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The Doctor's Consultation

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in Chiang Mai

Let's Go To The Movies

Life in the laugh lane

Doc English The Language Doctor

Welcome to Chiang Mai


tech tips with Mr.Tech Savvy

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

The Nine-fingered Accountant

Lopping off a finger is a fairly traumatic experience, and usually associated with work. There are about 10,000 cases of job-related amputations in the United States each year; 94 percent of these involve fingers. Few statistics are available for the outcome of replantations, but with modern medicine (sorry, surgery) the success rate is increasing.
I did come across a report on a series of 208 digital replantations from the frigid zone within the People’s Republic of China. The extremely cold climate (down to 30 degrees below) presents the additional problem of warming the amputated digits prior to replantation without causing further damage. An overall replantation survival rate of 94 percent was reported, and this included 45 cases of multiple digit amputation. Clever people, these Chinese, but you never know, they might have been ‘copy’ fingers.
Now, to successfully sew the finger(s) back on needs the patient to appear fairly smartly at the hospital, and to also bring the missing digit. Despite some claims to the contrary, we are not yet at the stage of being able to grow new fingers for you.
I was reminded of this recently where an injured person arrived at ER with his nine good fingers, but without the 10th one that had been lopped off. The wound was clean and so the hand surgeon sent the patient’s friends off to find the missing finger, as there was a good chance of successful replantation. They appeared later with a bag of chicken giblets straight from the refrigerator, proclaiming the missing digit was inside. When the surgeon looked, the bag of chicken pieces, which still had the name of the supermarket on it, had not been opened! There was certainly no finger inside with the giblets, and all that could be done was to trim up the traumatic amputation, and hope that the patient was not an accountant.
So, provided the chap’s friends had managed to locate the missing finger, how do you transport missing body parts (people lop off more than their fingers, let me assure you)? To save the tissue from further damage, keep the amputated finger wrapped in clingfilm, preferably in a jar or cup with a lid. Do not put it directly in water as this will cause it to shrivel up and become unusable for the surgeon trying to reattach the finger. Put the container with the finger or whatever inside another large bag with cold water, to keep the amputated part cold. Some authorities say ice water, others say just cold water, and I tend to go along with the ‘cold’ concept.
Be sure to gather up all parts of a severed digit, no matter how small. The body cannot grow a new nail bed, the tissue directly under the nail, so being able to use the original tissue makes a big difference to whether a full reconstruction can take place.
Generally, the tissues will survive for about six hours without cooling, and if the part is cooled, tissue survival time is approximately 12 hours. Fingers, by the way (and not chicken giblets) have the best outcome for transportation survival, since fingers do not have a large percentage of muscle tissue.
The micro-surgery required to successfully replant fingers (and the other bits that get lopped off and offered to the ducks) is very exacting, as nerves, arteries and veins all have to be reconnected. Very often the surgeon has to shorten the finger, so that there is no tension on the sewn up structures. All this takes an enormous amount of time and patience. With one celebrated case in the UK, a woman lost six fingers and it took a team of surgeons working in relays to reattach all six fingers during 17 hours of microsurgery. It is said to be the first time so many fingers have been replanted in one operation.
Many other factors are involved in whether there is a successful outcome. Generally, severe crushing or avulsing (tearing away) injuries to the fingers make replantation difficult. Additionally, older persons may have arteriosclerosis impairing circulation, especially in small vessels.
But if you are unfortunate to cut off a finger, remember to bring it with you, not the chicken giblets!


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
What with all the doom and gloom internationally about the world going into a recession, rice prices through the roof, petrol becoming a luxury, do you think this will produce an increase in costs in the red light areas in Thailand?
Dear Bill,
I am not sure what you mean, Bill. “Red light areas”? Do you mean under the traffic lights, but they also go orange and green and are ignored by all road users as being unimportant, so I presume that wasn’t what you meant. If you mean the bars, then you should be more specific, Petal. With rice, the staple food in Thailand doubling in price, one must expect that beer, the staple drink in the bar areas, will also be going up in price. I cannot think of any other costs in the bar areas, as prostitution is against the law, and therefore does not happen. Perhaps donations to one’s favorite Buffalo Rehabilitation Unit (BRU) may have to be increased, but this I am not sure of. I suggest discreet questions to the Mamasans might yield better results than asking me, after all, I don’t really follow the international stocks and share indices.

Dear Hillary,
What is the situation with Thai law when you split from a live-in girlfriend? Does she have any legal rights to your property, cars, houses and such. I’ve been with this girl for about a year, but it’s time to change, but she’s already got the hand out and wants the house and the car. Hand them over, or tough it out? What is your advice?
Dear Jack,
You are asking the wrong person, Petal. This is Hillary, with heart balm for those injured in love, not a lawyer specializing in marital problems, even though some days it seems like it. However, I would imagine that the crux of the matter hinges on whose name is on the ownership documents. Foreigners cannot own houses in Thailand in their own names, so many just put the house in the girlfriend’s name, which is not such a smart move if there is a break-up. (There are other ways of retaining ownership, such as formation of companies, mortgages, etc, but your friendly real estate agent can explain all those, not me). But remember if the piece of paper says it is hers, she is then legally entitled to it. Same goes with cars and other big ticket items. Since you went into the relationship, apparently knowing there would be a time to move on (“time to change” you wrote), then you should have been clever enough to protect your interests. See a lawyer.

Dear Hillary,
Are all the women in Thailand on the make? Every last one seems to have her hand into your wallet within days of going into a live-in relationship. At first it was money to buy groceries, and I thought that was great, looking after me. But then the grocery bill seemed to be going up all the time and the amount of food was going smaller. Then it was some to send to Mama, school fees (in a village school?) for her children being looked after by Mama, it just went on and on. That ended that one. Then the next one was the same, and the one after that. Is there one honest woman in Thailand?
Not an ATM
Dear Not an ATM,
Is there one honest woman in Thailand? Yes, me. Just send me your bank account details so I can see if you are a genuine match (woops, almost wrote ‘catch’ there) and really deserve me. Petal, have you ever wondered why the women you have formed a relationship with do this so easily? You are obviously looking for your paragon of virtue in an area selling commercial friendships. Quite frankly, you will not get a non-bar girl to just move in like that. However, when you select a lady who will move in tomorrow, then she will move out the day after that, once your financial support dries up. These are ‘mia chow’ (rented wives), and it is a purely financial relationship, with you spitting out the money, just like the ATM. It is time you began to look elsewhere and form a genuine bond with genuine women, and there are many of them. But you won’t find them in a bar.

Dear Hillary,
The beautiful girls of Thailand amaze me the way they can sit sideways so gracefully on the rear of a motorcycle. I have even seen one girl calmly drinking a glass of red wine as they threaded their way through the traffic. Do you know when did this custom start and do they fall off?
Dear Side-saddle,
Traditional Thai dress has included the long wrap skirt for many years and the Thai women have ridden buffaloes, elephants and oxen, long before the invasion of the Japanese motorcycle. Riding side-saddle is an example of Thai practicality. Imagine wearing a tight skirt and trying to throw your leg over the rear of the Honda/Yamaha/Suzuki 125, the ideal motorcycles for a family of five. Impossible! But you can sit sideways. Do they fall off? Yes they do, but only when the rider loses control.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

The problems with going digital

Regular readers of this column will have noted that I have forsaken my Nikon film cameras, which were my standby for many years, and have (finally) taken up digital photography.
I had done the conversion rather slowly, initially scanning my photos and storing the electronic form of the photo image in the computer, to be manipulated further if needed. This rather long-winded procedure meant that I was converting a negative into a positive print, then scanning into a digital image. Two steps, each capable of losing definition.
I then began having my negatives turned into CDs, rather than printing the images and scanning them. This way I could import the images in digital form directly into my computer via ACDC and then do the final crop, fix lop-sided horizons etc through Adobe Photoshop.
Undoubtedly there will be those folk who are very computer savvy who would say I should have used this or that software, but I am not a computer geek, I am purely someone who uses a computer. My editors need images at 300 dpi (stands for dots per inch, they tell me) and that is what I supply.
Of course, by still using my film Nikon to capture the images, I was left in the situation whereby I did not know definitely that I had a usable image until the film was developed. I was also at the mercy of the boy who changed the photochemicals in the autoprocessor. Crispness in the final image could easily be compromised at that stage.
So I have finally entered the digital era, choosing a camera with electronics from an electronics manufacturer and the lens from a lens manufacturer. This has, I believe, given me the best of both worlds. If you are going the electro-trickery route, use a manufacturer who knows and understands all the subtleties of LCDs and pixels and all of that stuff which I don’t really want to know, but why then get that manufacturer to make optical glass lenses? Surely a recognized lens manufacturer would be better? The end result was my purchasing a camera made by Panasonic with a lens from Leica. Both of these firms being accepted as in the top of their respective leagues.
Having used the camera for a few weeks now, I feel I am in a better position to look critically at its performance. Whilst it has several buttons on the body of the camera and one master dial, it still needs much fiddling around in its menu system. Granted, the five drop-down menus seems to cover everything a photographer might want, but I still find it fiddly, pushing buttons to go from one menu screen to another, just to change some aspect.
Having said that, after an afternoon of button pushing and scrolling down the various menus, I now have a camera that automatically takes a bracket of three images, and I dictated the half a stop difference either side of the selected exposure setting. I also set the viewfinder up with a grid system, giving me the intersection of thirds as well as indicating verticals and horizons. All good clever photographic settings, but ones that could have been done with rotary dials, rather than giving my thumb cramps getting the setting I wanted. I also worry that one day I might lose the Operating Instructions manual, all 135 pages of it, and be forced to push buttons aimlessly forever, while hoping I stumble across the settings I want!
Now the experienced digital user will probably say that all I have to do is practice a little more, so that the menu selection becomes easy. Perhaps so, but I am still struggling with the remote on the TV, such is the level of digital technology skills possessed by this writer.
However, despite all that, I am loving the ‘instant’ gratification with the ability to instantly review the picture just taken, and the ability to delete images within the camera, and the sheer range of functions makes the Panasonic Lumix FZ50 the digital camera for me.

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

The Ugly, The Bad and The Good

Part 1 - The Ugly

The extent of the global credit crisis was felt close to home for Wall Street last month with the collapse of the once-venerable investment bank Bear Stearns. The Fed responded to the threat of catastrophe with some extraordinary manoeuvres. On March 18 the Fed slashed interest rates by 75 basis points, adding to big cuts over recent months. As the takeover of Bear was being finalized, the Fed extended lending through its discount window, usually reserved for commercial banks, to all bond dealers. For the first time, investment banks have a lender of last resort.
Meanwhile, other central banks have been doling out liquidity too - the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan and the ECB have all jumped on the bandwagon - although none has eased monetary policy with anything like the Fed’s urgency. Whereas the Fed fears recession and financial collapse, most central banks elsewhere, quite rightly, also have one eye on inflation / stagflation.
This difference in emphasis continues to feed into the currency markets. The dollar continues to tumble against other leading currencies. It is now at its weakest since the era of floating exchange rates began in 1973, following below ¥ 100 for the first time in 12 years and reaching new lows against the euro and the Swiss franc over the month. Partly the prices of commodities jumped, oil climbing above $100 a barrel, and gold soaring above $1,000, partly in response to US$ woes. At these nosebleed levels, we were happy to take profits - both oil and gold subsequently backed off 10-15% before rallying again.
On the economic front there were fresh signs that America’s economy is in trouble. The index of consumer confidence fell from 76.4 in February to a five-year low of 64.5 in March. The S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index, which covers ten large cities, fell by 11.4% in the year to January, the largest decline since the series began in 1987. Sales of new homes fell by 1.8% in February, to the lowest level in 13 years. Despite a spot rise in sales of existing homes in February, these were still 23.8% lower than a year earlier.
Most economists now believe that the US slipped into recession in the early part of this year. Consumer confidence crumbled and durable goods orders fell significantly underlining the impact of the slowing economy and weakening consumer confidence on business spending. According to the Commerce Department, corporate profits fell 3.3% in the final three months of 2007, much more than the 0.1% drop that economists had predicted, amid one of the worst banking crises in decades. The slide in home prices is the biggest monthly drop on record and dampens hopes that the US housing market may be close to a bottom.
In the UK during this quarter the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee made it clear that they will not move to cut rates dramatically like the US Federal Open Market Committee. Britain’s economy is heading “into much jumpier waters” according to Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI, as the employers’ organization marked down its latest economic forecast to account for the deepening credit crisis. The CBI believes the credit crisis will prolong a necessary economic slowdown that was already underway. The UK residential property sector continues to show signs of weakness with house prices rising the least since 1996 in March.
Official statistics showed that capital spending by Japanese companies fell by 7.7% - or by more than expected - in 4Q07. This was the sharpest fall in capital spending in five years. The Ministry of Finance also published data that showed that companies’ recurring earnings fell - in year-on-year terms - for the second consecutive quarter because of higher costs of raw materials (and, in particular, fuel). Going forward, the strength of the yen - which reached a three-year high against the US dollar over the month - will also probably constrain company profits. Government data also showed Japanese companies have turned pessimistic about business conditions, as a spike in oil and many other raw material costs have squeezed profit margins.
For the second consecutive month, Japan’s Cabinet Office lowered its assessment of the country’s economic prospects and, in doing so, added to concerns that the economy is losing momentum. Official statistics showed that, in January, output fell by2.2%, or by the most in a year. The Cabinet Office also noted that volatility in global financial markets (and, in particular, the weakness of the major Japanese stock market indices) had been unhelpful. A significant positive development, however, has been the recovery in housing starts, which have slumped over the last nine months as a result of the introduction of new regulations. In addition, Japan’s exports rose a little more than expected in February from a year earlier as solid shipments of goods to Asia and Europe made up for a fall in exports to the US.
Some analysts doubt if Japan will really decouple from the US economy in coming months. They remain worried about the outlook for the US economy, which remains a major, if no longer the largest, destination for Japanese exports. Economists have warned that exports, the key drive of Japan’s economic recovery, could lose steam in the first half of this year as the global credit turmoil shows no sign of abating. Economists now expect the Bank of Japan’s closely watched tankan survey due out on April 1 to show a broad slide in the business mood as well as lacklustre capital spending plans. The central bank, now without a full-time governor for the first time in more than 80 years, is expected to keep interest rates on hold at 0.5% for the time being.
In its annual report the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific said that Asian economies remained relatively immune to the credit crunch in the US and Europe but faced heightened uncertainty as the subprime crisis continued to unravel. The report cited Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea as being the most vulnerable to the impact of a US recession and further declines in the dollar, given their dependence on high-technology exports. Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines would suffer to a lesser degree. Growth in the region was forecast to moderate this year but would be a robust 7.7%
Even with a relative slowdown in the pace of growth in exports, China remains on track to record another huge trade surplus this year, of about $260bn according to one estimate. However, February’s inflation rate of 8.7% was the highest in 12 years, raising fears that China’s inflation could feed into higher prices elsewhere. The implications of the higher-than-expected data are that China’s monetary policy will have to be tightened more aggressively, policy uncertainty from other ad hoc measures will intensify and growth is facing further downside risks.
Elsewhere, the Bank of Korea noted that South Korea achieved economic growth of 1.6% in 4Q07, as both exports and business investment picked up. Year-on-year growth was revised to 5.7%, the fastest pace for nearly two years. Corporate and construction investment rose by 2.1% and 1.2% respectively in 4Q07. However, private consumption growth slowed from 1.3% in 3Q07 to 0.8% in 4Q07. India’s economy may grow at the slowest pace in four years in the next 12 months as a global slowdown reduces foreign investment and curbs exports. However, the country is still expected to grow in 2008-9 at 8%.
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

What’s news about Thailand in the U.K.?

When I got back to Britain for a ‘holiday’ after nine months in Chiang Mai, my first reactions were unsurprisingly basic and simple. Firstly it was - and still is, though better - achingly cold. Horrible weather: minus two degrees at night, about 12 or so in the day with a biting wind and drizzling rain. Please send some of your excess sunshine over... The other shock is the increase in prices, especially for food and petrol. World-wide, of course but here it starts from a high base and a 20% rise has sent a good quality loaf of bread up to about the same as 120 baht and a litre of petrol to around 75 baht. All things are relative and wages may be higher but it makes me think how well off one is in Chiang Mai. In more ways than one!
The most important one is ‘tone’. One simple example. In Chiang Mai I fill up my little Jazz at the Shell Garage in Huay Kaew Road. The tank is filled by smiling attendants, the windscreen and rear windows washed and a bottle of mineral water given, with smiles all round. How can getting petrol be pleasurable? I don’t know, it just is.
A couple of days after arriving here I went to the Tesco petrol station at a place called Port Solent. Naturally, I filled it up myself, went into the scruffy shop (dreary and unwelcoming in comparison to its noisy Thai equivalent) and was told how much to pay for The Observer newspaper and the petrol. The lack of graciousness was even more shocking than the price - about 4,300 baht. Not a smile or a thank you. How can filling up a car with petrol be a depressing experience? I don’t know, it just is.
Mentioning Tesco reminds me of a news story that is attracting much coverage in the U.K., including a full page feature in The Guardian (April 23). The original story said: ‘Tesco sues a Thai business journalist for libel’. The latest update is the journalist’s reply to a claim for 1.6 million pounds damages for the article he wrote, which stated that the store giant wants to stop all protests. The company, which has 370 outlets in the Kingdom and plans for 130 more, was accused by the journalist and some others of not ‘loving’ Thailand.
As neither I nor this local newspaper has that sort of money to throw around I will refrain from comment except to report those Guardian items and add that companies such as Tesco are in business - their aim is to provide goods and services and make large profits. Their presence in the U.K. and in Thailand is not meant to be benign. They are, especially, not part of the Thai culture or way of life, but are a Western influence. It is up to shoppers and planners to decide whether they want an erosion of local supply forces or an indigenous Thai life style. The only comment I would make is that people should be free to express an opinion and should not necessarily be subjected to the might of the law and big money.
The other two topics that have dominated the news over here and which relate directly to Thailand have been the appalling deaths of the Burmese refugees who were being smuggled into Thailand and who suffocated in the back of a large lorry. Their hope was for a better life than anything they could hope for in the vile regime from which they were fleeing. The story has reflected badly on Burma and the people traffickers and is now getting adverse comments from the world press for the lack of support being given to the survivors. Also, people - from 7,000 miles away - do not understand why the victims have to be smuggled in and then ‘exploited’. It’s difficult to explain to people over here who see things in very stark ways. Naturally the world’s premier ‘villains’ - the Chinese - come in for indirect criticism on that issue too because of their support for Burma.
The biggest criticism of China at present concerns its behaviour in Tibet - and erupted the day after I got here when the Olympic torch reached London and made front page news with the angry displays by protestors. The British government made the mistake of allowing the Chinese security guards to surround the torch bearer rather than leave that to our police. At least in Japan and elsewhere they have insisted on home grown security, not secret service thugs from another country.
The mistake made by the Chinese is to carry on parading the flame around the world simply gathering protests and bad publicity en route, whether in San Francisco or Bangkok. In Indonesia it is being shown behind closed doors to a select few. A risible notion. The outcome has been to put pressure on politicians to stand up and be counted and express opinions. The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has announced he will not attend the opening of the Olympics and seemingly President Bush will decide the same, along with leaders of other countries - Australia, France and so on - which China has been hoping to impress. The general reaction here at least has been to sour the whole notion of the Games and innumerable articles have appeared urging a boycott in one form or another. China is quickly getting the bad press that the U.S.A. has been ‘enjoying’ for the past seven or eight years.
P.S. I see from my colleague’s film column (read on line of course ) that Anderson’s magnificent movie There Will be Blood will be on show in Chiang Mai from April 24 and so will still be around when this note appears. I wrote about it two weeks ago and have seen it again in a local cinema since then. Go soon, because you will want to see it again and a gap of a few days might be advisable. It’s rich stuff. Daniel Day Lewis is beyond criticism, as is the photography. I said that Anderson was arguably the best film director working in the U.S.A. today and see no reason to change that opinion. True, the film seems as though it might have been longer and that cuts might have been made in the latter half. I’ve no idea whether that is the case. No matter. It is some kind of a flawed masterpiece and the opening 20 minutes are breathtaking. A brave movie, a fascinating character study and as good a movie as you will see anywhere in 2008.

Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
There Will Be Blood:
US Drama. Widely hailed as a masterpiece, this sparse and sprawling epic is a distinctly timely and modern morality tale about the unholy trinity of oil, money, and religion - none of which comes off unscathed in this dark beast of a film. There are incredible performances by leads Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano, and the fact that their characters happen to be so repellent - and yet so endlessly fascinating - is one of the film’s many strokes of genius. It’s a powerful and emotionally draining experience for me. Oscars for Cinematography, and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Daniel Day-Lewis). Rated R in the US for some violence. Reviews: Universal acclaim. Don’t miss it! At Airport Plaza only.
The Kite Runner: US Drama - I thought this a superb picture, with astounding performances, especially by the two young boys, and an eye-opening visual document of sociology and politics, in the world at large, and Afghanistan in particular. I strongly urge you to see it. Generally favorable reviews. At Vista only.
Horton Hears a Who!: US Animation/Family - With Jim Carrey. A whimsical and witty version of Dr. Seuss that’s a delightful fantasy for kids and their parents. Generally favorable reviews.
Superhero Movie: US Action/Comedy - A send-up of superhero films, and I didn’t find it so bad after all. At least, I found myself laughing a lot throughout. Generally negative reviews.
The Forbidden Kingdom: US Action/Adventure - I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It’s a wrap-up and summary of every Kung Fu/martial arts movie ever made, encapsulating every known cliché, all of the standard shots of beautiful scenery, and nearly all the tricks of martial arts. If this is your first such movie, you don’t have to see any other. It’s all here! And done lovingly and with a great sense of humor and style by the tops in the business, the legendary Jackie Chan and Jet Li. I found it quite witty indeed, and continually poking fun at the genre, like the nearly impenetrable Buddhist words of wisdom, and concepts that only confuse (such as “The Gate of No-Gate”). In English at Airport Plaza.
Phobia/See-prang: Thai Horror - Four quite good horror stories by four accomplished Thai directors. I haven’t heard such audience screaming in a long time.
Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon: Hong Kong Action/War - With Andy Lau, Maggie Q. Not terribly distinguishable from the other Chinese war epics we’ve seen here recently. Beautiful costumes: check. Stylish weapons: check. Breathtaking landscapes: check. Armies of thousands: check. Exciting martial arts and action sequences? (Thai-dubbed only; no English subtitles.)
In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale: US Adventure/Action - Be advised that the director, Uwe Boll, is widely considered to be the worst movie director ever. There’s even a petition out to forbid him from ever making another film. This is a cheap rip-off of “Lord of the Rings.” Reviews: Extreme dislike or disgust.
Street Kings: US Crime/Thriller - With Keanu Reeves playing an LAPD detective forced to go up against the cop culture he’s been a part of his entire career. Excellent performance by Forest Whitaker. Rated R in the US for strong violence and pervasive language. Mixed or average reviews
Vantage Point: US Drama/Thriller - Eight different views of an assassination attempt, In each depiction, we get a little closer to comprehension of the entire affair only to have the film-makers cut away to still another character’s restricted view of things. Finally, they abandon the vantage-point experiment entirely, shift to an impersonal view, and finish the story in a conventional way - in a series of car crashes and shootouts. With Dennis Quaid and Forest Whitaker. Mixed or average reviews.
Orahun Summer: Thai Comedy/Drama - Boy monks have misadventures during the summer. At Airport Plaza only, Thai only.
Dream Team: Thai Family/Comedy - Five-year-old boys compete in Kindergarten tug-of-war championships.
Scheduled for Apr. 30
Iron Man:
US Action/Adventure. This long-gestating project has the difficult genius of an actor Robert Downey Jr. as the superhero Tony Stark, a wealthy industrialist forced to build an armored suit for himself after a life-threatening incident and who ultimately decides to use its technology to fight evil. With Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, and Ghostface Killah.
Scheduled for May 1
The Eye:
US Drama/Horror - A remake of the hugely successful Hong Kong film written and directed by two of my favorite filmmakers, the Pang brothers (Oxide Pang and Danny Pang). A young, blind violinist is given the chance to see for the first time since childhood through a corneal transplant. As she adjusts to a dizzying new world of colors and shapes, she is haunted by frightening visions of death itself capturing the doomed and dragging them away from the world of the living. For me, it’s a great story in a fairly poor remake. Generally negative reviews.

Life in the laugh lane: by Scott Jones

Painful Painting

During my previous painting life I learned the value of newspapers, masking tape and plastic tarps to prevent destruction of my clients’ goods and the need for sinister solvents for routine or catastrophic clean up tasks. My personal favorite was Varsol for its power to remove paint from brushes and any surface, and to slowly disintegrate skin from bones. Recent experiences have taught me the four basic painter categories in Thailand, though they’re probably the same everywhere: 1) Real Painters, as in professionals wearing white uniforms, who understand preparation techniques, use Varsol judiciously, and, since they’ve been smelling spirits all day, drink heavily from dusk until dawn; 2) Construction Guys, as in semi-intelligent men with tools, who can build whatever you want with no plans other than those in their heads (which you can’t see, verify or sign), who may have heard of Varsol, but use gasoline instead; 3) Human Beings, as in random people delivered in pickup trucks whose only qualification for the job is the ability to climb into a truck, and who have never heard of Varsol or the words “clean up”; and 4) Sightless Morons, as in sightless morons, who drink Varsol.

Do not hire painters from this company.
While I was away, my landlady commanded her horde of Construction Guys to remove a rancid smelling, dead something from my wall, which required building a new ceiling above the living room. My bungalow has no walkways above the ceiling, just a trap door allowing me to poke my head into the attic and peer timidly at dark, unreachable areas inhabited by spiders the size of auto tires and other unidentified flying creatures. Upon returning, the odor was gone and the new ceiling was painted, as evidenced by hardened splotches on picture frames, orchids, tables, the couch and several million white droplets on the teak floor. As an unwanted added attraction, she employed Sightless Morons to smear paint on the ceiling, walls and rafters in the outdoor kitchen and deck area. The patio ceiling appeared to have a coat of diluted white primer applied haphazardly in eleven minutes; some walls were covered, some not; the deck was dabbled with paint specks, and one poster on the wall actually had a four-inch stripe of white paint down the middle. After showing Mrs. Landlady the devastation her minions had caused on HER property, two morons appeared the next morning with paint-logged brushes, standing on the teak benches, flinging pigment toward the ceiling right above my black jeans that were drying below, not my personal choice for drop cloths to prevent paint from getting on the wood. I strangled them with my jeans.
Varsol saved me on two occasions in the 70s. My crew was a ragtag group of Human Beings, very clever in their own creative endeavors, but just longhaired mavericks from the mountains who needed work. I had a contract to paint a 48-unit motel, each room the same, which tested my sanity as I painted every bathroom and shellacked my brain cells while my crew took care of the rest. Ernest, a phenomenal sculptor and former art director of the Saturday Evening Post magazine, finished his final panel around the second floor balcony, using industrial-strength enamel paint, an absolutely obnoxious liquid. With a victory cheer he leaped off his ladder from two meters above the ground, which catapulted his full pail of white enamel into the air where it remained motionless for a split-second before splattering onto the new parking lot poured that very day. As the paint spread over the virgin black asphalt, I screamed “Varsol!” It took gallons and brooms and hours to make the entire parking lot dark brown.
Recruited to paint the handicap railing with shiny jet black enamel, next to the brand new Division of Motor Vehicles populated by an army of patrolmen, I was very uncomfortable: an alien. My long hair was unpopular with any uniformed personnel and my truck license plates had expired: an illegal alien. I carefully placed a large piece of cardboard under the railing, inching it along as I progressed while trying to be invisible. Just as I finished, a devil gust of wind lifted the cardboard and gallon of paint into the air, spewing black enamel all over the mint white sidewalk and newly laid sod. “Varsol!” I shouted internally and clandestinely turned the sidewalk grey, cleaned the innocent but outraged blades of grass with toxic chemicals and moved to another state. Thirty years later, I’m sure nothing has grown in that spot.
If you can’t find Varsol here, I’m sure the cheapest Thai whiskey will do the trick.

Doc English The Language Doctor: Creating independent (active) learners

Phew! It’s so hot right now it’s hard to think about studying. However, with the end of the Songkran holidays and the start of a new (Thai) school year, your child may be facing a new class and teacher. So, what kind of teacher will they be getting? What kind of approach do they adopt to teaching and what is their opinion of the role of the student? Is the role of a student to sit, listen and speak only when spoken to (passive leaner), or to investigate, discuss, explore new ideas (active, autonomous learner)?
In traditional classrooms, teachers plan their lessons, control all the activities in the classroom and evaluate learning through tests and other forms of assessment. Students may have a fairly ‘passive’ role in the traditional classroom, listening and responding to the teacher when prompted and carrying out work that the teacher has provided. Generally only ‘right’ answers are accepted in such a classroom and wrong answers are swiftly corrected by the teacher.
These days it is becoming more acceptable for teachers to encourage students take more control of their learning and adopt more of an active role in their own learning. This does not mean that students are allowed to run around and do what they want, it simply means that they are allowed to have some say in how the lesson evolves and they are allowed some autonomy.
You might want to interview your child’s new teacher to find out how much autonomy he or she allows your child in the classroom. How much are children involved in the lesson? Are they dumb recipients, or active learners, allowed to shape the direction of the lesson? What approach does your child’s teacher adopt to the treatment of planning, materials, activities and feedback?
How far does the teacher adapt lessons according to their students’ needs? Is there a range of fun activities catering for different levels of language ability, or do the students all have to do the same work, regardless of their ability in English? Is there a fair balance between reading, writing, speaking, and listening activities? How far are books, displays, and other materials adapted to the Western/Thai way of life? Are books, etc., culturally sensitive, or mutually exclusive of your child’s own culture? Has your teacher made any effort to ‘customise’ lesson materials for their particular students, or do they teach ‘straight from the book’?
Are children encouraged to bring in their own materials to study from (e.g. Thai / English Dictionary, other materials in their own language)? Do they have access to and opportunities to ‘self study’ (e.g. library or computer room)? Are they allowed opportunities to talk about their own country and culture? Inspect your child’s class book. Are they allowed to write independently (‘free writing’) or does it look like they just regularly copy from a textbook? Does the teacher’s marking indicate that the students work is enjoyed, respected and celebrated? Is students’ work displayed around the classroom, or is it heavily augmented by the teacher and over-corrected with hyper-critical comments in red pen? Do the classroom displays look like they have been made by children or by adults? Often schools will only display the ‘best’ work (regardless of the effort a child may have put in) and will even go to the trouble of paying a teaching assistant to augment the work to make it look better to prospective parents!
How much autonomous interaction does the teacher allow in class? The classroom management and how the tables and chairs are arranged can be a good indicator. If the tables are separated, or children are regularly grouped by nationality, then this may inhibit their ability to communicate in and share their knowledge of the English language. Tables arranged in mixed (language) ability groups offer more opportunities for language exchange. If the teacher moves around the classroom and is rarely at their desk then they are probably a good facilitator, taking care of their students needs. If they allow the students to come to the front of the class and share their ideas, even better! There should be a great deal of interaction in the ‘active’ classroom, with lots of students talking, discussing different ideas, using and practicing the language as they work. This might make for a noisy classroom, however!
Are children allowed opportunities for discussion and are their comments valued or undermined? Are they allowed to digress and share their own experiences? Are ‘wrong’ answers valued as much as ‘right ‘ones? Are children unfairly criticized if they get an answer wrong? All answers are valid in the active classroom.
Finally, students should be allowed time to reflect on what they have learnt and to share their thoughts and opinions on the lesson. Active learners should be given time to discuss at the end of a lesson and their ideas can be integrated into the planning of subsequent lessons. The opinions of all learners, however young, should be respected. If students are allowed to feel involved in their own learning this way, then they will probably be more motivated and learn more.
That’s all for this week mums and dads. As always, if you have any questions, suggestions or ice cream, you can mail me at: [email protected] Enjoy spending time with your kids.

Welcome to Chiang Mai:

Communities within communities

How many of us, either living here already or planning the move to Chiang Mai, have become so aware of the break-up of communities in our home countries that it has influenced our decision to leave and try somewhere new? In the past, traditional and family life has been closely linked to the wider community, through church, school, personal economic status, social status and other similar factors. In the UK, and in America, substantial communities were formed around large scale places of employment such as mines and factories, and developed their own close-knit social and entertainment structure, always involving a degree of support for their members. The mining villages, (mostly not villages in the true sense but small towns), of South Yorkshire, in the UK, were a prime example, with social gatherings held in the working men’s club, a strong trade union presence, and an equally strong sense of social cohesion and mutual support, particularly in times of unrest and strikes. One of the glories of the mining areas were their traditional and world famous brass bands, sadly mostly defunct these days since the forced closure of the mines and the resultant destruction of the communities. I understand, from a friend who grew up there, that the huge metropolis of Detroit, once the major motor-manufacturing centre in the USA, operated at “people” level in much the same manner, although possibly without the brass bands! Even without a focal point of employment, villages, small towns and specific areas in cities had their own community feel, often based around the local church, and benefited from the input of varied social classes and types of resident.
Within such communities, local people felt safe and protected, and interacted with local services such as police and local councillors in a positive way.
In the 21st century, the perceived, and by now almost total, fragmentation of local communities in Western society, whether caused by socio-economic factors such as the closure of mines and factories, the decline in religious practice, the threat of terrorism in multi-racial areas, the flood of immigrants causing strain on local services, the introduction of gated housing estates, governmental stupidities, or even the dreaded and mostly despised “political correctness”, seems irreversible. Where once we felt safe, we now feel threatened, where once we were protected, now we are harassed, where once we knew and interacted with our neighbours, now we don’t trust them. Or our governments, local or national! The result - we retreat into our closed family circles, then, either when there’s nowhere else to go or when economics force us, we leave, to try to recapture what we have lost somewhere else.
So, what do we find in that “somewhere else”, in this case Chiang Mai, apart from a huge sense of relief coupled with utter confusion? Perhaps we notice fairly soon that the shoe is on the other foot, that we are the ones who can’t communicate because we don’t speak the language, and don’t know where to go because we can’t read it either. And as for dealing with bureaucracy…Help! Now we know how immigrants to our home countries feel…pause for thought! Our next realisation may well be that, in spite of what we read online, there is actually no easily identifiable community into which to fit. Expat’s Club? Not enough time to get to know people, and no real large-scale community activities - just a fortnightly meeting where you get “talked at” or sold something. Ladies’ lunches - no good for the guys, and a choice between the hi-so crowd and the Chiang Mai Ladies’ group for those of us who don’t have private means! Both entertaining, but only once a month. The bars and pubs? A slightly better option, but difficult if you don’t live in the centre of town. Gradually you begin to realise that the “expat community” so widely described on the internet is just as fragile and fragmented as the one you just left! And yet, there are so many intelligent, amusing, “off the wall”, interesting people here…it’s true, there are. Unfortunately, it’s also true that because they are all divided up into small groups dependent on their income, the location where they live, and their ideas about social interaction, you may not even be able to find them! As already mentioned, just like home, and quite possibly not what you expected. An exception seems to be the international schools, which seem to take “community” very seriously, both for the students and for their families, so, if you have children and can afford the fees, you have a lifeline. For most of the rest of us, it’s hard work.
There is, I’m happy to say, a lot of talk recently, inaugurated by the city’s Mayor and by Thais like Khun Boong, who started the Chiang Mai Friends group recently, about integration between the Thai and the ever-growing expat community. If this can be achieved, it will be a marvellous thing for both sides as it surely must broaden everyone’s horizons, as well as enabling new and lasting cross-cultural friendships to be formed. But, shouldn’t the so-called expat community itself do something about integration within its own ranks first? Most of us are old enough to remember the close and mainly comfortable communities of our youth, and the way they made us feel - in this time of political and economic uncertainty here and worldwide, it would be good to feel that we belong, that we can trust, that we can support when necessary, and be supported. We are all “tribal” - it’s part of our genetic make-up, according to research, which states that the optimum number of a human tribe should be around 200. Do any of us know 200 people? The world is a lonely place, but only if we allow it to be so.

This article is published courtesy of the “Welcome to Chiang Mai” folder, available as an email attachment from:- [email protected]


Stuart Rodger - The Englishman’s Garden, Chiang Dao

Is it Jasmine, is it a Gardenia?

There is a group of plants with dark green glossy leaves which are very popular in tropical gardens worldwide as they are very showy and are constantly in flower. The flowers are always white and resemble the tubular blossoms of the much loved Jasmine. This attribution is always the first, and obvious, assumption; however, one is disappointed, (after eagerly burying one’s nose in the abundant cymes of flowers), to find they have no scent, although at night a faint scent may be detected. This group’s generic name is Tabernaemontana, and all types have the distinguishing feature - unlike Jasmine - of exuding from wounds a poisonous sticky white latex which is being investigated by scientists for antibacterial properties - could this be the new penicillin? The illustration shows T. Orientalis ‘Grandiflora’ the latex from which is traditionally applied to sores and ulcers by the Australian Aborigines. For this reason its common name is ‘iodine plant’. Its constant display of delicate blooms might well be considered more attractive than those of Jasmine because of their lovely spiralling ‘pinwheel’ petal formation which catches the eye and distinguishes Grandiflora at a glance.
Northern Thailand boasts a native Tabernaemontana which, from a distance, resembles the coffee plant; however, on closer inspection, the flower looks more like a gardenia, especially in its double form. Its disguise is penetrated when it fails to produce that delicious well known scent - although it does, especially at night, have a faint scent of its own which encourages its pollination by moths. This is T. Divaricata - Phut Toong - often referred to as the Coffee Rose.
A variety that does have a strong scent comes from tropical East Africa with fewer but much larger solitary flowers with a bulge in their throats - hence the common name, ‘Adams Apple’. This variety enjoys partial shade and moisture and is popular in Thailand as its leaves yield a black dye used in hair colouring - has anyone seen a Thai person with white hair? Originally from Mexico, T. Arborea, as its name indicates, is a tree - graceful and slightly buttressed when mature. It deserves to be planted more frequently in gardens as it drenches the air with a delicious “orange flower” scent in spring, when it covers itself in masses of small white flowers. Its protein breaking latex is being studied, as all parts of the plant have medicinal uses. The seed produces a dye and the heart wood is very beautifully coloured and very hard. Other trees in this genus have wood which is burnt as incense.

Tip of the Week
Be careful when handling plants that exude milky latex as it can be an irritant to the skin and should be kept away from the eyes. Don’t take chances and always wash your hands as soon as possible after handling.

Why laptop when you have a flash drive?

Did you wish you had a laptop so you can have all your work anytime, anywhere? I think it’s a bad idea carrying that heavy device with you when you travel. Why take the pains when you can now carry almost everything on a little device called “flash drive”?
Whatever you call it, a handy drive, a pen drive, a thumb drive or a flash drive, such a gadget was invented to give us mobility and portability of data. A flash drive (let’s stick to this name) has become a basic gadget for people who use multiple computers and of course for avid travellers. And the good part, as the storage capacity increases, the prices are dropping. As a 1GB flash drive is now at stock-clearance price, a 4GB is a must-have carry-around gadget. Most people use flash drives just for storing or transferring of work files, pictures, music, videos, etc. Little did they know that this little flashy device you carry around has a lot more capabilities than you ever imagined.
One of the most amazing capabilities a flash drive can do that I recommend you to explore is that you can now carry your essential applications with you wherever you go. And by essential applications I mean, all office applications like word processors and its crew, email applications, web browser, instant messengers, anti-viruses and even more. Once these applications are installed into your flash drive, never worry about having to find a computer with the software you need again.
Is it really possible to install entire software into that little device? Well, the question is an under-estimation of flash drives. Not only can you install just software, but also an operating system into that tiny gadget you hooked to your key ring!
So how does it work? Just download the standalone application and install it into your flash drive. When you are on the go, plug your flash drive into any Windows computer and just launch the applications you want to use. Yes, it’s that simple!
Here are a few essential applications you could start with:
Open Office Portable allows you to have your office life on the go. This install includes all office applications like word processor, spreadsheet, etc.
Portable Firefox, the admirable browser, comes to you in a portable version as well. All bookmarks that you saved are stored securely on the flash drive.
Portable Thunderbird is an email application that lets you carry your emails wherever you go. Send and receive emails from this application, running on your flash drive.
Pidgin Portable will never let you lose touch with your friends again. With this multi-network instant messenger, carry your buddy list with you and log on to your MSN, ICQ, Yahoo! or Google accounts when you want to chat with them.
GIMP Portable lets you edit your photos and images the same way you edit them on Adobe Photoshop. This is a credible image editing tool that you must consider giving a try.
These are just a few. All these applications are easily available for you to download at PortableApps (, a website that specialises in providing you with a list of recommended portable applications. So start downloading and install it into your flash drives.
Having a second thought about your laptop now? Leave it behind! Go enjoy your vacation!

Site of the Week

Just for Geeks
Musicovery –

Music lovers will enjoy this. Listen to non-stop music while you define the genres, mood, tempo, year of release, etc. to your heart’s content. Even better, mark your favourite songs and ban the ones you hate.

To last week’s Just For Geeks – Answer and Win! question “What does Yahoo! stand for?”, here is the answer:
Yahoo! is short for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle”. This crazy long name was thought of in 1994 by two Electrical Engineering PhD candidates at Stanford University, David Filo and Jerry Yang. Today, Yahoo! is the number one website in the world.
That wasn’t too easy was it? We received a few answers to that and after a lucky draw we have Shawn Leatherdale and Myunghag Lee as the two lucky winners to take away a stylish, rotating PQI 2GB Flash Drive each. Congratulations!
Got questions? Have ideas? Send them to [email protected]
Till next week… Tata ;-)