Chiang Mai FeMail  by Elena Edwards
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

‘Friends’ enjoy talk by John Shaw, ex-UK consul in Chiang Mai

H1N1, Tamiflu, side effects and pneumonic plague…

Opinion

 

‘Friends’ enjoy talk by John Shaw, ex-UK consul in Chiang Mai

The recent Chiang Mai Friends’ meeting held at Just Khao Soy got off to a good start with a tasty selection of khao soy and other dishes, followed by a very interesting meeting.
Duenpen Chaladlam, president of the Friends’ group, introduced the meeting with an appeal for a volunteer to teach spoken English at the Chiang Mai Art Museum, as the staff can only describe the exhibits in Thai… a perfect opportunity for someone to learn about Thai culture while helping! Another request was made for more recipes for the Friends/ FERC cookbook, which will be published later this year with proceeds going to the education of rural children. All types of Thai and foreign recipes are welcome!
The guest speaker was John Shaw, the ex- UK honorary consul of Chiang Mai, expert on Thai ceramics, author and very long-term resident with his wife in the city he loves. John also started the popular Chiang Mai magazine, Citylife, and is the father of Pim, its editor. Listeners were fascinated by his description of life as it was in Chiang Mai 40 years ago, and the ancient city’s development into the present metropolis. Very amusing personal anecdotes were also much appreciated! The question and answer session after his talk raised the issue of the condition of the Mae Kha klong, or canal, which is now little more than an open sewer. John explained its origins as a beautiful river which had provided drinking water for local people in the earlier years of the city before the Burmese invasion, until it was converted to a canal by order of King Kawila during the reoccupation and expansion of the city 200 years ago.
John’s talk was followed by a presentation by Nuttaphon Jaruwannaphong, project manager, architect and planner of a community- based social project focusing on garbage disposal, sewerage, and organic agriculture. The 6- month pilot scheme is a cooperation between the government, the business and private sectors, students and other interested parties, and, if successful, will be rolled out nationwide.
The next Chiang Mai Friends’ meeting will be held on August 26 at the Gymkhana Club. 

 

H1N1, Tamiflu, side effects and pneumonic plague…

As the Thai Public Health Ministry announces its plans to distribute Tamiflu across the country, disturbing reports about the side-effects of the popular anti-flu drug is beginning to emerge as its usage increases, adding to previous concerns.
Besides private clinics, more than 100 government community clinics and health centres in every province will receive a quantity of the drug Oseltamivir, which was developed by US-based Gilead Sciences and is currently marketed by Hoffmann–La Roche under its familiar trade name, Tamiflu. It will be distributed free, under medical supervision.
However, in affected Western countries, the number of patients experiencing unpleasant or severe side-effects is reported to have doubled in the last week.
In the UK alone, 293 separate reports of side-effects involve 465 reactions, some as serious as heart and eye problems and psychiatric disorders. The results of a study released last week indicate that at least 50% of children given the drug are suffering nausea, nightmares, and other reactions. Concern is growing in the medical community over the general release of a drug whose side-effects may be worse in a large number of users than the normally mild symptoms of the H1N1 virus itself. There is also concern that widespread and mainly unnecessary use of the drug may result in the virus developing resistance, making it more difficult to treat should the pandemic worsen.
Of the 465 reported UK reactions to Tamiflu, around a third involved gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting and diarrhoea. However, 46 cases of psychiatric disorders and 48 nervous system disorders have been reported, along with heart and eye problems. There has also been one unexplained death, apparently unconnected with the virus itself or any previously existing condition.
In the product’s literature and elsewhere, possible side-effects include common reactions such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and headache. Rare reactions include hepatitis and elevated liver enzymes, rash, allergic anaphylaxis, toxic epidermal necrolysis, cardiac arrhythmia, seizure, confusion, aggravation of diabetes, and haemorrhagic colitis. Concerns exist, especially in Japan, a major user of the drug since its launch, that Oseltamivir may cause dangerous psychological or neuropsychiatric side effects, including self harm in some users. These dangerous side effects occur more commonly in children than in adults. In March 2007, Japan’s Health Ministry warned that the drug should not be given to those aged 10 to 19. The Japanese ministry had already, in 2004, decided to change the literature accompanying Oseltamivir to include possible adverse neurological and psychological effects such as impaired consciousness, abnormal behavior, and hallucinations. In November 2006, the United States Food and Drug Administration amended the drug’s warning label to include the possible side effects of delirium, hallucinations, or other related behavior.
Meanwhile, at the time of writing, in Ziketan, (a remote town on the Tibetan plateau in Hainan province, North-Western China), 11 people have been infected and 3 have died from pneumonic plague, transmitted through the air by inhaling the Y. pestis bacteria from a flea-infected human or animal. Thousands across the sparsely- populated area have already been quarantined, according to press reports. Pneumonic plague is a highly aggressive infection requiring rapid antibiotic treatment within 24 hours. Its mortality rate, if untreated, approaches 100%, with death occurring from 24 hours of the appearance of symptoms. Perhaps we should be more concerned about the occasional reappearance of a deadly disease which, well before the advent of modern medicine, was known as one form of the ‘Black Death’, which killed millions of people, than about a virus whose symptoms, for the vast majority, resemble those of a bad cold. In any perceived emergency, there is reaction and there is also over-reaction. It’s good to be able to determine the difference.


Opinion: What is permissible here… and what may not be

Politics and religion, we are told, should be taboo subjects for discussion, and ideally should be kept out of the media as well, as both have caused more conflict in this world than any other issue. Fair enough. Given, however, that comparative religion is now a compulsory study in most Western countries, that most of us are aware of the dangers of fundamentalism, and that politics anywhere these days seems to be a repeat of ‘same old, same old’, these controversial subjects may have taken on a different and probably more constructive flavour. At least in our home countries, conversations are less likely to become arguments, or, in certain bars and pubs, rather more immediate confrontations with medical consequences.
However, across half the world, in, for example, a South East Asian country where an ancient form of the Buddhist religion is linked so strongly with the Monarchy that any insult to the religion and its believers might well be taken as an insult to the institution of the Monarchy itself, do our views matter at all?
Would it be possible for fundamentalist tracts to be circulated by minority groups from any of the other 4 great religions without causing offence or worse? Imagine a Moslem organisation publishing a provocative call for the establishment of Sharia law, leading to the extinction of the heritage, culture and way of life of a Buddhist country as described. Almost certainly, violence would be the inevitable result. This scenario is, of course, familiar to those living in the South of Thailand, as it’s happening right there and now, and includes the murders of Buddhist priests as well as lay people.
But what about the supposedly less provocative spreading of Christianity in countries which already have an ancient spiritual heritage? Christianity, of course, like all religions, includes many different interpretations of its essential message, presented in many different ways. There, of course, is the rub. There are forms of Christianity - the Quakers, for example - which reject the forcing of their views on any outsiders, nor do they disrespect any other forms of belief, but work with the poor and sick in a way that the Christ himself would surely have approved. Conventional Christianity includes Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox theology, and the many non-conformist churches which broke away from the main bodies all over Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries.
It is the development of the latter, mostly within the USA, which often causes concern to conventional Christians because of their fundamentalist and sometimes uninformed theologies. These were originally based on specific sections of the Bible interpreted simplistically to suit unsophisticated communities in the south of that vast country. They relied on ‘bible-thumping’ and the threat of eternal damnation for non- converts to their particular brand of religion in an exclusive manner and have since been responsible for the majority of missionary activity in Asia. Brought up in the UK, this writer never had the essential message of the Christian church rammed down her throat in this manner. Hell-fire and brimstone weren’t on the agenda; rather an encouragement to live a life which caused no pain to others, with respect, kindness and compassion to all.
Here in traditionally Buddhist Chiang Mai, a large variety of Christian missions of all denominations has existed for many years, with support from donations sourced in parent churches in the USA. There seem, however, to be few non- missionary oriented community churches, in which believers may worship in a conventional manner without the focus being on the ‘conversion of the heathen’. Much good has been done over many years for education, health and general well-being in the poorer sections of society by missionaries, but at what cost, and why is it necessary to drastically change traditional ways of life as a prelude to essential assistance? I’m no bible scholar, but I don’t remember reading that Jesus made his acts of compassion, kindness and practical, miraculous assistance conditional on looking at things his way.
Human heritage and culture, including ethnic religious beliefs, are the basis for our psychological development and the rock upon which our entire lives stand. All are as individual as the founding communities themselves. It is exactly that heritage and culture which must be rejected on conversion to what has become a westernised religion, far distant in concept from its humble and inspirational beginnings in a village in Palestine. Unfamiliar concepts between West and East are difficult enough to comprehend; stir religion into the mix and the flavour of life becomes masked by the psychological complications which ensue. When this happens, families break down, and the traditional and invaluable aspects of community life no longer have meaning.
Aggressive conversion, (rather than ‘conversion by example’) ,in the ‘fire and brimstone if you don’t convert’ style, is the worst of all. Imagine believing in a religion in which your children, friends, family, everyone you love and respect and everyone in your country who does not share your beliefs will burn in hell while you go to heaven. Doesn’t seem to have much to do with Christ’s belief in compassion for all mankind, does it? Yet many missionary sects seem to make this their central ‘conversion by fear’ platform.
And what about inclusion of missionary tracts in the media? How do those of us who have made our own informed spiritual decisions and who understand the consequences of many modern-day missionary activities, feel when we open a newspaper, read an insert or see an advert? Do we feel that believers in another faith are being blackmailed in exchange for a basic improvement in their material lives? Or do we just bin the offensive material without a thought? In China, converts of this kind used to be known as ‘rice Christians’. No doubt they exist here as well. In the UK, proselytising in the printed media by unconventional religious groups was considered unsuitable, as it was deemed disrespectful to the Church of England and to the Queen, its nominal head. Here in Chiang Mai, until very recently, it would seem that the same common-sense approach was used, presumably for the same reasons, even more apposite here due to the nature of Buddhist philosophy and the structure of Thai society.