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
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
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
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
Women should always inform their physician or radiology technologist if
there is any possibility that they are pregnant or if they are breastfeeding
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
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?
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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?
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!
by Harry Flashman
Which lens? For what? And why
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
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
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
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
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:
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.
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.
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
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!”
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
If I ever get cancer, I’m suing the Embarcadero Building, warning or not.
Doc English The Language Doctor: Big writing for little children
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
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
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
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
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
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]