HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The Doctor's Consultation

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Let's Go To The Movies

Life in the laugh lane

Doc English The Language Doctor

Welcome to Chiang Mai


An American Redneck in Chiang Mai

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

“I’ve got this mole, Doctor”

Unfortunately, as we get older, we become prone to find skin imperfections, we never had before. None of us like getting older - however, it still beats the alternative! But by being around for a longer period of time means that we become more prone to certain disorders and conditions. Our skin is no different, and tumors of various types begin to appear on our skin as we age.
Now the very word “tumor” strikes fear in the hearts of many, but this is purely a term we use to describe growths on the skin, which may or may not be “malignant”. In fact, most skin tumors are not malignant (called “benign”), and even with the malignant ones, the majority are not going to bring you to meet your maker before your use-by date. Having said that, it does not mean that you should ignore skin growths. Most will not kill you, but they can make the last few years very unpleasant if left untreated.
Looking first at the benign tumors, probably the most common are Seborrhoeic Keratoses. These are the dry slightly raised “warty” lesions that look as if they have been stuck on to the skin. In fact, many people “flake” them off with a well applied finger nail. They come in all colours, and a very simple way to remove them is with liquid nitrogen freezing. This leaves you with a smooth white spot where you had a rough coloured one before. (Ask to see mine!)
Another interesting lesion is the Acrochordon. These are little skin tags that hang off the skin and are often considered to be unsightly by the owner, and can be removed with one suture and one snip.
Another benign lesion is the Keratoacanthoma. These grow fairly rapidly and have a smooth outline. We usually cut them out, because they are actually quite difficult to differentiate from SCC’s (Squamous Cell Carcinomas).
I was reminded of the following group of skin lesions when I attended an Arabic function recently. Many of the Middle-Eastern people were wearing the ‘dish dasha’, that all covering garment from neck to floor. In the blistering sun of the Levant, this provides much protection from the sun, whilst the white skinned people go the other way and strip their shirts off. Wrong! Australia, for example has one of the highest rates of skin malignancies in the world. In my young days, we were sent outside to get a bit of “healthy” tan, our parents not knowing that it was actually an “unhealthy” color.
So now we are into the malignant lesions and the three main types are the SCC (Squamous Cell Carcinoma), the BCC (Basal Cell Carcinoma) and the Melanoma. These develop over a period of time and exposure to the sun’s UV light is the main culprit. Hence our call these days to all parents to make sure their children are well protected by a Factor 30+ sunscreen. In 60 years time your children will appreciate you, but you’ll probably be dead by then. It’s always the case, isn’t it!
SCC’s are nearly always on sun damaged skin, and fair skinned people are the most prone. There is often a reddened area around a central scaly patch, and with long-standing ones the center can ulcerate. Again, it is surgical excision or nitrogen freezing.
The BCC’s on the other hand are much more aggressive than the SCC’s. They have a scaly surface and a raised ‘pearly’ edge. Known as ‘Rodent Ulcers’ because they gnaw away at healthy tissues, they can invade and erode cartilage and even bone. Surgical excision is still the mainstay of treatment.
Finally, the Melanomas. These are dark pigmented skin lesions (moles) with irregular borders and invade the deeper tissues and can spring up as secondary lesions as well. These tumors can kill you. Wide and deep surgical excision is the treatment of choice. If the excision is wide enough, and you got it early enough, you will be fine, but if ignored, this type of skin cancer metastasizes through the body and is universally fatal.
Skin tumors should not be ignored. If you have some, take them to your doctor for diagnosis today!


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
Have you ever been embarrassed because everywhere you go, your partner makes you late? What do you do about hopeless time keepers? (Or are you one of them too?) My Thai girlfriend is wonderful in every way, other than the fact she can never be on time for anything! And I mean anything. I bought her a watch, I’ve put a clock on the bedroom wall, but that does not get her into better time habits either. I know Thai people are supposed to have this free and easy attitude to time, but my friends expect me to be on time for appointments, lunches and the like, and if I bring Noi we will always be late and I get hassled and irritated, which can spoil the day. What suggestions do you have, Hillary?
Tick Tock
Dear Tick Tock,
It is “time” (sorry about that) for you to sit down with your girlfriend and explain why you have a need to be “on time” everywhere. “Secondly” (sorry about that again, but some days I can’t help myself) you should also make time to sit down and make sure that you are not needlessly making life more difficult for yourself than it need be. Is it always imperative that you be exactly on time? There is always a middle way, Petal. Telling them you will be at the venue between 7-7.30 gives you 30 minutes leeway, and you can always fib and tell your girlfriend you are expected to be there at 6.30.

Dear Hillary,
I never thought I would have to write to someone like you, but I’m here from the UK to look after my old father (he’s almost 80) and is, I thought, living on his own in Thailand. When I spoke to him from England I got the impression that he was still pining for my late mother who died just over 12 months ago, but when I got here that seems to be nothing like the true situation. I find that he is going to girly bars at night and I have seen them fondling him in a most indiscreet manner. It’s worse than that, because he often brings one of them home. What can he possibly do at his age? Do you agree that a man of his age (and a retired civil engineer too) should not be handling himself in this way? I find it disgusting, and my mother would be horrified if she knew just what depravity he is up to now she has passed on. I would like your advice on how I get him to stop this sort of thing, as I am sure you will be just as disgusted at this type of behavior being shown by someone who used to be a loving husband to my late mother and father to me. My mother used to handle him OK until she got sick. Is it a medical problem, do you think?
Dear Antoinette,
No my dear, it is not a medical problem, it is a daughter problem. However, I do not understand your saying that he has been “handling himself in this way” when in the sentence before you give me to believe that he is being more than adequately handled by others! You should be pleased that your 80 year old father is still showing signs of life and share in his enjoyment of it. Life is for living, no matter what age you are. Time for you to lighten up, Petal. If your father is not asking to be looked after in a ‘wifely’ way, you should not presume to do it. If you want to do something for your father in a constructive fashion get him a medical check up and a packet of Vitamin V if he is medically fit enough, though it sounds like he is more than up to it already.

Dear Hillary,
I am a larger sized lady, but I am happy with myself and my shape. I have been “overweight”, or what I would describe as “cuddly” for the last fifteen years and this has defied all attempts at dieting, so I have now given up and just enjoy myself. This does lead to some problems though when getting items for my wardrobe. In the western countries the ladies apparel shops do cater to the larger sizes but this does not seem to be the case here. Do you know of any shops here that would keep dresses of size 18 and over? The “one size fits all” is a little optimistic I have found.
Dear Cuddles,
Hillary is happy for you that you are happy with your size and shape, as so many of us are not. However, the local shops will obviously stock clothes for the majority of their customers - they are Thai and come in sizes 6-10. But do not despair, help is at hand, called tailor shops! Most of the tailor shops in Thailand also cater for women customers. If you have a favorite dress you can get it copied, or if you have a photograph of a dress that you like, you can get it made.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

As the Boy Scouts say - Be Prepared

One of the more lucrative areas of photography is industrial espionage. This is one form of photography that does not need you to come home with the ‘ultimate’ image. All it needs is a recognizable image.
There is a small army of photographers out there who dedicate their lives (and expertise) to industrial espionage, and the motor industry and motoring magazines pay good money for ‘scoops’. I have had my lucky day too. I spotted a totally unfamiliar looking car. Slowing down to allow the car to go by it was noticed that it had no name badges or stickers and was being closely followed by another vehicle full of monitoring equipment. Smelling that we were on to something, we gave chase.
And a chase it was. Let me assure you that these guys when they are testing vehicles “under cover” do not want photographers along for the ride. We pursued them for around 50 kilometres till eventually we ran them into a dead end street, where we blocked them off and approached with camera in hand. Out sprang all the Japanese occupants, “No photo. No Photo,” was their cry. “Sorry takee plentee photo” was my reply.
I shot off a complete roll and quickly had them processed and faxed one picture to a magazine editor in the capital. He immediately arranged for courier service (this was before the days of digital cameras, electronic scanners and the such) to pick them up and the photographs ended up on the front cover of Japan Auto, as well as being published in the US, Australia and the UK. We had discovered a new diesel powered car on test that was scheduled for release in two years time. That 50 km chase and one roll of film was time and money spent wisely. The end result was several hundred dollars in my bank account.
So how can you be ready to score your scoop and get your hands on some ready cash? Well the first thing you have to do is keep your eyes and ears open. If you know an event is going to take place, you are several jumps ahead of all the photographers who do not know about it, aren’t you? There is a second thing you must be diligent about. You must have the camera ready to go. In other words, it has a fully charged battery in it, space available in the memory card, and is ready to take pictures. You cannot ask the man about to bungee jump off the bridge if he’ll wait till you nick into the shop and get a new battery first. In this business, opportunity only knocks once, and most times, damn quietly too.
As part of this being ready concept, I recommend that you screw a wide angle lens on your waiting camera too. In my case it was a 24 mm f 2.8 “fast” lens. Why? Because the wide angle lens gives you a much greater depth of field (than when using a longer lens), and you are much more likely to get the subject in focus than you are otherwise - particularly if you are doing a “grab” shot on the run. The other aspect in using the wide angle is that when you rush in close you end up getting a much more dramatic shot than otherwise (another old newspaper photographer trick). But you do have to rush in close!
The final part of the being ready bit is to make sure your camera is well protected while you tote it around with you while waiting for the shot of a lifetime to bob up in front of you. Use a very sturdy, thickly padded camera bag. A good one will cost 1,500 baht - but it will be worth it. It protects against knocks and the heat, though it is still advisable to keep the camera bag in the coolest part of the car, and out of the direct sun’s rays.

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Inflation protected bonds and equities, part 2

Last week we looked at the trauma that the US and the UK are suffering. This can be countered by good alpha management where there are still some great deals to be found. However, for those of a slightly more conservative bent, it may pay to look further afield. I would recommend that you look at Australia. Just look at the real yield differentials between the US and Australia. Then calculate what that may mean for absolute return investors.
The tables and charts shown here compare the yields on inflation linked bonds between the US and AU. The downward trend in US TIPS yields versus AU is interesting. Does this mean that Australian inflation will be much better than the US? Alternatively, if US inflation is about to kick in, what does that mean for further Fed interest rate cuts (increases) and therefore equity prices and the US Dollar?
If one looks at the fundamentals, it can be said that the Australian government is in reasonable credit. Mainly, this is due to natural resources, continuing migration from all four corners of the globe - especially Asia and good government expenditure. If there are worries about inflation and a global financial catastrophe then Australian ILB’s should be scrutinised. However, if you believe that Australian inflation may be controlled by the pre-emptive interest rate rises, then it may be of benefit to look at short end Australian government bonds. Since everybody seems to be talking about inflation (and rightly so, look at the price change of cheese, milk, bread these last 12 months) it could be argued that inflation expectations are priced in.
As stated above, it is highly likely that the US stock markets will suffer a lot more. This will be done by either slower growth or higher interest rates or a combination of the two. Nonetheless, as I have already said, there is the possibility to make profits as it is a trading market for those that can actively manage a portfolio. Even though the bear market rallies will get weaker and shorter there is still the potential for an upside. This is because of possible government intervention; however, it is still expected that these are also likely to fail in the end.
Many equity managers are upbeat about 2008. They have to be, it is their job. However, you should not be taken in by current prices and valuations. There is no way that anyone can describe the present situation as having a bargain basement. Just as an example, the dividend yields on Australian banks could be regarded as high but they may be about to cut their dividends so how can this be? The price to book for CBA.AU in 1991 was around about 1. It is now 2. With the risk of sounding like a broken record, I must re-state that multi-asset active management is the only way to go unless you go with someone like Man Australia and use one of their capital (principal) guaranteed funds like Eclipse. For those of you who may not have heard of this then Man OM-IP 3Eclipse is the 31st OM-IP fund to be sponsored by Man Investments Australia. It combines two complementary investment approaches, the AHL Diversified Program and the RMF Portfolio, and seeks to provide investors with the following benefits:
Performance - Aims to generate medium term capital growth in both rising and falling markets.
Security - Provides the security of a Capital Guarantee and a Rising Guarantee from Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
Diversification - Low correlation with the performance of investments in stocks, property and bonds.
Man OM-IP 3Eclipse is the third in the series of Eclipse funds, which have raised in excess of A$250 million. The first OM-IP Eclipse fund has been trading for a short period of time, commencing in August 2006, and has provided investors with a compound annual return of 16.7% since inception. Please remember though that past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. The really exciting thing about this is that it only cost AUD5,000 to invest. So for those people who have not tried this type of investment before then it is not going to break the bank to have a go.

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]

Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
Get Smart:
US Action/Comedy Steve Carell as Secret Agent Maxwell Smart, in a movie based on the very popular 60’s US television series created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry and starring Don Adams, which made fun of spies in the cold war, and secret spy gadgets. Here Smart embarks on a mission to thwart the latest plot for world domination by an evil crime syndicate. Co-starring Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, and Alan Arkin. Mixed or average reviews.
Kung Fu Panda: US Animation/Comedy - Pure fun! I love this 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. Sort of a take-off on the recent Jet Li/Jackie Chan film The Forbidden Kingdom, full of irreverent invention and some dazzling animation. Very assured and accomplished, sharp and funny, with some surprisingly tender moments. Jackie Chan voices the monkey, Angelina Jolie voices the tigress, and Dustin Hoffman voices Shifu. Generally favorable reviews.
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. (No scene after closing credits.)
The Happening: US/India Drama/Sci-Fi - M. Night Shyamalan produces another mysterious film people will either love or hate. Shyamalan is an accomplished director and even if one of his movies does not entirely work, it is sure to be more interesting than your average run-of-the-mill suspense movie. This film is beautifully crafted, with some excellent scenes of tension and spookiness, and I think an outstanding performance by Mark Wahlberg. If you plan on seeing it, I suggest you 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.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian: UK/US Adventure/Family/Fantasy - Further adventures of the four British kids in Narnia. This has been around a long time here in Thailand, as movies go, and it’s still the fourth most popular film here. You will enjoy this sequel if you enjoyed the first film, or if you are interested in Christian allegories (the lion Aslan represents Christ who sacrificed himself to save Narnia at the end of episode one, the White Witch is Satan tempting Edmund, who is Judas, while Peter represents “the Wise Christian”). Or see it if you simply enjoy children’s adventure/fantasy stories. This second episode in the seven book series features bickering between the two rival presumptive kings of Narnia (Peter and Caspian), both of whom fight against streaks of cowardice and uncertainty within their characters. The author of these books is C.S. Lewis, who became a convert to Christianity late in his life, and he is proselytizing for Christianity through these seven Narnia tales. Many people fight over the meaning of this passage or that, others fail to see anything but an imaginative children’s tale. Generally favorable reviews.
The Last Moment / Rak-Sam-Sao: Thai Romance/Drama - A love triangle develops with much weeping between three university friends, one of whom becomes terminally ill. Apparently a five-hanky movie.
Puppy Love / Haakao: Thai Comedy/Romance - With Mum Jokmok and other old and new comedy stars, in a story with a bit of female homosexuality, a talking dog, a lady-boy, and ghosts.
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.
Scheduled for June 26
US Action/Thriller - A young man (James McAvoy) discovers his father is an assassin, and after his father is murdered, the son is recruited into his father’s organization and trained by a man named Sloan (Morgan Freemen) to follow in his dad’s footsteps. Also starring Angelina Jolie. Rated R in the US for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language, and some sexuality. This is the first American film by the somewhat notorious Russian director Timur Bekmambetov, creator of three Nightwatch fantasy/action film series that are highly popular in Europe. Hopefully he will bring his interesting visual aesthetic to the project, for as a visualist, he apparently is provocative and original.

Life in the laugh lane: by Scott Jones

Suck All: A Revolutionary Product

A friend said, “Whenever I see something stupid, I think of you.” I consider that a compliment and am honored that another friend sent me this, a column that pretty much writes itself. As much as I love to explore the subtleties of the English language for beauty or for humor, I love to see it ripped apart and stuck back together in strange and ridiculous ways.

To hot up with water when first use.

We’ve all seen instructions that stretch the language, but this one just doesn’t stop. I remember these little plastic thing-a-ma-gigs, but never has such dramatic marketing ploys been delineated. You can use SuckAll for surrounding yourself with an endless amount of crap and making every room in the house look completely disheveled. I could imagine what the terms “sucking-hanging” or ‘aerocabins” meant, but I had to look up “adiabatic.” Dictionary says: “relating to or denoting a process or condition which heat does not enter or leave the system concerned” which is about as confusing as the rest of these instructions.
Read this aloud to your friends for a good laugh. I promise you I didn’t change one word of the copy on the back of the package. If you need more, check out, especially the “chinglish” section that will make you wonder if China is really ready for the onslaught of the Olympics.
SUCK ALL: Revolutionary Product
1. Made from special quality flexible resins, complete with 42 sucking spots on either side.
2. Sucking effects derived out of vacuum absorption, applicable for hanging on all smooth surfaces.
3. The 42 sucking spots make possible a max, loading up to 1.2 kg.
4. Moisturo-resistant, wear-free, dismountable anytime for positional adjustment anew.
5. No damaging effect to the wall surface, pleasing to the view, free of effects detrimental to the wall as would with the use of steel nail, other sucking means.
DIRECTIONS FOR USE: To hot up with water, when first use. Prior to application, give a light pat or pressing to extrude air from the sucker, so as to build up a vacuum, henceforth a sucking effort whereby objects can be adhered thereto.
1. For use in lavatory and bathroom: toilet soap x 1, tooth brushing cup x 2,
shampoo x 2.
2. For use in kitchen: pan shovel x 1, rice volumetric cup x 1, bowl detergent x 2, insecticidal agent x 2 or x 3.
3. For use on the table: will help to fix the baby tableware, flat-base utensil, plus adiabatic effects, number to be used by option.
4. For use in the office: for the fixing of stationery articles, ashtray, tea cup, gluing bed, pen mount, etc, number to be used by discretion.
5. For use in vehicles, motorcycles or aerocabins: for the sucking-hanging of tear-to-open canned beverage x 2, foil-packed beverage x 1 and for the stabilization of tableware, tea cups, etc.
6. Used sliding cushions in bathroom or bath pool.
1. If preheated with hot water before application to the surface, the sucking strength will increase more than double.
2. Where it is needed to hang very heavy objects, the suckers can be laid levelwise in a line to serve the purpose.
3. If the sucker is distorted, use hot water, soon be in order.

Doc English The Language Doctor: Turning an Anarchic Classroom into an Active Classroom

This week I’d like to respond to a letter from Shelley, a fellow teacher in Chiang Mai, who e-mailed me recently. Her question was: ‘How do I let my students take a more active role in their learning without there being anarchy?!’
Thanks for reading Shelley! In response to your first question, of course there’s nothing wrong with some anarchy in the classroom, as long as there is a little learning going on! However, we do need some structure to our lessons and of course we have a time limit and a curriculum to deliver (otherwise sadly we won’t get paid).
Although we want our students to ‘discover’ as much as they can for themselves and to actively seek information by experimenting, asking questions, using books and other resources, at the end of the day there needs to be clear objectives to the lesson and these objectives need to be met.
I think students need to be introduced to the concept of ‘active learning’ over a period of a few weeks (or even months). It’s best to start with a new class and introduce things gradually by giving them greater choice over the lesson content, materials and more time and resources to find things out for themselves. Students may be used to working independently, for example, and may need to be slowly introduced to working in pairs or groups. If you have inherited a class, you may find that some students may be used to being ‘spoon-fed’ information and answers, or they may be opposed to being taught in a different way. It may take quite a while for students to take responsibility for their own learning, to ask questions, seek new answers, to look for information themselves, to work together on joint tasks and to take risks.
The Rules
of the Game
When I start with a new class I find it’s important to take a fresh look at the Classroom Rules. We don’t want to impose rules on our students, but sometimes rules are necessary in order for the lesson to be productive. However, it is possible to establish rules in a ‘child-centred’ way. Rather than making our own rules, we can encourage our students to brainstorm some rules together and come up with their own classroom rules. Afterwards, they could illustrate these rules and pin these to the wall in big letters. Students can laminate or even frame the rules to emphasise their importance to everyone.
If the students create their own rules, these rules will allow the free flow of ideas. When brainstorming rules, students should consider problems such as ‘How can we stop everyone talking at once?’, ‘How can we get the teachers attention?’, ‘How can we work without distractions?’, or even ‘What is bad behaviour?’ and ‘What can we do about bad behaviour?’ Generally you will find that the new rules and consequences that students come up with will be harsher than anything you could have thought of so you may have to tone them down a bit!
Once you have a set of classroom rules, you have a framework for a student-centred lesson. Students should be far more willing to follow the classroom rules if they themselves have created them and they will be more aware of how rules can benefit their learning. Hopefully these rules will ensure that things don’t descend into anarchy!
If you are teaching your kids at home, you can brainstorm your own ‘classroom rules’ before you start. Agree a time limit for learning, topics, methods, materials (books, etc.). Allow your child to help you come up with rules and their own learning strategy. If it doesn’t work, you can meet and revise your plans.
Anarchy in the UK
Sometimes it’s useful to know some strategies for dealing with bad behaviour, or kids that seem like they ‘simply don’t want to learn’.
I remember a situation when I was trainee teacher in the UK. I walked in to cover a class that had descended into anarchy. Some of the kids were chucking chairs around, others were talking with their backs to me and others (who wanted to learn) were sitting there frustrated with the general situation. With my back to the class, I pretended to ignore them and started to draw a huge diagram of a volcano on the board (it was a Geography lesson). Slowly, the class started to take notice and started asking questions about my diagram. I answered some of their questions; however, I left spaces in the diagram and provided a list of vocabulary at the side, so that the students could work out some of the answers for themselves. Most of the students started to settle down and some of them started to try and draw and label my diagram.
My Strategies
First I kept calm and showed that I was in control of myself (if not the class at this point). Then I encouraged the children to notice the new information and encouraged them to ask questions. Finally, I showed interest in their opinions and provided a fun way for them to learn and discover the answers for themselves. I also gave choices; students could choose what they wanted to put in the boxes and even whether or not to learn. In my experience, given the choice, students prefer to learn and join an activity rather than do nothing at all!
Some simple rules for you to follow yourself when teaching young children:
* Try not to get angry; smile and show that you are in control.
* Criticise bad behaviour, but not the child. Don’t feel tempted to humiliate the child in front of the class, put them down or make negative or personal comments. Highlight and commend examples of good behaviour.
* Know your students, their names and their background. For example, if any students have recently moved to the area, if they are likely to be encountering any problems at home. Find tasks and activities that you know your students will enjoy. Learn a little of their native language if you can
* Agree the objectives of the lesson and the rules of any activity clearly before you start.
Good classroom management is essential. Here knowing the students names, who their friends are and their family background helps a lot. Students who don’t pay attention can be moved to the front, students who interrupt to the back. Chatty students can be moved next to quiet students. If you want to do this in a child centred way, discuss your choices before you move with the whole class, let the whole class decide the best seating arrangement. They should be able to work out the best arrangement to maximize their learning.
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: docenglishpattaya Enjoy spending time with your kids.

Welcome to Chiang Mai: Does the strategy for encouraging visitors to Chiang Mai need re-examining?

The hot news on Friday 13, unfortunately too late to be allowed to be included in last week’s issue of this paper was, of course, the visit to Chiang Mai of the Thai Prime Minister, who was attending a conference on tourism, (or, rather, the lack of it), in the northern provinces. Already in last week’s issue, by pure coincidence, were comments by two of our regular columnists concerning the dire situation of the tourist industry here in CM and its knock-on effect on the local economy. This columnist wondered at the time what the Thai for “recession” is, as this amazing and much-loved city is most certainly in one!
Media reports suggest that PM Samak had a perfectly lovely time wandering around Wararot market, (as do we all!); it would have been interesting to have also been given some details of any questions he may have been asked by stallholders in the huge, largely agricultural and clothing market, and of any replies he may have given. The present dearth of tourists even affects revenues in local markets as visitors find such venues fascinating and irresistible.
Pattaya, and, increasingly, Phuket, have a certain image which appeals to a certain type of tourist; the image of Chiang Mai, defined not only by the lack of a beach but also by its history and its diverse communities, is completely different, indicating that a “one size fits all” approach to increasing tourism revenues may well not be successful, particularly as up-market tourists tend to stay in up-market resorts, using the facilities provided, and rarely benefiting the local economy as practiced at street-level.
Shortly after the military coup, it was noted by the new government that the thrust of its attempts to boost tourism would be aimed at the wealthier visitor - I seem to remember the phrase “quality tourism” being quoted at the time in various media sources. At exactly the same time, it was obvious to residents in CM that numbers of tourists, quality or otherwise, had already begun to give Thailand a miss simply because of the military coup itself, a trend which accelerated with the increasing strength of the baht against certain Western currencies.
In spite of these indications, however, international hotel chains seemingly anxious to comply with the government’s concept of the expected new dawn of up-market tourism, competed to have their mega-edifices completed before those of their rivals, whilst fascinated residents viewed the goings-on with knowing smiles on their faces. Result - right now - 20% occupancy across the board following a disastrous Songkran season! Of course, as the “cake” gets smaller and more widely spread, some small benefit is gained by foreign residents, (in spite of the exchange rate), as a result of the ever-increasing hotel restaurant special offers and promotions.
No doubt all the tourist supremos, local and otherwise, who attended the conference chaired by the PM are aware of the above, and are fully engaged in searching for the magic bullet which will rekindle potential visitors’ enthusiasm for Chiang Mai and the northern areas. Foreign tourists produce the highest percentage of revenues; 2007 totals across the Kingdom are 928 billion baht, with 380 billion generated from foreign tourists, who comprised only 14% of total numbers, yet contributed 40% of total revenues, according to the Thai Tourism and Sports Minister, who also mentioned at the conference that his ministry’s government - allocated operating budget is the fourth lowest, and that he is hoping to target new segments of the potential tourist market in the current year. Could it be possible that the “quality tourism” favoured by the previous government has failed to come up with the expected financial goods and that the wider approach of former years is back in fashion?
A sector of the market particularly relevant to Chiang Mai is one which the Minister may not have considered - the number of regular foreign visitors whose purpose is to familiarise themselves with the city in which they plan to make their homes in the not-too-distant future. A quick check in the English-speaking expat community here revealed that the average number of visits before actual arrival was between 5 and 8, usually undertaken within a fairly short period of time after the initial decision to relocate had been made. Thai Air was the favoured airline; the larger inner-city hotels were the favoured destination. Interestingly, the question, “why Chiang Mai?” was often answered with “because its not other places, (no names, no pack drill!)”. So, tourists who find CM an attractive destination often become, at some stage, permanent residents, bringing with them their pensions and funds, buying or renting properties, and encouraging friends and relatives, (who may, in their turn, grow to love the city and wish to become residents), to visit on a regular basis. Even if such do not stay in hotels, they visit restaurants and tourist attractions, and spend money around the city.
Examine a resident’s “take” on Chiang Mai, and a better understanding may be gained about the preferences and requirements of the majority of potential visitors both to the city and the northern areas. Better yet, find out what potential visitors do not find attractive, and concentrate on providing the opposite. Stress, for example, the fascinating, historically based ethnic mix of the northern peoples and direct informed tourists to the ancient sites - don’t just steer them in the direction of certain specially constructed and controversial “tourist villages” based on unusual traditions and expect them to buy factory-made souvenirs! Stress the flora, fauna, mountains and exceptional natural beauty of the area, including the projects sponsored by the various members of the highly-esteemed and much loved Thai Royal Family; and the recent efforts by many local groups, (including the involvement of the city’s Mayor), to improve and protect the environment.
Many international inland cities stress their cultural aspects - Chiang Mai, apart from the beauty and historical significance of the old city, has recently begun to develop a vibrant cultural presence, with many talented groups such as ArtSpace on 7 providing regular events ranging from art through music of all types. Night life in the city is NOT confined to the increasingly “touristy” and hardly worth visiting night market and the girly bars - areas such as JJ Markets, the newly popular late-night venue, together with the established areas on and off Nimmanheiminda Road, give a great choice of different venues to suit all tastes and pockets. Put all these different aspects together - include great-value shopping - and stress that even a week is not long enough to enjoy all that the city and its environs have to offer!
At the conference, the Prime Minister announced that “vigorous promotion”, “aggressive investment” and “development steps” will be undertaken during the next several years to promote Chiang Mai and the northern area as an international tourist destination. What that means in reality remains to be seen; it is hoped, however, that transport infrastructure is given priority. The prospect of changing planes in Bangkok following an international long-haul flight may well be a disincentive to visitors, particularly those with younger families. Another disincentive is the infamous “dual pricing” policy across the board in all tourist areas. A family of 5 visiting a local tourist attraction may expect to be charged around 1,500 baht - the same Thai family will pay around 500 baht - the two families’ actual standard of living country to country may well be the same! There would seem to be a perception justifying this practice that all Westerners are wealthy - we wish! This, as the last straw on top of the camel’s back of airline fuel surcharges, (increasing by the month at present), combined with increases in the cost of living world wide and a less-than favourable exchange rate, could well persuade the “tourist dollar” to go elsewhere.
The conference also stated that “the tourism sector will also be made more competitive, with private businesses and tour operators being encouraged to boost their product standards and service”. As far as I remember, having been a successful small business owner in the West for nearly 30 years, (encompassing one recession and several “difficult” periods), attempting to boost my “product standards” when my clients were cutting back heavily on their spending, my expenses were spiralling and my profits were decreasing just might have posed problems; of course, continually improving my standards of service, (which fortunately didn’t involve increased costs), was always a given!
One, (hopefully!), light-hearted moment did seem to occur during the conference, however, when a spokesperson from Lamphun, quite correctly, stressed the wonders of the Haripunjaya temples, sculptures and artefacts on display in that not-too-distant city. He also added that “it would also be possible to arrange tours to the city’s industrial estates”. Just imagine the conversation, “Just look at that magnificent 12th century brick stupa, Fred!” “Not now, Elsie, we have to go or we’ll miss that must-see tour of the industrial estate”. Hmmmm.


Stuart Rodger - The Englishman’s Garden, Chiang Dao

What Is An Orchid?

Most plants have powdery pollen which dusts the fur of mammals or insects and the feathers of birds in order to transfer the male genetic material to other distant flowers of a differing type of the same specie. Occasionally, the pollen will actually work on an entirely different specie in the same genera. The more primitive the plant, and the longer its specie has been in existence, the more basic will be its genetic footprint and the easier it will be for this to occur.
Orchids are in this “very primitive” category and will sometimes ever cross with a different genera in the Orchidaceae family, with even bi-and triple generic crosses not unknown. For example, Cattleya crossed with Laelia becomes Laeliocattleya; Laeliocattleya crossed with Brassia becomes Brassiolaeliocattleya, and so on! As a result, there are many outstanding varieties, accepted and recorded as worthy garden plants, which have very complex parentage. The number of recorded hybrids increases every year and will one day exceed the number of original species, at present over 30,000. This ability to create new flowers that never existed before has excited mankind since the great plant-hunters began to send plants back to Europe from different corners of the world. Those plants would never have come within range of one another without human intervention.
To return to pollen in powder form - trees and grasses simply release huge quantities into the air to drift in the wind and transfer to distant members of the same specie - as every hay-fever sufferer knows to his/her aggravation and discomfort!
Many plants here in Thailand which produce flowers during the rainy season protect their pollen so that it remains dry and easily transferable down long downward-facing tubes. Thunbergia, for example, uses this method, whilst Desmodium utilises protective bracts which act as umbrellas.
No such devices are necessary for orchids, however, although many lurk in shady places which are often constantly wet and misty. How, then, do they manage? Orchids are unique in that they have pollen that cannot be adversely affected by water as it comes in the form of glue, which sticks to the courier! This glue is always present in the orchid flower in the form of two sticky balls, hence the origin of the plant’s name, taken from the Greek word “orchis” - “testicle”. So, yes, one could say that these flowers really do have balls!

Tip of the week
You can experiment easily with orchids by simply transferring the sticky balls to the stigma of another plant in your collection - if a seed pod develops, (which may take up to a year to mature), you will have a new variety!

An American Redneck in Chiang Mai

Retired Redneck Recommends Care for Cats!

Michael LaRocca
As we all know, Chiang Mai has several good organizations to help with the problem of stray dogs. But to the best of my knowledge, it’s never had one for the stray cats. Until now. There’s a guy at Wat Pa Pao. He’s not a monk. He’s Khun Dee. He loves cats. He has at least 15 of them - all strays and street cats. He’s been working hard to feed them. And, for I don’t know how long, that’s been pretty much the whole story.
Until now…
Word spread of his efforts, and donations have recently begun pouring in. Many kilograms of food. A mind-boggling quantity of Frontline for their fleas. Tick medicine. Catnip, if you can believe it, because cats need to play and goof off sometimes too. Noisy toys and bamboo mats that smell lovely. Soft surfaces to sleep on. Strange farangs wandering in any time of the morning or afternoon to cuddle the kitties. But here’s the biggie.Vaccinations and spaying/neutering. Let the redneck repeat that. Spaying/neutering.
The first time I visited Wat Pa Pao, Khun Dee introduced me to all 15 cats by name and history, including the one who was pregnant. Yeah, spaying/neutering.
Ally, formerly with Care for Dogs, spoke at a Chiang Mai Expats Club meeting a good while back. I don’t have her charisma - who does? - but I can repeat this bit. Towns have actually tried to control the problem of stray dogs with capture and kill programs. I was appalled to learn of this. But in such towns, a few months later, the stray dog population always returns to previous levels. Other dogs move into town. But when towns choose capture and spay/neuter, the problem is solved. They can hang out and do doggie stuff without multiplying, and I as a bicyclist have a loud horn to deal with them safely. And I love doggies.
So here comes the reason I’m coming out of retirement to write one last column. Cats. I love them too.
If you hop onto Maneeopparat Road, which leads along the north side of the moat going west to east, (outside the moat as opposed to inside), you will see a sign saying “Wat Pa Pao” shortly before that road ends, but only if you look for it. It’s probably easier to find on my bicycle, or on foot, than in a motor vehicle. But it’s certainly worth the effort regardless of how you travel.
Drop by to donate food, medicine, cuddles, toys, soft sleeping surfaces, or whatever. Or heck, home a kitten or two. They have new babies, old adults, and everything in between. All healthy beauties. Go in through the gate, turn left as soon as you can, slip to the back of the wat, and say hi to some cats. They’ll be sleeping on the stairs and in the building, same as always. They love people, and I presume you are a people, so all will be well.
The spaying/neutering campaign, to be real blunt, needs money. They’d love to do more than just those 15 cats at the wat, or even the others in the same neighborhood. I’d love to see them spay/neuter every single cat in Chiang Mai. But baht are required.
If you pass Wat Pa Pao and hang a right, you’ll soon find yourself at the intersection that leads to Tuskers. Or if you go a wee bit farther, you can find a branch of Gecko Bookstore. Both are accepting donations for these cats. And come to think of it, writing to me also works. or [email protected]
I think we can all learn from cats, by the way. And if you’ve read all the way to the end of this column, I know you agree. Meow.