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The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Medical Insurance - how much do you understand?

Came across an interesting situation the other day regarding Travel Insurance. Most people take these out at the travel agency and the days included are enough to give you cover from the day you leave until the day your flight returns. Simple and easy to understand - but is it enough?

Imagine you are in Singapore and on the day you are leaving you are hit by a taxi. Head injury and a broken leg. You are taken to ICU and then graduate to a ward after three days. Your travel insurance expired three days ago. Where do you stand?

It appears that most, but not all, travel insurance companies will continue to pay for your hospital treatment - but for a limited time only. “Get well soon,” as the sympathy card says!

Now here is another part of the above scenario. You have now graduated to walking on crutches, you are back at the hotel and will be fit to travel in the next three days, but unfortunately you contract Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever and need more hospitalization. Your travel insurance period has already expired, and the insurance company is more than justified in rejecting this new claim.

On to another aspect of medical insurance - do you have out-patient cover as well as in-patient cover? Most people do not, as out-patient treatment is generally very cheap in this country. However, there is this thought in the collective sub-consciousness that if the out-patient bill is going to be high, then just stay as an in-patient for one night and then the insurance company will pick up the tab, because you are “insured”. Do you honestly think the insurance companies are that nave? It has never occurred to them that this could happen?

Now put yourself in the role of the insurance company, are you just going to automatically pay up, when it is obvious even to Blind Freddie that “clinically” it was not necessary for you to be hospitalized. You could have easily slept in your own bed and returned to the hospital the next day to get the results of the tests. But you don’t want to because you do not have out-patient insurance! With ‘cost containment’ being the new buzz words in the insurance industry, expect this so-called loop hole to be closed off.

Now anyone who reads this column regularly will know I promote the concept of having annual check-ups. The guiding principle behind check-ups is to find deviations from normal health patterns at an early stage. Early enough that the trend can be reversed, before damage has occurred. Examples of this include blood pressure (BP) increase which is generally symptomless, and blood sugar. It requires sky-high sugar levels before the person begins to feel that something might be wrong. And by then the sugar levels have affected vision, the vascular system and many other systems, all of which can decrease your quality of life in the future.

However, Peter Smith from AA Insurance Brokers, brought out an interesting situation, which could be vitally important for someone finding they have a chronic problem. If you have your check-up and find that you have high blood pressure, and then go and take out insurance, it is too late. You “know” about your blood pressure problem at the time of applying for the insurance, so it becomes a ‘pre-existing condition’ and your insurer is within its rights to refuse to pay for the further treatment of your blood pressure, or for any other conditions caused by high blood pressure. Including the stroke.

The simple answer, is to make sure your insurance policies are in place before having the annual check-up. In fact, I strongly advise everyone to take out medical insurance. You do not know what is round the next corner. It could be a motorcycle coming the wrong way up a one way street. Even I have insurance, and I work in the hospital, so I don’t really need it - but I can also be run over in Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Nakhon Nowhere!

Go to a reputable insurance broker and go from there. You will thank me in 15 years time!


The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Fuzzy heads and funny ears

A friend presented the other day complaining of a fuzzy head, intermittent balance problems, noises in the ear and a ‘sniffly’ nose. By the time he had stopped talking I had the auriscope in my hand and 30 seconds later we had the diagnosis - a middle ear infection, or Otitis Media.

A friend’s child was also brought along with a painful ear, and as she has had a cough and cold recently, there were enough factors to satisfy all clinical diagnoses. Once again, the auriscope was the appropriate instrument and a very brief inspection of the offending ear drum showed the scarlet flare that results from infection behind the drum, in the middle ear.

Ear infections are actually very common in small children, much more than in adults, and most ear infections involve the middle ear. By the way, we usually examine the “good” ear first, as the child is not apprehensive with the doctor examining that one, as there is no pain in it. An old trick learned from many years of practice.

Babies and young children suffer more middle-ear infections than older children because the tubes connecting the middle ear to the throat (called the Eustachian tubes) are shorter and when the Eustachian tube is blocked, fluid does not drain very well from the middle ear to the throat, and air does not get up into the middle ear space as well as it should, providing an ideal breeding ground for all kinds of bugs.

Babies and toddlers will usually suffer intense ear pain and generally have a fever. There may also be vomiting, loss of appetite, decrease in energy and some loss of hearing. In some cases, the pus will break through the eardrum. This results in a thick yellow discharge from the ear. However, the child feels better when the ear discharges as the painful pressure is gone. The burst eardrum usually heals on its own, without any need for ear drum repair.

Going straight to the cause with these two patients was not a case of brilliant diagnosis (though the plaudits of the crowd are always accepted) but purely the result of many years of experience. In any young child with those symptoms, one must always suspect and exclude the middle ear problems. Children, in particular, will pull at the offending ear, there will be no doubts about which side has the infection.

I mentioned vomiting, as one of the symptoms. Why do they vomit with Otitis Media? Probably for the same reason that people get sea sick - disruption of the normal fluid workings of the inner ear. The inner ear is intimately involved with balance, which is why the adult gave balance problems as part of his symptoms. Whatever, it is always worth asking your vomiting, febrile child if he or she “hurts” anywhere. If they point to or pull at the ear then you are most likely on the right track.

Remember that the middle ear infection does not necessarily produce an ear discharge as an initial symptom. For that to happen, it means the pus and goo trapped in the middle ear has ruptured through the ear drum. This is what we call a perforation, generally shortened to “perf”.

The treatment is a swiftly administered appropriate antibiotic. If the ear is discharging, then a culture can be taken and the exactly appropriate antibiotic chosen. If not, then most doctors fly by the seat of their pants and prescribe a penicillin derivative or one of the newer drugs. Some paracetamol to ease any pain and lower the temperature completes the package and expect junior to be better in a couple of days.

With the adults you have to also treat any ongoing or chronic sinus infections, and if the patient is a smoker, cessation is the best thing they can ever do for their sinuses.

If your child gets recurrent middle ear infections, then you really should get this investigated - including an audiogram (hearing test) to ensure there is no lasting damage.
So just remember, Mums of the world, a temperature and vomiting may not necessarily mean an intra-abdominal problem. It could all be in the ears!

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Checking up cheaply

Are check-ups really of much value? After all, we are all going to die one day - even me, though having been told you can’t take it with you, I have decided I’m not going!

However, as we get older, there are many physical changes that occur. I was reminded of this by one of the wags at the informal Gentlemen’s Club I attend some Saturday mornings, who said, “You know you’re getting old when someone compliments you on your alligator shoes - and you’re barefoot!”

Yes, as your body’s skin gets older, it starts to show it. It becomes less elastic, folds start to form everywhere, it gets thinner and tears easily, and small bruises form just below the top layer. Women try and counteract this aging process with all kinds of creams, but quite frankly, I think they are wasting their (husbands?) money. You can rub ‘moisturizing’ cream into the skin as much as you like, it will remain impervious to water (otherwise you would get waterlogged having a shower, wouldn’t you).

Unfortunately, as we get older, this body of ours tends to become a very high maintenance item. Unless we have medically planned for our future, we (that’s you), will find that it becomes an expensive item.

Take for example, your weight. Eating is fun and pleasurable, but too much of the good thing and you become overweight. When you are 30 or 40 you can joke about the beer belly, but when you are 50 and 60 and you have become diabetic and your arteries are blocked, you are in for some expensive medications for the rest of your life, some life saving cardiac surgery and you may even need to have your lower leg amputated, so throw in the price of a wheelchair into the final package.

Another item that we watch changing as we get older is our blood pressure. The old adage used to be that your blood pressure should be your own age plus 100. Like many old adages, that was total nonsense too. A 60 year old man should not ignore a BP (systolic) of 160. The cardiologists and the kidney specialists will tell you that you should maintain your BP at around 125/70 for all your life if you don’t want to have cardiac and renal problems as you get on in years.

One other aging factor that we should look out for is cancer. We know the majority of cancers develop as we get older. Should you wait for them to come, and then try to stop the progression? Stopping the cancer with expensive surgery and even more expensive chemotherapy, or stop putting ourselves ‘at risk’ in our younger years? This ‘at risk’ behavior means smoking, of course. Not just for lung cancer, but for all cancers. The expensive habit of a lifetime becomes a very expensive end of your lifetime. Why do it? It makes no sense at all. There is no ‘justification’, I’m sorry.

Unfortunately, our bodies are very much like our cars. If you look after your transport, have it regularly serviced, replace the bits that are wearing out before they totally fail and then damage the rest of the car, then your vehicle will last for many years and give very close to ‘as new’ performance for as long as you keep it. The costs involved in that preventive maintenance are very low compared to having to replace major parts.

Using that analogy on your body, if you look after it, it can also give you good service. Preventive maintenance by having regular check-ups makes sense. Look for the warning signs and correct the problems. You can even screen for ‘cancer markers’ such as alpha-Fetoprotein (AFP), Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), Prostate specific antigen (PSA), Pap smears and colonoscopies. If you are a young woman you can even immunize against Human Papilloma Virus.

However, with the current Buy One - Get One Free offer at the hospital, this is the ideal opportunity for you. Get that check-up, and one for your partner as well. Isn’t it time you gave your body the once-over?

If you want a dog who will fit into any loving environment then you’ve found the perfect dog in Kim. She is 2-3 years old, shy at first, calm, undemanding and very lovable. Can you give her the forever home she so deserves?

Contact the shelter English (08 47 52 52 55) or Thai language (08 69 13 87 01) or Email: [email protected] to make an appointment to meet her.

Adoption Fair at Central Airport Plaza

Care for Dogs is hosting an Adoption Fair at the Airport Plaza on Sunday, April 24th, 2011 (from 11am to 6pm at the entrance near KFC). We’ll have playful bundles of puppy joy up for adoption as well as some gorgeous adult dogs! We are seeking people ready to make a life-long commitment to a doggy who is eager to find a family to belong to. If you’re not able to adopt at this time but wish to make a difference in a doggy’s life, we will also be selling t-shirts, bags, soft toys, magnets, and postcards at our booth, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to participate in the fun and help us raise funds for our rescue work.

The volunteer team of Care for Dogs will be at the stand to talk about adoptions, volunteering, or answer any questions on how you can support homeless dogs in need. Hope to see you there!

3 Doggies need a home!

A caring old lady called Khun Ple asked Care For Dogs for help to find these doggies from her neighbourhood new permanent homes with loving families who really care.

Mommam a male dog 7 months old, very smart who just needs love and some hugs and some basic training. Toto, Mommam’s brother is as clever as his brother and eager to learn and with some attention easily would forget about those bad habits.

Chowgoy mother of Toto and Mommam, now 1 year and 8 months old, who because of the lack of care and attention became pregnant for the first time when about 8 months old. When looking at Chowgoy it’s clear where the cleverness of the two brothers comes from and additionally she shows great skills in catching rats!

If you can help and think you can offer one or more of those three a permanent loving home please contact Care for Dogs English (08 47 52 52 55) or Thai language (08 69 13 87 01) Email: • or Khun Ple direct on Tel. 084-5004098, email: [email protected]

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
Did you get wet over Songkrong (sic), or are you too old for that sort of thing? Me and my mates come over every year and it’s a blast I tell you. We are just sorry it doesn’t last more than a week, but we’d be too drunk to enjoy it. See you next year Hillary.
Pete and the gang

Dear Pete and the gang,
So you’ll see me next year, will you? Not if I see you first, Petal. I am sure you have no idea of what Songkran (not ‘Songkrong’, Pete) is about, the significance and the respect for the elders. You and your gang obviously have none.

Dear Hillary,
Did you go away for Songkran, or did you have to suffer the idiots with the squirt guns? I thought the guns made from water pipe were supposed to be banned? It was a mistake coming over at that time, something we will never do again. Lager louts with a license to shoot, it seemed like. Elderly, motorcycle riders, people in business outfits - it made no difference. The brainless idiots are laughing and screaming when someone else is soaked, or falls off their motorcycle after being hit in the face with ice water. We like Thailand, but never again during Songkran, until those in power grab the nettle and legislate.

Dear James,
The excesses of Songkran put everyone off, other than those tourists who are naturally aggressive, but have no place to display it in their own countries. So I suppose, in a way, it could be considered therapeutic. I did not manage to get away, but I did stay indoors and ate pizzas (because they can slip those under the door, so you don’t get caught with a bucket in the face). It seems that nobody in power is willing to grasp the nettle as you say, and restrict the festival to one day, and the same day, throughout the country. Think how the death rates would fall.

Dear Hillary,
I want to get married again next year. I have been married before, but to an American woman, and that finished a few years ago, and almost finished my bank account as well. Now that I have found Thailand, I come over for a couple of months three times a year, so there’s plenty of time to get to know someone. What is the best way to go about finding my next wife? The bars certainly make it easy to get to know someone, and there are some stunners working there. I know you warn us about the girls from the bars, but what is the alternative?
David the Divorcee

Dear David the Divorcee,
It may have cost you money in the US to get unhitched, David, but don’t think that everything in Thailand is “free”. I can assure you that it is not. The girls from the bars are professionals in keeping men happy in their own delusions, but there is always a rude awakening when the girl becomes tired of keeping the man happy. Some extra money pumped into the relationship will get it steaming along fine again - for a while - until a financial top-up becomes necessary again. Bar girl relationships are business dealings, my Petal, and are based on that. Marriages should be based on love, physical and mental attraction and a desire to make the relationship permanent and strong.
So what is the alternative to a bar? Exactly the same as in the US, David. You join common interest clubs and associations, you keep an eye out for someone who pulls your string, be that in a restaurant, bank or dental surgery. Finding a ‘mate’ is not accomplished by taking the easy way - ‘easy’ bar girls who are ready to please, ending up in a union not based on any depth at all. Other than your wallet.
Forget this idea that you want to get married next year. If the right woman comes along you could even get married this year.

Dear Hillary,
Forgive poor English, but I write any way because we tired to hear foreigner complain all time about Thai girl. Him want good fun, him want keep house, him want go butterfly any time him want but want Thai girl stay home not go bar see friends. Him stingy all the time and complain. Him get everything, go butterfly and Thai girl get nothing. Not fair.
Thai Girl

Dear Thai Girl,
Thank you for showing there is another side to any relationship. The men who fit that description should read your letter again, to see what the girls from the bar really think of you. When you are off “butterflying”, don’t think your partner doesn’t know. And remember the British phrase, “What’s good for the goose is also good for the gander.” In these relationships, where there is no trust, it is only a financial ledger that keeps the situation going. Not donating enough money to the relationship earns you the title of ‘stingy’, because that is what it is all about - finances. Many of you men should heed this girl’s words, and take a long hard look at how you relate to live-in girlfriends.

Dear Hillary,
I read somewhere that the government is going to ban any marriages between farangs and Thais if the farang partner is over 50 years of age. Surely this is a breach of basic human rights? What is going to happen for all those foreigners over 50 who have already married a Thai woman? Will the government annul such marriages? What are they trying to do with this legislation? Retired farangs put a lot of money into the Thai economy, but this will end with this kind of stupid thinking.

Dear Angry,
Did you have a look at the date you got the “information”, my Petal. It was April 1, and you (and many others) have become an April Fool. Only difference between you and the others is you were the only one to write in about the presumed grievance, which makes you an even greater April fool. Sorry.

Dear Hillary,
I’m sorry dear, but you do go on a bit about farangs who should learn Thai if we want to live here. That may be OK for you, but for some of us like me, it is not so easy when English is my mother tongue which seems totally different from Thai in every way. If we must, then where can old codgers like me go to learn?
The Artful Dodger

Dear Artful Dodger,
Now then ‘Artie’, I am sure you are not a pickpocket as that is who the Artful Dodger was in Charles Dickens, and Hillary can forgive your being unable to read Thai or speak Thai, my Petal, but are you blind as well? There are several language schools in town and they have their school name, and the languages they teach, all clearly written in English, your “mother tongue” as you put it. They have posts outside where you can tie up your Labrador and you can put the white stick beside your desk.

Dear Hillary,
I don’t know if you can help me, or at more than 70 it may be I can’t be helped, but I have a problem with my girlfriend. Her parents are alive and well and her brother manages to stay on his motorbike OK. The buffalo is not sick, as are the grandparents and she has no children that I know of. I do not ask for sex all the time, and at my age I am happy with once a week, and then it is best with Vitamin V as you call it. What happens though is that when my desires come up her's come on even stronger and she wants to go for hours and hours, and since she is young she can, but there has to be a limit. What should I do?

Dear V,
You do have such a problem, don’t you, my Petal. But the answer is simple. You must stop taking Vitamin V immediately and when you can’t perform, your girlfriend can make up her own mind whether to wait till next week after you’ve managed to wind yourself up (instead of winding up Hillary) or find an alternative. V, if you keep coming (or going) this way, you will definitely die. I think it is time that you had a little chat with your wonderful lady and explained the real situation.

Dear Hillary,
My Thai girlfriend is wonderful - except for one thing, she is timeless. She will arrange to meet me at three in the afternoon and rolls up at four saying “Sorry I’m a little late.” I don’t think one hour to be a “little late”, that’s a lot late, surely. She has been even more late than that, but every time it is the same, “Sorry I’m a little late”. Have you any ideas that I could try to get this girl to be punctual?

Dear (Punctual) Pete,
Have you tried buying her a watch, my poor punctual Petal? I suggest you buy her a digital watch, or else it will be endless descriptions of “When the little hand is at three and the big hand is at twelve...” You could also buy her a mobile phone and ring her up quarter of an hour before the appointment to remind her. Then you could also get her a motorbike, so that she doesn’t have to waste time looking for a song taew. To keep the motorcycle serviceable, it should be kept under cover, so while you’re shelling out the shekels, you may as well buy her a little house. With that kind of investment you may as well marry the girl, so that next time you write to Hillary you can begin with “My Thai wife is wonderful - except for one thing. She is timeless.” My suggestion is to jump ship now, Pete, before it all becomes too much. Thais are not noted for their punctuality, and very few of them are ever ‘on time’. The concept is, that as long as nobody is killed because of lateness, there is really no problem. That’s life in the relaxed Thai world, and you may just have to learn to live with it, or keep moving on.

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
A friend of mine is getting very tired of the ladies he meets in the bars, who only seem to be interested in money. They stay with him for a few weeks, and when he hasn’t coughed up the money for whatever they want, they move on to find another sucker who will. He has asked me where can he go to find a better class of lady in Thailand, or are they all like this. He has heard about introduction agencies. Are they worthwhile? I can’t help him because I’ve never had any experience of them.

Dear Introduction Ivan,
What is wrong with you men these days? Your friend claims the girls he meets seem only interested in money - but what is the only thing your friend seems interested in? Why does he have them living with him? To learn how to eat som tam? Here’s the first piece of advice, how about meeting the girl of his dreams the same way he would in his own country? Go to places where ‘nice’ girls go. Join groups where ‘nice’ girls go. Meet eligible ladies at parties, social gatherings, art exhibitions. He will find that these are ladies who appreciate a gentleman, but will also not race off to bed on the first date to stay for a few weeks. As has been pointed out many times - you get what you pay for, Petal. And are you sure this is for a “friend” and not for you?

Dear Hillary,
I do spend a fair bit of time at night in the bars. The old bill in the cup routine I think is very good because it shows that the bar trusts you not to lose a couple before you pay at the end of the night. Recently I have been getting the feeling that my bill is not right, because it seems to be a lot more than I thought it should. Is it OK to add the bills yourself? I don’t want them to think I don’t trust them, when they are trusting me. What is the usual thing?
Unsure Drinker

Dear Unsure Drinker,
It is your bill, and you pay it with your money. Of course you can check it. Mind you, if you are getting yourself to the stage where you can’t count past ten without taking your shoes off, you have a problem. Is this the situation? You’ve got no real idea how many drinks you’ve had, or how many “lady drinks” you’ve bought in the course of the evening? You have the choice - go on the wagon for a while or take a pocket calculator into your favorite bars.

Dear Hillary,
This is a story that touched my heart, it concerns a huge festival at Wat Doi Noi Temple in Lamphun about a month ago. I was taking a video movie and gave my pocket camera to a student named Ang. She took lots of photos which I got processed and returned them to Ang to distribute to the various people she had taken photos of.

Well that evening she phoned me to say that on giving one of the photos to a novice monk he started to cry. She asked him why he was crying and he told her in all his seventeen years he had never had a photo taken of himself. He loved the photo and put it under his robes near his heart.
So I guess if we Farang ever take photos of Thai people it would be nice to make sure they get a copy, who knows it might be the same story. It really touched me and made me feel so good to have been a part of the story.

Just a couple more things, I was involved in a bad motorcycle accident and if I had not been wearing an good crash helmet I would be dead the police told me. There were three nineteen year old lads on the bike that hit me head on, two died on the spot, the third was hospitalized like me. They had no helmets but that’s not unusual is it, no driving licenses, no registration or insurance, my hospital bill was 130,000 baht, but my 900 baht ‘Index’ helmet saved my life. Oh I did get my picture on the front page of Thai News, not a pretty one Hillary!
All the very best to you all at “The Mail” Hillary, I hope you all enjoy the Songkran season.

Dear Delboy,
Great to hear from you again, and you certainly had a narrow escape. Hillary will not travel on motorcycles, as at my age, falling off one would be very dangerous. But back to your photographic escapades. You are so correct for many of the country people. To have a photo of themselves can be quite a thrill. Particularly with today’s digital cameras, many photographers do not bother to have prints made, so the subject of the shot never gets to see it. To take the time and effort to have them printed and then distributed is very good of you, Petal. Maybe some others reading this will do the same in the future.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

The photographic 11 commandments

Despite the advent of technologies that we now take for granted, such as auto-exposure and ‘instant’ review of shots, the practice of photography remains the same. Follow the ‘rules’ and you will find your ratio of good images to bad images will improve.

Over the years, I have been asked many times to give out the “secrets” you learn in the professional photography arena. However, there are really no secrets, they are all here, just keep reading. I should add that all these tips come from real life experiences which have happened to myself and other pro shooters. None of it is made up. The 11 rules will help you. Believe!

Tip number 1. Incredibly basic, but it is simply to read the manual. Read the manual again. In the case of digital cameras, read the manual again. You cannot do it too often. With digitals, you can see the effect immediately. When all else fails - read the manual again.

Tip number 2. Always carry one more memory stick than you think you’ll need when on holidays. The shot of a lifetime will appear and you will have already filled your memory stick. When you are digital, you haven’t got the time to sit there going ‘review-delete-review-delete’ with your digital SLR.
Tip number 3. Frequently check the exposure controls on your camera, that they really are set on Auto, or Shutter priority or what your standard setting is. It is very easy to knock the controls and settings when taking the camera in and out of the bag, or even when it has been hanging round your neck.

Tip number 4. When you get the book of prints back, and the CD with the images, immediately write on them the subject material of the shots and the date. Do this with black permanent texta pen so it doesn’t rub off and you will have saved yourself hours of frustration, flicking through books of prints and CDs, while looking for “Songkran 2011”. Once again, very basic, but very necessary.

Tip number 5. When going on holidays with your camera, take spare batteries with you - always. No matter how new the batteries, if there is a failure while you are trekking in Mongolia, or just lazing on the beaches in Koh Samet you will not be able to get the correct replacement. Remember also that your camera may use more than one type of battery, another trap for young players. Keep spares of both kinds.

Tip number 6. I mentioned this next one a couple of weeks ago. Always check that the camera neck strap is indeed tight and secure on both ends. If one end lets go, the camera will hit the ground before you have time enough to react. Cameras do not bounce well, if at all.

Tip number 7. Never keep your camera in the glove box of your car. The temperatures that can be reached in the cubby hole reach as high as 50 plus degrees Celsius in our blazing summers. The newer “plastic” bodied cameras and camera backs can actually warp with the high temperature.

Tip number 8. When you decide that you want an enlargement made of one particular shot, arrange for it straight away, while you still have the CD or memory stick handy, and before it gets covered in dust, damaged and scratched, making it impossible to get a decent enlargement, and before it gets lost, even though you have written on it what the CD is about (see Tip number 4).

Tip number 9. Always put spare memory sticks or cards back in their plastic containers, and keep them in the camera bag. I even suggest you tie them in place, so they don’t get lost. When you need it in a hurry, it has to be accessible. It will happen, believe me.

Tip number 10. When shooting kids or animals for doting parents/owners, get down to the subject’s level. You’ll get a better shot!

Tip 11. Remember the Rule of Thirds. Place the subject one third in from one side and one third down from the top edge for photos that appeal.
Now that was simple, wasn’t it. Now go and apply them.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Do you really need a tripod?

I could finish this week’s column by answering the “Do you really need a tripod?” by just writing one word - “YES!” However, the editor expects another 699 before he gives the page a tick and ready for printing, so here we go.

Mini-tripod for the camera bag.

The reason that everyone needs a tripod is that by having one, this three legged device will open up completely new avenues in photography and let you produce new and different images that are otherwise way beyond your reach.

Having said all that, one of the hallmarks of the rankest amateur photographer can also be a tripod. One of those light flimsy devices that are designed to fall over with the first mild breeze. I am all for tripods, but get a decent one (though a mini-tripod for tabletops can be small and lightweight to fit in the bag).

So what can you do with a tripod that you can’t do without? The most obvious is time exposure shots. The whole secret of time exposure is to keep the camera still, and you can’t do that by holding your breath, leaning against a tree and gripping tightly, let me assure you.

Twilight photography and night photography opens up a whole new range of pictures and effects. Just the simple expedient of being able to keep the camera steady while you shoot 30 second or longer exposures will result in some great photographs. Try taking a shot just after sunset, for example. Set the camera on f11 and give it 30 seconds. You will be very pleased with the results.

Did you know that the very best landscapes during daylight hours are also best taken on a tripod? To get the huge range of depth of field necessary for these shots, you will end up with slow shutter speeds. The tripod ensures there’s no blurring. Those flowing milky, misty waterfalls are also best taken with a tripod as again a very slow shutter speed is required to capture that effect.

Even nature shots are done best with this piece of equipment. You can set up the camera and then leave it, so that the birds etc can get used to its presence, and then with a cable or remote shutter release you can get the nature photos of a lifetime.

Another type of shot that needs a tripod is the panorama. A compilation of images which when placed together form a wide angle view of any scene. This can only be done with the use of a tripod.
When shooting still life images, a tripod makes these shots a breeze. You can set up the shot and then make minute adjustments while looking through the viewfinder. Again you can use a slow shutter speed to be able to use very small apertures (around f22) to get the very fine detail into the shot.

What should you look for and what should you spend? There are several items in the specifications on any tripod you buy. The first is that it is heavy with strong legs when extended fully. The “locks” on the legs must also be secure. Another item is that the actual swivel head incorporates a spirit level, so that you can ensure the top swivels in a true horizontal arc. The tripod head should also have calibrations, so you can swing it a definite number of degrees.

A removable “shoe” is also a good item, as you can then position the camera on the tripod, but also remove the camera to take other shots but then replace it in exactly the same position. The legs should be able to be spread out widely so that you can get the camera very close to the ground, and finally if you can get one, see if the tripod shaft can be removed and turned upside down, as this can get your camera completely at ground level and immediately above an object placed on the ground.

How much will this cost? Expect to spend a minimum of 6000 baht. My own Manfrotto cost a lot more than that, let me assure you, but with now 20 years of faithful service, it has been a bargain!

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

First aid for wounded cameras

Who hasn’t fallen over in the past 12 months? If you didn’t, then you are lucky. The statistics puts it about every 10 months. However, avoiding falling over is probably the most important lesson. It is always better to have a fence at the top of the cliff, rather than an ambulance at the bottom! So let’s begin by thinking about all the disasters, how you can avoid them and what to do if the ultimate disaster does occur.

The first, and often the most common, is dropping the camera. Cameras are very complex devices full of electronic trickery and mechanical movements. The shutter on even the cheapest camera can open and close in 1/500th of a second. It doesn’t take much to knock the delicate shutter around. The camera is also a lightproof box, dropping it and distorting the case will soon let light in.

So what should be done beforehand? First is to have a decent padded camera bag. My own one cost over 1000 baht - but it will keep the camera safe in the situation of it falling out of the car or slipping from the shoulder. If you have one of those leather cases, you should throw it as far as you can. And do it today. It will not save your camera from any hard knocks.

Another important point - always loop the camera strap around your neck. OK, so now you have the camera hanging on the strap around your neck, what can go wrong here? Well the strap can slip or the eyelet rings can break, and the whole lot hits the floor unless you have lightning reflexes. Answer? Check and make sure that everything is correctly attached and not worn. Replace regularly. Especially the eyelet rings.

So it did hit the floor, what now? Turn it on. Is it still electrically OK? If no power, take the batteries out and then put them back in - they may just be jolted out of position. Unscrew the lens and put it back on. Look through the viewfinder - if it looks normal, then try to take several shots at different shutter speeds and apertures and carefully look at each one, blowing them up if necessary. Pray a lot. You may be lucky.

After dropping, the next disaster is water. Cameras are not like children, you cannot “drown proof” them. They stay drowned. In the rain you must take precautions. A plastic bag wrapped around the camera with just the end of the lens poking through, and held on with rubber bands is the way to “safe photography”. Even then, as soon as possible you should take the camera inside and dry the outside of the case thoroughly. Take the lens off and dry carefully around the lens mount too, making sure you do not touch the mirror. Take the batteries out and thoroughly dry the battery compartment and the contacts. Batteries and moisture do not go well together.

Now we should think about the great shots you can get on board speedboats and similar situations. Resist the temptation to take your good camera - you can buy a waterproof Kodak for very little money and you can relax with peace of mind. Or even one of the disposable ones. Do not take your good one!

So what do you do when you drop the whole lot in the drink? If it is a modern electronic camera you have probably just lost your investment - especially if it is salt water you drop it into. One camera technician’s advice was, “Leave it there!” However, you can try flushing the camera in running tap water for at least an hour, then drying it and taking it to the repair shop. An audience with the Pope would be a good move as well.

Drowning the camera in fresh water is not quite so bad, but you have to pull it apart as much as you can and then dry it out as thoroughly as you can - a hair dryer set on “No Heat” can help, but again your chances are slim.
The message is first aid is possible, but prevention is much better!

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Dj vu

Recently MBMG discussed “dj vu” and did this investing environment have a first half of 2008 feeling all over again? Today we have inflation fears in Emerging Markets, raging commodity prices and equity markets shrugging off so called “black swan” events. In the first six months of 2008 the economy was remarkably upbeat on growth, Vietnam had surging double digit inflation, other emerging markets were worried about inflation, Bear Stearns had to be bailed out “a black swan” and the oil price moved from US$100 to US$150 by June. The conclusion on oil is below, but this has much bigger ramifications for our tactical asset allocation over coming months.

As Scott Campbell says, “In 2008, oil passing $125 acted as a choking point for equities. Morgan Stanley says the threshold could be higher in this cycle and points out the oil price spike in 2008 acted as a drag on equities only once oil rose above $120. As oil crossed the $100 mark in February 2008, non-financial equities continued to rise in tandem with the oil price, up until the middle of May when the correlation reversed.

“The European non-financial index peaked on the 19th May, at which point oil was at $123. Oil rose a further 18% through to mid-July, during which non-financial equities fell 17%. Arguably, the point at which higher oil prices act as a significant drag on equity prices could be higher than in 2008.”

No doubt this time is different and a lot depends how long oil stays high, but at some point markets are going to get pretty scared by what they are seeing. According to our sources, each $10 increase in oil prices reduces OECD growth by 0.1% - 0.5% (depending on who you read), so with growth still fuelled (excuse the pun) by quantitative easing and fiscal spending, higher oil prices are certainly not good news for growth. Couple this with the ECB that seems hell bent on raising interest rates and one gets a horrible dj vu feeling to 2008.

We touched on commodities above. Whilst many of them are, to say the least, more than a tad volatile there is still a good argument for gold. A couple of years ago, Warren Buffet was asked if central banks around the world would sell off the US Treasury holdings they owned. Buffet said this was very unlikely as they would have to convert them into an alternative currency and, over the long run, nothing was better than the US Dollar.

However, is this the case and is it true? I do not believe it is. More than a few countries are building up their gold reserves - with China leading the way. In 2004, the Chinese had 600 metric tons of gold. A couple of years ago this had grown to over 1,050. It is not a secret that the central bank wants to increase this. It is also interesting to note that China has quietly been selling its US Treasuries recently.

As the Spanish philosopher Santayana once said, “Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.” Without doubt, there have been times when alternatives to gold have come to the fore; e.g., the Greenback in the American Civil War and Roosevelt rejecting gold in the 1930s both come to mind. However, gold has been around for thousands of years and is valued more than ever - remember it has risen dramatically over the last couple of months. Its time is coming again and we do not think it unlikely that by the end of next year gold will be at a minimum of USD2,000 per ounce.

In conclusion, we were overweight risk assets from mid last year until recently. We are currently around benchmark weightings, so neutral risk assets, and watching every day for the flashing red lights. In no way does this mean we are forecasting an H2 like 2008 and notwithstanding equity valuations and a normally positive Year 3 US Presidential cycle, if certain events and policy decisions occur, the second half of this year will be difficult to say the least.

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]

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Inflation - The Canary in the Coal Mine

As asset allocators, one of the most important debates we have is our view on inflation, disinflation and deflation. The reason is really very simple, as getting this call right largely determines whether one makes positive or negative returns for investors. So, on that subject, I thought I would share some of the insights of MitonOptimal.

So far this year, the press has been inundated with stories on rising inflation; just to put this into perspective, Joanne Baynham of MitonOptimal did a Google search recently and asked to see all the stories on inflation over the past month alone and the number of hits was four hundred and thirty five million, contrast this with the same search on deflation and the number was a little over one million. Clearly the world is worried and with food prices going sky high, it is not hard to see why. But whilst rising food prices affect everyone and the poor especially, one needs to step back and ask whether these increases will lead to more permanent inflation, or if these are temporary in nature.

On that subject our view is that it depends where you are living in the world, to determine the “stickiness” of inflation. In the developed world, at the moment, it is hard to see inflation running away, especially when consumers are still so highly indebted, unemployment remains high and the output gap is still large. But at the same time, we do see prices rising - not falling - going forward, as growth continues to be upgraded, output gaps narrow and companies find themselves with more pricing power. Germany is an excellent example of this, with inflation consistently higher than expected and wage inflation starting to bite thanks to strong export growth with Asia.

The UK is another such example with inflation coming in at 4% in mid/late February, way above the target of 2%, but in the case of the UK it is hard to see this becoming entrenched, as wage inflation remains anaemic, house prices are stagnating (a good proxy for consumer confidence) and a government determined to cut back on fiscal spending. The US is similar to the UK, in the sense that headline inflation might be rising, but not core inflation, and once again the labour market being slack in that economy is helping to keep inflation expectations under control.

In the emerging world, inflation has a far greater chance of becoming more permanent. Higher food prices have a far greater impact on inflation as they are a much larger component of the CPI basket and companies have less slack and hence more pricing power to pass increases on to the consumer. The tricky aspect of inflation in emerging markets (EM) is to establish whether commodity prices are going up because of supply or demand issues, but given the actions of central bankers in the EM, one would have to conclude that they are more concerned about demand leading to higher commodity prices, otherwise they would not be so intent on rising interest rates and reserve requirements for their banks.

So on balance where does that leave us? In the opinion of MitonOptimal, based on the fact that core inflation remains relatively contained and slowly rising in the developing markets (DM), they continue to be overweight equities and underweight bonds. But there will be a point when fears over higher inflation lead to concerns about higher interest rates and this tends to lead equities markets lower. However, they do not believe there is cause for concern yet. The FT recently noted that CPI at 4% could be the line in the sand, as this has traditionally been the point where equity markets have sold off. US consumer prices have risen above 4% fourteen times since 1927 and on every occasion except one, markets have fallen by 5% and sometimes even more. In the EM region they see inflation going higher still and hence are underweight equities and bonds, given concerns about rising interest rates in this region and the fact that real rates remain negative in many EM markets.
Given all of this you can see that market timing is vital and being in multi-asset, multi-managed funds which are liquid is equally as important.

New York Times best-selling financial writer John Mauldin recently wrote a piece entitled “Some Thoughts on Market Timing”. While Mauldin, like ourselves, believes in long term themes and is not a short term market timer he highlights the need to identify major trends. Mauldin refers to the work of the team at Sentiment Traders who distinguish between “smart and dumb money”.

We would never be so judgmental but we believe that too many investors fail to diversify adequately and fail to adjust their portfolio allocation according to changing economic conditions. A totally passive portfolio will be wrongly aligned for significant parts of the economic cycle, only producing optional performance when the lucky coincidence of economic conditions line up with the bought and held portfolio.

We believe that this is because most investors are better at recognising opportunity than risk and, therefore, are great buyers but sometimes lack an exit strategy to sell - the most successful investors know where the entrance and exit is for any asset they buy.

That doesn’t mean that we condone day trading. This is only for the brave and skilled investors. Time and again the proof is that trading with too short term a focus fails to allow enough exposure to the potential trends and incurs too high costs. However, adaptive asset allocation means identifying medium to long term trends - typically 18 months or longer but reflecting the ever changing investment landscape in an ever evolving portfolio allocation decisions - or as Lord Keynes said, “ Sir, where the facts change, I change my mind - what do you do?”
Even more dangerous is whimsical changing of trends, after the event - last year we wrote about non-expert investor psychology. (See the illustration 1)

Illustration 1

Maybe the best historical example of this is Sir Isaac Newton and the South Sea Bubble. Newton sold his 7,000 of stock for a 100% profit but re-entered the market at the top, losing 20,000 and lamenting, "I can calculate the motions of the heavenly bodies but not the madness of people."

Illustration 2

The best recent example is probably Sean Quinn and the well-publicised near collapse of the Anglo Irish Bank, which wiped out at least €1 billion of the family's wealth. It is widely believed that the Quinn Family had acquired up a 25% stake, mainly through contracts for difference. Quinn had continued to buy stock as the share price fell but his averaging in strategy proved useless when the bank had to be nationalized by the Irish government to prevent complete collapse.

If you are not confident on making decisions yourself or, even if you are but need a sounding board then the following may help:

* Investment Professionals take the emotions out of the decision making process of trading.

* It is not only about finding the right asset class but knowing when to get in, looking for any changes in fundamentals that would change the outlook for the asset and, finally most important of all, knowing when to get out.

* Many people will get in to something (buy) quite quickly or easily but it is the selling that is the hardest decision to make and the most critical as the average person tends to sell either way too early or much too late.

* Now with unprecedented QE2 and global financial crisis skewing markets around the world making even old timing indicators less relevant, it is even more imperative to leave it to the experts.

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]

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Don’t go Dutch

With many thanks to Tim Price, Director of Investment PFP Wealth Management:
Mention ‘Holland’ to people and you conjure up a variety of associations. Some think of a longstanding and spicy relationship of trading and military sparring with Britain that was formally salved with the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Some think of an impressively cultured and polyglot race. Some of us think of about two full school terms devoted to the Dutch Revolt that never actually featured in our History A-Level Exam, so thanks for that, Oxford and Cambridge Board. Now we can add another facet to this colourful and otherwise learned country: the bullying of an innocent pension fund.

Website Zero Hedge reports that De Nederlandsche Bank went to court and forced the glassworkers’ pension fund to sell most of its holdings in gold. The court sided with the central bank and ruled that the glassworkers’ pension fund, with a 13% allocation to bullion, was investing in a way “inconsistent with the interests of the participants”. Dutch pension funds are apparently, on average, invested in commodities to the order of 2.7%. Whether gold should even be viewed as a commodity is open to question. We would, of course, argue: “No, it’s natural money, and always has been.” But at a time when central banks globally are busily depreciating their currencies (translation: stealing from their own citizens), what is extraordinary about the ruling is De Nederlandsche Bank’s belief that the price of gold fluctuates too much for it to be classified as an investment. If the price of gold fluctuates then what about the value of paper currency?

Not only developing nations but western governments have form when it comes to stealing from their own citizens. Putting to one side recent raids on pension funds (the UK, France, Ireland) the most notorious and pertinent comparison with the current Dutch ruling was the US Executive Order 6102 of 5th April 1933, under which President Franklin Roosevelt forbade the hoarding of gold coin, bullion and certificates by American citizens.

We checked with an informed source [hat-tip and thanks, Eric] and the Dutch story and ruling appear to be correct (if not necessarily moral or legitimate in a broader sense). The ruling hinges on whether gold is money or currency (which the pension fund argued), or merely a commodity. But the upshot is that the fund is now forced to sell the majority of its (highly profitable) holding in bullion and replace it with government bonds, which one might fairly call instruments of confiscation in themselves.

Man has used a variety of things as money during our relatively brief economic history - including salt, cattle, shells, nails, tobacco, cotton, copper, silver and gold. Invariably, precious metals have been selected over the alternatives on account of their scarcity, durability, divisibility and beauty. The most important point, though, is that they were never forced on us. Through a gradual process of free choice, precious metals won against all other media of exchange in a free market. Man grew to using precious metals as money out of what Jrg Guido Hlsmann calls, “The spontaneous convergence of many individual choices, a convergence that was prompted through the objective physical characteristics of the precious metals.”

Jrg has written a definitive history of “The Ethics of Money Production” and this fascinating book contains the equally fascinating observation that in no period of human history has paper money ever spontaneously emerged in a free market. “No western writer before the eighteenth century seems to have even considered that the existence of paper money was possible.” The history of pure paper money (unbacked by anything of tangible value) is a history of government coercion, of the adoption of paper money through government-sponsored breach of contract and violations of private property rights.

Monopoly paper money requires a police force and judiciary to compel its use and the abandonment of all other legitimate alternative monies.

So the Dutch ruling touches on a wider existential problem for investors. The Dutch courts and central bank have evidently successfully argued that only government-sanctioned monopoly currency is true money, and the likes of gold and silver - which have been in use as natural money for up to 6,000 years - mere commodities. But by defining our wealth and assets in the form of unbacked paper currency which is guaranteed to depreciate in real terms through government manipulation, we are essentially being forced into a monetary arena of value destruction.

Jrg’s central argument, in which we wholly concur, is that government-sponsored paper money, in conjunction with the fractional reserve banking system operated globally to the advantage of the banking lobby, is an inherently inflationary construct. Of course, under the Austrian definition, we have been living with inflationary conditions since the financial crisis broke, in the sense that the money supply has been aggressively inflated in the western (insolvent) economies. The “inflationary” rise in the prices of goods and services is merely the inevitable second stage outcome of the original money printing.

Jrg argues that the main reason monetary institutions were created was to “allow an alliance of politicians and bankers to enrich themselves at the expense of all other strata of society.”

And of course the febrile climate of hostility to banks and bankers persists, despite the somewhat token efforts of politicians to defuse it. The bankers’ tin ear to criticism surely stems from an equally existential sense that to acknowledge the legitimate anger of taxpayers and non-bank workers is to acknowledge the essential truth of Jrg’s argument - that the fix is in, that the people are slowly waking up to the fact, and that the monetary and financial system forced on us by the sly collusion of political and banking interests may be facing its Waterloo.

It would be ironic indeed if just as the people of Tunisia and Egypt were overthrowing despotic leaderships and struggling towards democracy, the citizenry of the impoverished western economies were abandoning a failed democratic and economic model in search of something plainly more honest and ethical. The potential outcome of the Dutch pension case is that investors throughout the UK, the US and the Euro zone will think increasingly hard not just about the composition of their portfolios, but where they would like those same assets to be safely custodied beyond the grasping and ever-acquisitive hand of their own government. If western governments really wanted to see huge asset outflows toward fundamentally more stable economic and banking regimes, the bell has just been rung by the Dutch courts. No doubt a growing number of pension trustees will soon be spending a lot more time examining their trust deeds in fine detail.

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]

Let's Go To The Movies:  by Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai through April 20

Source Code: US/ France, Mystery/ Romance/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – A film everyone is raving about. I can personally verify that it’s simply terrific in all ways as a thriller and mystery. It stars an excellent Jake Gyllenhaal as a soldier who wakes up in the body of an unknown man and discovers he's part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train. A younger brother to Inception, it has the complex infrastructure of top-tier science fiction. Gripping, well directed, well acted, highly recommended. Generally favorable reviews. Thai dubbed at Vista.

Rio 3D: US, Animation/ Adventure/ Comedy/ Family – A simple and charming movie, big and bright. Set in the city of Rio de Janeiro and the lush rainforest of Brazil, this comedy-adventure centers on Blu, a rare macaw who thinks he is the last of his kind. With Jesse Eisenberg, late of The Social Network, as the voice of Blu. From the makers of the Ice Age series. Generally favorable reviews. In digital 3D at Major; 2D and Thai-dubbed at Vista.

King Naresuan III: Naval Battle: Thai, Drama/ War – The third chapter (of at least four chapters) of the King Naresuan epic, continuing the story of Thai's king and warrior in the Ayudhya era who fought against the invasion of Burmese troops that aimed to overpower the Ayudhya Kingdom. The filming of the story of King Naresuan began in 2002 and is still continuing on the huge set built in Kanchanaburi (and which is open to the public as a sort of theme park). Nearly the whole army garrison in Kanchanaburi is in the movie as extras, plus hundreds of elephants, horses, and other animals. Sort of a 10-year public works project for the province. The production aspects are superbly rendered: the costumes, the sets, the set decoration. The details are superb and reflect a lot of research in the design, and much skill and craftsmanship in the execution. If the emotions and plot seem wooden, remember the difficulty in creating a drama that offends absolutely no one (with the single exception of the Burmese; that’s allowed). The film is rated “P” for “Promote” – meaning the Thai government has given it its seal of approval, and everyone should go see it. I personally found the blood and gore of the endless killings at the climactic battle to be too much. It is, to be sure, spectacular. With English subtitles, and Vista has a Thai-only version as well.

Hop: US, Animation/ Comedy/ Family – The funny and entertaining story of the Easter Bunny's teen son and his quest to make a name for himself. With a live-action James Marsden and cuddly-cute animated bunnies and chicks. Mixed or average reviews. At Vista only, and Thai-dubbed only.

Let the Bullets Fly: (Thai-dubbed only/ no English subtitles) China, Action/ Comedy – Set in China during the warring 1920s, a notorious bandit chief descends upon a remote provincial town posing as its new mayor, intent on swindling the populace. He soon meets his match in the tyrannical local crime boss, leading to a deadly battle of wit and brutality. Written and directed by Jiang Wen, and starring Jiang Wen and Chow Yun Fat, this clever and satirical film is hugely popular in China, and its biggest box-office hit ever. Rated 18+ in Thailand. Airport Plaza only.

World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles: US, Action/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – Here the invaders are aliens, and I guess the movie is designed to show how Marines would likely handle an attack from extra-terrestrials, if it were all up to them. Los Angeles becomes the last stand for mankind and Marine staff sergeant Aaron Eckhart and his new platoon must draw a line in the sand and take on the enemy. Marines from Camp Pendleton helped train the actors for their roles, educating them in the Marine way of doing things, and a number of actual Marines also appear as extras in the film. I enjoyed Aaron Eckhart in this film – felt it was a very good performance indeed. And I thought it was overall a fair action film. Generally unfavorable reviews.

Scream 4: US, Horror/ Mystery/ Thriller – Gentle, grandfatherly, scholarly Wes Craven revisits his horror franchise. Rated R in the US for strong bloody violence, language, and some teen drinking. Rated 18+ in Thailand. You know what you’re in for. Thai-dubbed at Vista.

Ha Zard: Thai, Comedy/ Drama – When a university of comedians is facing a downturn and all its comedians are endangered, some comedy students team up to save everyone’s career. Has at least a cameo from every comic in Thailand, plus excessive excrement and flatulence comedy routines – so very popular. Some really gross stuff. English subtitles only at Major.

Nang Pee / The Cinderella: Thai, Horror/ Mystery – On a movie set, a hot-tempered superstar named Rashane has a quarrel with the movie crew, and it leads to the unexpected death of Rashane and an aftermath of horror when Rashane's corpse comes back from the grave to get revenge. The preview shows bloody scenes of the skin being ripped off a man’s back, and the top of a skull removed to get at the brain below. Your move! Thai only, with no English subtitles; at Vista only, 18+.

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

A flower with only one petal.

A mai makhaa flower has only one red petal and four green sepals. There are 7-8 fertile stamens and three rudimentary infertile stamens. This is a sight rarely seen, because the tree is uncommon and because the flowers are normally displayed high up in a tree. Welcome to Dokmai Garden to see the small wonders of nature.

Mai makhaa (Afzelia xylocarpa, Fabaceae) is a famous wood for making floors and furniture in Thailand. Its burgundy red wood has made large trees rare in Thailand, and the last few specimens will soon be gone in Laos and Burma. A massive gigantic tree is an impressive sight, worthy the Spartan army in strength and endurance. In a previous blog I discussed its peculiar stone-heard seeds that resemble gun bullets. If you ask the Thai locals about the flowers of this native tree, most will patiently explain it has no flowers.

Personally I find the flowers of mai makhaa quite attractive. In fact, the first ones ever produced at Dokmai Garden emerged yesterday on some four year old rods. I was very excited, and so I spent a lot of time on a ladder simply adoring our new attraction. Love and respect!
It is a Happy New Year!

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

Seidenfadenia – a fantastic orchid!

Sometimes you read about a plant in a book and it seems plain, one in a crowd. Then you see it in reality, and you are hopelessly in love. That was the case with Dendrobium albosanguineum, and my new crush is Seidenfadenia mitrata!

The pink and white flowers just opened up. They are gorgeous, and so different from the entangled mass of aerial roots and greyish green string-like leaves. It is only known from Burma and Thailand. The Dokmai Garden specimen is a part of the Corien and Folbert Bronsema donation.

How do you separate this species from any of the other 1100 Thai orchid species? To begin with, it is an epiphytic orchid, meaning it lives in the trees, not in the ground. Secondly, it has no pseudobulbs, i.e. swollen nutrient storage organs like in Bulbophyllum and so many Dendrobium. Thirdly, the leaves are not flat, and they are not cylindrical (terete), they are cylindrical with a longitudinal groove – very special! The leaves hang down like strings. One leaf of the Dokmai Garden specimen is 88 cm long and 4 mm broad. Fourthly, the flowers have a spur, and fifthly, the spur is pointed forward! The lip is flat like a chin and very stiff, like a concrete landing platform for pollinating insects. With this combination of characters it should be easy to identify it.

What about its scientific name Seidenfadenia? The name honours the Danish diplomat and orchid specialist Gunnar Seidenfaden (1908-2001). He was the Danish ambasador in Thailand in 1955-1959, and he arranged several expeditions in 1956-1984. He described over 120 new orchid species from Southeast Asia. This species was originally described as Aerides mitrata in 1864 by Heinrich Gustav Reichenbach but was transferred to the new genus Seidenfadenia by Leslie Andrew Garay in 1972.

Would you like to become immortal by lending your name to a new plant species? Make a significant donation to the Orchid Ark before May 7 and you shall be remembered for ever. We can not promise your name will be latinised for a new orchid species, but there are many other new plant species described from Thailand. Anyone who significantly contributes to their survival deserves recognition.

Although claimed to be fairly common in the evergreen forests of northern Thailand, I have never seen Seidenfadenia mitrata in the wild, so I guess it was common a few decades ago. This native orchid will be pollinated within the Orchid Ark program. You can help it survive! [email protected]

Life in Chiang Mai: By Colin Jarvis

Songkran - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I have to say that I am a relieved now that Songkran is over. It's not that I do not like fun; “Sanuk” suits me as well as anyone. It's just that I think Songkran has got out of hand and sometimes is very dangerous.

Songkran is a spiritual time. It is a time when the house is cleaned thoroughly to get rid of all the dust left over from the dry season. It is a time when one cleans the Buddha, and other religious effigies. It is the time to meet up with family and friends and rejoice in these relationships.
Traditionally one would pour a small cup of water over the shoulder of friends and family. t is a gentle reminder of the importance of human relationships over material possessions. Over the last few years the volume of water has gradually increased until we have today’s "Aqua Armageddon".
It is a shame that we have lost the gentleness of this charming tradition and replaced it with a Rambo style battle.

The worst offenders are often visiting foreigners who seemed to become 10 years old once again. They buy huge water tanks for their backs and powerful guns that will fire water 30 feet or more. They have no idea of the traditions or the meaning behind the festival they just simply go mad for a while. If they want to do this I would like to recommend that they go paint balling up in Mai Rim.

Some go really berserk. Last year I saw a group of five farang with large buckets of water which they were throwing, forcefully, over passing motorcyclists. Never mind that the motorcyclist was a family carrying a small baby: they went after everyone. Several motorcyclists were almost thrown to the ground by the force of the water. These people would not listen to an appeal for common sense and continued with their pointless and aggression, presumably long after I had left the scene.

The use of the bucket is not confined to farang. Indeed, last year I was knocked off my motorcycle by an unexpected deluge which threw me off balance and this year three of my friends have had a similar experience. Surely this is stupid! This year I decided not to use my motorcycle at all during Songkran which is sensible but should really be quite unnecessary.

When the water is thrown by buckets, rather than expelled by water pistols, the roads become saturated. This is after perhaps six months of dry weather and so the film of oil and brake dust, coupled with the water, forms an incredibly slippery surface. Last year I saw a small motorcycle, carrying two young girls, fall over in front of a pickup truck. The pickup truck slammed on its brakes and immediately spun almost 360. Luckily the girls were not run over but they were severely hurt, as was their motorcycle. What is the point? This is not "Sanuk"!

At Songkran, in my wife's village, my face is painted white, I am given a drum and we all process to the Temple. Following this, the village puts on some fantastic entertainment and provides a great food and any beverage you're likely to want. Everyone in the village has a great time and though water is thrown, it is thrown gently. I spend the day, soaking wet, but smiling throughout.

The Farang Rambos seem to be getting rid of the frustrations of their everyday lives. They have no conception of the joy of the coming of the rain, the cooler weather and the growing of the crops. To them it is cheap paint balling, it has no cultural significance, and it has no place in Thai culture.
Why can't people get rid of their frustrations by writing an article such as this? You don't get wet and no one falls off a motorcycle!

Life in Chiang Mai: By Colin Jarvis

What a Wonderful Week!

Last week I had a terrific time. I had often heard of Chiang Mai's famous cricket sixes but had never managed to be in the right place, at the right time to enjoy them. Last week was a different and a delightful experience.

First, I should perhaps explain that when I should have been learning cricket in the UK I was actually in High School in America. Whilst there, I specialised in "Track", known in England as athletics, and when I returned to the UK this was the sport I played.

But I loved cricket. I realised it was too late to become any good at the game but I could enjoy watching it and did so, at every opportunity, and at every level. I discovered that watching a village team on Sunday afternoon can be every bit as entertaining as being at the Oval watching an international match.

Then one day I was asked to join the board of the National Playing Fields Association. My activities working with this excellent organisation caused me to be invited to become a Lord's Taverner. I helped set up the North West committee and helped develop a new concept called "Quick Cricket".

Can you possibly imagine my delight when, on Friday afternoon, I turned a corner, at the San Miguel Chiang Mai Cricket Sixes and there, in front of me, was a bunch of young children playing Quick Cricket. Something I had a helped give birth to, over 30 years ago, was still alive and well. I was thrilled to pieces. More importantly, I was delighted by the enthusiasm and skill shown by the children playing.

Many of the teams who participated were either entirely or partly formed by Thai people. It is wonderful to see that Thailand has such a pool of cricket talent. I believe that, providing Thai cricketers can organise their governing body to think on a bigger scale than at present, then Thailand could become the centre of cricket in Asia. Australia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and no doubt others I have forgotten, can all put forward top quality cricket teams. Many hundreds of Thai people had been educated in the UK, Australia and Singapore where the game is very strong and they often learn to play from a very early age. Thailand is in the centre of all these places and would make a natural hub for nurturing this amazing game.

If Quick Cricket can be taught in Thai schools then I am sure, within 20 years, Thailand could be winning some serious international trophies.

What made this event even more enjoyable was that the catering was of a good standard and there was no queueing as there often is at other sporting events. The whole atmosphere was relaxed and even non-cricket lovers were enjoying the experience. The party atmosphere was regularly enhanced by the musical comments of Roddy Lorimer, the trumpeter. Roddy, by the way, will shortly be moving to Chiang Mai so watch out for his musical expertise.

It was interesting to see the cricket improve during the week. As teams were gradually knocked out, the scores relied more on the skills of the batsmen rather than the lack of skill of the bowlers. On Saturday the quality of the cricket was first rate, the final being decided on the last ball. Truly a nail biting final whichever team one supported, if either. As the week wore on it was obvious that less beer was being drunk and players were becoming more serious. However, whether one watched at the beginning or the end of the week the cricket was well worth seeing.

This may be because of the unusual format. It is a knockout competition where each team consists of only six people. Each team has one chance to bowl and one chance to bat. Only five "overs" of six balls are bowled by each team. A "wide" ball gives the batting team four runs. I won't go into any more detail otherwise I will need another thousand words minimum. The point is that if the bowlers are not too good they will give away more runs than the batsmen are likely to earn for themselves and indeed this happened early on in the week.

Whether you know anything about cricket or not I can promise you that the Chiang Mai Sixes is a fantastic competition to follow. Currently there is no entrance fee and parking is very easy at the Gymkhana club.

Next year the sixes will be held from the first to the seventh of April. If you are not a cricket fanatic just pop into the Gymkhana club for half an hour or so, early on in the tournament and see how you like it. If you do find it fascinating and I am sure you will, turn up several times during the week and you will be determined not to miss the finals.

Everyone in Chiang Mai should be proud of the amazing team who did such a wonderful job of organising the event and we should thank all those who took part especially those who came many thousands of miles away from Europe, Australia or other parts of Southeast Asia.
I had a great time and I hope you will too, next April.