HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The Doctor's Consultation

Care for Dogs

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in Chiang Mai

Let's Go To The Movies


Bridge in Paradise

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Living Wills - have you made yours?

There was a small paragraph in one of the Bangkok English language daily papers reporting on the fact that Living Wills were now accepted as being legal in Thailand. I cheered as I read it. It was ‘about time’, in my opinion.
However, there is confusion in the minds of many people as to what a “Living Will” actually is and what it covers. Borrowing from the Mayo Clinic in the US, it states on their website: “This written, legal document spells out the types of medical treatments and life-sustaining measures you do and don’t want, such as mechanical breathing (respiration and ventilation), tube feeding or resuscitation. In some states, living wills may be called health care declarations or health care directives.”
The important words to note are “life sustaining” and “resuscitation”. Neither of these concepts imply medically assisted suicide, or euthanasia.
Once again from the Mayo Clinic, “Injury, illness and death aren’t easy subjects to talk about, but by planning ahead you can ensure that you receive the type of medical care you want, to take the burden off your family of trying to guess at what you’d want done.”
Remember that we are talking about terminal situations here. Not situations from which it would be reasonably expected that you will recover and still have a good quality of life. A fractured hip when you are 90 is a serious situation, but provided you are healthy otherwise, then it would be expected that you would recover. You might need a stick for a while, but you would still be able to have a beer with your mates or play Scrabble or whatever your pursuits were before the incident. In other words, the expectancy of a reasonable quality of life is there.
However, if you are in the terminal phase of metastatic cancer, which has progressed despite treatment, the future quality of life is not there. Artificially prolonging life under that situation is then covered by the Living Will.
As an example, the following is a copy of my own Living Will. Again I ask you to note the following:
The Living Will is made while in sound mind. It is not something you scribble out while lying in God’s waiting room.
An example of a Living Will. “Being of sound mind and understanding all the implications, I ask that this document be brought to the attention of any medical facility in whose care I happen to be, and to any person who may become responsible for my affairs.
“This is my ‘Living Will’ stating my wishes in that my life should not be artificially prolonged, if this sacrifices my Quality of Life.
“If, for any reason, I am diagnosed as being in a terminal condition, I wish that my treatment be designed to keep me comfortable and to relieve pain, and allow me to die as naturally as possible, with as much dignity as can be maintained under the circumstances.
“As well as the situation in which I have been diagnosed as being in a terminal condition, these instructions will apply to situations of permanently unconscious states and irreversible brain damage.
“In the case of a life-threatening condition, in which I am unconscious or otherwise unable to express my wishes, I hereby advise that I do not want to be kept alive on a life support system, and I do not want resuscitation, nor do I authorize, or give my consent to procedures being carried out which would compromise any Quality of Life that I might expect in the future.
“I ask that you are sensitive to and respectful of my wishes; and use the most appropriate measures that are consistent with my choices and encompass alleviation of pain and other physical symptoms; without attempting to prolong life.
“Being of sound mind at the time of making this declaration, I ask that you will follow my wishes. It is my conviction that Quality of Life must be the main consideration for all decisions, not length of life.
“In witness hereof, I have signed this document, which has also been signed by witnesses, who have read and understand my wishes.”


Care for Dogs: By Ana Gracey, Care for Dogs

Banjo, dog of the week

What a character! Anyone would be lucky to earn the trust of this wonderful dog who is, at first, nervous around new people and then warms up so much he cannot get enough and rubs his little head and neck up against them in paroxysms of delight! Banjo is a healthy, sterilised 2 year old. Oh Banjo, we’ll miss you when you go but I think it is inevitable that someone will fall for you soon. If you think you could be the one, come down and meet him. He’ll be waiting. Contact Care for Dogs, English (08 47 52 52 55) Thai (08 69 13 87 01) or e-mail: [email protected] .org to make an appointment to meet him at the shelter.

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Hello Hillary,
Happy New Year, Sawasdee pee mai. I have been away from your column for a while but you’re still as sassy (in a good way) as always, your wit is as sharp as ever too. Sometimes I don’t think you’re a woman, you’re way too practical. Keep up your good works and keep these handsome men (that’s what they want to hear) honest. If I ever happen to be in Chiang Mai, I will definitely stop by to see you with a box of chocolate.
Your fan from USA
Dear My fan from USA,
Aren’t you the sweetest one! Flattery will get you everywhere (as always) and chocolates will get you even further. You did not mention the French champagne, which was obviously an oversight on your part, but now I’ve reminded you, you will remember, won’t you, my Petal. (Although I have this preference for French bubbles, in today’s desperate world, even Napa Valley bubbles are acceptable!) I hope you have a wonderful year, and don’t worry about the handsome men, they will still be responding to “Hello handsome man, come in, sit down please (and give me your wallet)!”
Dear Hillary,
I’ve always take interest in your comment’s re poor spelling and in a recent issue, a letter was published in ‘Mailbag’ from myself containing the word ‘prostate’ (a male organ) which should have read ‘prostrate’ (lying flat), possibly because of my often illegible printing or longhand, (I’m now into computer writing but am dreadfully slow). Whatever the reason for the mistake “of no matter some will say”, but the enclosed cartoon of mine was published many years ago using an incorrect spelling thrice (my mistake) and is still an embarrassment to this very day.
‘Inexplicably’ this particular publication subsequently published little of my work, which may illustrate another way how poor spelling can be disadvantageous and supports your view’s, which is why I have addressed my letter and said cartoon to yourself should you wish to use or find room for it in your column? ‘Check and recheck’ I must reintroduce.
Dorian Farmer
Dear Dorian,
What a tale of woe, but thank you for the mis-spelled cartoon, which I have printed with your self-flagellating letter, so the embarrassment can continue to this very day. (Mind you, Dorian, it shows you were into this global warming malarkey long before Al Gore, so you were a bit of a trendsetter.) But these days you are a little martyr, aren’t you!
I really must encourage you to use the computer to write your letters, as all the usual programs will automatically check the spelling for you. This way you could ‘detach’ yourself from the excruciating embarrassment.
However, these programs would not pick up your random use of the apostrophe. “Comments”, not “comment’s” and “views” not “view’s”. When you throw an apostrophe and then an S after it means “belonging to” and you did not mean “belonging to the comment”, or “belonging to the view” did you Petal.
Dear Hillary,
My Thai boy friend is driving me slowly crazy with his giving in to his family at all times, and now we are an item, the demands are coming on hot and strong. Anything they could even possibly want, he will give them, even if it is personal items of jewelry that I have given him. These items get changed into folding money, I am sure. They want money and he has any, he will dish it out - only problem is that it is my money that he is doling out, not his. And it’s not just a few hundred baht here and there, it’s by the few thousand here and there. I believe that it is the custom in Thailand that children look after their parents, as a matter of duty. I did not know that this covers a grasping avariciousness by the family towards the children. Is this the norm for this country? It seems that the family condones this behavior, and even encourages it. If it is, I think I will make some other country my next port of call.
Dear Rusty,
Duty to one’s parents is a well documented part of Thai culture, but how that is applied is not clearly stated. You are obviously worrying because your finances are part of all this, so you should perhaps consider that you have a duty to your bank account, and not to your boyfriend’s parents. However, once you give something to your boyfriend, it is his decision as to what he does with it. It is also your prerogative to ignore the begging from your boyfriend, no matter what the reason for the asked for hand-out. There are many families in Thailand that are not so avaricious. In all countries there are cultural differences, you have come across one extreme in this country. There are others in Thailand not so extreme. The choice is always yours. I think you should seriously review this relationship. From what you are saying, it all seems a little one-sided to me.

Detatched or Detached?

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Art is all around you

Reclining Buddha in Ayuthaya.

Mysterious vines.

Temple sunlight in Chiang Mai.

Orchid in macro by the late Ernie Kuehnelt.

Parasailor’s view in Jomtien.

I am a believer that photography is one of the many ‘art forms’ that we practice. In the visual arts, everyone thinks of painting on canvas first, but photography is in there too. In fact I would rate photography far higher than ‘performance art’ where you slash your wrists in front of an audience or dismember a cow in the name of vegetarianism, or carry out certain quasi-medical maneuvers with a speculum like Annie Sprinkle for example.
Now whilst a painter has an idea in his or her head and then laboriously commits that idea to canvas, with art photography it is usually a very different process. By the way, under the umbrella of ‘art photography’ I am not including (for the sake of this exercise) sultry black and white nude studies which sit astride the border between ‘art’ and ‘porn’. If you cross your fingers it’s ‘art’, if you cross your legs it’s ‘porn’.
No, the final product in art photography should be one which makes the viewing audience say, “What is that?” or “How did he get that?” In other words, the final picture or image brings on a question. In that way, the viewer will spend more time looking, and the image is now rapidly approaching art.
However, to produce some ‘art’ with your camera does mean you have to keep your eyes open and be ready to shoot when something catches those open eyes! The vines in the first photo were in the car park at work and were just begging to be taken.
The temple shot was taken in Chiang Mai, and the sunlight filtering through the smoky atmosphere presented this photo opportunity.
The remarkable shot of a reclining Buddha was taken by amateur photographer Gary Stubbs and as well as being one of the classic ‘frame within a frame’ photos, it has the added feature of hiding the main subject, stimulating the inquisitive nature of mankind.
The parasailing shot was taken in Jomtien, and instead of being the usual shot of the parasailor from the beach, the photographer took a camera up with him to get this very different shot from his holiday.
The final photo this week is this surreal image from the late Ernie Kuehnelt. Taken while experimenting with a macro lens, the full possibilities of these very different images came to him, and this is the result.
Try something different this weekend. You might just produce your own work of photo art.

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Caveat Emptor

Many analysts have thought most assets have been overvalued for quite a while now and that the politicians have had to keep interest rates at virtually zero whilst pumping money into the economy as if there was no tomorrow so as to keep their respective countries going.
Bill Gross of PIMCO is definitely in this camp. He believes most of the developed countries, especially those in the western hemisphere, have been “significantly and artificially influenced by asset price appreciation for decades.” This is definitely the case in recent years when people have refinanced assets and gone spending. Put another way, all the supposed growth we have seen over the last decade has been done by borrowing and not the usual method of increasing production. People have gone for the quick buck and tried to make money via the markets and not the economic foundation that is in reality their reason d’etre. These days people look for market growth and not the more basic things like GDP growth or falling unemployment.
What does this mean? Well, the implication is that people feel good when the markets are up and bad when they are down as this could be affecting their pockets directly. They do not really mind if an economy is not doing well providing any downturn does not cause them to lose money.
Now, in the good old days, the health of the stock markets and GDP went up and down hand in hand. This is not the case now. The new economy which has come about has seen an increase not only in share and stock prices but in all asset classes. In many cases more than the economic growth is needed to justify these rises. Let’s remember it is only less than fifteen years ago that the Dow Jones was at 4,000. Last year it went over 14,000. Was the production there to justify this? Obviously, the answer is a deafening NO. If one went with GDP growth as opposed to market sentiment then the market should be less than 8,000 not over 10,000. As said before, this is not just applicable to equities but also most, if not all, other asset classes.
If you look back to what has happened since the end of World Was II, you will see that in the early years it was usually economic growth that led the way and not increases in the price of assets. We got richer the old fashioned way - by actually making things.
However, as Reagan and Thatcher came to power, things began to change. With fancy finance and the use of things like derivatives and leverage assets started to come to the fore. With the occasional blip, as in the beginning of the 1990s and 2000s plus last year, put aside the rise in the price of assets has definitely outstripped manufacturing. Put another way, over the last thirty years, it would have been better to invest in the markets than it would have been to put your money into anything that actually produced something or helped better a child’s education.
Basically, thanks to finding it so easy to borrow, people were able to push up the price of assets to over one hundred percent of what they should have been. It is immediately apparent to what this implies. When the Dow Jones is at 14,000 then it should have been half that. It is presently around the 10,000 mark and the real value should be 5,000. A house worth USD200,000 is actually worth USD100,000. Commercial real estate should be for the de-leveraging chop as well. Bonds (high yield and corporate) are not immune either as they were also overpriced.
This is where the problem starts as those in charge realise that the value of assets now has to be supported so as to make sure that the GDP results to come are in positive territory. Unfortunately, the borrowing society that we have created cannot go away overnight. Therefore we have to support the present situation which is why we are going to have low interest rates and government bailouts, in various forms, for the foreseeable future.
PIMCO has calculated that assets in the USA have been overvalued by USD15 trillion but still have to be supported to keep the economy’s head above water. It is interesting to note that China is also throwing money at its economy but they are creating more production outlets so that exports will continue to drive its economy and try to increase its domestic markets at the same time. Luckily for them, they do not need to maintain a false economy.
The most important thing for the US, though, is that interest rates are kept as low as possible. Bill Gross believes that, “nominal GDP must show realistic signs of stabilizing near 4% before the Fed would be willing to risk raising rates. The current embedded cost of U.S. debt markets is close to 6% and nominal GDP must grow within reach of that level if policymakers are to avoid continuing debt deflation in corporate and household balance sheets.” If he is right then we are going to have these low rates well into 2011 and the Fed will want to see sustainability and reliability before starting to increase interest rates.
Getting risk spreads back to normal is vital for future growth. However, this could cause unwanted volatility as without the governmental guarantees and low interest rates investors would not spend money again. Practically zero rates forces people to buy.
Is it important for rates to stay low or should the relevant governments let go of the reins and let nature take over? The latter should have been done when the present crisis began but it is too late for that now since, as mentioned before, asset appreciation has been artificially elevated for decades. So as to prevent prices falling these low interest rates must be maintained for quite some time yet.
Bill Gross reckons a good way of looking at this is by studying the bond markets. At the moment he believes the total bond market will yield no more than 3.5%. If anyone wants more than that then they will have to take more risk via equities, distressed mortgages, etc., and hope we are in a V shaped recovery. This is just not the case. The risks outweigh whatever the rewards may be.
To go with Gross, “Investors must recognize that if assets appreciate with nominal GDP, a 4-5% return is about all they can expect even with abnormally low policy rates. Rage, rage, against this conclusion if you wish, but the six-month rally in risk assets - while still continuously supported by Fed and Treasury policymakers - is likely at its pinnacle.”
Ever since the recession began and it became clear the authorities answer was quantitative easing, the Bears have kept reminding us on such facts as continued debt, massive public spending and rising unemployment. The markets have ignored this and gone up for the last eight months. Recently though, some indications have begun to appear which support these arguments. For example, the Vix Index, which measures volatility in the major equity markets, has gotten worse.
Financial shares have also gone down when compared with the rest of the market. As a senior economist said last week, “The bears are right and the rush to issue paper, the higher oil prices and the continuation of contraction in bank lending, have finally broken the markets’ back.”
Not all is doom and gloom though. Certain asset classes will fare better than others and by having a liquid, multi-asset allocation portfolio you should protect yourself against sudden losses and also beat the bank.

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

Love Cinema, Hate Airport Major and Vista

Avatar: a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes?

Just a week or two ago I wrote that small screen home viewings were no real substitute for the cinema ‘experience’, the thrill of seeing a movie – possibly brand new - well projected on the BIG screen. It’s an opinion I still hold in broad terms but certainly the two complexes in Chiang Mai seem intent on undermining that enthusiasm, with their continued disregard for the comfort and care of their audiences.
Possibly the most irritating aspect of Airport Major’s failures is the underlying and mistaken assumption that they are offering quality service. I am reminded of a cinema in the U.K. which had the idea of keeping the arc surrounding the screen lit with red lights during the credits or opening of the movie. When I complained a member of staff said, “It’s deliberate. The manager calls it superior presentation”…. Rubbish, of course and fortunately soon stopped.
Going to the unwieldy complex at the Plaza is tiresome anyway. But arriving only to find that they have arbitrarily changed their times by an hour or even cancelled an early screening is doubly annoying. Assuming the screening is as announced, the first problem is the snail’s pace queue, exacerbated by too few windows open at peak times.
Why, one wonders, have reserved seats? And if they are thought necessary, why not limit them to evening or ‘special’ performances? Why the incessant exchange of paper? Stickers and rewards being applied by hand. Long debates about seating. And what possesses them to keep to an antiquated notion of ‘special seats’ at inflated prices? Towards the back too, when any serious moviegoer knows that the optimum location for seeing the screen is centre about a third to half way back. Admittedly the seating is generally comfortable but once inside that is all that might be said for it.
On my most recent visit I had arrived hoping to miss the bulk of the run up to the feature. No such luck. Fifteen minutes into the advertised programme the lights were still up. We were then subjected to 30 minutes of inane advertisements – only those in Japan are worse, I have found- and numbing trailers which seem to comprise much of the forthcoming films.
Make sure that once the film has started that you have thought to bring additional clothing since the icy temperatures (loathed also by Thais, who are too polite to complain) require battle dress to make them bearable. This I was told was a sign of the aforementioned ‘superior presentation’ and shows off the (hyper) efficiency of the system. What a waste of money. No wonder prices have gone up dramatically in the past year or so.
Admittedly, Vista does not keep the auditoria as cold and they play less ads’ and trailers. But they too seem to ignore potential audiences by playing the same film in three or four cinemas and often only in Thai, either dubbed from the original or without subtitles. Last week they advertised To Sir, With Love as having EST but on arrival this was not the case. Is your Thai good enough to follow a complicated film?
Meanwhile back at Major and 45 minutes later Avatar began and I must admit that it had not got off to a good start. Also I was later told (and this was a double edged compliment I felt) that the movie ‘is better in the second half’. And that was the half I did not see. Still, if after 70 minutes a film has not shown itself to be of the slightest merit one can hardly be blamed for making a discreet exit. ‘Ankling’ in the immortal term of Variety.
Avatar seems a surprisingly flabby work: tedious to watch and even duller to listen to, with some of the most banal dialogue it has ever been my misfortune to hear. O.K. so we are told that it is the visual quality that makes it special (let’s not even mention the feeble, over familiar score by Horner) but this seemed predictable and corny, lacking beauty and conviction. It had all the finesse of the old Buck Rogers movies one saw at what were called the Saturday Morning Matinees. And the ‘hero’ was incredibly unappealing and surrounded by cardboard cut outs – the butch officer, the dikey scientist, the callous accountant and so on.
The notion, it would seem, was to make a new fashioned ‘western’, with the captured white man dragged into the presence of the Chief and assorted ‘braves’, but defended by the Chief’s daughter. Love is in the air! It owed something to The Last of the Mohicans and Run of the Arrow but if Cameron (not to mention his complete lack of humour) had one tenth of the talent of either Michael Mann or Samuel Fuller, directors of those films, Avatar might have been worth sitting through. Instead it seems a version of the Emperor’s new clothes, with people so impressed by the alleged expenditure of 240 million dollars and countless years of preparation that they are reluctant not to ‘like’ it. Though, when pressed, no Thai I have spoken to really enjoyed the experience. Let’s hope it is another nine years before Cameron makes another movie. And by then let’s also hope he has regained a sense of the ridiculous and also of conviction which made Titanic such enjoyable nonsense. Qualities sadly lacking from this lumpen work.

Let's Go To The Movies:  by Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai 
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs:
US, Animation/ Family – I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve seen it and it’s quite enjoyable!  It has quirky humor, likeable characters, and solid slapstick.  Generally favorable reviews.  I thought it would be shown in 3D, but I was wrong; Avatar continues in the only 3D cinema.

The Spy Next Door: US, Action/ Comedy/ Family – With Jackie Chan.  A former CIA spy looks after his girlfriend’s three kids, and one of them accidentally downloads a top-secret formula, leading to a run-in with a Russian terrorist.  Jackie Chan fans may be running to see this, but people in the real world think it’s a sad little movie entirely designed to set up Chan’s stunt sequences as he fights with pots, pans, and ladders.  Reviewers say it’s flat and witless – one of Chan’s worst ever, a juvenile, generic, sitcommy mess that utterly fails to thrill or amuse.  But, what do they know?

Avatar: US, Action/ Adventure/ Sci-Fi – The Golden Globes last week awarded the Best Picture, Drama prize to Avatar, and its director James Cameron was named Best Director.  In the movie industry this raises the prospects for the film at the Oscars coming February 2 (Thai time).  In accepting the award, Cameron said, “Avatar asks us to see that everything is connected, all human beings to each other, and us to the Earth.  And if you have to go four-and-a-half light years to another, made-up planet to appreciate this miracle of the world that we have right here, well, you know what, that’s the wonder of cinema right there; that’s the magic.”  Yeah, right on!  A film that shows the wonder of cinema.  That it is.

From the writer/director James Cameron, this is a truly major achievement and a technological breakthrough.  It’s a film of universal appeal that just about everyone who goes to the movies will want to see.  Already it’s hit the billion-dollar mark at the box office worldwide, and it’s gotten near-universal reviews from critics and fans.  Of course it will win the Oscar!

In English and Na’vi dialogue, with English and Thai subtitles as needed in the 2D version, but unaccountably no English subtitles for Na’vi in the 3D version.  The Vista version is 2D and Thai-dubbed only.  Reviews: Universal acclaim.  Don’t miss it!

Sherlock Holmes: US/ UK/ Australia, Action/ Crime/ Thriller – The Golden Globes best actor award went to Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes.  This is a new take on the Holmes canon but once you get over the shock of seeing Sherlock played as an action figure, it isn’t all that bad.  A bit of the old Holmes shows through.  Purists, however, will not be amused.  Jude Law plays Watson.  Mixed or average reviews.  

Mulan: US/ China, Adventure/ Drama/ Romance – Based on the Chinese folk heroine Hua Mulan who, when her country is threatened by invaders, sneaks away from home and dresses up as a man to join an all-male army where she eventually assumes a historically critical role in defending her nation.  This new version of the oft-told story is a large-scale effort, similar to other historical costumed battle epics that have come out of China in recent years, all beautifully executed.

Kru Bann Nok / To Sir With Love: Thai, Comedy/ Drama – The life of a volunteer teaching children in the Isan backcountry.  This is a remake director Surasee Patham has made of his own classic 1978 social drama Kru Bannok (The Rural Teacher).  It’s the same story as before: An idealistic new teacher comes to an impoverished rural schoolhouse in 1970s Isan.  There, he runs afoul of the local powers-that-be for being so daring as to try and educate the country kids.

Best Supporting Actor / Yak-Dai-Yin-Wa-Rak-Kan: Thai, Drama/ Romance – Romantic comedy-drama about two childhood friends, one of whom was always in the shadow of his better-looking, more-popular friend.  When they grow into adults, nothing changes.  A minor variation on the standard Thai rom/com, exploiting the inscrutable mysteries of Thai courtship rituals.

Bodyguards and Assassins: China, Action/ Drama/ History – A group of martial artists attempt to protect Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the “Father of Modern China,” from an assassination attempt at the beginning of the 20th century.  A meticulously-crafted historical movie with careful attention to detail, and apparently a last hour that is all gut-spilling action.  Shown here only at Vista in a Thai-dubbed version with no English subtitles.

32 Thun Wah / 32 December: Thai, Comedy/ Romance – Yet another Thai “rom/com” with this one taking place on the 32nd of December, in which a young man with amnesia forgets which of his three girlfriends he truly loves.

Scheduled for January 28

Tai Hong: Thai, Horror/ Thriller – This omnibus film consists of 4 short stories of death and horror, directed by Poj Arnon (Bangkok Love Story, and all those transvestite horror-comedies).

HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?: By Eric Danell, Dok mai Garden

On Slugs and Snails

Slugs (no shell) and snails (with shells) may become pests in a Chiang Mai garden. The Tropical Leather Leaf (Laevicaulis alte sensu lato, tak nang) is a flat, brown slug which often hides its tentacles. It is well adapted to the dry lowlands, hiding underground at daytime, and feeding on your plants at night. Another Chiang Mai gastropod is the East African Land snail (Achatina fulica, hoi tak African). It can grow big as a hand, and has a conical and quite ornamental striped shell. These snails eat plants and even concrete to get calcium for their shells. The snail was imported from China in 1931, when it was introduced as food. A third invasive gastropod is the Golden Apple Snail (Pomacea canaliculata, hoi cherry). It is an underwater snail, with yellowish round shells that can grow big as an apple. Its spectacular pink eggs are laid above water level. This snail was introduced from South America to clean fish tanks, and was promoted as a food source as well. It was found in the wild in Thailand in 1984, and is now the most serious pest in rice and taro fields. This has resulted in an increased use of pesticides. This seems unnecessary, as many wild fish, birds, mammals and crabs eat the snails. Since such predators are almost extinct due to cats, dogs and hunting, the snails propagate out of control. Also in natural wetlands, this snail eradicates the native flora, and outcompetes its Thai cousin Pila polita (hoi kong), which has white eggs and darker shells. All of these gastropods may be vectors of the rat lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis, pajat toa gom), a nematode that resides in lung arteries of rats, and may infect humans, causing fatal encephalitis as a result of undercooked snails or unwashed vegetables. Slugs and snails can be controlled by fowl, herons, frogs and hedgehogs. Nocturnal snail hunters such as fireflies, which are most spectacular beetles in any garden, benefit from a heap of branches to promote breeding. Gardeners can make a difference by creating a refuge for Thai wildlife! [email protected]

Bridge in Paradise : by Neil Robinson

Here is a tricky deal to bid no matter which direction you are seated—both sides risk a potential top or a bottom with their bids. Try bidding it from both NS and EW directions, and see where you end up. It was board 9 from the Bridge Club of Chiang Mai pairs game on January 13th. East-West were vulnerable and North dealt.

                            S: K

                            H: A1095

                            D: AJ1083

                            C: 1053        

S: 10874                                    S: AJ9632

H: KJ72                                     H: Q64

D: K                                          D: 2

C: AK82                                   C: Q76

                            S: Q5

                            H: 83

                            D: Q97654

                            C: J94           

At the table where I sat North opened the bidding with one diamond. With three of the high card points being a singleton king, many might not open this minimum hand. East made a weak jump overcall to two spades. South, with a truly dreadful hand but encouraged by six card support of partner’s bid suit and favourable vulnerability, raised to three diamonds. West, with the best hand at the table, raised his partner’s spades to game. North, with five good diamonds and a strong suspicion that four spades would make, raised to five diamonds as a non-vulnerable sacrifice. This was passed around to West. Now what would you bid? The choices are pass, double or five spades. One of these bids gets you an average, one gets you a near top, and one gets a bottom. But how do you work out which is which? 

North   East        South     West

1D        2S            3D           4S

5D        P              P              ? 

At our table West eventually passed. Five diamonds is not a pretty contract. There are no diamond losers, but the best you can do outside the trump suit is to lose a spade and then throw a club loser on dummy’s queen. This way you go down only two: losing one spade, one heart and two clubs. This gets an average for both sides. Double would have been a better result for East-West, but not as good as making your game in spades. A bid of five spades, instead of double, converts your near top to a solid bottom. East-West are bound to lose one top spade and the two red aces—making game, but going down one in five spades. At the table, Jean-Claude Barret and Richard Walker pushed their opponents into five spades and reaped the reward by getting them down for a top for North-South. In the East-West direction, Dennis Hudson and Martin Bagnall bid their opponents out of going to the five level, and made four spades for a top in their direction. Well done to these pairs. So how would you have bid it—a top, a bottom or a middle?
Bridge Club of Chiang Mai welcomes new players. For information on the Club go to the web site at If you have bridge questions, or to send me your interesting hands, please contact me at: [email protected]