Vol. VII No. 20 - Tuesday
May 13 - May 19, 2008



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by Saichon Paewsoongnern


Columns
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

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

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

The Seven Deadly Sins

Heart disease is still one of the greatest killers of mankind, ranking a strong second after the Songkran road toll - OK, I exaggerated that a little, but I still maintain that any celebration in which 500 people get killed is a blight on the face of our community.
Interestingly, if you look at the major causes of death by development of the countries, in the high income countries death toll comes from heart disease, stroke and lung cancer, middle income countries have stroke, heart disease and lung disease and for the low income countries it is heart disease, respiratory infections and then HIV/AIDS.
There are many reasons for the differences, including dietary, socio-economic, educational, development of health services and tobacco and alcohol abuse. However, this week I am only going to address heart disease, and the seven deadly ‘sins’ that can predict your likelihood of getting (and suffering from) heart disease.
1. High Blood Pressure: 20 percent of elderly people suffer from this condition. Imagine trying to blow through a long tube. If the tube becomes constricted for any reason, you will have to blow harder, increasing the pressure. Blood pressure is the same - if the arteries are constricted or less pliable, it takes a greater pressure to force the blood around. The heart has to work harder to produce the increased pressure, and eventually the heart gets tired and fails.
2. High cholesterol: High cholesterol foods such as egg yolk, offal, animal brain, animal fats, dairy products, seafood, oyster, squid, etc, leave deposits in the blood vessel walls. As a result, the fat “plaque” on the vessel walls obstructs the blood flow and this will eventually cause heart disease, as per the first deadly sin above.
3. Smoking: Smoking is a primary factor in the causation of coronary artery disease. Smokers are at a much higher risk, even two times more than non-smokers. Smoking increases adrenaline, which causes an increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and lowers the amount of oxygen carried by the blood.
4. Diabetes: Diabetic people have twice the risk of congestive heart failure than people with normal blood sugar levels, due to their increased weight (see number 5) and high cholesterol levels produced in the blood.
5. Obesity: People who are fatter than average have to face a 30-40 percent increase in risk of heart disease compared to thin people. In just carting around the extra weight, the heart has to work harder (and the knee and hip joints wear out). Try walking around with 10 kg extra on your back and tell me how you feel at the end of a week. Tired? Of course. And your heart is tired too.
6. Stress: Stress is not totally bad for us, as it keeps you going, and in an appropriate level actually stimulates our curiosity and motivation; however, by getting over-stressed, adrenaline levels are increased and this may lead to abnormal heart function. Though stress is not the main cause of heart disease, it can make the artery walls less flexible, which is the beginning of heart disease.
7. Lack of exercise: Exercise is the best way to increase high density lipoprotein (HDL) - “good” cholesterol that prevents the arteries becoming abnormal. By exercising, blood pressure, body weight, and the possibility of thrombosis will be reduced.
So you can see just how these seven risk factors all are inter-related. Keep the arteries clean, watch the diet and ensure you have a reasonable level of exercise. Check the Blood Pressure and stop smoking.
Remember too, that as you get older, the chances (and risks) of heart disease are higher. (Young males are more likely to die from Songkran effects than heart failure.) Statistically, men aged over 40 years as well as the postmenopausal women have a higher risk than adolescents.
Despite our knowledge, we still cannot predict exactly when the demise will come, but looking at the big picture, we do know that smoking, overweight, unfit diabetics with high blood pressure and high cholesterol do not live as long as non-smoking, fit, lean people with normal blood pressure, and normal blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Do you know your levels? A brief medical check-up will tell you.

 

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
A couple of weeks ago, one of your writers was all doom and gloom and was worried about the prices going up in the red light areas. I reckon he’s right. You even said that the price of beer would go up, too. I’ve been coming to Thailand for over 20 years and you should have seen the price in the red light areas then. Really, really cheap. Thailand is going to get more expensive, you just watch, Hillary old girl.
The Fortune Teller
Dear Fortune Teller,
You are only half right, Petal. Sure, on paper, everything is much more expensive than it was 20 years ago, but so is your salary, my love. In reality, most things are cheaper relatively, than they were. Try the price of your air ticket to come over on your holidays. It is much cheaper, relative to your wages than it ever was. It’s called the Cost Price Index (CPI) or something. Unfortunately my favorite Beluga caviar is being overtaken as the most expensive dish in the fine dining restaurants by rice, gently sautéed in diesel, and we can thank the oil producers for that one.

Dear Hillary,
When was the last time you went to Patpong? You wrote to the guy called Bill, that “I cannot think of any other costs in the bar areas, as prostitution is against the law.” Hillary, it goes on all the time, and the costs are rising. Where have you been? You’ve missed the bus, Petal.
Realist Ron
Dear Realist Ron,
Have you ever heard of the term “satire”? Do you know what it is? You are guilty of selective quotations, Petal. What I wrote was, “I cannot think of any other costs in the bar areas, as prostitution is against the law, and therefore does not happen.” We all know prostitution happens. It happens in London (Soho), Amsterdam, Bombay and even New York, so I’m sure it happens here too, if you know where to go to look for it. Perhaps you should take me on a tour one evening, Ronzo. I might just surprise you a little.
Dear Hillary,
I have a big problem. Well, it’s not all my problem, it’s also my best mate’s. I’ll call him Bill, but that’s not his real name. He’s fallen in love with a bar girl, I’ll call her Lek, but that’s not her real name either. This is Bill’s first time in Thailand and he came over for the Songkran stoush with some of his pub mates from Birmingham. Long story short, he meets Lek and the next thing you know it’s an item. Now here’s the real problem - I had Lek last year when I was over by myself and I know she’s a right little gold digger. Got her hooks into my visa card and soon cleaned me out. Bill doesn’t know anything about that because I’m married to Bill’s sister, so I couldn’t say anything, I just fibbed a bit and said I’d bought stuff that was coming over and it hadn’t arrived yet. So what should I do Hillary? Let Bill get cleaned out too or give him a warning somehow.
Jack
Dear Jack,
Which probably isn’t your real name I would imagine, you certainly have weaved a web of deceit, haven’t you. If you give Bill the nod, he’s going to tell his sister, who will attack you with an iron bar when you get back and never let you out unaccompanied ever again. If you stay stum then Lek is likely to clean out Bill, and if she doesn’t - she’s going to tell Bill about you and her last year. All that is left for you, other than making up another excuse and running back to England because you miss your wife too much (I am a sarcastic bitch at times), is to gently tell Bill that many chaps on their first visit get hooked by the professional ladies from the bars and get their fingers and their credit cards burned. There are many books on this subject, including Stephen Leather’s Private Dancer or Mike Baird’s cartoon books. Point him in that direction. By the way, Lek won’t be her real name either!

Dear Hillary,
I come over to Thailand once a year and every year it is the same. Fun, fun, fun. By the end of my three week vacation I need the fourth week to recover. What I am wondering, is how do the guys who live in Thailand keep up the pace? Is it blue diamonds or what? I’m only 35 and I see some much older blokes than me who seem to be regulars in some of the bars.
Pickled Pete
Dear Pickled Pete,
What a wonderful nom de plume, Petal! However, have you ever heard about the kid in the candy store? That’s you, my pickled Petal. The guys who live here perhaps do resort to the blue diamonds for their viagorous exercises, but many of the older chaps you see in the bars who are regulars have got through the candy shop stage. But as you say, you are only 35, so enjoy life, Pete who is pickling himself. The bars will still be here on your next holiday.


Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

It’s how you see, not what you use

There are many photographers in the past that I admire. They all have one thing in common. They knew what they are looking at, and knew what the final result should be. And guess what, none of them used a digital camera.

Thomas Carlyle

Look at the photograph of the eminent historian Thomas Carlyle. That was taken in 1867 (141 years ago) and is ranked as one of the most powerful portraits in the history of photography, and yet was taken with totally primitive equipment.
Look again - technically it is imperfect. There is blurring of the image, and when you realize that the shutter was open for probably around three minutes, then you can see why. The sitter could not possibly remain motionless for that period of time. But it has the power to mesmerize you. How?
The dynamics of this shot come from the very first principles of photography - painting with light. It is not the subject that makes the shot - it is the way you light the subject, and this is the prime example, taken 141 years ago. The light is falling on the sitter almost from the side and slightly above. One eye is partially lit and the other in shadow. The hair and beard show up strongly. The photo is totally confrontational.
Analyze further. If the face had been front lit, and both eyes, the nose and the mouth were all clearly visible then there would be no air of mystery. The dark areas of the photograph have made you look further into it. You begin to imagine what the features were like. You also begin to imagine what the person was like. You have just experienced the “perfect” portrait.
The shot was taken by Julia Margaret Cameron (1815 - 1879) a British lady who, in her late forties, took up the new fangled notion of photography. This was not the age of the point and shoot simplicity we enjoy today. This was the age of making your own photographic plates by painting a mixture of chemicals all over it - chemicals you mixed yourself - exposing the plate in a wooden box camera and then fixing the negative in more chemicals and finally making a print.
It was the 29th of January 1864 when Mrs. Cameron finally produced her first usable print. She had made the exposure at 1 p.m. and in her diary recorded the fact that by 8 p.m. she had made and framed the final print. (And you think you are doing it tough if the ‘review’ function takes more than one millisecond to show you the result!)
Julia Margaret Cameron made close up portraits 30x40 cm. However, she would not have managed to photograph so many of the notables of the era had it not been for her next door neighbor, the Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson. After Tennyson saw his own portrait he persuaded his eminent friends to sit for her as well. Most of these portraits were different from the Thomas Carlyle photograph in that they were taken in profile. Mrs. Cameron felt that the innate intelligence could be more easily seen in the profile and this may have been the result of the influence of the quasi-science of Phrenology, whereby your cranial bumps showed your true talents, which was all the rage at that time!
Julia Margaret Cameron has contributed to photography by showing that it is the eye of the photographer that dictates the photograph, not the “smartness” of the equipment. She also showed a personal determination to succeed which should be an example to the young photographers of today.
So you can stop reading the photographic magazines to see if you should buy the latest offerings with 1000 megapixels complete with one millionth of a second shutter speed and dedicated flash power for up to three kilometers and just go out and take photographs with what you have got. Look at what is in front of you and “make” your own photographs “work” for you. Thus endeth the inspirational lesson. Thank you Mrs. Cameron.


Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

The Ugly, The Bad and The Good

Part 3 - The Good

A few months ago in this column we featured an article on the Harvard & Yale endowments in which we, admittedly, have a vested interest. The general approach shares a great many similarities with the multi-manager, multi-asset class approach adopted by Scott Campbell and Miton Optimal for managing MBMG’s client portfolios and specifically Frontier Capital’s funds which are key holdings within these portfolios and look to specifically mimic the Harvard and Yale performance.

CHART 1

The FT observes that the route from Massachusetts to Wall Street is now decidedly two-way, citing Mohamed El-Erian who left the job managing Harvard’s USD35bn (more than the gross domestic product of Syria or Bulgaria) endowment fund and Jack Meyer, his long-time predecessor at Harvard who left the endowment fund to co-found Conexivity Capital. David Swensen still effectively manages Yale’s USD22bn endowment fund and is now entering his 24th year in charge of the fund. Despite the competition between the institutions there is a surprisingly high degree of correlation between them.
The FT also asks a question that we first asked ourselves back in the mid-90s - how do the fund managers of academia achieve the results that they do? The FT also comes up with the same answer that we did - simple asset allocation theories that deliver double-digit investment returns at a reduced rate of volatility and should be available to everyone. Back in the 1990s we identified Scott Campbell as the only major offshore fund manager putting this theory effectively into practice for private investors. We consider that move just about the smartest thing we’ve ever done for our clients. (See chart 1)
Not only has it worked over time but it’s still working. (See chart 2)

CHART 2

Admittedly Yale has done slightly better but then most investors don’t have USD22 billion to invest and, therefore, we consider Scott’s performance for our clients a pretty good proxy of what the super endowments have done. Please remember that the performance of the MBMG portfolios is not due to Graham Macdonald sitting over an FT on a Saturday morning armed with a cup of coffee in one hand and a pin in the other, but us taking advice from one of the world’s leading fund managers.
All three have achieved this by a combination of long-term direct investments into capital markets, while taking advantage of “alpha generators” - such as absolute-return equity and fixed income arbitrage strategies - and to add value to a portfolio. All owe something to the Modern Portfolio Theory, which was largely developed by Nobel laureates James Tobin and Harry Markowitz.
Each allocate a significant amount, currently, to absolute return strategies, to private equity and to “real assets”, most notably in the form of Yale’s employment of a forestry team to manage real estate, forestry assets.
Apparently other universities and wealth managers are finally heeding the lesson. The FT cites that, “According to the National Association of College and University Business Officials, the average US endowment has 17.7 percent allocated to hedge funds for absolute returns.”

CHART 3

Sadly, we see too little evidence of this filtering through to private client portfolio management, although the FT cites that JP Morgan make such an approach available to clients with at least GBP25 million (USD50 million) to invest.
Like MBMG and the super endowments, JP Morgan’s portfolios are significantly underweight in equities right now and have used similar allocations to Miton and the endowments to achieve their returns of 12-14%.
Coutts are the latest converts to this philosophy for their ultra-high net worth (similar ball-park to JP Morgan above) clients. Carl Astorri, head of investment strategy, highlights a key aspect of the underlying philosophy - “We try to blend innovative structures with traditional strategy.” At MBMG we offer access to this sort of investment for as little as USD5,000.
From Western Avenue, Massachusetts to Wall Street and via the Queen of England’s bankers to Thailand, all successful adherents of practical application of Modern Portfolio Theory share this same ability - to blend innovation and tradition. We believe that MBMG remain unique in trying to bring this to the vast majority of investors and savers.
Scott Campbell will be visiting Bangkok again in early June. For details or if you wish to reserve a place at his seminar and sit down with him for a chat then please contact Todd Guest on [email protected] or call him on 02 650 3123/4.

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

The phrase ‘up to you’ takes on a whole new meaning…

Mark Whitman
Seated on a bench at the invaluable Small Animals’ Hospital on Canal Road, my partner Nui next to me and our dog Judy dozing at our feet, was little different from sitting - patiently as one does - in the casualty ward in a hospital for humans. It was subdued, orderly, with trolleys being wheeled around and animals, (mainly dogs), being led or carried in. People talking occasionally and rather quietly or glancing round at their fellows but more often at their four-legged companions. Naturally the cute ones get all the attention, the little girl’s puppy, a handsome Doberman, a perky terrier, although none is ignored.
Faced with pain, boredom and anxiety, people are mainly stoical. The animals are even more calm, with only the inevitable, few hysterical exceptions that are probably a reflection of their owners’ concerns. They sleep to take their minds off suffering, as hungry children apparently do to forget the fact that one half of the world allows the other half to starve, preferring to spend money on wars and pointless expeditions into space. At least, in this hospital love and care are shown in casual abundance.
I help a Thai pick up his dog from the floor where she is lying on a sack, having been placed there by him and another man who has had to rush off. The bedraggled creature remains inert as we lift her on to a trolley. It transpires that she has not been injured as I first thought but is heavily pregnant, although the puppies are dead inside her.
I watch her breathe quietly until suddenly she seems to come to life, uttering a few frantic yelps. Just as suddenly she becomes quiet: as quiet as death. Her owner’s cry of anguish as he calls her name will stay lodged in my memory. She is rushed into a room and almost as quickly is brought out. People look at her with the naked curiosity reserved for corpses at accidents. She has ended her life on a sack and it is into this is that she is placed and taken away by the saddened young man.
Judy is called for and together we examine the x-rays taken the previous afternoon. The sympathetic vet explains that the cancerous tumor is spreading and accounts for her lack of appetite and the lethargy we had ascribed to the heat. Within weeks, possibly a very few months her condition, part of which we knew was from age and the result of an attack by another dog, would worsen so that she will become debilitated, in pain and facing an inevitable death. There is - he gently suggested - no humane alternative but to end her 12 or so years of life. But that decision is ours alone. It is he says, up to you.
Well, possibly like you, I’ve done that, been there: for Yorkshire terrier Dan, with my long-time companion in the U.K., so the routine is painfully familiar. No, we won’t leave the room, there is no absolving oneself from the decision - that indecent power of life over death. Nui and I stroke and talk to her as the first injection puts her gently to sleep. The soft brown, trusting eyes gently close in farewell. Further injections and a drip do their job: she is put to death.
We don’t use the D word though. The next day when asked by mail or friends in Chiang Mai how Judy is getting on I reply “we had to put her to sleep”. Note the we. Note the had to. Note put to sleep. Such euphemisms are kind to ourselves and to others. The guilt is seemingly lessened.
I once described Judy is this column as characterful. An apt word for her and many soi dogs. Determined creatures imbued with a sense of survival, sleeping with one eye open and an ear half cocked for footsteps that might be the precursor to a kick. Judy was rescued then cosseted for the last years of her life but never completely lost the watchfulness or slight sadness in her eyes. She became Nui’s dog, never mine, refusing to learn English! Well you may say when all is said and done - as surely it now is - that she was one dog among many, among millions. Still we loved her and miss her, sentimental though that may be and if you, dear reader, find that in anyway unimportant, even trivial, then you have my sympathy.


Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
Speed Racer:
US Action/Drama - A somewhat computerized but basically live action film from the classic anime series created by anime pioneer Tatsuo Yoshida, about a boy who was born to race cars, filmed almost entirely in front of a green screen, with the backgrounds drawn in later. Basically it’s a colorful special-effects-driven family film that is technically inventive and at moments seductively surreal, with a slender and naive plot, and some thrilling races. John Goodman and Susan Sarandon play the parents. Early reviews: Generally negative.
What Happens in Vegas…: US Comedy/Romance - Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher star as strangers who unwittingly end up as bride and groom after a wild night in Las Vegas. When they find that one of them won a jackpot the night before, the two greedily fight for the loot. Early reviews: Mixed or average.
Iron Man: US Action/Adventure - Superb popular entertainment. A huge hit in the US and around the world, not only with the public, but with the critics and reviewers as well. Indeed, I think they got everything right in this movie for once, and I’m sure you’ll like it very much.
The difficult and driven actor Robert Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark, a wealthy industrialist (originally modeled on Howard Hughes) who builds an armored suit in order to escape his terrorist kidnappers, and ultimately decides to use its technology to fight against the evil use of weapons that he himself created. And thus begins the newest superhero, Iron Man. Downey is simply brilliant in the role, and he gets excellent support from Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges. Generally favorable reviews. Vista has a Thai-dubbed version as well as the original English version.
Did you see Samuel L. Jackson in the film? In the role of Nick Fury? Portents of things to come.
The scene at the end of the closing credits is very short, and in my opinion not worth the wait.
Phobia/See-prang: Thai Horror - Four quite good horror stories by four accomplished Thai directors. Quite well done. If you enjoy Thai horror films, check this one out. Thais are going wild over this one: shrieks of fright, followed by laughter, then shrieks again.
A favorite section of mine is “In the Middle,” directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun, one-half of the team that directed the original famous “Shutter” and also the excellent and truly creepy “Alone.” It’s about four young guys out camping, and bedded down for the night in their tent telling ghost stories. One story is about camping trip where the guy who slept by the tent door woke up to find a ghost sitting at his feet. Ter, the guy sleeping by the entrance, gets spooked by the story and pleads with the other three to let him sleep in the middle.
Then Aye jokes, “If I die, I’ll come back and haunt the one in the middle.” And as luck would have it, their boat overturns the next day while whitewater rafting, and Aye doesn’t make it to shore. And so that very night, with Ter sleeping in the middle . . . well, you can guess!
The interactions of the four boys throughout are natural and fun, and a good spirit of camaraderie is created. It’s a very likeable excursion.
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, stylish weapons, breathtaking landscapes, armies of thousands, and of course exciting martial arts and action sequences.
In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale: US Adventure/Action - A cheap rip-off of “Lord of the Rings” with lines like “Wisdom is our hammer, prudence is our nail...” Reviews: Extreme dislike or disgust.
Teng’s Angel: Thai Comedy - The usual Thai extended TV skit.
Scheduled for May 15
21:
US Drama - Kevin Spacey is a crafty professor who trains brainy students to count cards and then flies them to Las Vegas to raid the blackjack tables. I found it intermittingly interesting, and I do like Kevin Spacey. Mixed or average reviews.
Juno: US Comedy - Juno discovers she’s pregnant, and is forced to grow up fast. Watch out for this one - it’s not to be missed! If you think a film about an unwed teen with an unwanted pregnancy is not at all something you’d be interested in, think again. I’ve seen it, and I’m telling you, this is the brightest and funniest and wisest comedy to come along in a long time, and it will completely win you over, I guarantee it! The biggest joy is the writing: the dialogue is absolutely unique, from a person with a refreshing point of view on life. Also has probably the only lovable parents in the history of teen comedies. The screenplay won the Oscar. Reviews: Universal acclaim.


Life in the laugh lane: by Scott Jones

A Bad Day for Termites

Perhaps you’re having a bad day because mom didn’t send money this month, you burned your leg on your scooter tailpipe or you didn’t score at the disco last night. You can at least be very thankful you were not a flying termite near my bungalow last week.
The tourist bureau’s “Unseen Thailand” campaign doesn’t mention the current termite season when billions of bugs suddenly emerge from their netherworld: clouds of creatures flapping around lights, dropping into your main dish at dinner or flying into your sweating neck, sticking to your skin and squirming. They definitely want to keep this “unseen.” The flying termite category is composed of “reproductives” who venture out one night in their lives to find their mate amongst the hoards around bright lights, drop to the ground, rip off their wings, crawl into a hole, crown themselves king and queen, then breed till death. This behavior may be witnessed anytime at clubs throughout Thailand since similar human reproductives can do it night after night, though choose to breed with many queens until death. Termites came out with a vengeance last week, but lost the battle with the rest of nature which came out with a bigger and badder vengeance.
A rainstorm drenches the neighborhood, so once Terry and Terri Termite hit the soaked soil and their wings stick, a variety of vicious ants descend and do their deeds; large ants with major pinchers for fatal blows, medium ants to carry the corpses and tiny ants to bite my legs while taking photographs of the carnage. This would be like you, drunk with lust and liquor, falling to the ground, glued to the dance floor in day-old sticky Sangsom, then your date’s friends remove your wallet and passport as a rogue pack of tourist guides whisk you away on an extensive temple tour where you die of boredom. I’m the blurry figure taking photos. Nearby massive toads cavort in a feeding frenzy, gulping down their flying bug buffet into stomachs about ready to explode. This would be like you being devoured by a monster the size of your guesthouse. Frantic geckos suck in termites from head to wings, then scamper about, unable to swallow the rest. This is you after a taxi driver shoves you into his trunk, ties down the lid but leaves your legs hanging out, and drives off wildly. Thousands of other mites enter our bug light zapper thing, The Exotic Blue House of Shock, and are straightaway snapped, crackled and popped into carbon. This is you trying to fix routine Thai electrical wiring in your home. If any termites survived these terrors, the neighbors probably ate them.
Of the billions of reproductives that leave the hive, two in 2,000 survive to become a royal copulating couple. Some major queens, five inches long and an inch thick like a bloated yellow sausage with an ant stapled to one end, can lay an egg every second, 60 per minute, 3,600 per hour, 86,400 per day, 31,536,000 per year, and during their 50 year life span: 1,576,800,000 eggs. I tried to figure out how many grandchildren she’d have, but my calculator started smoking.
You think you have problems? Imagine having that many kids expecting your money every month. Imagine Mr. King Termite who must continually perform his procreation chores every few seconds with a massive engorged wife and a bunch of workers wandering around. This would be like you making love to the tailpipe of a soft, slimy, stuffed school bus stranded at Tha Pae Gate…forever.
Imagine the bad day I’m having because the landlord’s worker ants came yesterday to spray extermination gas around and underneath my bungalow. This successfully caused every ant, June bug and creepy crawler to flee INSIDE, specifically into our bedroom, enacting a grisly scene from a recent Steven King horror movie. If these bugs love light so much, why don’t they just come out in the day like normal insects? Thai bug stories will never end but this column does with the only termite joke I know. A termite walks into a bar, looks around and says, “Is the bar tender here?”


Doc English The Language Doctor: Time for extra tuition?

Hello and welcome to the latest Doc English column!
There may be times when your kids may need extra tuition in English, even if they are attending an international or bilingual school. They may be falling behind, or they may need to work on a specific area, such as pronunciation. A language course or private tuition at a reputable language school may be the answer. There are a variety of language courses on offer by a variety of private language schools around Pattaya, but what are they like?
I had hoped to interview a few language schools this summer and having rushed off a few e-mails over the Songkran period, I sat eagerly awaiting their responses.
Richard Woodhead from AUA Language School in Pattaya was very quick to reply and he offered me an informal interview at his office on Pattaya Bazaar 1st floor, 266/33-38 North Pattaya Rd.
Richard turned out to be very courteous and friendly and he was very frank about AUA activities in the Pattaya area. He was knowledgeable about his students needs and very confident about AUA’s position in the Pattaya language ‘market’.
AUA was established in 1952 and in my opinion it has a good reputation in Thailand for offering quality English education. From my experience, rate of staff turnover is often an indicator of the quality of management in an organization. Decent teachers soon break contract and leave if a school is poorly managed.
At AUA staff turnover is low. “Our teachers never leave!” explained Richard, who also pointed out that his teachers have a minimum of five years of teaching experience, a Bachelors Degree plus TEFL qualification and work permits. AUA teachers have a great deal of experience to bring to the classroom and have the requisite qualifications.
AUA uses the ‘Communicative’ approach to language teaching. Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) is an approach to the teaching of second and foreign languages that emphasizes interaction as both the means and the ultimate goal of learning a language. This involves lots of talking and active participation from students.
Examples of communicative activities (from my experience) include:
* Role Play
* Interviews
* Information Gap
* Games
* Language Exchanges
* Surveys
* Pair Work
* Learning by teaching
Most of the AUA Pattaya language courses are filled in advance and AUA appears to have no problem in obtaining students. Their main problem, as Richard explained, is that they do not have enough capacity to cope with the growing number of students wanting to learn English.
I did not witness any teaching as no classes were running when I visited so I cannot comment on the quality of individual lessons; however, AUA may be a sensible choice for students aged 15+ and young adults wishing to improve their English (but not young children at this stage). They also offer teacher training courses and have even been involved in communicative language teacher training at schools around Thailand, which is very admirable.
AUA also offers relatively cheap Thai language courses, so no there’s no excuse for not learning Thai!
That’s all for this week ladies and gentlemen. If you want an independent school review, please email me at: [email protected] and I will pay them a surprise visit! Enjoy spending maximum time with your cherubs.


Welcome to Chiang Mai:

Greed versus need

This writer used to attend regular meetings of a club for foreign and Thai residents, with the original aim of learning more about the city from their presentations, how things worked, what really went on, how to cope with the difficulties of living in a country without being able to speak the language, etc. I didn’t hear much about “how to”, but I did hear a great deal about charitable efforts to aid orphanages, Hill Tribe villages, impoverished government schools in the backwoods and similar worthy causes. I also heard quite a lot about services obviously focused on what the presenters presumed were farang “wants”, which, of course, were priced accordingly… Listening more carefully than usual to a certain number of other attendees’ comments, I received the impression that an opinion was being formed which considered that the expat community existed to be “milked”, and were becoming somewhat tired of being asked for money, however needy the cause or attractive the offer. Partly because of the uncomfortable feeling this gave me, and partly because of other issues, I decided not to attend the meetings, as the increasingly “controlled” style of that particular organisation went against the reasons why I had decided to live in Chiang Mai.
Subsequently, as I began to find my way around the city, shopping in the local markets and the local village shop more often than in the superstores, stopping for a snack in Thai cafes, buying supper from the street stalls when I felt too lazy to cook, I began to be very aware of the increasingly large gap in Chiang Mai between the “haves” and the “have nots”. Many of us here do not consider ourselves to be well-off, particularly since currency fluctuations have eroded our pensions, but compared to the average Thai worker, we must seem comfortable at the very least. Then I became aware of the vast number of Burmese refugees in the city, most of whom had fled their own country in order to find work, and all of whom, in work, are at the bottom of the poverty scale here, but far better off than in Burma! The extreme poverty in Burma, therefore, must be difficult to imagine for those of us who were fortunate enough to have been born on the other side of the world.
The terrible tragedy of Cyclone Nargis must seem like the final blow to the millions of people whose lives it has destroyed. As if the economic ruin caused by the military government, its greed, and its cruelty, was not enough, those who had so little before the storm hit now have nothing; no shelter, no food, no clean water, no livelihoods - less than nothing. 90% of buildings in the affected areas destroyed, 80% of the boats which delivered fresh water to the Irrawaddy delta villages destroyed, over 2,000 square miles of land under water and 65% of rice fields ruined, untold tens of thousands of people dead or missing, (40% of whom are children, according to the Save the Children charity), and an imminent risk of diseases from cholera and dysentery to dengue fever and malaria.
Millions of pounds’ worth of aid and medical supplies, plus a large number of highly experienced emergency experts, NGOs etc, all waiting impatiently to be allowed to help, and what does the Burmese military government do? It asks for help, then refuses to allow the givers to administrate and distribute the gift. It delays the issuing of visas which will allow aid agencies to enter the country and do their work. It procrastinates. It stalls. For obvious reasons, it wants its own authorities to “distribute” aid. In spite of its vast millions, it contributes less than was spent on a certain leader’s daughter’s wedding. This is the government which Western and Thai leaders hesitate to condemn in case they upset China, whose human rights record is similar in its excesses to that of Burma. Even the United Nations hesitates to allow its representatives and aid workers to try to enter Burma on an emergency basis together with desperately needed supplies. The reason given Wednesday night on CNN was, “It might be seen as a confrontational act”. We’ve heard this before - Darfur, Tibet, Zimbabwe… the list is endless. How many millions more people will die whilst ego-driven politicians prevaricate?
There is so little that we, here in Chiang Mai, so close to the Burmese border, can do to help the victims of this tragedy. We can donate, and hope that the people who so desperately need it actually receive it. We have no influence, we are merely guests in this country, our feelings and opinions are just that - ours, and no-one’s listening. All we can do, in the city we now call “home”, is this. Next time we are asked to donate to any cause related to extreme poverty, deprivation or human rights, whether it is at a formal meeting or anywhere else, we should forget that we are farang, remember that we are human, and give what we can afford. The world is changing; the situation in Burma, tragic though it is, represents only a microcosm of a disturbing macrocosm.
This article is published courtesy of the “Welcome to Chiang Mai” folder, available as an email attachment from:- welcometochiangmai @yahoo.co.uk.

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


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