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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

Doc English The Language Doctor

Welcome to Chiang Mai

HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Timely diagnosis of cancer

I was watching the news on TV the other night and on came a report that claimed that if you lived in Taiwan you had a better chance of cancer survival than if you lived in the UK. This was put down to the fact that your cancer diagnosis was done more quickly in Taiwan than it was in the UK.
If my mother’s experience of the UK National Health System is anything to go by, you will be lucky to live long enough for the diagnosis to be made, by the time you get your specialist’s appointment and wait for the test results and then see the specialist again. But, I suppose, if nothing else, it does help cut down the waiting lists!
However, there is a message for us all in this. Timely cancer diagnosis does improve your chances of survival. This is not really rocket science or some new breakthrough. If you leave battery acid on your shirt long enough, it will eat a hole in the fabric. If you leave cancer cells in your body long enough, they can eat so many good cells your life and living is compromised.
Unfortunately, the diagnosis of cancer is generally not made (or the diagnostic procedure even started) until the cancer produces some abnormal symptoms. Those abnormal symptoms are also not made by the cancer itself, but by the organs that have been attacked, or by the sheer physical size of the cancer causing physical problems. Cancer of the lung is a good example of the first case, and cancer of the bowel is often an example of the second type.
We are actually very lucky in Thailand, as there are several centers of excellence in the capital and in the provinces.
Now when I say “centers of excellence” I am referring to the speed of diagnosis that is possible, not the treatments that are available. There are many factors that can influence that speed (the following table has been extracted from Jiwa et al, BMC Family Practice 2007 8:27):
1. Need to travel to clinics in the capital may have financial and logistical implications for the patient and therefore lead to procrastination.
2. Health professional, different gender of GP may deter some patients from presenting with embarrassing symptoms that require intimate examination for diagnosis.
3. Equivocal tests necessitate repeat visits to clinic.
4. Lack of coordination for individual patients’ needs may result in inconvenient scheduling of appointments.
5. Limited scope to obtain second opinions.
6. Access to specialists limited by distance from capital.
As you can see from the table, we are very lucky in Thailand, as the centers of excellence can easily cover the six factors. What is also not expressed in the six point table is the speed of test result returns. Where we enjoy a 45 minute turnaround for blood tests, patients in the UK receive their results in days, not minutes. Similarly, appointments for CT scans and MRI’s are usually ‘same day’ with results usually the same.
So, timely diagnosis is very possible in this country, but unfortunately there are still instances of late diagnosis, but in the majority of cases this has occurred through ignoring the symptoms or ignorance of the importance of the symptoms. The simple advice is to never ignore any deviation from ‘normal’ in your body - after all, you know your body better than anyone else.
There is also a somewhat mistaken idea that your annual check-up will uncover hidden or early cancers, so you don’t have to do anything until next year. Certainly there are some cancers that are detected in this way, but whilst the annual check-up can discover many endocrine problems, blood problems and cardiac abnormalities, it is not going to uncover cancer in the brain, bones or skin, unless they are very advanced.
Timely diagnosis does come back to your ability to inform your doctor of changes. Do not feel embarrassed that it “might be nothing”. Let me assure you that all doctors enjoy informing people that they have not got a problem after diagnostic testing, rather than the other way round!

 

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
You might think this is a stupid complaint, but it is driving me mad. My girlfriend and I have been together for 10 years, she is totally trustworthy, she runs the finances and we have no money problems. Like everyone these days we use ATM cards to get the money out of the bank (is there anyone who uses passbooks any longer?) but this is where the problem is. At least twice a year I get a frantic call to say she is somewhere and can’t pay the bill because she can’t find her ATM card. OK, so it’s only twice a year, but it means I have to leave the office and meet her at the bank to apply for another new card, and that takes more than a couple of minutes, and my passport and photocopies and all the usual razzamatazz. I don’t know if she leaves the card in the ATM machine or drops it somewhere, but we’ve never had one returned. I have told her to be careful with it, but the message hasn’t got through. What can I do? Any suggestions?
Andy ATM
Dear Andy ATM,
I can understand the frustration, my Petal, but I haven’t got much experience with ATMs I’m afraid. None of the banks seem to have one that gives out anything less than 20 baht, so the card isn’t much use to me! You say that you have asked her to be more careful in the past but that hasn’t worked, so telling her again is not going to do much good, other than make her angry and you even more frustrated. What about asking for two ATM cards, one you carry and one that she carries? That way she will always have access to the account (as long as you don’t lose yours)!

Dear Hillary,
One of my best mates has broken up with his Thai girlfriend. They had been together for just a few months. She says she wants to move in with me, but I’m going a bit slow on it because I don’t want to hurt my mate (we go on the town together every Friday night) and I’m just not sure about her. Mate says she’s a gold digger and says he tossed her out because of it. She says she left him because he was stingy, but more than that she wanted to be with me. I’m really confused by all this. Which one should I believe? Will it be too risky to let her move in?
Gary’s Mate
Dear Gary’s Mate,
What sort of “mate” are you, Petal? You describe the guy as one of your “best mates” who you go drinking with once a week, but you don’t trust him enough to believe him when he speaks of the ex-flame. Does he pay for all the drinks every Friday, or do you trust each other to split it down the middle? I am also a little upset at your attitude as regards your mate’s ex-girlfriend. “Will it be too risky to let her move in?” you ask, almost like “Should I buy a new fridge, or settle for a dishwasher?” This is a living, breathing, feeling woman that you are discussing like a piece of furniture. By the same token, she is obviously not one to settle down with any one male, and appears to be playing the field for what she can get out of the relationship. I believe that neither one of you is ready emotionally or mature enough to get involved in this type of relationship. Go into it and you will lose your “best mate”, as well as your money. Far too risky for you, Petal. Stick with one night stands until you are a little older (and wiser).

Dear Hillary,
My girlfriend and I live in an apartment in town. We have a good relationship except for the fact she keeps losing the keys and mobile phone. This is very annoying, how can I stop her doing this?
Annoyed
Dear Annoyed
Have you ever considered the fact that your girlfriend is losing keys and telephones as a subconscious way of expressing her lack of satisfaction with the relationship or simply as a device to annoy you? It is very difficult, if not impossible to change someone else’s behavior, unless you change your own behavior first. I suggest you change the way you respond to her. One quick fix is to either don’t let her see that it annoys you or simply don’t speak to her for days every time she loses things. The best way though is to “Give her the monkey and let her feed it.” This is a Thai expression for allowing her to take the consequence of her own actions. Do not let her have or use your mobile phone ever, keep a spare set of keys for you, but never unlock the apartment for her, and never give her another set after she has lost one. If this is too tedious, maybe losing this girlfriend would be less frustrating. However, it could be worse. It could be ATM cards like Andy ATM’s girlfriend, Petal!


Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Filter Fun

The first thing I did when I unpacked my new camera was to check the size of the lens diameter. It was a 55 mm. The second thing I did was to rake through my collection of stepping rings to screw on to the end of the lens to bring the diameter up to 62 mm. Why? Many reasons.
The first and probably the most obvious reason was to make the new camera lens compatible with my box of photographic filters I have accumulated over the years. The vast majority of these are 62 mm, which is a good size as it is larger than most 35 mm camera lenses, so will not produce a vignetting effect if you stack a few of them together, such as a polarizer and a +1 magnifier. That is important.
So do you really need a box of filters like me? Not if you are only going to photograph food, but just about everything else can be improved by using filters.
The first one to have is called simply a Skylight 1A. This filter does make the sky a little deeper, but the main reason to have it is as a sacrificial piece of glass, so that your good, expensive lens does not get scratched. Skylight 1A’s are very cheap.
One of the nicest filter effects is what is called “center spot soft focus”. Now this just means the center is in focus and the edges are nicely soft and blurred. This effect is used by portrait and wedding photographers all over the world to produce that wonderful “romantic” photograph.
Now to use this filter. If you have an SLR (single lens reflex) camera or a digital, you actually look through the lens when you are focussing and what you see is what you get (the WYSIWYG principle, mentioned many times in this column). Set your lens on the largest aperture you can (around f5.6 or f4 is fine). Focus on your subject, keeping the face in the center of the screen. Now bring up your magic soft focus filter and place it over the lens and what do you see? The face is in focus and the edges are all blurred! Try some different f stops as well (it makes the center spot larger or smaller) and record the details in your trusty notebook!
You can also use these filters with any compact point and shoot camera, but it is a little more hit and miss. The reason being there’s no WYSIWYG with compacts. What you have to do is position the center of the filter over the lens and, while keeping it there, bring the camera up to your eye, compose the shot and then shoot. Takes some fiddling and manual dexterity and take a few shots as you are really flying blind.
The next one is the polarizer. I have mentioned polarizers recently, but the difference between polarized sunlit shots and unpolarized is incredible. The depth of color when you polarize is fantastic. As you rotate the polarizing filter, the reflections on any shiny surface, be that grass, trees, water or whatever, just disappear, leaving the undiluted bold color.
Soft romantic effects can be produced in many ways, and here are a few tried and true methods, and the first is super inexpensive as well. Just gently breathe on the Skylight 1A filter just before you take the shot. Your warm breath will impart a “mist” to produce a wonderfully misty portrait, or that early morning mist look for landscapes. Remember that the “misting” only lasts a few seconds, so make sure you have the camera pre-focussed and ready to shoot. If you have control over the aperture, try around f4 as well.
Another interesting result is by smearing Vaseline on the same Skylight 1A and seeing the different effects you get. Do not smear the Vaseline on the end of your lens. It is impossible to get off without washing in hot soapy water, something you can do with a filter, but not with your lens.
There are many more filters, colored effects, graduated effects, star cross and more. Photography should be fun. Try a filter or two this weekend.


Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

All you need to know about Hedge Funds - part 2

So, how do Hedge Funds (HF) vary from other kinds of funds? Well, the more traditional fund managers usually operate long only funds. They buy cash, bonds or shares and can only make a profit if what they have bought goes up in value. The vast majority of these people are tied into tracking the performance of a benchmark immaterial of whether it is rising or falling.
HF managers do not have such a handicap as they can go long and short. We saw last week how a ‘short’ works. Where the ‘hedge’ comes into play is down to the manager. He or she will buy undervalued shares and sell short overvalued ones. This combination will, hopefully, protect the total portfolio from any big market moves.
There is a massive variety of investment styles and strategies within the HF industry. It is commonly accepted that there are five main kinds of HF styles. These are:
1. Equity Hedge - This attempts to profit by going long/short in publicly traded equities which are thought to be, respectively, under and over valued. Most of them will have a variable hedge usually tending to a long bias. However, in times like this many managers will go for a market neutral position or high hedge ratio. Gains are best over the longer term.
2. Event Driven - This type of fund will buy and short shares of companies that are going through times of change, e.g. selling parts of the business, new products, capital changes, taking over other organizations, etc. This will also involve distressed securities and merger arbitrage. The former will usually do well in times of poor growth and the latter when things start to improve.
3. Global Macro - This will try and take advantage of any changes in macro-economic trends. Strategy and tactics are applied on a multi-asset basis and gains hope to be made on how macro-economic decisions affect the markets. Returns are usually best when following a trend, whether that is up or down.
4. Managed Futures - This involves trading derivatives and futures in financial and commodity markets. Many managers will use either a long term trend or short term active trading using historical data for forecast future prices. More volatility here than the others but good profit to be had when following either upward or downward trends.
5. Relative Value - This applies arbitrage to benefit from any price discrepancies between like minded stocks and shares. By going long in undervalued companies and short in overvalued ones, these funds make profits that come from the changes in price relationships between the aforementioned like minded shares. Usual Relative Value investing revolves around different types of arbitrage as well as an equity market neutral stance. Performs well in most weathers achieving low double digit gains with a low level of volatility.
Just to confuse things, we now get Funds of Hedge Funds (FoHF) as well. These combine to make up a more diversified portfolio which returns profits on a more consistent basis whilst aiming to reduce volatility. Depending on what the end-user wants, a FoHF can be made up to suit any kind of requirement that gives capital/principal guarantees, profit lock-ins or just pay out dividends. Without doubt, a good FoHF should perform at least as well as equities but at a much lower volatility ratio. It also offers access to funds that may be unavailable to investors in their original form.
Basically, FoHFs should be able to offer: Good risk-adjusted returns, better choice of fund managers, portfolio built to specific needs, proficient use of capital, less volatility, third party due diligence and good administration.
What really sets hedge funds apart from their counterparts is they aim for absolute returns and are not hindered by benchmarks thus allowing them to make profits even when markets are falling. This is achieved by the skill of the fund manager rather than just relying on gains achieved in a rising market. As seen above, this is managed by being able to be flexible in rising AND falling markets. The fact that a hedge fund manager does not have to be loyal to any asset sector also helps with the overall absolute returns.
Whilst there are now literally thousands of hedge funds, most of those with a proven track record are managed by those who have previous experience in investment banking or traditional investments. On top of this they are also well incentivised by performance related bonuses. Put another way, if you don’t do well then neither do they.
Now the industry that Jones pioneered is even bigger, with around 10,000 funds managing USD1.74 trillions of assets by the middle of last year. Despite all this, Merrill Lynch reckons that all of this only accounts for 1.6% of global assets. You should have a small percentage of hedge funds in your portfolio as well.

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

Don, George, Matt, Brad and Co. maintain Hollywood’s “liberal tradition”…

Tinsel Town, a.k.a. Hollywood, has a checkered career in terms of ‘liberalism’ - hardly enlightened in terms of its social attitudes. The 1930s inevitably saw some progress as both features, (e.g. I am a Fugitive from the Chain Gang), and the documentary movement, (the films of Pare Lorentz), reflected social concerns, mainly domestic. New ground was broken too, after the war, when movies moved on to streets, (Naked City), but all this screeched to a halt when HUAC - the fanatical, fascist anti-Communist House UnAmerican Committee - started to investigate, pillory and imprison the so-called left. Hundreds of careers were ruined, some progressive actors like John Garfield were hounded to death and it took years before matters improved in the 1960s and beyond. Admirable actors such as Paul Newman, Gregory Peck and director Robert Rossen were front runners in a movement that has escalated in recent times as the U.S.A. reels under the worst administration in its short history. The elite of the movie business have an increasingly outspoken attitude towards world and American politics.
These ramblings were prompted by a full page advertisement I saw a week or so ago in The Nation, and which possibly appeared elsewhere, under the banner of the Not on Our Watch group, (www. notonourwatchproject.org). Its board members are Don Cheadle, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, David Pressman and Jerry Weintraub. The advert was headed Burma’s Broken Promises and offered a sober comment on the continued abuse of power by the Junta and their wickedly murderous response to Cyclone Nargis. The appeal it makes is directed at ‘Burma’s Neighbours,’ as they are the countries who have the power and ‘right’ to affect the policy of Gen. Than Shwe and his cohorts. It is interesting to see a group of high profile actors and producers and their distinguished co-signatories, showing an interest from the West towards a human rights problem in the East and realizing that it is only neighbors such as Thailand which can truly influence the, (inevitable), outcome.
Their request was simple: that Burma honor the pledges made to the U.N. and ‘allow full access of international agencies, emergency food, medicine and life saving supplies’. Nothing revolutionary there. Nor in their appeal for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from the house arrest she has endured for 12 out of the past 18 years. What an odd situation? A group of seemingly all-powerful, if ageing and morally bankrupt, men who are afraid of a slight, peaceful woman. Perhaps after all they can see the writing on the wall, despite their arrogant, cruel and dim-eyed view from their remote palaces. But like the leaders of old in apartheid-torn South Africa they simply refuse to acknowledge the inevitable.
Until, of course it will be too late, and as in South Africa or other dictatorships - as far flung as Chile or Romania- they will be overthrown. One day soon perhaps, in Zimbabwe or in Burma, the pressure will be too great. These Hollywood stars are the glamorous tip of an ice-berg which will eventually scupper the disintegrating hulks that muddy civilized waters. Perhaps my optimism is mis-founded - and it will be until the ASEAN and African countries fully confront the situation in two of the world’s bleakest territories.
There was another advert the same week, but in the Bangkok Post, which was also intriguing. It was an 8-page center spread for Singapore Airlines extolling the luxurious aspects of their new super-size craft. This is an airline which has received countless accolades but I could not help thinking that this must rank as one of the most ill-timed publicity campaigns ever mounted. Its appeal was exclusively to the wealthy travelers who occupy the upper class sections of the ‘plane, with just a passing reference to the spacious seats in the economy section.
Most of the art work and commentary concentrated on the private cabins which were reminiscent of railway compartments, with generous seating and full sized beds. The space allocation per person seemed the equivalent of half a dozen club class seats. It flies, (sorry!), in the face of all we are hearing today in terms of a downturn in the economy and the imminence of global warming. Even George Bush, the last of the ‘big’ thinkers, has come round to acknowledging that the future of human-kind is at best precarious. Still, he takes 300 aides and security people with him to each and every different country he visits, so the thought of a large - size cabin might seem modest to him and Singapore Airlines the only way to fly.
Mentioning flights, I have just come back from a short one myself - from Udon Thani - a visit occasioned by the funeral of my partner’s mother. The flight was on a propeller craft operated by Nok Air, who are seemingly in financial trouble and face closure. Both flights left and arrived on time, the return was full and the one from Chiang Mai busy. The cost was around 7,500 baht and the great advantage was, of course, being able to fly direct rather than via Bangkok, which would have been tedious and more expensive.
So as remarked earlier, an odd world. Here is an economy airline offering a genuine service and a major one offering the height of flight-time luxury, with a service on which the taxes alone will be several times the cost of any short-haul flight. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And the rest of us muddle along. It was ever thus, I guess.


Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
Hancock:
US Action/Comedy - There’s no doubt about it: Will Smith has a lot of charisma for most moviegoers, including me. Here he plays an unsympathetic character, much against type, and has to work to gain our good will. Reviewers have widely diverse views on this one. I was only minimally amused. Smith plays a different kind of superhero: edgy, conflicted, sarcastic, and misunderstood. He gets the job done and saves countless lives, but he also seems to leave an awful lot of collateral damage as well. The people of Los Angeles have had enough. So did studio executives according to reports, who after seeing the original cut immediately ordered big changes and several scenes reshot, because the hero was such a drunk - and downbeat, disreputable, and even disgusting. His costume seems to be stolen off the back of a homeless person, and we’re introduced to Hancock as he wakes up on the sidewalk, reeking of alcohol, and then leaps into the sky to save someone, destroying everything in sight in the process. The result of all the frantic last-minute editing and newly shot scenes is a mess, frankly, but a mess with much to enjoy for fans of Will Smith. Also starring Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman. Not kid-friendly: There’s a lot of bad language, some graphic violence, and more. Mixed or average reviews.
Friendship: Thai Comedy/Romance - With Mario Maurer (of Love of Siam fame) and Apinya Sakuljaroensuk (of Ploy fame), in a high-school romance directed by Chatchai Naksuriya. I was less than enchanted - it seemed to me unrelated to the real life of people, either young or mature, and somewhat amateurish in writing, acting, and directing. But fans of Thai romances may well take to the unrealistic happenings between the two likeable leads.
Wanted: US Action/Thriller - If you think you’ve seen it all in violent and bloody action films, you haven’t yet seen this one: it raises the bar to a whole new level! Visually I think it’s fascinating - there are scenes which I really could not believe I was seeing - and I would say it’s about as exciting as a movie can get. This is a fast-paced thrill ride, with a dazzling mix of state-of-the-art visual effects, adrenaline-fuelled action sequences, and nail-biting terror. The first American film by the Russian director Timur Bekmambetov. A young man (James McAvoy) discovers his father is an assassin, who is brutally murdered. The son is then recruited into his father’s organization and trained by a man (Morgan Freemen) to follow in his dad’s footsteps, and in the process transformed from a drone into a dark avenger. With Angelina Jolie and Terence Stamp. Rated R in the US (and richly deserved) for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language, and some sexuality. Generally favorable reviews.
Get Smart: US Action/Comedy - A funny and action-filled film, almost as good as having a new James Bond film around. 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, which made fun of spies in the cold war, and secret spy gadgets. 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. Full of irreverent invention and some dazzling animation. 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. 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.
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.
Scheduled for Jul 10
Hellboy II:
The Golden Army: US Action/Fantasy - Again directed by Guillermo del Toro and again starring Ron Perlman as Hellboy, this presents again a dark and difficult fantasy world full of fantastical creatures determined to prove the Lovecraftian premise that he who destroys the earth does the universe a favor.
Red Cliff: China Action/Adventure - This $80-million film, directed by John Woo - the most expensive film ever produced in Asia - has been plagued by difficulties from the outset, including the walk-out by two stars. On June 9, a stunt went wrong killing one stuntman and injuring six others. According to Chinese news reports, a small boat that had been set on fire was to have rammed a larger boat. The scene went amiss when the fire spread quickly to the larger boat and raged out of control.


Doc English The Language Doctor: The death of a language

Hello! Welcome back to the regular column for parents teaching their kids English at home. This week we discuss the negative effect English teachers like me are having on Thai languages and dialects :(. Shed a tear for ‘Mok’, a language spoken in Thailand on the verge of extinction. Gasp in awe at the sheer number of languages in the world and be astounded by how many of them are on the edge of a language precipice.
R.I.P. ‘Mok’
Of the 6,912 languages spoken in the world, around 516 are on the verge of extinction (Source: Ethnologue [www.ethnologue.com]). At least one is on the verge of extinction in Thailand. ‘Mok’ is a dying language once commonly spoken in the Northwest; east northeast of Chiang Mai, on the Wang River. Today, the language is nearly extinct. Only a few elderly speakers are still living. When they die, so may their language and their unique culture.
Actually Thailand isn’t the biggest culprit by far for extinguishing languages. Surprisingly, Australia tops the list with well over a 100 languages on the verge of extinction and the USA is not too far behind. There are even little known languages in Sweden, Norway and Germany that face the axe if nothing is done to revive them.
It’s a shame to see any language disappear. Often languages don’t simply die, but there are assimilated into other languages and cultures and ‘mixed up’ to the point where they are no longer unique. It’s great to see my home language spoken so widely across the world, but I often wonder whether the growth of English as a common language is at the detriment of the development of other languages.
Sometimes I visit a Thai School in the North East. It’s a great school, the kids are really hard working and they are always very friendly. I encourage you to visit your local Thai school. Thai students are generally always desperate to practice their English with a native speaker and are always keen to converse with a foreigner. Anyway, I digress. Like most Thai schools the only taught languages at the school are Thai and English. This is a shame because in the North East they also speak Laos and/or Khmer (Cambodian) at home. So in fact for these children, English is a 3rd language and like most Thais they are aiming to become trilingual! However, I often wonder what will happen to the use of Thai Laos, Thai Khmer, other languages and dialects in Thailand if they are not taught in school. Will they all die out and will we be left just with English and Thai? That would be really boring.
Why preserve languages?
For a start, languages contain local knowledge of cultures and natural systems in the regions in which they are spoken. When languages are lost, so is unique information on that region or culture. Languages preserve information on human history. Stories, songs and anecdotes passed down through generations help keep history alive.
The UN estimates that more than half of the languages spoken today have fewer than 10,000 speakers and that a quarter have fewer than 1,000 speakers and that, unless there are some efforts to maintain them, over the next hundred years most of these will become extinct, so it’s important that we act now. In recent times only, more than 750 languages have already become extinct around the world.
There is a genuine fear being expressed today is that many of today’s languages, in view of their degrees of adulteration or outright abandonment, may not live to see the 22nd century. In fact, it is estimated that only ten percent of the present languages in the world will survive. Do we want a homogenous world, where everybody speaks the same language, wears the same standard clothes, and thinks the same standard thoughts? No! So let’s respect and help preserve different languages and cultures.
But what can we do?
We can’t make the Thai Department of Education change their language policies and get the minority languages taught in school (the UN is working on that); however, you can support the use of Thai, Laos, Khmer or other languages and dialects at home, as well as English of course. Children are perfectly capable of learning more than two languages and in fact learning more than two languages has been proven to provide cognitive benefits in many children (they will actually be brighter for learning a third language!).
Please support your local language (or dialect). Don’t let them die out. For more information go to the Endangered Language Fund (http://www.en dangeredlanguagefund.org).
That’s all for this week mums and dads. If you want more information on teaching your children at home you can email me at: do [email protected]
Enjoy spending time with your kids.


Welcome to Chiang Mai: The Tourist Authority of Thailand’s take on dual pricing - possibly!

In a recent issue of the Chiang Mai Mail, this columnist wrote about the dire state of the tourist industry in Chiang Mai, mentioning, amongst other points, the “dual pricing” strategy of many tourist attractions as one financial reason for the decline in visitor numbers. The article drew a response from a resident who had been affected and annoyed by this, and had emailed TAT to complain, pointing out that the practice is discriminatory, unfair and assumes, wrongly, that farang residents and visitors are all wealthy enough to afford the several hundred per cent difference between the amount charged to a Thai and that charged to a farang.
Quoting from the resident’s email to TAT, “I am a resident in Thailand and am very happy here, apart from one thing - the ‘tiered’ system of charging ‘farangs’ 100-1000% more than Thais to enter such places as parks, waterfalls, zoos etc. This is a disgusting practice which annoys “farang” victims and paints Thailand as discriminating. Not a good image. Even with set menu prices in many restaurants, we are frequently overcharged. When we talk to the manager we are told ‘but we made special for you’! Nonsense, this is just another example of ‘farangs’ being treated disrespectfully. Does TAT warn potential visitors to this country that they will be required to pay MUCH more to visit places of interest in this country than Thais?”
TAT’s reply is as follows:- “Thank you for your e-mail dated 12 June, 2008, in which you brought to our attention the unscrupulous practice of the tiered pricing system. In this regard, we would like to inform that the issue of different prices has also been one of our concerns, especially in major tourism destinations. In general, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has been able to promote our country’s various aspects to foreigners interested in the Thai way of life, traditional culture, etc. This has resulted in a large number of people selecting Thailand for their holidays or like yourself taking up residence for the long term. In addition, we are aware that incidents such as this could tarnish and result in a negative image of our country as a whole. We are therefore deeply concerned that this issue has not yet been resolved even though TAT in collaboration with the tourism-related private sector has tried various methods to do so. In realising the serious gravity of this practice, we are attempting to submit this matter for the Government’s consideration for the establishing of measures in which we hope for a resolution in the near future with the equality in pricing for everyone. Once again, thank you for raising this issue.” The email was unsigned, merely stating “Information Section,” and the question about the lack of information about this practice on TAT’s website and in their literature remained unanswered.
Further enquiries by the affected resident to the president of Chiang Mai Friends’ group, herself a travel agent, elicited the considered reply that 20,000 farang signatures would be required before the matter would be able to be properly investigated. As there are approximately only 17,000 foreign residents registered in Chiang Mai, this would appear to be a non-starter unless other northern areas could be encouraged to involve themselves.
Given the present economic situation, it seems that, even if resident expats were able to overcome their distaste for this much-discussed and condemned practice and regularly visit the various tourist attractions, national parks, etc, many would not be able to afford the visit in the first place. There is, after all, a vast difference between a 1,000 baht entry charge to a foreign couple and a 100 baht charge to a Thai couple, particularly when it is added onto the ever increasing speculator-fuelled cost of fuel. We are told that many tour buses do not stop at certain environmental attractions these days, due to dual-pricing, as the tourists they carry find the cost too high. As an ex-business owner, I would, at present, much prefer a total take per bus of, say, 3,000 baht to a take of zero from no bus! Particularly as the beauty of the locality would certainly attract more than one bus! This “shortsightedness” on the part of the tourism-related sectors, (both private, government and local administration owned), does nothing but make a bad situation worse.
The media constantly informs us, quite correctly, that the Thai people are suffering from continuing increases in the cost of living - so are we, on fixed pensions affected by the artificially high level of the baht, or income from investments affected by share prices dropping like stones. The operators of dual pricing within the tourist, (and other), sectors, must also be struggling, and may well continue to do so after the economy recovers if it ignores the fact that there are 17,000 residents in and around this city plus a large number of visitors who will reject their offerings because of their behaviour as well as because of the cost.
As to TAT’s stated attempt to “submit this matter for the Government’s consideration for the establishing of measures in which we hope for a resolution in the near future with the equality in pricing for everyone,” it might occur to our readers that, right now, this government has rather more important matters to consider! All foreign residents here will have, at some time, experienced a lack of - how can we put this? - a sense of urgency in dealing with problems which concern members of the expat community. Although, to most of us, after our frenetic lives in our home countries, it feels good to live in a more “laid back” environment, dealing with “horizontal” may well increase stress levels beyond bearing. Combine a lack of urgency with a lack of forward-thinking, and not a lot gets done! TAT, the Tourist Authority of Thailand, remember, needs to look very carefully at every negative which is affecting visitor numbers, and also to remember that regular visitors often become permanent residents, who need to feel that they are not being taken advantage of, financially or in any other manner.


HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?:

Stuart Rodger - The Englishman’s Garden, Chiang Dao

The Sacred Lotus

Surely the most revered flower in the world must be the sacred Lotus, the dominant flower of the Buddhist way, worshipped in Hindu Brahmanism and emblem of a Taoist Immortal? There can be few people who are not familiar with this beautiful symbol of purity, blooming way above the mud and slime from which it arises as if held aloft from the tainted earth by the heavens. Even its buds resemble hands held in prayer.
The bowl-shaped petals of the lotus give a soft perfume similar to that of peonies, and the circular leaves hold drops of water so gently that the surface tension of the water is never broken, giving the appearance of yellow-green gems floating in the centre of the leaves. In the famous and ancient Tamna Maew script poems, the classic Siamese cat is described as having eyes like the drops of water on lotus leaves.
Every part of the lotus plant is edible; even the rhizomes themselves, sugared and sliced, are regarded as a particularly delicious delicacy. The leaves are often used folded around morsels of food. Easy to grow either from the rhizomes themselves or from seed, the plant thrives in heavy clay deep in the water of a pond or large pot. Like all water plants, its colloidal structure traps nutrients as if between two panes of glass, preventing them from being washed away. The correct type of clay, in round flat sections, is easily purchased in garden centres - a good tip is to drop balls of cow manure around the plant at regular intervals to introduce nutrients and encourage flowering. If planted in still water, the rhizomes will run for miles and even colonise areas of flooded land.

Tip of the week
Remember that all water plants grow and flower best in full sun. Trying to make them flower when sited on a shaded condo balcony will often lead to disappointment.