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The Doctor's Consultation

Health, Fitness and Weight Loss

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

Internet ‘pharmacies’ and you

Every day I receive at least four internet email offers of cut-price drugs that will keep me in a state of perpetual priapism. For those unsure of this condition, it is a state of continuing (and painful) male erection and the term was coined after the Greek god Priapus who is shown in paintings to have a central member that puts the (in)famous John Holmes of porn movies to shame.
However, this is actually a serious situation. If most drugs are only available through pharmacies world-wide, on the prescription of a doctor, is it safe to just buy over the internet, without any doctor’s advice?
The simple answer is - No! As the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports in its website, “Patients who buy prescription drugs from websites operating outside the law are at increased risk of suffering life-threatening adverse events, such as side effects from inappropriately prescribed medications, dangerous drug interactions, contaminated drugs, and impure or unknown ingredients found in unapproved drugs.”
The FDA goes on to warn “… certain drugs be dispensed only with a valid prescription because they are not safe for use without the supervision of a licensed health care practitioner. Generally, before the practitioner issues a prescription for a drug the patient has never taken before, he or she must first examine the patient to determine the appropriate treatment. Subsequently, the patient receives the drug from a registered pharmacist working in a licensed pharmacy that meets state practice standards.” That situation is certainly not the case when you look at buying blue diamonds over the ‘net, is it?
So exactly who are you buying from with internet drug suppliers? The numbers of internet pseudo-pharmacies is very high. In the US, according to the American Medical Association, there are at least 400 web sites that both dispense and offer a prescribing service - half of these sites are located in foreign countries. Some have estimated that the number of websites selling prescription drugs may now be closer to 1,000.
The American Government House Judiciary Committee on Crime, Terrorism, and Intellectual Property in June 2008 continues to tackle internet drug abuse, stating, “These rogue Internet sites, both domestic and foreign, are engaged in a pattern of illegal activity regarding the prescribing and dispensing of prescription medications. They are in violation of state and federal laws governing the legitimate prescribing and dispensing of controlled substances. These Internet sites are not pharmacies. They are not licensed by any state or other jurisdiction, and are shipping unapproved, counterfeit, mislabeled or adulterated products within or into the United States. Prescription medications sold through these so-called ‘pharmacies’ are often available to consumers without any legitimate relationship with a physician and without a valid prescription.”
Internet operations manufacturing 500,000 fake pills a day and yielding millions of dollars in sales have been found. Customs and Border Protection have seized thousands of fakes, including recent seizures of fake Tamiflu. Health agencies around the world note that international organized crime and, in fact, some Asian governments are entering into this high profit, low risk trade.
The FDA in the US estimates that worldwide sales of fake drugs exceed USD 3.5 billion per year, according to a paper published in April 2005. The Center for Medicines in the Public Interest in the US predicts that counterfeit drug sales could reach USD 75 billion globally in 2010 if action is not taken to curb the trade.
The WHO estimates that 25 percent of medications bought in street markets in developing countries are fake. My own experience in some of the poorer SE Asian countries has been that another 50 percent are real but out of date, leaving around 25 percent genuine manufacturer’s stock.
Some authors say that the figures are even worse than that. An international study published in Tropical Medicine and International Health in 2004 found that 53 percent of Artesunate tablet packs sold in the region did not contain Artesunate. And Artesunate is a vital antimalarial drug.
According to WHO, drugs commonly counterfeited include antibiotics, antimalarials, hormones and steroids. Increasingly, anticancer and antiviral drugs are also faked. And you can add to that, the ‘blue diamonds’. Never forget the phrase “Caveat emptor” (Let the buyer beware).


Health, Fitness and Weight Loss

Then and Now – Take the best of both worlds

John Bailey
In this, the early part of the 21st century, we’re lucky to have modern medicine, surgical techniques and a greater awareness, mostly though the media and the internet, of the possible effects on our health of out thoroughly modern lifestyles, which may, as we get older, actually make us ill! There is an enormous body of ever-growing knowledge out there focusing on how to stay healthy, and, if the sins of our youth do catch up with us in an unpleasant manner, how to recover successfully from even serious medical problems. All of which, of course, may be somewhat confusing…
One way of realising how we might be harming ourselves and inviting poor health as a result, is by reflecting how our ancestors lived, say, 100 years ago, and comparing diet, activity levels, stress and its causes, and economic factors then and now. For example, the car had only just been invented, and was a toy for the wealthy; everyone else walked, rode the train, or even a horse! For women, domestic chores were labour intensive, whether you were the housewife or the maid, with many jobs being very hard work indeed. The everyday diet, except in cases of extreme poverty, was more healthy, seasonal and free from contaminants such as chemical fertilisers (not to mention melamine…), and the effort of survival caused a different kind of stress than does the pressure of modern commercialism and “wants.” Of course, if one was unlucky enough to develop appendicitis, contract pneumonia or even chicken pox, one might well have died for lack of modern medical care! Occupational illnesses, though, were rife, especially if one worked in the mines or the cotton mills. So, lucky as we are to live in the age of modern medical marvels, it might be a good idea to look back to the positive and healthy aspects of our great-grandfathers’ lives.
It’s very simple, eat sensibly, exercise your body, and learn to deal with modern stress inducing issues – jai yen yen, although more difficult than it sounds, is an excellent suggestion! That old-fashioned (and certainly out of fashion), saying “All things in moderation,” has held true for generations. If you do get really unlucky, even cardiac problems can be dealt with in this manner – although prevention is a great deal better than cure! Another old saying… I’m going to repeat again that recovery from such, correct exercise does play a very important part as an ongoing lifestyle change. Exactly the same philosophy applies to most major health problems, but (unlike certain metabolic problems which are ongoing and need constant therapy) with cardiac cases, once the problem is alleviated, it can stay that way. And you don’t have to spend half your life in the gym. Unless, of course, you want to…
I’m sure you remember my telling you that an afternoon spent gardening or playing, for example, ten-pin bowls, is just as beneficial as a long walk three times a week. The gym is, initially, important it is a controlled environment, but any activity that gives you pleasure is possibly as important. Cycling, walking, swimming, dancing (see Chiang Mai this week for details of a line-dancing class – even I fancy that one), whatever you prefer, as the main point is that you are exercising! Don’t take the lift, use the stairs, unless you live on the 20th floor. Walk to your local shop, get into the habit of doing those stretching exercises every morning and learn breathing techniques. Tai Chi is excellent for older people, a great stress-reducer, and there are good teachers here in Chiang Mai. Regular, enjoyable activity is the key, whether you are a cardiac case or just out here to retire in full health.
If you do want to begin anything more strenuous (weight-lifting, for example), do. However, check out with your doctor first. Then, when you’ve been told it’s okay, start with 2 x 15-18 reps at 50% of the maximum weight you can work with. Increase reps before weight, and go for muscle tone before strength. Remember to breathe out on exertion. Do not lift weights above your head (shoulder press), as this puts undue pressure on your heart. Remember to warm up correctly, and don’t do any isometric exercises as they can also cause undue strain. Train in this way, and you’ll feel (and look) a great deal better, as well as living a great deal longer and more healthily. Plus, you’ll almost certainly be slimmer as well as fitter.

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
Have you any answer at all to the Thai time(less) problem. For me to go anywhere with my wife always ends in an argument because she is always late. I’ve tried going on ahead and telling her to catch up, but she doesn’t. I’ve tried going without her if she’s not ready, and that just produces the sulks. There has to be an answer, but I don’t know what it is. What’s your suggestion Hillary? Right now, we’re usually an hour late for anything.

Dear Jack,
The answer to this lies in an appreciation of Thai culture and everything it means to a Thai woman, my Petal. ‘Thai’ means free, and freedom to come and go is paramount. If you try and put a Thai person in a ‘time’ box, it will never work. The ‘Thai’ forces will conspire against you. There is, however, a simple way around all this. Lie. Tell her the meeting is at 6.30, when in actual fact it is 7 p.m. That way you will only be around 30 minutes late, instead of the one hour you are having at present. Don’t think of it as lying, more that you are being economical with the truth! And don’t show this letter to your wife. I don’t need the agro.

Dear Hillary,
You were too soft on the Dreamer who wrote in with “Do all girls in Thailand flirt with all tourists or am I just a walking sign board that says here I am come take advantage of me? Well I don’t really know who is taking advantage of who but at times I feel that there really is a spark, a kind of connection. Am I dreaming this or is it possible?” Is this guy for real? Is he 17 years old? Or what gooseberry bush has he been hiding under? If he opens his eyes for half a minute he would soon see that not all girls in Thailand are flirting, but the ones who do are on the game. It’s the oldest game in the world, so the Dreamer must be very wet behind the ears. Hillary, you’re good at telling it how it is, you should have given him both barrels!
Wide awake Will

Dear Wide awake Will,
I thought I had laid it on the line when I wrote: Now to your specific questions - do all girls in Thailand flirt? No, all girls do not. A percentage do, and that percentage increases exponentially as you approach the bar areas, until after you have passed through the “Welcome! Sit down please,” threshold, the percentage is nigh on 100 percent. Is there a spark, a kind of connection, as you so eloquently put it? Of course there is! That sparkling connection is called “money”. Surely that was enough, without treading on his tender bits? The sad part was just the fact that he did not really know, but I think by now, after your letter and mine, he will know!

Dear Hillary,
I was given some information the other day by someone I considered to be a reliable fellow. I was asked to keep the information confidential, so I did. Now I find that everyone seems to know all about it (a marital problem) and he is accusing me of not keeping the confidence. What should I do under those kinds of circumstances? Should I confront him, or what?

Dear Secrets,
When someone tells you that they have some confidential information, you should always ask, “Why do you want to tell me?” If it is something which involves you, then OK, listen to it. If the other person is really just showing off how much he or she knows, then don’t even stop to listen. Confronting isn’t going to help, just learn from this bad experience.

Dear Hillary,
We are new in Thailand and I am not sure what to do about our maid and her attendance. She came with the house and the previous employer gave her a good reference, so we decided to keep her. The problem is the number of days off that she seems to have. It is not that she does not come to work, it is that she tells me that she has to see her mother, or it is a special day for Chinese people so she will not be here on some day next week. Is this the usual for Thai maids, or am I being made use of?

Dear Newbie,
No, I don’t think you are being overly used. Maids do tend to be a little erratic in attending work, so it’s not unusual (as Tom Jones might say). What is unusual is to be given a week’s notice. That is the rare part. At this stage I’d put up with it, but if she has too many days off, start to cut her salary for each day she is missing. That is usually the way to see just how ‘special’ is that special day for Chinese people.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Can you use film skills in digital photography?

Niepce’s first photograph.

There are many photography enthusiasts from the ‘old school’ that think that their knowledge and skill died with the demise of photographic film. Wrong, wrong, wrong!
I do not know how this happened, but let me assure you that digital and film cameras do exactly the same job. It is only where the image falls and how it is stored and recorded that is different. Apart from that, photography is just the same as it was in 1826 when French inventor Nicéphore Niépce produced the first ‘print’. However, the picture took eight hours to expose, so he went about trying to find a new process. Working in conjunction with Louis Daguerre, they experimented with silver compounds knowing that a silver and chalk mixture darkens when exposed to light. Niépce died in 1833, but Daguerre continued the work, eventually culminating with the development of the Daguerreotype in 1837. Eventually, France agreed to pay Daguerre a pension for his formula, in exchange for his promise to announce his discovery to the world as the gift of France, which he did in 1839. That’s 169 years ago, so I think the principle has been well understood by now.
All photography since has worked on the principle of allowing light carrying the image to go through a lens and then fall on to a sensitized surface. Originally this was a glass plate coated with silver compounds which got darker when exposed to light. The degree of darkness depended upon how much light came through the lens, and for what length of time. This is the principle covering aperture (or lens opening), and shutter speed (how long the aperture is left open). That principle still holds good today.
Originally, the aperture was literally as large as you could get, and the time was measured in hours. This was because the sensitized material was really not too sensitive at all, but we improved.
The first improvement came in the lens design. These could let more light through in a shorter period of time, and the aperture only needed to be left open for a few minutes, rather than hours.
The next major development was sensitized film which could record an image in fractions of a second. Photography as we went into the 1900s was very similar to the technology today. You could capture an image at an aperture size of f 11 open for 1/60th of a second, on the film of the day.
During the next 100 years, lenses got better and gave less distortion, film became more sensitive and gave clearer, sharper images, and the mechanical shutter speeds approached 1/4000th of a second. This was enough to stop a speeding railway train, without the aid of Superman!
Then came what people called the “digital revolution”. A completely ‘new’ way of photography, requiring special new cameras which could show you the image you had just taken, immediately! Instant gratification for the “me now” generation.
However, this is where the misnomer occurred. It was not a “revolution” it was merely an “evolution”. The principles of photography (sometimes called ‘painting with light’ by the romantics) are just the same. And the application of them was just the same. A lens let in the light, for a proscribed length of time, and this was recorded by light sensitive electronic “film”. The difference was that you did not have to develop this new electronic “film” in chemicals. It could be viewed immediately by using electronic processing. Really, there was no difference.
Now, just as the old film cameras had aperture and shutter speed controls that were adjustable by the photographer, guess what? The new digital cameras have apertures and shutter speeds that are adjustable by the photographer as well. And in the same way, you can get creative results from your digital camera, exactly the same as you could with your film camera.
The results of manipulation of the aperture and shutter speed are just the same with digital vis-à-vis film. Your old skills are immediately adaptable. Don’t be afraid of the electronic evolution, and enjoy the ‘instant’ results!

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

A beginner’s guide to the credit crunch, part 3

The period from 2002 - 2007 was, in general, a period that was good for stocks, property, precious metals and commodities. Throughout that period our portfolio managers, Martin Gray and Scott Campbell of Midas Miton Optimal, held exposure to these assets, although during 2007 they decreased their exposure to stocks and property, and favoured tangible investments, such as precious metals, commodities and cash even more strongly. They also allocated more to hedge funds and alternative strategies. During this period they generally preferred euro as a currency and this meant that our clients achieved satisfactory returns. The table below shows the managed currency portfolio performance for US$, Sterling and Australian$ investors (MBMG now offer managed currency portfolios in a total of 6 currencies, with euro, Thai baht and Singapore$ also available):

Year                      AUD               US$              GBP
2002                      14.02%           10.33%         4.97%
2003                      21.33%           20.74%         20.04%
2004                      14.01%           23.44%         11.25%
2005                      14.25%           7.99%           12.79%
2006                      9.13%             12.55%         2.65%
2007                      13.01%           4.44%           11.83%
Average                 14.29%           13.25%         10.59%

That is quite impressive but
what about the performance since the beginning of this year?
That is also a very good question - markets have been very volatile, many stock markets falling by 35% or more and this is a time when our approach really comes to the fore, or as Joanne Baynham of Midas Miton Optimal puts it, “Markets like these separate the men from the boys.”
So far this year there have been plenty of opportunities to lose money but not many to actually make it. In light of this, and our stated target to avoid losing capital in times like this, we believe that the managed currency portfolios will close out the year on a positive note. Year to date returns are far from exciting but avoiding excitement and achieving small gains this year is all that has been on offer to any strategy. Therefore we are satisfied that our managed currency portfolios have delivered what they are meant to:
1.7% 1.7% 1.7%
So why would say a Sterling investor not just move all his money out of investment into a deposit account paying 5%?
Another good question - there are a number of answers, it is only in hindsight that we can see that over the first eight months of this year, our portfolio ‘just’ delivered a return of 1.7% to Sterling investors. Not many of us can predict when returns will be delivered. Over the previous years, the average return of 10.59% was roughly double the bank rate of return. $100,000 invested into our managed currency portfolio on January 1st 2002 would have been worth $181,484 on January 1st 2008. The same amount invested into a high rate bank deposit would have been worth less than $135,000.
Admittedly our portfolio growth has been slower this year but as at the end of August the portfolio would have been worth $184,570 as opposed to the bank deposit at $138,365. In addition the depositor would have had to face the issues of keeping money on deposit at a time when banks in the US, UK and Europe seem to be failing almost every week, exposing the depositor to the risk of losing capital. So we would argue that our portfolios not only achieve better returns but also reduce risk. We have also written a separate paper about banking and investment risks around the world that covers this issue.
We think that the risk vs performance diagram on this page highlights the way that the multi-asset class approach manages to achieve this simultaneous reduction of risk and enhancement of returns. Of all the funds in the UK balanced managed sector, Miton’s Portfolio has delivered the highest returns but is also one of the least volatile (i.e. risky) funds within the sector.
Finally, and going back to the point about crystal balls, even if you had withdrawn all your investment on January 1st this year and you had made 4% at the bank what would you do going forwards? Would you keep it in a bank with very low bank deposit rates and watch its real value get eaten away by inflation? Our target is to outperform bank deposits by 450 basis points (4.5% in normal English!) over any significant period, say 3-5 years or longer. Therefore, delaying investment or trying to jump in and out of investments would not make sense. Because we invest across all asset classes there is no obviously good or bad time to invest into our portfolios. We aim to be an all weather fund - achieving good returns in all conditions. Some months will be better than others, some years will be better than others. However, unlike some traditional equity funds which can be limited within the charter they operate within (some are only allowed five percent cash!), by having such a diversified portfolio it allows the fund managers at Miton to take advantage of the greatest opportunities when they arise. That moment could well be now?
Really? With everything that’s happening in the world?
It is worth remembering Sir John Templeton’s famous aphorism that the moment of greatest opportunity in equity markets is also the moment of “maximum pessimism.”
That said, we foresee even greater pessimism ahead for equity markets and although we are looking to build some greater exposure to both Asia in general, and Japan in particular, equities are not our favoured asset class night now; but we do see opportunities in other classes.
Really? Where are the opportunities?
Firstly with ‘distressed sellers’ the de-leveraging process is creating exceptional dislocations and therefore good assets can be bought at distressed prices. An example is J-REITs (Japanese Real Estate Investment Trusts) which have tumbled in price because of contagion of sub-prime fears even though these do not actually apply in this case. When Scott Campbell visited Bangkok in June he also highlighted that panic had led to miss-pricing of UK commercial property trusts and of leveraged loans and that buying at current levels would, over the short to medium term offer very attractive opportunities for high returns at exceptionally low levels of risk.
Are there any other opportunities?
Very much so - there will be huge credit opportunities as banks continue to be starved of liquidity. Therefore, investment funds that act as liquidity providers to the credit markets should offer decent returns. In this context high quality asset-backed lending funds with good liquidity are a strong buy right now. Commodities remain in a long term super cycle and at current levels there may be interesting buying opportunities. Asia remains attractive.
As WPP group chairman, Sir Martin Sorrell, recently pointed out Asian growth rates are slowing but even at say 7-9% Asian, especially Chinese, growth is something that Western equity markets, sliding into recession, can only look at enviously. In particular Japan, as also highlighted by Scott Campbell during his recent visit, will look increasingly interesting once socio-economic reforms have been implemented.
Anthony Bolton, the famous UK fund manager, echoed Sir John Templeton’s famous comments last weekend, “Conditions do indeed look grim at the moment. But it is often when things look worst that the best opportunities emerge.”
So to sum up?
Be careful who you bank with. Look for opportunities and avoid uncompensated risks. In other words, do what our multi-asset class portfolio managers, Midas MitonOptimal, are doing. Above all remember that the combination of diversification and high quality active management can ensure that you can prosper in all conditions. For more details of our current asset and currency allocations please see the MBMG Q408 Asset Allocation Report.

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

Designed to save lives

And the best 100 baht you can spend

A young Thai friend of mine recently bought one of those retro-style Yamaha motor cycles. Very smart and cute. The bike, I mean. And fashionable, thanks to the design, which has made the model the number one best seller in Thailand (and possibly elsewhere). The marketing has concentrated on colours and, last season, the favourite was lilac, amongst about a dozen choices. This season it is a handsome maroon shade. I think, however, that the makers of these and other motor cycles are missing a trick. One that could save lives.
We all know that there is an inbuilt reluctance on the part of many riders to wear life-saving helmets. It messes up hair styles, makes them unrecognizable and if there is no place to lock the helmet there is a slight risk of theft. The aforementioned Nong was given a boring grey helmet along with his lilac ‘bike.’ Most of the time it stayed at home, despite the possibility of a 200 baht fine – or worse.
A couple of months later he turned up with a fetching little number exactly matching the shade of the bike, with a wide white stripe, chrome trimmings and a grey, flip down visor in the style of police helmets. This was a copy of those made by Yamaha, who are too mean and short sighted to give them away with the 45,000 baht purchase. They cost 550 baht and the makers offer the cheap alternative, but not, it seems, an allowance against the ‘smart’ lighter version. Why not sell the original version at 350 baht, instead of the list price of 550 and dispense with giving away the cheapo grey ones?
So, you guys at Yamaha, Honda, Kawasaki and other places that earn a fortune out of manufacturing these vehicles, how about a modest change in policy. Reduce the price of the fashionable accessories and save lives. Carry it one step further and get a famous designer label in to help with the design. Gucci, Boss or Versace perhaps. Or how about natty Burberry checks. Or even a Louis Vuitton matching pannier and helmet. And, has anyone given a thought to the birthday colours for the week? A bright yellow for Monday, soft pink for Tuesday, apple green for Wednesday, vivid orange for Thursday, pale blue for Friday, moody mauve for Saturday and a crimson red for Sunday. And how about offering to stencil the owner’s name on the back of the helmet with the date of birth? It could start a whole new line in chat up at the traffic lights.
All of which may sound flippant. But, since the police action and fines seem ineffective, some other action is desperately needed to make the wearing of helmets widespread. Sadly, telling young people that it will save lives cuts about as little ice as telling smokers that their habit is killing them. A different approach is needed. With fags it seems that price deters. And if I were in charge of the wording on cigarette packets I would put a health warning on one side and ‘Who wants to kiss an ashtray?’ on the reverse. The same attitude needs to be adopted towards road safety. Somehow the notions that it is smart to stay alive and smart to wear a helmet have to go hand in hand. Though, of course, that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of driving on Thai roads…
I don’t know whether you bought a Chiang Mai Charity Calendar last year, or were given one by a friend or business. Many thousands were sold and all of the money went to help needy children help themselves with projects at an orphanage in the Samoeng area. Well, the Calendar is on the market again and its theme is Lanna Life. I bought a few at a charity function at the Amari in late August and they have gone already to delighted visitors or in the post to the U.K. and elsewhere. It was easy to stock up again as they are on sale at Rimping supermarkets, galleries and other outlets.
This year the calendar is even more attractive and is a model of good design, clarity and information. They offer 14 months, beginning with this December and running through until January 2010. Each page is complemented by a bright and well produced painting by schoolchildren and youngsters and there is a page giving the Thai holidays (I already know that Loy Krathong is early in 2009 on November 2!) and other pages of information and a map of Thailand and the surrounding countries. It is of sturdy quality and designed to stand on a desk or table. At 100 baht, with a decent envelope (as sturdy as the calendar), this is a real snip. And the best thing is that all proceeds go to a good cause. The design, production and all the hard work involved in the sales is donated. So your 100 baht really is 100 baht in ‘profit.’ The idea is a brilliant one since it involves local youngsters in the process and the buyer or recipient has a super ‘present’ for the whole year and the satisfaction that the money has been well spent. You can contact the organizers on [email protected], and they will be happy to tell you where your nearest sales point is or how you can buy the calendars in bulk if you have a business – or, come to think of it, a lot of deserving friends. It is a really useful marketing tool as well, since they will print your company name or message on the calendar and that will be with people for a year or more.
And all for 100 baht. Apart from a winning lottery ticket I cannot imagine a better way to spend the money. And – you won’t win the lottery, will you?

Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
: apparently they thought better of Saw V – it didn’t materialize after all. It received generally negative reviews in the US.
Coming Soon:
Thai Horror – Oh dear me! To complete the Halloween pleasantries, I suppose. Perhaps to replace the cancelled Saw V, the Thais offer up their own version of a bloody scream-fest. This one is about a young projectionist who decides to help a friend illegally film a newly released horror movie, with dire consequences. Film pirates and illegal copyists take note!
Body of Lies:
US Action/ Drama/ Thriller – Directed by Ridley Scott and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe has been resurrected and is playing a regular engagement at Vista. I’m happy about that, as I like this film very much. It’s an exciting spy movie as dark as night and as ruthless and vile as Abu Ghraib. Smart and tightly drawn, it has a throat-gripping urgency, with some serious insights. If you like an action movie with some thought behind it, you should see it.
This film succumbed to the curse of all recent movies revolving around Iraq and the war on terror: It has not done well anywhere; in fact, it’s turning into a huge commercial failure. It’s really too bad, but it seems that moviegoers here, and in America, and around the world, seem to be allergic to matters revolving around Iraq and the war on terror. Films like Rendition and Redacted have foundered at the box office (and never even made it to Chiang Mai), as have movies only tangentially linked to the conflict (like The Kite Runner, set in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan; although that one did run here in Chiang Mai awhile back, thanks again to Vista). It would be a shame if such sentiments kept you from seeing this really quite excellent, thinking-person’s action drama, that unapologetically raises issues concerning terrorism and the fight to combat it. At Vista only, and thanks to Vista for bringing it back.
Tropic Thunder:
US Comedy/ War – I heartily recommend this, but only for those not easily shocked. You might just have the best laughs you’ve had in years. Robert Downey, Jr. gives another amazing performance, this time playing a black. It’s an action comedy about a group of self-absorbed actors who set out to make the biggest war film ever. It’s full of low comedy and much dirty talk. Rated R in the US for pervasive language including sexual references, violent content, and drug material. Directed by Ben Stiller. Generally favorable reviews.
Queens of Langkasuka:
Thai Adventure/ Fantasy – Nonzee Nimibutr’s 200-million-baht historical action-fantasy, more than three years in the making, is for me an entertaining Thai blockbuster – big stars, loads of special effects, lavish costumes, and an exotic seaborne setting.
Max Payne:
US Action/ Thriller – Starring Mark Wahlberg. Based on the popular interactive video game, it’s the story of a maverick cop determined to track down those who murdered his family. Basically for fans of the game and action movies, but it has some striking and stylish visuals in a somber mood that I really liked, and an intense performance by Wahlberg.
City of Ember:
US Adventure/ Family/ Fantasy – A family film with a subtly dark feel rarely seen in kids’ movies. It has almost everything one could want from a science fiction-based family film: likeable characters, an imaginative setting, and a fast pace. Has a fabulously designed and intriguing underground metropolis. Mixed or average reviews. Airport Plaza only.
E-Tim Tai Nae:
Thai Action/ Comedy – A boxer in a show in Pattaya falls in love with a Japanese tourist. The usual type of low-class Thai comedy.
Luang Pee Teng II / The Holy Man II:
Thai Comedy – Bad boy becomes monk, meets misadventures, makes merit. This second of the series stars famous Thai rapper and hip-hopper Joey Boy in a typical Thai comedy.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
US Animation – A new adventure in the “Star Wars” series, here done with animation. The movie has gotten generally negative reviews, most saying that the mechanical animation and a less-than stellar script make The Clone Wars a pale shadow of George Lucas’ once great franchise, and a cheap excuse for a big-screen spectacle. It’s more like a long Saturday morning cartoon, and a trailer for the upcoming new Star Wars series on the Cartoon Network. Parents may be perturbed by the film’s relentless violence. Generally negative reviews. At Vista only.
Scheduled for Nov 5
Quantum of Solace:
UK/US Action/ Adventure/ Thriller – Starring Daniel Craig and Judy Dench. The last James Bond film, Casino Royale (2006), the 21st Bond film, was a complete restart or reboot or reinvention of the James Bond film series for modern audiences. This film is a continuation of this re-imagining of the series, starting about an hour after the close of Casino Royale. Early reviews: Generally favorable.


A familiar friend – the Stag’s Horn Fern

A common and easily-grown houseplant back home which is also available here is Platycerium alacorn, the Australian Stag Horn Fern. Here, this attractive plant can be grown on a piece of bark hanging in the air, as it sustains itself on the minimum of compost collected by its secondary leaves. These grow upwards hugging the bark and allowing dead leaves and debris to be collected to form rooting material. As a result, its roots cling tenaciously to the bark and cannot easily be removed.
The main spore-bearing leaves are shaped like stags’ horns, giving the overall effect of a magnificent “trophy” stags’ head on a supporting shield, exactly as seen in many a hunting lodge and stately home throughout Europe and the Americas.
Here in Thailand one of the species favours the northern areas – another favours the south. Both, however, outshine their Australian relative! Their sheer size can be an unforgettable sight when full grown. Often found for sale by the roadside, having first been torn from the trees, these plants make marvellously easy to grow house plants, which can be hung on a balcony or strapped to an existing tree. In the right shady and humid conditions, the plant will germinate its spores and proliferate in a woodland or orchard setting without damaging the host tree in any way. If well-placed, they can be an amazing conversation piece, so do try one, or even several if you have the room.

Tip of the Week
All orchids and other air plants prefer rain water to tap water. If you are able to collect rain water for this purpose, your air plants will grow better and be happier!

Bridge in Paradise : by Neil Robinson

On Sept 29, 1929, in Kansas City, Missouri, John and Myrtle Bennett sat down to play bridge against their neighbours, Charles and Mayme Hoffman. John dealt the hand below and opened 1S. His wife raised him to 4S. Unfortunately, he went down. His wife goaded him about his poor play. The argument escalated to such a point that his wife shot him dead. Not surprisingly, this created a sensation. Myrtle was tried for murder, but the jury ruled the killing accidental. It is reported that she continued playing bridge, but encountered some difficulty finding a partner!
South dealer

                                    S: A1063
                                      H: 1084
                                      D: 4
                                      C: A9842              
S: Q72                                                       S: 4
H: AJ3                                                       H: Q95
D: AQ1092                                                 D: KJ763
C: J6                                                          C: Q753
                                      S: KJ985
                                      H: K762
                                      D: 85
                                      C: K10                  
South             West                  North              East
(John B)         (Charles H)        (Myrtle B)      (Mayme H)
1S                   2D                       4S                    All pass

John certainly overbid when he opened his ace – less 10 points. I like Myrtle’s aggressive 4S call however. West led the ace of diamonds and shifted to the jack of clubs. South won the king in hand and led the jack of trumps (to tempt a cover by the queen). When West did not cover, he went up with the ace and led the spade 10. East showed out and he won with the king in hand. Next, declarer trumped a diamond in dummy, played the ace of clubs and then the club nine. East covered with the queen and declarer trumped with the five of spades. West over ruffed with the queen and cashed the ace of hearts. At this point, EW had taken three tricks and declarer had to take the rest. So far, NS had taken only five tricks, two top spades, two top clubs and a diamond ruff. This was the situation as West led a low heart:

                                S: 6
                                  H: 108
                                  D: -
                                  C: 84                    
S: -                                                            S: -
H: J3                                                         H: Q9
D: Q109                                                   D: KJ
C: -                                                           C: 7
                                  S: 98
                                  H: K76
                                  D: -
                                  C: -                        

Declarer won the heart lead with the king. Unfortunately, he could not get to dummy to cash the good clubs and throw away his losing hearts. So, he ran his trumps and went down two. Overall, I like his line of play. He was extremely close to making the contract. He just made one small error. Can you see what it was?

His error was ruffing the club with the five. If he had only ruffed with the eight he could have saved his life! Then, he can lead the five of spades to the six on board and cash the good clubs. He makes the last five tricks with the king of hearts, two clubs and two trumps, for a total of ten tricks. I wonder whether he had time to regret his error. Send me your interesting hands (whether or not involving gunplay) at: [email protected]