HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The Doctor's Consultation

Don’t Miss 318

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in Chiang Mai

Let's Go To The Movies


Bridge in Paradise

Alliance Française de Chiang Mai

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

BPPV - A fearsome condition - or am I spinning you a yarn?

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) is a very common, but very distressing condition. In it, you feel that the room spins around you and you cannot stop it. Have you ever been so drunk that when you lie down on the bed the spinning rotation is so bad you grip the edges of the bed to stop falling off? That is what BPPV is like - but without the hangover!
The symptoms of BPPV include dizziness (vertigo), lightheadedness, imbalance, and nausea. Activities that bring on symptoms will vary, but are almost always produced by a rapid change of position of the head. Getting out of bed or turning over in bed are common ‘problem’ motions. Because people with BPPV often feel dizzy and unsteady when they tip their heads back to look up, BPPV is sometimes called ‘top shelf vertigo.’ Women with BPPV may find that being shampooed can bring on the symptoms too. It also tends to be recurrent. So until you read further, don’t look up or get your hair washed!
To understand BPPV, you have to understand the workings of your inner ear. You have three semi-circular canals aligned in different directions, which act like spirit levels (the builders type, not the three fingers on the whiskey glass barman type) which have cells with fine hairs bathed with fluid as your head moves in different directions. The movement of the fine hairs sends electrical impulses to the brain to tell it (and you) which way is “up”.
However, with BPPV, the natural movement inside the semi-circular canals is disrupted, so the fine hairs send the wrong signals to the brain, and being unable to work out which way is really “up” the sufferer falls over, totally unable to save themselves from hitting the floor. Debilitating and embarrassing!
The commonest cause of interruption to the normal ebb and flow in the semi-circular canals is produced by “ear rocks”. These are made up of crystals of calcium carbonate, and we medicos call these “otoconia”. Imagine these to be like sugar crystals in the bottom of your coffee cup. These now swish around every time you move your cup, and likewise your “ear rocks” swish around every time you move your head.
However, it is not all that simple (it never is, is it?) as the commonest cause of BPPV in people under 50 is head injury. In older people, the most common cause is degeneration in the semi-circular canals of the inner ear. BPPV becomes much more common with advancing age, but in 50 percent of all cases, BPPV is called ‘idiopathic’, which is a fancy word we use when we have no real idea as to the cause!
Viruses can be accused too, such as those causing vestibular neuritis, minor strokes such as those involving anterior inferior cerebellar artery (AICA) syndrome, and Meniere’s disease are significant but unusual causes. Occasionally BPPV follows surgery, where the cause is felt to be from a prolonged period of lying on the back with the chin raised (for the anesthetic tubes to slip down your throat), or ear trauma when the surgery is to the inner ear.
Because there are some other conditions which can produce similar symptoms, it is necessary to correctly identify the cause. Today, specialist clinics (Hearing, Speech, Balance, Tinnitus) can identify the true nature of your recurrent dizzy spells (so you may not have to take more water with it) and look towards the correct further actions.
Is there any treatment? Yes there is, usually a series of maneuvers you are put through which are designed to move the ‘ear rocks’ around till they no longer cause problems. These are demonstrated by the balance specialists and usually result in around a 90 percent cure rate.
If you are a sufferer from what looks like BPPV, do check in and have this investigated. No need to suffer needlessly!


Don’t Miss 318

March 26 at the Chiang Mai Museum, on the Superhighway at Chang Peek sub-district, Muang.  If you’ve always been fascinated by things Japanese, this is for you - a lecture demonstration of the Zen and Chado tea ceremony.  Given by Fumiko Boughley, Cultural Ambassador of Japan, this interesting event will be held between 10 a.m. and 11.45 a.m.  For more info, please phone the museum on 053-221-308.

March 26-27. Nakhon Payap International School is holding a musical theatre staging featuring a number of international students, entitled, ‘Honk Jr - the Musical’ at its new auditorium on the Second Ring Road.  The show will begin at 6 30 p.m., and tickets cost a mere 70 baht, with a 50 baht charge for students.  To reserve tickets or for further info, please call the school on 053-110-680, ext. 101, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.  If that doesn’t work, try calling Ploy, the school’s PR manager, on 089-999-0858 or 089-433-7133!

March 29: Suriya Gallery will host the latest of its cultural talks, beginning at 6.30 p.m, with an illustrated presentation given by Jacqueline Suter, entitled ‘Hide and Seek’.  Jackie will give guests a unique glimpse into the dilemmas faced by contemporary Burmese artists as they try to express their interpretations of present-day Burmese society without falling foul of the Junta and its minions!  Rare works of art not previously shown in public will be featured.  For more info, please visit Suriya Gallery’s blog at

March 30: The next Chiang Mai Friends’ Group meeting will take place at Track of the Tiger’s office on 22/8 Moo 4 Mahidol Rd, T. Nong Hai, A. Muang, beginning as usual with the Friends’ Dinner at 5.30 p.m.; the meeting itself follows at 7 p.m.  The speaker will be Komsan Pausri, the chief of Chiang Mai’s Labour Department, who will share information and tell many tales about working in Thailand.  To follow, Shane Barry will present the Eco-Logical teaching volunteer program, and provide information on village visits which help to promote environment, education and integration.  The evening meal will be provided by the Just Khao Soi restaurant; guests can order from the menu - dinner and meeting fee is 350 baht, meeting only is 80 baht.  See you there!

April 3: The Textile Group are planning their next field trip, which will be to Sop Moie Arts, a fascinating shop located on Chareonraj Road, specialising in the traditional arts, including beautiful woven items of the Pwo Karen people.  Kent Gregory, one of Sop Moie’s founders, will be on hand to explain the compelling mission of his group, which seeks to better the lives of the Pwo Karen people by providing commercial markets for their textiles, baskets and other handicrafts.  The products they make are very high quality and in demand throughout the globe.  The event will begin at 12 noon.  For further info please see the CMTW listing for the Textile Group on this page.

April 9-30: CMU’s Faculty of Fine Arts together with the Promotion of Northern Thai Craftsmen’s Group present an exhibition entitled, ‘The Wisdom of Lanna Arts, and Craftsmen 2009’.  Featured will be demonstrations of tradition local crafts, a northern Thai food cooking competition, a northern Thai traditional market with northern Thai music and a traditional drum competition.  The exhibition, at the CMU Arts Centre opposite the Convention Centre on Nimmanhaeminda Road, is free to visitors, and will open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. from April 9 to 15 and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the remaining days, closed Mondays.  For more info please call 053-944-814 or visit the website on

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
Can nothing be done about the public transport here? The song taew drivers give the place a bad name with their stand-over tactics and demands for fares much greater than should be the case. No wonder the foreign tourists look for taxis, but unless they have their wits about them they will again be quoted exorbitant fares, rather than using the meters. This seems to be the norm for all of the taxis parked at the side of the street. For a real fun time, try a tuk-tuk which will attempt to take you straight to the nearest jewelry shop that pays for their fuel. Until our city fathers meet the song taew monopoly head on and produce a real public transport system, this will always be a third world tourist destination.
“Where you go?”
Dear “Where you go?”
Unfortunately you are quite correct in most of your comments, my Petal. The songthaews which do not have any fixed or marked destination will always be a turn-off for tourists, as the majority of the drivers do not speak another language. Why would you expect them to get on transport with unmarked destinations? Taxis advertise meters and refuse to use them, or “meter broken” every time. Perhaps it is time for the TAT to get involved and issue ‘tourist bus’ licenses for drivers who meet a minimum standard in communication. Hillary has given up with the songthaews, taxis and tuk-tuks, and uses motorcycle taxis when possible (still none in Chiang Mai). They appear to be a friendlier bunch and will heed the “cha-cha” (slowly) instructions. You do have to barter first, but that’s part of the fun of living in the ‘third world’.

Dear Hillary,
My wife always forgets when her visa runs out and it always ends up with me paying for overstays. I even said I would handle it if she wanted, so that this did not happen all the time, but she asserts her independence all the time and calls it interfering if I say I’ll take charge of it. This has happened more than just a couple of times too.
Visa Val
Dear Visa Val,
You have come to the right person as yours is an easy problem to fix (permanently). Your wife wants independence above all else, so give it to her. Let her overstay and let her pay for the overstays at whatever it is a day at the current going rate. With any luck it will cost so much they won’t let her back in and all your future woes are fixed at the same time.
Dear Hillary,
Please give that Mister Singha person the old heave-ho. Or if you can’t do it through age or infirmity, let us know and we’ll happily do it for you. We are tired of reading the drivel he comes out with.
Carl Saberg and the boys
Dear Carl (Saberg and the boys),
I think you are even more out of date than I am, my Petal. Carlsberg? Or “Carlsaberg” as it was known, hasn’t been seen on these shores for some years. But you have to remember the commercial side to all this - he did send me a bar of Lindt chocolate, which is more than you have! Not that it is compulsory to send me little gifts (but large ones are even more acceptable)!
Dear Hillary,
Have you seen that funny photo of your venerable consultant clutching his second edition? He looks as high as a kite and I haven’t laughed so much since Uncle Jumbo caught his wotsit in the trouserpress! What’s he on, Hillary? What is the old boy on?
Dear Mistersingha,
I was about to consign you to the round file in the corner of the room, but I relented, just to show you there are no hard feelings. The Lindt chocolate bar did help your cause, but the goodwill from that is rapidly running out. You have also got me in a quandary, Petal. References to consultants and “Uncle Jumbo”? What are you on, Mistersingha? What are you on?

Dear Hillary,
Why do the Thai girls all wear those molded plastic and rubber bras that look like two dumplings attached to the front of their chests? It is obvious that the lumps don’t belong to them, but come from their bra manufacturer. I’m like a lot of guys and like a nice pair on a girl, but real ones, not rubber ones, please.
Tim the T-man
Dear Tim the T-man,
I presume you mean Tim the Toyman, you naughty little Petal! I must admit that I have never heard the girls in the lingerie shops asking if madam would like one lump or two, as I have heard in some five star restaurants over coffee. Perhaps something swinging is going on behind the kitchen swinging doors that Hillary is unaware of. Dearie me! Since Thai girls were standing behind the door when the chests were given out (the Russian ladies made it to the front row), we have to do something to catch the eye of Toymen like you, Tim. So you have discovered our secret. Don’t tell everyone, that’s a good boy.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Painting with ‘dark’

My first photographic studio was in a large building which had its own theatre for marketing activities. Unfortunately the business that had occupied the building went bankrupt, so there were no tenants, but I knew the caretaker, and I scored the theatre area that could be used for photography.
The theatre stage had all the lights you could imagine, footlights, overhead lights, spots, flares, everything. It even had an enormous sound system, so I could blow my ears off while setting up photographic sets for the commercial photography I was doing at that time. With all the theatre’s tungsten lighting, I used no flash, but compensated for the color shift by using blue gels over the theatre lights. Actually I had too much light, but it was all part of the learning curve.
My next studio was in a large waterfront building that had been a warehouse. I rented an area and then I painted everything white. Floors, doors, walls, windows. I had decided that I wanted to be able to use small apertures, so I needed as much light as I could get. By this stage I had also graduated to multiple flash units, so I had lighting that would have brightened up the darkest days. I could shoot at f32 easily with my Broncolor flash heads. There was only one problem. I could not get sufficient shadow to produce a good 3D effect. I was getting flat 2D pictures. I resorted to making huge flats (walls) which were painted matt black to try and get some shadow. The results were better, but the lighting was still not where I wanted it to be.
In the third studio, I used what I had learned from the first two and I painted the entire studio black - floors, doors, walls and windows. Now I could get good shadows, show form and even shoot mysterious images. I called this stage in my photographic career ‘painting with dark’.
Dark shadows allow the viewer to imagine what is being hidden. Your photograph “hints” at something and the viewer’s mind does the rest from there. This is used to great effect in ‘glamour’ photography (as opposed to pornography, by the way).
I found that it was much easier to begin with total darkness and then add the lighting I wanted (or needed) to produce the effect. I could gain complete control over the lighting, with no stray bouncing light to complicate and confuse, as had been the problem with my white studio.
Look at the two shots this week, of the dark-skinned girl in the black studio. In the first shot there are two light sources, a front light with a square ‘softbox’ fitted (look at the reflections in the eyes) and one hair light to the right rear.
Now look at the second shot, which had three light sources - a front light and two hair lights from either side, producing a more stark shot compared to the other moody dark shot. Even though there is some light spill in both shots, there is no resulting extraneous lighting to dilute the blackness. Painting with dark, I called it!
The third shot has three lights. A front light, a hair light and one very strong light into the black background, causing it to ‘blow out’. This shot is memorable because of the very sharp contrasts between light and dark.
Try to remember that darkness (shadow) can be even more important than light at times.

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Where do we go from here? Part 3

If you have suffered major losses in a serious economic downturn, the relevant argument is to look at whether or not it is clearly better to remain invested or not. The answers may surprise some readers. There have been many periods when, having been hurt by the onset of a downturn, it is better for investors to cut their losses rather than remaining invested as per the primary indices.
The chart on this page shows this much better than I can attempt to describe.
An investor would have been much better exiting the markets in 1900, 1929 and 1966 than remaining invested until the cycle lows of 1903, 1932 and 1975. In particular, let us focus on the most comparable previous major downturns. An investor who decided to hold and wait for the recovery after the market crash of 1929 (when the market fell around 35% from the peak to the year end) would have incurred a further loss of 34% in 1930 and then another loss of 53% in 1931. In fact, by the time the low was reached in 1932, an investor who stayed with the market would have seen the value of $100,000 reduced to just $10,814. An investor who had simply exited the Dow after the initial carnage of 1929 would have been almost SEVEN times better off. Our analysis of the data since then shows that if the Dow falls in a calendar year, there is a 38% chance that it will fall as well in the following year and the average fall in such a year is in excess of 20%.
Generally, the odds of a rising year after a falling year are reasonable; around three out of every five years following losing years tend to yield gains. However, the losing years tend to be heavy losses. Specifically, in a situation of the magnitude of the current crunch, precedent suggests that we should expect three more years of pain to follow and that the losses of 2008 might be less than half way down to the bottom.
We would emphasise that every situation is different - we have never exactly been here before and investment opinion is fiercely split as to what could happen next. But to say that history would vindicate a passive holding strategy at this point is completely misleading.
The cost of making the wrong choice at this time can be devastating - this is not a short term problem. Again, let us look to history for guidance. From 1900 to 1943, the Dow yielded an annual rate of return of just 2.3% per year. In real terms, there has been a fifty year period when the Dow returned less than 0.5% per year. In more recent times, from 1962 to 1982 the DJIA increased at a rate of just 2.4% per year. These are the dangers of buy-and-hold investing.
Now let’s look at the flip side of the coin. Without doubt, there are also good times. Simple maths dictates that there is a 60% chance of making money following a bad year. However, it is choosing where to go and what to do so as to reduce your risk that makes the difference.
In Summary
I would highlight there is still good money to be had. For instance, distressed property funds and distressed corporate bonds - these offer exceptional opportunities at clearly defined risks to the analytical buyer at the right time. Gold still looks good as does the multi-asset class approach. For those with a more adventurous outlook then Venture Capital and Private Equity can offer good returns but the potential downside is big as well.
The biggest shake up in the global economic landscape since the onset of the Great Depression has caused us to make a number of changes to our portfolios and we anticipated this scenario … any portfolio that was not positioned for these momentous events and yet still is not reacting is holding assets that have no relation to the prevailing economic situation. We fail to see how that can make any kind of sense from a risk-adjusted perspective. To our way of thinking it makes no sense to do nothing when the world is changing so quickly. Ostriches may bury their heads in the sand but good portfolio managers remain vigilant at all times - never more so than now!

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

That’s all Folks

And don’t forget the incomparable L’Atalante…

A sure sign of encroaching senility is living in the past, married with the disconcerting habit of being unable to remember where you put your spectacles. This was brought home to be a couple of weeks ago, (again!), when I quoted verbatim what a schoolmaster had said to me when I was about 15. Musing on this final column, (before a trip back to the U.K.), I recalled something another teacher said around the same time and which also stuck with me.
What’s surprising is that I can hardly recall another thing about those seven years of so-called education. Only Economics and English interested me and the rest has been picked up since—geography through travel, French from innumerable visits to that delectable, irritating country, a distrust of religion through non-observance of any and most else from music, countless books and 20,000 movies and the social and cultural values imparted by directors such as Rossellini, Satyajit Ray and geniuses such as Dreyer, Ozu and Bresson.
So why remember the following observation? Possibly because it was delivered with the world-weary cynicism that comes with having to teach youngsters whose anxiety for the lesson to end is outweighed only by that of the teacher in question. (I’d recommend a maximum sentence of two years to anyone as a teacher – a salutary experience – but no more).
This man considered that there were only two types of person in the world; one ‘group’ will, without malice – unwittingly, even carelessly – leave a trap (say an open manhole cover) unattended, into which we fall and break a leg. The second will contrive a trap, say an open man-hole cover, open quite deliberately, into which we fall and break a leg.
I invite you to ponder on this and find analogies. Put it more simply. There are those who cross the road to avoid contributing to a charity collection box and there are those who cross in order to make that contribution. Givers and takers. Parasites and activists. Just as there are people in authority who are bone idle and so non-confrontational that they allow bad things to happen. Smog in cities. Deaths on the road through lax driving instruction and inadequate tests. More deaths through the non-wearing of helmets. The widespread use and abuse of animals, such as street-living elephants, ill run zoos and animal parks. Drunk driving at night. And the actions of bullies who harangue people so that they are unable to exercise their human rights.
There are others in authority who actively ‘encourage’ all of the above, since it is in their financial interest to do so. Laxness helps line the pockets of those who half heartedly ‘enforce’ laws such as the wearing of helmets. Allowing the smog in cities avoids a confrontation with farming neighbours and with the rot daeng, whose level of pollution is not checked. Not stopping masked protestors also saves problems and even encourages them, thereby keeping favour with a particular group.
So, passively or actively, things that need to be faced up to are ignored. Nothing gets done, in cities throughout the world.
The game may be played endlessly. As I said, the givers and the takers. The organisers and those who follow. The pro-active and the lazy. The cruel and the humane. The veggies and the foie gras officiandos. The hesitant and the quick. The mean and the generous. And so on and so on. You will, of course, come to the conclusion that there is a third group, which does not fall into either ‘extreme’ category.
It is, though, worth recalling the saying that if you are not against something, then you are for it. Complacency is not an option. Personally, you may choose not to cross the road to avoid or seek out a collection box, but if you pass it by without consideration or ignore the social and cultural life of a city, that is no excuse. If you don’t replace the open man-hole covers so that passers-by no longer fall into them and break a leg, you are as culpable as those who left the trap.
Whatever you plan to do on April 3, here is a better alternative. Alliance française (details on another page) are continuing their current excellent season of French movies and, on this coming Friday, will be screening one of the defining masterpieces of cinema – Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante, starring Michel Simon with Dita Parlo and Jean Daste as the lovers. This was Vigo’s only full length work (he made shorts, A Propos de Nice and the great Zero de Conduite – all under an hour). It is a ‘simple’ story of life on a barge, of lovers parted, and contains arguably the most beautiful sequence in French cinema as the husband Jean dives into the river, swimming below the surface in order to recapture memories of the woman who has left him. Vigo died very young. But movies come and movies go, and L’Atalante lives on for ever. It is quirky, tender, exquisite and unique and makes the lumpen fare which passes for current cinema seem very, very feeble and, above all, desperately old fashioned.

Let's Go To The Movies:  Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
The Reader
: US/ Germany, Drama/ Romance – Wonder of wonders, The Reader has been extended at Major Cineplex, though for how long is a question – perhaps only a few more showings.  I find it astonishing that it appeared here at all, let along last more than a week.  Many thanks to Major Cineplex for bringing this fine film to Chiang Mai.  I recommend it and urge you to see it while you can, to experience the story and the Oscar-winning performance of Kate Winslet.
It also stars Ralph Fiennes and the young David Cross.  It’s about an unrepentant Nazi war criminal – a female guard at a concentration camp – and her long-ago affair with a young boy.  There is enough intelligent, compelling material here to make it a worthwhile meditation about the post-World War II implications of the Holocaust upon the German psyche and as the tale of the tragedy suffered by one man because, at a vulnerable time of his life, he fell in love with the wrong person.
Rated R in the US for some scenes of sexuality and nudity.  Mixed or average reviews.
Seven Pounds:
US, Drama/ Romance – I find this a truly dreadful movie, and it makes me feel very uncomfortable just to talk about it.  I think it’s grim, morose, undone by an illogical plot, and shamelessly manipulative of your emotions.  But I must admit Will Smith is a charismatic actor, and if you watch it you will get involved.  In this unbelievable and exasperating story, Smith plays an IRS agent who is depressed and guilt-ridden about mistakes from his past, and sets out to make amends by helping seven strangers.
In preparation, you might ponder Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and consider what the weight of a human heart actually is.  Generally negative reviews.
Meat Grinder: 
Thai, Horror – A slasher/horror, torture-porn thriller about a noodle-shop lady who serves up a special meat with her dishes.  Shades of Sweeney Todd!
Dragonball Evolution: 
US, Action/ Adventure/ Fantasy/ Sci-Fi – This film doesn’t open in the US/UK until April 8; they’re testing it on us here in Asia!  It’s the tale of young warrior Son Goku, who seeks to fulfill his grandfather’s dying request to find the great Master Roshi (a very delightful Chow Yun Fat) and gather all seven magic Dragonballs before the evil Piccolo does.  Feels much like being caught inside an arcade computer game, but with less logic.  Based on the hugely popular 1984 Japanese manga by Akira Toriyama which lasted for 519 issues.  This live-action film, directed by James Wong (Willard, Final Destination), is vastly confusing to all who have not read all 519.
Miss You Again / A-Nueng Kidthueng Pen Yang Ying: 
Thai, Comedy/ Drama – The third in director Bhandit Rittakol’s popular teen romance series.  In Thai only, with no English subtitles.
US/ UK/ Canada – Action/ Drama/ Fantasy/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – This film simply blew me away!  Once you accept the violence and the comic-book origins, you will find this a monumental film.  If you liked The Dark Knight or A Clockwork Orange, you should appreciate this.  It’s complex and multi-layered, and set in an alternate 1985 America.  Amidst all the blood there’s a lot of philosophy, and a lot to think about before you see it again.  Rated R in the US for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity, and language.  Mixed or average reviews.
US Animation/ Comedy/ Family – John Travolta does a superb job voicing Bolt, a canine TV star convinced of his superpowers who sets out on a cross-country journey to find his owner.  I found this whole enterprise a complete delight, containing many moments of real heart.  If you at all enjoy animation, don’t miss this one.  Generally favorable reviews.
Best of Times: 
Thai Romance/ Drama – A leisurely romantic drama that centers on two couples, young and old.  A young vet struggles to forget his first love, but when he meets her again years later she doesn’t seem to remember him at all.  And an elderly man and woman, each alone in the world, meet and fall in love.  I found it tedious and unremarkable, though I did enjoy the performances of the older couple.

Scheduled for Mar 26
Australia/US, Drama/ Mystery/ Thriller – A teacher opens a time capsule that has been dug up at his son’s elementary school; in it are some chilling predictions – some that have already occurred and others that are about to – that lead him to believe his family plays a role in the events that are about to unfold.  Starring Nicolas Cage.
Khan Kluay 2: 
Thai, Animation/ Adventure – The legendary elephant is back in action in this sequel to the animated movie Khan Kluay.  It’s set after the victory at Ayuthaya against the invasion of the powerful Burmese Empire, when Khan Kluay is appointed King Naresuan’s royal elephant.


The good, the bad and the impractical

‘It’ll be great to have time to create a garden!’ A phrase frequently heard in harsher climes, spoken with longing by those who’ve made the decision to up, leave, and deposit themselves in the vicinity of Chiang Mai, known (rather optimistically right now) as the ‘Rose of the North.’
Those of us who either weren’t born with green fingers (or enough time management and organisational skills to work ‘gardening’ into our hectic Western schedules) were possibly well-used to gazing out of our double-glazed windows at an approximation of a horticultural junkyard. Which, of course, regularly reduced itself to a pile of dead leaves during the winter season. In the UK, garden centres don’t even begin stocking ‘bedding plants’ (so-called because after planting around 100 of the darn things, one has to retire to bed to rest one’s back) until the end of May. The end of May, already…by September, being annuals, they’re all dead! On a first visit to Chiang Mai, open-mouthed amazement at the sight of flowers and greenery everywhere coincides with the realisation that ‘Of course! It never gets cold here!’ Usually followed by the thought that, once safely installed, one can just plant anything that appeals and let it get on with it. Mmmmmm.
During the first several weeks after arrival, you lounge on your terrace, gazing at the expanse of grass you’d ordered to be laid before your arrival, and realise that you’ve got rather more of an area than you’d allowed for. Why is it so difficult to visualise square metres? Never mind, plants are so cheap here. Next trick: head, full of anticipation, for Kam Thieng, in your shiny, newly purchased car with its immaculate interior…
Once there, the open-mouthed amazement syndrome sets in again, but this time it’s different. This time, you realise that not only are there literally thousands of varieties to choose from, but also that you’ve not the faintest idea what most of them are, how large they grow, whether they’re ‘shade’ or ‘sun’ varieties, etc, etc. Panic! Result: you grab several rather large examples of something that looks vaguely familiar and has pretty flowers on it. Next shock: you live too far out of town for delivery, a fact which has been made known to you with the help of a passing vaguely bi-lingual Thai. Hint: learn the basics of the language before you get here. Gazing sadly at the (hitherto) immaculate interior of that shiny new car, you realise that you have a choice: a hell of a cleaning job or a songthaew. Then you remember that you won’t be able to direct the driver to your moo baan (back to hint). No choice there, then. Two hours later, having chosen the ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ option, you find yourself crammed in your car with a large number of unfamiliar horticultural delights, most of which are deliberately preventing you from either seeing out of the windows or finding the gear stick and at least two of which are extremely prickly. After forcing yourself to repeat the process at least twice a week for a month, you decide that your lovely new garden is now stocked. At this point, due to the state of your car’s interior, you’ve stopped offering lifts to new acquaintances. By the end of the month, you’re lounging (slightly stiffly, due to all that digging) on your terrace again with your new garden beautifully planned, planted and blooming. That, you may think, is that. Wrong!
Problem no. 1. Soil. By now, you’ve noticed that, under your grass (which is about to become problem no. 2) is enough builders’ rubble to build another, slightly smaller house. Around now, you begin to remember reading that chemicals in concrete, cement dust, etc. are seriously unfriendly to plants. This possibly explains the depressed appearance of certain of your treasures. Usually the more expensive varieties, plus the absence of worms for at least 6 months! Snakes yes, worms no. Don’t worry, though, just empty bags of fertiliser over everything and wait for a year or so. Nature wins out in the end, as you’ll notice every time it rains by the huge number of worms wriggling everywhere. One tip, though. Don’t waste expensive fertiliser on your bougainvilleas. They’ll grow anywhere, even on Mars!
Problem no. 2. Grass. Or the lack of it. Worse yet, if you have succumbed to several of Care for Dogs’ cuties. The almost total lack of it. Remember that your developer, from whom you ordered topsoil and grass, passed on your order to someone else, who dug up some soil from the nearest patch of uncultivated land, dumped it in your garden and threw some turves on top. Watering and fertilising? Wrong, again. You arrived some weeks or months later. What did you expect? Two remedies: get the entire area bricked over, or wait until you can’t stand the dust/mud any longer and replace with Malaysian grass. You know, the more expensive, broad-leaved stuff you thought you’d ordered and paid for originally? Right.
Problem no. 3. Descriptions. Bush – in the West, a small, fat, green object rarely growing taller than 4 feet. Out here, a small, fat green object which won’t stop growing until it’s the height of the house. Solution: chop it. It won’t die on you, promise. Plants are supposed to grow tall to reach up to the sun. If you don’t chop like crazy, some of them will probably get there! Given the almost daily sunshine in CM, we can’t see the urgency, but then, we’re not a plant.
Bamboo – a tall, decorative and extremely useful grass, certain varieties of which will not spread underground and come up in the middle of your living room. Of course, you have been assured that the variety you have just bought will stay where it’s put. Rule no. 1: don’t believe a word you’re told. Within 3 months, you’ll be living in a bamboo grove. Just don’t go there. Admire the huge clumps along the roadsides outside town instead, and take heed. They didn’t get that size by accident.
‘Traveller’ palms, with their huge, beautiful leaves…oh boy, do they ‘travel.’ Upwards, and upwards, and ever upwards, finally necessitating the re-siting of your satellite dishes and any ‘sun’ plants that are in their ever-encroaching shade. Is it really worth it?
Undeniably beautiful bougainvilleas, see under ‘bush,’ but also, they should be fitted with warning signs as the spikes on their stems can grow to at least 2 inches long. Ouch! However, they are undeniably beautiful, which is why we keep an industrial-sized supply of plasters rather than digging them up and giving them to our worst enemy.
Problem no. 4. Bugs. And funguses. And plant diseases. All of which, as this is Thailand, are unfamiliar. And you don’t want to use chemicals, particularly as you can’t read the labels on the bottles! A local remedy, spraying with soapy water, gets you very clean plants. All still bug, disease and fungus-ridden. Sometimes, your precious plants die, most times they don’t, especially if you rip off infected leaves. Yet another reason to control the height of bushes. Falling off a ladder whilst ripping off leaves is not an acceptable option as it means the bugs have won!
But let’s fast-forward to the third anniversary of your arrival, exhausted and rather nervous, at CNX. Lounging, again, on your terrace, you look out at what is now a lovely, albeit slightly over-stocked garden. The trees you planted have grown tall enough to let you walk past them without hitting your head on at least 6 branches. The new grass is green and lush, even under said trees, you’ve tamed the bushes, and even found out the names of some of the varieties. The hour you spend each morning during the dry season soaking anything that stands still (including the Care for Dogs’ cuties) is considered well worth it, and you’ve come to terms with the bugs, the plant diseases and the funguses. After all, even insects have to eat! Yes, you’ve created a garden, in spite of everything! Now what are you going to do with your spare time?

Bridge in Paradise : by Neil Robinson

This rather fun hand was reported by Andrew Robson. With North dealing and no one vulnerable, this was the bidding:
North   East        South     West

3N        P              7C           All pass

North opened a gambling 3N, showing a running seven card minor suit. South knew the suit had to be clubs, because he held the aces of the other suits. With stoppers in three suits and a void in clubs, you might expect South to bid a no trump slam. But this would go down badly, because of South’s void. North would be stuck in dummy and never able to get into hand, unless the opponents were kind enough to lead clubs. With clubs as trumps, South could count twelve tricks: seven club tricks and the five outside kings and aces. Hoping for a thirteenth trick somewhere, maybe a major suit queen, South therefore bid grand slam in his void suit. The full deal is shown below:

           S: 107
             H: 63
             D: 82
             C: AKQJ1053       
S: Q84                   S: J963
H: Q1074               H: J8
D: KQ104               D: J65
C: 82                     C: 9764
             S: AK52
             H: AK952
             D: A973
             C: -         

West led the diamond king, taken in hand by the ace. South was disappointed by dummy, because there was no obvious thirteenth trick. The only chance was to set up a long heart in hand. This would only work if hearts split no worse than 4-2, so that South’s fifth heart would be good. Hoping for a good split, South led out the top two hearts and gave a sigh of relief when all followed. The third heart was ruffed in dummy with the ten. Now, finally, the lead was in dummy and declarer could pull trumps (breathing another sigh of relief when these also split 4-2). A spade led to the king put South back in hand to ruff a fourth round of hearts. Another spade led to the ace let South lead a fifth, now good, heart and throw away the losing diamond from board, leaving board with only a winning trump. Grand slam in clubs made, in spite of declarer having a void in trumps!
Chiang Mai now has an official bridge club – the Bridge Club of Chiang Mai. We welcome new players. For information on the Club please contact Chris Hedges at: [email protected] If you have bridge questions, or to send me your interesting hands, please contact me at: [email protected] I look forward to meeting you at the bridge table (provided you don’t double my shaky contracts!).

Alliance Française de Chiang Mai

April 2009 film

Friday, April 3, 8 p.m.
by Jean Vigo with Michel Simon • Dita Parlo • Jean Dasté • B&W • 88 mn
When Juliette marries Jean, she comes to live on his ship, on board of which are, besides the two of them, only a cabin boy and the strange old second mate Père Jules. Soon bored by life on the river, she slips off to see the nightlife when they come to Paris. Angered by this, Jean sets off, leaving Juliette behind. Overcome by grief and longing for his wife, Jean falls into a depression and Père Jules goes and tries to find Juliette…

Friday, April 10, 8 p.m.
by Eric Rohmer with Emmanuelle Chaulet • Sophie Renoir • Anne-Laure Meury • Eric Viellard • 102 mn • Eng. subtitles
Blanche has recently moved to Cergy-Pontoise, to work at the town hall. During a lunch break she meets the vivacious and immediately likeable Léa. Although not fond of sports, Léa agrees to go swimming with Blanche at the local pool. There they meet Alexandre, one of Lea’s acquaintances, along with Adrienne, his current girlfriend. Blanche finds herself under the spell of the young engineer. The holidays arrive. Léa leaves while Blanche stays on. By chance, Blanche bumps into Alexandre in the street. She clumsily tries to make a pass at him. Soon she’s also bumping into Fabien, Léa’s boyfriend…

Friday, April 17, 8 p.m.
by Jean-Pascal Hattu with Valérie Donzelli • Pablo De la Torre • Cyril Troley • Bruno Todeschini • Nadia Kaci • 82 mn • Eng. subtitles
Maïté faithfully visits her sexy, intense husband Vincent, when she’s spotted by a pale, pointy-faced man who says he’s there to visit his brother Jean. Having been advised by her nurse friend Djamila to take a lover, she consents to mechanical sex with Jean in a car. The relationship continues and intensifies. It’s not till some time later that Maïté learns Jean is a guard at the prison…

Friday, April 24, 8 p.m.
by Philippe Garrel with Louis Garrel • Clothilde Hesme • Julien Lucas • 178 mn • Eng. subtitles
In 1969, a group of young people get hooked on opium after living through the events of 1968 together. A crazy love affair begins between two twenty-year-olds in the group who spotted each other during those heady, hazy days of the student uprising…