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

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Will you get cancer?

Well, if you live long enough, you probably will get some kind of cancer, somewhere! It is very often a condition of aging. But remember, “cancer” is a word that everyone has heard, but is not a condition that everyone understands.

There are many reasons for this, including the fact that your reaction to ‘carcinogens’ (cancer producing substances) is not necessarily the same as the reaction of the person sitting next to you. Individual differences do exist, and may even be inherited (genetic) influences. This, in part, goes to explain why one person can smoke 80 cigarettes a day for 60 years, while the man next door died at 45 with lung cancer after smoking only 20 cigarettes a day for the previous 20 years!

So what is a carcinogen, the substances which can precipitate cancer? Cancer is caused by abnormalities in a cell’s DNA (its genetic blueprint). Abnormalities may be inherited from parents, or they may be caused by outside exposures to the body such as chemicals, radiation, or even infectious agents including viruses.

The difficulties in studying them come from the fact that carcinogens do not cause cancer in every case, every time. Substances classified as carcinogens may have different levels of cancer-causing potential. Some may cause cancer only after prolonged, high levels of exposure (remember the words of Paracelsus: “Dosage alone determines poisoning”). And for any particular person, the risk of developing cancer will depend on many factors, including the length and intensity of exposure to the carcinogen and the person’s genetic makeup.

So just how do we classify any compound as being a carcinogen? With difficulty, is the simple answer. The boffins get much of their data about whether or not something might be carcinogenic from laboratory (cell culture and animal) studies. However, you have also to remember that man is not a large rat (even though certain young ladies might attest differently). It is not possible, on animal studies alone, to pin the carcinogen rap on any particular compound. It does, however, give us an indication. Although it isn’t possible to predict with absolute certainty which substances will be carcinogenic to humans based on animal studies alone, virtually all known human carcinogens that have been adequately tested in lab animals produce cancer in these animals.

Another problem comes from the fact that most studies of potential carcinogens in lab animals expose the animals to doses that are far higher than common human exposures. For most carcinogens, it is assumed that those that cause cancer at larger doses in animals will also cause cancer in people. This produces the concept, in some quarters, that it is reasonable for public health purposes, to assume that lowering human exposure will reduce risk. Understandable logic, but far from absolute.

Another way to identify carcinogens is through epidemiologic studies, which look at the factors that might affect the occurrence of cancer in human populations. Unfortunately, humans do not live in a controlled environment. People are exposed to numerous substances at any one time, including those they encounter at work, school, or home; in the food they eat; and the air they breathe. And it is usually many years (often decades) between exposure to a carcinogen and the development of cancer. Therefore, it can be very difficult to single out any particular exposure as having a definite link to cancer.

The most widely used system for classifying carcinogens comes from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO). The IARC has evaluated the cancer-causing potential of about 900 likely candidates in the last 30 years, placing them into one of the following groups:

Group 1: Carcinogenic to humans

Group 2A: Probably carcinogenic to humans

Group 2B: Possibly carcinogenic to humans

Group 3: Unclassifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans

Group 4: Probably not carcinogenic to humans

There are around 90 carcinogens in Group 1, with most being referred to by long chemical names such as 1-(2-Chloroethyl)-3-(4-methylcyclohexyl)-1-nitrosourea (Methyl-CCNU; Semustine); however, there are ones you will recognize like solar radiation, alcoholic beverages, analgesic mixtures containing phenacetin, salted fish (Chinese-style) and tobacco smoke.

The way to go, in the short term, is moderation in all things!

 

Yes or No?

Would you like to get to ‘No’ me better?

I am a little bit shy, but if you take the time to get to know me you’ll see that I am gentle,loving and very much in need. As well as having chocolate brown eyes and a lovely doggie face to match, I am 1-2 years old, healthy, sterilised and have all my shots. Take me home today! If you can’t help but say YES to ‘NO’…Contact the shelter English (08 47 52 52 55) or Thai language (08 69 13 87 01) asap to make an appointment to meet him, or email: [email protected] or visit the website for further info www.carefordogs.org.


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,

Each day I go to the local shopping center for a bite to eat. Recently I noticed a rather nice looking girl always sitting at the same table having lunch. She doesn’t seem to have anybody with her. Is it OK just to walk up and start talking to her? She doesn’t look like a street walker or anything like that, so I’d like to get to know her a bit better. With what you hear in Thailand, I am not wishing to make her think that she is someone cheap or anything. I’ve only been here three weeks, so I have a lot to learn, I know. By the way, I’m 19.
Frederick

Dear Frederick,
You are certainly right. You do have a lot to learn, and it wouldn’t matter where you came from. (As an aside, did you write 9 or 19?) So you want to break the ice with the lunching lovely. She is sitting at table on her own, so it is simple. Walk up to her table and say, “Do you mind if I sit here?” In one question you will find out if (a) she understands English, and (b) if she is happy for some company. It is that simple, my Petal. If she is happy for your company, just finish by saying, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” If she is there the next day, you build up your relationship just like that - slowly and no pressure. Contact me again in six months when you are ready for step two and have had your 10th birthday.

Dear Hillary,
I was told that you are never lonely in Thailand and it sure seems that way, but nobody tells you that you are going to pay for it, and big money too. By the time you pay the bar to let her out, and multiply by the number of days you will be around for, you are getting into serious money. Then the girl has got her hand out for this and that, mobile phone needs replacement, money for Mama, money here, money there. It really does add up. I think you should be letting your readers know about these things, Hillary.
John

Dear John,
Do I detect a little financial strain in your letter, my Petal? Nobody said it was ‘free’. Sure, you are never lonely in Thailand, but you will pay. Compare that to the western countries where you will be lonely, but if you are not, you will be paying big money! What you have to understand, John, is that by going to the bars, you enter the commercial side of the business. The girls are there to earn money - and they get that money from the punters - that’s you! Go into the ‘pay for company’ end of the society, and what you have described is completely true. The choice is always yours. I suggest you back out, while your piggy bank holds together.

Dear Hillary,
I’ve read all the books, listened to the wise advice from the old hands, and still I get stymied in my attempts to find these elusive “good women” that you talk about. Just where are they? I don’t see any beating a path to my door, no matter how open I leave it. Where or what am I supposed to do next?
Big Al

Dear Big Al,
The first thing you have to do is close the door. “Good” girls don’t walk around the villages at night, looking for open doors. They leave that to the “good time” girls, and that whole scene is a little doubtful, in all aspects, Big Al. Finding your soul mate needs you to go to where such creatures hang out - not waiting by your door, waiting for them to chance by. It is time you got off your Big A, Petal and worked out where these girls come from, and where you can meet them in a social scene. One very easy way is to go to parties and BBQ’s put on by expats married to Thai ladies. Let the hostess know that you don’t have a partner, but would love to meet a nice Thai lady, and she will let all her eligible friends know. The next step of course depends upon whether you are really ready for a relationship yourself, and whether or not you are really a butterfly. Thai ladies are not going to spend time with a time waster, no matter how clever or rich you think you are.

Really, Big Al, the dating situation is just like in your own country. You meet ladies in a social environment, and eventually someone goes ‘click’ with you (and her)! The trick is in finding the right social environment. If the environment you inhabit is the bar scene, like John in his letter this week, then you end up in the same situation as he does. Bar girl, and paying for the privilege. You won’t find the financial stakes so high looking for the good ladies, but it will take time and effort (on your part) before you get to meet Miss Right. In the meantime, I remain here waiting in my attic, the perennial “Miss Write”.


Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Fill-in flash and the Big D

Photography is really getting easier. Amateurs can now achieve results which were once the domain of the professional photographer, and fill-in flash is just one of these. And one reason is the availability of instant feedback with digital cameras.

One way to pick most amateur shots from professional ones is by the sparkle in the eyes. The catch-lights just lift and add life. The additional lighting to the face also gets rid of harsh shadows and again helps give dynamism to any portrait.

Unfortunately fill-in flash is one of the least understood concepts in photography. And why do we need fill-in flash in the first place? Let’s start with taking shots in the bright Thailand sun at mid-day. It is all very well saying that you should take shots in the early morning or late afternoon, but many family gatherings are lunchtime affairs. End result, big black shadows where the eyes are supposed to be and an appearance of bags under the eyes you could put a change of clothes in.

The other time you are going to need a flash fill is when the light (generally the sun) is behind the person you are going to photograph. The camera sets the exposure for the bright background and the foreground then comes out so dark you will hardly recognize anyone’s face.

With both of these shots, what you need is a burst of flash to fill in the shadows or the underexposed areas of the shot. Hence the name - fill-in flash!

Even with today’s automatic exposure cameras you must understand that it doesn’t know what it is that you are photographing. It doesn’t know that the person’s face in the picture is the most important item. All the camera’s brain can see is a mixture of bright lights and dark areas and it will give you an exposure to try and equalize these out. Unfortunately, in conditions of high contrast in the tropical sun, or back lit, the camera reaches its limitations and the end result will be underexposure of the part of the photograph you want. It’s not the camera’s fault - it just means you have to get smarter.

Fortunately, these days many compacts and SLR’s do have the fill-in flash mode built in, but many of you do not use it - or even realize that you have this facility! Did you read the book that came with the camera? If you have it - then use it! Please do look, the shots you will get back will be much better than you were getting before.

Now, for those of you who have an SLR with an off-camera flash, this last section is for you. The whole secret of fill-in flash revolves around flash synchronization speed. Some of the very latest, and expensive cameras will synchronize flash and shutter speed all the way through to 1/2000th of a second or better, but the average SLR will probably say that the synch speed is 1/125th or even only 1/60th and it is this figure which drives the exposure setting.

In practice, what you have to do is put the camera on shutter priority, let’s say the 1/125th synch speed and then read off what the resultant aperture setting is when metering the subject’s face. Let’s imagine the camera meter tells you that it will be f11. Now put the camera in manual mode and fix the shutter at 1/125th and the aperture at f11.

Next step is to set the power of the flash gun, measured in f stops. You do not want the flash to overpower the natural light, so you set the power to be one or two stops less than the aperture you have set in the camera. In the example, the camera is set on f11, so you set the flash on f8 for one stop or f5.6 for two stops.

Take the two shots at the different flash powers with the instant review on the LCD and decide which effect is best and practice with this technique for better photographs. You will not be disappointed.


Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Can the Past help with the Future? Part 2

Warren Buffett has said, “I do think that piling up more and more and more external debt and having the rest of the world own more and more of the United States may create real political instability down the line, and increases the possibility that demagogues [will] come along and do some very foolish things.”

With this in mind, without doubt, one of the biggest problems that seems to infuriate many investors is the inability of brokers and analysts to accurately predict the markets even when history can, in certain circumstances, point the way.

The use of regressive analysis, Fibonacci sequences and historical data can help paint a clear picture of why what just happened has happened, but it can fail to offer credible and accurate insight into the risks and returns of future investments.

The ability to accurately predict future events is one of the defining characteristics of science. The fact that market analysts fail to do this suggests that either their model simply does not work or, despite all of the convoluted data, the profession is really more of an art and that, at the end of the day, too many brokers and advisors still act on gut instinct - a nice luxury when you are playing with someone else’s hard earned cash.

As a result too much time and effort seems to be spent on the reassessment, in hindsight, of major events - the collapse of the sub-prime market, the fall of Lehman Brothers, etc., - to explain how they all really saw it coming but for some inexplicable reason forgot to act to prevent losses.

This is little more than a financial parlour trick, a revisionist sleight of hand that hopes to keep investors parting with their cash. Nevertheless, I would always be less interested in knowing why investments lost out in the past so as to see if and how that relates to the present and the future and what should be done next in terms of sound advice.

A decade ago research by McKinsey & Co, a global business consultancy, found that analysts had not learned these lessons and “were typically over-optimistic, slow to revise their forecasts to reflect new economic conditions, and prone to making increasingly inaccurate forecasts when economic growth declined.”

The catastrophic events of the recent financial crisis have done little, if anything, to change this outlook in that the sector is overly bullish, as a report published earlier this month by McKinsey Quarterly reveals: “Alas, a recently completed update of our work only reinforces this view - despite a series of rules and regulations, dating to the last decade, that were intended to improve the quality of the analysts’ long-term earnings forecasts, restore investor confidence in them, and prevent conflicts of interest.”

So just whose advice should you listen too when making an investment?

Start by picking someone with a proven track record of making solid investment calls, especially those that have bucked bullish consensus and either generated profits or protected capital integrity as a result.

Such people may be thin on the ground, but they do exist. Scott Campbell - an S&P award winning fund manager and CEO of the Guernsey-based international fund management company MitonOptimal - and his long-term business affiliate, Martin Gray, have repeatedly hit the nail on the head with predictions of major market events.

What makes Scott and Martin especially interesting for locally based investors is their expert knowledge of how to evaluate the region’s markets and currencies against the bigger picture of global portfolio allocation. In fact, in recent years, investors have been shocked on numerous occasions during their trips to Bangkok by their contrarian calls which have, even more shockingly, turned out to be spot on. One of the reasons for this is their knowledge of what has gone before.

The price of oil is just one example. With oil in the doldrums, in January 2007, Scott Campbell told the Bangkok Post “oil will hit more than $80 a barrel”. By mid-2008, when oil had reached $130 per barrel and everyone was rushing into black gold enthused by Goldman Sachs’ view that $200 was in sight, Scott was now heading the other way talking of “air pockets” - a phase when prices drop. Within weeks the price had started to drop ultimately falling below $40 per barrel.

In February last year, Scott was back here again (while, in London, Martin was receiving the accolade from the Sunday Telegraph of second place in their listing of the top 12 fund managers of the decade) and he told The Nation that although the situation seemed as difficult as it was in the 1930s, and that the name of the game had changed to focus on return of capital - not return on capital - he remained upbeat on Asia, correctly predicting, months ahead of most observers, that the continent’s economies would lead the world recovery.

In terms of the money markets, Scott has a similarly pre-eminent record. In 2007, he called a weakening of the US Dollar and, in June 2008, he called a US Dollar bounce when consensus was that the greenback had become a banana currency. Then, in February 2009, he again correctly called a weakening of the US Dollar, before seeing a turning tide again late last year.

He has also pioneered the only global investment portfolio hedged into Baht and Singapore Dollar as well as the major currencies.

While no-one has the ability to be 100% right all the time, Scott, Martin and their team have translated their superior analysis into returns that have consistently out-performed the market. Analysis shows that the times when MitonOptimal has made thinner returns than the consensus then this is typically the prelude to a crash. Rather than profiting from the death rattle of the bull market only to lose all the gains in the blink of an eye, Scott and Martin have tended to focus on protecting client assets by moving the smart money to safer havens. Caveat Emptor!

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

Before I Forget (2007) and I Love You Philip Morris (2009)

These films are concerned with aspects of gay life in France and the U.S.A. respectively. The first by actor-director Jacques Nolot is far from ‘gay’ and has as its central character a 60ish Parisian, who is HIV positive and in a state of some depression, living out life in a sex and money obsessed group. Presumably it is a work of fiction, though rooted in a fierce reality, but it has a deep core on truth. It is honest, moving and compassionate, despite the overlay of world weary cynicism.

The American movie, directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, makes great play in the publicity of being a comedy based on a true story. It stars Jim Carrey as a con man who falls in love with a swishy prison inmate (Ewan McGregor) and bamboozles all those around him. It is a feeble star -led romp which has as much truth, humanity and compassion as the centre of a ring doughnut. The central performances show no spark of emotion as two straight actors mimic rather than act.

I mention this movie simply because it recently played in Chiang Mai and received some praise and is now available on DVD. Who knows you too may find it worthwhile? It reminded me of a TV show in the UK from decades ago, called The Black and White Minstrel Show where white performers blacked up and gaudily performed old ‘favourites’. That show has long been ‘banned’ reflecting a new attitude which, sadly, Hollywood has yet to catch up with. Its treatment of gay characters remains closeted in the 1950s and ‘60s.

On the other side of the pond Nolot is possibly ahead of his time and whilst I admire his film greatly I must concede that its frankness and often graphic depictions of sex might not suit many people. It is ‘very French’, if that makes sense. The very specific milieu and the people within it are selfish, dependent on gigolos for company and in some cases ex-gigolos themselves looking forward to inheritances from former lovers. The life depicted is very, very different from the arch posturings of Carrey when he escapes the closet.

Nolot, who is better known as an actor than director (over 50 roles as opposed to a handful of films behind the camera) plays the central part with unflinching honesty. We first encounter him sleepless and dragging his aching body out of bed, padding around his apartment and making coffee. He is constrained physically but his emotions are very immediate. He lives for the day and is willing to try anything to sense that he is still alive.

The film ends with him accompanying his favourite companion to a club, decked out in hideous drag. He stands in the lobby, smoking as fitfully as ever: psyching himself to enter. The scene reflects the entire movie: it is comic in a bleakly humorous way, sad and beautifully observed. The film stays in the mind long after one has seen it like any intense experience, whereas the American movie vanishes like popcorn.

(Available from the DVD Film and Music Shop, Suthep Road).


Let's Go To The Movies:  by Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai

The Last Airbender: US, Action/ Adventure/ Family/ Fantasy – Generally unfavorable reviews. A shame, because the source material is so brilliant and powerful and hugely popular. I saw this film again at the first showing last Thursday (but in 2D, not 3D) and yes it’s incomprehensible, most especially for those who have not seen the series. I can’t image such viewers would have the slightest idea of what is going on. I did appreciate the art direction: the sets and the visuals were quite enthralling, and there were some fine vistas of considerable grandeur. However, reports state that the 3D color is considerably less vivid, and overall quite dark. Most reports that compare the 2D and 3D say that the 2D experience is superior. Both 2D and 3D are available at Airport Plaza; the Vista version is 2D and Thai-dubbed. Generally unfavorable reviews, on the verge of “Overwhelming dislike.”

I did enjoy most of the special effects taken individually, but they didn’t cohere. In fact the whole of the film seemed inchoate.

I am disappointed because I am really fond of the 61-episode animated television series on which the film is based. That series has just concluded an extended run here on Thai TV, and I watched it, and am hooked on it. Buy the series and see that instead of this film.

Inception: US/ UK, Drama/ Mystery/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – I’ve seen this film a third time now, and it’s making more sense all the time. It’s an action flick, with car chases and gunfights, and you can enjoy it on that level without worrying about the puzzles. However, it is chock full of puzzles and mazes, and extraordinarily challenging on that level. It has garnered a raft of ecstatic reviews from those attuned to Christopher Nolan’s brand of mind games, such as his memorable Memento, and for his fans this is certainly a not-to-be-missed event. Already there are huge discussions online about just how much of the film is actually a dream, and wild arguments about whose dream it might be. Or if various different people are dreaming different sections. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio in another in his string of outstanding state-of-the-art acting jobs. It’s written, directed, and produced by Christopher Nolan, and he was given all the money he needed, so it’s just what he wants it to be. That in itself is remarkable in this day and age. Highly recommended! Generally favorable reviews.

Despicable Me: US, Animation/ Family – I found this a completely delightful animation – a pleasant surprise with a voice all its own. Generally favorable reviews. At Vista only, in 2D and Thai-dubbed.

Shanghai: US, Drama/ Mystery/ Romance/ Thriller – Directed by Mikael Hafstrom (director of 1408, starring John Cusack), with Li Gong, Ken Watanabe, John Cusack, and Yun-Fat Chow. A ’40s period piece which revolves around an American expat who returns to a corrupt, Japanese-occupied Shanghai four months before Pearl Harbor and discovers his friend has been killed. While he unravels the mysteries of the death, he falls in love, and discovers a much larger secret that his own government is hiding. Shot in Bangkok and London. Hasn’t really been released anywhere yet except here and Kazakhstan. Rated 18+ in Thailand. Airport Plaza only.

The project was set to roll early 2008 in China but the authorities blocked the shoot just weeks before production was set to begin. China’s exit meant walking away from sets that had been built at a cost of $3 million. The producers shifted the shoot to London and Thailand, where sets were built re-creating Shanghai’s old colonial architecture.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: You remember: 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. That’s the plot of the segment in Walt Disney’s Fantasia which is the origin of this movie. Apparently the idea was Nicolas Cage’s, who wanted to make a feature length movie based upon the Fantasia segment. The cast has Cage as a sorcerer and computer simulation expert, based on the magician in Fantasia; Jay Baruchel as an average college student who becomes Blake’s apprentice, based on the character Mickey Mouse plays in Fantasia; and Alfred Molina as an evil magician. Mixed or average reviews. There’s also a Thai-dubbed version at both locations.

Tukky: Thai, Comedy/ Romance – Thai fantasy tale of an ugly princess in a magical land. In Thai only at Vista.

Scheduled for August 5

Salt: US, Action/ Thriller – Bombastic, complicated, old-school spy action-thriller, starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Angelina is a marvel to watch as she plays a CIA officer on the run, using all her skills and years of experience as a covert operative to elude capture and prove her innocence. Generally favorable reviews.


Bridge in Paradise : by Neil Robinson

This week, more trash bids. Last week I talked about when to bid if you have a very weak hand and your partner opens 1N. If you have a bid that will get you into a low level trump contract with a fit between the hands, then you must bid. Last week included a 4441 hand where you bid Stayman and pass any response. The idea of “trash Stayman” is to try and get into an eight card trump fit at the two level. Here are two more hands to think about. Imagine you are sitting North. You are vulnerable against E-W non-vulnerable. East deals and passes. Your partner opens 1N and West passes. What do you bid with hand A or hand B?

With hand A you have four points and therefore your side has about 20 high card points altogether. This gives you a fair chance of making 1N, so you should pass. Furthermore you do not have a good alternative bid, so even if you were weaker you would have to pass. Hand B is not a classic trash Stayman hand, since you only have three spades. However, it is so weak that your partner has little chance in 1N and may go down badly. Consequently, I would bid 2C, intending to pass whatever partner bids. With any luck, partner will respond in hearts or diamonds and you will end up in an eight card fit. At worst, partner will bid 2S. You only have a seven card fit in spades, but even this is not hopeless because dummy will be able to ruff clubs and get some extra tricks that way. Here is the full deal opposite hand B:

You are not pleased to hear your partner bid 2S in response to your Stayman bid. Playing 2S with only 16 points and seven trumps between the two hands is no walk in the park, but a lot better than trying to make 1N. In no trump the likely lead is a low diamond. The defence would take four diamond tricks, four clubs (with the right switch), two hearts and maybe a spade. Declarer will only get his two aces and maybe another trick. This translates to four or five down and 400 or 500 points to E-W. In a spade contract West may well lead the king of clubs. South takes this with the ace and ruffs a club. Now declarer leads a low heart to try and get into hand to lead another club. West will probably win this trick and lead a trump to cut down on ruffing, giving a free finesse. Declarer wins this and ruffs another club on board. Ultimately the defence will take the top two hearts, two top diamonds, one club and a spade, for only down one—a very much better result than in no trump, thanks to a trash bid!

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

Learning about Thailand

I met a recent Chiang Mai arrival, a retiree of abundant energy and joie de vivre with an eagerness to give things a go, a comprehension that things are done differently here and a willingness to adapt the radically different culture she has moved to. She expressed an interest in learning some Thai as soon as possible as she realizes how much easier it will make her life here. She actually read up on some of the more important aspects of Thai culture before she ever made the decision to retire here. She expressed an interest in attending local events and meeting people outside the social circle one would assume she would prefer. I suspect she will do well in Chiang Mai for these are the attributes that make not only a successful expat but a happy one as well.

While I can understand that many find the tones difficult to learn, and many cannot even hear them at all, Thai people are generally very forgiving souls and love it when visitors and residents in their country make an effort, at the very least. Additionally, the same goes for those who make an effort to understand the culture a bit, learn a bit about their traditions, their culture and their important religious holidays. Certainly, it’s not expected that people become Buddhist (although many do as it is, in many ways, a very sensible way to live one’s life) but it is gracious and considerate to understand a bit about which holidays are important, how the system works (it’s a lunar calendar so the dates change depending on the phase of the moon) and to show a bit of respect for traditions and beliefs that are deeply held by many people here.

Additionally, it’s good to learn some of the little things that can make life here frustrating (ie yes does not always mean yes, and “I will come tomorrow” may not, in fact, actually happen tomorrow). There are a multitude of books out there for those who prefer their information printed, Very Thai and Culture Shock Thailand, being two I would suggest to the newcomer. Or, for those more computer inclined, google it, there is a wealth of information out there that is readily and easily accessible. With the information age we live in, there really is no excuse for total ignorance about some of the basics of life in Thailand.

With a basic understanding of the culture around you and the traditions that are important small opening to finding happiness as a stranger in a strange land will emerge.


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

Bananas

A banana ’tree’ is in fact a leaf bundle (a pseudo stem). The actual tree is underground. When a pseudo stem has produced fruit, it dies, but new will emerge. Now is a good time to enjoy banana fruits, as the rainy season makes the banana plants thrive. In spite of the many vast banana plantations in South America and Africa, the home of the commercial banana fruit (Musa spp.) is here in Southeast Asia. It is believed that a Stone Age man found a banana plant (Musa acuminata) with sterile female flowers. Sterility makes the banana free of seeds. If you have tasted a forest banana full of seeds you know it is like eating gravel. The Stone Age man must have been delighted, and by digging up suckers he could move, multiply and trade it. Over time a spontaneous mutation appeared, so instead of two sets of chromosomes, each cell had three sets. That made each cell bigger, making the fruits bigger too. This eventually evolved into the traded banana we see in the west. Like with the species apple and dog, the banana species Musa acuminata has many varieties. A famous one is ’Gros Michel’, which was the basis for so many banana plantations. Unfortunately this variety died out in Africa and South America due to a fungal disease, showing the danger of monoculture. However, this variety survived in Thailand, where it is called ’gluay hom thong’. In Thailand there are many more varieties than in the west. Fertile pollen has enabled Musa acuminata to cross with Musa balbisiana, another wild banana species, and then back-crossed, creating a range of Southeast Asian cultivars. The delicious ’gluay nam wa’, which has 70% of the Thai banana market, is one such hybrid. Prehistoric Malaysian explorers brought bananas to many Pacific islands where local varieties appeared through mutations and selection for size and taste. Thanks to the selections made by previous gardeners over millennia, today’s gardeners can now collect and enjoy a range of delicious varieties. www.dokmaigarden.co.th. www.dokmaidogma.wordpress.com.


Life in Chiang Mai: By Mark Whitman

Reflecting a tragedy

Last week in the education section, I reported on a film show and a series of lectures held at Payap University under the general heading of Burmese migrant workers. The discussions were inspired by a photo exhibition entitled ‘In search of a job....any job’, held at Payap and previously at CMU.

There is also a book, by the photographer John Hulme, which contains around 50 of the pictures and three linking articles which give background information to the publication.

The photographs are very fine: often poignant in their depiction of the men and women and children who seek work and most often find it in what is described so accurately as the three Ds- dangerous, dirty and degrading. The pictures are beautifully shot not just in the technical sense – the immediacy, the use of light and shadow, and their composition – but in the compassion which shines through.

The publishers are Daga (Documentation for Action Groups in Asia) and their web site is www. daga.org.hk and the ISBN number is 789627 250326. The design – and it is a well produced publication -was by 72 Studio, in Chiang Mai and I am sure that it will be available at book shops in the city.

Let’s hope that some other venue – the Chiang Mai Museum in the centre of town, or one of the shopping malls, or a hotel - will also mount the exhibition because it deserves a wide audience. It is the fruition of several years work by John Hulme and reflects an important topic.

The ‘problem’ of Burma is one that will not go away. It has been with us for decades in its present form as people endure a military regime that has no validity. The history of Burma before that is a fraught one under British rule then Japanese occupation. Their period of ‘freedom’ was only a few years after the end of WW11.

For those who have fled the junta since the 1980s it has often been a hard life. Some were lucky to move further away and make new lives but most – possibly the majority – have settled in Thailand. Some over the years have made the transition remarkably well as the result of hard work and patience. Others more newly arrived have also found jobs that are paying a living wage.

For those – mostly in the north – who have worked hard, acquired land and built up families life is infinitely better than in their home country. But, as this book and all the other information that pours forth indicates, they are the lucky ones and a minority. People do not leave their homes in millions without reason. And the reason is a regime that is one of the worst in the modern world.

No one can deny that Thailand benefits to some degree from the work done by the migrants who have little or no security. Being in many ways a tolerant and welcoming country, Thailand has allowed massive immigration. But no one can believe that this is other than a situation both inhuman and possibly incendiary as numbers increase.


Day Tripper:

Tiger Kingdom

Well it was time to go see for myself, the popular Tiger Kingdom at Maerim.

A well presented establishment and good friendly staff. As you enter you’re on the main viewing area, where the tigers have a swimming area and visitors can enter the area and have photos taken with the tigers. A gift store and restaurant as well and it is wheelchair friendly.

Prices vary depending on what experience you would like, Baby Tigers or the older ones. A couple of cheeky Macaws are housed just inside the entrance gate. You can wander around the grounds and view several different tigers, it’s an easy walk as it’s not a large area.

The pens and exercise areas are neat and tidy; you can get up close and personal, but still have the protection of a chain-wire fence. All the tigers look bright and healthy, obviously if you go at midday; they may be resting as all cats do.

The restaurant has great food and you can dine as you watch tigers play or tigers ignoring the brave visitors that get in there for that wanted shot of themselves with a tiger. I preferred to stay on the outside of the fence. I have no hesitation  recommending Tiger Kingdom, I will go again. The Tiger Kingdom is easily found, Highway 107 past Mae Rim and follow the signs!