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Christmas in Burma

What a relief …isn’t it?

Does Osteoporosis drug cause jaw bone disease?

Online forums - a blessing or a curse?

 

Christmas in Burma

part 2

A relief team leader
We walked into the hiding place after four days spent looking at Burma Army camps. The people in this hiding place site were all displaced earlier this year by one of the new camps we just photographed, and had been fleeing since the Burma Army first started their attacks in this area of Western Karen State in 1972. Since then, they have fled attacks many times. One 62 year old man told us he thought he had been displaced 500 times in his lifetime.
There are 17 families hiding here in a small ravine in a bamboo thicket. Their homes are small shacks made of bamboo and grass, some covered in tarps that our teams had given them earlier. There are two small water points where pieces of bamboo channelled the small flow of a little stream. Here, the families can collect water and bathe.
As we walked into the site, there was a plastic tarp spread on the ground, with children sitting on it, with one of the team leading them in songs and games. Mothers and fathers stood in front of their small huts, holding babies, smiling and laughing. As we got closer, the team handed out presents for the children, and then the whole team sang a blessing song - a very moving melody, with powerful words about God being with us at all times.
I felt very sad that the people had to live like this, but at the same time I felt the more powerful emotion of love, hope and joy, as the team and the families bonded together. I thought, ‘this is wonderful and the Burma Army probably wouldn’t believe it if they saw it’. Here are people that they are chasing who have lost so much, who are still smiling and singing and who haven’t given up.
I looked around the cluster of small huts and the smiling and happy people. I looked as the medics began to prepare for treatment and I thought, ‘this is a wonderful thing’. I felt satisfied. Not satisfied with the situation and the people in hiding, but satisfied that all of us at this site were happy together and that on this day, we would all eat well and sleep well.
Later that same night other Karen from different displaced villages came to sing carols at the hide site. They went to every family’s house and sang. As we looked up at the stars and listened to the singing, I thought, ‘This really is Christmas’. I want to thank all of you who pray for, love, and help these people, and all of you who help us here.
God bless you and Merry Christmas.

 

What a relief …isn’t it?

Elena Edwards
That’s it for another year! Did I hear the same collective female sigh of relief echoing through the night air at approximately 12.30 p.m. January 1 as I used to hear in the West, or was it just another firework spluttering its last?
Through all the years I’ve been ‘celebrating’ Christmas and the New Year in various UK homes, with various different shapes, colours and sizes of female friends (with the odd - some very odd - males thrown in for light relief) the same question seemed to be on all our lips – “Why the *** are we doing this?”
Of course, in the West it has to be the ‘full Monty’, with Christmas trees, beautifully wrapped and carefully chosen presents, the delicious, moist and definitely free-range turkey with all (and I do mean all) the trimmings, six different vegetables (all fresh, of course), the Buck’s fizz on Christmas morning and the mulled wine on Christmas night, plus the huge amount of brandy sloshing around in the Christmas pudding. Add to that the traditional seasonal fact that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Repeat with seasonal variations a week later at New Year.
Roughly translated, this perfect (and usually unattainable) scenario boils down to the following: Hours spent finding a tree that isn’t half dead (you just hate the non-biodegradable plastic versions, don’t you?); more hours spend checking every single minuscule bulb on lights which worked perfectly last year after hours had been spent checking each bulb; the annual turkey panic when the local butcher (Halal, of course) can’t find your order and delivers you a frozen nasty too large to go into the oven; the endless search for fresh Brussels sprouts and chestnuts in the local supermarket, packed out like Man U’s terraces at a home game.
Then there is the annual Sellotape hunt at 1 p.m. Christmas morning, the realisation that you’ve forgotten to buy at least 5 presents, wash your hair and do your nails, invite the next-door neighbours and cater adequately for the single vegetarian on your guest list! By the time, some 5 hours later, you get to the first Buck’s Fizz, you don’t only deserve it, you desperately need it … I’m not even going to mention how much worse it is if you have kids, and/or a massive hangover. It’s hardly surprising that divorce lawyers find a queue down the street and round the corner when they reopen after the festivities.
So, why do we do it? Tradition, maybe - certainly, in most homes these days, it’s not a lot to do with the birth of the founder of one of the world’s largest religions - even our kids know about the council of ‘wherever it was’, at which all the major dates in the Christian calendar were decided.
The commercial spend-fest (evident even this sorry year) into which this essentially family occasion has been transformed, plus the annual unusual tragedy (man made or otherwise), which regularly occurs in at least one location in the world, combine each year to make peace and goodwill seem like a vision from another planet. Yet, we still do it. Every year.
Maybe it’s just that we have a need to return occasionally to our childhood days, when the anticipation as the advent calendar unfolded was almost too much to bear, and we tried so hard, on the long awaited Christmas Eve, to stay awake to catch our parents playing Santa. A time in our lives when all our dreams seemed possible, and we had all the years ahead to make them happen.
Perhaps our New Year’s wish, whatever it was last week, should have been that we are allowed to rediscover some of that childhood magic, and transfer it into our new lives here. Peace and goodwill, in this increasingly troubled world, are a lot to hope for – they always have been - but at least let’s recapture some of our dreams.


Does Osteoporosis drug cause jaw bone disease?

Many of us, if not sufferers ourselves, will know women in our group of friends who do have the distressing and irreversible disease, osteoporosis. And most women who do will be taking prescription medication manufactured by the major pharmaceutical company, Merck.
Disturbing research results at a USA university’s dental faculty, published recently in the American Dental Association’s Journal, and backed by reports from UK and USA dentists and orthodontists, suggest that a side effect of the drug may be osteonarcosis of the jawbone (ONJ). This condition leads to long-term infection which can result in destruction of the jawbone itself. The study results suggest that as many as one woman in every 25 could be at risk.
Despite claims from the manufacturer (which largely dismisses the report) that the risk seems to be confined to patients who are receiving the drug Fosamax intravenously, UK and USA dentists are seeing an increasing number of otherwise healthy women who have developed this problem, and are advising that any major dental work should be carried out before a course of the drug is started. They are concerned that the trauma of major dental work such as implant surgery in a patient who is already taking the drug (even in tablet form) may trigger the onset of ONJ.
A London, UK implant specialist states that, “Doctors prescribing this medication should advise patients to delay taking it until they have had dental treatment, especially implants and extractions. We need to get the mouth healthy and keep it that way to minimise the risk.”
A spokesman for Merck said the study had “methodological flaws and scientific limitations, making it unreliable as a source for valid scientific conclusions.” He would though, wouldn’t he.


Online forums - a blessing or a curse?

CMM Reporters
In the earlier days of the internet revolution, online forums were originally seen as a means for the newly computer-savvy world to talk to its neighbour freely, informatively, controversially and without fear - widely regarded as a kind of cyber ‘speakers’ corner.’ Anyone could post, on any subject, in any country, using any language, and present their views, however reactionary.
Everything changed, and with the increasing sophistication of the truly world-wide web, the increasing concern of certain governments about their murky secrets being online for all to see, combined with increasing amounts of porn and similar material, the nature of forums began to alter. Moderators were introduced, governments blocked outside and local access, and the ‘control’ game began.
Human nature and ingenuity being what it is, on many sites, serious discussion and the dissemination of essential information continued, and, happily, still does.
Increasingly, though, some forums are becoming dominated by posters who delight in whingeing, mithering (both words originate in the north of England - rough translation - miserable moans) and generally being unpleasant. Moderators, in their turn, seem to have become conscious of the power they hold, and have been known to manipulate subjects and opinions in a way which, presumably, reflects their own feelings, by slashing posts or simply closing threads, whilst ignoring downright rudeness in many cases.
Many of us, before we arrived in Chiang Mai, will have spent a good deal of time reading posts on the local Chiang Mai Visa Forum in order to give ourselves a feel of the city itself and its expat community. The practical information in its pages is often accurate (although rather more so on pubs, bars, restaurants and shopping than on visa matters or political upheavals, for example), but the community and discussion posts over the last several years seem to have declined in number and content and attract little relevant response. Prospective incomers and new arrivals will find few recent posts containing current informative material on how best to live and what to avoid.
The general and totally inaccurate impression given is that Chiang Mai is simply a warmer and cheaper version of ‘home’. Is this what is considered suitable by the forum’s moderators? A similar fate overtook the Expat’s Club forum some months ago, once the venue for occasional lively debates, now a graveyard of shopping requests with very few posters and very little which represents the ‘real’ Chiang Mai.
It’s all slightly reminiscent of the creeping police states in our home countries, and not at all what was intended when online forums began, many years ago.
Over Christmas week, two relevant threads were started, both containing controversial material with possibly negative effects on at least one respected Chiang Mai organisation, and information on a problem which had been a subject of discussion in several sections of the community for some while. Information concerning the second thread had already been distributed in hard copy at a public meeting.
One thread resulted in a large number of private messages from concerned parties to the poster, but both threads were locked before too many people (it was Christmas week, after all) had a chance to read them and perhaps post a reply.
A further thread, objecting to the locking and removal, made it onto the page for at least 5 minutes before it was answered by a robot, ending with the words, ‘Further attempts to re-open the previous topics or discussing this again in the public forum will result in a warning and/or suspension.’
Concerned parties will just have to return to muttering amongst themselves, and the wider community will have lost the opportunity to both have its say and increase its awareness as a result of information received and considered. And people researching Chiang Mai before they commit themselves to emigration may well wonder why free speech on seemingly important issues was not allowed beyond a certain point.
Those of us working in the media are fully aware of the restrictions on printed content and the legalities concerned. However, if an online forum thread which does not breach these specifically Thai regulations, and which addresses problems which concern the community at which it is aimed, is blocked or even deleted with no rational explanation, perhaps we are entitled to draw our own conclusions about the control of our right to free speech that this implies. In spite, of course, of the small print on the Thai Visa website.
So, online forums - are they a blessing or a curse? Seems it depends on where you live!