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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

MAIL OPINION

How does your garden grow?

Life in Chiang Mai

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Food facts and fads

What we eat is something that has fascinated us for centuries. We have made rituals and even fetishes out of eating and drinking, and the oldest gourmet group in the world, the Chaine des Rotisseurs, is still going and began in 1248 AD. That’s a long lunch! And a lot of food.

These days, with our tentative forays into ‘real’ science, our dietary habits have also been scrutinized plus the many claims made for modifying the kind of food we eat and what we drink. This in turn, has produced legions of people who swear by various foods which will cure everything from falling hair to falling arches (or even falling stock markets) and of course, what is considered the ‘big’ one - cancer!

Think critically for a moment, it is very difficult to ‘prove’ that by taking the shredded root of some Outer Mongolian herb or similar items, that ‘something’ (usually cancer) does not happen. Even more outrageous are the claims that some herb, poppy or whatnot can actually ‘cure’ cancers. Is it all just poppycock?

To be able to prove these claims needs medical science to look at a large group, or population, and compare the cancer experience with another similar large group or population. Ideally, the two groups are matched for age/sex/ethnicity/working environment, location etc. You get no worthwhile results comparing Welsh coalminers with urban Africans, for example, to go to extremes. That is real apples and oranges.

Recently, some results of a 15+ year study in Australia have been presented at the CSIRO Prospects for Cancer Prevention Symposium. The findings emerged from the Cancer Council’s Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study, an ongoing research project involving 42,000 Australians who have been monitored since 1990.

Looking at the dietary habits and the cancer connection, Dr Peter Clifton, director of the CSIRO’s Nutrition Clinic, said there was “zero evidence” that eating fruit and vegetables could protect against cancer. The nutritionists and the healthy eating proponents were shattered. However, this to me is a much more compelling argument than something that comes from folklore, or the lady next door who swears by it. You are looking at the results from a study of 42,000 adults.

What the survey did show was that the three prime risk factors as far as predicting cancers were concerned were identified as obesity, drinking too much alcohol and smoking.

More than that, staying within a healthy body weight range was found to be more important than following particular nutritional guidelines. This means a thin person who does not eat enough fruit and vegetables would have a lower risk of developing cancer than someone who is overweight but eats the recommended daily amount of fruit and five colors of vegetables.

Professor Dallas English, of the Cancer Council of Victoria, told the symposium that despite decades of research, there was no convincing evidence on how modifying one’s diet would reduce the risk of cancer.

“The most important thing about diet is limiting energy (kilojoule) intake so people don’t become overweight or obese, because this has emerged as a risk factor for a number of cancers, including breast, prostate, bowel and endometrial (uterus),” he said.

The link between eating red meat and bowel cancer was “weak” and the Cancer Council supported guidelines advising people to eat red meat three or four times a week, Professor English said.

In Australia, the biggest killer is still heart disease, so healthy eating will lower one’s chances of heart disease, even if it does not protect you against cancer.

Both Professor English and Dr. Clifton predict an increase in the incidence of cancer as a result of Australia’s obesity epidemic, but say exercise can play a vital role in cutting cancer rates, potentially halving the risk of some cancers. That I find a rather sweeping claim, but there is no doubt in my mind that moderate exercise is good for you.

So there you are – get down to a healthy weight and exercise regularly, drink alcohol in moderation only (Australians do not know what “moderation” means) and stop smoking. In this way you will lower your chances of heart disease and cancer.

Goodness me, you might even outlive your doctor!

 

Dalmations for Songkran!

With their beautiful glossy coats like velvet to the touch and their soulful
Dalmatian eyes, Ada or Bell could be spot on for you and your family.

Cherub is 2-3 years old, sterilised, vaccinated and may
just be exactly what you’re looking for!

The name says it all – just look at that face! Cherub is one of 3 Dalmatians we have at the shelter and her 2 sisters are just as adorable! They get on well with each other and would fit wonderfully into any family with or without children or other dogs. We can home them together or separately. Ada and Bell are 2-3 years old, sterilised, vaccinated and may just be exactly what you’re looking for – they come separately or together…just give us a bell before someone else snaps them up! If you can offer any or all of these wonderful girls 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] to make an appointment to visit the shelter & meet them or any of the many other dogs waiting for you. www. carefordogs.org.


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,

I was sitting quietly assessing the lack of passing trade in a bar in one of the less salubrious areas of Chiang Mai when a group of touring farangs entered and began an animated discussion of the price effect on girlie favors with the decrease in tourism. Some were of the opinion that the costs would escalate in an effort to make up for losses in lower numbers of clients while others thought the opposite, believing the ladies would take it in their stride. In fact several thought they would soon see such sandwich board signs as “50% off Weekdays”, “Big reductions during Happy Hour”, “Two for the price of One” and “Bring a friend - Free” etc.

Being a wise old biddy of vast Asian experience, what are your thoughts on this crucial economic matter? And what do you consider as a fair price for an hour’s company of a lissome young wench in this current fund starved time? Please take into account the countless years of inflation as the tuppence charged in your younger years is long since but a happy memory for some.

Being only in my mid 80s it was before my time so obviously I cannot recall what were your halcyon days. However, if you are looking for a toy boy may I offer my services ? Although I have no idea why, I should warn you I am now finding my mind is occasionally making appointments my body fails to keep.

Regret can’t afford champers and chocs but a bottle of Guinness and a slab of extra soft nougat suitable for the molar challenged aged are on their way to you. Enjoy.

Harry Cott-Bene

Coach to the Chiang Mai Over 80s Nude Trampoline Club

Dear Harry the Coach,

What a strange twisted and tortuous mind you have. And your erstwhile drinking mates likewise. You all seem to have totally misunderstood the rules of commerce in what you so indelicately call “girlie favors”. Why would any bar (in less salubrious areas or otherwise) advertise prices and this week’s special offer by means of sandwich boards, when everyone knows that prostitution is illegal in this country. Just ask the friendly policemen on The Strip.

I gather from your letter that you are from the UK. Prostitution is different over there, I am led to believe, complete with published price lists. That is not the case here, so you should not confuse the two countries. If you and your bargain seeking friends from the less salubrious parts of town are looking for dalliances, this is a private matter between the ladies and yourselves, not between you and the establishment. Big difference Petal. And as far as my knowing the “fair price for an hour’s company of a lissome young wench in this current fund starved time,” pray tell, why should I know? At last count, I was not a member of the Arbitration Board. You really do come out with some absurdities, Harry.

My honest suggestion is that you and your impecunious friends elevate yourselves to better quality (more expensive) drinking holes, stop discussing items which cannot be discussed, and reduce the quantity of Vitamin V ingested at a sitting (or is that a lying?). And if I ever need a toy boy with Alzheimer’s I’ll let you know. Don’t wait up.

Dear Hillary,

After finding myself a widower in the UK, I began to look for some company, which is normal. What a nightmare that turned out, as all the British women of my age seem to have several tons of baggage they are hauling around with ex-husbands, children like leeches, financial disasters and all the rest. None were ever interested in what sort of a chap I was, just how much money I had, what sort of car I drove and where did I live.

I gave that away as a bad job and came to Thailand for a holiday to get away from them all, and met a wonderful Thai lady here. In her 40’s, never married and ran a small business in Bangkok. After my third visit, I knew she was the one for me, and fortunately she knew I was the one for her. Now after nine years together, it just gets better and better. I just want to say the Thai women do make good partners, and sure there are cultural differences to get over, but it is worth it. We are living in the UK at present but we will retire in your beautiful country.

Jerry

Dear Jerry,

I am delighted to get your letter, which will have more than a faint ring of truth to it for many who have looked for a soul mate in their own countries. However, I have to say that there are also a fair few local ladies carrying a great deal of baggage, not the least of which is the brother’s bent motorcycle perched on the back of the ailing buffalo. You are correct when you say that cross-cultural marriages have their own unique hurdles, but you have obviously overcome them. Congratulations, and enjoy your retirement in Thailand when the time comes.


Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Deleting and partitioning

My wife borrowed my (work) camera the other day to take some photographs of one of our children’s graduation. It was a disaster, but from the depths of despair, several good rules for better photography were demonstrated.

SD memory cards.

The disaster began the night before when my wife attended a children’s party and without the discipline of a 36 shot roll of film, it was blam-blam-blam. Us old film users remembered that the number of shots was limited, so we tended to take our time in composing, framing and being specific with our shots. Now with no ‘film’, even a 2GB memory card has its limits, especially if shooting in high-resolution and even less when shooting in RAW mode. Sorry if that sounds all very technical, but it is not. Check your digital camera and see what mode you are using. Simply, the larger and more detailed the images, the fewer you can pack on to a memory card or memory stick.

The next day came the graduation, and the request to use the work camera again. There were probably around 20 students in the class, but by the time it was our child receiving the certificate, the camera said the card was full and could accept no more! Disaster!

Now the instructions on how to delete unwanted images was actually in the camera bag, buried amongst the 134 pages of Operating Instructions, but it was all a little late by then. The ‘decisive moment’ (thank you Monsieur Cartier Bresson) had passed.

So what ‘rules’ were learned? I would like to think that first one is to be more critical of what it is you are actually photographing. The ‘blunderbuss’ technique may work for hitting barn doors, but it does not work in capturing the subject correctly in photography. And you burn up the space on the memory card.

The other immediate message is to regularly go through the delete program on your camera and get rid of poor quality unwanted images. In most cameras this is still a fiddly kind of exercise, but one that needs to be done.

Now here is another trap for young players – even if you remove ‘all’ the images, it may not actually be ‘all’ the images. This is where ‘partitioning’ comes in. For some electronic reason, not known to this old film photographer, the memory card can be divided into sections by the camera’s electronic brain, and just deleting everything in one section, does not mean you have got rid of everything.

However, all is not lost for the non-e photographer. If you have the necessary adaptor you can plug your memory card into your computer, look at the total contents of the card, and it will show you the sections, and then delete from there.

Now, if you haven’t got one of these adaptors to plug into your computer through the USB port, (or can’t find where or what the USB port actually is) all is not lost (yet). Go to your friendly photo shop, and instead of telling him which pictures you want printed, or put on to a CD, you tell him which pictures you want deleted!

Now there always is the worry when you delete images, that you delete the wrong one. That all-important picture of you standing on the top of Mt. Everest has been lost. But it actually hasn’t. It is still there on your SD card, you just can’t access it.

If the picture is exceptionally important, then stop all work with the camera, so that the picture is not over-written, and get some software which allows data recovery. Examples of these are Disk Digger and PCInspector, but there can be no guarantees, as is repeated in the disclaimer that comes with these free, downloadable files. However, if you are wanting to retrieve images, do not take any more until after the retrieval.

So the photo lessons include always deleting as you go. Learn how to delete, including opening partitions and be more selective when shooting. If there is one important subject, shoot that before you start shooting ancillary stuff. And finally, buy a large memory card!


Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

UK Company Defined Benefit Pensions: Should I stay …or should I go now? Part 1

I have been getting fed up of some of the drivel written about this recently and so have put together what I hope will be the definitive article for people to make their own decisions which will suit their own needs and not those of someone else. By now many of you may well be aware that Pensions A-Day (6 April 2006), produced some radical changes regarding the rules governing transfers from UK registered pension schemes. From this date, individuals who wished to migrate from the UK were able to transfer their UK pension funds to an overseas pension scheme, provided it was a ‘Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme’ (QROPS).

There are numerous benefits to be gained in transferring a UK pension to a QROPS and we shall cover these later. All too often, however, articles on QROPS transfers emphasise the caution which should be exercised when considering a pension held in a Defined Benefits Scheme (DBS), and quite rightly so. A DBS provides an individual in their retirement with an income based entirely on their earnings and length of service with the company operating the DBS. Such a scheme often comes with guarantees attached such as a pension income guaranteed for life, where statutory annual increases of up to 5% can apply. 

Having said this, unfortunately nothing is ever so cut and dried. It is important to consider how safe the DBS is and whether or not it will be capable of delivering on its promises. At the end of the day, when deciding whether or not a pension should be transferred from a DBS, it is important to gather all of the relevant facts in order that an informed choice can be made.

As always, it will be impossible to eliminate the element of risk. To date, the Pension Protection Fund (PPF), set up by the Government as a safety net for failed schemes, has accepted 120 pension schemes where the parent company has gone into administration. It has also turned down 75 schemes on the basis that they can still give members a pension better than the compensation provided by the PPF.

You should be aware that the PPF is capped and, in the event of your old company going into administration, it will not provide a pension on a like for like basis as your old scheme. Furthermore, in September last year the British Chamber of Commerce started calling for the Pension Protection Levy, paid by existing schemes to support the failed ones, to be scrapped all together. This is all that funds the PPF, and its future is far from certain.

As a QROPS is a personal pension, its performance in the future is very much dependent upon the value of its underlying assets. What should also be remembered though is that when the pension fund is exhausted, so too is the member’s income - unless of course an annuity is bought. With a DBS, the employing company carries all the risk in meeting the guarantees it has promised to its member. It is important to remember however, that as much as it sounds advantageous to leave this risk with the employer and not yourself, this does not, in any case, mean that you can afford to put your feet up, especially in the current climate.

Unfortunately, many of these seemingly gold plated pension schemes are dying out fast, mainly due to their high running costs. Furthermore, every pension fund is based on stock market performance, and falling share prices have hit the assets held by many of the schemes, forcing employers to try and prop the schemes up themselves. What many do not realise is that after the Global Credit Crunch of 2008 over 90% of schemes were in deficit, some very seriously.

On 4 June 2009 it was reported by the Times that Barclays had become the first leading UK employer since Rentokil Initial some four years earlier to announce plans to close its final salary pension scheme to existing members. On 18 August 2009 the Daily Mail reported findings of a study which had been conducted by a firm of consultants called Watson Wyatt. Their investigation found that half of the UK’s companies researched will have closed their generous defined benefit pension schemes to existing members by 2012. The report stoked further fears over the extent of Britain’s Pensions crisis after it was also reported that almost all blue-chip companies admitted earlier in 2009 that their final salary schemes were unsustainable. 

Fast forward to 11 February 2010, when it was reported that Telecoms company BT had agreed to pay off a ฃ9bn deficit in its pension scheme over the following 17 years. Despite this, the Pension Regulator said it had “substantial concerns” over the plan although it has not stated publicly the nature of those concerns. The pension scheme had been in deficit since the 1990’s but this ballooned from ฃ3.4bn in 2005 because the company finally had to accept that it would be much more expensive to fund pensions in the future than they had otherwise thought. They have now had to take on board the fact that pensioners are generally living another two years longer than was previously believed at the time of the scheme’s valuation, in 2005.

The slashing of tax relief on pension contributions for high earners as from 2011, cutting the tax relief on contributions for those earning more than ฃ150,000 from 40% to 20%, has sparked outrage among high earners in the City and has led to predictions of an exodus from the UK. It is likely that many more people will be caught by the restriction on higher rate relief than first anticipated, due to the way it is structured.

When these measures were first proposed in the pre-budget report of 2009, industry experts were already saying that such an attack on pensions tax relief could send the wrong message to both scheme members and employers. Rob Warren, Director of Regulation at IFF Research, was quoted as saying: “What has yet to be seen is the impact of the tax change on lower-paid employees’ rewards. Senior executives who have previously maintained a business final salary pension scheme may no longer see the incentive to do so. As they are forced to shift to alternative investments, the unintended consequence could be an accelerated decline in the number of defined benefit schemes available to others, which could have a devastating impact on ordinary people’s future income.”

Likewise, Alex Waite, a pensions adviser from Lane Clark and Peacock, was quoted by the Observer newspaper on 26 April 2009 as saying: “If a managing director is not personally able to gain any benefit from participating in the company pension scheme, it is only human nature that their attitude towards the whole scheme will be affected. Given the delicate state of the UK pension system it seems rather unfortunate to, in effect, remove the personal value of pension arrangements from those people who are often the decision makers for everyone else’s pension.”

So how can you tell if a DBS is in trouble? What are the warning signs? There are a few indicators to look out for:

1. How well the scheme is funded? A company’s pension funding position is of major significance being the pension pot for all of its member employees. The company is, in effect, investing on each member’s behalf and in turn, it is carrying all of the risk.

2. Is there a deficit? If the company becomes insolvent and the scheme is in deficit, an individual will almost certainly lose some, but not all, of their pension rights because the Pension Protection Fund in the UK does not guarantee full pensions. For members who have retired but have not reached the normal pension age of their scheme, they will receive up to 90% compensation. However, these 90% compensation levels are subject to a cap which is recalculated every year for new pensioners.

3. Are any pension bribes being offered? This is a very strong sign that the scheme is seriously struggling. A large number of firms, many of them in the FTSE100 of Britain’s biggest business, are thinking about offering cash bribes to workers who agree to quit their final salary schemes. Known as an ‘Enhanced Transfer Value’ (ETV), the pension trustees pay a lump sum called a transfer value into an alternative pension scheme. The deal, in theory, is supposed to be equivalent to the final salary benefits that the member is giving up, and is typically coupled with a cash lump sum on top from the employer to tempt people. Whilst such deals may initially appear attractive, they can leave an individual worse off.

4. An increase in retirement age. You may have been told that you were entitled to take benefits from age 60 but now this has been pushed back to 65. Could this be a sign that the company’s pension scheme is struggling to meet its commitments?

5. Have staff recently been asked to increase their personal contributions to the scheme? A possible sign that the scheme is suffering a shortfall at some level.

6. A scaling back of the accrual rate. The accrual rate is the rate at which future benefits in a defined benefit final salary pension will accumulate - based on a formula linked to the scheme member’s pensionable earnings. This formula is usually expressed as a fraction of final salary such as 1/60th or 1/80th, and the pension benefits at retirement age will increase as the length of service increases. For every year a defined benefit scheme member is working they are earning a percentage of their final salary. However, some company schemes have cut back on this future accrual, meaning that for every year an individual is working, they are naturally then earning a smaller percentage of their final salary.

7. A frequent replacement of pension scheme trustees and actuaries. If there is a high turnover it is very likely that the trustees and the company are having regular disagreements over the scheme’s management.

Clearly it is important that an individual seeks advice if they have any doubts over the future of their DBS since it may prove advantageous to transfer out to a QROPS if they are about to leave the UK or have already left. Next week in Part 2 we’ll cover the advantages and disadvantages of moving your pension to a QROPS.

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

North by North West - Alfred Hitchcock

Choosing a Hitchcock movie to review is a little like recommending a particular wine; the variety is endless and so much depends on mood and individual taste. But in the end there is something for everyone, light and fragrant, (Young and Innocent, Rich and Strange), heady and complex (Vertigo, Marnie, The Birds, Rear Window), dark and pungent (Psycho, Rope, Shadow of a Doubt), refreshing but with hidden notes (The Lady Vanishes, The 39 Steps), heavy but fortifying (I Confess, The Wrong Man), accessible and engaging (To Catch a Thief, North by North West). Or, of course, non vintage or even corked – Topaz, The Paradine Case, The Torn Curtain.

This week’s choice is, as indicated, very easy drinking, sorry, watching. Unlike the recently mentioned Strangers on A Train it does not delve into the darker side of human nature nor does it have – unlike, say, The 39 Steps (the crofter and his wife, the menace of the fascist) any shocks along the way. It is a fun movie and best enjoyed in its direct yet stylish way. Don’t look for Hitch’s preoccupations with justice, guilt or Catholicism and accept that his heroine is of the less complex and interesting variety, more Doris Day or Julie Andrews than Tippi Hedren, Kim Novak or Grace Kelly.

Hitchcock was too enamoured of his leading ladies to treat them well and gets something else from them rather than great performances. He fares better with the men, even though he famously remarked that actors were like cattle.

Here the star is Cary Grant (only James Stewart worked better with this director) who brings characteristic elegance to the role of the businessman involved with a gang of not too bright spies. The plot is almost unimportant, a nicely designed clothes horse on which to drape the surface wares and set pieces: the drunken car ride (shades of To Catch a Thief), the crop dusting scene, the Mt Rushmore climax. Colourful stuff, urged along by a slightly routine but still fine Bernard Hermann score, to help dispel occasional longeurs.

This is accessible Hitchcock, played fairly near the surface with witty asides, ablaze with coincidence and as stylish and light hearted as any film you can mention. As a director he obviously did not relish mining in shallows but made the best of it. And this film has stood the test of time, having recently celebrated 50 years in the business.

It may be a divertissement, but thanks not least to Grant’s charisma and talent and to Hitchcock’s audacious genius it is a memorable one.


Let's Go To The Movies:  by Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai

Legion: US, Action/ Fantasy/ Horror/ Thriller – In the first minute, the angel Michael falls to earth and then cuts off his wings. It’s because God gave him a command that he didn’t want to do. God, you see, has given up on mankind, while Michael thinks there’s still hope. The first 40 minutes are terrific – evocative and stylish. Then I suggest you leave. Here’s how they describe it: “After a terrifying biblical apocalypse descends upon the world, a group of strangers stranded in a remote truck stop diner in the US Southwest unwittingly become humanity’s last line of defense when they discover the diner’s young waitress is pregnant with the messiah.” With a quite impressive Paul Bettany. Generally unfavorable reviews.

Agora: Spain, Adventure/ Drama/ History/ Romance – Set in fourth-century Alexandria, Egypt, “Agora” chronicles both a historical uprising and the love of a slave for his mistress. Alejandro Amenabar directs Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz in this story of a slave who tu rns to the rising tide of Christianity in the hopes of pursuing freedom while also falling in love with his master, the famous female philosophy professor and atheist Hypatia of Alexandria. Only mixed or average reviews – but I highly recommend it; I think it’s a truly well-done epic in the vein of Cecil B. DeMille, but a lot more thoughtful. At Vista only, with thanks for bringing this beautiful and provocative film to Chiang Mai. I was fascinated.

Kick-Ass: US/ UK, Action/ Comedy/ Drama – An unnoticed high school student and comic book fan decides one day to become a super-hero, even though he has no powers, training, or meaningful reason to do so. It’s been hailed as a rollicking, virtuoso comic-book adaptation that fizzes with originality, feisty wit, and an unexpected degree of heart. With Nicolas Cage. Rated R in the US for strong brutal violence throughout, pervasive language, sexual content, nudity, and some drug use - some involving children. Generally favorable reviews.

Secret Sunday / Number 9: Thai, Suspense/ Horror – At his mother’s request, a young architect unwillingly takes a journey to visit nine different temples in seven days in order to clean up his bad karma. He is accompanied by his beauty-columnist girlfriend, and a young monk to do the chanting. But horrifying acts done in their previous lives reveal themselves as the journey goes on, and the more they try to clean up the bad karma by making merit, the closer they get to “THEM.”

Big Boy: Thai, Comedy/ Drama – A young man from the country moves to Bangkok, under the premise of taking care of his ailing grandfather, to pursue his dream of becoming a popular B-Boy dancer (breakdancer). It turns out his grandfather at one time pursued dancing himself, but failed to achieve his dreams. The young man and his grandfather always had a love-hate relationship, but it turns out his grandfather manages in the end to push the young man to finally attain his dreams.

The Princess and the Frog: US, Animation/ Family/ Fantasy/ Musical/ Romance – A fairy tale set in Jazz Age-era New Orleans and centered on a young girl and her fateful kiss with a frog prince who desperately wants to be human again. Nominated for three Oscars. I think Walt Disney has much to atone for in its presentation of blacks over the years, and this has pretty much done the trick. After a few squeamish moments at the start, the old Disney magic takes over, and you’re treated to classic 2D animation in the venerable Disney style. A brilliant animated film in the tradition of the great Disney fairy-tale films. Generally favorable reviews. Vista’s version is Thai-dubbed with no English subtitles.

Clash of the Titans: UK/ US, Action/ Adventure/ Fantasy – I didn’t find this film any sillier for our time than the 1981 Ray Harryhausen adventure starring Laurence Olivier was for its time. I guess it depends on the mood you’re in. Starring Sam Worthington (the hero of Avatar) as Perseus, Liam Neeson as Zeus, and Ralph Fiennes as Hades, and I found it fun to see what these actors did when let loose on these parts. Generally unfavorable reviews. Shown in both 3D and 2D at Airport Plaza, 2D at Vista. Note that the 3D is “converted,” i.e., not originally shot in 3D.

Date Night: US, Action/ Comedy/ Romance – In New York City, a case of mistaken identity turns a bored married couple’s attempt at a glamorous and romantic evening into something more thrilling and dangerous. Starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey. Mixed or average reviews.

Saranae Sib Lor: Thai, Adventure/ Comedy – With Mario Maurer of “Love of Siam” fame, playing a young man whose father suspects he’s gay and is sent off on a road trip in an old 10-wheel truck to learn how to become a man. Will that do the trick?


Bridge in Paradise : by Neil Robinson

Usually, I avoid writing about deals where I am declarer (except when something goes badly wrong!). However, this time I simply cannot resist writing about a deal, not because the bidding or play were particularly interesting but because of what happened on the last trick. It was board 18 from the Bridge Club of Chiang Mai pairs game on March 31st (all hand directions rotated by 180 degrees for ease of viewing). North-South were vulnerable and West dealt.

I was sitting South and opened 1N after three passes. West overcalled 2D and my partner, John Bucher, bid 3D as Stayman, asking me for a four card major (in the system we play). East wisely got in our way by raising to 4D and I bid 4S, hoping this was my partner’s major.

It was the last board of the 27 board session, so everyone was a little tired and neither declarer play nor defense were the best possible. West led the four of clubs, which was taken on board with the queen. A low spade led from board went to the queen and ace. Back came a diamond, taken with the ace in hand. Now I played two more rounds of spades and discovered the bad split. Leaving the master trump outstanding, I played off the top clubs, throwing a diamond from board. Now was the time to tackle the hearts. However, I could not risk losing a trick to East, who would pull my last two trumps if he got in. Consequently I led to the ace of hearts on board and led back the jack for a finesse. East showed out, but fortunately for me decided to ruff the heart and lead a fourth round of clubs. I ruffed this on board. The situation with everyone down to three cards is shown below, with the lead on board. At this stage, declarer has won eight tricks and the defense have taken two.

West, who had to sluff a lot of cards on spades and clubs, had thrown all but one of his rather low diamonds, keeping his guarded queen of hearts. A low heart was led from board to the king in hand. East threw a diamond. The seven of spades was led, for the tenth trick. West threw his last diamond to keep the master heart and East also threw a diamond, to keep the master club. My last card was the two of diamonds, which I led and which won the trick. How often does the two of the suit the opponents have bid and supported to the four level win the last trick for declarer? The hand was not very memorable, but the last trick certainly was!

Bridge Club of Chiang Mai welcomes new players. For information on the Club go to the web site at www.bridgeclubchiangmai.com. If you have bridge questions, or to send me your interesting hands, please contact me at: [email protected]


MAIL OPINION : Elephants on the streets

By Shana Kongmun

A recent discussion with a friend of mine, artist Azriel Cohen, about his latest photo exhibition, Elephants Emotional Intelligence brought home to me how difficult it must be for those elephants on Chiang Mai streets, led from one busy loud bar to another, with traffic whizzing by, it must be very frightening.

Studies have found that elephants can feel vibrations through their feet and that they communicate with low pitched sounds that they can then transmit through their feet and into the ground, giving them the ability to communicate across miles. Researcher Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell has studied the magnificent animals in the wild, and believes they can not only sense far distant vibrations but can also communicate through these vibrations. It was well documented that trained elephants in Thailand fled to higher ground before the arrival of the tsunami and O’Connell-Rodwell believes they could feel the vibration of the wave through the ground.

Scientists believe that for elephants in the wild, this ability is crucial to survival and reproduction. Female elephants in estrus make long, low calls that bull elephants zero in on, on the plains of the savannahs of Africa, this is crucial since the elephants may be spread out over hundreds of miles. Breeding herds also use low frequency calls to warn of predators, while adult elephants have no predator other than man, lions and other predators often hunt young elephants. They transmit these calls through the soil to warn other herds.

An elephant’s foot is like a satellite dish, it is believed the shape helps the elephant to receive these signals. Now imagine that same elephant walking the streets of the city, picking up not just the vibrations of the music, but the cars, the motorbikes, the underground plumbing and more. Chaotic, certainly, and since most of these elephants are quite young, most likely very frightening too. There have been cases of street elephants rampaging, injuring people and property. Is it any wonder when it must be total sensory overload for a creature whose reception is so sensitive it can pick up vibrations from miles away?

With National Elephant Day on March 13 it’s a reminder that it’s time the government took these elephants off the streets and introduce them to elephant sanctuaries to live the life they were meant to live, in nature and in dignity.


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

Snakes in your garden

Snakes do occur in Chiang Mai gardens, so it is good to know more about their biology and how to identify venomous species. The more lovely a garden is, the greater the incidence of snakes. A barrier may prevent large snakes from entering your garden. Keep the doors and windows on the first floor closed, and walk slowly to give snakes time to slither away. In spite of such precautions, now and then you meet a snake.

A Monocled Cobra in the garden

The Common Rat Snake is indeed a common snake, and often large. It is grayish-brownish with some black stripes on the tail. It is not more dangerous than a frog. It has a potentially dangerous look-alike, the pale variety of the Monocled Cobra. The book “Snakes and Other Reptiles of Thailand” published by Asia Books is very useful, but my 1998 edition claims that the Monocled Cobra does not exist here in the north. In fact I have seen the pale variety a couple of times in Chiang Mai. That inconspicuous variety resembles a Rat Snake very much, but it lacks black tail patterns. Colours are not reliable characters though. Instead you count the scales between the eye and the nostril-scale. One scale=cobra family, more than one scale=not a member of the cobra family. A cobra is not necessarily aggressive or show its hood, it can be gentle like a Bruce Willis with a very big gun, but do not upset him! At one occasion we had a Monocled Cobra in the wardrobe, and I tried to use a butterfly net to remove him. My careful treatment was interrupted by a gardener, who whacked the cobra using a pole saw while shouting and jumping. When the cobra was fatally wounded, the gardener threw a gate on the cobra to immobilise him, and then he let him bleed to death on the floor. A stick with a wire loop is a useful tool to grab a snake, or just a long stick (longer than 2m in case of a spitting cobra) to allow the snake to wrap itself around it. Be careful! www.dokmaigarden.co.th.


Life in Chiang Mai: By Jane Doh

Forgetting holidays and keeping in touch

A couple of weeks ago it was Easter. Hands up, all those who forgot about it.

After a curt email from a family member wondering why I had not sent an Easter greeting, I realised that Easter had come and gone. I, like many expats here, am not particularly religious, and in consequence, certain holidays celebrated in the West have dropped by the wayside. Thailand has adopted Christmas, New Year, and Valentines Day, but I cannot think of any other western holiday it has taken on board. To be honest, I am grateful about that. But, without reminders around me in the form of shop advertisements etc, and living in a country where expats do not celebrate those ‘normal’ western events, it is easy to forget about them and in turn have family and friends “back home” feel they are forgotten or unconsidered.

Maybe Thailand has changed me, or maybe it has always been in me, but I find myself actually bewildered at some of our western holidays/events and traditions. Why do we celebrate religious events if we don’t believe in its origin, and why do we celebrate so commercially? In fact, to be perfectly honest, I am somewhat repulsed by the commercialisation of it all. My regret about forgetting about Easter was not to do with the superficial elements, such as giving and receiving gifts and cards, but that my not sending at least an email possibly made my friends and family feel forgotten. It got me wondering how other expats feel about western traditions that are not recognised or celebrated in this mainly Buddhist country.

I asked around a little and most views, not surprisingly, matched much of my own. Most seem to celebrate in some way Christmas, but much of the other holidays are forgotten. But, one man I spoke to in a coffee shop did surprise me by saying he celebrates not even Christmas. He has warned family and friends that he is no longer celebrating ANY western holiday event. He informed them that Christmas cards and the like would go directly in the bin and that none would be sent out. In turn it has earned him the nickname “Scrooge” amongst those he knows back home. (This spurred him to pen the poem below) Here, however, his views are accepted by many of his expat friends and acquaintances and not considered particularity unusual.

I guess the key thing to consider, whether or not you like to celebrate certain western events, is that loved ones back home like to hear from us during these times, especially when we are not in regular contact. I have come to realise that these holidays are likely a good time for us to maintain connections to family members and friends who celebrate these days, even when we feel no affiliation to the actual holiday anymore. It’s a good opportunity to let them know we think of them, and good opportunity to show that we haven’t completely dropped off the planet!

My Xmas Rant – by D.T. (an extract of D.T’s original poem)
Can’t sing a Christmas Carol,
No, I can’t sing a note.
Can’t say “Happy Christmas”,
It would just stick in my throat.
I wish the world would wake,
I want to start a faction;
This Christmas stuff’s so fake.
I want a true reaction.
Let’s abolish, ban and burn it,
Drown it.Hang it out to dry,
So we can wake up fresh and clean,
To live and laugh and cry.
We don’t need New Year either
(though it’s not quite as bad)
But every single day is new,
So why do you go mad?
Each moment that we live is new,
and different from
the other,
So open up your eyes
and recognise your brother.
D.T.19th Dec ’06