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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Family Money

Personal Directions

The Doctor's Consultation by Dr. Iain Corness

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Recipes from Rattana

Family Money: Adding some shine to your portfolio

By Leslie Wright,
Managing director of Westminster Portfolio Services (Thailand) Ltd.

You may recall that back in 1999 some ‘Newly Industrialised Countries’ (or ‘NICs’ - which used to be called ‘The Third World’ before that term became politically incorrect) - were complaining that they would be adversely affected by certain First World industrialised countries’ plans to sell off their gold reserves.

Since several of the poorest of these NICs are gold producers - indeed, their economies depend upon it - they were claiming that once the sell-off of several hundred tonnes of the precious metal hit the market their economies would be hurt to the extent that they would require additional aid (from the First World, of course) to offset their losses, which they estimated would amount to the same as the industrialised countries expected to receive from their sale of their gold reserves.

The IMF gave in to the protests and instead revalued its gold reserves on its balance sheet, thereby avoiding open market sales of gold and giving it more assets with which to furnish debt relief to poor countries.

The rationale was: Don’t sell the gold openly because it will hurt the economies of the very countries we are trying to help (despite the fact that they resent that help afterwards); and since we have to help them, partly by forgiving part of their indebtedness (rather similar to banks here having to write off individuals’ Non-Performing Loans), let’s raise the value of the gold reserves on our books so we appear to have more assets on our balance sheets to give to - pardon me - to assist these poor countries.

That sounds a bit convoluted, and smacks of ‘constructive accounting’, doesn’t it? And this was the IMF back in 1999 - long before the corporate revelations of last year!

At that time the price of gold was around $252 an ounce - down some 13% from US$290 an ounce a year earlier. The sales of gold reserves by the USA and UK went ahead, and the price of gold did drop a bit, but not enough to bankrupt the whingeing NICs.

More recently, with equity markets having slid down a slippery slope for nearly three years, and interest rates at all-time lows, gold has regained much of its lustre. Indeed, the latest gold rush has seen the yellow metal’s price rise by 18% over the past year to $322 an ounce. And as the FTSE Gold Mines index climbed 30% over the same period, investors who’ve held onto their gold hordes are smiling broadly.

A golden answer?

So is gold the answer to investor’s prayers for somewhere safe to park their money till equities recover? Analysts remain guarded in their optimism, but admit that last year’s performance reveals the real long term qualities of gold as an unrivalled investment. The World Gold Council - unsurprisingly - is urging investors to consider an element of gold in their portfolios as we witness the metal performing well while all other markets plummeted through the floor. And as the situation in the Middle East worsens analysts expect the price to rise higher.

Other analysts inject a note of caution pointing out that although investment demand for gold has undoubtedly picked up, this market remains small: just 10% of current global demand is for investment purposes. Similarly, although the demand for gold for industrial purposes has grown - principally for computer semiconductors and microcircuits - the giant’s share, 80%, remains centred on jewellery.

It may surprise some readers to learn that the world’s largest consumer of gold is India. In 1998 alone, Indians bought 815 tonnes of gold - more than the total reserves of the Bank of England (715 tonnes) which the Bank was about to sell on the bullion market.

Traditionally, 25% of the Indian demand has been for investment, with the remaining 75% going to jewellery and industrial applications. Indeed, gold jewellery has always been an important part of Indian culture, and the old jibe about an Indian woman wearing her husband’s bank balance may have more than a grain of truth in it.

Although it is difficult to put a precise figure on the total amount of gold in India, one survey estimated there may be as much as 128,000 tonnes of the metal there, with about 9,000 tonnes held by private individuals. (The report didn’t speculate about who’s holding the other 119,000 tonnes.) And to save you searching for your calculator, 9,000 tonnes is worth just over US$100 billion at current prices...

However, putting this figure into perspective, it works out at only about $100 per head of current population. Nonetheless, even this modest figure is more than the per capita holdings of privately-held gold in most industrialised countries.

How to get some

Expat investors can get their hands on gold in several ways. First, you can buy the pure 24k metal as gold bullion. This is sold as bars, or wafers, and is sold by weight starting at one gramme and going up to 400 troy ounces (that’s about 12.5kg). The price you’ll be quoted includes the seller’s commission and investors should be aware that the smaller the bar being purchased, the higher the commission will be charged.

Gold bullion coins are usually sold as one troy ounce or in fractions of an ounce. With coins, it is the gold content which determines the price, to which the seller will add a premium depending on the number of coins being purchased. All gold market experts warn investors that there is a large difference in the price for which gold bullion is being bought and sold. So, buyers need to be aware that they could lose heavily if they tried to sell a recent purchase of gold. This is a long term investment. The good news is that gold is free of VAT in EU countries.

Offshore funds which deal in gold equities, which are geared to the gold price, are a useful route for expats - but expect a considerable degree of volatility inherent with these higher risk investment funds. But to cite just one example, Merrill Lynch’s Gold and General Fund, launched in 1988, has delivered a 12.4% annualised return over the past five years and last year gained a staggering 73%...


Personal Directions: We all have to live in one world

By Christina Dodd,
founder and managing director of Asia Training Associates

I’ve been doing quite a bit of travelling lately and although it can be a great time-waster, I have tried to make the best out of it by using it as time to research the behavior of those around me. I am constantly taking quiet note of how people behave in certain situations and surroundings, and it never ceases to amaze me.

Simple and kind actions and courtesies seem to have “gone with the wind” and we seem to distrust everyone around us as we immediately divert our eyes if our eyes come into contact with another’s. A typical example is when sitting on a bus or a train, particularly facing people such as on the BTS, when suddenly your eyes meet someone else’s! Huh, gasp ... what do you do? The immediate reaction is to look away and to pretend that your eyes never met. You gaze at the window or the floor or look around for something - other than a person - to look at. It becomes quite comical as numerous gazes flit around the cabin trying to find a comfortable and non-threatening resting place.

It’s the same when you walk along the street. Most people look down at the ground, busy and lost perhaps in their own thoughts and purpose of the moment. When in this frame of mind, there is no thought to even gaze at anyone else. It’s a case of getting down to business and getting form A to B as quickly as possible. Even to the point where you might bump into or walk into someone and continue on your way without so much as a “pardon me”.

More common than this is the “banging the door in the face” exercise that is carried out almost every second of the day. No matter where you are in the world, there are experts at this who have got it down to a fine art, and with precision timing.

Then there are the people who can never say please or thank you. They “may” mean it deep down inside - but why don’t they say it? We live at a pretty hectic pace with all sorts of obstacles being thrown at us, but it doesn’t mean that we should abandon the pleasantries and courtesies that make us uniquely human?

If you watch the activities that go on around you every day and observe how many times people could have said thank you - but didn’t - you will be very disappointed. I was in a Seven Eleven the other day and out of all the customers who were served - not one person took the time to say thank you when they received their change. Sure - the bell that goes off when the door opens does have an annoying quality to it and quite frankly it drives me up the wall. But it shouldn’t stop us from saying “thank you” should it?

In the bank, at the paper shop, paying the bills, at the roadside food stalls, getting change at the BTS, in the post office - anywhere - it takes such little time and effort to be thankful. I try to make it a habit of always greeting people first, then completing the task at hand and then saying thank you.

I know some of you reading this are probably thinking - why go to so much trouble? Well, I believe it is a case of whatever you give - you get back. I get friendly service and much better treatment than the numerous number of cranky and arrogant faces that service people have to confront most of the time.

I happen to think that our behavior towards each other is of such importance that if we don’t start to do something about our current and dismal state of performance, then we are really headed down a very dark road. I’m also slow going through doors because I make sure that if there is a person behind me, they are not going to get hit in the face with a whopping great piece of glass. I’ll hold the door for them every time. And it’s nice when someone does that in return.

It restores my faith in human nature when I see people taking the time just to be nice and civil in their behavior towards each other and it has to start from somewhere and someone - and that is each of us isn’t it?

If our children behave badly and inappropriately towards others, then we are the first to rush to them and reprimand them for their behavior. We tell them that they have done something wrong and that they must improve themselves. Being adults and all grown-up, we think we don’t have to correct our behavior because we are adults and we know everything. It’s only the children who have to learn. Nothing could be further from the truth!

I know dozens and dozens of adults who need some emergency help here! The “door in the face “ culprits are in every building. The “thankless and ungrateful” are lurking all over. We really are in trouble. It’s dangerous out there. We all have to slow down and take the time to stop and think about our behavior. It has a great impact on other adults around us and an even greater impact and influence on our children.

The success (put your own definition to what success is) and the happiness of human beings totally depends upon the relationships they develop with other human beings. We can’t live in this world and have a fulfilled and meaningful life if we go around treating each other without regard and respect. That includes actions as basic as those we’ve just talked about.

There are times when we all need to take stock of ourselves and to look at ways of doing things better - so that we can begin to appreciate and just be the wonderful human beings that we are meant to be. It’s sometimes difficult being a good human being isn’t it? But it’s always important to try.

For more information on how Asia Training Associates can assist your personal or business development needs, please contact me at [email protected]

Until next time, have a tremendous week!


The Doctor's Consultation by Dr. Iain Corness: Weight reduction - and then keeping it off

by Dr. Iain Corness

I read an interesting medical article the other day. All about weight loss. And about weight gain too. In the scientific article it reported that people who join weight loss programmes would generally lose about 10% of their body weight while in the programme, but would have put two thirds of that weight back on within one year and all of it by five years! How depressing!

Have you ever been through the same cycle, and then said to yourself that “Dieting doesn’t work for me,” and given up the unequal struggle? I’m sure that is true for many of you out there.

The same scientific article then went on to promote a different way of looking at the weight loss/gain problem. Rather than attacking it from a diet point of view, they attacked it through a behaviour point of view. The reason being, that ‘dieting’ is thought of as a way to get weight off (which it does), but is not the way to then maintain the weight after the dieting is over. What has to be done is behaviour modification, so the plan revolved around that concept, rather than the ‘don’t eat fatty, sugary foods’ style of management.

What was done in the study was to concentrate on teaching the people with the weight problem to understand healthy eating concepts, appropriate physical activity levels, nutritional knowledge and maintenance of emotional well-being. This was rather than the traditional count the calories, or this particular food is a No-No dietary approach.

Patients were asked to keep a diary, which the scientists called an “Eating Awareness Record” and in it they were to record the time and place of eating, how hungry they felt before and after the meal, the type of food consumed and speed of eating.

Before they began the educational programme the majority had problems with what is called the “Yo-Yo” effect of alternating weight gain and loss, did very little or no physical exercise, often ate while they were not really hungry and described themselves as “fast” eaters.

12 months after following the programme, the results were looked at again, and diaries renewed. This time, the majority of respondents declared that their weight was stable, they were carrying out physical exercise 3-4 times a week, they rarely ate when not hungry and had slowed down their rate of eating.

Now while some of this might be thought of as unimportant, this is not the case. Even with items such as rate of eating, this does have a bearing on weight maintenance. Those who ‘wolf’ their food are not enjoying it. Why? Well, it may be through guilt at what they were eating, type or quantity. Eating in a more relaxed manner means that the person is actually more relaxed and understanding what they are eating (and why) and directly relates to emotional well being. As a side issue, they also reported being less negative about themselves and there was a general improvement in their overall health.

By understanding a little more about nutrition they felt they were more able to choose their food items wisely. They also became confident that they could prepare low fat, tasty meals. They also felt that they were not really ‘dieting’ or compromising the pleasure of eating.

In simple terms, it is a case of watching what you eat, eating regularly and exercising, not just counting calories. Try it.


Agony Column

Dear Hillary,

After reading that you have been getting success stories lately I thought I could tell you about mine. Finally I have been successful, but there were a couple of mistakes on the way to getting there. It certainly wasn’t plain sailing. Like many young fellows arriving in Thailand, I could not believe my eyes at first. So many beautiful girls, so available and so difficult to choose! My first choice was Nid but she had to choose between being faithful to me or to the two guys she had on the string from America and Holland. She was not willing to tell them what was happening and chose the regular double income by bank transfer, rather than my cash in the hand. The second girlfriend wasn’t much better. She took the cash, plus anything else that wasn’t nailed down. You would think I would have called in quits by then, but I didn’t. Number three ripped me off too, but this time it was only a motorbike that went with her.

It was shortly after that when I began to think I was looking for my princess in the wrong places and so I gave up the easy bars and the easy girls and met my next lady in the glasses shop where I went to have my eyes tested. We went out the next week and now, after two years we are married. I have never been happier. To all the guys out there I say, don’t be a sucker. There are girls in Thailand and there are ladies. They don’t live under the same roof. It will take you longer to find your lady, but believe me it is worth it.

Happy

Dear Happy,

It sounds as if you should have had your eyes tested much earlier in the piece, then you wouldn’t have stumbled around blindly for the first three times, Petal. As you have correctly mentioned, life was not meant to be easy. Unfortunately, if you are looking for a princess you sometimes have to kiss a lot of frogs. Toads are even worse! Thank you for your success story and I am truly glad you found the secret to life with a lady in Thailand.

Dear Hillary,

My husband’s boss and his wife are coming over for dinner in a couple of weeks and I am a little nervous about all this, so can you please answer me in a hurry. There is nobody I know to ask these things. I need to know what food should I give them, but I am worried if I can cook it properly, also what wines should we give them or is beer OK, in fact everything about it is scaring me. I said to my husband that we should go out for dinner, but he wants to show his boss our apartment and wants to impress him, because he wants to be next in line for promotion. I am shaking about this already. I am really not a very good cook. What do you suggest I do, Hillary? I am getting a headache about this already and I need to take Prozac but they are so expensive.

Lisa

Dear Lisa,

Have no fear, my Petal, Hillary is here to the rescue. There is no telling what your husband’s boss likes to eat, so if you prepared a western dish he might hate it. The answer is Thai food - and we are all in Thailand, after all. Since a Thai meal consists of various dishes to be shared, there will always be something there for everyone. Now do not worry if you cannot cook, the next step is easy. Go to your favourite Thai restaurant and ask them to prepare a selection of dishes for five people to take away. Get some spicy and others not. This way all you have to do is reheat them gently at home and by having food for five means that you will have plenty, no matter how big a pig he might be. Remember to have one large serving spoon for each dish, and another for the rice.

Now wine? Just follow the recommendations of our resident wine expert Ranjith Chandrasiri, or go to the supermarket and follow the recommendations of wine non-expert Hillary. What you do is buy some bottles of South African, NZ, American or Australian chardonnay for around 800 baht a bottle (get three and keep them in the refrigerator - you’d be unlucky to get something undrinkable at that price) plus a couple of bottles of red from the same sources. On the night, open one bottle of red to let it breathe and you have all the correct wines to go with the Thai food you have “cooked”. Why no French wine, when all Hillary drinks is French champagne? It’s too expensive and unless you know what you are buying (like Ranjith) it can be tricky and the cheaper old world wines can taste like poorly distilled petrol. I am presuming here that neither you nor your husband know anything about wines (you have already impressed me that you know precious little about anything else). After all this is over, do yourself and your husband a favour by going to cookery classes, and throw the tablets away.


Camera Class: An 18% grey day

by Snapshot

All photographers should become acquainted with the colour known as 18% grey. Why? Because after you understand 18% grey, you have complete control over blacks and whites in your photographs - and by that, I mean in colour photography, not just the B&W kind.

The really dedicated photo buffs will recognize 18% grey as being the cornerstone of the “Zone System” and Ansel Adams superb prints are trotted out with sage mutterings that if you understood the zone system, then your photos would look like his too. This is, of course, high fallutin’ BS. Ansel Adams, may his negatives never curl, spent many hours painstakingly printing his B&W work, specifically burning in some areas, holding back others and if you think he didn’t then think again. His negs did not have the full tonal spectrum, just as yours don’t.

However, here is the “short course” on the Zone System, as provided by Harry Flashman. What you have to remember at all times is just the simple fact that the meter in your camera does recognize 18% grey, and is programmed to produce as much 18% grey as possible. In other words, point the camera at your subject and the meter will work out a combination of shutter speed and aperture to give an exposure to get the whole shot as close to 18% grey as possible. This is irrespective of whatever name the camera manufacturer gives to the metering system and how many points it meters from. The common denominator is 18% grey.

Now this works for the majority of shots - 18% grey is close enough, and the processor at your friendly photoshop can adjust the rest from there - but it is always a compromise. You do not even realise what a compromise it really is until you take a photograph of a white car or a black cat. Go and dig out a few old photos if you are a doubting Thomas. You are looking at a photo of a grey (off white) car or a grey (not black) cat.

This is one reason why I keep on saying that if you run the camera in the fully automatic mode, you will only get “average” pictures. What you have to do to get whites or blacks is to run the camera in the metered manual mode instead. Remember that when you are photographing the white car (or white anything) the exposure indicated by the camera is the one that will make the white colour 18% grey. To get the colour back to white it will need more light on the film.

Here’s what you do. Let us imagine that your camera tells you that the exposure should be f16 @ 1/60th of a second. You need more light to fall on the emulsion, so make your exposure f 11 @ 1/60th and another at f8 @ 1/60th. That gives you both one and two full stops of light more. One of those two will give you a white car, irrespective of such fancy terms as automated multi-phasic metering, centre weighted metering or whatever. Believe me!

Now let’s look at photographing a black object. Again the camera meter will indicate a shutter speed and an aperture to give you an 18% grey object. There is too much light falling on the film emulsion this time. What you have to do is cut down on the amount of light getting into the camera. Again, let us imagine that the indicated exposure is f16 @ 1/60th. You want to darken things, so take two shots with one at f16 @ 1/125th and another at f16 @ 1/250th. Again this is one and two stops decrease in light levels. One of these will give you a black cat!

Recapping it all, put the camera in metered manual mode and then if you are photographing something white, give it one and two stops more light than indicated. Conversely, if photographing something black, set the camera for one and two stops less light than indicated. It works!


Recipes from Rattana: Hungarian Goulash

Hungarian Goulash was a traditional “family” recipe, so there are always minor variations. Some of these related to available ingredients while others referred to individual likes or dislikes in family members.

Hungarian Goulash is also not a stew - it is a soup. In Hungarian it is known as “Gulyas”. The stew style is called “Porkolt” usually served with potatoes or pasta noodles.

By the way, it is Goulash - not Ghoulash! The latter is made from a recipe from Transylvania.

Ingredients Serves 6

Beef chuck 1 kg.

Onions, white or yellow 2

Potatoes peeled and diced 4

Salt 1 tspn

Lard or shortening 2 tbspn

Sweet paprika 2 tbspn

Bay leaves 2

Water 1 litre

Black pepper 1/4 tspn

Cooking Method

Cut beef into 2.5 cm cubes and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Chop onions and in a heavy bottomed cooking pot and brown them in the shortening. Now add the beef and paprika, moving the cubes around to brown all sides. Turn the heat right down and let the beef simmer in its own juice along with salt and paprika for one hour.

Add the water, diced potatoes, bay leaves, pepper and remaining salt. Cover and simmer until potatoes are done and meat is tender. This should be done slowly and add more water if the consistency gets too thick. Remember that this is a soup!