HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The Doctor's Consultation

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in Chiang Mai

Let's Go To The Movies


Bridge in Paradise

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

The black snake

Have you read a wonderful item penned by American writer Dave Barry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist for the Miami Herald, about his recent trip to his gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy? According to Dave Barry, he was sure he was going to be attacked by 17,000 feet of garden hose inserted through his fundamental orifice.
If you haven’t read it, do a Google search, it is worth it. Serious laughter will result, but here are the final two paragraphs. “And then it was time, the moment I had been dreading for more than a decade. If you are squeamish, prepare yourself, because I am going to tell you, in explicit detail, exactly what it was like.
“I have no idea. Really. I slept through it. … and the next moment, I was back in the other room, waking up in a very mellow mood. Andy (the gastroenterologist) was looking down at me and asking me how I felt. I felt excellent. I felt even more excellent when Andy told me that it was all over, and that my colon had passed with flying colors.
“I have never been prouder of an internal organ.”
So that was Dave Barry’s colonoscopy. After days of agonizing, it was a non-event, but what exactly is a colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is test where the colonoscopist (a doctor who has specialized in the Gastro Intestinal system) looks into your colon, the large bowel. The last part of this tube leads into the rectum where the stool is stored before being passed out from the anus.
The instrument is called a colonoscope, and is a thin, flexible, fiber-optic tube with a small video camera at its head. This is sometimes called “the black snake” and is controlled by the colonoscopist who directs it up the rectum and into the colon, right around to the end of the small intestine.
The colonoscope also has a ‘side channel’ through which the colonoscopist can take tissue samples (biopsies) of any suspicious growths inside the colon.
A colonoscopy may be advised if you have symptoms such as bleeding from the anus, pains in the lower abdomen, persistent diarrhea, or other symptoms thought to be coming from the colon. The sort of conditions which can be confirmed include:
Ulcerative colitis (which causes inflammation of the colon).
Crohn’s disease (also causes inflammation of the colon).
Diverticula (pouches which form in the lining of the colon).
Polyps of the colon.
Cancer of the colon.
Various other conditions may also be detected, but probably one of the most important conditions is polyps, little grape-like growths which can turn cancerous if left for a long time.
There is also a rigorous preparation for a colonoscopy, which is designed to clean all the feces out of the colon before the procedure is done.
Incidentally, there is a procedure called a ‘virtual’ colonoscopy, by which a CT scan of the abdomen is converted into images of the inside of the colon. In the hands of experienced technicians and radiologists, the accuracy of this procedure has improved, but the ‘real’ colonoscopy is still the gold standard as far as finding pathology in the colon. By the way, the same preparation is also required, to ensure the colon is clean. It is also necessary to introduce air into the colon, via the anus, to be able to electronically ‘see’ the inside of the colon.
There is another similar procedure to regular colonoscopy called a gastroscopy, in which the fiber-optic tube is inserted via the mouth and then down into the stomach to allow a direct vision look at the upper gastrointestinal tract, and biopsies of suspicious ulcers and lesions can be taken at the same time. And no, Veronica, it isn’t the same black snake!


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Khun Hellary (sic),
First, let me clear up a misunderstanding you might have inferred from my other two letters to you. Although I’m an Uncle I am not old. When I was in my 30’s I was old. Now that I’m retired and living in C.M., well I’ve never been younger. Anyway, I have a question and an observation; In the Thai culture about what age should a youngster be before an adult returns the wai? The observation; My wife lets me go to the bars now and then. This is the only way I can practice my Thai - at least that’s what I tell my Thai wife. She won’t speak Thai to me, she’s trying to learn English. So, I walk into a bar, order a beer and sit and drink quietly while checking things out. By the time I’m half way this first beer, the girls start filing by to introduce themselves. When I speak Thai to them they without exception are very interested to talk to me. If I’m not interested in her, I politely tell her in Thai or English, sorry but I’d like to “doo lin lin” (look, like window shopping). Don’t know if I speak Chiang Mai or Bankok (sic) Thai but one thing is certain, I never belittle them and use “pigeon” English. I have noticed that when a farang comes in the bar and acts over eager or appears a little tipsy, the girls don’t want anything to do with him. Take my advice you guys and take it easy. And if you call a girl over to you - this is very important - wave with your palm DOWN and not UP. When you call a dog you wave with the palm up. Singed (sic),
Not enough Uncle Bills’ to go around
Dear Not enough Uncle Bills’ to go around,
What an amazing chap you are! Another farang who can speak (some sort of) Thai, like the worried chap called “I ain’t bovvered” who has been writing in recently with his problems with bar ladies, but you seem to have no trouble finding a Thai tutor in the bar, as opposed to “I ain’t bovvered”. Perhaps he is calling them over with the palm up? One of my acquaintances says that the way to get a bar girl to come across (the bar) is by waving a 1,000 baht note in her direction.
Now getting around to your real question, at what age do you return a youngster’s wai? If it is a girl, at the age she has an ID card is erring on the side of caution for you. If it is a boy, when he has an ID card is erring on the side of caution. You don’t want to end up like the aging English rock star in Cambodia, do you?
Finally, Uncle Bill, my little retired Petal, is English your native language? Your spelling is like a native - of Peru. Just who the hell is “Hellary”? Bangkok always has a “g” in the middle, just to remind you of Patpong, and were you really “singed”? I hope the burns have all healed by now.

Dear Hillary,
How extraordinary that so many of your correspondents do not like having their pockets deeply felt by ladies! Pater is quite the reverse and, thanks to an understanding tailor, has pockets from top to bottom!
Dear Mistersingha,
Pater goes to an understanding tailor, I see. Does he get his suits done in 24 hours, with three fittings as well? I would presume that some of the pockets where he keeps his money are the long ones, to go with his short arms when the time comes for payment.

Dear Hillary,
I am the most popular woman in Thailand, for people back home. I’ve had five sets this year and it looks like there are more coming for Xmas. If I had nothing else to do other than entertain old friends then it would be fine, but I have things to do as well. I don’t want to give old friends the cold shoulder, but I’m at my wits end, honestly! What should I do?
Guest house Gert
Dear Gert,
This is a very common problem when you live in a place that other people save for 11 months to come and visit. It is also very normal for your old friends to want to see you, and possibly save some money by staying with you. You actually have the answer already when you called yourself “Guest house” Gert. I suggest that you run your home more on the guest house lines. Tell your friends that as you have other work to do, you will leave everything out for them for their breakfast and then you will meet them for dinner at 7 pm and do things together from there. I am sure your friends will appreciate that even though they are on holidays, you are not. They need time to themselves too and will be grateful for the chances to explore on their own. Have some brochures in their room with suggested tourist day trips and let them take it from there. They will be happy, you can do your work, and you can enjoy each others company at night.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Panning - trials, tribulations and tips

More practice needed!

That’s better!

We have all, at some time, tried to take photographs of moving objects. Provided they are going no faster than the average garden snail, this is no problem, and any old camera will do. However, by the time the snail shifts into top gear, we can start to have a problem.
With the photographer standing still, while the mobile object flashes by, can almost certainly result in an out of focus blur. Firstly, the auto-focus (AF) cannot keep up with the changing focus, and then the speed of the object means that it allows movement to be detected while the shutter is open.
Take, for example, the average SLR (film or digital it doesn’t matter) with the exposure set on Auto or P for program. The camera will work out that 1/60th of a second at f11 should give a good exposure. Unfortunately, that is for the total scene, and the motorcycle flashing past is not “stopped” by 1/60th.
The answer lies in a technique called ‘panning’. This is the most popular technique for action sports photographers, because it is one of the best ways to really show “action”. Now many of you will have cameras with an “Action” or “Sports” mode that you can select at the flick of a switch. Despite what the camera manufacturer would have you believe, professional action sports photographers don’t use it! Forget about it and blot it from your consciousness.
The reason for this is simply that the selection of the “Action” mode puts the camera on to a fast shutter speed to “freeze” the action. “Isn’t that what I want?” I hear you cry. No, I’m sorry, you will get a very static shot of your moving subject - a shot which does not imply movement or action at all. A shot of a dog running can end up looking as if Rover was frozen to the spot with its legs in a strange position.
Contrary to that which you would imagine, the technique to show speed and action is not a super fast 1/1000th of a second shutter speed or even faster with some of today’s super SLR’s - but rather something around 1/30th to 1/60th. Now that really is surprising, isn’t it? However, for this to work, the technique to handle this slow shutter speed is called “panning”.
The objective with panning is to be able to “stop” the moving subject, but leave the background a blurred smear. This is carried out by moving the camera in time with the action, so that the subject is in the center of the frame at all times, while the background “moves” behind the subject. Moving the camera to keep the subject in the center means that the slow shutter speed is “fast” enough to stop the subject’s action, but too “slow” to stop the effect of the movement of the camera on the background.
This, by the way, is not an easy technique and will require that thing called “practice”. Begin by picking on an easy subject, like motorcycles going past you down the road. Start by selecting 1/60th of a second for the exposure and practice turning your body as the subject moves past you. You have to synchronize your movement with that of the moving subject, and when you press the shutter you must continue to move at the same speed especially when the viewfinder goes black as the shutter fires and you cannot see the subject for a brief instant - the most important brief instant.
When you have become good at this technique at 1/60th of a second, it is time to then try 1/30th of a second. At the slower shutter speed, the background will become even more of a streaky blur, giving an even greater impression of speed and action.
There is another problem if you try and get more than one shot away, and that is (with SLR’s), as the shutter goes up, it blacks out what you see in the viewfinder. You are then shooting blind.
To sum up, to show action and movement, select a slow shutter speed and try to keep the subject in the center of the viewfinder. And practice!

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

God help America

People will know that we have, for a long time, been a great fan of Warren Buffet and Berkshire Hathaway, What he has achieved over the last fifty years in nothing short of incredible. We are even inclined to sympathize with his reported comments last year when he complained that he was not paying enough in taxes. Those comments should be read in the light of Berkshire Hathaway’s recent reports that:
Berkshire and its subsidiaries’ income tax returns are continuously under audit by Federal and various state, local and foreign taxing authorities. Berkshire’s consolidated Federal income tax return liabilities have been settled with the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) through 1998. The IRS has completed its audits of the 1999 through 2004 tax returns and has proposed adjustments to increase Berkshire’s tax liabilities which Berkshire has protested. The examinations are in the IRS’s appeals process. The unsettled issues primarily relate to the timing of deductions for unpaid losses and loss adjustment expenses and other liabilities of property and casualty insurance subsidiaries.”
We are the first to recommend people and companies should always try to make sure they legally pay as little in tax as possible so as to minimise business operating expenses. Obviously Berkshire Hathaway believe in this as well since their books are continually under federal inspection. Warren Buffett has also taken wonderfully contrived steps to avoid death duties so for him to complain about not paying enough was regarded by many as nothing short of breathtaking. Many question whether he would like to make a voluntary donation to the US Treasury? However, the real meaning from Buffett was that he, and BH and too many other individuals and corporates have been paying taxes at rates so low but the tax shortfall which has been hidden by excessive barriers will now come home to roost. Everyone in the USA not only needs to pay more taxes, but in fact to do so very soon.
Charlie Rangel (Dem.), chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, has stated that he would bring about the “Mother of all Tax Reforms”. If it is approved, this would bring about the largest tax increase in America’s history. It would result in a massive hike in income tax whilst nullifying many deductions available to Joe Public.
The Tax Reductions and Reform Act (2007) is being proposed as a tax cut for middle income earners and businesses whilst at the same time getting rid of the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). However, it’s creating quite a stir.
Why? Let’s deal with AMT first. This dates back nearly forty years ago and was conceived as a way to prevent the very rich from avoiding making any form of tax payments by ensuring that they pay at least a minimum amount. However, as Americans have become more and more wealthy, more and more Americans have to pay this tax (as it has not been adequately adjusted for inflation). Over 20 million Americans now have to pay this tax.
The cost of combining the “Mother of all Tax Reforms” with rolling back the George W. Bush administration’s tax cuts has been calculated at an absolute minimum of USD3.5 trillion over the next decade. The initial idea was to target those classified as ’very rich’. What is now being proposed is to raise the tax of any individual earning in excess of USD 150,000 and a married couple with a combined income over USD200,000 per annum.
Jim McCrery (Rep.), upon learning the details of Rangel’s proposals, said, “The basics of the package are simple: This is the largest individual income tax increase in history. The bill will add a 4% surtax on Americans earning more than USD150,000 a year (USD200,000 for couples). That is on the top of the scheduled expiration of the 2001 and 2003 [G.W. Bush] tax cuts.
So, under the Democrats’ plan, over the next few years, the individual income top tax rate in the United States will rise from 35% to 44%. By way of comparison, the other 29 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries - basically other developed nations - have an average top marginal tax rate of 35.7%. In fact, only five OECD countries would have higher top marginal tax rates in 2011 than the United States if the Democrats’ bill is enacted.
This crushingly high tax rate will affect approximately 10 million taxpayers directly - including those who report business income, like small business owners and farmers - but the damage could ripple throughout the economy. Because small businesses and family farms often pay their income taxes as individuals, this could be a massive tax hike on what is seen as the engine that drives job growth in the USA.
In addition, the surtax is on adjusted gross income, not taxable income. This sounds like a technical issue, but it means that Rangel’s bill will erode the value of a series of tax deductions - including for mortgage interest, charitable giving, medical expenses, state and local taxes, and the standard deduction. And, because the surtax kicks in at USD150,000 for individuals and USD200,000 for couples, the bill potential creates a huge marriage penalty.”
Lies damn lies and statistics used by the opportunity of tax reform include:
- In 2005, America’s richest 25% of taxpayers paid 86% of all federal income taxes despite earning only 67% of the country’s income.
- The highest-earning 1% (one percent), with earnings more than USD364,657, coughed out over 39% of all federal income taxes. This is even though they only earn 21% of the nation’s income. What this shows is that the top 1% pays about half of the amount of federal income tax as the bottom 95% of tax returns combined.
- The top 5% of income tax payers give the US government almost 60% of all taxes paid.
- The top 25% gives 86% whereas the bottom 50% combined only contribute 3.1% of all tax paid for the year of 2005. What these statistics show is that the amount of tax paid by the bottom 50% has been in steady decline over the last 25 years.
Business, especially SMEs, are concerned. Data from the Department of Commerce shows that SMEs employ over 50% of the country’s non-farm private labour force. Almost six million small businesses employ nearly 60 million people.
There are fears that Rangel’s plans would seriously damage their competitiveness as it would put up the maximum marginal tax rate on all small business income - wages, distributions, capital gains and dividends - from 35% to 39%. The creation of a new “surtax” on all incomes over USD150,000 will apply to Adjusted Gross Incomes, NOT Taxable Income, which means it comes in BEFORE deductions. Opponents believe this means a surtax of at lease 5%+ on taxable income as it cuts the value of deductions for home mortgage interest, charitable donations, medical expenses and other relevant deductions.
In addition to the reform, the proposed withdrawal of the Domestic Producer Tax Deduction option would result in the renewal of tax benefit allowances.
You might find it strange that an organisation such as MBMG, committed to reducing taxes payable to the legal minimum should on balance come down on the side of Rangel in this. We think that these proposals are flawed, but like Buffett, we think that urgent constructive property to increase the amount of tax payable need to be introduced immediately. Sadly for America, a lot of extremely unpleasant medicine needs to be swallowed now. Financial indiscipline has been rife throughout US business and society for a decade or more - Greenspan and Bush are being given much of the blame now, but the problems pervade a deeper. Rangel may be the closest thing to a saviour right now - the debate should be about how best to implement a mother of all tax reforms, not whether it’s necessary or not. That time is long past.
MBMG provides a full range of planning and administrative services for non-resident US nationals including best advice on structures, analysis and filings.

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

Thanks for Three Colours - Red White and Blue…

…and, sadly, no thanks for Ibrahim Gambari

Has there ever been such a dearth of worthwhile movies in Chiang Mai? Over the past months I can recall only a couple worth seeing, the amiable 21 and the quirky Hancock, which had the courage to upend many of the ‘super hero’ clichés and showed sparks of originality. Still, two modest swallows a summer do not make.
Now for the good news. September offers at least three fine movies- on 12, 19, and 26 - each beginning at 8 pm - and shown without the tedium of trailers, advertisements or the distractions of popcorn and the like. Although Kie[lowski’s Red White and Blue are announced as a trilogy they are all complete features in their own right and are linked by the notion of reflecting France’s national proclamation, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
Check out the film column for much more detail. These were the last three works by Krzysztof Kie[lowski before his death of a heart attack aged 55 in 1994, and it is especially sad that he should become unable to work after his greatest successes and the numerous awards which were given to his monumental Deklog, (The Ten Commandments), The Double Life of Veronika and the trilogy, which won major awards at the Venice and Berlin Film Festivals.
Kie[lowski was Polish and originally worked in that country making documentaries and shorts, then graduating to features, amassing some 40 credits in some 25 years. The Deklog was just that, a series of 10 works based around the commandments. All of his films are suffused with irony and a mordant view of humanity and his masterpiece, A Short Film About Killing, has a Bressonian intensity that belies its brevity. Over to my colleague for more specific details of the three films and what I hope will be an equally favourable view. The director, by the way, said as his credo that he had one goal, ‘to escape literalism’. A notion shared by Bresson and Tarkovsky.
Regrettably, the showings at the French Consulate offices arranged by the Alliance Francaise get less audiences than they deserve, especially given the nominal 30 baht entrance fee. But as remarked last week by Jean-Pierre Kirkland in his review of La Bonne Chanson, the concert was not nearly as well attended as it deserved. The same goes for other concerts and the EU Film Festival screenings at Central which will be held in December this year.
The lack of widespread information about current events is often blamed but personally I think that is mainly an excuse for idleness. A main culprit is, of course, television. A feeble medium at the best of times, and one which almost inevitably - largely because of advertising - appeals to the lowest common denominator in a frantic search for ratings. It’s a great time waster and a killer in terms of conversation. I gave up mine well over five years ago and have never missed it. True one can watch movies on it, but that is no substitute for going to the cinema. And sadly the accessibility of films to those tiny screens has helped ruin movie going and as a consequence adventurous distribution. Which is where I came in.
Two seriously bad pieces of news were reported in the past few days. First the cessation of U.N. flights into Burma. They have just closed operations out of Bangkok, which leaves the relief agencies on their own with much work still to be done. Possibly the suggestion that much of the aid has been siphoned off by soldiers and the junta’s henchmen is true but it is sad to hear that the victims of the Cyclone are going to get less help in future. The announcement came at the same time as the pathetic attempts by the UN special envoy to Burma to resume negotiations with the hierarchy there ended in failure with Ibrahim Gambari failing to meet anybody in real authority. The generals stayed in the capital, Naypyidaw, whilst he was told to stay 400 kms away in Rangoon. He did not even meet Aung San Suu Kyi who felt she had nothing to say to him.
He moved on to Indonesia and Thailand, two countries that seem rather more intent than other ASEAN members in attempting a dialogue and negotiations with the regime in Burma. The new foreign minister for Thailand, Tej Bunnag, is apparently going there in late August and no doubt news of that will be announced at a later date. If there is any. It is also thought that the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon might visit Burma later this year in an attempt to carry out discussions that obviously failed with the envoy. All that we can do is help with donations to the relief effort, support any actions against the junta which might arise during the anniversary of the saffron uprising and live in hopes that the ASEAN countries plus pressure from outside will one day change the course of recent history in Burma. Some hope.

Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
Mamma Mia!:
US/UK/Germany Comedy/ Musical/ Romance - Starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, and Colin Firth. Donna, an independent, single mother who owns a small hotel on an idyllic Greek island, is about to let go of Sophie, the spirited daughter she’s raised alone. On a quest to find the identity of her father to walk her down the aisle, Sophie invites to the wedding three men from Donna’s past, all possibly her father. Immense quantities of popular ABBA music that I find horrifyingly infectious and which I can’t get rid of. It’s an extraordinarily vivacious and energetic musical that is bound and determined to make you sing and dance and feel good about marriage and things like that. Mixed or average reviews.
Boonchu 9 / Boon-Choo: Thai Comedy - A continuation of this popular Thai comedy series. The son of the original Boonchu is a happy monk who is defrocked by his mother and sent to university in Bangkok. There he meets up with new “friends” - two homeless kids - who, as friends will do, drug him and mug him.
Boys Over Flowers: Final: Japan Romance/Comedy - Wildly popular film in Japan, based on a top selling manga, featuring five popular Japanese idols, following the travails of a working-class girl at an elite prep school who must contend with a four-man clique of “rich, gorgeous guys.” Thai dubbed with no English subtitles
The Coffin / Longtorai / Lhong Tor Tai: Thai Horror - Ananda Everingham as a claustrophobic architect who participates in coffin rituals to gain a new lease on life. It has much going for it, with a stellar cast and a fine director, but I was mightily confused. It didn’t seem to be the movie that director Ekachai Uekrongtham set out to make. The script won a prestigious prize from the Rotterdam Festival, but the movie hadn’t been made yet, and to get the necessary funding he had to change it into a horror flick, making compromises along the way. The beautifully shot opening sequence of the burial ritual at the temple gives an idea of what the film could have been. And although this is the director’s first English language film, it is shown in Thailand only in a Thai-dubbed version, with English subtitles which don’t jibe with the movement of the lips. The result for me is simply awkward
Made of Honor: US Comedy - A piece of fluff about, what else, love problems, with the appealing stars Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan. Generally negative reviews
WALL•E: US Animation/ Comedy/ Family/ Romance/ Sci-Fi - A work of genius from the first frame to the last. Robot love in a dead world, and the cutest love story in years. There’s virtually no dialogue for the first 40 minutes; you’ll be enthralled. And the brilliant animation continues throughout the closing credits, as we’re treated to a continuation of the story in a series of historical art styles. Reviews: Universal acclaim
And, as a bonus, there’s a terrific Pixar cartoon before the feature.
Death Race: US Action/Thriller - The most twisted spectator sport on earth as violent criminals vie for freedom by winning a race driving monster cars outfitted with machine guns, flamethrowers, and grenade launchers. The previews are the most repulsive imaginable, and have convinced me I don’t wish to see it. The consensus: Little more than an empty action romp - mindless, violent, and lightning-paced. Rated R in the US for strong violence (mauling, maiming, bruising, beating, impalement, immolation, detonation, decapitation) and language. Mixed or average reviews.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: US/Germany/Canada Action /Fantasy - What a shame! All the talent, all the fantastic attention to detail, wasted on a mess of a movie that is nothing but one bang after another, one explosion after another, one bloody fight after another, all to no purpose. There is so little restraint, so little taste. It is as though the creators just threw into the mix everything they could think of, and then confused it all with very fast editing, to simply make a loud blur of action. Ignore this one, unless of course you like mindless action, one bang after another, and the rest. Apparently some people do - it seems to be quite popular here. Brendan Fraser and Maria Bello play retired British aristocrat-adventurers who head East for adventure and meet their grown son. There the three unearth the mummy of China’s ruthless Dragon Emperor and his vast terra cotta army. Generally negative reviews.
Scheduled for Sep 4
Bangkok Dangerous:
US Action/Drama - Directors Danny and Oxide Pang return to remake their popular 1999 thriller about a ruthless hitman (Nicolas Cage) who travels to Bangkok in order to carry out four crucial jobs. During the course of his missions, the triggerman falls in love with a pretty local girl while also forming a friendly bond with his young errand boy.


A weeping walkway

Those of us from the temperate climes grew up familiar with and taking for granted the beautiful effect of weeping willows along our riverbanks, giving a cascade of greenery in one of nature’s most elegant and graceful formations. This and the white swan are two of the most beautiful things in the world, and are sadly missed here in the tropics.
There is, however, a native plant that produces a “weeping” effect in miniature - a shrub Thais call Klet Plachon. Desmodium pulchellum is a small shrub reaching 8-10 feet tall which produces long snake-like straps which hang downwards and are composed of green bracts facing down to shelter the tiny white pea-flowers from rain.
These hanging straps can reach 1-2 feet long and give the effect of a green weeping shrub. Interestingly, they open outwards to expose the flowers for pollination in the morning and close by the afternoon, posing the question, “How do they know it always rains here in the afternoon?” Later in the season, thousands of seeds are shed around the base of the plant, with the resulting seedlings forming a small thicket.
This plant does not need to be near water, but can grow anywhere, in sun or shade. I like to use it to create a weeping, shady walkway by planting it either side of a path.
Like all flowers with attractive bracts, these plants represent good value for money, as the bract remains a feature long after the flowers are finished well into the dry season. Strangely, new growth appears even before the rains start, it’s odd to see new young tri-foliate leaves emerging when most things are dry and dormant. The young leaves are pale green, velvety, and lovely to touch.
Do seek this plant out, even if you only want a single specimen, but be careful to pant it where you don’t mind it taking over as the abundant seed will be constantly sprouting up around its base.

Tip of the Week
Make life easy - choose a native plant if you want something that can look after itself without attention.

Bridge in Paradise : by Neil Robinson

Since living in Thailand, I have noticed that some people here, both Thai and farang, have a tendency to exaggerate a bit. Not so much to lie, more to embellish. So the big car turns out to be rented, and the big job may be more in the imagination than in actuality. Some politicians are particularly keen on this. One recent example was a member of parliament who claimed to have graduated from a foreign university some years ago, but only recently applied for his first passport. This tendency towards embellishment had a negative effect on his political career, but might well have been useful if he played bridge, provided he did it with imagination and vision. Today’s hand is an example. After the last few weeks, when you have seen me going through disaster after disaster, I thought I would show you that I am sometimes on the winning side! This hand was dealt when I was partnering John Bucher.

I dealt and picked up this hand:
S: KJ642
H: J
D: AK9
C: 8752

I opened a normal 1S. My partner bid 4D. This triple jump shift is a splinter bid. It is a useful bid because it shows several things: a fit in spades, at least game values, and a void or singleton in diamonds. Now I had a decision to make. The splinter bid showed possible slam interest. Should I encourage slam or discourage it? My hand was really a minimum, with only 12 high card points, even counting the singleton jack. What would you bid, gentle reader? If you were wise, probably the rational and honest 4S, which would discourage slam and your partner would then most likely pass.
However, I reasoned that, with John’s diamond shortness, there were no diamond losers. With my singleton heart, we had at most one heart loser. So, I decided to exaggerate the strength of my hand and bid 4H, showing a heart control, and therefore encourage towards slam. John, with his heart ace (see diagram) and my apparent heart shortness, now knew we had no heart losers. With his spade holding, surely there were no spade losers. That just left clubs, and his king and queen of clubs made that suit look good. He bid 4N. I responded 5H, which in Roman Key Card Blackwood shows two of the five “key cards” (four aces plus the trump king), but denies the trump queen. Missing only one key card, John took us to slam.
This was the full hand, all vulnerable, South dealer:

  S: AQ1073  
  H: A75  
  D: 4  
  C: KQ64  
S: 95   S: 8
H: KQ103   H: 98642
D: 10862   D: QJ753
C: A103   C: J9
  S: KJ642  
  H: J  
  D: AK9  
  C: 8752  

This was the full bidding:
East      South (me)    West      North (John)
-                1S              P           4D
P               4H              P           4N
P               5H              P           6S
All pass

When I saw dummy, it was clear the only problem was clubs. We were missing the jack, ten and nine as well as the ace, so it looked like the only chance was to find the ace in the West hand. Then I could lead up to the king and queen and make both of them. There was one additional chance. If the ace was offside, I could still make the contract if the ace were singleton and East were then forced to give me a ruff and sluff. I took the king of hearts lead in dummy, pulled trumps, then played top diamonds (throwing a club from dummy) and cross-ruffed out both hearts and diamonds. With both dummy and hand stripped down to only clubs and trumps, and the lead in hand, I led a low club towards dummy. I took the first trick with the king and then led a low trump to get back to hand. Now another club lead towards dummy established the queen. Since the ace of clubs was indeed with West, my precaution of stripping the red suits was wasted, but it made me feel good to increase my chance of making to a bit more than just a 50% chance.
So, exaggerating the strength of my hand led to us making a small slam with only 27 high card points. To lie is to succeed! Please e-mail me your favourite hands to [email protected]