rated R in the US for strong graphic violence, and some language. Reviews: Universal acclaim.
Art of the Devil 3: Thai Horror - Torture porn. Stay away.
Dream Team: Thai Family/Comedy - Five-year-old boys compete in Kindergarten tug-of-war championships.
Nak: Thai Animation/Family - Nak the ghost in a new incarnation: helpful, this time around.
Doomsday: UK Action/Sci-Fi - Authorities quarantine a country as it succumbs to fear and chaos when a virus strikes. The literal walling-off works for three decades, until the virus violently resurfaces. An elite group of specialists is urgently dispatched into the still quarantined country to retrieve a cure by any means necessary. With Bob Hoskins, Adrian Lester, and Malcolm McDowell. I think 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 40 chests of priceless treasure, lost at sea in 1715. I think it’s pleasant in part, and has some very nice scenery, but I found little of interest in the characters or their interactions. Apparently, some people think Matthew McConaughey is really sexy, but to me he looks like a beach bum badly in need of a shave, shower, and haircut. Generally negative reviews.
Hormones / Pidtermyai Huajai Wawoon: Thai Comedy/Romance - A Thai hit! The most popular film in Thailand again this last week, without doubt a major Thai hit. And well deserved: it’s an endearing Teen-oriented Thai romance.
Hormones has four interwoven stories, and you know what you’re in for with the likes of a teen romance movie: tiny problems and minor heartbreaks magnified to earth-shattering proportions. There’s a girl who’s head over heels with a Taiwanese idol she’s only seen in movies; two boys whose friendly rivalry spins out of control when they hit on the same girl; a college student who secretly has a major crush on his female friend; and another college boy who faces a test of loyalty when he meets his fantasy girl when his steady girlfriend is away. If you like that sort of thing, you will enjoy this very much.
The Water Horse: US/UK Adventure/Fantasy/Family - I really love this fantasy 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. And adults will be reminded of many things they are terrified of, as well: 1) the abuse of children that seems to have been endemic in England; 2) the usual criminal incompetence of military officers (especially in Britain); 3) the blithe acceptance of the highly immoral British class system; and 4) the acceptance as normal behavior man’s desire to shoot things. Excellent portrayals by the large cast, and especially the kid. The monster is exquisite, and finely realized. Breathtaking scenery of Scotland (much of it filmed in New Zealand), and magnificently photographed. Has solid drama to it, fine characterizations, excellent British movie-making, with a lot of heart. See it! Generally favorable reviews.
Scheduled to open Apr. 10
Street Kings:
US Crime/Thriller - With Keanu Reeves. A veteran LAPD cop finds life difficult to navigate after the death of his wife. When evidence implicates him in the execution of a fellow officer, he is forced to go up against the cop culture he’s been a part of his entire career, ultimately leading him to question the loyalties of everyone around him.
Best Supporting Actor Javier Bardem

Doc English The Language Doctor: Travel Games

Hello, welcome back. If (like me) you love to travel around this glorious country, then you’ll need a few games to play on the road. There are plenty to offer so I will showcase some here for you today. They are copyright free, so go ahead, indulge yourselves … just don’t get car sick.
Everyone loves the game of Bingo. Maybe it’s the thrill of shouting ‘Full house!’, or getting one over on your friends. Whatever the reason, I have never taught a student who did not enjoy playing Word Bingo, except when they lost :(. Here’s how it works…
Road Trip Bingo encourages reading fluency and practices reading skills as your child has to look out for and read and spell signs and notices along your route. To play, first prepare a few cards containing grids like the ones in graph 1 (normally containing 6-12 boxes, depending on your child’s ability). Complete the grids with words your child is likely to encounter on your trip.
You could add in any words you like. Alternatively, if you have two or more children, you could give them a blank piece of paper and encourage them to write their own words. Afterwards they can swap grids with a partner and challenge their siblings to find the words themselves.
Try also Car Bingo for two players. Try to spot the words in graphs 2 and 3 on the backs of cars and the person who crosses them off first is the winner.
The Alphabet Game
The object of this game is to complete the alphabet first. As you see the letters on sign posts and shops your child says the letter and points. Once a letter has been claimed other players cannot use the same letter.
Person Place or Thing?
One person states they are either a person, place or thing and the others then ask questions (are you green, can you walk, are you edible, etc) until they guess what the person is, then they are next.
Choose a Subject
The first person names a country (e.g. Vietnam), and the second person names a country that starts with the last letter of the previous word (e.g. Myanmar). The subject can be changed to celebrities, animals, cities, birds, beasts and relatives…
Each person counts the number of Buffalos (or chickens, cows, etc) passed on their side of the car. If they pass a Police Stop they lose all their points (and/or a ‘donation’ to the man in the peaked cap). The person with the highest points at the end of the trip is the winner.
Twenty Questions
Think of something under the category animal, vegetable or mineral. Other players then ask questions - either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ - until they guess correctly.
Two facts and a lie
One person says three ‘facts’, e.g. “I haven’t eaten somtum for a month”, “I came first in my English test”, “I brushed my teeth this morning”, and the others decide which one is the lie.
Maths Games
Bored with English? Take a break and play a Maths Game. For this game, each player looks for double numbers in license plates. High doubles (99) score more points than low ones.
When you reach your destination and you are out shopping at the supermarket, try challenging your child to find words (either on products or on signs around the store) that start with the letters of the alphabet shown in graph 4. (I’ve missed out the last letters on purpose as it’s pretty hard these days to find a product that starts with ‘x’!). If they complete the board, don’t forget to give them a treat!
If you want more travel games to pass the time on those long journeys, try ‘Mom’s Mini Van’ web site for games and downloadable activities:
That’s all for this week mums and dads. As always, if you have any questions, suggestions or jokes, you can mail me at: doceng [email protected] Enjoy spending time with your kids.

Welcome to Chiang Mai: by Tess Itura

Where to, what to, how to - why is it so difficult?

A major problem, particularly if incoming foreign residents, (or “guests”, as we are charmingly referred to), do not have a Thai partner, is the seemingly never ending “how to, where to, what’s on and where, how much, how do I” question - or questions! So much that we took for granted in our home countries relied on our ability to communicate, probably without our even realising that this was so. Here, even with a well practised talent for mime, we’re on our own, even more so than we would have been in Europe or South America, both popular destinations for retirees and other expats, because we can’t even read the darn alphabet! This, of course, negates entirely the usual reaction of looking a word or phrase up in a dictionary, or, at the very least, makes that option a difficult and time consuming process. Road signs in the city, fortunately, seem to be mainly written in English as well as Thai, as do many restaurant menus, and the major supermarkets have translations on their price tags, but residents’ requirements far outstrip these, albeit helpful, innovations. Residents are not tourists, and contribute significantly to the local economy, however difficult the initial stages of this process may prove to be.
English language publications in the city are of use, but the main complaint this writer hears is that interested parties are more likely to find out about an event they would have liked to attend after it had happened than before. Both this paper and the City Life magazine publish lists of what’s on around town, but these tend to be aimed more to either the big hotels’ promotions and events, (out of the financial reach of many retirees, particularly since the fall of the dollar and the rise of the baht), or well known monthly meetings. Admitting prejudice, this writer considers that the CM Mail’s list is a great deal more comprehensive and therefore useful, but, as with most publications, space is limited, and much that could be included is not as a result. Many of us have our own transport, and would be happy to travel to surrounding areas or even provinces if an event was of interest. If, that is, we’d had advance notification somewhere of its happening! Local media, please take note!
It occurred whilst writing this to make a comparison with the position of immigrants who enter our home countries. Although, particularly in the UK, incomers are now being encouraged to learn the English language, there is not such an immediate necessity, as most will choose to live in already long established communities where shops and service providers from their own nationality are ready to serve them in their own language. Also, commercial organisations such as banks plus local councils etc are beginning to provide suitable services for resident minority groups which even extend to bi-lingual information. Which, you may have noticed, does not happen here very often, if at all. The difficulty of and expense of starting up any business here if you are not of Thai nationality unfortunately precludes the above conveniences from happening at present in Chiang Mai, although a good few farang owned bars and restaurants seem to have found ways!
Bars, pubs, and restaurants are fine, and useful, but what happens when the car breaks down or you need a plumber or electrician? That, of course, is when it gets complicated as all you can rely on is a recommendation from a friend. If you’ve only been here a few weeks, and don’t know hardly anyone, this may be difficult to obtain.
The “Welcome to Chiang Mai” folder, on which this column is based, has been hesitant in the past to recommend, except in a few cases, simply because either purely personal experience or that of a few very trusted and objective friends has been hard to come by. A website for the “Welcome” folder is under construction; some recommendations will be posted in the future, but here, as I’m sure most readers appreciate by now, these things take time! The Chiang Mai Expats’ Club, it seems, has been deficient in this as well, surely it would not have been beyond its capabilities to put together a comprehensive list of suppliers, craftsmen and service providers who are reliable, trustworthy, don’t overcharge too much and who speak just a little English? Their sparse list of “farang friendly merchants” and sponsors is just not enough. What are Expats’ Clubs for if they don’t recognise this need and try to provide a solution? Coffee morning style meetings are all well and good, but a sense of the reality of living here should prevail.
Basically, it does seem that some kind of infrastructure is required to support incomers, who usually intend long-term residence, and whose numbers seem likely to increase as costs and other impacts on quality of life in the West also increase. These incomers, of course, bring financial benefits to the local economy, which is suffering here as it is in the rest of the Kingdom. Tourists also bring some benefit, but travel, like everything, is fashion-driven; what happens when the tourist revenue decamps to another, more fashionable destination?
Local media, the Expats’ Club, and trustworthy local commercial organisations, both Thai and farang, should all be involved in creating a practical, free support structure for permanent residents. Provide a good, reliable, honest service and advertise it - whether it’s concerned with legal or financial matters or how to find a pair of size 14 shoes - these rules are the same worldwide. Until this happens, if it ever does, and this writer rather doubts that it will, there will be very little sense of belonging or true integration of the two very diverse communities in the city. It’s simple; when a section of the community feels excluded, for whatever reason, it finds it difficult to feel “at home”. Which is a shame.


Stuart Rodger - The Englishman’s Garden, Chiang Dao

Sherlock Holmes’ Meerschaum in climber form

This week’s suggestion is a group of climbers that have the most fantastically shaped flowers whose tube strongly resembles the Dutch smoking pipe known as a Meerschaum, much loved by, amongst others, Sherlock Holmes! Whereas the pipe, when balancing on the lower jaw, is designed to hold the maximum weight of tobacco along with the maximum length of pipe to cool the smoke, the flower takes incoming insects on a long journey through a false, foul smelling “intestine” to the inevitable source of pollination and reward, trapping them before allowing their escape. Almost invariably, the flowers are meat-coloured green and hairy with red-brown blotches, and always provide a fascinating shape to observe and study. Sometimes one has to search for the flowers amongst the foliage and they are often worth growing for the leaves alone. However, a number of species are spectacularly showy in flower and these are worth seeking out for the garden. Two species, originally from Brazil, are particularly recommended - the first, Aristolochia elegans, (aptly descriptive but more correctly known now as littoralis), has neat oval brown spotted flowers approximately 3 inches across hanging elegantly down from the vine in a most pleasing manner, appearing reminiscent of the fabric calico, and thus explaining its common name, the “calico flower”. The second, Aristolochia gigantea, has very large brown flowers that hang down like limp pieces of cloth. The most showy species, Aristolochia grandiflora comes from the Caribbean and features flowers approximately 8 in diameter with an elegant twisted appendage hanging down from the vine itself - ideal for viewing underneath an arch or pergola. Remember, though, to give it plenty of headroom so that you can walk underneath when it’s in flower. This flower, when in bud, illustrates perfectly the reason for this genus’s botanic name, taken from the Greek “aristos”, (best) and “locheia”, (childbirth). Its other, more ancient, common name is birthwort, as it resembles the human birth canal. Ancient apothecaries believed that the Gods sent such signs to indicate a plant’s medical usage. It’s true that A. grandiflora does have a poison that swallowtail butterflies use to make themselves unpalatable to predators by eating the leaves - who knows, it may have may have a medical use for humans too. At present it actually is being used in tumour research - let’s hope a use can be found. The most popular Aristolochia in Thailand is the “rooster flower”, Aristolochia labiata. Beloved of Thai children, this variety is the easiest to find and has attractive blue-green leaves. All varieties are easy to grow from seed or cuttings.

Tip of the Week
Don’t be greedy when taking cuttings as a small length will often root quicker than a long cutting!

Living Life Online

It has been too long since we remember the time we created our first email account, leave alone learning how to connect with a Dial-up connection. Since then, we’ve come a long way. Today, the moment we sit at a computer, there’s a least chance we’re not connected.
Thanks to the rapid growth in technology, the internet speed is becoming closer to the speed of light day by day. With this effect, the line between “offline” and “online” rapidly thins down, making the majority of our lives “online”.
Sure, everything is going online. Our childhood videos, our graduation pictures, our personal diary, we’ve already posted them there. We explore the entire planet’s surface from the same screen we check our emails. And what about those essential tasks you do every day when you are offline?
Like Microsoft Word, Excel or Power Point, these basic applications that you use every day in your offices or at home can be found in plenty online. And most of them are free! Yes, it’s true. You have most features and functionality just as you had it with those offline applications. Additionally, we can share documents, photos, audios and videos with friends to view and enjoy or collaborate with co-workers to edit and approve. This wasn’t possible in offline mode. And Hey! Don’t forget, it’s free! No more buying and installing those expensive softwares.
Another practical use of these online applications is that it is an anytime-anywhere tool. Tired of carrying your laptops with your favourite software when you travel? As long as you can find a nice cyber cafe, you don’t need to worry about those softwares ever.
How does that sound? Here’s a list of online alternatives to your favourite softwares you should fall in love with. Enjoy!

Just for Geeks
Bring family closer; build a family tree, create timelines and share photos with Geni –

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

An American Redneck in Chiang Mai: by Michael LaRocca

Surgery in Chiang Mai

I must have picked up some bad karma from my recent “Buddha With Muscles” crack., because I’d just learned I was having throat surgery on Monday. I’d been under the knife three times in my life, not counting stitches. Age 8, tonsillectomy, ether. Age 25, inguinal hernia, and a better general anesthetic. Age 26, vasectomy, local anesthetic. And now, age 43, throat surgery.
I’ve snored for years. Window rattlers back when I was slim and sober. Sleep apnea where I quit breathing long enough to annoy Miss Picasso. Probably a significant loss of “deep sleep” as a result because I kept waking myself up, even though I’ve never been aware of it. Learning to function, and even to excel, in what has essentially been a sleep deprivation experiment lasting at least 20 years. The time had come to end it.
Doctor Google gave me three choices. Somnoplasty, 30 minutes of low frequency radio waves, spend 4-6 weeks sneezing up bloody nasal tissue, live happily ever after. Adenoid removal, several days of pain and discomfort, some additional healing time, and then all is well. Valvuloplasty, surgery under full anesthetic, preceded by fasting, followed by a breathing tube, strapped to the bed so as not to remove the tube, pain and suffering, hospital time, a liquid diet for a day or two.
I wanted Door Number One, ladies and gentlemen. I said so when I made the appointment. Doc took one look, immediately said “strange” in English, and proceeded to tell me my soft palate is a big flapping mess. Somnoplasty would be a waste. Snip snip scrape scrape. Door Number 2 and 1/2, we’ll call it.
Thailand is a popular destination for “medical holidays” and the operation was a complete success, but due to a slight communication problem you’ll have to start calling me Michelle now. That wasn’t funny… As you work your way up from the first floor to the tenth, English improves until you meet the blood pressure checker who’s limited to asking how many times you peepee and poopoo today. Those are the medical terms. And how many times did you peepee today, dear reader? Did you count? She said “1 2 3 4?” while holding up fingers. You don’t have enough fingers (and toes) to count my peepee. Or is that more than you needed to know?
I wrote the rough draft of what you are reading with pen and paper, with catheter in the back of my right hand. Excuse me while I rest. Zzz… zzz...Okay. I’m back. Before you ask, I have not yet received any medication. Not even a beer. Surgery is 12 hours away, at 8 am on Monday. This madness is sober madness.
Saturday afternoon, I thought Ram hospital called to confirm surgery, but actually a client called to confirm availability. Nope. Next afternoon, while I was in Ram hospital, a different person called to confirm availability. Nope. Four hours later, I was still in the hospital when she called, very drunk, to confirm availability. First I’d heard of Thailand’s sudden shortage of fat foreign tourists.
I read a folder called “Information” and am available to edit. The best line is this:
Information on the details of hospitalization cost. The hospital must inform details of service facilities provided and also the following:
3.4 - Service for keep body when the patient die Not if. When.
I chose not to share this with Jan before I got home. These are the kinds of thoughts she has too often as it is. I tend to think as little as possible, but if I suddenly start getting more oxygen to my brain after this surgery, that could change. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Oh, three times to x-ray my chest. During the second one, I thought maybe the tech messed up the first one. But during the third one, I thought maybe the first two showed I can’t have surgery because I should’ve died three weeks ago. But six hours later, the tech came to my room to tell me my heart was normal. A bit black, perhaps, but I got that from Daddy.
I woke up from surgery at 10 Monday morning, fully alert. I’d forgotten how fast I shrug off anesthesia. No pain, either. My voice was fine. I was scheduled to be in the hospital for two more days. Half a day later, as they were hooking up my third IV of the day, I decided I’d had enough and checked out early. I walked home, arrived a little before midnight, and scared the heck out of Jan. But hey, if I’m going to die I should do it at home so Jan doesn’t have to pay anyone to keep body.