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

MAIL OPINION

Life in Chiang Mai

Day Tripper

BIRWATCHING TALES

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Work is the curse of the drinking classes

It was way back in the 1700’s that a Dr Bernardino Ramazzini (1633 - 1714), an Italian physician published a book on occupational diseases, “De Morbis Artificum Diatriba (Diseases of Workers)”. That makes him, in my eyes, the father of modern Occupational Medicine.

However, Occupational Medicine is still one of the lesser known medical specialties. This is the study of worker health, how the workplace affects health, the man-machine interface, industrial exposure to contaminants and many other occupational hazards. One example of occupationally induced conditions is known as ‘Vibration White Fingers’ and comes under the general umbrella of an interesting set of conditions known as Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Since doctors like to have conditions named after them, Raynaud’s phenomenon comes from Dr. Maurice Raynaud, a French physician who published a report in 1862 of a young woman whose fingertips changed colors when she was cold or under stress. He is credited with the discovery of the condition.

Raynaud’s phenomenon, sometimes called Raynaud’s syndrome or disease, is a disorder of blood circulation in the fingers. This condition is usually produced by exposure to cold which reduces blood circulation causing the fingers to become pale, waxy-white or purple. This condition is sometimes called “white finger,” “wax finger” or “dead finger”. These attacks occur when the hands or the whole body get cold either at work or at home. Household or leisure activities resulting in cold exposure can include washing a car, holding a cold steering wheel, or the cold handlebars of a bicycle. Attacks of white finger can also occur when a person is outdoors watching sports, or while gardening, fishing or golfing in cold weather.

Typical attacks occur with tingling and slight loss of feeling or numbness in the fingers, blanching or whitening of the fingers, usually without affecting the thumb, and pain, sometimes with redness, which accompanies the return of blood circulation generally after 30 minutes to two hours.

Many cases of Raynaud’s phenomenon are such that we cannot identify the cause. To escape the embarrassment of admitting that we just don’t know, we call this “primary Raynaud’s phenomenon” or even “constitutional” white finger. However, when we do know the occupational cause of Raynaud’s phenomenon we call it “secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon”!

In the occupational sphere, there are many causes of this secondary condition. It is most commonly associated with hand-arm vibration syndrome but it is also involved in other occupational diseases. Awareness of the condition can help prevent the disorder from occurring or progressing, as if not detected in the early stages, the disorder can permanently impair blood circulation in the fingers.

Although Raynaud’s phenomenon is not life threatening, severe cases cause disability and may force workers to leave their jobs and workman’s compensation issues may end up in courts of law. Although rare, severe cases can lead to breakdown of the skin and gangrene. Less severely affected workers sometimes have to change their social activities and work habits to avoid attacks of white finger.

The underlying cause relates to the physiology of maintaining an even body temperature. Usually, the body conserves heat by reducing blood circulation to the extremities, particularly the hands and feet. This response uses a complex system of nerves and muscles to control blood flow through the smallest blood vessels in the skin. In people with Raynaud’s phenomenon, this control system becomes too sensitive to cold and greatly reduces blood flow in the fingers.

Exposure to vibration from power tools is by far the greatest concern in secondary Raynauds. Hand-held power tools such as chain saws, jackhammers and pneumatic rock drillers and chippers can cause “hand-arm vibration syndrome”. This disorder is the “vibration white finger”, “hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS)”, or “secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon of occupational origin.” However, Ramazzini did state in his book that repetitive violent movements can produce this condition many years before.

In early years, before the cancer-causing effects of vinyl chloride monomer were known, workers exposed to high levels of this chemical also experienced Raynaud’s phenomenon. So that is the story of Raynaud’s phenomenon. Fortunately, in our warm tropical climate it is rarely seen, other than the occupational secondary variety.

 

Handsome Leo looking for love

This handsome male is 4 years old. He is a well-framed larger breed that loves walks and activities. He is very friendly, has a lot of energy and would make a great family dog. He would do really well with another doggie friend or friends to join him in the fun! Many of our volunteers have fallen for Leo, so best snap him up quick! Contact the shelter (08 47 52 52 55) or language (08 69 13 87 01) : [email protected] to make an appointment to meet him. www.carefordogs.org


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

“For Hillary Only”,

Delivered anonymously, a selection of chocolates in a large brown envelope. No note, no letter, just the inscription “For Hillary Only”.


Dear Anonymous,
My faith in human nature has been restored. What a wonderfully sweet thing to do my Petal, without looking for credits. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I hope that 2011 will be a great year for you - you deserve it!

Dear Hillary,
I have met a really nice little Thai girl and she’s moved in and everything seems to be rosy but she doesn’t have much English, so we are having some communication problems, which is a bit of a worry for me, though she doesn’t seem to mind, and how long do these girls take to learn our language, Hillary, should I keep trying to get her to go to a language school or something and do you recommend one.
George

Dear George,
I think you are the one having communication problems, Petal. That’s one very long sentence, try popping in a few full stops every so often and your written communication will improve no end. Now I want you to repeat after me “I am living in Thailand. The people here are Thai. The people here speak Thai. I should learn Thai if I want to communicate with the people here.” Say that every morning before breakfast and take yourself to a language school - not your GF. You are the one with a problem - not her. OK?

Dear Hillary,
I have to remain anonymous, and choose my words carefully as not to be recognized. I have a niece whom I known since she was 12 years old. Two years ago she went to Pattaya to work bar. On her very first night a farang took her, they got married, he took her to his home country. But she could not remain because of her age - she will be 21 next month. She returned to Thailand, stayed home and faithful to him until the money stopped, as he fell on hard times, and looks as through the marriage is over.

Now she has returned to the bar scene, and is staying with us. Working nights and sleeping days here. I am extremely attracted to her, as I know her as the person she is, but only I know it, and would never do or say anything which could cause us all problems. First it bothers me that she has had to return to this line of work. The family is very traditional, knows what she is doing since my wife is her aunt. I would much rather keep her myself as a Mia Noi, and save her the indignities of her work. I agree I may have selfish reasons. But if this could be accomplished I could save her from the poison the life does to these young girls.

I realize the acceptance of a Mia Noi is only with the blessing of the first wife, a subject better left silent by the husband if he still chooses a peaceful household. It is my understanding the offer must first be made by the wife, and not the husband. I can afford to support her should she choose a different line of work, or until she can train to do whatever she likes then free to move on in a normal lifestyle. She is not brainwashed by the glitter, of street life, nor covets the things of it.

I have admitted to my wife I have distressing dreams about her without detail. I’m thinking the only alternative to not risking a serious problem is to find a way to remove her from our home, but presently she has no where to go. Then I am not faced with the torment of my feelings for her, or what she is doing, and with not seeing her, my attraction should wane.

Any advice here? I hope I have found a solution before I receive an answer because I know that usually takes two weeks.
The Uncle

Dear Uncle,
Yes, I think you should definitely remain anonymous if you want any sort of a quiet life in Thailand, and not be retrieving certain parts of your anatomy from the ducks. As this girl is only 21, your wife, her aunt, is probably in her 40’s. Are you sure you aren’t just trying to trade in the old model for a newer one? You write that you “would never do or say anything which could cause us all problems,” but you have already started to put that train in motion, Petal. Uncle, my totally misguided Petal, get the girl out of the house now. She is just using you as free board and lodgings while she plies the bar trade. You say she “is not brainwashed by the glitter, of street life, nor covets the things of it,” so why is she back there, when there are plenty of (agreed not so well-paying) jobs away from the bars? Living with her aunt and uncle is a free ride, so why is she in the bar trade? Uncle, get real and get her out of there fast.


Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Overcoming photo problems

There are many traps for young players in the art of photography. These are not problems with either film or digital cameras, most of these are common to both, though some are specific areas which refer to digital cameras and their capabilities.

The first is a general complaint, and refers to the placement of the image in the frame. This is where the ability to instantly review images in digital photography is so good. Look at the image in the viewer on the back of the camera and see if it can be improved by different placement of the subject within the frame. Remember the ‘Rule of Thirds’ (place the main subject one third of the way in from either side and one third of the way up or down from the top or bottom of the picture). This is a tried and true rule of thumb. It may feel ‘wrong’ initially not having the subject slap bang in the middle of the frame, but try it and you will find you are getting better, more pleasing pictures.

While still on the subject of the overall image, don’t forget to take each shot two ways - in the landscape (horizontal) format and the second in the portrait (vertical) format. Again it sounds strange to shoot a landscape in the vertical format, but it gives the viewer a different emphasis, which can improve an otherwise ‘ordinary’ shot.

With most digitals having reasonably good zoom lenses these days, experiment with different zoom settings and distance from the subject. A ‘tele’ setting can give you a very different photograph from the ‘wide’ setting taken closer to the subject. This ability to experiment, at the time of shooting, is one of the biggest plusses for digital photography.

One of my standard tips is “Walk several meters closer”, and by doing this you will find that you can make the subject fill the frame (to even overflowing) and so get rid of horrible distracting backgrounds.

You can also see the difference in the backgrounds between shooting at f2.8 as opposed to f16. The larger aperture (f2.8) gives a blurred background, which is exactly what the ‘portrait’ mode does. Many of the tricky settings are just automatic combining of different apertures/shutter speeds, and a general knowledge of first photographic principles will always help your photography too.

Photography is in reality ‘painting’ with light and you should never forget this. The position of the subject, relative to the sun (the celestial lighting technician) can make or break your photos. The amount of contrast in any scene can also baffle the digital sensors so they will try to balance out the contrasts which can spoil the effect you were trying to create. If your camera shows you those dinky little histograms, you can soon see if the light is biased in any particular direction.

What you have to do is try and balance bright or dim light. In low light conditions, try using your camera’s night shooting mode, or lower the ISO to 50 or 100 to get some detail in low light. Also look at trying to use a tripod, or steady yourself against a wall or pillar to avoid moving the camera.

In bright light, try your camera’s Beach or Sunshine mode, or go to manual mode and choose a fast shutter speed to control the amount of light that comes in.

For better photographs indoors, turn your flash off. Try to maximize the light by pulling back the curtains, opening doors and turning on the incandescent lights in the room. Sure, you will have slower shutter speeds and you may have to look at using the tripod, or even just holding the camera firmly on a table, but you will get more natural photographs. With portraits, you can even try sitting the subject beside a window (not in front of the window, unless you want a silhouette).

Finally, practice getting the ‘decisive moment’ by partially depressing the shutter button when taking candid shots. This means you are not waiting for the camera to focus, before the shutter fires. Or simply set the focus manually.


Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Emerging Markets - A good place to go shopping?

Adam Smith, the great eighteenth century Scottish moral philosopher and economist, once eloquently espoused in his great work ‘The Wealth of Nations’ that all nations default on their debt. All governments do this at some point, whether in the form of outright default, or debt re-scheduling or moratoria or a gradual default through devaluation of the currency.

Remembering that every asset has its time and place, then now might be the time for Emerging Market assets - particularly bonds, both Sovereign and Corporate. Governments of developed nations have been trying to stimulate their way out of crisis and the tendency so far has been for all this liquidity to find its way into other markets including Emerging Market assets.

The size of the liquidity wave has been so huge that a rising tide has lifted all boats, but if capital flows start to become more discerning, the relative attractiveness of each asset will become a key factor determining immediate and longer term direction.

Bond markets outweigh equities 10:1. With USD10 trillion tied up in US Treasuries, that is a major potential source of capital flow into emerging market bonds; especially bonds denominated in local currency which now face the possibility of a twin bull market of both rising currency and bond price appreciation.

In China, where strict capital controls are imposed on foreign capital entering the country, authorities are now opening up channels for investment in local currency denominated bonds, both Sovereign and Corporate with McDonald’s being one of the first to take advantage of this by launching its first bond denominated in Yuan. Other corporate bond issues are likely to follow.

Thailand has seen inflows from June to September of as much as USD30 billion, more than the whole of 2008 and 2009 combined. This has caused the baht to rise by over 10% against the US dollar despite aggressive attempts by the Bank of Thailand to weaken the baht by buying up dollars in the foreign exchange market and accumulating reserves that have doubled in just two years to over 150 billion dollars. The strength of the baht is causing some concern among the exporting business community prompting the Bank of Thailand to revoke the exemption of a withholding tax for foreign holders of Thai sovereign and government agency bonds of 15% on interest and capital. The results overall has been limited so far as only 10% of the bond market is owned by foreigners with the baht still hovering around THB30:USD1 despite the fact that foreign participation in the market has reduced by seventy percent.

An interesting aside to this was the debate between emerging market bonds expert Simon Godfrey of BNP Paribas and economist Robert Jukes of Collins Stewart at the recent International Advisor Plenary Sessions in Singapore. Simon Godfrey maintained that bonds such as Thailand’s sovereign and agency bonds not only offered better yields but also arguably less risk than their US equivalents. “On the contrary,” says Jukes, who insisted that all emerging debt is still a ‘risk asset’ and, in a crisis, yields tended to widen as perceptions of risk would attach to emerging debt whereas developed market debt would be seen once again as a safe haven. It is true that while initial perceptions may lead capital to seek safety in US T-bills, ultimately a new order may emerge that recognizes the different realities of indebted developed countries as opposed to faster growing, unleveraged emerging economies.

However, not all Emerging Markets are made the same. Certain country specific risks exist and chief among them is the rule of law and political stability. You only need to look back to 1998 and the Russian Bond Default that resulted in the collapse of Long Term Capital Management. LTCM was a famous hedge fund formed by Nobel Laureate academics that probably should have left their expertise confined within university walls. Due diligence and caution are always required and maybe at this time patience and nerves of steel as well if a seismic transfer of the balance of economic power takes place in the battle ground of bond markets. Counter it with diversification.

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

Only Angels Have Wings (1939) and Rio Bravo (1959)

Twenty years separate these two masterworks by Howard Hawks: the first, shot in moody black and white, is an action movie, the second in rich colour is a western in classic mould – good vs. evil. Both are romances in the true sense of the word, tales of chivalry and wonder.

Both are about camaraderie in a male dominated world, in which the conflicts from within and outside a claustrophobic setting are crucial to the straightforward narrative. Their thematic concerns, clear, unfussy directorial style and extraordinary joie de vivre are a testament to Hawks’ abiding talent and are my personal favourites among his 47 films, followed by Scarface.

Only Angels Have Wings stars one of the two actors who worked best with Hawks, Cary Grant. They made five films together and the star, who was the wisest actor in the history of Hollywood about his career – even knowing when to quit – turned down at least two other roles, the John Ireland character in Red River and the boozy side kick to John Wayne in Rio Bravo, so memorably played by Dean Martin.

Grant plays the seemingly harsh boss of a group flying the mail from a port called Baranca in South America (shades of the pioneering Pony Express). The planes are old, the weather atrocious and money short. Into the steamy, rain lashed environment comes a chorus girl (enchanting Jean Arthur), a former lover of Grant (a colourless Rita Hayworth) and her new husband (taciturn Richard Barthelmess) who is accused of cowardice. They make a heady addition to an already strong cocktail of friendship, love, danger and death – stirred with paradoxical understatement.

Hawks establishes the mood and concerns with characteristic aplomb, allowing the simmering relationships, concealed emotions, sentiment, humour and adventure to emerge gradually. It is a remarkable film and also a landmark in Hollywood history as being the first mainstream film in which a central character is not only gay and in love with the star but more importantly is treated sympathetically and with restraint, so that Kid’s unreciprocated feelings for Grant are crucial to the action and in their way of revealing the leading character’s vulnerable side. As always Hawks was way ahead of his time in depicting complex relationships and he and screenplay writer Jules Furthman deserve special credit for this and for those depicted twenty years later in the western.

Furthman wrote many films with Hawks and his work here anticipates Rio Bravo, which was made towards the end of the director’s long career and proved to be his last great work. The star is John Wayne (never better than with Hawks except for a handful of movies with his mentor John Ford, notably She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and his best role in The Searchers). Wayne plays the Sheriff of a small township (c.f. Baranca), which he is forced to defend with the help of a drunk (Martin), a cantankerous older guy (Walter Brennan scene stealing and proving why he received more Oscars than any other Hollywood actor) and a cocky youngster (Ricky Nelson) in a nice part that was offered first to Elvis Presley, who happily demanded top billing and a bigger fee than Wayne’s. Nobody was THAT big a name.

Once again the external forces, in this case a tough group of cowboys out to release a prisoner from the town jail, are pitched against the tightly knit group, enhancing and disturbing the conflicts and relationships within. As with Angels, the crucial factors include a fragile but convincing female romance, strong male bonding, sustained humour and music – common to both films - courage tested, controlled emotions and redemption. As usual with Hawks the mood and rhythm are established carefully, even precisely and the plot line is clear and unambiguous, presenting a moral viewpoint that may seem old fashioned to modern- day viewers, even though the later film was made after the Second World War. Hawks eschews close ups, seldom has the need for long shots and creates an unfussy style full of complex but unobtrusive visual interest. His films are not pictorial. But they are full of fun, of invention and wit, representing the very best of Hollywood.


Let's Go To The Movies:  by Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai

Let Me In: UK/ US, Drama/ Fantasy/ Horror/ Mystery – I am overjoyed that this film has made it to Chiang Mai. I enjoyed the original Swedish film, Let the Right One In, very much; it played here recently at Film Space, at the Bangkok Film Festival, and has been a highly regarded film worldwide. Director Matt Reeves’s remake is a fine film in its own right, an eerie, poignant thriller that makes for a nice companion piece to its source. It stars Kodi Smit-McPhee as a lonely middle schooler in New Mexico who’s the victim of frequent bullying. He takes solace in the company of a girl from the neighborhood (Chloe Moretz). The film is filled with outstanding performances and if it doesn’t quite pack the punch of the original, Let Me In maintains its predecessor’s mix of bloody disquiet and pre-adolescent angst. At Airport Plaza only, with thanks for bringing this off-beat film to our city. Rated R in the US for strong bloody horror violence, language, and a brief sexual situation. Rated 18+ in Thailand. Generally favorable reviews, and I say don’t miss it.

Millennium 1: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Sweden/ Denmark/ Germany/ Norway, Crime/ Drama/ Mystery – in Swedish and English, with Thai and English subtitles – A densely plotted and compelling thriller, with graphic violence that will prove too much for some viewers; most, however, consider it an unforgettable viewing experience. It’s intense and frightening – filled with nightmarishly violent behavior. All three novels in the series and all three films have a large following world-wide. Rated R in the US for disturbing violent content, including rape, grisly images, sexual material, nudity, and language; 18+ in Thailand. Generally favorable reviews. At Vista only.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: US, Adventure/ Family/ Fantasy – If you’ve enjoyed the series so far, you and/or your kids should enjoy this as well, with its assortment of dragons, dwarves, and merfolk. The digital 3D version is playing only at Airport Plaza in English with Thai subtitles. They also have a 2D version, and a 2D Thai-dubbed version. Vista has only a 2D Thai-dubbed version. The 3D version apparently is of just passing quality, being another of those post-production conversions of a 2D film to something resembling a 3D film, with somewhat blurry images. In other words, this is what the Harry Potter people decided not to do, when they released their film in regular 2D instead of the 3D they had planned. Mixed or average reviews.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I: UK/ US, Adventure/ Fantasy/ Mystery – The first of the two-part conclusion to the series, and a superbly told tale, with some of the finest British character actors. Generally favorable reviews. Remember, the studio gave up on the 3D conversion for it just a few weeks ago, not wanting the film to end up as a so-so 3D product like the Narnia film, so what you have here is a 2D film. In large part it’s preparation for the next film with its final confrontation between good and evil, but there’s a good deal more in this film as well, with its menacing and meditative mood, full of darkness and foreboding.

The Social Network: US, Biography/ Drama/ History – By David Fincher. A vastly entertaining account of Mark Zuckerberg and his founding of the social-networking website, Facebook. A stellar film, impeccably scripted, beautifully directed, and filled with fine performances. You definitely must see it. Headed for Oscar contention for sure. Reviews: Universal acclaim. “A riveting, ambitious example of modern filmmaking at its finest.” At Airport Plaza only.

Paranormal Activity 2: US, Horror/ Thriller – Another “found amateur film” of “real events,” this offers some really off-the-wall scary moments, when you least expect them. And you’ll be asking yourself what did you really see happen in the last few minutes. Mixed or average reviews.

Due 23 Dec

Tron: Legacy: US, Action/ Adventure/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – The original 1982 Tron was not too good a movie about people, but it’s visuals were memorable, and its motorcycles – “light cycles” – were out of this world! I remember it fondly: a great creepy feeling to it but utterly confusing. It is remembered vividly by apparently a great number of people, has become a cult film, and has influenced the look of many movies ever since. Now, Disney is trying to build on that feeling of general good will with what they hope is not only another technically innovative and visually startling film, but a good movie in other respects as well – like, a good story. With Jeff Bridges again as the lead character, with a couple of surprises up his sleeve. And in this film, the 3D is an integral part of the experience, so yes, see it in 3D. Mixed or average reviews so far.


MAIL OPINION : By Shana Kongmun

Diversity is the key to success

Chiang Mai is proud of its Lanna heritage and rightly so; the arts, music, costumes and dance are beautiful and a pleasure to behold. That said, to focus solely on one attraction for the City and the Province is as big a mistake as focusing solely on one economic activity.

Chiang Mai should also be known for its vibrant music and arts scene, not just elephants and temples. There are so many venues around the city to keep both visitor and resident entertained it’s only a wonder any of us has time to stay in and watch a bit of television!

One of the amazing things about Japan has been its ability to continually evolve its culture, from ikebana to modern popular culture; the effect of the Japanese ability to grow something new from something old has swept around the world. The recent Japan Lanna Festival was indicative of all the things, new and old that Japan has to offer.

It’s time that Chiang Mai did the same, if all people think of when they consider a visit to Chiang Mai is temples and Khantoke dinners, they won’t stay long and they may not consider returning. However, offer them rich and varied entertainment and the attractions of the city will keep bringing people back. It would appear that tour operators are ignoring some of the more unusual venues, attractions and activities that Chiang Mai has on offer and this short sighted thinking can lead people to think Chiang Mai only has the same old same old to offer. Bored people don’t come back.

The recent push to grow Chiang Mai as a medical tourism destination with its varied spas and medical care is one such way of branching out the attractions this city has to offer. But its time to think outside of the box and for all the various attractions to be promoted. What is one person’s interest may not be the same as someone else, so to attract a broader variety of tourist, all of the multitude of attractions need to be promoted. Not just the ones that suit a narrow focus.

Chiang Mai can be the city that bridges the gap between the old and the new, and it is time that idea is pushed to those who sell the city to the world abroad.


Life in Chiang Mai: By Colin Jarvis

The Story of Christmas-For Adults Only

Once upon a time, many thousands of years ago, in a place that eventually became England, there lived a small tribe of what we now call hunter gatherers. In the long winter evenings they would gather around the fire in the centre of their little hut, their faces roasting and their backs freezing, trying to sit on the floor in a place that was not dampened by the rain leaking through the roof. They would talk about many things, of the big stone circle being built, would they have enough food to last them for the rest of the winter, could they be certain that Winter would end and Spring and Summer follow?

They were told, by the people building the big stone circle, that on a certain day the sun would start rising earlier and setting later. When this happened, they were told the spirit of fertility would wake up and start to grow the plants and trees again. The spirit of fertility became known as the “Green Man”. Even now you can see his face carved on many old buildings and he lives on by giving his name to many public houses.

When the men had finished building the big stone circle they were able to accurately predict the day when the sun would rise earlier than the day before, when the “Green Man” would wake up! We called this day winter solstice. In our modern calendar this day falls on the 21st of December. But it used to fall on the 25th of December. Over the years we have played around with the calendar).

For thousands of years their descendants, would try to appease the sun god and wake up the “Green Man” by bringing a “Yule Log”, ivy, mistletoe and any evergreen trees they could find, into their dwellings.

Until the Romans arrived!

Now it happened that the Romans worshipped, amongst others, the God Mithras. He was also the patron saint of soldiers and therefore had a great following in the invasion force. He was believed to have been born by a virgin during the winter solstice. The Romans could continue to celebrate their famous “Saturnalia” at the same time the Briton’s were waking up the “Green Man”. Over time the Briton’s gradually followed the Roman traditions, probably as a way of getting in with the bosses.

By now people had become to be more confident that Spring and Summer would follow Winter but they still felt it was a “good thing” to appease Mithras/Green Man, besides which, Roman or Briton, they all loved a good party. So they continued to bring in the Yule log, the greenery and eat as much as they could.

Gradually the influence of the Romans waned and, apart from various invasions, nothing much happened until the coming of... The Christians.

Now the Christians were determined to convert all the people in England to Christianity. They had done so in other countries and had even succeeded in Italy where they had managed to overthrow Mithras and his more senior counterparts. Their God was one who had also been born by a virgin birth and since they did not know the real birthday of Jesus they decided that he must have been born on the 25th of December, the same as Mithras. By making this decision the Christian public relations people had a much easier time persuading the Britons to worship their God. After all, to most people it was just a change of name. Things went on much as before.

At about the same time a baby boy was born to some very wealthy parents in what later became Persia in 280 AD. He grew up to become a Christian priest and later a bishop. He was well known for helping people and he loved giving presents, especially to small children. (Well he could afford it!).

One story about him is that a poor man had three daughters who were to be married on the same day. The man was so poor he could not offer any of them a dowry. The night before the wedding the three daughters placed their newly washed stockings over the fireplace to dry. That night, the priest crept into the house and put a bag of gold in each stocking. He later became known as St Nicholas. Whenever he helped people or gave presents he always liked to do so without people knowing so he would often do this at night when they were asleep. (If this is true how did people know it was him)?

St Nicholas became famous throughout Europe but in the 1500s he was banished from England by Henry VIII after his dispute with the Vatican. However, a good fun idea, such as a man who comes in the night to leave presents, should not be destroyed and so he was given a new name “Father Christmas”. However, St Nicholas still lived on in Europe and in Holland he was known as Santa Klass. The early Dutch settlers took the idea with them to America where he eventually became Santa Claus.

Because of the time of year that he appeared to be active he became mixed up with the original god of fertility, “The Green Man” and because of this he was usually depicted wearing a green suit or a green robe.

Now you may think that this is the end of the story of Christmas but no, there are three more important developments.

Throughout history the Yule log was brought into the house at Christmas in English houses. Holly and mistletoe and other greenery were also used to decorate the house at this time, a remnant of the past. The idea of a Christmas tree did not arrive in Britain until Prince Albert put one in Windsor Castle shortly after he married Queen Victoria. Pictures of this tree and its decorations were published widely and the fashion caught on. Albert was also responsible for Christmas Cards.

The second development is Santa changing his green suit for a red one. He had usually been depicted wearing green or brown, the colours of the woods. Only very occasionally did he appear in red until early in the last century. Coca-Cola decided to enlist the help of Santa Claus in promoting their beverage during the Christmas period. The graphic artist who designed the posters decided that Santa would look much better in the corporate Coca-Cola colours than the rather drab green he had mostly worn for almost 2000 years. He has been red ever since.

Christmas is now a worldwide festival celebrated in many countries which often follow religions other than Christianity. As it loses its Christian content it grows and becomes more important year by year as an international event. Santa Claus is the personification of Christmas.

A few Christmases ago, whilst in Bangkok, I asked a young Thai girl what Christmas was about. She answered straight away that Christmas was, “The festival where you give presents”. I think she’s right. Let’s celebrate it joyfully.

This is an adult Christmas story, please do not show it to anyone under the age of six or anyone who still believes in Santa.


Day Tripper: Cool season activities

Huay Tung Thao lake glows in the twilight.

By Heather Allen

With the lovely cool weather we are having, now is the perfect time to get active! There are walking tours you can do around the city, visiting the gates, various temples, museums, monuments, even one of the 12 Mosques in town. Stopping along the way to have snacks to keep you fortified.

Hand citrus from Dokmai Gardens (Photo courtesy of Dokmai Gardens)

Alternatively, you can bicycle (available for hire at many places) out to Huay Tung Thao Reservoir a mere 12 kilometers from town, the hardy can cycle up Doi Suthep, cycle out to San Kamphaeng and visit the Meuang On caves and the Crazy Horse Buttress. The roads are windy and the scenery beautiful. The truly hardy can cycle the Samoeng loop as a friend of mine did recently. It was tough but the scenery was fantastic.

A stop worth visiting in that area for the avid gardener would be the venerable Krisadadoi Resort, originally a private family retreat it was turned into a resort and has really beautiful gardens.

For the gardeners, a trip out to Dokmai Gardens also can’t go amiss, visit the weirdly hand shaped Citrus called Buddha’s Hand Citron out front, stroll through the gardens and maybe buy a plant or two from their unique Northern gardens.

Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures offers climbing for those hardier souls who do not fear heights, or a trip to Flight of the Gibbon zipping through the treetops might also appeal.

The myriad of golf courses in the area offering up some pretty terrific golf might also be a good day out. Take a trip up to some of the further courses for something different.

But, don’t stay inside watching tv with this beautiful weather. Get out and enjoy all that Chiang Mai has to offer!


BIRWATCHING TALES: By Mike Gilman

Pelicans of New South Wales

The train was punctual as it pulled us out of Sydney, Austraila bound for Wolli Creek, a half hour away. From there we drove north along the freeway towards Newcastle. It was October, 15ฐc, and springtime was in the midst of its magical pastoral phase. Bursting buds from an array of deciduous trees showed a palette of soft green hues, and elsewhere blossoms were resplendent as the sun’s rays caressed their forms. Approaching Bushells Ridge our route took us north east along route 111, to our destination Swansea. The snake-like road was undulating and tree tops began to sway in the prevailing wind. The village and islands around Swansea were surrounded by picturesque Lake Macquarie, and along its shore-line Australian Pelicans gathered. At 1.7 meters long and having a wingspan of up to 2.5 meters, in flight they resembled a Boeing 737. Simply awesome. The large pink pouched bill and characteristic black / white plumage make the species unmistakable. On occasions they take advantage of the thermal currents and have been recorded at altitudes of up to 3,000m. Swansee Heads was a ‘must-see’ haven for us, so in the late afternoon we drove out to the peninsula. Pelicans stood on huge rock forms, and the all white fronted, black backed Little Pied Cormorant flew and dived at will. This mainly solitary water bird grows up to 60cms long and is a master of fishing techniques. The path leads us through low bushes, then a blue headed diminutive bird flew out and onto a wire fence. With its black long tail cocked, the blue and black faced 14cm long beauty was the male Superb Fairy Wren. Such a delicate form and a delight to watch. Sadly it was the last time we observed this little gem.

Our route took us passed Newcastle and along Nelson Bay Road. Some of the birds we saw on the way were Cattle Egrets, Little Wattlebirds and the crested Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos. Nelson Bay is a delightful small quayside town, so neat and clean. The harbour sported yachts of all sizes and some catamarans too. The new day was gusty to say the least and as we climbed aboard a cruiser the French captain gave us sea sickness pills, and said, “ take them now, it’s rough beyond the point”. Our journey’s purpose was to hopefully see Shearwaters and if lucky the Albatross. Two hours out of port the wind raced across the deck as we clung to anything that was fixed. Dolphins swam alongside the bow and Humpback Whales on their northern migration from the Antarctic graced us with their formidable presence. Dark brown Short Tailed Shearwaters glided over the rolling swells, then we noticed a bird with large wingspan proportions circling overhead. And, as if by request it flew lower and unbelievably settled in the water close to the bow. This day my dream was fulfilled as the Shy Albatross water-danced aside the heaving bow. One meter long and with a wingspan of up to 2.5 m, it had a white forehead / crown, dark grey back and yellowish bill. So proud and majestic even in the turbulent water. And then, as if to say, ‘have you got enough photos of me now’, it lifted its wings and their down-stroke lifted it clear of the water, and away over its home-land, the mighty Southern Ocean. An immense pleasure to watch and quite unlike the fate of the Albatross in Samuel Coleridge’s famous poem, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. Looking back the famed words of Whitney Houston’s hit song, ‘One moment in time’, now seem so apt. Further bird watching adventures in Australia to continue in my next column. Enjoy the gifts of nature.