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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The Doctor's Consultation

Care for Dogs

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snap shots

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

Day Tripper

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

“Natural” remedies? Are they good for you?

Unfortunately, despite all the advances in medicine, I have to admit that it is still somewhat of an inexact ‘science’. We do not have the cures for all ailments, in fact far from it. But we have not given up. We continue to try, to experiment and, most importantly, to test. Regular readers of this column will know that I have mentioned the acronym EBM many times. This stands for “Evidence Based Medicine” and is a key factor in modern medicine. It just means we test until we have the evidence that any drug or treatment really does work. This all takes time, as the evidence cannot just hang on one person who got better. It requires huge series, across the globe.

However, as patients, or sufferers of any complaint, we want that “cure” right now! Consequently, with all medical conditions where we cannot give the patient the “wonder drug” there is then a tendency for them to try something else, anything else, hoping for the relief that conventional medicine has not promised or delivered. For the musculo-skeletal conditions, for example, the “alternatives” are multiple, from magnets to mussels from New Zealand. But do they really work?

The problem with the non-pharmaceutical mainline pills and potions industry is in unbiased scientific testing. The tablets that Roche, Parke-Davis, Bayer and all that lot produce are rigorously and vigorously (viagorously?) tested. Not only do the drug companies have to show that their pills actually work, but they also have to show what side effects they can produce and whether or not they interact with other pills and potions to make explosive mixtures. The “alternative” pill and potion manufacturers have not had the same degree of scientific scrutiny.

There are those who will claim that because the remedies come from plants, that the ingredients are then “natural” and therefore OK for us humans. This is pseudo-scientific nonsense. Extracts of plants and herbs are chemicals - and some chemicals can kill, that is why wild animals can die after eating the wrong plants. So can you!

So let us look at a few of the alternative treatments and analyse just whether they are indeed efficacious. Willow Bark is one that is used for arthritis, because it was imagined that since the tree grew in damp environments, and arthritis was thought to be caused by “damp” then treatment with the bark was “logical”. The herbalists got the right answer, however, no matter how wrong the reasons! Willow Bark does have an effect because it contains salicylates - more commonly known these days as aspirin! Other “natural” sources of aspirin include poplar tree bark, black cohosh (a North American plant), pansies, violets and meadowsweet. Aspirin works!

Have you heard of Devil’s Claw? This South African plant has been studied to see if it has any anti-inflammatory action in arthritis. The small studies that have been done show no effect, but it is an analgesic (pain killer), so those people with arthritis do feel better when they take it. In fact, demand is now outstripping supply - but they would do just as well with a strip of paracetamol tablets. And cheaper too!

Another of the well touted treatments for arthritis is the green lipped mussel. According to the pundits, this form of treatment has had numerous clinical trials, and unfortunately, the same number of clinical failures! However, I believe they are quite nice steamed with garlic, ginger and shallots!

One other niggling problem with the “natural” therapies is that for musculo-skeletal problems, most of which are of a long standing chronic nature, even less scientific work has been done to see what happens when you take these medications for a protracted period of time. Until long term safety has been ascertained, I would counsel caution, and beware mixing pharmaceutical drugs and over the counter “alternatives”!

Reactions to pharmaceutical items are still reasonably rare and well documented. I cannot say the same for the “natural” remedies.

Finally, I was very amused to read of a health food shop being offered for sale. The reason the owner was prepared to sell? Ill health!

 

Fairy

This gorgeous medium sized little girl was recently brought back to the shelter as her beloved owner had to return to the States. As you can she is missing her front right leg but this doesn’t stop her getting around and rushing up to the fence whenever visitors come, eager to meet that special someone who will take her home with them…this time forever. She is healthy, sterilised and around 1 year old with all her shots. Be quick – she’s bound to be snapped up soon!

Do you think Fairy 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 www.carefordogs.org.


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,

I sympathize with you, Petal, as I too have had a life-long battle with my addiction to chocolate. I first knew I was addicted when I was about five years old and used to bite off some of my Mum’s cooking chocolate. Then I went through hell as a teenager with pimples every day, but I had to keep nibbling the chocolates. I didn’t care. These days I need a Mars bar every day or I can get the withdrawals. What do you do about the cravings?

Charlie Chocolate

Dear Charlie Chocolate,

You have me all wrong, Petal. I am not addicted to chocolate, I just like chocolate. I don’t need chocolate every day, and the chocolates (and champagne) have been pretty sparse recently anyway. If I was feeding your addiction, I’d be in very bad withdrawals by now. Seriously though, I think you should talk to your doctor about this. You might have sugar or something. And by the way, you are my Petal, I am not your Petal. OK?

Dear Hillary,

You might think this is a trivial problem, but it isn’t for me. About a year ago I set up home with a Thai girl, who is many years my junior. This does not seem to bother her, though it bothers me at times. Her family comes from the north east and I have been up there and met them, and they seemed nice enough farming folks. They accepted me quite readily, but I always felt a little left out at the family gatherings as they can only speak Thai and my girl had to translate all the time. (They also drink that awful Lao khao stuff!) For this reason, and because I am busy at work, I have not been back up there, though my girl does go up frequently. Is this the usual way families behave in this country? If it is, I will say nothing, but she will often go back for two or three days, the last being the end of Buddhist Lent. Have I anything to worry about?

The Worrier

Dear Worrier,

You may have lots to worry about, or nothing at all. Are you worrying because you think she is not going back to the family rice paddy? I am having to try and read between the lines too much here. It is very usual for daughters to go home and pay respects to their family, and often contribute financially as well. Does your lady have children there that are being looked after by her Mama? Honestly, Petal, it sounds very normal to me. Talk to your friends who have been married to a Thai girl for some time. You’ll find it is the norm in this country. Caring and following the family principles will carry over to you as well, if you allow her to follow her traditions. In the meantime you can always see your doctor for some anti-worrying pills!

Dear Hillary,

My problem is with bad breath. In the mornings it would peel the paint from the walls, but my girlfriend wants an early morning snog. I have tried holding my breath, but that doesn’t work as I have to come up for air after thirty seconds. Have you any ideas that might help?

Hal

Dear Hal,

Is that short for “Halitosis”, but do not despair, help is at hand. Try first by jumping out of bed and throwing the toothbrush over the gums before the morning snog. If there still is a problem, make flossing and teeth cleaning the family fashion before retiring at night. And look for a dentist.

Dear Hillary,

I asked my Thai girlfriend to marry me, but she said that she could not because her family did not agree. I found this amazing as the girl, a woman really, is 28 years old and surely old enough to make up her own mind. We have been dating for the last three months, and I thought everything was sweet with her parents. I have been married before and have grown up children, but she does not. Do you think it is because I am a foreigner? Or is there something else I am missing here? I had intended taking her back to my home country after we were married.

Confused

Dear Confused,

I think there is lots that I am missing in this equation too. Where do her parents live? What are their occupations, including that of the daughter? Where in the family hierarchy does the daughter come? All these can have an enormous bearing on the response by the family, as well as the woman’s adherence to family traditions. You also have to remember that you are probably more than twice her age, and again, as you have realized, you are a foreigner. You have not been dating very long either, Petal. You may think you know this woman after three months, but I doubt it. Understanding Thai society and Thai minds can be a very difficult process for foreigners. Finally, it could really just mean that she didn’t want to disappoint you, so used the usual excuse. Sounds like a lost cause. Better start looking somewhere else.


Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Digital creativity

Photographers who were interested in a little experimentation used to try all kinds of camera settings to under expose or over expose the negatives to produce high key or low key shots. Some of the resulting photographs could be very powerful.

However, there seems to be a very common notion that ‘somehow’ digital photography is totally different from the old fashioned film photography. I do not know how this happened, but let me assure you that digital and film cameras do exactly the same job. They record an image you can later retrieve.

First, a little basics. All photography has worked on the principle of allowing light carrying the image to go through a lens and then fall on to a sensitized surface. Originally this was a glass plate coated with silver compounds which got darker when exposed to light. The degree of darkness depended upon how much light came through the lens, and for what length of time. This is the principle covering aperture (or lens opening), and shutter speed (how long the aperture is left open). That principle still holds good today. The only difference is that the “film” is now an electronic capture system.

This has led to what people have called the “digital revolution”. A completely new way of photography, requiring special new cameras which could show you the image you had just taken, immediately! No more agonizing waits at the film processing shop. Instant gratification for the “me now” generation.

However, this is where the misnomer occurred. It was not a “revolution” it was merely an “evolution”. The principles of photography (sometimes called ‘painting with light’ by the romantics) were just the same. And the application of them was just the same. A lens let in the light, for a proscribed length of time, and this was recorded by light sensitive electronic “film”. The difference was that you did not have to develop this new electronic “film” in chemicals. It could be viewed immediately by using electronic processing. Really, there was no difference.

Now, just as the old film cameras had aperture and shutter speed controls that were adjustable by the photographer, guess what? The new digital cameras have apertures and shutter speeds that are adjustable by the photographer as well. And in the same way, you can get creative results from your digital camera, exactly the same as you could with your film camera.

This is where some differences occur, however. With the ‘old fashioned’ film cameras you rotated a dial on the lens barrel to open or close the diameter of the aperture, and you had a dial on the top of the camera that you rotated to give you different shutter speeds. The two factors could be operated independently, and this was called Fully Manual Mode. However, with these new-fangled revolutionary digital cameras you get things called ‘drop down menus’ and you had to push multi-purpose up, down and sideways buttons to select different apertures or shutter speeds.

However, you have to learn where the “Manual” setting is on your new electronic marvel. This is the setting where you can choose the shutter speed and the aperture independently. If you choose shutter priority or aperture priority, the electronic ‘smarts’ in the camera will adjust setting to give you a standard exposure - not what you want with experimental photography.

I believe it is not quite as easy with digital cameras to adjust the shutter speed and aperture as many times you are left between drop down menus and rotary buttons, but your camera operation book will tell you if you are unsure.

The message here is that all the old controls are still there, under your control. It is just not as easy in my opinion (but I am still struggling with the remote for the TV set). Simple rotary dials are quicker and easier than drop-down menus for my money! But you are still in control.

In the fully manual mode, try giving larger and larger apertures and see what the differences are - which you can do ‘instantly’ with digital cameras. Likewise, try different shutter speeds and compare the end results.

Try a little creativity this weekend!


Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Development - Art or Science? Part 2

The philosophy of subsistence

It is vital to understand this when trying to bring about any kind of development in the developing world. Subsistence farming required the farmer to evolve a system of crop and/or animal management that ensured the continuous survival of the family. It took centuries to develop these systems and, once they were created, the societies following such a stable survival system would become ultra conservative and reject all attempts at change.

Subsistence farming as practised in really poor areas is almost entirely based around manpower using quite primitive hand tools. This can give the romantic idea of independence but it is, at the same time, an enormous constraint to change. Under reasonably fertile soil conditions it may take one man a year to cultivate 1.3 acres. Of this area, 80% would provide enough food for a year, leaving some 20% for cash crops such as cotton or coffee. Providing there are unlimited land resources which will counter the population explosion, the subsistence system will provide for the family, virtually indefinitely, even with famines, droughts and many other calamities.

Though the system is good, its one main drawback is that it is dependent on family labour. To put this into proportion we must compare this with the West. In the USA it takes 1.3 man-hours of work to grow wheat from seed to seed. The problem for this mechanized form of agriculture is that it needs thousands of dollars worth of investment in machinery. Also, the farms are large which allows for economies of scale. Consequently, the American farmer can export maize to Kenya at a cheaper price than the local Tanzanian farmer can produce it by hand locally. Another thing to bear in mind is that the former produces enough food for 100 people - twenty of which are overseas whilst the subsistence farmer’s only objective is to provide food for his family.

One of the issues regarding the development of the subsistence farming communities is that many experts think that all subsistence farmers need to do is improve their agricultural husbandry methods and they can be soon like farms in the West. This is a fundamental error. The ‘subsistence farming’ system and the ‘farming as a business’ one are as different as chalk and cheese.

Subsistence farming is very efficient at growing crops and raising livestock, and has provided continuous sustenance for the family in variable environments which are often adverse. It has done this for centuries. The system was devised for survival but has limited development potential due to the manpower restraint.

Farming as a business evolved, fairly quickly, as a system of farming matching the needs of the urban areas. Without the industrial revolution there would have been no agricultural development and certainly no mechanization of farming practices.

So, if we want to bring about the development of the poor, we must consider the question of urbanization. Without this there can be no development for the rural underprivileged. However, it is not an easy thing to achieve and it is easy to create slums along with their immense health and social problems.

The importance of urbanization as a factor of development

People in power want fast development in the developing world. Needs are identified and the answer must be provided by the time the next election or promotion comes around. They forget that it took the West hundreds of years to achieve their present developed economies.

Many politicians et al have tried to improve the plight of the poor worldwide. Most have failed due to corruption, poor advice and bad investments. For example, President Nyerere of Tanzania wanted to improve his people’s daily lifestyle. The concept was good but the advice was not. He was not made fully aware of the vast expense that such an undertaking would cost. The result was virtual bankruptcy, the sisal and cashew nut exports collapsed and the foreign exchange rate became chaotic. All because the costs of urbanization had been grossly underestimated as they continue to be by present day planners in the West.

The population explosion

In the 19th and early 20th century, science and medicine advanced rapidly in the West. This was not matched by the rest of the world and particularly in the tropical areas which had their own vicious, insidious diseases. This kept the populations low. WWII brought great leaps in medical knowledge, motivated by the need to keep the troops in good health. After the war, these medical advances became available in the more unfavourable climates of the world. The result was a population explosion which crept up almost unnoticed. For instance, in 1950 the estimated population of Nigeria was 50 million. In 2000, it was recorded at 120 million and the projection for 2050 is 300 million. In the 1930s, the population of India was 300 million - now it is over 1.2 billion.

Let us think about the implication of this. Over a fifty year period, Nigeria would have to increase four fold its availability of foodstuffs, housing, clothes, pots and pans, schools, medical facilities, water, etc., just to stand still. Over the same time, the small holders would have to multiply the production of foodstuffs by four, not to improve the diet but just to maintain what their forebears had half a century before. This is a massive task with limited resources.

There is no population problem for a country if the amount of land available for subsistence farming is not limited. However, with populations doubling every generation, land availability has become a limiting factor. Fragmentation becomes an issue and boundary disputes increase. Families become functionally landless and have insufficient land to grow enough food to feed themselves. The family gets indebted and eventually has to sell their land to pay off their debts. Employment in the rural areas is scarce as each family is independent for its labour needs. This then forces the broken families from the rural areas which cannot support them to the fringes of urbanizations where they join others in the same plight and so the shanty town is created with all its inherent problems. It is relatively easy to provide work for one person, it is less so for one million people.

Corruption

Sadly, developing countries are also infected with another serious debilitating disease - corruption. It is not true to say that it is always internally inspired. In fact much of it was from the West as it was only the rich developed countries that had the money available for corrupting Heads of State. Much of this ‘funding’ ended up in Swiss bank accounts. Nothing less than a tragedy for the peoples of the countries involved.

Management as a problem for the developers

The West was sincerely interested in developing less developed countries. Seemingly large sums of money were allocated though these were, in reality, woefully inadequate for what was envisaged. There was also a problem that donors were prepared to provide capital but not the recurrent funds which were vital if a project was to really succeed.

However, there was an even bigger problem for the developers. They lacked highly skilled, experienced people to manage schemes involving of hundreds of millions of dollars. One answer was to put in highly specialized, well qualified people at the top. Doctorates become de rigueur. Sadly though, the extreme specialization meant that the person lacked breadth in knowledge and believed that his/her own special subject was the only true answer. There is the classic case of someone arguing that African agriculture would never progress if they did not deal with the eelworm problem. Climate, disease, civil unrest, corruption and soil corruption all took second place to these eelworms.

Development Economics

Forget all about theories of economic development, project analysis, 20% internal rates of return and cost benefit analysis. These may be useful tools but should be aids to development and not the prime issues of it.

What we need to understand is that any development involving infrastructures is very costly and takes years to achieve. That is why many project descriptions give great attention to the economic objective but completely ignore infrastructural components. It is a Catch 22 situation. Without involving everything that actually needs to be included in a project then the costs look good and the developed nations are happy to donate or lend. However, if everything is included then it becomes uneconomic by Western standards and no money is given at all.

The purpose of this treatise is to try and bring together the reasons why the subsistence farming system is breaking down and real development is so slow. Unless one understands the fundamental aspects of subsistence farming, as it exists now, and the complexities of introducing changes to that system, then no meaningful plans can be made for the future. Many authorities, governments and international aid organizations confuse ‘symptoms’ with ‘causes’.

Strangely enough, the best way to help subsistence farmers is to get people off the land and into the towns but only with the right planning and finance. These two points are often overlooked. Sadly, for many developing countries, developments are nullified by the alarming annual increases in population. There is just no way that the small rural surpluses (if any) can meet the enormous development costs of the urban sector and if the subsistence farmer’s lands are being degraded because of population pressure then the future is indeed bleak.

Undoubtedly the best aid the West can give to developing countries is to assist in urbanization and job creation in these new towns. Unfortunately, this is a sensitive issue as many of the developed countries cannot even do this for their own populations.

It must also be understood by the West that subsistence agriculture is a stable and quite sophisticated survival system, provided there is no population pressure. However, it is near or possibly has even reached its plateau or peak of development and has only limited further expansion potential because of farm power restraint.

Development is not a continuous ladder from subsistence farming to farming as a business as they are two entirely different and almost incompatible systems. It is not possible to change the former into the latter even with the injection of large amounts of development aid - both initial and recurring - without urbanization and the expansion of the markets.

Development in the under-developed areas of the world can be a very expensive business and takes a long time to achieve. The sooner the developed world realizes this the better it will be for ALL concerned.

Is development art or science? It will take both for it to happen properly.

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 Brian Baxter

Stand by Me and The Return

These two films deal with that perennially popular subject, ‘rites of passage’. Or growing up (is hard to do), if you prefer. The subject of innumerable clich้d movies, first novels, poems and so on, which are, when bad, of no interest at all. These two are wildly different in tone: one American, commercial and at times sentimental, the second artful and compassionate and rigorous.

They are character-led, beautifully photographed and make great use of their landscapes in filling in a background to their basically simple narratives. They are the work of intelligent film makers, drawing on autobiography and imagination. Stand by Me directed by Rob Reiner is entertaining, often very funny and still manages to bring considerable originality to its subject. The Return directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev is a magnificent debut, gripping and tragic. For all their basic similarities in theme and structure, one is the product of a ‘system’ and the second the ‘product’ of a poetic imagination. That said both use – in their own ways – the medium of cinema inventively and the American film improves beyond all measure on the flimsy, over written material on which it was based.

Stand by Me features talented young actors, notably Wil Wheaton as Gordie and, as Chris, the late River Phoenix showing, once again, that he was, along with Brandon de Wilde, the most talented ‘boy’ actor in American movie history. De Wilde was killed, when a young adult, sheltering from a storm. Phoenix died of drug abuse. By an odd coincidence one of the young stars of The Return died in a drowning accident just before the film was premiered. Who first said the good die young?

Both films tell of a journey made from home and back. In the American film four youngsters leave their small town in search of the body of another boy. The trip begins as one of comradely bravado and develops into one of growing awareness, especially on the part of Gordie (he is the narrator, years later and now a writer, played by Richard Dreyfuss). There are dramatic encounters along the way, not least with a guard dog, an insensitive shop keeper, a train and the town bullies. When the boys return they are only days older but far wiser and stronger. The tight frame of the story is used with wit and- mainly - sunny optimism, although the story was given extra poignancy by the fact that the later death of Chris initiates the action.

The Return also follows a journey, made by two boys with their father who has mysteriously returned after an absence of twelve years. This journey is more stark and the film altogether more profound and engrossing. The director, Zvyagintsev, has since made one film; The Banishment. This debut won him the Golden Lion at Venice in 2003 and established his reputation with a ‘first work’ to rank beside those of Roeg (Walkabout), Huston (The Maltese Falcon), Malick (Badlands), Ray (They Live by Night) and other major directors.

Zvyagintsev exerts magical control over the whole work. A prologue establishes the edgy relationship between the brothers, an immediate post credits sequence deepens the tension and mystery and the trip they make far from home leads to a shattering climax. What astonishes one is the young director’s mastery of tone and composition and the assured rhythm of the work. He has an ability, shared by few creators, to convey emotions rather than hammer them home and to shape scenes with a growing sense of passion and urgency, through the editing, the wonderful performances and an unerring eye with the camera. The harshness of the father is never overstated and the character of the boys, especially the younger more sensitive one, emerges through subtle observation, never from forced emotions.

The film is shot in cool greens and greys and has a desperate beauty in the images of the landscapes and water which dominate and hinder their progress. The premise may be simple, but the director elevates it into a profoundly moving study of family relationships. It is an elegant, uncluttered film, densely textured yet very accessible. Never for a second does it lose its clarity and vision. It illustrates, I guess, the difference between art and artifice. (Available from the Film and Music DVD shop at 289 Suthep Road, Chiang Mai).


Let's Go To The Movies:  by Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse: US, Fantasy/ Romance/ Thriller – The gang is back again! In this episode, which I know you’ve been waiting for breathlessly, Bella (Kristen Stewart) once again finds herself surrounded by danger as Seattle is ravaged by a string of mysterious killings. In the midst of this, she is forced to choose between her love for Edward (heartthrob Robert Pattinson) and her friendship with Jacob (heartthrob Taylor Lautner) – knowing that her decision has the potential to ignite the struggle between vampire and werewolf, and a tissy fit between fans of each. With her graduation quickly approaching, Bella is confronted with the most important decision of her life – and the film’s fans. Mixed or average reviews. The Vista version is Thai-dubbed.

Toy Story & Toy Story 2 (3D): US, Animation/ Family – Two re-rendered masterpieces of computer-animated family fare. Presented as a double-feature around the world and with an intermission feature, but here, Major Cineplex in its lack of wisdom has split them in two, I suppose so they can get twice the money. Even one ticket is a lot – 240 baht for a regular seat, 260 for a luxury one. Gets to be hugely expensive for a family outing to see both. The two films have gotten high praise, originally and on this go-around, so I’d go see them if I were you and can afford it, but I’d let the Cineplex know of your displeasure also. Reviews: Universal acclaim.

Bitter/Sweet: US/ Thai, Comedy/ Romance – Has been reviewed as “barely watchable” and “an embarrassment, with stilted, awkward dialogue, and laughable contrivances.” An uptight executive for a US coffee company is sent on a buying trip to the coffee-growing region of picturesque Krabi, where he meets up with a fiery public-relations executive, a daughter of growers in the region. She hates him at first sight, but then falls in love with him. Great shots of coffee bushes and beans. In Thai and English with English and Thai subtitles as needed. At Vista only.

Knight and Day: US, Action/ Comedy/ Thriller – The film where Tom Cruise gets to be charming again, after a considerable absence. And he is, with charisma to spare. I found it pleasantly amusing, as much a cute rom-com as an action flick. Mixed or average reviews.

The Karate Kid: US/ China, Action/ Drama/ Family/ Sport – Produced by Will Smith and featuring his son, Jaden, in the title role and Jackie Chan as the martial arts mentor, this is a remake of the 1984 smash. Generally favorable reviews. The Vista version is Thai-dubbed.

That Sounds Good / Rao Song Sam Khon – Thai, Romance/ Comedy – A romance-comedy following two girls and one guy as they journey through Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam.

The A-Team: US, Action/ Adventure/ Thriller – A big-screen version of the TV series, which captures the superficial and noisy spirit of the original. A group of Iraq War veterans looks to clear their name with the US military, who suspect the four men of committing a crime – they were actually framed. Going “rogue,” the colorful team utilizes their unique talents to try and clear their names and find the true culprits. There were actually spots I enjoyed, here and there between the noisy action scenes. Starring Liam Neeson and Jessica Biel. Rated 18+. Mixed or average reviews.

Prince of Persia: US, Action/ Adventure/ Romance – An old-style Arabian Nights story, set in medieval Persia when a nefarious nobleman (a deliciously villainous Ben Kingsley) covets the Sands of Time, a magical dagger that allows its possessor to turn back time. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal and a quite appealing Gemma Arterton. Mixed or average reviews. Major Cineplex only.

Scheduled for July 8

Predators: US, Action/ Adventure/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – Starring Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, and Topher Grace. Directed by Hungarian filmmaker Nimrod Antal (Kontroll), and produced by the maverick film director Robert Rodriguez, this is a revamp of the “Predator” film series wherein the evil aliens capture humans and transport them to a game reserve on their home planet, to be hunted for sport. It’s not a rewriting of the original “Predator” but is intended as a sequel to both “Predator” (1987) and “Predator 2” (1990), the Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Glover films, ignoring completely what happened in the two “Alien vs. Predator” films.

Despicable Me (3D): US, Animation/ Family – This first film from a new animation shop set up at Universal captures much of what one likes about Pixar cartoons, but with a bit of a European sensibility. Though it’s an American story, it was a Spanish animator’s idea, and realized by a French animation house. It’s funny, clever, and filled with memorable characters, all about a super villain, voiced by Steve Carell, who is planning the biggest heist in the history of the world: he’s going to steal the moon. Three little orphan girls challenge his plans.


Bridge in Paradise : by Neil Robinson

Following on from last week, more on the rule of eleven. It can be very useful in no trump. Many players know the rule, but fewer actually make use of it in play. It applies when the original lead against a no trump contract is fourth highest of a suit (and most people do lead fourth highest of their best suit). Then you subtract the opening lead from eleven. The result is the number of cards higher than the original lead held by the three other players. For example, if the lead is the five of clubs, then there are six cards higher than the five in the three other hands. This information can be very useful for the partner of the leader and/or for declarer. Last week I showed a deal illustrating how declarer can use the rule. The deal this week is an example of when defenders can profit by applying it.

                      

Imagine you are sitting East and are defending against 3N played by South. Your partner leads the seven of spades. You subtract seven from eleven to find that there are four cards higher than the seven in the other three hands. You can see all four of these, one in dummy and three in your own hand. So declarer has no card higher than the seven. This means you can duck the lead by playing the five and leave your partner to lead again. East continues spades, trapping the king on board, and the defence take four spade tricks. Note that if you had played the jack on the first lead, you would be on lead and unable to continue spades without giving declarer the spade king and allowing the contract to make. By using the rule of eleven, you get the contract down. Declarer can take four club tricks and, by guessing right, four heart tricks, but must concede the ace of diamonds. Contract defeated thanks to the rule of eleven.

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


MAIL OPINION : By Shana Kongmun

Rainy season arrives with an apparent whimper

It seems, from what everyone has told me, the rainy season is arriving in the same fashion the cold season did; with a whimper, or, to paraphrase; no sound and no fury signifying a great deal. Our maintenance man is already discussing our tank and what to do if the city water shuts off. This at the very late start of the rainy season.

I certainly hope the Provincial Administration Organization and the City have a plan in place in case this rainy season turns out as dismal as it appears to be as simply turning off the water for days on end can’t really be a solution. Forcing people to spend large sums of money purchasing water isn’t really a solution either.

Concerns about City water supplies aside, drought continues to be a problem across much of Thailand with farmers and orchardists seeing huge drops in crop output. This shortage, of course, does yield higher prices for their goods but the concomitant rise in income is not necessarily going to occur. Middlemen are known for getting their cut.

The weather has cooled abit after the extreme heat of the past few months. As I told my friends, by the time it’s over I was going to be a little puddle of fat on the floor. Everyone was talking about how extraordinarily hot it was, and how long it lasted. One man recorded weeks over 40 on his backyard thermometer.

In Chiang Mai there seem to be two perpetual discussions, food and the weather. Food can be tricky as everyone has different tastes and some are offended if another doesn’t share their enthusiasm for a place. But the weather is one of those things we can all agree on. And in times calling for reconciliation, maybe it’s better if we all have a good whinge about the weather rather than other, more contentious topics.


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

Time to inspect your lime trees

The lime fruit or ’manau’ (Citrus x aurantiifolia, Rutaceae) is a healthy and flavourful addition to a glass of drinking water. Thanks to Colin Penberthy here in Chiang Mai, the ’limey’, or lime squeezer, has had a renaissance. This tool was invented by the crew of Captain James Cook in 1773, when lime was used to prevent scurvy. The ’limey’ prevents seeds and dirt from your fingers to fall into your drinking glass.

Here in Chiang Mai we are blessed with the possibility to grow our own organic lime. Lime needs perfect drainage, so cultivation in a large pot is good. Lime does not like nitrogen fertilizers, so stay away from manure or grasscuttings. It may appreciate some phosphorus, but generally no management is the best management. In a dry situation like on a balcony, you may have to add some water, but be careful not to water on the plant, just on the soil. Frequent watering on leaves and fruits may result in ugly cankers on the peel. This time of the year, in the early rainy season, the butterflies are active. Numerous swallowtail butterflies (Papilionidae) use any citrus as food for the larvae. The ’Lime Butterfly’ (Papilio demoleus) is a beautiful swallowtail resembling the classical yellow swallowtails of temperate regions, but this one lacks the ’tails’ of the hindwings. The female lays her eggs one by one on the bark of lime trees. If you have many big trees you just exchange the nibbled leaves for ’flying flowers’, but if you only have a small precious lime in a pot, then you may want to reduce losses to the butterfly. Inspect the bark regularly, and look for the tiny white eggs. Let your fingertips touch the bark to detect them. If you already have nibbled leaves, then you need to find the larvae, which in young instars look like bird poo. If you like both butterflies and limes, simply tranfer the larvae to a sturdier citrus, such as a pomelo, ’som-o’ (Citrus maxima). www.dokmaigarden.co.th. www.dokmaidogma.wordpress.com.


Life in Chiang Mai: By Mark Whitman

Survival of the Fittest

Prize winner Uncle Boonmee Showing in Bangkok

A few afternoons ago, I dropped in at my favourite coffee shop, the Mokador, and saw a notice next to the entrance. It politely told customers of their new opening hours: 9.30 to 5.30 except Mondays when they will close. Shorter days, no late evenings. It was a consequence of, ‘the current low season and prevailing economic climate’.

The owners of this large and smart establishment opposite Wat Phra Singh were reacting constructively to a situation that has crept up on Thailand (and to a greater extent on Chiang Mai) over something like two year and which has now reached crisis point. By shortening hours and working a six day week, staff can be cut and just possibly receipts can be kept up by special offers or ‘sets’ and places can survive, for a while. But the laid off staff find it increasingly difficult to locate new jobs and the owners end up by using up resources. I know of one restaurateur who is subsidizing his bar and another local business out of his main food outlet to the tune of 50,000 baht a month.

The downturn in trade is felt up here to a greater degree because although tourism accounts – we are told – for less than ten per cent of national ‘earnings’, a city like Chiang Mai relies more heavily on visitors and residents from abroad than most towns and cities other than the famous holiday resorts. Just look at any bar, restaurant, massage shop, markets such as Night Bazaar or the walking street or hotel and guest house and this will be confirmed. Larger operations such as the elephant attractions outside the city are being subsidised officially so that their demanding occupants do not go hungry. I wonder whether that is also true of the zoo and night safari?

All of which makes me wonder whether the valiant attempts to get Chiang Mai moving BEFORE any possible high season can achieve anything without massive intervention at local and national government level. The last two high seasons have been poor and the prospects for 2010/2011 look dim. A period of calm in Thailand, a revival of the world economy and a better rate of major currencies against the baht seem the only real solution. And a hope that memories of so much turmoil here, including that disastrous closing of the airports let alone more recent problems, will gradually diminish.

At a local level it is obviously necessary for businesses to be more pro-active but since the base on which to draw customers is at present so low that is a problem in itself. But there is certainly one thing that the thousands of ex-pat residents can do to help, especially now that many are returning from trips back ‘home’. And that is to support local businesses and events. Many functions in the City are inexpensive or even free and yet they are not well supported. Many businesses such as eating places and entertainment venues are offering discounts. If we don’t want the Rose of the North to wilt further it is up to all of us to help nourish it.

Meanwhile looking further afield I hear that the Thai winner of the Cannes Palme d’Or, Uncle Boonmee, will be starting a run in Bangkok. This film has already been written about in the Mail in this column and after it received the main prize at the May film festival. There were suggestions that it would not open at all in Thailand. It is good news that it will be shown in the capital for at least a month. Albeit in only one cinema.

Let’s hope that it comes to Chiang Mai. We get so few decent movies here (we are still waiting on The Ghost Writer by Polanski!!!!!) that the chance of seeing this new film would be more than welcome.


Day Tripper: By Heather Allen

A little bit further out of town

Lamphun, a mere 26 kilometers out of Chiang Mai, is an oft missed destination. It is considered to be the original location of the famous Haripunchai. Originally a Mon Kingdom, the capital city, now Lamphun, was besieged by the Lanna King Mengrai and captured in 1292. While legend has its foundation as 661 A.D. most historians believe it was established around 750 A.D.

Fabled for the deliciousness of its longans, it is also home to many temples, and the famous Luang Pha Waing Cave, one of Northern Thailand’s largest caves. The cave is located about 45 minutes outside Lamphun near Ban Hong. Accessible only by a 15 minute hike up the hill, it’s one of those natural gems rarely visited.

For the less adventurous, the Haripunchai Museum in town holds Lanna Kingdom antiques. Open Wednesday through Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Additionally there is the Ko Kut Pagoda or Wat Chamma Thewi. Built in 755 A.D. by Khmer artisans, it’s square Indian style Chedi makes it interesting., with three standing Buddhas on each level of the pagoda base of each side of the chedi, totaling 15 images for one side of five levels, with a total of 60 Buddha images. Relics of Queen Chammathewi, the first ruler of Hariphunchai are housed inside the pagoda. The pagoda top was originally covered with gold but later disappeared and the top broke, giving the name “Ku Kut” or Pagoda without top. Wat Buddha Maha Sathan was believed to be established 1000 years ago and Wat Mahawan is famous for its amulets for those interested in that. And just 16 kilometers outside of town at Pa Sang are the Tak Pha Buddha footprints, at which a festival is held every year in the 6th month of the lunar calendar. Natural beauties abound in Lamphun, such as Doi Khun Tan National Park. Some photos courtesy of TAT. www.tatnews.org. and Heinrich Damm.