HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The Doctor's Consultation

Care for Dogs

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

DVD of the Week

Let's Go To The Movies

Bridge in Paradise


How does your garden grow?

Life in Chiang Mai

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Anyone for an MRI?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is one of the newer diagnostic examinations that can be done. The procedure is similar to an X-Ray, in the fact that the end result shows the internal structures of the body with a test that produces very clear pictures - but without the use of X-rays. MRI uses a large magnet, radio waves, and a computer to produce these images.

Some folk are a little apprehensive about these newer tests, but the risks to the average person are negligible. The MRI uses magnetic fields, rather than radio-active imaging. However, the magnetic field is very strong. Walk into the examination room and the MRI can wipe the details from the magnetic strip on your credit card, stop your watch and even pull the stethoscope from the doctor’s pocket!

People who have had heart surgery and people with the following medical devices can be safely examined with MRI: surgical clips or sutures, artificial joints, staples, cardiac valve replacements (except the Starr-Edwards metallic ball/cage), disconnected medication pumps, vena cava filters or brain shunt tubes for hydrocephalus.

However, there are some conditions may make an MRI examination inadvisable. Tell your doctor if you have any of the following conditions: heart pacemaker, cerebral aneurysm clip (metal clip on a blood vessel in the brain), pregnancy during the first three months (we are just being super cautious here), implanted insulin pump (for treatment of diabetes), narcotics pump (for pain medication), or implanted nerve stimulators (“TENS”) for back pain, metal in the eye or eye socket, cochlear (ear) implant for hearing impairment, or implanted spine stabilization rods.

MRI is also different from X-Rays in what it can pick up. The MRI can detect tumors, infection, and other types of tissue disease or damage. It can also help diagnose conditions that affect blood flow. Tissues and organs that contain water provide the most detailed MRI pictures, while bones and other hard materials in the body do not show up well on MRI pictures, as opposed to X-Rays which do show bone well but not soft tissue. For these reasons, MRI is most useful for detecting conditions that increase the amount of fluid in a tissue, such as an infection, tumors, and internal bleeding.

I think most people are familiar with the standard X-Ray procedure, stand there, breathe in, hold it, now breathe out routine, but MRIs are a little different. These are done with you lying there and inserted into the MRI scanner, which is like a tunnel. Those people who are claustrophobic can have a little problem here, as the MRI “tunnel” is very tight. When I had my own MRI done I noticed that my nose was close to the top of the tunnel and both elbows were brushing the sides, and I am considered a reasonably slim individual. I have to say that although not claustrophobic, I do not particularly like being in enclosed spaces, and found that the best way to endure the MRI was to pretend I was lying relaxing in a field.

During the procedure, which can take up to an hour, you can hear the operator talking to you, and he or she can hear your reply, but you still will feel rather isolated in your magnetic tunnel. You can also hear (and feel) muffled thumps and groans that come from the tube, which can be somewhat unsettling.

In some cases a contrast material may be used during the MRI scan to enhance the images of certain structures which may help evaluate blood flow, detect some types of tumors, and locate areas of inflammation. The contrast material is injected via a vein, and the MRI operator will advise you when this is being injected. You may feel a warmth or even tingling feeling as this is happening, but this is not worrisome.

The radiologist then reviews the pictures produced and will advise you of the outcome. I hope it will be good news!


Sweet and shy Naam Chok

Hi I’m Naam Chok – I’m a little shy and people don’t always notice me but I’m here and waiting to be noticed by just the right person for me. I like to keep myself to myself and won’t bother you much I promise, just so long as you can walk and feed me and maybe give me cuddles every day too. I am healthy, sterilised and vaccinated so you can just take me away when you’re ready. If you can offer Naam Chok a loving, stable home please 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 visit the shelter & meet her or any of the many other dogs waiting for you.

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,

I was gratified to read that someone has finally come out in public regarding the pop-up toaster situation in Thailand (Heart to Heart in March this year). After reading your column I realized there is at least one other person experiencing this curious problem. I must say that your thoughtful attention and technical advice to the victim show how wide your sympathies are.

Until very recently I have been inserting a chopstick into the spring loading mechanism of my own toaster. While clearly not a procedure that gives full satisfaction, at least it discourages the toast from popping up at inappropriate times. Two days ago there occurred a new and startling development. Despite wearing rubber gloves and taking other precautions, I received a very nasty electric shock. At the same time there was a strange coldness and musty odor in the room. I had the distinct impression I was not alone.

I am not a person given to half-baked theories or wild speculation. Nevertheless, bearing in mind that I am on my fourth toaster, I am beginning to suspect a malign and sinister force is at work. Frankly, I am having trouble lying straight in bed with the worry of it all. Do you think I could be onto something?
A Frightened Expatriate

Dear Frightened Expat,
My first question is - do you insert the chopstick when the toaster is on? If we look at animate objects, insertions of such devices are associated with extreme pain, my Petal. Ever missed your mouth when eating Chinese food and ended up sticking a chopstick up your nose? You’ll know what I mean. Perhaps your toaster takes on some animate aura when the ‘pop’ is pushed?

On the other hand, since this is your fourth toaster, perhaps we should be looking at another, more simple reason, but one that has far reaching ramifications (sorry about the long words but somebody stole my newspaper this morning and I am forced to read the dictionary with my coffee). I am led to think along these lines as you mention, “Despite wearing rubber gloves and taking other precautions,” you received the electric shock. This prompts me to ask what “other precautions” have you been forced to take? The mind boggles at the range this could include. Seat belts on the lounge chairs? Explosion screen in front of the television set? Hand rails around the kitchen? Gas mask in the toilet? I’m sorry, you have on the surface given me so much information, but in actual fact you have given me so little.

Finally, it is not often that I have to recommend exorcism (mainly because most of my readers can’t spell it), but that may be your only way out of this endless toaster problem.

Petal! Suddenly, as I wrote the above, the cause of your problem became obvious. You mention a “strange coldness and musty odor in the room,” which indicates very sinister forces, for which the only answer is a wooden stake through the heart! Can’t you see what is happening? Your chopstick is the wooden stake you are attempting to push through the heart of your toaster! Remove the stake and it will no longer feel threatened by you. (And now tell me you have been using a plastic chopstick and I’ll spit!)

Dear Hillary,
Like you always advise us, look for the “good” girls, and I have found one, but there’s still a problem. She works in a dress shop and is really quite a stunner. I pass by every day and if she spots me, I always get a wave and a big smile. Sometimes I catch her outside the shop and she is always happy to chat. In English which makes it even better, because my Thai is not so good. She saw that I had bought a soft drink one day and told me what soft drink she likes and so I have been buying a can for her and giving it to her if she is outside. But today she just looked away and I was too embarrassed to go further. Hillary, I have put six months into this, and I am starting to feel the chase after “good” girls isn’t worth it. What do you suggest?

Dear Joey,
You have been buying soft drinks, smiling like an idiot and nodding for six months and you wonder why this girl has given up on you? Come on, Joey Boy, six months and no invitation to dinner, movies, lunch and all the usual ways of getting to know a “good” girl. I would have given up on you by three months, Petal. If the man isn’t prepared to take the next step, what future is there in such a relationship? None! Your girl from the dress shop was hoping for some excitement in her life. There must be more than “That dress looks lovely on you, Madam.” She was hoping she would be saying, “Lunch next week? Yes, what day?” What did she get? “Here’s a can of soft drink, love.” (Grin, grin, smile.) “D’ya wanna cola tomorrow?” Some days you men amaze me with your gormless approach to life. Be a little more brave next time Joey.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Megapixels, shutter speeds and f stops

I saw a young photographer last weekend, trying to take shots of moving action, while fully equipped with a camera phone, and being bitterly disappointed. The words ‘horses for courses’ came immediately to mind.

Now whilst I know that camera phone technology has improved over the years, the end result is always a compromise. Is it a camera you can get phone calls on, or a phone that takes pictures? It is like the microwave oven that has a clock built in. Do you buy it to tell you the time, or to defrost food? (Please do not write in with the correct answers, there are no prizes for obvious questions!)

It actually stands to reason that if it requires a boxful of electronics something the size of a reasonable dictionary, with an expensive piece of glass mounted on it to get great photos, then you are not going to get the same quality from a camera phone.

No, I use my camera to take photographs only, and do not expect it to be able to dial San Francisco, nor do I expect the reverse with my mobile phone.

One of the problems when comparing cameras with cameras (forgetting camera phones for the minute) is people tend to read the magic number called megapixels and conclude that it is the deciding parameter between brilliant, good and not so good. 24 megapixels is better than 12 which in turn better is than 4.

Whilst the above is partly true, it really does depend upon what you want to do with the end result. Are you going to be blowing it up to the size of a barn door, or will it be a 4R (6x4) at most? If you have been hired to produce photographs for billboards, then look at a camera with megapixels coming out its strap swivels. Otherwise, anything from six to 10 MP is more than adequate.

So what should you be looking for when buying a camera these (electronic) days? To start with, a fast autofocus. Instant zip-zip, not “pause for a second while I get myself ready and then zip”.

I would also recommend inbuilt image stabilization. So many photographs are spoiled by camera movement producing ‘soft’ images, that can be overcome with image stabilization electronics. And as a further small advantage, these types of systems are particularly good for the senior citizen photographer.

You should also look at the shutter speeds the camera is capable of. 1/2000th of a second should stop a railway train (in Thailand, not in Japan) and be sufficient for 99 percent of action photography. It is also advantageous if any proposed camera has a time exposure setting so you can take photographs at night, including fireworks.

The other factor of importance is the Aperture, commonly called the f stop. The lens should be able to open up to at least f 4, and close down to at least f 16. This is to give you control over depth of field in your picture taking.

Just about every camera (other than a phone camera) has several modes for you to play with, or to help you. An ‘Auto’ mode for the days you are feeling lazy, or too rushed to start selecting shutter speed and apertures, is totally necessary for the weekend photographer. A for ‘Auto’ is fine for at least 60 percent of weekend photographs. It is only when we start getting into the remaining 40 percent that we need extra capabilities.

However, unless you are very aware photographically, a mode setting that selects the optimal shutter speed and aperture for the action photograph is a good feature to have in your new camera. The young photographer with the camera phone needed this feature last weekend - and camera phones don’t have it.

Most cameras these days also have many other modes, and although I still believe you should know ‘why’ you open up by a couple of f stops when the subject is back-lit, which is what the ‘back-light’ mode does for you, that isn’t really necessary. I’m just being old-fashioned, I suppose.

And my camera? 10 MP, 1/2000th shutter speed and f 2.8.

Money Matters:  John Sheehan Global Markets Asia

The inevitable demise of Western Democratic Capitalism? Part 3

Government crisis response driven by popularity, not

If 2008 was the year of the crash then 2009 was the year of the slump. This may sound contrary to the rebound in some speculative markets during 2009, but which is a better indicator of economic reality, a rise in speculative capital markets or plunging world output? The underlying reality that cannot be ignored is that during 2009 the world economy experienced its greatest deterioration since the Second World War.

John Sheehan, Global Markets Asia

Government’s only response to crisis has been to pump staggering sums of money into their economies, and the term “quantative easing” or “QE” for short has entered the popular commentators’ vernacular. Clearly QE is something only governments can do and is dependant on the idea of continuing confidence in their ability to raise tax revenue to service debt. For a company, though, QE is not a possibility, but surely whether for corporation or government, basic common sense dictates that the concept of printing infinite amounts of additional debt is just not sustainable.

Governments now seem to be expecting to receive some form of accolade for so far managing to steer clear of a full blown depression. Bearing in mind that it’s the governments who are one of the villains that got us into this mess it demonstrates how warped the democratic capitalist model has become.

Budget deficits have grown to stage where they are now spiralling out of control and clearly question western government’s inability to govern. The depressing spectre of states being unable to pay their bills on time is becoming worryingly familiar. Rather than make the necessary budget cuts and take the austerity measures needed to put countries back on track, politicians are more concerned with appeasing the electorate in the short term. Their view seems to be that it is better to govern a country heading for bankruptcy rather than lose an election!

2009 and the first half of 2010 are seeing the continuance of the largest, broadest and fastest government stimulus response in history. Bankrupt banks have been wrapped up in a multi-trillion dollar life-vest of public cash and guarantees. Central banks dropped interest rates further and some expanded their balance sheets. Governments from all parts of the world embraced fiscal stimulus with enthusiasm like a shopaholic who has just been given unlimited credit. Extraordinary levels of intervention helped stem panic, propped up the financial system and countered reductions in private demand.

Two questions remain: Firstly, for how long can the US continue selling more debt at low interest rates? Secondly, how much can they print until they run out of steam - there is no such thing in life as a free lunch, and the only people who will be left to pay the bill will ultimately be the taxpayers and their children!

What government should have done in 2008 is stick consistently to the philosophy that created the boom; that is to let market forces prevail, as the USA did in 1990 and Asia did in response to the 1997 crisis. If they had done so, the financial system would possibly have collapsed temporarily, widespread business destruction would have occurred and unemployment would have gone through the roof. Industries in jurisdictions where they were most inefficient, like cars in the USA would likely have become extinct. Massive amounts of wealth would have been wiped out as asset prices collapsed.

These are all appalling events that would have also exposed the totality of Government incompetence and make them extremely unpopular! But at least industry and investment would have quickly rebounded back to a point from which growth could occur again and the process of re-employment and wealth creation could start afresh. Surely this is a better alternative to the decades of recessionary economics that have now been unleashed upon western economies that will eventually cost trillions more than the short, sharp, hard medicine and ensuing faster recovery that should have occurred?

So why did Government choose the wrong response to crisis? For the same reason that they allowed their economies during the boom to spiral out of control; they didn’t know what they were doing!

Within 18 months, the US investment banks had collapsed from global titans into extinction, so when crisis struck Government were astonished by the scale of the problem and how far out of their depth they were.

Prior to the Lehman bankruptcy the markets naively believed that Government vaguely knew what was going on. Lehman’s abrupt collapse debunked that myth, and it may take many years for market confidence in Government to return.

Government’s answer to the 2008 crisis was therefore a panic measure, a knee-jerk response to their own incompetence that was not properly thought through nor understood. The most worrying thing about all of this is that Government has convinced itself that it has actually chosen the best crisis response. It is clear from their comments in 2009 that they believe they have done a good job, but the reality is that the true extent of their failings will continue to unravel during 2010 and beyond.

In the meantime the administration will retain its iconic status as the butt of Wall Street’s private jokes.

To be continued…

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]

DVD of the Week: By Mark Whitman

Ten great films

‘The cinema is a means of seeing better’. Iris Barry.

‘A true work of art is one from which nothing can be taken without destroying the whole’. Carl Th. Dreyer.

If you want to provoke a discussion among a group of film buffs just ask, ‘Which is the second greatest national cinema?’ The handful of answers depends, naturally, on which is ‘considered’ the premier choice. This game is on a par with positing which is a ‘favourite’ film, the most exciting cinematic debut or whether there is such a thing as a ‘perfect’ film. Naturally I ‘know’ the answer to all these questions: equally naturally they are not the same as your response.

A musician friend, who also happens to be a fairly fanatical film enthusiast, recently sent me an e-mail relating to the daddy of all such movie games and quizzes. It was the up to date ‘Top Ten’ listings culled from the regular Sight and Sound polls, which is an influential magazine published by the British Film Institute. You can check it out on the internet.

The lists are in two: the first provided by a number of film critics, of whom Gilbert Adair and Donald Ritchie stand out for their authoritative and intelligent choices. The second set of ten choices comes from well known film directors and the most thoughtful of these include Theo Angelopolous, Michael Haneke, Jim Jarmusch, Aki Kaurismaki, Jim McBride and Giles McKinnon.

In the certain knowledge that we all have our list and that equally certainly it changes often, at least in part, here is mine. Asked next week it might have another Bresson or two (A Man Escaped, L’Argent) or Rossellini (Voyage to Italy, Germany Year Zero), but as of mid March 2010 here it is. Almost certainly the DVD Movie and Music shop at 289 Suthep Road has the majority of this dektette in stock. Take you pick. Each fulfils the criteria noted above by critic Barry and director Dreyer.

BALTHAZAR (Fr.1966 Dir Robert Bresson) A donkey, the sins of man, a sublime masterpiece.

THE BIG HEAT (U.S.A. 1953 Dir Fritz Lang) A brutal take on gangsterdom and the power of revenge.

GERTRUD (Denmark 1964 Dir Carl Th. Dreyer) The final film by Scandinavia’s greatest director defines the power of love.

LANCELOT (Fr. 1974 Dir Robert Bresson) An ‘historical’ romance: shades of Brief Encounter. Cinema’s most original work?

THE MATCH FACTORY GIRL (Finland 1990 Dir Aki Kaurismaki) Finland’s great director ‘reworks’ H.C. Andersen to devastating effect.

ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (U.S.A. 1939 Dir Howard Hawks) America’s leading home grown movie talent and his perennial theme: men under stress.

THE RETURN (Russia 2003 Dir Andrei Zvyaginstev) Growing up is hard to do: cinema’s greatest debut?

THE RISE OF LOUIS XIV (Fr. 1966 Dir Roberto Rossellini) Neo-realism and documentary enter the Court and find it wanting.

ROME OPEN CITY (Italy 1945 Dir Roberto Rossellini) Cinema’s most visceral war film: once seen NEVER forgotten).

VAN GOGH (Fr 1919 Dir Maurice Pialat) Vincent’s final days, the artist as a man. Prepare to shed tears.

Let's Go To The Movies:  by Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai

Hachi: A Dog’s Tale / Hachiko: A Dog’s Story: US/ UK, Drama/ Family – This family drama reunites actor Richard Gere and director Lasse Halstrom (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape). It’s a remake of a 1987 Japanese film, transferred to Rhode Island. Born out of real-life events, it tells the tale of Hachi, a faithful Akita dog who would walk his owner to and from the train station every day. When the man unexpectedly dies, Hachi continues his daily routine of waiting for his master at the train station for the next nine years. Mixed or average reviews: 56 out of 100. But if you’re a dog lover, you will go wild over it, I guarantee! At Airport Plaza only.

How to Train Your Dragon: US, Animation – Set in the mythical world of burly Vikings and wild dragons, this animated action comedy tells the story of Hiccup, a Viking teenager who doesn’t exactly fit in with his tribe’s longstanding tradition of heroic dragon slayers. Hiccup’s world is turned upside down when he encounters a dragon that challenges him and his fellow Vikings to see the world from an entirely different point of view. Generally favorable reviews: 71/76 out of 100. Shown in 3D at Major Cineplex, Airport Plaza; Vista is showing a 2D Thai-dubbed version.

Bang Rajan 2: Thai, Action/ War – The sequel to Bang Rajan, it continues the patriotic legend of a tiny farming village that fought Burmese invaders despite insurmountable odds and successfully held off a foreign invasion until the capital at Ayutthaya could put up a proper defense. It looks as though this episode will be as ferociously violent and bloody as the original, with even more buffaloes and mustaches.

Up in the Air: US, Comedy/ Drama/ Romance – Led by charismatic performances by its three leads, director/ writer Jason Reitman delivers a smart blend of humor and emotion with just enough edge to be nominated as best picture of the year, with the best directing and the best adapted screenplay. Stars George Clooney. Co-star Vera Farmiga plays for me a fascinating character, and her relationship with Clooney is utterly fresh and surprising. Rated R in the US for language and some sexual content. Reviews: Universal acclaim.

When in Rome: US, Comedy/ Romance – Rom-com cliches, but a pair of young, attractive leads. Kristen Bell plays a young, ambitious New Yorker who is completely unlucky in love, but on a whirlwind trip to Rome she impulsively steals some coins from a reputed fountain of love, and is then aggressively pursued by a band of suitors. Generally unfavorable reviews.

Alice in Wonderland (2D): US, Adventure/ Family/ Fantasy – Not your usual Alice, because it’s a new story, a riff on the original, with Alice all grown up as a late teens girl about to be proposed to. Escaping for a moment from the ditz proposing to her, she returns to Wonderland to find the strange land now in the hands of a cruel despot who is making life miserable for everybody. With director Tim Burton, plus this particular Alice (Misa Wasikowska), plus Johnny Depp in another of his way-out-there tragicomic performances – it adds up to an unforgettable, one-of-a-kind movie experience. Mixed or average reviews. At Airport Plaza only, and not in 3D this week.

Green Zone: France/ US/ Spain/ UK, Action/ Drama/ Thriller/ War – Courageous director Paul Greengrass takes on the whole Bush Administration (and the Blair administration too I guess) as he reminds us all, very forcefully, that there never were “Weapons of Mass Destruction” in Iraq and the governments knew it, and the whole fiction was created as an excuse to go to war. Rated R in the US for violence and language. Vista has a Thai-dubbed version as well.

Nak Prok / Shadow of the Naga: Thai, Action/ Drama – About a trio of thieves who bury their loot in a Buddhist temple, then dress as monks in order to retrieve the stolen loot.

The Little Comedian / Ban Chan: Thai, Family/ Comedy – A family comedy troupe harbors a black sheep – a son who isn’t funny.

Scheduled for Apr 1

Clash of the Titans: UK/ US, Action/ Adventure/ Fantasy – The mortal son of the god Zeus embarks on a perilous journey to stop the underworld and its minions from spreading their evil to Earth as well as the heavens. Starring Sam Worthington as Perseus, Liam Neeson as Zeus, and Ralph Fiennes as Hades. A remake of a 1981 Ray Harryhausen adventure starring Laurence Olivier, and likely to be the first chapter in a trilogy based on Greek mythology. It’s one of an increasing number of films being distributed in 3D — but as a result of the sort of fake 2D to 3D conversion process, and not originally shot in 3D. (Looks like they’ll be doing the same for the final two Harry Potter films.)

Bridge in Paradise : by Neil Robinson

This column is about the value of patience. Many players use a bid called a negative double. For those who are unfamiliar with this bid, it is quite simple, but very useful. When your partner bids a suit and the opponents immediately overcall in another suit, your double is not for penalties, but is “negative”. It denies your partner’s suit and shows the two unbid suits. Most particularly it shows any unbid major (lying some about having the unbid minor is usually acceptable). For example, your partner opens 1S and right hand opponent (RHO) overcalls 2C. Your hand is:

S: 98

H: KQ542

D: Q976

C: 76

You have a decent heart suit, but cannot bid 2H (which shows a minimum of about 9 or 10 points), because you do not have enough points. So you keep the bidding low by doubling to show the red suits. Alternatively, your hand is:

S: 98


D: A976

C: 763

Now you have enough points to bid at the two level, but only four hearts, not enough to bid at the two level. Again, you double to show the red suits. But what do you do if your hand is as below, RHO overcalls 2C and the opponents are vulnerable?

S: 8

H: A64

D: 9754

C: AJ1098

If you double, partner will think you have the red suits, so this is where patience comes in. You pass. Your partner knows that your pass in this position means either that you are weak, or that you are lying in wait in clubs. If your partner thinks you are lying in wait, he or she must double to give you a chance to pass (or, if you are actually weak, to bid something). The full deal is shown below, with you sitting West and East dealing and NS vulnerable:

The bidding was as above. South made a reasonable overcall, with a good six card suit, 12 high card points and a singleton. But, your partner looked at his void in clubs and knew to double. Your karma must be good because this has delivered South into your hands, with nowhere to run to—NS’s longest combined suit outside clubs is spades, your partner’s opening bid.

Declarer took your spade lead with the ace, and then led the club queen (a low club is better), hoping to drop two opposing trumps. You take it and switch to a diamond. Partner takes two top spades (with you throwing diamonds), and switches to the heart queen. Now, no matter how South twists and turns, you take a total of ten tricks (2 spades, 3 hearts, 1 diamond and 4 clubs), for down 5. Soon, you are writing plus 1400 on your side of the score sheet. Ah!—the rewards of patience.

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]

MAIL OPINION : Haze Part Two

By Shana Kongmun
The recent rains helped clear the air a bit, much to everyone’s relief. However, early mornings still see haze and I hear reports of burnings continuing despite the choking haze that has been covering the North for weeks. There are reports of storms hitting the North in the coming week; we can only cross our fingers and hope they bring rain as the burning does not seem to have abated.

A good friend of mine lives in Pai and has lived there for several years. He returns to his home country this time every year as the smoke in Pai is so bad it makes it difficult even for those without respiratory ailments. He told me the hills around Pai are alight with fires every night, usually so high up and so far that there is little anyone can do to stop them. Short of, of course, them not being lit in the first place.

A friend of mine is visiting, thinking of moving here and starting a business. But, his arrival at the height of the haze is changing his mind. “Chiang Mai is lovely,” he said to me, “it’s a pity the air is so dirty”. How true that is. The idea of an annual repeat of the bad air, already aggravating his allergies and causing him some difficulties, is making him think twice and three times about doing business here.

How many tourists come and then leave immediately, telling their friends not to bother with Chiang Mai because you can’t breathe? How many people move away because they can’t handle the choking, thick haze? How many businesses up sticks and move somewhere with cleaner air? How many businesses never get started because someone like my friend realizes that Chiang Mai is not the place for them?

The solution must lie in education. It must lie in offering alternatives and it must lie in people realizing that not only are they damaging their own lives, the lives of their children but those of everyone around them. Certainly, punishment is necessary, for often the only thing that will really alter human behavior is a drastic effect on the bottom line. But, additionally, alternatives must be offered and education programs must be implemented, starting in schools and starting at an early age.

If they government isn’t going to consider the long term health ramifications and its associated costs, perhaps it might consider the short term economic impact of people fleeing Chiang Mai to find air to breathe?

How does your garden grow?: By Eric Danell, Dokmai Garden

The Wildflower Season

With so many private and public gardens, national parks and universities, Chiang Mai could be a centre for new tourist segments who wish to spend week learning about tropical gardening. The cool season has a reputation of being the most appealing season to tourists, but frankly, October-December is not the most exciting period for blossom in Lanna, although alien weeds like Tithonia diversifolia (Bua tong, Mexican sunflower) is shown to innocent tourists in November. The Lanna wildflower blossom starts in January with Congea tomentosa (Phuang pradit, Congea), and continues with Bombax ceiba (Ngio, Red Kapok) in February, but I personally feel that the peak season is now, in the notorious hot season. Numerous spectacular monsoon orchids and native trees such as Shorea obtusa (Teng, Siamese Sal), Crateva magna (Kum, Crateva), Erythrina stricta (Thong lang pa), Cassia fistula (Ratcha phruek, Golden shower), Cassia bakeriana (Kanlapa phruek, Pink shower) and Pterospermum acerifolium (Kanan pling, Banana peel tree) all display fantastic blossom. Since we have changed the negative “rainy season” (May-October) to a more positive “green season”, I believe that the negative “hot season” (March-May) should be replaced with “the Wildflower Season”.

However, Chiang Mai cannot promote green tourism during the Wildflower Season as long as we have mountain fires. The French explorer Thorel predicted 150 years ago that these “devastating” fires would soon disappear. He was wrong. We simply have to conclude that the legislation, the propaganda of prominent Thai researchers, educational programs initiated by the Thai national parks and pleas by the King have not been enough. In March Mae Hong Son had a pollution index exceeding 500, while the limit for dangerous health problems is 300, and in EU the index is usually within the range 10-50. Maybe we should bring in consultants from Isaan to explain how they modernised their land management? Maybe, if we leased police from Isaan, we could enforce the laws, and finally get rid of a problem causing cancer, asthma, forest destruction, bad publicity in guidebooks and billions lost every year due to stunted tourism?.

Life in Chiang Mai: By Heather Allen

Songkran season is creeping up and I, for one, am not looking forward to the week(s) long festivities. Not so much the festivals, parties and beauty contests but the incessant water throwing and the frightening number of drunk drivers. When did Songkran turn into a giant rowdy party from the genteel and gentle washing of hands?

Songkran, as all residents know, marks the beginning of the Thai New Year. The date of the New Year was originally set by astrological calculation. The term Songkran comes from the Sanskrit “Sankranta” and means “a move or change” - in this case the move of the sun into the Aries zodiac. Originally this happened at the vernal equinox, but, as the Thai astrology did not observe precession, the date moved from March to April and the date fixed on April 13 after 1940. Until 1888 the Thai New Year was the beginning of the year in Thailand, April 1 was used until 1940 when it was set at January 1. Since then, Songkran has been a national holiday.

Water throwing originated as a way to pay respect to people, by capturing the water after it had been poured over the Buddha image for cleansing and then using this “blessed” water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulders. The water is seen as a cleansing of the past. Additionally, many Thais will use this opportunity for what we in the West call a Spring Cleaning, a thorough cleaning out of the old to make way for the new. Many Thais spend this day at the Wat, paying respects and making merit. How this gentle ceremony evolved to ranging water wars complete with water pistols, cannons, buckets of ice water and talc I am not sure.

And a lot of heavy drinking. Songkran is, along with the January New Year, the worst holiday for traffic accidents, with the numbers escalating year after year as people drive drunk. Add in to the drunk driving mix, people getting doused with buckets of ice water as they drive and it’s no surprise that last year’s fatality rate was the highest in the nation, with 14 dead over the Songkran period in Chiang Mai.

Parties are fun, and so is a bit of water throwing, it’s great to see people out on the streets joining in with a feeling of community and camaraderie, with both foreigners and Thais, expats and tourists, out throwing water on people.

But, after a few days, at least for me, it grows tiresome and I fear driving the streets at all times of the day because of the drunks on the road.