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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

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Just a stone’s throw away

We have just come through the hottest spell in the Thai calendar and the incidence of kidney stones rises. Why? Quite simply, dehydration. The lack of water concentrates all the chemicals in the urine and some of them form kidney stones. Did you ever ‘grow’ sugar crystals at school? You increase the concentration and eventually a sugar crystal will form. Your kidney stones are very similar.
I was reminded of this topic when my neighbor went down with the problem. He is a classical case. He has had stones before and was living in a cold climate up till recently, and having come here, his water intake was poor.
Kidney stones may contain various combinations of chemicals. The most common type of stone contains calcium in combination with either oxalate or phosphate. These chemicals are part of a person’s normal diet and make up important parts of the body, such as bones and muscles.
A less common type of stone is caused by infection in the urinary tract. This type of stone is called a ‘struvite’. Another type of stone is a uric acid stone, but are less common, and cystine stones are rare.
Looking at the common calcium oxalate stones, there are some foods rather rich in oxalates, so if you are prone to stones, I suggest you stay away from rhubarb, spinach, beets, wheat germ, soybean crackers, peanuts, okra, chocolate, black Indian tea and sweet potatoes.
The stones in the kidney begin as small concretions, not much bigger than a grain of sand. If there is enough water flowing through the kidney, the early stone is washed away down the ureter (the tube connecting the kidney to the bladder) and is passed within the urine. The problem occurs when the stone gets a little larger and jams in the ureter.
How do you know if you have a stone stuck in the ureter? Quite easily. You begin to experience one of the most painful situations known to mankind (and yes, women can get stones too, though not as prevalent as men). Ureteric colic will bring grown men to their knees. Believe me. The pain can be referred to the penis, and some people report the feeling as if they cannot fully empty the bladder. You may also begin to pass blood-stained urine.
Interestingly (if you haven’t got a stone), is that stones as small as 2 mm have caused many symptoms while those as large as a pea have been quietly passed. In fact, the initial treatment for small stones which are not causing symptoms is for the patient to start drinking many liters of water, with the increasing volume of resultant urine washing the stone out. In my own clinic I used to suggest the owner of the stone pass urine on to a tin wall. He would hear the ‘p-tang’ as the stone ricocheted off the tin!
But what do we do if you present at ER all grey and sweating in pain? Well, first we have to make the definitive diagnosis, though the presenting symptoms will generally point us on the right path and give us a push. You will be asked for a urine sample and then have an X-Ray and/or ultrasound. In the meantime we should have dribbled some magic giggle juice into your veins and you will be feeling much better.
However, we still have to get that stone(s) out of the ureter. The easiest way is Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL). In this procedure, the stones are bombarded with shock waves from the ‘lithotripter’ which breaks the stone into pieces small enough to pass out with urination. The lithotripter is focussed on the ureteral stone inside the abdomen and whilst the shock waves pass easily through the body, they are stopped by the stone which then begins to fragment, eventually being small enough to pass.
Remember a good first step to prevent the formation of any type of stone is to drink plenty of liquids - water is best. Not water brewed with hops and stored in colored glass bottles! And if you have had a stone before, you are a prime candidate for another.


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
A guy wrote to you a couple of weeks ago wondering just how the local expats make it through the day with all the nudge-nudge wink-wink you know what I mean side benefits that are available here and you suggested it was the same as just getting over the kid in the candy store thing. Hillary, I am sorry to say, Petal, you are not really right. All that happens is that half of the expats settle down and get married but the other half never get out of the candy store, and what’s wrong with that. I know of guys who are in their 70’s and 80’s and maybe even older who still go to the bars every day, and even if it does take a couple of blue diamonds to get them going, does it really matter? They’re having fun, the girls get paid and surely that is a win-win situation. You would have to agree, Miss Hillary, as well as admitting that you were wrong for once.
Blue Diamond
Dear Blue Diamond,
What you describe is certainly a win-win situation Mr. Blue Diamonds, but is real life just as much a win-win situation? Unfortunately no, as you will have seen from the thousands of letters that have been posted in this column over the years, Petal. If it were such a win-win situation, why would anyone be complaining about their lot? Here’s the real situation. The ones that get married suffer from the same divorce statistics as marriages in their own countries, with about 50 percent down the drain. That’s real marriages. Then there are the ‘marriages of convenience’ (mia chow - rented wife) which also do not last (usually because the money dries up and the mia chow departs with whatever is not too hot or too heavy), and then a large portion of the remainder just get tired of the lack of the chase. The foreplay being restricted to “You want short time?” Followed by “OK. How much?” This is hardly hunter and hunted. There’s no conquest, let along no contest here. You would have to agree, Mr. Blue Diamond, and some of the chaps you think are in their 70’s and 80’s are probably only 45, but very dissipated.

Dear Hillary,
I know this is a bit out of the ordinary, but do you know where I can get winter weight clothes for Europe made? I have been here in Thailand for a couple of years and the clothes are not warm enough for the European winters. Because clothes are so cheap here, that’s why I’m asking.
Frigid Frank
Dear Frigid Frank,
Writing to me with your wardrobe problem Frankie, is like writing to the Pig Breeders Monthly about problems with your pet giraffe. If you were having problems with the other sort of frigidity then I could certainly have pointed you in the right direction, but where do you get woolly jumpers? I really don’t know, my Petal. I would suggest Pratunam markets in Bangkok and ask there. Pratunam is the center of the clothing retailing/wholesaling industry, but don’t take the giraffe, there isn’t much headroom.

Dear Hillary,
I’ve lived in Thailand for five years (three in Phuket and two in Chiang Mai) having been sent out here from England by my company. I love it over here and used to send great emails back to my mates telling them all about what a super time I was having. Here’s the problem. It seems to have backfired on me though, as now those same mates are arriving in Thailand at least two a month and expect me to take them round everywhere and show them the sights, and what’s more they expect me to pay for it as they’ve had to fork over for the air fare. I only have a two room apartment, and these guys are coming over in twos and threes and then want a lady for the night as well. I am getting like a stranger in my own place. How do I get them to stop using me like a hotel, but still remain as friends?
Harry the Hotel
Dear Harry the Hotel,
This is not the first (nor will it be the last) time I have heard of this problem, but it is easily fixed. Since you are in contact with your friends by email, all you have to do is to tell them, after they announce they are coming over, that you are really looking forward to seeing them, but unfortunately there is no room in your apartment, but you will find them a hotel near by, and how much do they want to pay per night? You can also warn them that you are currently very busy, so won’t be able to look after them every night, but you will keep the weekends free to be with them. That is enough to let even the thickest skinned friends know that you are not running a hotel, that you are not on holidays even if they are, and get the relationship back on a more healthy level. Try it and see if it doesn’t work. If they complain at this, they weren’t real friends anyway, were they?

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Stage photography for amateurs

Here in Thailand you have many opportunities to try your hand at stage photography, even if it is just for Likay or similar Thai productions.
In stage photography, you are not in control of the model. You also have some very difficult composition and lighting problems to contend with. You cannot quite ask someone in the middle of Othello’s death bed scene to hold that pose and say “Cheese”. Mick Jagger will not also stop for you to focus while running frenetically from one side of the stage to the other.
The lighting too is quite different from that you normally experience. Stage lighting is generally tungsten based and sharp (what we call “spectral” lighting). Spots for the performers and floods for the background are the hallmarks of the usual stage lighting. The use of spots in particular is used to highlight the principal performer or action on stage.
Successful “stage” photographs have managed to retain that “stagey” lighting feel to them, so that instantly you look at the image you know it is of a performer on a stage somewhere. Remember that, as a photographer you are recording events, people and places as they happen. You are a mirror of the world!
The secret of retaining that stage feel is in the lighting. Because it tends to be dark, the first thing the average photographer will do is to bolt on his million megawatt gerblinden flash gun with enough power to light up the far side of the moon. While understandable, I do not endorse that approach to stage photography, but more on that shortly.
Do you use a telephoto lens? No. Because it gets you too far from the light falling on the performers. Again it is the old adage of “walk several meters closer” for this type of photography too. Use a standard lens and get close. If needs be, find which row seat you need to be able to do this. All part of being prepared.
Now in the good old ‘film’ days, you got hold of some “fast” film. 800 ASA if you could, but 400 ASA will do. It was a good all-round film that does not give too “grainy” an image, yet will allow for handholding the camera in the stage situation. However, with today’s digital cameras, I have found you can run the camera on a nominal 100 ASA, or 200 ASA at most. (Anything over this and the digital image begins to break down.)
So, what about lighting? Pro photographer’s tip: leave the flash in the bag, or turn it off at the camera. Now I know it is dark, but you are trying to retain the stage lighting effects. In other words, you are going to let the stage’s lighting technician be the source of light for your photograph.
Now get a seat as close to the action as you can, and then select a lens that can allow you to fill the frame with the performers. Funnily enough, that will be, in most cases, the ‘standard’ 50 mm lens. Shots that show an entire dark stage with two tiny little people spot lit in front are not good stage shots. In fact they are not good anything shots! If all you have is a fixed lens point and shooter, get as close to the front of the stage as you can. You can still get the scene stopping shot - you have just to get very close. OK?
There is also the ‘problem’ with white balance with digital cameras. The constantly changing lights with stage performances means that the digital camera can get very confused, but honestly that is not a problem. You will still get an image that says “stage performance”, which is what you want.
Next time you are getting shots of people on stages, try turning the flash off, and you will see the end result is much better.

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

A tax free Thai retirement, fact or fantasy?

Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes (QROPS) explained, part 1

Most long term British Expatriates in Asia have little intention of spending their retirement back in the UK. The climate is often cited, as is what appears to be the ever increasing incidence of violent crime back home.
However, probably the most common reason for not wishing to return is the cost of living in Britain. With its ever increasing tax regimes, often being implemented due to a European Union directive that, to the casual observer, appears crazy, the United Kingdom has become a very expensive place to retire.
For European expatriates the politically correct European Union directives have produced an unexpected benefit, however. One of the “Four Freedoms” in European Union law is the “Free Movement of Capital”, including pension funds. This EU Law was formulated into UK pension legislation on April 6, 2006, with the launch of Qualifying Regulated Overseas Pension Funds (QROPS).
This ruling from Brussels now means that, subject to certain conditions, you may move your pension fund offshore and draw your retirement income tax free. Wherever you live in the world, a UK Regulated Pension Plan will be subject to UK tax.
So the initial question is not too difficult to answer: do you want to pay tax on your retirement income, or not?
However, you need to know all the parameters, potential risks as well as the benefits before jumping in.
Therefore, the aim of this article is not only to inform you of the numerous benefits of QROPS, but also to explain the limits and explode a few myths that are being sold as benefits by less ethical “advisers”.
There has already been one case of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) overturning a QROPS transfer, winning the right to charge the individual a large income tax bill, after he had paid a hefty commission to the “international sales and marketing consultants” involved.
“The Good”
1. Your retirement income can be drawn free of UK income tax from a QROPS, and free of Thai income tax, because in Thailand it is offshore investment income and not earned onshore.
2. You are never obliged to purchase an annuity like a UK scheme. Ultimately when you and/or your spouse dies, with an annuity there is nothing to pass on to your children or estate.
3. With QROPS what is left to your estate is free of UK inheritance tax.
4. Provided you have been an expatriate for at least 5 years you may take a 30% tax free lump sum immediately. In the first 5 years offshore this is limited to 25%, the same as a UK pension.
5. QROPS gives you much greater control over your income stream than a UK scheme.
6. With a UK pension, when you purchase an annuity your spouse may benefit after your death from the pension, typically receiving 50%, subject to you taking a lower income for life from the outset. With QROPS you take your full income and should you pre-decease your spouse the income stream may carry on 100% and tax free.
7. Furthermore, you may place both or all of you and your spouse’s pension(s) in the same QROPS making income and estate planning much easier.
8. Because of actuarial calculations the earlier you purchase an annuity in the UK the less income you receive. With QROPS you may draw your income from age 50 (age 55 from 2010) with no actuarial reduction for taking income early.
9. You are protected from future UK Pension legislation.
10. You have unlimited investment choice.
11. Subject to obvious UK inheritance tax avoidance, you may make unlimited additional contributions to your QROPS, and these contributions will be subject to inheritance tax relief on the seven year sliding scale.
12. There is always a risk that if you have a “company pension” that the company could become insolvent. Over 200,000 people in the UK have lost a pension that they assumed was guaranteed. Up until late 2007 no one had received a penny from Gordon Browns much vaunted “Pension Protection Fund”. A QROPS protects you against this risk.
“The Bad”
1. You will be charged an additional 15% tax on top of your marginal rate of income tax if ever you “repatriate” and move back to the UK. QROPS are only for you if you are certain of your expatriate future.
2. There are trust fees involved, both initial and ongoing, with some trustees charging these fees as a percentage. Clearly this can become very expensive on larger funds. Find a QROPS that has a flat charge if possible.
3. Obviously, if you transfer out of a “defined benefits” (final salary) pension you loose the guaranteed income stream from the UK scheme. If the fund or funds you choose to invest in under perform the result will be a lower pension income.
4. You will be taxed at 25% on the transfer value above your “lifetime allowance”. However, for 2007/2008 that “Lifetime Allowance” is 1.6 million and rising annually, so in many ways it would be a nice problem to have!
5. If you have left the UK less than 5 years, any income drawn up until you have been an expatriate for 5 years will be subject to UK income tax. You will be able to draw a tax free lump sum of 25% of the fund, however, within the first 5 years.
6. Some old style “Defined Contribution” (Money Purchase) or “Personal Pension” schemes may have exit charges prior to your selected retirement age.
“The Ugly”
1. The main myth that is being used currently as a sales tool is “100% tax free cash lump sum!” To achieve QROPS status, i.e. to be “recognised” by HMRC and therefore be “qualifying” to receive pension transfers tax free, the QROPS trustees/administrators must enter into a “spirit of co-operation” with HMRC. One of the main tenants of this “spirit of co-operation” is that at least 70% of the funds transferred will be designated to provide the retiree with an income for life. Clearly if the “spirit of co-operation” is broken by taking a “100% tax free cash lump sum”, then HMRC will remove the QROPS status and you could be left with a very large tax bill.
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

It’s an ill wind that blows…

By the time this article appears next week, I suspect that the situation in Burma will have reached some kind of ‘resolution’ - either with aid belatedly being allowed in or the escalation of a natural disaster into a man-made catastrophe, whereby the generals in control of the country will be responsible for a crime against humanity and the murder of thousands of men, women and children.
If they ‘win’ again against the raging tide of world opinion, as they did last September and on many occasions before during the past decades then the free world is culpable in the crime, perpetrated by the increasingly isolated leaders.
When one reads that even the good offices of the Thai Prime Minister - their nearest neighbour - and other representatives of the ASEAN countries have been largely ignored, one wonders just how long they can survive such isolation. The fierce winds that have wrecked huge areas of Burma may just yet have brought some ‘good’ in awakening those who did not fully understand the enormity of the generals’ previous actions. And those who understood the mind set of those in charge may have to think again. It is, of course, for the ASEAN leaders to take the lead. Western countries cannot fully appreciate the situation - we are outsiders. But even those of another culture, race, religion and region can see what it is going on.
Millions of words have been directed against the junta, thousands of hours of air time, on both TV and radio, have tried to expose what is going on. And yet their obstinacy knows no bounds. Either they exist in luxury ivory towers miles from the tragedy, or they simply do not care. Can it be that they are truly without the intelligence and imagination to understand what is happening around them or are they creatures of a mentality that was characterised by the Nazis in the 1930s and by despotic rulers throughout the world in more recent years?
What we can only hope for is that those nearest to them, who have so far been less critical of the regime, will try to reason with its leaders. Thailand, China, India and others near neighbours have the only chance of bringing about a peaceful solution. As I write, the French, the Americans and the British have ships and helicopters within a few miles of the stricken area, and could bring in massive aid within hours. To do so without permission will be to invade Burma’s air space and countryside.
If that happens - and many people advocate such an action - it will have possibly grave consequences. Thailand will be in an especially difficult situation since it has many thousands of American troops stationed within the Kingdom. Let’s hope that its political leaders and those of other countries has yet another try at opening up Burma to outside help, with no political interference. At this stage all that matters is to help up to two million people from disease and starvation. They have been in the dark too long and deserve light, peace and freedom. What happens later is what concerns the generals. For now a superhuman effort is needed to convince them to accept help to avert even greater tragedy.
And here as promised is the second of our contributions to the column from students in Chiang Mai. This week it comes from Enis Aksu from Payap University entitled ‘Being a Farang in Chiang Mai’.
“When I came to Chiang Mai, I felt like I’m in a different world. Chiang Mai is the second biggest city of Thailand, but I call Chiang Mai as a town because you can not see that much pollution and do not have the problems of big cities etc…. So this city teaches to everyone that you can live your life without having any problems. Life here is slower than life in Bangkok. However I love to be in Chiang Mai. Especially being a farang in Chiang Mai is really good. What makes a farang different than Thais? Answer is easy; a farang has white skin, a farang looks like an artist for Thais and a farang who can speak Thai is fantastic.
Every foreigner will notice when they come here that most of Thai people powder their faces to avoid getting a tan. They are not as black as Africans, but they admire people who have white skin. I love to hear children saying ‘farang, farang’. They can’t find any similarity between their selves and a farang. If you are a white skin person like me, everyone will look at you while you are walking on the street. Europeans and Americans want to have bronze skins so they spend lots of money for that. In contrast, people spend money to be white. It seems weird, but it is true.
In Bangkok there are lots of foreigners so a farang is not that important there. Although Chiang Mai is a touristic city, you will attract eyes to yourself everywhere if you are a beautiful farang girl or a handsome farang boy. People of Chiang Mai will see you as an actor or a pop star. That’s what I experienced. When people see you, they may look at your face again and again because they think that you seem like an artist.
The most important difference even between an ordinary farang and a farang like me is being able to speak Thai. When you speak in Thai, Thai people will count you as a Thai. Therefore you will have similarity with Thai people. Also it makes Thai people surprised. When I sing a Thai song, Thai people want to listen it several times. And I reach the apex of pleasure of being a farang.
In summary, being a farang is so nice in Chiang Mai. Having white skin, look liking an artist, being able to speak in Thai differ you from Thais. In Chiang Mai people love farangs. They are not as black as Africans, but they admire people who have white skin. You will attract eyes to yourself everywhere if you are a beautiful farang girl or a handsome farang boy. When you speak in Thai, Thai people will count you as a Thai. Therefore you will have similarity with Thai people. I love to be in Chiang Mai.”

Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:
US Adventure/Action - Yes, Indy is back! With Harrison Ford, Ray Winstone, Shia LaBeouf, and Cate Blanchett, and directed by Steven Spielberg. After living a quiet life as a professor, Indiana Jones is thrust into a new adventure when he races against agents of the Soviet Union to make one of the most spectacular archaeological finds in history - the Crystal Skull of Akator, a legendary object of fascination, superstition, and fear. On his way, Jones meets a new buddy Mutt, and they set out for the most remote corners of Peru - a land of ancient tombs, forgotten explorers, and a rumored city of gold. There, Jones finds that Soviet agents are also hot on the trail of the fabled Crystal Skull. The story and style are very much in keeping with what has made the series so perennially popular. More than welcome. Early reviews are generally favorable.
Penelope: UK/US Comedy/Drama/Fantasy - This modern fairy tale depends wholly on the charm of Christina Ricci, James McAvoy, and Catherine O’Hara; if you enjoy them, you may well enjoy this slightest of fables. Mixed or average reviews.
Memory: Thai Horror/Mystery - Thai superstar Ananda Everingham plays with great charm a psychiatrist trying to decipher the causes of the fear and anxiety he sees in the eyes of a girl of seven, possibly the victim of child abuse. A really nice Thai horror film, with some of the world’s greatest squeaking doors.
Speed Racer: US Action/Drama - Basically a family film based on the classic anime series about a boy who was born to race cars, filmed almost entirely in front of a green screen, with the backgrounds and foregrounds added later. The film is brimming with superb special effects that are technically inventive and seductively surreal, with a sweet plot, and some thrilling races. John Goodman and Susan Sarandon play the parents.
Seeing Speed Racer yet again reinforces for me how truly original and visually sophisticated the film is. (Note for film buffs only: watch the diegesis. I haven’t seen such delightful playing around with the diegesis since Last Year at Marienbad. But because the characters so intensely believe in their film world, even as it constantly changes, it becomes real for us as well. And notice the incredible variety of wipes used. It’s amazing, and playful, and fun.)
The new vocabulary is so innovative that there is a book just published on May 13 called “The Art of Speed Racer” which includes, along with the script, more than 300 new words which were created to describe innovations in cinematography introduced in this movie. For example: ‘Faux lensing’ toward a ‘Photo Anime’ film format; designer shape de-focus; infinite depth of field; bling and super-bling flare enhancements.
It’s deliriously dense, with more than 2,000 effects shots, often layered on top of each other. The overall effect, if you get into it, isn’t just a store window of technology. It is, as Mom says of Speed’s mastery behind the wheel, “inspiring, and beautiful, and everything art should be.” That’s what the Wachowskis are aiming for, and, I think, what they’ve achieved.
Special effects pioneer John Gaeta oversaw the visual effects for this movie, as well as the entire Matrix Trilogy of the Wachowski Brothers (and for which he won an Oscar). Referring to himself and the Wachowskis about Speed Racer he says, “How many disturbingly dark movies can you make before you start wanting to experiment in another way? We were in an anti-Matrix place, we wanted to make a bright, optimistic world, and push the happy button. It was a blast.” And it is a blast, worthy of your attention.
Generally negative reviews - but see it, if any of this whets your interest. For me, there’s simply a wealth of things to enjoy in this film.
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 critics and reviewers as well. You’ll like it. Generally favorable reviews.
Phobia/See-prang: Thai Horror - Four quite good horror stories by four Thai directors. Quite well done. I particularly enjoyed the “In the Middle” segment, about four young guys out camping, and bedded down for the night telling ghost stories; and the fourth story, “Last Fright,” about a very self-controlled flight attendant and her interactions with a Middle Eastern princess, both alive and dead, on her specially chartered flights. At Vista only.
Scheduled for May 29
The Chronicles of Narnia:
Prince Caspian: UK/US Adventure/Family/Fantasy - One year after the incredible events of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the kings and queens of Narnia find themselves back in that faraway, wondrous realm, only to discover that more than 1,300 years have passed in Narnian time, and things are not going well. Generally favorable reviews.

Life in the laugh lane: by Scott Jones

He who hesitates is…?

He who hesitates may not survive the week.

Most would say “he who hesitates is lost” and though my Internet research couldn’t pinpoint its origin, I suspect an ancient, male philosopher coined this saying while attempting to rationalize why he wouldn’t ask for directions. (In modern times, it has evolved into “he who hesitates is worse than lost, he is miles from the next exit.”) After observing, battling and surviving Thai traffic, I believe the spirit of this saying may have started here, but I prefer to follow a look before you leap, better safe than sorry version: “he who hesitates is alive”.
Although Thailand is the “Land of Smiles” with a reputation for being “laid-back”, and its people have the capability of dropping into the Land of Nod, anywhere at any time of the day, whether they’re at work or not, this mellow behavior vanishes on the roads, especially at stoplights. Many motor bikers seem absolutely incapable of waiting for a red light to change. Do they think they are above the law, if there indeed is a law? Do they believe they’re invisible? Perhaps they feel invincible with steel-plated crash sandals, skin stronger than cement and indestructible boneheads so they can use their helmets to protect the wire baskets carrying them. Or maybe they just have to go to the bathroom really, really badly. As time ticks toward a light change, the tension builds on the Stop Side and the pace quickens on the Go Side. The yellow caution light in Thailand means “throw caution to the wind” inspiring the last stragglers to speed up and fly through intersections, just as the opposing motorists, having changed the unchanged red light to green in their minds, advance menacingly and aggressively, mentally screaming: “Just do it! He who hesitates is lost! The early bird gets to be road kill!” Most times it works, like two schools of fish passing through each other in the ocean, but I’ve seen too many dead guys on the road in Thailand, and I don’t want anyone drawing my outline in white chalk.
I often work my way up to the front line, on a big bike that could leave everyone in the dust, then chant, “he who hesitates is alive” and wait till the mad dogs have left the line. I hesitate when motorcycles lurch out of blind roads onto highways without a glance behind or to the side, an apparent assassination attempt or a personal death wish in their heart. I hesitate entering the one-way side of the four-lane highway from my driveway, not only looking to the right where cars are supposed to come from, but also to the left where anything with wheels or hoofs may be bearing down on me.
The “he who hesitates” theory can be altered for many situations. If you neglected the “he who hesitates is alive” option and walked down the wrong dark alley in Pattaya, immediately switch to the original “he who hesitates is lost” option while fleeing from the “he who never hesitates to rob” gang. Avoid the nasty ice in your beer made with germ cocktail water that turns your intestines inside out with the “he who hesitates survives” option that also applies to the love-you-long-time-ladies who, in a very short time, can turn your life inside out. “He who hesitates pays less” serves you well at the Night Market when you walk away, the price drops 50% and the stall shark’s pitch changes to “Come back! How much you pay?” If you visit me at my bungalow, you’ll experience the “he who hesitates is lunch” option as you scamper from your vehicle to my door through the red ants swarming in the driveway.

Doc English The Language Doctor: Which thinking hat are you wearing today?

Often it seems like teachers are just teaching students how to think, rather than what to think. Teaching sometimes appears to be simply the process of transferring ‘facts’, and neglects to include the process of teaching students how to find the ‘facts’ out for themselves. This second process is called ‘Critical Thinking’. This week we discuss how you can encourage your kids to become ‘Critical Thinkers’.
If your children are having problems reading and interpreting a story or text, writing a half decent story or essay and/or solving a mathematics problem requiring several steps you might find this article useful.
Definition of Critical Thinking
Critical thinking means ‘reasonable, reflective, responsible, and skillful thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do’. A person who thinks critically can ask questions, gather information, sort through this information, reason from this information and come to conclusions.
Children are not born with the power to think critically. Critical thinking is a learned ability that must be taught. Some individuals never learn it.
What is a Critical thinker?
Raymond S. Nickerson (1987), an authority on critical thinking, characterized a good critical thinker in terms of knowledge, abilities, attitudes, and habitual ways of behaving. Here are some of the characteristics of such a thinker.
* Uses evidence skillfully and impartially
* Organizes thoughts and articulates them concisely and coherently
* Suspends judgment in the absence of sufficient evidence to support a decision
* Understands the difference between reasoning and rationalizing
* Attempts to anticipate the probable consequences of alternative actions
* Understands the idea of degrees of belief
* Sees similarities and analogies that are not superficially apparent
* Can learn independently and has an abiding interest in doing so
* Applies problem-solving techniques in domains other than those in which learned
* Can structure informally represented problems in such a way that formal techniques, such as mathematics, can be used to solve them
* Can strip a verbal argument of irrelevancies and phrase it in its essential terms
* Habitually questions one’s own views and attempts to understand both the assumptions that are critical to those views and the implications of the views
* Is sensitive to the difference between the validity of a belief and the intensity with which it is held
* Is aware of the fact that one’s understanding is always limited, often much more so than would be apparent to one with a noninquiring attitude
* Recognizes the fallibility of one’s own opinions, the probability of bias in those opinions, and the danger of weighting evidence according to personal preferences.
Teaching Critical Thinking
One way to teach critical thinking at home or in the classroom is to follow a program, such as de Bono’s ‘Thinking Hats’.
Edward de Bono’s thinking hats were developed in order to illustrate the various ways of thinking when problem solving. Each of the hats represents a different method of thinking. The hats help us understand the different ways that we think and help us understand how others feel about a problem. If we look at a problem together, from different angles (wearing different hats) it will help us solve the problem more constructively and enable us to use our critical thinking skills more efficiently.

The Hats represent six thinking strategies. De Bono believed that if the various approaches could be identified and a system of their use developed which could be taught, that people could be more efficient thinkers and work more cooperatively.
Each way of thinking is symbolized by the act of putting on a coloured hat, either actually or imaginatively. This he suggests can be done either by individuals working alone or in groups. In my school, children enjoy making the hats and putting them on when they are using a different thinking strategy. Every time you read or carry out an activity, you can try using a different hat to approach the problem, or to interpret a story in a different way.
The Red Hat represents Emotional thinking. The Yellow Hat represents Positive thinking. The Black Hat represents Critical thinking. The White Hat is purely the facts. The Green Hat is Creative thinking. The Blue Hat represents the Big Picture, sort of looking at it from all the viewpoints.
I don’t have enough room to include more information on the Hats, but you can find out all about De Bono’s ideas at his web site http://www. and more information on using Hats at http://www.mycoted .com/Six_Thinking_Hats.
That’s all for this week ladies and gentlemen. If you want more information on critical thinking skills please email me at: docenglishpat [email protected]
Enjoy spending time with your kids.

Welcome to Chiang Mai:

A change of climate?

Many resident expats we’ve spoken to feel, (as it seems almost impossible to get a residence permit here, however many hoops one is prepared to jump through), that, as “guests”, however permanent, their views are not, and never will be, heard. Or that, even if anyone’s actually listening, those views will be ignored. One of this paper’s main stories this week is actually a continuation of a series of news items which began with the recently elected Mayor Dr Duentemduang na Chiengmai’s talk at the Chiang Mai Expat’s Club, and her exclusive interview with the Mail’s reporter. Subsequently, the Mayor gave a talk at Alliance Francais, and regular monthly question and answer sessions have been set up at the Art Museum just behind the Three Kings’ Monument in the old city. On all of these occasions, much to the surprise and delight of the expat community, Dr Duentemduang stressed that everyone, whether Thai or foreign, whether resident or “guest”, is a citizen of Chiang Mai, and that everyone is welcome to make their views on the city and its development known in a open and constructive manner.
The latest development in this welcome and, some would say, long overdue process is the seminar which took place last Friday, and which is reported in full in this issue of the Chiang Mai Mail. The issues on the agenda, (although we noticed that air quality, burning and pollution were not stressed - maybe the organisers have short memories), are relevant to everyone’s enjoyment of the city and its environs. We have heard the comment many times, and not only from our expat colleagues and friends, that under previous administrations, the city had become run-down and uncared for in many ways which affected the lives of its residents. Frequently mentioned were the pathways around the moat and the appalling and very overdue state of the superhighway project. Amazingly, within a few months of the Mayor’s election, both issues were successfully resolved, thus giving certain foreign residents the problem of finding something else to complain about! Joking apart, there are still many issues of neglect and lack of planning which need to be addressed; pollution and the dry season’s poor air quality must surely be included in the considerations - but at least the thousands of foreign residents in Chiang Mai will now have a chance to put their views and possible solutions forward together with those of the Thai residents.
Of course, there may be a major problem with this - many of us are not even slightly conversant with basic Thai, let alone the complications of the issues in the seminar’s agenda. We do, however, have help in the form of Khun Boong, of Boutique Travel, whose “Green Chiang Mai Project” is now heavily involved with the Mayor’s campaign. Boong herself is committed to local ecological solutions, is bi-lingual, and is more than happy to take our suggestions, points to be made, and questions, translate them and put them forward on our behalf to the relevant local authorities. She can be contacted by email at The Chiang Mail Mail is also more than happy to help, please email us at [email protected]
This column has mentioned integration of the diverse communities in the city on several previous occasions; this innovative initiative on the part of Dr Duentemduang is integrating in itself if taken seriously by concerned residents in all the separate communities. If it succeeds, it must surely be of great benefit, not only to the infrastructure and environment, but to all who live here. Stripping aside nationalities, religions, ages, educational standards, financial positions, and all the rest of the imposed social norms that try to persuade us that we are different, or, worse still, better, integration must surely begin with diverse peoples with the same basic needs joining together to improve their immediate environment and their own and their families’ quality of life. Dr Duentemduang has stepped “outside the box” with this initiative; please, don’t let’s leave her standing there on her own!

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