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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

What makes for a “full” check-up?

In one morning I had three people ask me what they should have examined as they wanted “full” check-ups. The usual request is “I want everything.” I think they would all probably faint if I told them that sitting on my desk is the “Manual of Use and Interpretation of Pathology Tests” which is almost 400 pages and there are about five tests per page. Imagine the bill for all that lot! But I doubt if many of you need Basement Membrane Antibodies to be done if you haven’t got bullous skin lesions. So, no, it is not possible to test for “everything”.
There is also out there, in the collective subconscious, interest in a “whole body scan” which is thought of as some magical device that you can walk into in one end and out the other and a print-out will tell you (and us) exactly how you are inside and out. Every organ! Even Willy the Wonder Wand! Unfortunately, this is stretching the truth somewhat. Machines like that are only seen in Star Trek movies and the like.
However, there is the PET scan, which is a specialized form of whole body scanner, that can give an indication of what is going on inside.
PET stands for Positron emission tomography and is a type of nuclear medicine imaging. Nuclear medicine is a subspecialty within the field of radiology that uses very small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose or treat disease and other abnormalities within the body.
Nuclear medicine imaging procedures are noninvasive and usually painless medical tests that help physicians diagnose medical conditions. To be able to produce the images in a PET scan, you have to have radioactive materials, called a radiopharmaceutical or radiotracer, and these are injected into your vein. The radioactive material has a very short life and is usable for only about two hours, though it will take a day before you have excreted it all.
The radioactive energy is detected by a device called a gamma camera, a (positron emission tomography) PET scanner. These radiology devices work together with a computer to measure the amount of radiotracer absorbed by your body and to produce special pictures offering details on both the structure and function of organs and other internal body parts.
The PET scanner is most usually used in cancer medicine and can demonstrate a ‘hot spot’ to show up the primary cancer, stage a cancer, show any metastases (spread), and even show whether cancer treatment modalities are working. For example, the PET scan can show the difference between scar tissue and active cancer tissue.
The benefits provided by PET scans are primarily because the information provided by nuclear medicine examinations is unique and often unattainable using other imaging procedures.
For many diseases, nuclear medicine scans yield the most useful information needed to make a diagnosis or to determine appropriate treatment, if any.
Nuclear medicine is much less traumatic than exploratory surgery.
By identifying changes in the body at the cellular level, PET imaging may detect the early onset of disease before it is evident on other imaging tests such as CT or MRI.
The risks are very low. Because the doses of radiotracer administered are small, diagnostic nuclear medicine procedures result in minimal radiation exposure. Thus, the radiation risk is very low compared with the potential benefits.
Nuclear medicine has been used for more than five decades, and there are no known long-term adverse effects from such low-dose exposure.
Allergic reactions to radiopharmaceuticals may occur but are extremely rare.
Injection of the radiotracer may cause slight pain and redness which should rapidly resolve.
Women should always inform their physician or radiology technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant or if they are breastfeeding their baby.
So can you get this kind of scan here? Yes, at Wattanosoth Hospital in Bangkok, and it costs around 90,000 baht.

 

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
So sorry to hear that you had lost out on the president’s job. I thought you’d make for a great president, never mind the first woman. What are you going to do now, and how much did the attempt to get into the White House cost ya?
Abe Lincoln
Dear Abe,
You are pulling my leg, aren’t you, Abe? Why do I think this is a spoof? Probably because Abe’s been dead a long time now, Petal, and anyway you should know that the person you have written to is Hillary, and the lady who wanted to have a crack at the White House because she’d lived there before, was called Billary! How much did it cost her? Several millions of dollars I believe, and they talk about Thai politicians buying votes! Nothing compared to the US variety.

Dear Hillary,
Reading all the tales of woe every week must have an effect on you. Don’t you just want to go and hit some of these stupid people on the head? It beats me that there are that many who end up buying the motor bikes and gold chains, and have never learned from anyone else’s experience. They seem to follow each other into disaster like lemmings over the cliff. Do you know why that is?
Jackson
Dear Jackson,
Yes, all the tales each week do have an effect on me, Petal, but after all these years I am getting used to it. I used to cry myself to sleep every night and wake with a soggy pillow, but these days I just say, “Here’s another one, what can I do to make it better for him?” You see, really I’m very kind and compassionate, and you will often find me helping old gentlemen across the street and weighing their wallets for them. After all, if I don’t, one of those grasping women from the bars will have their hands in the billfold before you can say “Wun moah beeyah?”

Dear Hillary,
I am a good looking American gay guy who has found paradise in Thailand, other than one thing - there still seems to be a lot of prejudice against gays from the farang population, but the Thai population just accept. Why should this be? Where I hang out, everyone is gay. Should I restrict myself to these places or what do you suggest? Or are you anti-gay too? I am interested to see your answer.
Robert
Dear Robert,
Are you kidding me? Some of Hillary’s best friends are gays. This is the most tolerant country gender wise you will find, Petal. Hillary has said before, but it is worthwhile repeating - there are four sexes here: girls, boys, lady-boys (katoeys), and boy-girls (Toms). Nobody really gives a fig leaf, but I do suggest you keep yours on when sunbaking. Perhaps you yourself are asking for people to turn the prejudice on by the company you keep. Generally farangs do not like to see middle aged gay men in the company of very young Thai boys, but remember they do not like to see middle aged hetero males with very young Thai girls either! If you want to be accepted in mixed company then try to behave conservatively and not flaunt your sexual bias, after all most straight folks don’t go round shouting their hetero-ness from the rooftops. If you can’t manage this, or don’t want to do this, then do restrict yourself to the gay areas if all you are craving for is acceptance.
Dear Hillary,
I am sure you must have been asked this question hundreds of times, but here goes - do Thai girls make good wives? They seem so sweet and loveable I just feel it’s all too good to be true. I am an Aussie and I can feel myself falling in love with a girl I have met here and I am unsure if I should continue to let the association develop, or call it quits while I am ahead. What should I do?
Jasper.
Dear Jasper,
You are following your carrot I fear. It’s all too good to be true - you said it! However, as a serious answer to your question - of course Thai girls make good wives, but so do the English girls, French women, German ladies and American madams, and as for the South Americans! Wow! The divorce rate for most of those countries is around 50 percent with another 50 percent unhappy in the association. With those stats, Thai girls are as good as anywhere else if you are a betting man. What you have to remember is that unless you are living here permanently, which you didn’t say in your letter, it is very difficult to get Thai girls (even legally married in this country) into some parts of the world, and Australia can be one of those. Permanent residence visas are not easy to get. Provided you take all those things into account then forge ahead. Just remember there’s a 50 percent chance you could end up in the courts and also remember that it’s not all the woman’s fault. It takes two to tango, but it takes the divorce courts to untangle!


Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Which lens? For what? And why

Any pro shooter, or even a serious amateur, can be recognized with their photographer’s jacket pockets stuffed with lenses. Fish eye, wide angle, “normal”, long, and extra-long. Ever wondered why the pros all walk around with all these lenses and three cameras slung around their necks? Is this a kind of photographic masochism, or is there a good reason for this? There is!
The reason is called “quality”. Pro shooters have to return to their editor or client with a professional image, giving the best interpretation of the subject and finally be pin sharp in its definition. Something you can’t get with a point and shoot camera or an image from your phone-cam.
To illustrate this situation I thought I should give you some ideas on three of the lenses to use, for what and why. Now if you own a 28-105 mm zoom or whatever, don’t despair, just adapt your thinking to use the zoom at the wide angle when I mention wide angle lenses and the other end of the scale when I mention telephoto lenses.
The three principal lenses are Wide, Standard and Long, and for the purposes of this article I am not including “extreme” examples. Consider Wide to be around 24-28 mm, Standard around 50 mm and Long around 100-150 mm. So you can see, the average zoom lens will cover these focal lengths.
Let’s begin with Wide lenses. These are the lenses for 99.9 percent of landscapes. You get a wide angle of coverage, you get great depth of field and as an added bonus you get blue skies! Even in Bangkok. The reason is that you have a wide angle of sky “squashed” into a 35 mm negative, so the colour is denser than it would appear to the naked eye. I have always said that photography is the art of telling lies with a camera.
The Wide lens is also the one you should use in low light situations, such as twilight, as most Wide lenses have larger apertures which let more light in to the camera. This means that you can get readings like 1/30 second at f 2.8, at which you can hand hold. With the average Long lens (or zoom in the tele position) it would be ¼ second at f 5.6 a shutter speed you cannot hand hold.
The Standard lens is actually one of the most neglected lenses in your camera bag. This is the focal length that most closely approximates what the human eye sees. Use this lens and you get the most “life-like” image that people can immediately relate to. No strange distortions in the foreground or on the edges either. For example, if you want to photograph food, pull out the trusty Standard lens. Stand on a chair and you get what the diner sees.
The Standard lens is also very good for getting either full length portraits or waist up pictures. Again, it is the lack of optical distortion which is important, and you can also use aperture settings around f 4 to blur the background.
So to the Long lenses. The focal length of around 100 mm would be more accurately called a “short” telephoto, but this is a common focal length and one that many of the zooms can cover. This is the lens you use to do all portrait shots. This lens will give you flattering views, without enlargement of the nose, and slightly compresses the image. When combined with a wide aperture of say around f 4 to f 5.6 this blurs the background enough to produce an uncluttered image.
The ability to compress the final image makes the Long lens the ideal one to show traffic jams or parades. Use a high viewpoint and look down the road when a parade is coming and you will get an image that appears to show that the road is just crammed with floats, one almost on top of another. Or better still try Sukhumvit Road from the overbridges.
Finally, it is important to remember that Long lenses are not a substitute for walking in close, especially at night, when the flash burst does not carry all that far.


Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Inflation protected bonds and equities, part 1

Continuing claims for unemployment benefits in the US earlier this month climbed by 29,000 to 2.83 million, the highest since Sept. 24, 2005. With new claims added the total unemployed climbed to 3.2 million or one percent of the total population.
At the same time U.S. stocks fell for five days out of six, with a massive one day drop which was in reaction to more bleak news from the financial sector, including a default at mortgage lender Thornburg Mortgage Inc. and news that Merrill Lynch & Co. is opting out of the subprime mortgage market. This was at the same time as the Mortgage Bankers Association showed record foreclosures in the final quarter of last year and that there are now more Americans in arrears with their mortgage payments than at any time since 1985 (after a deep recession that had cost millions of jobs when mortgage rates had risen as high 18%). Pending home sales are now down by 20% year on year.
The S&P 500 index is now at its lowest level since 2006. To cap a bad week for the world’s leading economy the net worth of U.S. households fell by $533 billion, or a 3.6% annual rate, in the fourth quarter of 2007. This is the first time that US total wealth has fallen since late 2002. For 2007 as a whole nominal household net worth rose 3.4% to $57.7 trillion, the slowest growth in five years. However, after the effects of inflation are included, real net worth fell for the year in real terms, while household borrowing rose at a 5.6% annual rate. This is much slower than during the credit boom years in 2003 through 2005 and is a clear sign that correction in the excessive liquidity that created the asset bubble of the last few years has been reined in but that this is also causing the bubble to deflate.
Yet more grim economic news from the USA for last month confirms that companies in the private sector shed 23,000 jobs according to the ADP employment report issued in early March. The mood was confirmed by the Labor Department report on nonfarm [sic] payroll growth for February. Nonfarm payrolls grew by just about 2,000, compared to the 20,000 expected by Wall Street. Included in the reports was an acknowledgment that job-growth in medium-sized businesses declined for the first time since June 2003.
If we’re not yet in recession, we’re certainly on the precipice.
Fortunately, the only US equity exposure that we hold in any of our portfolios is Berkshire Hathaway which continues to show strong gains of around 20% from the point at which we most recently bought in last year. We do, however, hold exposure to commodities including oil, although we have been taking more profits here, especially now that oil futures have gone north of $105 per barrel for the first time.
Meanwhile in the UK, the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee are caught in the eternal dilemma - twist or stick? In the end they probably looked more like a rabbit in the headlights, holding interest rates at 5.25% despite expectations that there could be up to three interest rate cuts this year (one down, 2 to go since last month when the rate was cut). However much the BoE might agonise over the decision ‘to cut or not to cut’ their deliberations are becoming increasingly irrelevant - even the Council of Mortgage Lenders, which is predicting three cuts this year, says base rate is just one of many factors that determine the cost of funds to lenders. The trade body says that even if further interest rate cuts emerge, it should not be assumed that this will automatically result in a cut in lenders’ standard variable rates or discounted rates. The liquidity dearth means that funding continues to be difficult to find and pricing pressures remain upwards. The central banks have become somewhat powerless; they can cut rates all they like but that won’t help the man on the street if high street banks and mortgage lenders won’t cut their rates or worse still won’t/can’t lend any more. The former scenario was evidenced by the fact that despite base rate cuts, US mortgage rates had climbed in the previous 2 weeks well above 6% this week. The latter can be seen by the dramatic fall in home equity release by blue chip borrowers with good credit, many of whom now find themselves unable to refinance their primary mortgages.
This brings into sharper focus the endemic fraudulent practices within the mortgage industry over the last few years on both sides of the Atlantic highlighted by the Association of Chief Police Officers into mortgage fraud in the UK. One problem is that while the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries estimates that there are between 11,500 and 12,500 mortgage brokerages in the UK, this is only an estimate. There is no verified figure because brokers are not individually registered and the magazine, Mortgage Strategy, estimates that today there could be some 40,000 brokers in the UK.
Key findings of the report highlight the fact that criminals are attracted to mortgage fraud because of its low risk of detection and prosecution with high monetary return. Mike Bowron, ACPO lead on economic crime and commissioner of the City of London police, says: “Organised mortgage fraud can take many forms and while difficult to measure accurately, remains a significant element of the UK’s annual fraud losses.”
Regular readers of this column know that I have been very downbeat for quite some time about the state of the world economy. The only surprise is that it has taken so long to get to the appalling situation we are now in where basic foodstuffs are now getting more and more expensive and there is less and less money to pay for everything. Despite the false optimism of George W Bush, I still believe that the US has at least another 15% to give us before it even begins to look attractive - possibly quite a lot more.
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

Thailand no longer needs outside help from the VSO - that’s official

And Thaksin finally sacks his manager

Most readers will know of the excellent work done by the Voluntary Service Overseas, whereby people - skilled and unskilled - from so-called developed or rich countries go, without pay, to work abroad. They range gap year students to retired doctors and simply give up time and experience to help others - sometimes for many years.
During a recent report on their work, the VSO announced that Thailand no longer needed help, adding - with justification - that the Kingdom was wealthy and developed enough to stand alone. Of course there are still areas of poverty - as there are in every country in Europe and every area of the U.S.A. for example but nothing that justified their intervention.
Good news about Thailand that hit the news recently. But more attention was given to the fact that Thaksin had finally replaced his manager Sven-Göran Eriksson with a Welshman, Mark Hughes. Eriksson was previously manager for England and was constantly in the news for other indoor sports.
His brief tenure at Manchester City did not result in any vast improvement for the city’s second team but a former sports editor of a national newspaper in England told me that he was certainly not given enough time. Thaksin was too impatient, was his verdict. Even if there had been vast amounts of money poured into acquiring new players it would have taken far longer to create a top class team. A black mark then for the impatient former Prime Minister.
Meanwhile I still receive my news about Chiang Mai partly from the online version of the Mail and naturally from friends who keep me informed about the goings on around town. Luckily for me, I will be back in the city in time for the start of Bennett Lerner’s launch of his Faure ‘festival’. The first concert is on Saturday, June 21, and details will no doubt be appearing in the Mail, but I know already that it is given by Bennett Lerner and friends and will have music by composers contemporary to the great man.
Other news about Thailand and Chiang Mai in particular is less good. There seem to be a dearth of tourists even allowing for the ‘low season’. And a friend who recently returned from the north and Chiang Rai found it ‘all but deserted’ in terms of visitors. The strong baht gets blamed but perhaps it is the weak pound and dollar that is the real problem. Along with high prices all round.
In France and Spain, fishermen and hauliers are blocking roads and ports in protest against the high price of oil. Since that is a world-wide problem, their anger won’t really help. Speculators, lack of production and a massive increase in demand are the main problems. If the price is lessened by a tax decrease then it will simply have to be raised elsewhere. Motorists do little but moan and the city of Manchester mentioned above is soon to have the first congestion charge outside London. It will take years to be fully implemented since 3 billion pounds is to be spent upgrading the public transport system, but when it comes in, it will cost a few pounds every time a vehicle enters or leaves the city - depending on the time of day. Complaints are already being made. There is also considerable concern about the proposed increase in the basic tax on cars, dependent on size. Thus anybody driving a gas guzzling 4x4 can expect a doubling of the tax from over 200 pounds (400 dollars) to over 400 pounds, according to the age and emissions of the vehicle. With petrol at two dollars fifty a litre and diesel even more, running a car in the U.K. is becoming something of a luxury and big cars have lost 30 per cent of their value.
It will be interesting to compare such things over in Thailand when happily from next week I’ll be ‘back home’. No column next week but from July 1 a proper note on Life in Chiang Mai.


Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
Sex and the City: The Movie:
US Comedy/Romance - Fans of the television show and Sarah Jessica Parker should be very happy indeed with this film incarnation, on the melancholy theme that fairy-tale endings don’t necessarily mean happily ever after. I found it a real chick-flick; see it if you like pictures about very rich and witty, well-dressed but vapid upper-class women and their problems with men, marriage, and living together. Rated R in the US for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and language. Mixed or average reviews.
Good Morning Luang Prabang/Sabaidee Luang Prabang: Thai/Lao Drama/Romance - Thai superstar Ananda Everingham, part Laotian himself, is extraordinarily charming as a partly-Laotian Thai photographer assigned a photo shoot in Laos. He is reluctant to return to his homeland, which he left many years before, as he feels estranged from his country. This relaxed and sweet love story/travelogue is a valentine to the land and people of Laos. It’s a Thai-Lao co-production, and marks the first Laotian feature film in nearly 20 years. At Airport Plaza only.
The Other Boleyn Girl: UK/US Drama/History/Romance - A sumptuous and sensual (and somewhat inaccurate) tale of intrigue, romance and betrayal set against the backdrop of a defining moment in European history, The Other Boleyn Girl tells the story of two beautiful sisters, Anne (Natalie Portman) and Mary (Scarlett Johansson) Boleyn who, driven by their family’s blind ambition, compete for the love of the handsome and passionate King Henry VIII (Eric Bana). Both women will share the King’s bed, but only the one whom Henry loves the most will rise to the throne and take power as his Queen of England. One sister will fail, and the other will die. Mixed or average reviews. At Airport Plaza only.
Somtum: Thai Action/Comedy - Stars the giant Australian wrestler and strongman Nathan Jones, who was widely popular as a martial arts fighter in previous Thai films such as Tom Yum Goong. Here he plays a fighter of immense bulk, but of equally immense timidity, and with a heart of gold, as he and a bunch of Thai children befriend each other.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian: UK/US Adventure/Family/Fantasy - This second installment of the Narnia series was the top film in Thailand last week, as it chronicles the return to Narnia of the four British kids who were crowned kings and queens of the enchanted land at the end of the first film. I find the children to be spoiled rich brats, and so English upper-class! When the four finally get to a beach in Narnia, and decide to go swimming, they take off their shoes before taking the plunge, but leave the rest of their clothes on! Edmund even keeps his tie on! Really, isn’t that carrying British modesty a bit too far?
If you are having problems in explaining the religious symbolism to your kids, or to yourself, help is available! There’s a whole cottage industry of books that have been written as a guide to the correct interpretations of the Christian lessons to be gleaned from the “Prince Caspian” book and movie. One I looked at is “A Family Guide to Prince Caspian” by Christin Ditchfield, which includes biblical citations and devotional readings. I really don’t know how people got along before this book. It’s available for $8.99 from Amazon.com.
Generally favorable reviews.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: US Adventure/Action - I really like Cate! As Irina Spalko, a “Stalin’s favorite” Soviet scientist and KGB agent, Cate Blanchett is marvelous. With a Russian accent as thick as caviar, it seems that Blanchett’s portrayal didn’t sit well with the real-life Russians. They are calling for a boycott of the film and even told Harrison Ford not to visit their country, warning him “You will be beaten and despised.” Generally favorable reviews.
Scheduled
for Jun 12
Kung Fu Panda:
US Animation/Comedy - An animated comedy set in the legendary world of ancient China, about a lazy panda who must somehow become a Kung Fu Master in order to save his valley from a villainous snow leopard. Jackie Chan voices one of the characters.
The Incredible Hulk: US Action/Sci-Fi - With an excellent performance by Edward Norton, it’s a terrific comic-based action picture with mythic themes - shades of King Kong and Frankenstein. Very exciting indeed, and a top notch production. I’m enjoying this new series of movies from Marvel Studios starring their ever-popular superheroes, which started with the recent excellent Iron Man. Generally favorable reviews.
Scheduled
for Jun 13
The Happening:
US/India Drama/Sci-Fi - M. Night Shyamalan produces another mysterious film people will either love or hate. It’s beautifully crafted, with excellent scenes of tension and spookiness. Don’t read too much about it before you see it - go with an open mind. Rated R in the US for violent and disturbing images, but it seems much of this has been clipped out in Thailand. Generally negative reviews.


Life in the laugh lane: by Scott Jones

Caution: Warnings everywhere!

As my cousin assembles his new gas Weber grill, I’m in charge of reading the manual. After connecting the LP gas tank, we must make sure there are no leaks, and the instructions warn: “Do not check for gas leaks using an open flame.” Were these instructions written by idiots, or for idiots? Considering that 49% of Americans voted for Bush…twice…it was undoubtedly both: they were written by idiots for idiots, several of whom probably lost their lives during the writing. “Wow, the Weber blowed up real good! Too bad Aunt Edna lost all ‘er hair and hasta eat at the pet hospital with what’s left of ‘er cat. Le’see if ‘er car gas tank has any leaks in it!”

Notice: do not ignore detailed personal warnings.
With warnings signs and labels littering the country, America is somewhere between very scared and very scary. My friend’s electric shop drill manual warns: “This product not intended for use as a dental drill.” (Unless you work for the mafia or CIA.) The literature with an iron reads: “Do not iron clothes while they are being worn.” (Unless you work for Iron Man.) A digital thermometer that can take a person’s temperature several different ways warns: “Once used rectally, the thermometer should not be used orally.” (Unless you can get Aunt Edna to bite.) The label on a bottle of drain cleaner says: “If you do not understand, or cannot read, all directions, cautions and warnings, do not use this product.” (If you cannot read, you will completely miss this joke: Why did the Polish guy think his wife was trying to kill him? He found a bottle of Polish Remover under the sink.) The cardboard thing that shields a car dashboard from the sun warns: “Do not drive with sunshield in place.” (“But officer, we were just trying to hide while escaping from Aunt Edna.”)
Unable to read Thai, I don’t know whether these cautions are posted in Thailand, but since most natives pay little attention to major warnings such as stop lights and one way signs, while driving as if they had a sunshield in place, I doubt it. Thailand does require that cigarettes display photos of decaying teeth and cancer-ridden bodies, though the tobacco giants have obviously paid the right people to keep these gruesome pictures off packages in America. Cancer contacted from buildings is another matter. A statement painted very elegantly on the glass entry door of the fancy Embarcadero Center mall on San Francisco bay warns that carcinogenic materials have been used in the construction of the building. (Not much detail given, but we avoided eating bricks for lunch.)
Inspired by 79-year-old Stella Liebeck, who clumsily spilled hot coffee in her own lap, sued McDonald’s and won thousands of dollars in the 1990s, I plan on judiciously stealing millions of dollars from Apple Computer for suffering terrible stress during a recent mishap. Though it seems reasonable that apple juice should not harm an Apple laptop and could possibly even be its lifeblood, there are no warning labels anywhere on my computer that say, “Do not spill apple juice on your keyboard, you moron.” When I turned on the computer, the gurgling, crackling sounds began as smoke, yes, official smoke from my virtual life burning up, rose from the keyboard, one of the very last places in the world you ever want to see smoke. It was a truly devastating experience, one that did not improve while seeking sympathy from friends who pointed at me and laughed.
My second, stress-related lawsuit will be against the city of Minneapolis. On my Harley for the first time this season on a beautiful afternoon in America, while trying to remember to ride in the right lane and the directions to my friend’s house at the same time, my bike suddenly started making a horrible screaming sound. I’d never experienced such a noise coming from any motorcycle and quickly stopped, though the screeching squealing continued, getting even louder. As I removed my helmet, I realized the “horrible screaming” was just a test of the tornado warning siren that happens routinely every first Wednesday of the month at 1 pm. It was now 1:03 pm. There should definitely have been some sort of warning before the warning.
If I ever get cancer, I’m suing the Embarcadero Building, warning or not.


Doc English The Language Doctor: Big writing for little children

This week I want to talk about what I consider to be the four stages of writing. There are several processes involved in writing and children may need to be shown how to carry out each stage.
Stage One: ‘Provide Input’
Before you write, supply lots of comprehensible input - stories, letters, newspapers, books, emails that are just above your child’s current language level. Make sure your house has lots of printed text lying around for your children to study. Try to think of texts which they will enjoy reading and want to write about, such as children’s magazines and story books. If they have a particular interest or hobby, then you could write about that.
Stage Two: ‘Brainstorm’
Writing from scratch is hard, I know. It takes me hours to think of things for this column and I often have to scrap everything and start again because I did not think things through during my planning phase. It’s important to plan before you write and so we need to get together to brainstorm and pick each other’s brains before we start (yuk!).
First of all you need to brainstorm, decide what you are going to write about and come up with ideas (and vocabulary) for your story / letter / article. I normally use a whiteboard and marker with my class and (together with their help) draw a big spider diagram to help us construct ideas. Sometimes the students can use their own white board or scrap paper, working individually or in pairs. Do not be concerned with neatness at this stage as this is a rough draft of what we want to put in our story. If ideas are not forthcoming immediately, you can set a time limit and challenge your child to come up with as many ideas as they can within that time frame. Sometimes I will carry out the brainstorming phase a day before we start writing - it’s quite a job to carry out all three phases of writing in one day and still have fun and feel relaxed at the same time.
Once your children get used to the brainstorming process, then they can quickly organize vocabulary and they can start anticipating what they want to write about.
Stage Three: ‘Big Writing’
‘Big Writing’ does not mean that your child is going to have access to a load of aerosol paints and a large garden wall. Big writing is a term that refers to the writing phase itself. Writing can be quite daunting for some children when they are learning English, so it is a big deal to them. They will need a lot of support and encouragement and they will need to feel that their writing efforts are worthwhile. The end result should be a big step forward in terms of their writing progress. I have nicked the idea for Big writing from my colleague ‘Karen’ and adapted it a little. I am sure she will forgive me in time, especially as she probably stole the idea from someone else anyway. Sorry Karen.
Before you start, It helps to prepare the writing ‘environment’ - remove all distractions, such as crying babies, toys, TVs, karaoke machine and relatives. Make sure your child is sitting comfortably and they have a correct grip (‘froggy grip’) on their pencil or pen (see diagram). You could go out and buy a special pen or pencil for the writing phase, to let your child know that they need a special tool for a special job. Provide good lighting, but not too bright, set the mood. Play some soft, gentle music if that will help. If it’s too distracting, then turn it off. Stay on the periphery if you like but don’t interfere too much as the idea is for your child to learn to write independently. You can supply the brainstorming ideas you came up with earlier if you like, to act as a ‘scaffold’ to your child’s writing.
There are a few rules to ‘Big Writing’. The first as I have mentioned is that you must not help. The idea is to encourage independent learning and provide fluency practice. The second rule is that your child should write whatever comes into their head and they should not erase or cross out anything that they have written. The third rule is that they should not be overly concerned with presentation, spelling, punctuation or grammar. They should be more concerned with ideas and content. They should also write as much as they can, as quickly as they can.
Stage Four: ‘Thank Goodness That’s Over With’
When you have finished, allow your child to read through their work silently in order for them to self correct and notice any errors. As they read through, encourage them to look for errors, but don’t point them out yourself. Provide hints and alternatives whilst all the time providing praise and encouragement. You can also ask your child to read their writing aloud, to practice expressions, intonation and pronunciation, etc. Invite some relatives back in to hear your child read and remember to applaud at the end.
If you are desperate to correct any errors your child has made, try doing this on another day, or via another piece of text and use their written work as a guide to producing future lessons. Use their errors as a guide to help you understand which areas of English they need to work on.
Try writing at home at least once a week. Review a story book together, make a new story or encourage your child to keep a diary or write letters or emails to relatives. You could even get your child to write to me if you like and I’ll publish their story or letter in here.
I hope your little children enjoy ‘Big Writing’.
That’s all for this week mums and dads. If you want more information on teaching your kids at home you can email me at: doceng [email protected]
Enjoy spending time with your kids.


Welcome to Chiang Mai: Smile, Please!

Idly watching TV late last year, I noticed an advertisement intended to encourage tourists to visit Malaysia. Splashed across the screen in bold type were the words, “Where the smiles are still genuine”. Ouch. That less than subtly negative reference to Thailand’s long held nickname, “The Land of Smiles”, set me thinking. I’d already began to wonder if foreigners really understood the “Thai Smile” as, several weeks earlier, a friend had told me that her housekeeper had announced the death of her mother with a grin on her face which would have done justice to a beauty pageant winner! As far as my friend had understood, Da had been very fond of her mother…
The same topic was brought to mind again last week, when a UK friend forwarded me, amazingly, an actual analysis of the famous Thai smile, (or, in this case, smiles plural), sent to her by a business colleague in the USA! Of course, it explained everything, although unfortunately it did not include photos of examples of the various types of smiles!
It would seem that, whatever situation is paramount in a Thai person’s life, to smile is the only appropriate reaction; it’s therefore very easy to understand why a smile when, for example, announcing bad news, would need to appear different than, say, a smile when announcing a lottery win. Smiles can be used to show, (or hide?), almost any emotion, be it joy, misery, embarrassment, anger, sorrow, confusion, disagreement or even fear. As I write, I remember a supreme example of this, witnessed during a hospital visit to a good friend who had just undergone a serious spinal operation and was in a great deal of pain. Her teenaged Thai “granddaughter”, an amazing, very talented and tiny girl, had realised that my friend required stronger painkillers and had asked to see a doctor who, when he arrived, refused her request.
Astonished, I watched the tiny girl stand up, face right on to the doctor, raise her arms high in the air and tell him, in a stream of obviously very emphatic and sharp-voiced Thai, exactly what he had to do! All with a huge smile on her lovely little face. I was even more astonished to see the doctor scuttle out and return in double quick time with the necessary medicaments… Unbelievable.
The “smileometer” so gratefully received tells that there are 13 different types of smile (yim, in Thai). The first, and the one which, I’m sure most of us must be familiar, is the “Yim tak tai” - the polite smile used to greet a stranger or distant acquaintance. No problems there, then. We should also be able to recognise the second type, the “Feun yim”, the “I don’t want to smile but I’m being forced to” version. A quick look at the roadside during the monthly check on non-helmet wearing motorcyclists by local traffic police should provide plenty of examples!
The third smile, the “Yim cheuat chauan”, could probably be referred to in the West as a smug grin, as it’s used by a winner to a losing rival. Suitable, therefore, for politicians the world over. The fourth example, the “Yim tang nam dtah” is the real thing, the “I’ve just won the lottery” smile. The fifth, the “Yim tak tan” might be very useful to identify, as it’s the “Sorry, but you’re wrong and I’m right” version - do any particular occasions spring to mind? Think about it…
The next few smiles are the difficult ones - for various reasons. Firstly, the “Yim sao”, used, as my friend found out with her housekeeper, to mask feelings of unhappiness, grief or sadness. Western women have a similar concept; the sad little smile accompanied by the words “nothing, really”, when we’re asked “What’s the matter?” by a person who hasn’t yet realised that we’ve spent the last half-hour in the restroom howling our eyes out.
This next is the one we expats really do need to be able to recognise - the “Yim mee lay-nai” - the worst of the lot! It’s used to conceal evil ideas, particularly in the sense of “I’m about to rip you off, and you don’t know it because I’m smiling”.
Live and learn, guys! The next example isn’t good news either, as the “Yim yor” is used to mock, taunt or laugh in an unpleasant manner at another person.
Having got those over with, the last five are at least not threatening! The “Yim cheun chom” is used when a person is really impressed with or admires another person; the “Yim mai ork”, literally translated as “smile not go out”, means just that - I really want to smile, but I just can’t. The “Yim yair-yair” is the apologising smile, used to defuse potentially upsetting or embarrassing situations, and the “Yim Hairng”, the dry smile, is the really nervous apologetic smile used on occasions which require words such as “I’m sorry, I know that’s one of your favourite vases I’ve just broken, but please don’t get angry with me…” However, the smile that we foreign residents should take lessons in how to use is the “Yim soo” - “everything’s hopeless, so I might as well smile” - very useful at immigration, the auto shop, or in any situation where one’s rudimentary Thai simply can’t cope!
The above should give us a clear idea that not everyone who is smiling at us is either happy or friendly; on rare occasions there may be other less pleasant motivations; as a result it’s often a good idea to keep one’s guard up in unfamiliar situations. We frequently hear that nowadays in Bangkok and Pattaya, the beautiful genuinely welcoming smiles that Thailand is famous for are seen far less often; here in Chiang Mai, most of us expat residents would, I suspect, agree that there are still plenty enough of the right kind of “Thai smiles” to go around!

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