Vol. IX No. 29 - Tuesday
July 20 - July 26, 2010



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Updated every Tuesday
by Saichon Paewsoongnern


Columns
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

Staying happy in Paradise - the Counseling Corner

BIRDWATCHING TALES

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Smoking reduces the risk of Dementia?

In the press of late there has been much debate in the reader’s letters page over smoking. I have zealously resisted the chance to hop into the minefield, and it certainly seems that the same old names are there week after week. While much of the debate is whether or not sidestream smoke is dangerous for the individuals in that environment, it also encompasses whether smokers have any “rights” and many will justify their “choice” saying that it hurts nobody but themselves.

I am not joining the debate, as it is usually a pointless exercise, as many of you have already found. But perhaps the following may be of interest when looking at the arguments put forward.

The smokers amongst you will have seized on that headline and are now voraciously reading this item, in the hope that you have some evidence to throw in the face of those who would point the finger at all smokers.

As reported in the British Medical Journal, a publication not known for wild and extravagant claims, researchers investigated claims that smoking enhances memory, vigilance, attention and reduces the risk of Dementia.

Now, when the British Medical Journal (BMJ) publishes results, the author has been checked for his or her bona fides, and the results are also checked by independent specialists. When the BMJ publishes something, it is authoritative.

In the article ‘Long term smoking contributes to cognitive decline’, the study was based on about 500 men and women who were all born in 1936 and who had taken part in the same IQ survey in 1947, and who had agreed to be re-examined at the age of about 64 between 2000 - 2002 to measure any decline.

In essence, what the researchers did, was to look at the IQ score of the 500 people when they were 11 years old, and then compare the scores at age 64. It was found that many factors were involved, including education, occupation, lung function and smoking.

The authors, from universities at Aberdeen and Edinburgh, reported in a paper in Addictive Behaviors, “Current smokers and non-smokers had significantly different mental test scores at age 64. This difference remained after adjustment for childhood IQ,” said the authors.

Now comes the crunch line. “After adjustment for childhood IQ, a positive smoking history was associated with lower performance on tests of psychomotor speed and on a composite score derived from five cognitive tests,” says the report. “There were no differences in IQ at age 11 by smoking status, but by age 64, current smokers were performing less well on cognitive tests than non-smokers and former smokers. Psychomotor speed was lower in smokers.”

After taking every other variable factor into consideration, the research debunked the claims that smoking enhances memory, vigilance, attention and reduces the risk of Dementia. In fact, it was quite the reverse. Quoting directly from the report in the BMJ, “We conclude that long term smoking does not produce long term cognitive benefits; to the contrary, smoking makes a small but significant contribution to cognitive decline from age 11 to 64.”

The authors added, “The data obtained here suggest that about 5.7 percent of the variance in cognitive function at age 64 is attributable to the effects of education and occupation after adjustment for IQ at age 11. Thereafter, small but significant negative contributions amounting to no more than about 4 percent are made by a combination of smoking and impaired lung function acting both together and alone. Although negative effects on cognition are relatively small in terms of a single individual, these effects are important at the population level. As a lifestyle choice, they are open to modification and thereby to enhancement of retention of cognitive function.”

This research has shown that you can expect a slow deterioration in your mental function, but if you remain interested in life and continue your education, have an interesting job and don’t smoke, you have every chance of still being on the ball when you turn 64.

But as a smoker, you will have reduced your mental capacity by 10 percent. Now while 10 percent doesn’t sound much, in the IQ stakes, it means a lot!

 

Tawaan the Bull Terrier - Urgent Case

This bundle of love is a 3-4 year old bull terrier who is very affectionate with people but somewhat jealous and dominant with other dogs as is common with her breed. She is currently undergoing treatment for a minor skin condition and we will update her photo on our website as soon as she’s back to looking her best again. These dogs are very popular in Thailand so we are hoping we can re-home her quite soon, especially as she is not well suited to shelter life. Contact the shelter English (08 47 52 52 55) or Thai language (08 69 13 87 01) asap to make an appointment to meet her, email: [email protected] or visit the website for further info www.carefordogs.org.


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,

I have just returned from another long and enjoyable stay in ‘sunny’ Thailand but I just cannot rest happy. At the end of a row of small bars/restaurants, opposite the Asia Hotel on Soi 4 Pratamnak adjacent to the last building are two cages housing two foxes in the most abject and deplorable conditions. The poor animals can barely stand up nor turn around and just lay in their excrement suffering in the heat with barely any water. What were once beautiful animals now have filthy matted coats and they always appear to be starving.

During my time living nearby, myself and a Swiss gentleman would regularly visit them with food and water. From enquiries made with a lady living in the building next door to the foxes’ cages it would appear that the foxes were transported to Pattaya from Loie in Northern Thailand by a man who intended to farm them for profit, but he has since lost interest in them.

The sad plight of these animals has since caused me nightmares (and shame) that I did not do more for them. I am hoping that with your contacts and obvious kind and compassionate heart that you can do something to help these poor and unfortunate animals. (I shall reward you with the best Belgian chocolates on my return!)
Chris J.

Dear Chris J,
This really isn’t my role, but with the thought of Belgian chocolates on the horizon, and after hiding my faux fox stole in the closet, I will try to contact any animal refuge groups to see if they can help, but generally they are over-run with stray dogs, and not foxes. It would not be possible to just take them to the nearest temple, as what happens with a lot of the excess dog populations. Foxes and chickens do not make for good neighbors.

Dear Hillary,

This is a serious question. Why are all Thai women addicted to sales? My Thai GF cannot walk past a shop which has a “sale” sign without going in and if it has a two for one deal she’s sold, even though we don’t need it or already have one (from the last sale). I have spoken to mates and they all say the same, so is it something that’s taught in Thai schools or what? Or is it the bowerbird complex that women have in general and Thai women have it in big degrees?
Thom

Dear Thom,
No, Petal, the addiction to sales is not taught in schools because it is already in the genetic make-up of all Thai women, so it is more like an inbuilt bowerbird complex as you say. All it needs to trigger the response is the smell of farang money. Like Pavlov’s dogs that would run when a bell was rung, Thai women run to the shops when shown a full wallet. The two for one deal shows just how she is being frugal and looking after your interests and money (so there is still some left for tomorrow’s sales). You should be thankful. By the way, get her to let me know when the next sale is on.

Dear Hillary,
I come over to Thailand at least three times a year for one month at a time and I have now got a steady girlfriend for the last two times. She waits for me and goes up to the village in between times and comes down to meet me at the airport. She is now asking me to buy a house which she says would be for us both when I come over, rather than getting hotel rooms each time. I can sort of see the logic in this, but it looks expensive to me. I’m told that I cannot own the house either, which seems pretty silly, but if that’s the rules, that’s the rules. Have you any experience in these things, Hillary? I don’t want to lose this girlfriend, but my friends all tell me that this is a dangerous situation. Just how dangerous, and in what way?
Jock

Dear Jock,
That’s a good Scottish name, so I can see why you want to keep a tight rein on the expenses. The person you should be referring this question to is a real estate agent, and there are some honest ones in town. It is correct that you cannot own land in your own name as a foreigner, but there are many ways around this issue. However, you can own a condominium (flat) in your own name, and since you are only going to be here three months a year, that would seem the better option to me in many ways. Be real, Jock ma wee Scottish petal, you hardly know this gurrl at all, so it is far too early to be talking about buying hoosses. Would you do this after two months with a bonnie Scottish lassie? Slow down. Enjoy her company when you are here, but keep your sporran tightly locked!


Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Photographing stage performers

Stage photography is an exciting and different application of the art of photography. The results can be spectacular and make for wall art. But this type of end result does not come easily, and much forward planning is necessary.

With live theatre and stage performances you have some very difficult composition and lighting problems to contend with if nothing else. You cannot quite ask someone in the middle of the Swan Lake ballet to move a couple of steps to the left and say “Cheese”.

The lighting, too, is quite different from that you normally experience. Stage lighting is generally tungsten based and sharp (what we call “spectral” lighting). Spots for the performers and floods for the background are the hallmarks of the usual stage lighting. The use of spots in particular is used to highlight the principal performer or action on stage, and the lighting technician will follow the performer’s movements, as he knows where the principal dancer is going to move towards. Unfortunately, you don’t!

Successful “stage” photographs are ones that have managed to retain that “stagey” lighting feel to them, so that instantly you look at the image you know it is of a performer on a stage somewhere. Remember that as a photographer you are recording events, people and places as they happen. You are a mirror of the world!

The secret of retaining that stage feel is definitely in the lighting. Because it tends to be dark, we all break out the super-pro flash gear, or activate the in-built flash that comes with the camera. Unfortunately, the pro-flash gear can overpower the stage lights and you lose the effect. All you get is someone dressed in strange garb, flash-lit at night. Not Othello at all! On the other hand, the simple inbuilt flash just won’t carry the distance from seat 15E to the stage.

Here’s what to do. Reset the camera’s ISO to 800 ASA if you can, but 400 ASA will do at a pinch. This is to allow for handholding the camera in the stage situation.

The next tip - leave the flash in the bag, or turn it off at the camera. Now I know it is dark, but you are trying to retain the stage lighting effects. In other words, you are going to let the stage’s lighting technician be the source of light for your photograph too. With some point and shoot cameras this is actually quite difficult to do, but if in doubt, read the instruction manual (see last week’s column).

Tip number 3 - get as close to the action as you can. Now I know the pro photographers get to walk right up on stage, shoot the performer clean in the eye and shuffle off stage left. You will probably be thrown out on your ear if you try it (also stage left), so please don’t. However, get a seat as close to the action as you can, and then select a lens that can allow you to fill the frame with the performers. Shots that show an entire dark stage with two tiny little people spot lit in front are not good stage shots. In fact they are not good anything shots! If all you have is a fixed lens point and shooter, get as close to the front of the stage as you can. You can still get the scene stopping shot - you have just to get very close. OK? For practice, go to the Malibu Cabaret (back to the corner of Second Road and Soi Post Office) as you can get very close there.

Now then, as far as f stops and the like are concerned - if you are confident in these things, then monitor for the central subject. If you are unsure, just set the camera on “Auto” - with the 400 ASA pre-selected as there will be enough light to run the “auto” settings.

So there you are. Get close, use high ASA numbers and no flash. The Malibu Cabaret is as a good place to start. You can practically sit on the stage and the performers will even “stop” the action for you! Have fun.


Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Does more risk mean more money? Part 2

(Figure 1)

Portfolios should be designed to reflect what the client actually needs and what access, if any, is required to money. If an income is needed then it is very important to make plans built around a worse case scenario. If you look at the first graph (Figure 1) this shows that Fred is a fifty five year old man who wants to retire in ten years time. He has one million US dollars in assets and earns USD80,000 per annum after all deductions but spends USD74,000 of it each year. In this case we see Fred has what is considered to be a typical balanced fund allocation with 28% in cash and fixed interest vehicles and 72% in equities.

If things turn out well then, in an optimistic or even average situation, Fred will live well. However, if things do not go according to plan and the worse case scenario prevails Fred will not have enough income to last his lifetime.

(Figure 2)

How can this be? Is it because Fred has taken too much risk or not enough? What can he do? Cut back on the quality of his lifestyle or take even more risk? Actually, this would be the worst possible solution. As can be seen from the second graph (Figure 2), if changes are made whilst keeping spending the same then whilst increasing risk improves the mean and optimistic state of affairs it also affects the pessimistic one as well - and not in a good way. This should be quite obvious to anyone as the more risk is taken the greater the possibility of different outcomes can be.

However, things need not be so. If Fred actually plans for the pessimistic option he will achieve all his goals and, possibly even more. As the third set of figures show, Fred can carry on taking his income of USD74,000 if he goes with a balanced/cautious approach as designed by a multi-manager, multi-asset portfolio, but he cannot do this if he takes a more aggressive or even more cautious approach.

It is important here to emphasise what is good for one client is not always good for another. For example, age is an important factor. Let us look at Harold who is in the same situation as Fred but is only forty years old. The amount of money spent per annum is changed in our pessimistic picture until the red line goes to nothing when the planned age of life expectancy is reached - 93 years old. The income and spending allowed is prudent and will allow both clients to have almost complete confidence there will be always be money for them whilst they are alive.

3: P1 = 76% defensive assets (cash and tier 1 fixed interest), 24% risky assets (tier 2 fixed interest, equities, and property); P2 = 68% defensive assets, 32% risky assets; P3 = 46% defensive assets, 54% risky assets; P4 = 28% defensive assets, 72% risky assets; P5 = 10% defensive assets, 90% risky assets.

If we look at the last box we can see that if almost no risk is taken then the amount of money available to spend is not actually enough as it only reaches USD72,000. However, by taking the optimal level of risk whilst maintaining a proper level of caution, the desired amount of USD74,000 is achieved. If the risk ratio is increased, and the worse case scenario happens then the amount of money that can be spent each year may only be as little as USD51,000.

Another factor which is seen is that age is important. Harold could be slightly more aggressive if he wanted to be but then he has age on his side. However, if he was still cautious then the mount of annual returns is not affected greatly. Despite this it is very important not to gamble with what is basically your future.

To go back to the beginning of this article, it is very important people realise equities are not the be and end all of investments. They can perform poorly both in the short and long term. Only by creating a portfolio which will perform in all market conditions will a client get what is wanted from his investment.

What is also critical when building a portfolio is understanding that each and every person is different and nobody’s circumstances are the same. However, as can be seen from above, it is actually possible to provide clients with more income by having a more conservative portfolio than they may have believed possible.

This is particularly relevant to people the older they get. This is done by creating a flexible investment strategy that has no loyalty to any particular asset class and, as stated above, taking the multi-manager, multi-asset class alpha management approach as practised by Scott Campbell and his team at MitonOptimal Guernsey.

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

Se7en

There are eight deaths in the movie, Se7en. Six are hideous, grotesque: the work of a homicidal sadist. The seventh is suicide by proxy. And the eighth is the living death of the young hero.

It is the last which makes the film so un-Hollywood. Unsurprisingly this climax was resisted by the money men, the suits. No doubt its huge financial success mollified them. Without the existing structure, it would still have been a cinematic tour de force: vivid, brutal, well acted and – most importantly – shot and designed to create a startling visual texture.

It would, though, have lacked the essential element of tragedy which lifts it above the conventional cops vs. killers movie

The basic premise is that of a thousand predecessors: think of any film about ‘sparring partners, whose initial animosity forms the mainspring of the action and the resolution which comes about. Here one of them is black, the other white. The former is highly intelligent, ageing, now single and seeking retirement, disillusioned (Morgan Freeman). The second is intuitive, ambitious, handsome and –rather indulgently, even selfishly – married (Brad Pitt). Nothing much new there.

This odd couple is thrown together to investigate a series of horrendous killings taking place in a nameless, rain soaked city. The tortured victims are apparently being sacrificed as atonement for the seven deadly sins: sloth, pride, gluttony and so on. The success of the narrative stems from the parallel approaches taken to the investigation. For example Freeman meticulously researches Dante and other writers in the library, while Pitt gets a fellow cop to track down primers to the books. But the real success of the movie is the almost tangible, gritty texture which creates a backdrop to the fairly routine procedural drama.

The young cop has a beautiful wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) whose seemingly modest role might easily have been played by any pretty actress if she were simply the bridge over the troubled waters that divide the two men. Thanks to a couple of key scenes, especially one with Freeman she justifies the position as the movie’s catalyst, so that something of the intense emotional undertow revolves around her.

This movie revived, perhaps launched, Fincher’s career after the failure of Alien 3. He went on to make Fight Club (also with Pitt), Panic Room, The Game, Zodiac and Benjamin Button among others, though only the first recaptured the dark spirit of this movie. He is- to be honest – the possessor of an unlovely talent, more at home with the action and visceral aspects of the screenplay than with the more human or domestic confrontations. Benjamin Button (again with Pitt) is a unique exception.

Se7en is not without flaws (the odd redundant scene) and possibly we get too much of a bad thing. It has a scent, a stench, about it that suggests exposed nerve ends and raw emotions. In one way this elevates it above most Hollywood dross but it would have been unbearable without Freeman’s nuanced performance which proves again – if any were needed – that he is the rightful heir to Spencer Tracy as tinsel town’s greatest actor. Importantly his playing unselfishly allows the brash extrovert role of Pitt full rein against the stoical older man.

The film is thus both narrative and character driven. And the cops emerge as sides of the same coin, sent spinning by the murderer (Kevin Spacey) into a dance of death. As Freeman notes early on, ‘There is not going to be a happy ending’. That you might say is the only moment of understatement in the entire movie.


Let's Go To The Movies:  by Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai

Inception: US/ UK, Drama/ Mystery/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – Wow! Is this a movie and a half! A true action film, with car chases and gunfights, but for the thinking man! It’s a puzzle in a maze, and very exciting, to the emotions and the mind. I loved it! Has garnered a raft of ecstatic reviews from those attuned to Christopher Nolan’s brand of mind games, and for those who appreciate his sort of thing, this is certainly a not-to-be-missed event. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio in another in his string of outstanding state-of-the-art acting jobs. It’s written, directed, and produced by Christopher Nolan, so it’s his baby entirely, and it’s a worthy successor to his memorable Memento and his dark action film, The Dark Knight. About controlling a person through messing with his dreams. Highly recommended! See it multiple times to get more of what’s going on; no one will ever get it all. Early reviews: generally favorable.

Despicable Me (3D): US, Animation/ Family – This first film from a new animation shop 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. Generally favorable reviews. In 3D at Airport Plaza, 2D and Thai-dubbed at Vista.

Pop Star / Duang Antarai: Thai, Drama – An ordinary girl becomes involved in the life of a Thai superstar with unexpected results. Rated 18+ in Thailand. At Major Cineplex only.

8E88 / Fan Lala: Thai, Comedy – On the eve of his wedding, the groom is arrested as the assassin of a politician. He claims to be innocent, but is taken to the dreaded “Zone 8E88” where he will be induced to tell the truth. At Major Cineplex only.

Predators: US, Action/ Adventure/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – I enjoyed this! Of its type, I thought it quite superior. I was impressed by the fun the actors seemed to be having with their characters (Lawrence Fishburne especially giving a deliciously-chewed performance!). I thought the photography was striking, the mood nicely tense and forbidding, and the music fascinating! I’m not a particular fan of this sort of action film, but I found it quite entertaining. Starring Adrien Brody, and directed by Hungarian filmmaker Nimrod Antal (Kontroll). Rock-solid, old-school thrills. Mixed or average reviews.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse: US, Fantasy/ Romance/ Thriller – The pack is back again! In this episode 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, a vampire) and her friendship with Jacob (heartthrob Taylor Lautner, member of the Quileute Wolfpack) – knowing that her decision has the potential to ignite the struggle between vampire and wolfpack, and a tissy fit between fans of each. Mixed or average reviews. The Vista version is Thai-dubbed.

Knight and Day: US, Action/ Comedy/ Thriller – Pleasantly amusing, as much a cute rom-com as an action flick. Mixed or average reviews. Vista only.

Sorry Saranghaeyo / Kao Rak Ti Korea: Thai/ South Korea, Comedy/ Romance – A Thai woman is obsessed with Korean styles in general and one Korean heartthrob in particular, and travels with her sister to South Korea to saturate herself in all things Korean. Directed by Poj Arnon (Bangkok Love Story (2007)), who says that this is his first film about a man and woman in love. He’s known for his Katoey comedies and gay love stories.

The Karate Kid: US/ China, Action/ Drama/ Family/ Sport – Generally favorable reviews. At Vista only, and Thai-dubbed.

Scheduled for July 22

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Directed by Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure 1 & 2). You remember the plot: A sorcerer leaves his workshop in the hands of his apprentice, who gets into trouble when the broomstick he’s tasked to do his chores for him somehow develops a mind of its own. Well, anyway that’s the plot of the segment in Walt Disney’s Fantasia which is supposedly the origin of this movie. It is said that the idea was mostly Nicolas Cage’s, who wanted to make a feature length movie based upon the Fantasia segment. The cast is made up of Nicolas Cage as Balthazar Blake, a sorcerer and computer simulation expert, based on the magician Yen Sid portrayed in Fantasia; newcomer Jay Baruchel as an average college student who becomes Blake’s apprentice – he is based on the character played by Mickey Mouse in Fantasia; and Alfred Molina as Maxim Horvath, an evil magician. Mixed or average reviews.


Bridge in Paradise : by Neil Robinson

Imagine you are sitting North. You are vulnerable against E-W non-vulnerable. East deals and passes. Your partner opens 1N and West passes. This is your unpromising hand—what do you bid?

I have heard players answer that, with only one point, they are too weak to bid. The truth is the opposite—they are too weak to pass—they must bid but only if they have a bid that makes sense. The full deal is below. If 1N is passed out, pity poor South having to play it. South’s hand is a good 1N opener, with something in every suit and 16 high card points. However, there are only 17 points between the two hands. Even worse there is no entry to dummy, so dummy’s long cards are worthless and declarer cannot get to dummy to finesse anything. West leads a low diamond to East’s king. Soon the defence is taking six diamond tricks, three hearts and a spade for down four and 400 points—as good as a game for them and a poor result for you. Declarer can only take the ace of spades and the top two clubs (the queen is onside but with no dummy entry a finesse is not possible).

The only way the North hand is worth anything at all is in a heart contract, allowing North to trump diamonds and providing entries to dummy. So the answer to the question posed above is that North must bid 2D over 1N, as a transfer to hearts. South obediently bids 2H and North passes. The defence can take three heart tricks, two spade tricks and a diamond, for one down and 100 points to E-W. This is a very good result for you, because as the cards lie E-W can make 4D. In fact they can actually make 3N played by East, probably with an overtrick because South cannot profitably attack clubs without giving a trick to the club queen. Next week, trash Stayman and another example of “too weak to pass”.

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

The crackdown has started

It appears that the helmet and license crackdown has started as the police can be seen in various places around town stopping people for not wearing their helmets and issuing tickets. Additionally, lines (or queues for our British brethren) of people waiting were seen on the side of the road. Presumably those are the people who have no driver’s license.

This is all to be commended. But, I do always wonder how long they will last and once they stop, everyone will go back to the old way and drive around with no helmet. I even saw a policeman the other night, driving without his helmet. Do as I say, not as I do?

In light of this newest crackdown, some friends of mine started telling me their “I went without a helmet and had to get five stitches in my face” stories. I do always wear a helmet but have to wonder how strong it is. And that little plastic face cover part (I am sure there is a word for but it escapes me at the moment) seems awfully flimsy, it seems that it might be more of a hazard as it shattered than if it weren’t there at all.

What I would love to see, however, is not just a crackdown but regular enforcement of traffic laws time and time again without the need for a much touted ‘crackdown’. I would love to see traffic police regularly writing tickets, stopping careless and reckless drivers, enforcing helmet and seat belt laws. All those things you expect from traffic police. Even better, I’d like to see them open some kind of driving school that teaches people the rules of the road, and why you need those rules. Perhaps even start in the regular government schools. Goodness knows there are enough 10 year olds driving around now that starting at school certainly wouldn’t hurt.


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

What is that leaf?

The Tiger Paw morning glory

The aim of Dokmai garden is to impart knowledge about plants in Chiang Mai. Thereby creating awareness about plants among people. What was a green wall of anonymous plants will, with knowledge, become a fantastic mosaic. If also the newcomers to Chiang Mai can identify edible species, dangerous species, rare species, medicinal species and even weeds, and then many people can help each other in creating lovely gardens, delicious food and create refuges for endangered plants. One problem in Chiang Mai is that it is quite hard to identify the native plants. We all use home-made names for them, but with its real international and scientific name, we can share the global knowledge on how to use, or eradicate, a certain plant. Today I start with a most conspicuous wildflower most of us have in our gardens: the Tiger Paw morning glory (kayuhm dteen mah, Ipomoea pes-tigridis, Convolvulaceae). To me, this is an ornamental plant. It has very interesting leaves, and the white flowers which can be seen from April to July, are nice too. It grows as an annual vine, not much longer than two meters. If you have an orchard of longan trees, one possibility is to allow wild flowers grow tall, creating what might resemble a French olive orchard. You can even introduce native gingers, lilies and ground orchids, such as Eulophia. Such a tall wild flower meadow usually becomes a sanctuary for predatory insects which can keep your garden pests under control. I think the Tiger Paw morning glory is a nice member of such a wildflower meadow. www.dokmaigarden.co.th. www.dokmaidogma.wordpress.com.


Life in Chiang Mai: By Mark Whitman

On being ‘A Stranger in a Strange Land’

My lot – the ‘Brits’ – are an insular race, an island race to be sure, cut off physically from mainland Europe, as well as mentally.

A colleague once told me how she took her parents for their first (and possibly last) holiday to the great beyond – the Canary Islands. They’d enjoyed the trip but, apart from rejecting the mere notion of paella or grilled squid in favour of fish and chips, there had been a major ‘problem’ when dealing with shops and payment.

“What I can’t understand, said the mother with the triumphant air of having solved a tricky problem, “is why they can’t print their money on one side and ours on the other, so we’d know what’s what”.

That was in the days of Spanish pesetas but the same fear (borne, like most fear and prejudice, out of ignorance) informs the so called debate about the euro.

In the case of such intrepid travelers, they cling to the notion that it is not they who are the foreigners on the trip to another country but the inhabitants, who should accordingly make concessions. This is true too of many farangs who come here fully expecting Thais to ‘mend their ways’ and adapt to European or – most especially –American standards (for they are a race who always seem travel with a little of God’s country in their luggage).

Such people despise the notion of being a stranger in a strange land (to pinch the title of a Robert Heinlein novel), if only from being inherently suspicious of the unknown. Naturally it is easier to adapt to the familiar and an Englishman in Denmark will find the culture and landscape compatible. In return the Danes are not that suspicious of visitors provided, of course, that they have white skin.

But it is difficult not to feel alien in Russia or more especially in Japan (a country with a tiny proportion of foreign residents) where the indigenous population who look ‘different’ (too tall, too dark) are routinely stopped by officials and asked for I.D. Scary and offensive, as was pointed out in an article recently in the International Herald Tribune. Such intrusions into one’s privacy are doubly daunting for those entitled by birth to live in a country.

In Thailand the situation is further complicated, since there are a million, perhaps two million, people living here who are from bordering countries. Many are in camps, and many more work mainly in the construction industry.

They are tolerated as strangers in a semi-strange land, routinely exposed to questioning and arrest for misdemeanours (not wearing a crash helmet when riding a motorcycle for example) for which a Thai would expect a caution or a 200 baht fine. The incomer will pay much more and risk confiscation of the motorbike. Such policing is explicable given the numbers and the fact that many of those questioned are not here legally.

It is easy to see both sides of this coin and to understand why such efforts are made by Burmese and other incomers, especially those born here or long resident, to obtain Thai I.D. and cease to be the ‘strangers’. But that is not an easy task; it involves a long wait, rigorous documentation, interviews, background checks and so on. But it is worth the hassle.

I know of one person who recently achieved this after a six year wait, the assemblage of a thick dossier of affidavits, family information, schooling, residency, details of work experience and so on. This was followed by long interviews, computer checks and a further check up in Bangkok. Such applicants tackle as many hurdles as an Olympic champion, but the resultant I.D. is worth more than any gold medal.

There was no resentment to this rigorous process, which was accepted as fair and necessary. Such stringency was understandably more acceptable to the victors than to those refused the application. The effect is multi layered. It means an increase in personal status, a feeling of being more secure and of being part of the society in which one lives and works.

There are also tangible results, not least a change to the Thai minimum wage or legal self employment. And better insurance when working plus the invaluable 30 baht a day hospital treatment, introduced by Mr. Thaksin. It also means that motorcycle and driving licences can be obtained. And a new residency book is issued.

The 1900-baht a year card previously needed to permit travel within the country is a thing of the past: the I.D card is sufficient. Also a passport can be obtained. Property can be bought or inherited and such things as an interest yielding account may be opened. You are, in short, a paid up member of the country where you may have lived for decades or been born. And yes, you can even volunteer to served in the Thai army, or be called up if you are young enough.

Well, nobody ever said we live in a perfect world.


Day Tripper: By Heather Allen

Pamper yourself for a day

Kad Suan Kaew massage ladies in action.

Oasis Spa on Nimmanhaemin offers an elegant and relaxing spa atmosphere.

While not really a day out of Chiang Mai, sometimes it’s a nice luxury to pamper oneself and in that sense, Chiang Mai abounds with options. Day spas galore, from the high end hotels, high end spas to the little place around the corner that will give you a foot massage, pedicure and slough off all those unattractive calluses..

The Oasis spa had a half off promotion last month, this month they are offering a free body scrub with the purchase of a massage. The serene Ban Sabai offers accommodation for those who want to take a rest from the hurly burly of home. The Devi at the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Devi not only has spa treatments but offers Ayurvedic medicine for those seeing alternative treatments.

Tao Garden offers alternative treatments as well with chi massage, aromatherapy, acupuncture, fasting and cleansing programs and more. Other traditional Chinese medicines can be found but in a less spa like atmosphere as can Ayurvedic medicine.

Around every corner, it seems, one can find traditional Thai massage, from the ladies on the ground floor of Kad Suan Kaew (a bargain at 130 baht for one hour) to the astonishing four hand massage at Oasis. You can get oil massages, foot massages, even face massages!

For those more beauty inclined, various spas and clinics offer skin treatments, Absolute Skin Care just before Chiang Mai Ram offers some very interesting treatments, from skin tightening to melasma. Many of the day spas across the city offer body wraps, cellulite massage, and hydrotherapy.

A stroll around the Nimman area, including spa alley Sirimangkalajarn, yields an abundance of day spas and skin care. You can even bring Fido along and drop him off for a bath, a trim or a hot oil massage at the doggie spa just at the bridge behind Kad Suan Kaew!

Men should give some of these a try and they will find out why women have been flocking to these places. There is nothing more relaxing than taking a few hours out of your busy schedule for some pampering.


Staying happy in Paradise - the Counseling Corner

Richard L. Fellner

Frustration in the bedroom: Impotence

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is defined by the inability of a man to maintain an erection sufficient for intercourse in more than two-thirds of the attempts during half a year. So if it only ‘doesn’t work’ now and then, it isn’t a disorder requiring treatment. But with age, more men have to deal with ED: only one in ten 40 to 49-year-old men is affected, but among 60 to 69-year-olds it is at least one in three.

Especially in older men, physical conditions often cause or at least contribute to ED, while in men under 55, there are almost always mental triggers. ‘Magic bullets’ like Viagra are therefore not really advisable for this younger group of men, not only out of the possible adverse consequences of long-term use, but also for the risk of a psychological dependency on the ‘power pill’.

As an ED can be indicative of heart, cardiovascular and other serious diseases, a medical checkup is the first thing to do. If no physical causes can be found, however, a few counseling sessions with a sex therapist can often set a new pace. ‘I feel incredibly liberated,’ a client once said at the end of our sessions. Indeed, trying to improve their ‘sexual fitness’, many men can give new and more positive impetus to their own sexuality. For what could be more fair in sex than Men’s Lib?

Live the happy life you planned! Richard L. Fellner is head of the Counseling Center Pattaya in Soi Kopai and offers consultations in English and German languages after making appointments at 0854 370 470.


BIRDWATCHING TALES: Lapwings territory

By Mike Gilman

As the Blackbird’s song is so quintessentially English, Thailand has an equivalent songster, the Red Wattled Lapwing. To differentiate both calls could not be easier, as they are so different, yet once heard the species can be denoted from near or afar.

The delights of nest building and the rearing of fledglings is already well underway in Thailand. Busy bills carrying dry grass, reeds and small sticks pursue the ‘fetch and carry’ routine monotonously. At this time of year birds become non-stop work alcoholics, and we have been fortunate enough to watch Magpie-Robins, Munias, Mynas, Drongos, Weavers and Swallows, all engaged fulfilling their naturalistic rituals. In May we drove along route 107 from Chiang Mai and headed for the province’s far northern town of Fang. This rolling-hills countryside location is famed for its hot springs, health spas, orange plantations, garlic and onion farms. There on a clear day vistas of the mountains, Doi Ang Khang and the 2285mts, (7,495ft) high Doi Phahompok can be seen towards the north-west, forming a geographic buffer from Burma’s border.

Three black mottled Lapwing eggs. (Photo by Ubon Gilman)

We took the ‘hot springs’ route from Fang and carefully negotiated the twisting narrow lane. A tall coconut tree with unusual shaped hanging nests caught our eyes, and we diverted onto an arid cart track. The shimmering heat-haze ahead forewarned us of the sultry conditions as we sought shaded shelter in a nearby coniferous copse. A bubbling brook at our feet had a calming-cooling effect as it meandered by, without a care in the world. Immediately ahead were the hanging nests, with binoculars raised we marvelled at the trunk-like shapes and watched yellow capped, thick billed birds weave long strands of grass around the tubular forms. The Sparrow-sized Baya Weaver birds are in a ‘weaving and aerialist ‘ class of their own. This talent is truly a gift of nature, and yet the more we watched proceedings we concluded that only the males build nests, and once partially completed they will seek-out a mate. It is not uncommon for the male birds to initiate the building of several nests as both sexes are polygamous.

Red Wattled Lapwing in pensive mode. (Photo by Ubon Gilman)

Early June saw us seeking pastures new as we ventured to unknown ‘off the beaten track’ scrub-land, not too far from our home. It was still early in the day with the fire-ball creeping ever higher above the eastern hills. Pacing around rocky outcrops we stopped abruptly as alarm calls of agitated breeding birds with flapping wings engulfed us. As we soon came to realise the Red Wattled Lapwings were very territorial. This species is 33cm long, and sport red bills and long yellow legs. Their black heads contrast well with a white patch behind the eyes, making recognition easy. Habitually they make short sprints along the ground, similar to the Plover family. We were standing on open stony ground, and by extremely good fortune looked down to see a clutch of three black mottled eggs, they were lying together amid similar coloured stones. Their disguise was almost perfect, as is nature’s way. Not wanting to cause anymore disturbance we retreated from the area. As day followed day we spied the nest location from 100 meters distance, eager to know if the hatchings’ had been successful, and as to the fledglings advancement. During the last week of June we saw the family of five, standing near to their nesting area. A sight we will not forget. Despite keeping our distance away from the Lapwings stony nest, their call became quite familiar to us, and to their would-be predators too.

Many birds lay eggs on the ground and the hazards therein are well known. Certainly snakes and other reptiles abound in the area mentioned, yet amazingly both the eggs and fledglings survived. 

Our local countryside comprises of many paddy fields and large ponds. Recently we walked in a wooded area close to a pond, and were rewarded by seeing an Ashy Wood-Swallow sitting on its nest. This drab-grey and purplish coloured bird is by no means an artist’s palette, however that becomes incidental once it’s masterly airborne agility is observed. The pond was a perfect back-drop, a magnet for airborne insects, and ideal for a quick snack. From this natural supermarket insects would be garnered to feed the forthcoming fledglings. Standing at a safe distance we watched the daily progress of three fledglings, and the adults harvesting them with all manner of fresh goodies. At the end of June both adults and juveniles were seen during their aerial feeding missions.

Some of the earliest chicks we saw in April this year were a pair of Brahminy Kites. Alongside the Andaman coast stood tall Casuarina trees, we took advantage of their shade one day, and looking skywards noticed an adult raptor circling ominously above the tree tops. With binoculars raised we scoured the upper most branches and discovered a nest of thick sticks and bracken, interwoven between branch forks. Two chicks were seen peering out to sea, anxiously awaiting their parents return with yet more fishy delights. Returning to the same area two weeks later the once fluffy chicks had grown to almost adult size. Sitting upright within the nest they were stretching their wings, eager to take that first flight adventure. Enjoy the gifts of nature.



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