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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

Don’t Miss


Bridge in Paradise

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

The Rabbit and the Ferret

I have just returned from having a gastroscopy, that wonderful diagnostic procedure where, by the wonders of modern technology, your friendly gastroenterologist can actually send a camera down your oesophagus (esophagus if you come from the left hand side of the Atlantic ocean), into your stomach and then a sharp right and into your duodenum. In this case, my duodenum.
Now this was not a procedure that I decided to have upon a whim, or having nothing better to do one Friday morning. On the Thursday evening I had eaten some wonderfully spicy Spanish prawns, but before I had finished the main course, I had this intense burning feeling in the area we doctors describe as the epigastrium, but you would probably know as the ‘solar plexus’.
I excused myself and went to the toilet where I spat out what seemed like liters of mucous that were coming up my oesophagus as the burning pain continued unabated. I tried drinking some cold water, but not only would it not go down, but it came straight up again. Resorting to the finger down the throat, I was again unsuccessful, other than renewing the mucous tsunami.
Now I know my own body reasonably well (I’ve had it a long time), and I was fairly confident in my diagnosis of oesophagitis, but since the symptoms were still there the next morning, it was time to talk to the gastroenterologist.
The time was set and I was told to change into the hospital gown and taken through to the procedure room. There I had the choice of sedation or local anaesthetic. I chose the local, preferring to know exactly what is happening to my body at all times.
The actual procedure isn’t too bad. A little uncomfortable perhaps, but with the local anaesthetic in the throat, the flexible tube and camera slips over relatively easily. Dr Thitima kept up a running commentary on the state of my never before viewed anatomical insides, which are inflated to allow proper vision, and I was relieved to hear that my problem was only an ulcer where my oesephagus went into the stomach. It could have been worse. Ulcers are fixable.
Procedure over, you go to the recovery area where you are then monitored to make sure everything is right before you get dressed. It was during this 10 minute wait that the problem with the ferret began.
For those who are not knowledgeable on ferrets, they are a domesticated animal originally used for hunting rabbits, though some are kept as pets. The California State Bird and Mammal Conservation Program found that by 1996, approximately 800,000 or so domestic ferrets were likely being kept as pets in the US. Goodness knows how many pets there are in the world now, though some states in Australia prohibit ferret keeping, along with public nudity and selling deep-fried prawns on the beaches.
But back to my ferret. As opposed to poor old coyote, who never quite manages to nail Bugs Bunny, a ferret will pursue and catch his rabbit in its warren. While lying on the stretcher, a strange gurgling effect began happening in my insides. This is known as ‘borborygmi’ (that’s why my medical course took six years - the first four years were learning to spell the big words) and I could follow the gaseous gurgles as they ran through my small intestines. Like a ferret after a rabbit, they turned left and hopped around the spleen, encircled the kidneys, turned hard right at the bladder, sidestepped the appendix and bolted into the large bowel, where it all seemed to go quiet.
I dressed and suddenly I knew I had to break wind. Or the ferret had caught the rabbit, or something similar. I hastened to the toilet, anal sphincter at maximum closure, and in the confines of the stall was able to let the gas go. I was afraid of flying round the room backwards. As (Sir) Mick Jagger sang in ‘Jumping Jack Flash’, “It’s a gas, gas, gas!” It certainly was.
So that’s what to expect if a gastroscopy is ordered for you. Some discomfort, a quick diagnosis and a gaseous ferret unleashed. Now you know.


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
I took a friend over to Thailand on a bit of a working holiday over Xmas. Well, I was working and he was playing but he enjoyed himself very much. That was so much that he came back again on his own for the New Year, and used me as the excuse, which I wasn’t happy about. He told me he took up with the same girl from the bar we used to drink at, and she seems a nice enough sort of girl, but the problem is the chap is already married to a really nice woman in the UK. They’ve been married for about 15 years, she’s stuck to him through all the bad times and now things are looking better and they have two kids and a nice home, and now he tells me he wants to give it all away and move to Thailand to be with his “girl friend”. How do I get some sense into him? He’s going to lose everything he’s ever worked for all his life, if his wife doesn’t kill him first.
Dear Neil,
It’s a common problem, my Petal. The English lads come over here for a holiday and everything seems to be free and easy. (Well not quite ‘free’, but very reasonable.) The holiday ‘romance’ is so much fun, the Thai girls are so easy to get along with, no wonder they think that this is so much better than at home with the married relationship going a bit stale and the kids being demanding. What they conveniently forget is that the free and easy bar girls are just doing their job, making tourists believe in fantasies. And it is just that - a fantasy. If it wasn’t a fantasy, why does Hillary get so many ‘broken heart’ letters every week? How do you get some sense into him? It’s difficult, Neil, it really is. Getting someone off Thai bar girls is harder than getting a confirmed 20 year smoker off the ciggies. There are plenty of books for them to study, such as Stephen Leather’s Private Dancer, or even this weekly column, but will they believe it? That’s the problem. They all think “their” girl is different, and some of them are - some have blonde hair! But beneath it all, they are working in the bar to make money. Bigger money than they could make at the Tesco check-out. It’s a financial relationship, not a ‘love’ or even a fun relationship, as your friend will eventually find out. Show him this letter, Petal, you sound like a nice caring guy.

Dear Hillary,
A couple of weeks ago you told some poor chap who had gone out to Thailand to see the girl he was pretty sure he was going to marry, that he should just like it or lump it when the girl in question had gone off with some other guy to Chiang Mai. You also came up with the sweeping statement that “90 percent of those guys never show up again”. Of course, when you are saying it’s OK for them to go off with someone else who just happens to be there at the time, and bad luck for the poor sod who had gone out to see her, no wonder. You are excusing very poor behavior, my Petal Hillary. I reckon you owe him better advice than you gave him.
Dear John,
You are guilty of quoting me out of context, Petal. You are conveniently leaving out my statement, “If you’re here for a good time, then go out with the good-time girls. If you’re looking for your life’s partner then you don’t begin in a bar.” He was looking in the wrong place, that is what I was trying to tell him. If you want to buy some cheese, then you don’t find it in a hardware shop. Can I be any more plain than that? That’s the best advice he could possible get.

Dear Hillary,
Following on in the vein of that naughty man: ‘unbeliever’, may I ask the thorny question, ‘Are you actually a lady of the female gender?’ Your approach in your column seems very masculine to me; why don’t you publish a visual image inside your ‘heart’ at the top of your column, unless you look like Claire Raynor or Marge Proops? Are you going to give me a literary lashing for my cheek, wearing only thigh-length boots, a thong and nipple tassles (sic), like Madame Whiplash? Ooh, I hope so.
Submissively yours, John Thomas.
Dear Submissive John Thomas,
May I ask the thorny question, ‘Do you really have a John Thomas?’ What have I done to engender doubts on my gender? Your approach seems very British to me, being so disrespectful to my sisters in The Sun and The Daily Mirror, such newspapers known for their consistent high standards. Or should I say, standards. And who are you referring to in the thigh-length boots? You or me? By the way, before you get too excited with your verbal imagery, it’s ‘tassel’, not ‘tassle’, Petal. I will publish my photograph the day you get photos of your John Thomas published in these pages.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Mastering DOF

Taken at f4

Taken at f16

What’s DOF? Quite simply, it is Depth Of Field, and mastery of DOF really is the second rule of photography in my opinion. Before you ask, the first rule is to walk several meters closer to the subject!
The Depth Of Field in any picture can often make or break the entire photograph, but knowing how to manipulate the depth of field improves your photography instantly!
The term DOF refers to an optical one and depends solely on the lens being used and the aperture selected. Altering the shutter speed does not change the Depth of Field.
Depth of Field really refers to the zone of “sharpness” (or being in acceptable focus) from foreground items to background items in any photograph. This is different from what the eye sees, as the eye can instantly focus on near and far objects, giving the impression that everything in your field of vision is in sharp focus. The camera, however, gives you a slice of time.
The first concept to remember is “1/3rd forwards and 2/3rds back.” Again this is a law of optical physics, but means that the DOF, from foreground to background in your photograph can be measured, and from the focus point in the photo, extends towards you by one third and extends away from the focus point by two thirds.
For those of you with SLR’s, especially the older manual focus SLR’s, you will even find a series of marks on the focussing ring of the lens to indicate the Depth of Field that is possible with that lens.
Take a look at this week’s photograph, and look at the background. It has been made into a soft blur. How did I change this DOF sharpness? Answer, with a flick of the wrist!
You see, for each focal length of lens, the DOF possible is altered by the Aperture. The rule here is simple - the higher the Aperture number, the greater the DOF and the lower the Aperture number, the shorter the DOF. In simple terms, for any given lens, you get greater front to back sharpness with f22 and you get very short front to back sharpness at f4.
For example, using a 24 mm focal length lens focussed on an object 2 meters away - if you select f22, the DOF runs from just over 0.5 meter to 5 meters (4.5 meters total), but if you select f11 it only runs from 1 m to 4 m (3 m total) and if you choose f5.6 the Depth of Field is only from 1.5 m to 3 m (1.5 m total).
On the other hand, using a longer 135 mm focal length lens focussed at the same point 2 meters away, you get the following Depths of Field - at f22 it runs from 1.9 m to 2.2 m (0.3 m) and at f5.6 it is 1.95 m to 2.1 m (a total of 0.15 m).
Analysis of all these initially confusing numbers gives you now complete mastery of DOF in any of your photographs. Simply put another way - the higher the Aperture number, the greater the DOF; the smaller the Aperture number the smaller the DOF; plus the longer the lens, the shorter the DOF, the shorter the lens, the longer the DOF (just remember the ‘opposites’ - the longer gives shorter).
Now to apply this formula - when shooting a landscape for example, where you want great detail from the foreground, right the way through to the mountains five kilometers away, then use a short lens (24 mm is ideal) set at f22 and focussed on a point about 2 km away.
On the other hand, when shooting a portrait where you only want to have the eyes and mouth in sharp focus you would use a longer lens (and here the 135 is ideal) and a smaller Aperture number of around f5.6 to f4 and focus directly on the eyes to give that ultra short Depth of Field required.
Master it this weekend, and just remember that these optical laws hold good for all cameras, be they film or digital.

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Investment picks for 2009 - what to look out for

Look at 1929 to 1932 - a four year losing streak that saw the Dow Jones fall 89% from 381.17 on September 3rd 1929 to a low of 41.22 on July 8th 1932.

2008 has been one of the worst years in living memory for many investment classes.  So where do we go from here?  What can investors expect in 2009? With a slightly flippant look, please see our thoughts for the rest of this year.

“You know until you see the light, there ain’t no end, no end in sight…” - Steve Lukather, David Paich, Simon Phillips, Mike Porcaro and Bobby Kimball of Toto
As many regular readers know, we have been negative on equities since 2007 and continue to be wary. Historically, around 70% of all years since records began have been positive for equity indices and 30% have been negative. The chart below shows the extent of the negative years.
Although we are skeptical about selective use of historical precedents to predict the future, we continue to believe that the history of the Great Depression contains the best clues as to how the current devastation might play out. As the Spanish philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is good advice even now.
We should therefore recognize the possibility that the effects of the current crisis may linger for quite some time to come and there may be no respite for equities in the year ahead so cautious opportunism should be the prevailing modus operandi.
In 2007, with the Dow at 14,164, we expressed concerns that a correction could drag the DJIA below 7000 to a range as low as 3500-5000. This remains our expectation - the Dow dropping below 7000. UK and European equity markets should fare little better. The outlook for the Australian market could be even blacker than for other developed markets. Asian markets should bounce back more quickly and more strongly once the bottom has been reached and, while it is far from clear that we are currently anywhere near the bottom, keep a sharp eye out for a time to get back into Asian markets.

“Get out and get what you can ... No time to understand” - Ian Anderson, lead singer, Jethro Tull
The property bubble of the last two decades has dwarfed all other bubbles. But like all bubbles it has burst.
Falls approaching 20% in UK and US property markets in 2008 could be the thin end of the wedge and we would continue to look to sell (at almost any price) rather than buy property in UK, USA, Australia, Spain, Ireland, Greece and Portugal among others, where holding or buying property looks like an extremely risky proposition.
Anyone determined to hold onto property should consider insuring the value of it with Two Seasons Property Protector which is designed to go up in value by the extent that property falls in value, BUT ‘costs’ only around 5% of the property value (e.g. in return for paying a one off ‘premium’ of $50,000 you can ‘insure’ a $1,000,000 property).
Opportunities may start to appear in Asian property markets in 2009.  Japanese REITs as well as Thai residential property linked with land both merit consideration.
Fixed Interest

“I can’t get no … satisfaction” - Keith Richards & Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones
Rates are now mostly at historic low levels. For the foreseeable future we expect muted further cuts.  Treasuries may no longer be a safe haven. For the first time since the Great Depression there is systemic default risk across major developed sovereign debt markets as well as in smaller developing markets.
Corporate debt will yield opportunities but the longer the recession drags on, the farther away these opportunities remain.
However, there are still opportunities in certain funds that spread the currency risk such as the Asian Century range of funds which do not exactly set the world on fire but do offer better returns than most banks out there.

“The candle blew out long before the legend ever did” - Bernie Taupin (for Elton John)
Commodities have corrected from the speculative bubble that drove them to such levels that in June last year we warned of air pockets and recommended that investors follow our lead selling out of this asset class. The immediate direction of industrial commodity prices will remain under pressure driven by gloomy economic news.  Longer term themes like food and water look to be a better play.
Precious metals

“Got Brass… in pocket” - Chrissie Hind, the Pretenders
Precious metals have a great deal of potential to rally now. We believe that every portfolio should hold gold as a hedge against the failure of other asset classes and the continuing depreciation of most major currencies.
Private and
Venture Equity

“You take me up, oh ho, you take me up to the higher ground” - Tom Bailey, The Thompson Twins
Venture Capital (VC) might never be a more attractive proposition than it is now, thanks to a dearth of liquidity, especially in historically inefficient VC markets such as here in Thailand. The mai’s (Market for Alternative Investments - part of the Stock Exchange Thailand) innovative matching SME venture programmes and the Peak XV Venture Fund offer opportunities to investors willing and able to exploit this.
Hedge funds and alternative assets

“I wish I knew you, I wish I knew you before” - Amy MacDonald
People sometimes confuse non-mainstream investments with genuine hedging strategies. The hedge fund class overall fell in value far less than traditional equity or property funds last year and anyone unfamiliar with individual sectors such as managed futures missed out on making around 20% in 2008 while low volatility liquidity funds yielded 0.5%-1.0% each month in a range of currencies. Luckily, it is not too late to join this asset class - strategies providing liquidity and a genuine hedge should continue to strongly outperform in 2009.
Overall Picture

“I’ve seen the future, brother; it is murder” - Leonard Cohen
The global economy could struggle even more this year than last and western property markets, listed equities and certain corporate debt instruments may be the biggest victims. Illiquid strategies are best avoided and could be the year’s horror stories. Sovereign debt no longer seems to justify the risks and cash remains an important asset class allied to an active brief to seek out the definite opportunities that are still out there.

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

Cause for Celebration

No, I’m not talking about the inauguration of President Barack Obama into the White House. That – quite rightly – will have been heralded, cheered, mulled over and discussed by every pundit, newspaper and radio and TV station in the world. No one has come to power with higher expectations made of him. Now all we have to do is wait until the end of the 100 day ‘honeymoon period’ and wait for the sniping to begin as people realize that miracles – contrary to myth – do not happen, and that the mess left behind by Bush and his fellow torturers is going to take years to sort out.
My celebration is far more modest and is inspired by an email from my movie colleague on this paper, who notes a quintet of films coming to Chiang Mai in the very near future. All are of great interest and at least two should be unmissable. Put alongside the masterworks being shown at the Alliance Franšaise in February, this should prove the best cinema-going month in the city for many a year. Let me say immediately that, although I’ve seen all the great French films many times, the following comments on the new ‘Hollywood’ works are based on reviews from the USA and the UK, plus comments by friends and from general knowledge of the directors and others involved and, let’s be honest, prejudice and instinct.
First off, on January 29 is an adaptation of a fascinating 1922 short story by F.Scott Fitzgerald, whose masterpiece The Great Gatsby has eluded film makers on two occasions but whose shorter works seem to have been translated to the screen with great success. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is directed by David Fincher, whose brilliant and disturbing Se7en, Fight Club (both with Brad Pitt) and, more recently, Zodiac have placed him among the leading American directors of the past two decades.
The story tells of Benjamin, who enters the world as an old man and gets younger each day, regressing from aged dependency into childhood, passing through ‘history’ backwards. A wonderful premise for the story, now a lavish movie, starring the talented Brad, who plays Benjamin throughout most of his life.
A week later, on February 5, we are promised not one new movie but two. Gran Torino is the very latest work by the redoubtable Clint Eastwood, who continues to astonish us with the quality of his work in the twilight of his career. Nudging 80, Clint, whose career stretches back to an appearance in a Francis the Mule film, through his mature years as a mega star turned director, has, in the past decade plus, given us great films. The best of these were the two takes on Iwo Jima, one from the American side and the other – and better – from the Japanese. Changeling opened at the Cannes Film Festival last year but has yet to surface in Thailand. He followed it with Gran Torino, claiming that it will be his last work in front of the camera, but adding that he could not resist the role of the crusty Korean War veteran, because both the character and his age suited him. Although he remains a Republican, there is a new mellowness and decency about his work that contradicts his earlier right wing movies.
In those earlier days, he would have been an opponent to the lamented Harvey Mill, whose life is depicted in the new biopic Milk, directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Sean Penn, who is cast against type as the murdered gay activist who came to prominence when he moved from New York to San Francisco in 1972 and organized that city’s gay life into a political force. He worked from the grass roots up through to the elite of the city and became Mayor, only to pay dearly with his life in 1978. He was assassinated by a fellow worker (what is it about America and their murderous guns that insists on killing off their best people?), but his work lived on. This is the film in the quintet that I have the most hopes for, not least because of its maverick director’s wonderful talent, which has matured with films such as Elephant, the short Le Marais and Last Days.
The remaining films open later in the month and are likely to prove less exciting. Revolutionary Road is directed by the stage-bound Sam Mendes and stars his wife Kate Winslet. The reviews have been unkind or, as my gentle colleague would say ‘mixed to average.’ He has a kindlier view of movies than I have, accusing me of having seen ‘too many.’ My suspicions about the Mendes film are that it will be ‘another’ Atonement, directed with talent but also with a very heavy hand.
The same might apply to the intriguing sounding Valkyrie, directed by Brian Singer of The Usual Suspects fame. This has been around a while and stars Tom Cruise, sporting an eye patch as Col. Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, one of the officers who sadly failed to rid the world of Hitler before the end of the war. It was meant to re-ignite tiny Tom’s career, being a serious movie which offered a role against type. Sadly for him, he attracted more attention for his manic turn as the egotistical producer in the spoof Tropic Thunder. That’s show business, I guess!
Anyway, keep your eyes on the film column for times, locations and the programmes at the Alliance Franšaise, which are on Friday evenings at 8 p.m. Happy viewing!

Let's Go To The Movies: : Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
Red Cliff Part 2:
Hong Kong War/ Action – The second and final half to John Woo’s magnum opus Red Cliff, and an epic of grand scale in the Chinese manner.  Produced and directed by John Woo.  Both Chiang Mai theater chains should be ashamed of themselves for showing this large and beautiful film in a Thai-dubbed version only, with no English subtitles, thus effectively making this large-scale Chinese epic unavailable for those who do not understand Thai.
Hod Na Haew:
Thai Comedy/ Drama. More comedy with popular Thai comedians from TV.
The Elephant King:
US/ Thai Drama/ Romance – Filmed for the most part in Chiang Mai.  Two American brothers – one domineering, the other introspective – as they binge on drink, drugs, and women in Chiang Mai.  The mother dispatches the younger son Oliver off to Chiang Mai to do everything he can to lure his reckless, older brother Jake back home to the U.S. to face pending fraud charges.  Oliver finds the intoxication of Chiang Mai hard to resist, and as he falls deeply in love for the first time, his brother Jake slips deeper into despair, and the seams of their relationship begin to come undone.  Rated R in the US for sexual content, drug use, language and some violence.  Mixed or average reviews.
Blue Sky of Love / Fah Sai Jai Chuen Ban:
Thai Drama – A supposedly comic view of the bloody events of 6 October 1976, when student protests created a revolutionary period in Thai history.  It’s the story of a university girl who leaves her comfortable life in Bangkok to join a Communist Party army in a remote forest, and then falls in love.
The Fatality / Tok Tra Phee:
Thai/Taiwan Mystery/ Horror – An unsuccessful man in Taipei commits suicide, only to wake up in the body of a coma victim in Bangkok.  His new life is almost perfect – he now has a stable job, a healthy body, and a beautiful wife, but as the two souls fight for control of the body they start developing supernatural powers over life and death itself, leaving havoc in their wake.  A Thai-Taiwanese co-production.
Australia Drama/ Adventure – Set against the backdrop of World War II, this is Baz Luhrmann’s epic, sweeping tale of an English woman (Nicole Kidman) who inherits a sizable cattle ranch “down under.” Mixed or average reviews.  At Vista only, and only in a Thai-dubbed version.
The Happiness of Kati:
Thai Family/ Drama – Based on the best-selling novel by Ngarmpan Vejjajiva.  Not enough believable conflict in the script to make it a compelling drama, but it is well-acted, and beautifully and lovingly photographed.  Best described as a loving tone poem of a film to a certain Thai way of life and living.
US Horror/ Mystery/ Thriller – A television reporter and her cameraman are trapped inside a building quarantined by the US government after the outbreak of a mysterious virus which turns humans into bloodthirsty killers.  It has the single hand-held camera style of such recent movies as Cloverfield.  Some people find the “one actual camera” trick leads to heightened reality; others find that the constant jiggling of the picture and rough-shod editing gives them a terrible headache.  If you think you can put up with it, you will find this to be a quite frightening movie, as I did, once the introductory first 20 boring minutes are over.  Rated R in the US for bloody violent and disturbing content, terror, and language.  Mixed or average reviews.
Yes Man:
US Comedy – Jim Carrey as a man who signs up for a self-help program based on one simple principle: say “yes” to everything for an entire year.  Mixed or average reviews.
Bedtime Stories:
US Comedy/ Fantasy – Starring Adam Sandler.  A surprisingly pleasant and amusing family-friendly movie about a hotel handyman whose life is changed forever when the bedtime stories he tells his niece and nephew start to mysteriously come true.  The director is Adam Shankman (Hairspray). Generally negative reviews.
Scheduled for Jan 29
Germany/ UK/ US Adventure/ Family/ Fantasy – 106 mins – Brendan Fraser and Helen Mirren.  Based on Inkheart, a 2003 children’s fantasy novel by prolific German author Cornelia Funke (who has been likened to J.K. Rowling), and the first part in Funke’s Inkworld series, the other two books being Inkspell and Inkdeath.  The fantasy trilogy concerns the adventures of bookbinder Mortimer “Mo” Folchart (played in the film by Brendan Fraser at the insistence of the author) and his 12-year-old daughter, Meggie, a voracious reader.  As revealed in the film’s prologue, Mo is a Silvertongue, a person with the rare ability to bring the characters in a book to life simply by reading the text aloud.  Directed by Iain Softley. Mixed or average reviews.
Fireball / Tar Chon:
Thai Action/ Martial Arts.  The world of underground barbaric fighting in Thailand.

Don’t Misss : by Andy Archer

The College of Music of Payap University and Bennett Lerner and friends present ‘Nocturnes and Barcarolles’, the third part in the series featuring the music of famed French composer Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) and his contemporaries. The solo pianist will be, of course, Chiang Mai’s own Bennett Lerner, who will also be accompanying mezzo-soprano Sheilagh Angpiroj, performing music by Faure and Reynaldo Hahn.
The concert will take place at Payap’s Saisuree Music Hall on January 31, beginning at 7.30 p.m. Admission is 200 baht, with a 100 baht concession for students. For more information, please contact 081-804-3920. This will be a superb concert, and definitely not to be missed.
Chiang Mai Flower Festival: between February 6 and 9, with parades around the city’s moat road of beautifully decorated floral floats, floral competitions, displays of all different species that grow here in the north during the cool season, beauty contests, traditional markets, musical events and exhibitions. See page 1 of last week’s issue for full details and times, or contact TAT on 052-248-604 between 8.30 a.m. and 4.30 p.m.


Succulents are easy

Succulents belong in areas less severe and harsh than those in which cacti successfully survive. As a result, they do not need such a formidable armoury of defences against their environment. In fact, they mostly have no defences at all, although a few species such as the Agave (Agavaceae family), native to America, do have spikes, far fewer than do cacti. The European equivalent is the Aloe (Asphodelaceae family), considered by the Romans to be the medical panacea for all ills. They resemble the New World’s Agave, but have no defences at all.
Succulents store water in their leaves; both Agave and Aloe have rosettes of fleshy leaves with the absolute minimum of stem, and tend to hug the ground. Any stem that extends underground will send up hundreds of ‘babies’ around the mother plant which can be broken off and grown individually. This is the plant’s strategy – if the mother plant ends up as a good meal for a predator, the ‘babies’ remain in the ground to grow normally in its place.
The Kalanchoe family of succulents has an infinite variety of interesting shapes, leaf colours and textures, and will also grow hundreds of ‘babies’ on the edge of the leaves which fall off onto the soil below, where they quickly root and begin to grow. If they do not produce these complete small plants attractively set at the edge of their leaves in their thousands, the fleshy, water-filled leaf itself drops off and will root and produce baby plants before it shrivels and dries up.
The Euphorbiaceae family look very similar to cacti, simply because they use the same strategy. They have the same swollen, water-filled stem for survival, but unlike cacti, they can produce green leaves after rain to maximise growth in favourable conditions. These leaves will drop off in dry weather.

Tip of the Week
Although succulents will not die when you forget to water them, they can look ugly when they drop all their leaves. If you want them to thrive and look beautiful, you must remember to water them regularly.

Bridge in Paradise : by Neil Robinson

Whenever you have four trumps (or you believe your partner has), then the best line of defence is often a forcing one. You try to find the partnership’s best suit and force declarer to ruff in the hand with the long trumps. The purpose is to shorten declarer’s trump holding to the same as yours. Even better if you can reduce declarer’s holding to less than yours – then you are in control of the hand. The deal below is an example of a forcing defence. With neither side vulnerable and South dealing, this was the bidding:
South   West      North     East

1S         P              2S            P
3S         P              4S            All pass

The full deal is shown below:

             S: J98
             H: QJ7
             D: KQ7
             C: 8632  
S: 7532                S: 4
H: 853                  H: K10942
D: A5                   D: 9843
C: KJ94                C: A107
             S: AKQ106
             H: A6
             D: J1062
             C: Q5     

Imagine you are sitting West. From your point of view, defeating the 4S contract does not look good. So what do you lead? If you lead a spade, a heart or a diamond, then South will make the contract. Declarer pulls trumps in four rounds, forces out the ace of diamonds, crosses to dummy and leads the queen of hearts. Since the king of hearts is on the right side, he makes 10 tricks (five trumps, two heart tricks and three diamond tricks). The defence takes only the ace of diamonds and two club tricks. Contract made.
However, you have four trumps, so it is time to try the forcing defence. Indeed, this is your only hope of defeating the contract. Your strongest suit is clubs, so you lead the four. You are fortunate to find your partner with an honour. He wins the ace and leads back a club. You win the king and lead a third high club. Declarer ruffs and has to use all his remaining trumps to pull yours. Now, when you win the ace of diamonds, declarer is helpless. You lead the nine of clubs and take the setting trick. Contract defeated. If this was your planned line of play, congratulations! Please send me your interesting hands at: [email protected]