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

Day Tripper

Bird Watching for Pleasure

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Buying drugs from Internet “pharmacies”

Around 12 months ago I wrote on this subject and finished by saying ‘Caveat Emptor’ (let the buyer beware) as there are many ‘copy drugs’ out there. But one article doesn’t stop them. Every day I receive at least four email offers of cut-price drugs that will keep me in a state of perpetual priapism. For those unsure of this condition, it is a state of continuing (and painful) male erection and the term was coined after the Greek god Priapus who is shown in paintings to have a central member similar to the fifth leg of the elephant.

However, this is actually a serious situation. If most drugs are only available through pharmacies world-wide, on the prescription of a doctor, is it safe to just buy over the Internet, without any doctor’s advice?

I believe it is not safe. As the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports in its website, “Patients who buy prescription drugs from websites operating outside the law are at increased risk of suffering life-threatening adverse events, such as side effects from inappropriately prescribed medications, dangerous drug interactions, contaminated drugs, and impure or unknown ingredients found in unapproved drugs.”

The FDA goes on to warn “… certain drugs be dispensed only with a valid prescription because they are not safe for use without the supervision of a licensed health care practitioner. Generally, before the practitioner issues a prescription for a drug the patient has never taken before, he or she must first examine the patient to determine the appropriate treatment. Subsequently, the patient receives the drug from a registered pharmacist working in a licensed pharmacy that meets state practice standards.” That situation is certainly not the case when you look at buying blue diamonds over the ‘net, is it?

The incidence of internet pseudo-pharmacies is also very high. In the US, according to the American Medical Association, there are at least 400 web sites that both dispense and offer a prescribing service - half of these sites are located in foreign countries. Some have estimated that the number of websites selling prescription drugs may now be closer to 1,000.

As far as I can see it, one of the big problems is the lack of regulation that these “net pharmacies” work under. Are the blue diamonds ‘real’ Vitamin V?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it has been fighting drug counterfeiting since it became a major threat in the 1980s. The problem was first noticed by the pharmaceutical industry. They saw that their own products were being copied, and it went on from there.

In fact, the WHO estimates that 25 percent of medications bought in street markets in developing countries are fake. My own experience in some of the poorer SE Asian countries has been that another 50 percent are real but out of date, leaving around 25 percent genuine manufacturer’s stock.

Some authors say that the figures are even worse than that. An international study published in Tropical Medicine and International Health found that 53 percent of Artesunate tablet packs sold in the region did not contain Artesunate. And Artesunate is a vital antimalarial drug. You can see the danger.

The reports come in from all over the world. The WHO cited the case of a counterfeit iron preparation that has killed pregnant women in Argentina in the last two years. Hundreds of children in Bangladesh suffered kidney failure and many died due to a fake paracetamol syrup diluted with diethylene glycol, according to a study published in the BMJ in 1995.

The FDA in the US estimates that worldwide sales of fake drugs exceed USD 3.5 billion per year, according to a paper published in April 2005. The Center for Medicines in the Public Interest in the US predicts that counterfeit drug sales could reach USD 75 billion globally in 2010 if action is not taken to curb the trade.

According to WHO, drugs commonly counterfeited include antibiotics, antimalarials, hormones and steroids. Anticancer and antiviral drugs are also faked. And yes, the ‘blue diamonds’. Never forget the phrase “Caveat emptor” (Let the buyer beware).

You have been warned. Get your medications on prescription from a pharmacy you can trust.


Luuking for Love? Meet Luuk Tarn…

WLTM new owner for fun, affection and maybe more…

Hi – I’m Luuk Tarn. I am excellent on the lead and love walks, playing and attention. I’m not too big and I’m not too small – I’m just right, in fact I could be your Ms. Right if you’ll let me. I’m healthy, sterilised and fully vaccinated. Luuking for love? You’ve found it.

If you think Luuk Tarn could be the right one for you – contact the shelter English (08 47 52 52 55) or Thai language (08 69 13 87 01) to make an appointment to meet her, e-mail: [email protected] or visit the website for further information.

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,

Times have gotten tough since my girlfriend’s sponsor quit sending her money for the buffaloe (sic) which had horrible stomach problems. I have had to resort to drinking cheap beer from the 7-11 and sitting on the curb with my boys. I have lost respect with them. I am hoping that her benefactor didn’t do anything rash like jumping from a balcony (UFF - Unidentified Flying Farang) or spending his money on something foolish like food and clothes. Anyway, I have started walking on the opposite side of the street when passing high buildings until my girl makes another contact. Wish me luck.

Singha Jerry

Dear Singha Jerry,

Times are tough everywhere, my Petal, even for people who can spell (and you certainly can’t). No wonder the buffalo (no “e” Petal) has problems. Interested that you have found a 7-11 selling cheap beer. Generally the convenience stores don’t have the cheapest items in town compared to the supermarkets, for example. But then, if you are having to walk there, Tesco’s’/Carrefour/Big C/Foodland might be too far. I wouldn’t worry about the UFF problems, you are more likely to be hit by a UFS (Unidentified Flying Songtaew). And as far as wishing you luck - are you kidding? Here you are pimping on your girlfriend’s “sponsor” as you call him. You don’t need “luck” Singha Jerry, you need a conscience.

Dear Hillary,

When did you become stucked (sic) to champane (sic) and chocolates? With that sorta (sic) diet you must weigh about 10 tons by now. Are you locked in your office because your (sic) to (sic) fat to get through the doorway? Anyway, we loves you, Hills old fruit, but no bubbles or chocs from us - we’re thinking of your wasteline (sic).

The Likely Lads

Dear Likely Lads,

I was very tempted to drop this rude, poorly spelled and dreadfully constructed letter in the round file under my desk, but then I thought, “Why let this opportunity pass me by? This is my chance to do some good for someone out there.” So, Likely Lads, listen up. There is no word “stucked” in the English language. The word you were looking for was “addicted”, but because it has more than four letters it was probably not in your vocabulary. Never mind, now you know. The drink is called “champagne” as it comes from the champagne area of France. That’s a country on the other side of the English Channel. You may have heard of it. “Sorta” isn’t a word either, what you should have written was “sort of”. When you want to write “you are”, it is written as “you’re”. If you use “your” it means something belonging to you. Getting the message, Lads? And the region of your belly where your belly-button lurks, is called your “waist”, not your “waste”, which means rubbish. By the way, your belly-button is an important feature of your waistline. It is for holding the salt while eating celery in bed. But finally, Petals, my name is Hillary and I am not “old fruit”. Reserve that term for rotten bananas and the like. So pleased to have been of service to you. Even though no chocolates or bubbles. But please don’t write in again until you have mastered Primary 3 English, that’s good boys.

Dear Hillary,

Can you help please. I am not sure if I have found some strange culture problem, or maybe I just have too open a face. Do all Thai people ask you the most personal questions? Things like “How much money you make? You married yet? Why not? You got girlfriend? You want me to go with you?” Apart from the fact that this is considered a very rude way of starting a relationship in the UK, I also find it very embarrassing when I am over here. How do I get these people to stop doing this? You seem to have the answers for everyone else, so I hope you have some for me too.

Shy and Retiring

Dear Shy and Retiring,

Or is that Shy and Retired? You have to look at where these women are who ask such direct questions. My bet is in a bar somewhere. They are not in the habit of issuing a gilt edged invitation to dinner, hand inscribed in Ye Olde English. Be real and be thankful that ‘these people’ as you call them are interested enough in you to even ask questions. There’s only one thing worse than being a wall-flower at parties, and that’s not being invited at all. In actual fact, my Petal, those inquiries are very cleverly designed “standard” bar girl questions to see if you are worthwhile bothering with at all. If you have no money all interest will be lost immediately. Likewise if you are married they will want to know if “You marry Thai?” or whether your partner is waiting faithfully for you back home in the UK, while you contemplate the unfaithful ideas. Lighten up and when you are asked next time just say, “No money. Wife take all money to boy bar,” and then laugh a lot. They’ll get the message and you will be left happily lonely, then you can write me letters asking why does nobody talk to you!

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Sod’s Law and SD cards

I received the email below, following the publishing of my article on SD cards and electronic traps for young players a couple of weeks back.

Hi again Harry,

Always great to read your column on a Friday. I may not take great photos, but I do have a lot of experience with SD cards!

My latest triumph being the recovery of most of a friend’s son’s wedding photos after problems with the card, which may have arisen from constant deleting, rather than regular downloading all photos to a computer and re-formatting/re-partitioning the card in-camera.

I have read several times that constant deleting can cause a variety of problems with cards.

I always advise frequent downloading of SD cards and IMMEDIATE backup of all photos onto another, preferably external, storage device - I usually suggest a USB thumb drive as they are so cheap - but I use an external hard disk myself, which contains back ups of other files.

(The necessary SD/USB adaptor is available in shops here for as little as B50! I advise buying two at that price - if one fails then...!)

Then I recommend formatting of the card in camera - again immediately to “Format (Card)” which is simple to find in the menus of many small cameras now.

Finally I advise the purchase of a second SD card as soon as possible - not just for “overflow” - but it is not unknown for SD cards to corrupt beyond recovery - very rare, but “Sod’s Law” always applies!

“Belt and Braces” approach, I know, but it saves a lot of woe - and me sweating trying to recover images!

Best wishes,

Don Griffith

Thank you, Don, you are certainly a very loyal reader, and since you like to shoot in the ‘RAW’ format, as you told me in February, I am sure you do take some “great photos”, so don’t be so modest.

Yes, “Sod’s Law” does exist and seems particularly apt in photography. Batteries will always go flat as you are about to take the world’s best photograph of … fill in your own details…! You press the “Delete All” button, when you meant to delete one shot only. My favorite is the shot you decide to come back to take tomorrow when the light will be better, and it rains for three weeks non-stop. And when the sun actually does come out, somebody has removed the item you wanted to photograph.

Now I know there are people out there who say that Murphy’s Law is quite different from Sod’s Law, but I think the terminology is inter-changeable. But there are other laws which you will recognize, so enjoy these.

Sod’s law, also known as Murphy’s law. If anything can go wrong, it will.

O’Toole’s commentary on Murphy’s law. Murphy was an optimist.

The first corollary to Sod’s Law. Anything that is to go wrong will do so at the worst possible moment.

The unspeakable law. As soon as you mention something, if it’s good, it goes away; if it’s bad, it happens.

Non-reciprocal laws of expectations. Negative expectations yield negative results. Positive expectations yield negative results.

Howe’s law. Every man has a scheme which will not work.

Zymurgy’s first law of evolving system dynamics. Once you open a can of worms, the only way to re-can them is to use a larger can.

Skinner’s constant. The quantity which must be multiplied by, divided by, added to or subtracted from the answer you get to give the answer you should have got.

Law of selective gravity. An object will fall so as to do the most damage.

Jenning’s corollary. The chance of the bread falling with the buttered side down is directly proportional to the cost of the carpet.

Barth’s distinction. There are two types of people: those who divide people into two types and those who do not.

Ninety-ninety rule of project schedules. The first 90% of the job takes 90% of the time, the last 10% takes the other 90%.

Farber’s rule. Necessity is the mother of strange bedfellows.

So this week you have had some words of wisdom on SD cards, and a smile as well. Happy snapping!

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

The Real Estate Market is just not real, part 3

Finally, the final installment of our look at the real estate market:

Asset Protection Schemes are not unique to the UK. America has agreed to underwrite securitized real estate debt and, unbelievably, relaxed the rules on defaults. Ireland also has its equivalent which will buy GBP70 billion of bad property loans. It has to be said that these governments do not really care about real estate per se or the people in it but they do worry about the banks and bankers. By taking the steps they have these governments have saved a possible large scale foreclosure on commercial developments. However, this does not stop the problems that occur when a property becomes vacant as this interferes with rental income usually used to pay off debt. In 2009 the European commercial property debt maturity schedule is USD65 billion. In two years time it will be over USD150 billion and in 2012 it will be over USD160 billion (perhaps the movie is right and it really is the end of the world!).

It is the income which is the most important thing for the banks. If interest is not paid then they become worried as yet more losses will be incurred by borrowers who have lost income from the failure of the businesses which they have rented out their properties to.

It is not necessarily the LTV which the banks are worried about but if interest loans are not repaid as they should be then the bank has to account for them in other ways. As Ian Marcus of Credit Suisse says, “A serious impact from tenant default means that any borrower will have significant difficulties in refinancing their debt.”

This is one of the main problems and is a massive obstacle to overcome for those who lend on property. Nearly GBP1,000 billion of commercial mortgage debt will mature by 2014 and GBP330 billion of it is in Europe. This is just huge and the problems will just compound if there is no money to cover all these loans as and when they come up for renewal. Banks will try and roll these loans over where possible if for no other reason than not to have them in the loss side of the balance book. Naturally, they will also increase the commissions earned for doing this. The problem is that this does not reduce the risk that the real estate sector has.

One group of analysts believes that GBP100 billion will be required to revitalize the property market in Britain, and in doing this, reducing the LTV to a sustainable ratio. However, the downside in this strategy is that negative equity could be around for anything up to ten years.

What does all of this mean? Well, as you can see from the above figures, the maths is simple. The real estate sector is up that well known creek without a paddle. This will take years to sort out and basically reverts to the old fashioned idea of when someone lends something then they want their money back, preferably with some interest. If this does not happen then there are problems.

Is there any hope? Well, a good property recovery would help. Indeed, in H2 of 2009, there was an increase in the price of commercial premises but this was really due to the demand for prime property. It is all the property that is not classified as ‘prime’ which is the problem. It will be almost impossible to refinance this until the market gets better. This brings in the real estate Catch 22: the banks want to offload bad property debt but cannot afford to do so and the real estate companies want property but are not prepared to pay what they bank wants. Unless a compromise is made then repossessed buildings are going to stay on a bank’s books for a long time.

People are already looking at different possibilities to get us out of this hole and will look at such options as REITS and Property Funds. Also, for those who are brave, offering loans should be very profitable at the moment.

There is already one fund which is available which will protect against any further drops in the market. As I agree with two recent reports (Fitch and Capital Economics) which are forecasting a minimum fall of 15% in the price of UK property over the next two years, I heartily recommend it. It is called the UK Property Protector Fund. This is a unique product that is designed to benefit anyone who has property assets in the UK. The product acts as both an investment and an insurance solution, which protects UK property owners against the loss of equity due to falling house prices by acting as a hedge that relates directly to the UK House Price Index. Property Protector is intended to secure the current value of UK property assets, whilst also giving investors the opportunity to benefit from the depreciating UK property market. It should make up a small part of your diversified portfolio.

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

Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948)

This exquisite film was made a while ago, but since it is also set fifty years before in turn of the century Vienna there is no sense of it being outdated. It remains fresh, vibrant and moving and I doubt whether any of the several reworkings (including one from China and one from France) can compare with the original’s muted splendour.

It tells of a girl (Joan Fontaine miraculously ageing from a na๏ve love struck youngster into a sophisticated woman of the world) who falls hopelessly in love with a handsome young pianist and remains faithful to him until her – literally –dying moments as she completes the letter which gives the film its title.

The man (Louis Jordan) is a self –centered philanderer, a fine pianist who never reaches his potential because of his weakness of character and indulgences. Only when he receives her letter, written from a hospital, does he finally understand what has happened. The movie ends with his deciding to fight a duel which he earlier planned to avoid by skipping town. We do not know the outcome, but the suggestion is that he anticipates losing and cares little either way.

I have given the plot, since the framework of the story matters little. What is important is the inner core, the detail, the telling of this simple story which is based on a story of ‘amour fou’ by Stefan Sweig, adapted by a fine writer Howard Koch whose most famous credit is Casablanca (among many other fine movies).

Max Ophuls was one of the talented European directors who moved to the U.S.A. to escape the Nazis and greatly enriched the American cultural scene. Sadly, on arrival, he had to wait for some years before resuming his career and died suddenly in his fifties, when beginning work on a doomed film Montparnasse 19, which starred an ailing G้rard Philipe as Modigliani and was taken over by Jacques Becker, who also died soon after the film was completed.

Ophuls is most famous for La Ronde, a hugely successful French film and that and ‘Letter’ are probably his two greatest works. His films are distinguished by a fluid camera style, which was copied by many (including Kubrick) though seldom equalled. It creates a calm, observational effect which is never flashy and always sympathetic with a tinge of irony, sophistication and worldliness to undercut any sentimentality.

Ophuls was one of those directors who create a complete world on screen so that we are enveloped as though in one of the sumptuous cloaks which characters wear in this movie. It is one sign of his talent that whilst watching Letter from an Unknown Woman, the outside world ceases to exist. Book it out for a Sunday afternoon of indulgence, followed by the type of chocolate cake(or sachertorte) and strong black coffee enjoyed in the cafes of Vienna or Berlin, even long after the period of this beautiful and engaging film.

All films recommended in this column are available from the DVD Film and Music Shop at Suthep Road, Chiang Mai. Check out other films by Ophuls, also available on DVD.

Let's Go To The Movies:  by Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai

Shutter Island: US, Drama/ Mystery/ Thriller – Major Cineplex showed this two times on Wednesday, then removed it from their schedule Thursday, then returned it on Friday for another two showings. Lord knows if and when it’s showing now, but if it’s on, I urge you to see this, and quickly! They seem very unpredictable on this one.

But I have to warn you that a great number of people seem to dislike this film immensely. I’m just very fond of it, that’s all there is to it. I think the discrepancy lies in expectations. If you go to see another great gritty Martin Scorsese film in the tradition of The Departed, you will not like it at all. Here he’s just having fun with an old film tradition – scary goings-on in a lonely island hospital for the criminally insane, with crazy people all around and frightening things happening in the middle of lightning storms. Within this framework, Scorsese is taking great joy in playing with his audience’s expectations, leading us all on a merry chase full of deceptions.

With Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, and Max von Sydow (how can you go wrong with a cast like that!). Rated R in the US for disturbing violent content, language, and some nudity; 18+ in Thailand. Generally favorable reviews.

Here’s the plot, more or less, for this fun horror fantasy: It’s 1954, and an up-and-coming US marshal (DiCaprio) is assigned to investigate the disappearance of a patient from Boston’s Shutter Island Hospital. He’s been pushing for an assignment on the island for personal reasons, but before long he wonders whether he hasn’t been brought there as part of a twisted plot by hospital doctors, whose radical treatments range from unethical to illegal to downright sinister. The marshal’s shrewd investigating skills soon provide a promising lead, but the hospital refuses him access to records he suspects would break the case wide open. As a hurricane cuts off communication with the mainland, more dangerous criminals “escape” in the confusion, and as the puzzling, improbable clues multiply, he begins to doubt everything - his memory, his partner, even his own sanity.

Ong-Bak 3: Thai, Action – Tony Jaa in the historical martial-arts conclusion of the two-part prequel to the Ong-Bak movie that made him a star in 2003.

Iron Man 2: US, Action/ Adventure/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller –– Directed by Jon Favreau, starring Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Glwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, Garry Shandling, Paul Bettany (fresh from Legion), Samuel L. Jackson, and CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. Seems like it has turned out to be a wild, lavish, and expensive film that’s a lot of fun. The wonderful actor Robert Downey Jr. again, of course, plays the role of Tony Stark, the wealthy playboy whose exploits as Iron Man are now public knowledge after his admission at the close of the first film. Tony is under pressure from the government, the press, and the public to share his technology with the military, but he is unwilling to give away too much. Airport Plaza also has a version of this with digital sound and image in their Cinema 3 (but not 3D – this film doesn’t come in 3D). Both theaters also have a Thai-dubbed version. Mixed or average reviews.

Kheaw Ar-Khad / The Intruder: Thai, Horror/ Suspense – Hundreds of cobras attack residents of an apartment that was built on their breeding ground.

Edge of the Empire / Kon Tai Ting Pandin: Thai, Action/ Drama – Inspired by legendary Thai heroes in southern Mongolia over 1,000 years ago who sacrificed their lives to fight against an invasion by the Han tribe. These “Tai” were supposedly the forefathers of the present-day Thais. At Airport Plaza only, Thai only.

Scheduled for May 13

Robin Hood: US, Action/ Adventure – Ridley Scott’s long-brewing visit to Sherwood’s most famous forest make it clear this reboot isn’t Errol Flynn in green tights but a Robin Hood much more gladiator than prancing pilferer. Bringing him to life is Russell Crowe – all grunting and scowling. It’s something of an origin story, finding historical context in the legend by telling of Hood’s days as an archer in the service of King Richard, before he became a man in tights redistributing the crown’s wealth.

The Bounty Hunter: US, Action/ Comedy – Gerard Butler plays a down-on-his-luck bounty hunter who gets his dream job when he is assigned to track down his bail-jumping ex-wife (Jennifer Aniston). Complications, as they say, ensue...

A Nightmare on Elm Street: US, Fantasy/ Horror/ Thriller – Critics have not been kind to this remake, saying that it lives up to its title in the worst possible way. They say it’s visually faithful but lacking the depth and subversive twists that made the original so memorable. Generally unfavorable reviews. Rated R in the US for strong bloody horror violence, disturbing images, terror, and language.

Bridge in Paradise : by Neil Robinson

There are several possible reasons for bidding. The most obvious is to help your side find the right contract. But you may be bidding just to get in the way of the opponents and make it more difficult for them to find the right contract. Another possible reason is to help your partner find the right lead if you end up defending. Yet a fourth reason is to discourage the opponents from leading a suit. This column is about that fourth reason.

Here is board 3 from the Bridge Club of Chiang Mai pairs game on April 28th. East-West were vulnerable and South dealt. What contract should East-West be in? They have 32 HCP points between them, so are in potential slam territory. The only problem is that there are two spade losers off the top. On the other hand, if you can discourage the opponents from leading a spade, then you have thirteen tricks—five heart tricks, five club tricks and the three top diamonds. The only pair to both bid and make a slam were Bernard Garwood, sitting East, and Montri (Tri) Wongkhamla, sitting West. Their bidding is shown below:

South           West        North      East

P                    1H           P               2D

P                    2S            P               4N

P                    5H           P               6N

All pass                                 

West’s bid of two spades does two things. First, it tells his partner that he has a strong hand, because it is a reverse (bidding a lower ranking suit first, followed by a higher ranking one at the two level, thereby forcing partner to the three level if partner wants to choose the originally opened suit—forcing partner to the three level needs a very good hand). Secondly, West is bidding the suit he would least like the defence to lead against him. West has first or second round control in the other suits, but not in spades. With luck, bidding spades will discourage the defence from leading this suit. East used Blackwood to ask for aces. Finding that one was missing, he settled for six no trumps. South chose the passive “safe” lead of the jack of diamonds, instead of the ace of spades, allowing East to take thirteen tricks for a top. Well done to Bernard and Tri for an aggressively bid slam.

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

MAIL OPINION : Acceptance and change

Years ago, a British bricklayer friend of mine decided to build a small concrete block shed for his girlfriend. He scoffed at the Thai way of doing it, finding the idea of putting up the roof first incomprehensible. He declined his girlfriend’s father’s help, adding that he had been building for years, was a professional, and knew what he was doing.

After a few days of laying concrete block in the broiling sun, he was starting to understand the roof business. Then, after a torrential rain that filled his little building to the brim, he came to me and said, in a rather sheepish manner, “Well, now I understand why they put the roof up first.”

It was a valuable lesson for my friend, and one he has carried with him to this day. That while we may not always understand the Thai way of doing things, and while we may not always agree with the Thai way of doing things, they have been doing things this way for quite some time now and their reasons for doing so are worth considering. Local knowledge is a tremendous thing, as any hunter or fisherman will tell you. Why would that be any different when trying to adjust to living in completely different society?

I certainly cannot begin to say I understand the Thai way of doing things, but I have learned to accept it, go with the flow as they say. Another friend of mine said the same thing about driving a motorbike here. He said, “Look at yourself as the river flowing around the pebbles. This is how the Thais drive their motorbikes in the city and to do differently not only upsets the flow but is so alien to the way that everyone else is driving it puts you and the other drivers at risk”. Certainly, as he pointed out, be safe. But to drive as if one is in the West, and expect that everyone else will be driving that way as well, is foolish and potentially dangerous.

My years in Thailand have taught me infinite patience, not necessarily a bad thing. They have taught me that sometimes there is no point in banging your head against the brick wall. It doesn’t do anything to the wall and only makes your head bloody. But it has also taught me that the Thai way of just accepting everything that comes along as fate, karma, inevitable, is also not necessarily my way. And when the issue is important or I think I can make a change then I will make the effort to do so in a way that does no harm to others.

I realize that my way is not necessarily every Thai person’s way; it is not always even every Westerner’s way. However, I have come to learn that the Serenity Prayer is applicable to life in so many ways; “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

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

What is permaculture?

On the 25th of April we had a celebrity guest speaker at Dokmai Garden: Christian Shearer, who initiated the Panya project north of Chiang Mai. Christian aims at learning more about permaculture, i.e. sustainable agriculture.

At one time, everybody made a living from their own family farm. Although many small-scale Thai farmers still live in permacultures, they are becoming more dependent on oil, machines, computers and artificial fertilizers. By trial and error in collaboration with volunteers, Christian shares his experience with anyone who is interested. Ultimately, a permaculture aims at independence from the outside world. As Christian explained, it is impossible to make the transition in one leap. Everybody interested should take many little steps, and feel joy and pride whenever a little step is accomplished. Christian explained that the driving force to start a permaculture may differ from person to person. Some do it for the health aspects, to know what they eat. Others want to save money or save the world, i.e. create an ecosystem where people fit in without depleting resources. Thirdly, some people practice permaculture because they want to make friends and relatives happy. The opposite could also deter people from trying permaculture, i.e. you may live in a village where everybody laughs at organic food and where a tour to the shopping mall is the peak of happiness. Finally, some people may begin with a permaculture for spiritual reasons.

Christian emphasised that whatever the reason for beginning, soon most people realise that all four reasons are important. Small steps you can take in your own garden are using your own seeds instead of commercial hybrid seeds, use local manure instead of artificial fertilizers, grow your own pesticide-free vegetables, filter your own drinking water or build your own house from natural materials. I personally think that the Thais are moving away from permaculture, wanting to embrace the brave new world, where the westerners, who have seen the brave new world, want to move back, although with significantly broader holistic knowledge than their grandparents. For more information see

Life in Chiang Mai: By Mark Whitman

Elections…who needs them?

Last week I wrote about the forthcoming election in the U.K., an event which by the time this appears will be all over bar the shouting. And I suspect there will be a lot of shouting after the result, none of it that constructive. Still as elections go in many countries of the world, this will have been a free and fair one.

O.K., the big parties spend much more cash and hog the limelight, though happily there are now more constraints on this. The press favours the right, but in general the media (especially the B.B.C.) is far less biased than –say – that in America: we have no ‘Fox News’ or near fascist radio commentators.

Everyone over 18 (though, unfairly, not people in prison) is eligible to vote. This may even come down to 16 in future, in line with the ‘age of consent’. Nothing is perfect, but the overall result is democratic. One person, one vote, minimum corruption and which ever party wins (if one does this time) is entitled to that victory. More or less.

Britain has the oldest elected Parliamentary system, one which has been copied extensively. A maximum of a five year term (some people would like it set at four years with a specific date not the present open ended one). Sadly the second house is not fairly elected, but their powers have been curtailed and proportional representation is still a dream for the Lib Dems. But for now it is as good as it gets: no reason for complacency unless one looks further afield.

And the first place to look might be Burma, which has just announced a date (vaguely set as October or November this year, rather than the mooted May or June). Some of the generals are even now struggling out of their uniforms and donning civilian garb and putting away their medals tarnished with the blood of their victims.

The whole process is a meaningless charade, a farce in the devising, an insult to the Burmese people and to the rest of the world that has so long made overtures to help them. No one believes for a second that the ‘election’ will be fair. The opposition party, which years ago had a landslide victory that was snatched from them by the junta, cannot stand under its existing name. Over 2,000 political prisoners will likely remain in jail during the coming months and the legitimate leader of the country Aung San Suu Kyi will not be allowed to take part. The election will be monitored by the generals’ cohorts.

The result is a foregone conclusion and all the recent conciliatory overtures made by President Obama have been treated with contempt. We can easily criticize our own leaders, but in comparison with the rulers in Burma they can be seen as models of democracy.

The generals there have no intention of heeding outside opinion and so long as they continue to get support from several super powers, notably China, Russia and India, they can afford to ignore external criticism and even sanctions. And in one way, the ASEAN countries are most to blame since they are most closely involved. So the regime will hold so called elections and they will have the ‘gloss’ of being called that but the same result as before, a denial of peoples’ freedom. What price Burma, what price North Korea?

Meanwhile nearer home the situation in Thailand is impossible to ignore. Only this morning I received an e-mail from friends saying that their family was putting their plans for a holiday in Thailand (in December) on hold. One tiny anecdote, which is reflected a million times throughout the world.

Returning here after a few weeks away was like entering a ghost town, even the normally busy Nimmanhaemin Road was devoid of traffic. Ditto restaurants and shops and so on. Seemingly – and unsurprisingly – Bangkok is far worse and it seems that over 40 countries advise against ALL travel to Thailand, not just the capital. And what is the supposed cause of the unrest?

The desire for an election. Viewed objectively there seems to be a solution to the impasse.

At the time of writing this, the Prime Minister has said that he will bring forward the date of an election and open negotiations sooner rather than later. Even within the next couple of days. Perhaps this will have happened by May 11. Those who care greatly about this country and its future can only hope so.

A few years ago the tsunami hurt Thailand (and other countries even worse) greatly. I was in Phuket when that struck and saw the devastation first hand. But the rally over the following months and years was positive and effective.

Just as much damage has been done by the yellow shirts in closing down the airports in Bangkok and by the red shirts on more than one occasion, but particularly at present. Will all sides stand by the results of an election this year or next? Will it be a fair one? Let’s hope so. Put crudely and simply there is no other way out of the present near catastrophe than a free and fair election in Thailand.

Day Tripper: By Shana Kongmun

The “other side” of the Ping River

Oft overlooked for a trip into the western mountains, Mae On, San Kamphaeng and its surrounds have scenic beauties to offer as well. Head east out of the city for about 30 km and you hit San Kamphaeng. With its surrounding rice fields and pleasant rural views, it’s quite a nice drive. A visit to the San Kamphaeng hot springs would not go amiss, known for their therapeutic value, they are also quite lovely to behold. On site, are a series of manmade pools popular for picnickers, a warm water pool and private bathing huts.

Mae On Cave is nearby, with an ascent of 300 steps the entrance and then a following descent into the caverns of an equal number of stairs, the going is not for the faint hearted. Slightly claustrophobic, it widens out at the bottom to an enormous chamber with a natural Chedi formed from a stalactite. Consecrated Buddha statues have been added to make this beautiful spot also a spiritual one.

Nearby is the interestingly named Crazy Horse Buttress, a popular climbing site developed by several local climbing companies. Head further East into the mountain to Mae Takrai National Park for some outstanding views overlooking the valley. Mae Kampong, an eco village is along this route and Flight of Gibbon can be found further up the road, for those who wish to continue to the adventure theme of the day. Alternatively the Mae Kampong Falls offer a refreshing stop for hikers and picnickers.

Not to be overlooked east of the Mae Ping is worth a look.

Bird Watching for Pleasure

Bird Watching Tales

England’s Moorland Beauty 

Then, sshh-listen, it was the easterly wind carrying the call of the Curlew, and the sound of bleating sheep over the pastoral craggy moorland. It was only then, that we knew, we were home again. Mid England in March was scarf wrapping and bracingly cold. Gardens and hedgerows displayed profusions of snow-drops, so delicate and white. They waltzed in the prevailing winds, and were nature’s way of saying that ‘spring’ was around the corner. Indeed, Wordsworth’s immortal poetic words, -”a host of golden daffodils”, was also apt, as these trumpeted, oh so English jewels bedazzled the countryside. A tear-drop or two from a recent shower, balanced delicately on their forms.

Flash, at 1518 feet above sea level, is the highest village in England. Its bleakness and biting winds found us winter clad, as we searched the surrounding moorlands for the elusive long curved billed Curlews. Swathes of snow, which had deeply drifted in the severe winter, could still be seen, but alas, in that area only the long haired and horned highland cattle seemed ‘at home’ in such conditions. Nearby, and considerably lower in altitude, nestled the hamlet of Meerbrook. There, the dammed Tittesworth Reservoir welcomes anglers and birding enthusiasts to the area. A narrow road bridge straddles the restless waters, and we were delighted to see that a wooden hide, West Hide, stood in a wooded area, close to the lapping water’s edge. The hide’s outlook frames revealed a vista of bird species. Mighty Canada Geese, Great Crested Grebes, Mallards, Coots and Tufted Ducks, probed and dived to satisfy their hunger pangs. Close to the hide was a small raised island, Lapwings stood proudly atop making light of the gusty, cold clime. Pair of Oystercatchers stayed on the isle’s leeward side, and was a genuine surprise to us. In days gone-by this location was so much enjoyed because it attracted a rich variety of bird life. Certainly we never observed Oystercatchers here, as this 45cm long, pied, red-billed probing master was usually seen in the estuaries of Wales and Scotland. How times change. On land near to the hide were bird feeding tables, complete with hanging steel mesh tubes, full of nuts, seeds and suet. As the ground was still so hard a plethora of Finches, Tits and Nuthatches gorged themselves until satisfied. How delightful it was to return to the area once again.

A few kilometers south-west of Meerbrook, and sited between Newcastle and Woore, lies the tiny village of Acton. Occasionally the sun’s rays peeped out from the cumulus strata above, as we walked past the riding stables and along the narrow lane. A replica cannon was seen in someone’s garden, and a Pied Wagtail with its tail cocked, perched on the end of the barrel. Old Oak trees, with their contorted branch forms, stood proudly all around. Then, as we approached a wooded copse a loud mewing call directly overhead drew our binoculars to the ready. The 51 cm long Buzzard was returning to its nest within the copse, and its call alerted others to the area. Soon there were four of them, flying close to us, all saying, be on your way. We retreated and strolled along an undulating lane, with horses in a nearby field. Colourful long tailed Pheasants could be seen eking out an existence in the hedgerows, and not too distant, the Blackbird’s familiar song filled the cold pastoral arena. So English. Enjoy the gifts of nature.