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

Ask your local US Consul

Family Money: SMAs

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

A few weeks ago a new client came to see me for advice on his existing portfolio. Over the past several years he had acquired various lump-sum investments, mostly unit-trusts and a couple of with-profits bonds. The reason he gave for having so many from different providers was: “I wanted diversification.” A perfectly acceptable reason if he or an investment adviser was going to monitor them, and make adjustments as market conditions changed.

Unfortunately, these investments had been bought mostly on whim or past performance figures, and some - most notably a couple of technology funds bought right at the peak in April 2000 - had performed disastrously since then.

Overall, he had lost (on paper) over 50% of his original capital - much of which could have been saved had he received timely advice from his adviser to switch to other funds within the same fund-management groups, or better, to dump the lemons and put the money to better use elsewhere. Sadly, the investor was left out in the cold to fend for himself - as happens all too often, unfortunately.

Not too long ago, it seemed that a modem and a point of view was all anyone needed to become an investor. In the late 1990s stock prices kept climbing upward on a seemingly unstoppable trend and the stock markets were reaching all time highs. Making money as an amateur investor didn’t seem so hard.

Alas, as trends reversed, investors have come to realise that it wasn’t such an easy game after all. Even experienced professionals have been hard put to beat the indices over the past three years.

In the US the volume of online trades has declined some 39% from a high of 82.3m in mid-2001 to 50.6m a year later. This would indicate that investors are abandoning the self-directed approach; many have learned the hard way that investing is not as easy as it looks, and are less comfortable these days managing their own money. They have also realised that what is needed is professional money management with a disciplined approach to customised portfolio management.

In the US this realisation has led to the rise of the separately managed account (SMA) or “wrap” account.

Until recently, professional portfolio management was reserved only for institutional investors and the super-wealthy. The SMA typically provides individuals who have a comparatively modest sum of available investment capital - a few hundred thousand dollars rather than millions - with access to investment expertise which was previously out of reach except to Fortune 500 CEOs and endowment and foundation boards in the US.

Horses for courses

A separately managed account (SMA) is a professionally managed private portfolio, owned by the investor, which is actively managed or guided by a professional investment manager. This is fundamentally the same as private portfolio management services offered by large British and European banks for decades past - except those services too were almost exclusively the realm of millionaires.

At the other end of the scale are unit trusts with low entry thresholds, and a clear definition of what they can and cannot invest in. This is the realm of the so-called retail investor with a spare bit of cash to invest, and gives him a more diversified spread of stocks or bonds than if he had bought them directly. The fund will also be actively managed, so the investor hopes that it will be either less volatile or perform better than the market sector it is invested in.

However, most retail investors will not have access to the specialist information with which to differentiate between, for example, one European stock market fund and another, other than past performance figures as posted on a website or published in a newspaper. As any horse-racing punter will tell you, last month’s winner is rarely next week’s winner. Similarly with choosing funds. Performance - or perhaps more importantly, consistent above-average performance over time - is an important indicator, but not the only reason for choosing a particular fund: several factors have to be taken into account.

Timing is always important when buying any lump-sum investment, and with selling it too. You buy cheap and sell dear - although many retail investors will insist on doing it the other way round: selling when the stock or fund has plunged, and buying it only when it’s risen 20% or 30% above its floor. The client who had come to see me for portfolio advice was a prime example. He had been sold those investments by fund salesmen on the basis of past performance figures, not because they formed a strategic allocation mix pertinent to his needs, risk-aversion profile, and projected market conditions at the time.

Assess first

Creating a portfolio - large or small - is a process. The process begins with an assessment by an objective professional adviser of the individual’s financial circumstances and objectives. Investors have different requirements at various stages of their lives. The adviser can then recommend a variety of strategic portfolio options, customised to meet each individual investor’s needs.

Once the strategy has been agreed, a professional portfolio manager creates an Asset Allocation Matrix (‘AAM’) which is a model portfolio for that particular client’s requirements consonant with his investor profile and prevailing market conditions. Adjustments would be made to the AAM according to the client’s Risk-Aversion Profile (‘RAP’) and, more fundamentally, whether he is income-orientated or seeking longer-term capital growth.

The portfolio manager then monitors performance on a regular basis, and makes adjustments as he deems appropriate to changing market conditions. Risk management is an important part of this function.


In essence, then, an SMA service is an ongoing process that enables the investor to build and monitor a long-term portfolio that can be adjusted over time to match different life-stage needs, all with the guidance of an objective, client-orientated financial adviser.

This brings to the individual investor a level of portfolio management expertise that has previously been available only to institutions and wealthy individuals - and if you’ll pardon a bit of self-serving advertising, the fundamental reason why Westminster Portfolio Services Limited was established in Pattaya in the first place. A significant number of retirees here with more than a little capital, but less than would qualify for private banking services, clearly needed help with constructing and managing medium sized portfolios - a personalised SMA service in other words - except none such was available here until I established one in 1997.

Personal Directions: Getting to where you want to go in life

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

I have found over the years that most people in this world do not have any goals, or should I say clear and realistic goals. When I ask participants in my programs to talk about their goals it is, for most, a difficult thing to do. Their faces become blank and they struggle in their minds to try to understand what is being said. They suddenly feel lost and without answers. Most people have never thought deeply about their lives and what it is that they want in order to live a meaningful and successful life. Could it be that some people are happy just to live the way they live and without having to think too much about this?

The best way to open people’s minds to goals, what those goals can be, and “where they want to go in life”, is by doing a very simple exercise. It’s like doing a personal inventory which is an easy way to begin to look at various areas of your life and assessing your personal level of “success” or “achievement” or “happiness” in each of those areas of your life right now, in this present time. It is finding out where you are right now in your life!

It is similar to knowing where you are on a map for example, should you be trying to navigate your way to a new destination. It makes sense to ascertain your exact location so that you know which direction you should take - whether you should head north, south, east or west. A map is of no use and will not be able to help you reach your destination unless you know your present location and can spot it on the map.

Our lives are very much the same. Without knowing “where we are” in our lives, we don’t know what it is that we want and how to move forward. We get stuck, or lost along the way and a lot of us just go around and around in circles with no clear direction, no clear ambition. Our lives enable us to simply exist - not to live and live with fulfilment!

The exercise looks at assessing from 0 to 100, your measure of yourself - your present life situation - in terms of these five main areas of life; your physical health, your behavior and attitudes, your family relationships, your involvement in the community/society, and your finances. When you examine these areas closely it will hopefully help you to realize the things that you would like to strive for or the things that you would like to change and improve upon - all ultimately becoming your goals.

Let’s look at physical health in the first instance. How do you grade your health on a scale of 0 to 100? Are you a smoker? Are you overweight? Do you suffer from stress? And the list goes on. Think of your own health but look at it from every aspect. Take more than ten minutes to do this and do it in earnest. Where will you mark yourself? 50, 80, 20, 30? Think about your health from your head right down to your toes and all those bits and pieces in between!

Next we come to your personal understanding about you and your behavior and attitudes. Take a look inside as to the way you behave. Think about the attitudes you hold. Ask yourself some of these questions and many more; Are you a bad-tempered kind of person? Do you always criticize others? Do you lack confidence? Are you a bit full of yourself and as such tend to disregard others? Are you a forgiving person or do you hold grudges? Take some time to explore your behavior and attitudes and honestly assess it on a level of zero to one hundred. Where do you stand right now in your life in terms of this?

The third area involves the kinds of relationships you have with your family and that is from immediate, say mother and father, through to husband and wife, brother and sister, son and daughter and other members such as grandparents, uncles and aunts and so on. Where are you standing right now when you measure your present life situation in these terms? Are you at the upper or the lower end?

The fourth and fifth areas can also be examined by taking a long hard look at where you personally grade yourself. Be open about it and honest as to your present life situation in these two areas as well because the more open and honest you are, the more clearly you will be able to see the things that you want to work for and to change or improve upon.

These two areas of life require much more thought than we actually give as we rush to do our daily chores. How much do you give to the community or society in general? I don’t mean in terms of monetary giving, but in terms of time and effort and all sorts of other contributions such as books and pencils for schools without funds, caring for a sick child and so forth. Examining your present life situation here may be a real eye-opener and may ignite a spark of desire in you to include goals of this nature in your life.

And finally your finances! This area of self assessment always a lot of provokes thought - I wonder why?

Knowing your present life situation helps you to know where you want to go in life! If you do this simple activity it can be a great help to getting to where you want to go because it helps you to know what you want to do! Have a great life and a great week!

If you would like more information about how our programs can assist you or any members of your staff please contact me at christina.dodd

The Doctor's Consultation by Dr. Iain Corness: Immortality? At a price!

by Dr. Iain Corness

Do you have a spare 12 million baht? If so, this might just be the answer for you if you want to escape death from heart attacks. I spotted this ambulance at the motor show in Bangkok, on the Mercedes stand. This is a fully equipped Cardiac Ambulance, complete with defibrillators and all the latest coronary care equipment. In fact, after talking to the doctor ‘on board’ he said that it was a complete CCU on wheels.

Cardiac Ambulance

The figures for heart attack survival do depend much upon rapid treatment as 30% of heart attack victims die before even getting to the hospital. A significant percentage is due to ventricular fibrillation (this is where the heart ‘flutters’ rather than rhythmically pumping). To convert this flutter can be done by electrical defibrillation, with electric paddles that can shock the heart muscle into pumping properly again. Once in the CCU, the mortality drops to below 10%, so it behooves one to get under treatment as soon as possible.

One of the richest men in Australia is a media tycoon, Kerry Packer, who owes his life to rapid treatment with defibrillation, when he suffered a heart attack a few years back. In gratitude, he donated a few defibrillators to the New South Wales (Australia) ambulance service.

This pictured unit is in Bangkok and is run by the Bangkok General Hospital, and with all the gear, plus a trained cardiac nurse and on-board cardiologist is just as good as being in the CCU itself. Perhaps even better, as you get moving pictures outside the windows as well. I did chat with the mobile cardiologist, who could tell me all the good points and the advisability of getting treatment as soon as possible after a heart attack; however, he was not able to tell me how he was going to get to the patients through the horrendous Bangkok traffic jams!

So if you are a trifle worried that you may be next on the heart attack list and have a spare 12 million, you can order one of these babies, just for you. Of course the nurse and doctor are extra! In the meantime, just do some regular exercise, stop smoking and get your cholesterol down!

Agony Column

Dear Hillary,

I am interested in your opinion, just what do you think? I arrived in Thailand 8 years ago. The girls here really liked me. We laughed and I bought them drinks and we laughed and they came home with me and we laughed again and they ‘really liked’ me. However, although I’m English I did find it difficult to communicate with them. I started to learn Thai, I just seem to pick it up and now can speak it pretty well. I only did it for the girls’ sakes, just to make conversation easier. I noted that their interest in me seemed to wane a little and they began talking in Laos behind my back. Well, of course, to be even more orally literate, I started to learn Laos, surreptitiously of course. Now I can hold a conversation with the Isaan ladies. Now when the ladies come over to me, I don’t buy them drinks any more because they’re a bit pang, I just bung them sow baht (that’s Laos for twenty) for a tip. Normally they ask me in their awful English my name etc. you know the stuff, I reply in Laos and they just turn round and vanish, never to return to me. Do you think it’s because I am older and uglier now, if so, what can I do about it?


Dear John,

Thank you for your email, as I always get a great kick out of writing “Dear John” letters! But let’s look at your problem in depth, Petal, as I am sure you were very genuine in your request. Let’s begin with the “older and uglier” part first. You ask, “What can I do about it?” About the older part, you can do nothing, but about the uglier bit, there’s always plastic surgery.

Actually your problem has nothing to do with being older and uglier, it has more to do with oncoming Alzheimer’s disease. You have forgotten what used to happen 8 years ago. Let me remind you. Remember the days when, (I quote) “We laughed and I bought them drinks.” What happens now? Again I quote, “I don’t buy them drinks any more because they’re a bit pang (expensive).” Not only that, Jovial John the Linguist, you rub salt (or perhaps nam pla) into the wounds by (I quote) “I just bung them sow baht (that’s Laos for twenty) for a tip.” John, you have become what the Thai ladies would call, “kee nee-oh” - and as you are so fluent in all the local lingoes, you will realise that this means “stingy”, or in other words, in eight years you have gone from being a generous chap to become a “cheap Charlie” and probably a balloon chaser as well. (For those who do not know what a balloon chaser is, the term refers to those stalwarts who appear at any bar which is displaying balloons, signifying free food and the odd drink or two ‘on the house’.)

As far as replying, in your native tongue, to their attempts at English, you forego this and speak to them in fluent Laos. To them this indicates someone who has been living here for some time, and if that person is living in Laos, they probably don’t have much sow baht to throw around. Using the principle of Supply and Demand, you probably don’t have much supply to meet their demands, so why waste time with you? They move on to the next bar stool. And so should you. Hope this clears everything up for you Kee nee-oh John.

Dear Hillary,

Let she who lives in a glass house not throw stones. The word is elusive, Petal, not illusive (sic). Champagne to follow.


Dear Tom,

I presume you are referring to Vol XI, number 13, where I wrote to a poor young lad, “Your lady will be easy to find. Just join in on the end of the queue of other hopeful males all chasing the illusive butterfly.” I like it that you are so sure of yourself that you are prepared to take me to task, accusing me of throwing stones through my own windows, and then try and ‘sweeten’ this vitriol by offering “champagne to follow.” You will have noticed Petal, that it is over three weeks since you wrote. Three weeks in which I have been waiting for your “illusive” champagne, which needless to say, has never turned up. Your promise of champagne was an illusion, and quoting the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, the meaning of this is a delusion, so the champagne was “illusive” - the adjective from the word illusion. OK?

Now to your other word, “elusive” - meaning “difficult to catch” (again from the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English). I was not indicating that this young man’s butterfly was difficult to catch, but rather that this butterfly did not exist - it was an illusion. In other words, an “illusive” butterfly.

I do hope this has cleared up your illusions and if you write again, attaching the letter to the previously promised bottle of champagne, I will give you the telephone number of a reliable glazier.

Camera Class: The Twelve Commandments - or 12 rules for 12 months

by Snapshot

While there are plenty of photography books for sale in the bookstores, most of those are of the genre, How To Photograph XYZ. These tend to get a little overcomplicated in my book, so here are my 12 commandments, which if you follow them through, I will guarantee you will get better photographs. And get more fun out of your photography.

Walk in closer

The first is simply to use more film. Photography, like any sport, recreation or pursuit is something where the more you do it and practice it, the better you get. That just means putting more film through the camera. Film and processing is really the cheapest part of photography, especially when you compare it to the purchase price of a half decent camera. Use more film!

The one major fault in most amateur photographs is taking the shot from too far away. From now on, make the subject the “hero” and walk in several metres closer to make the subject fill the frame.

Focussing! With modern auto-focus cameras the most obvious focussing problem is where the subject is off-centre. The magic eye doesn’t know this and focuses on the background, leaving your close-up subject soft and blurry. Focus on the subject and use the focus lock facility of your camera.

Tripods I mentioned recently, but one of these will expand your picture taking no end. Camera shake becomes a thing of the past, and you will take more time to compose your shots.

Don’t be afraid to process half rolls - it will keep your interest and enthusiasm going. If your photo-processor doesn’t do it, change your photo-shop.

Keep your interest and pride in your work by making enlargements of your better photos. At around 80 baht for most places, this is very cheap and enlargements do make good presents at Xmas time too.

We all get lazy and it is too easy to end up just taking every picture in the horizontal (landscape) format. Make it a habit to always take two shots of each subject - one in the horizontal format and the other in the vertical. You can get some surprising results that way. Don’t be lazy - do it!

With colour photography, which covers about 99.99% of most people’s pictures these days, the one major factor to give your skies and seas and scenery some colour oomph is the use of a polarizing filter. Get one and use it.

You will always miss some “classic” shots and regret it later, but you certainly will never get them if you don’t have a camera (with film) with you. With so many incredible photo opportunities in Thailand, you should be photographically ready at all times!

To give your daytime shots some extra sparkle, use “fill-in” flash. Most new cameras have a little setting that will do this automatically for you - even with point and shooters. If you haven’t, then spend some time learning how to do it. It’s worth it when you see the results you get.

To give yourself the impetus to go out and take photos, develop a project and spend your leisure time building up the images. It can be flowers or fashion, cars or canaries, but fix on something and follow it through. It’s worth it, just for the fact that it makes you become an “enquiring” photographer.

Finally, at the end of every year, give the camera a birthday by buying it some new batteries. You won’t have a problem damaging the sensitive innards with neglected battery acid and the camera’s light metering system will work correctly every time. It’s cheap insurance.

Here is the list to cut out, laminate and put in the camera bag.

1. Use more film

2. Walk several metres closer

3. Use the focus lock

4. Buy a tripod

5. Process half rolls of film

6. Make enlargements of your better prints

7. Use different formats

8. Use a polarizing filter

9. Carry your camera with you

10. Use the flash during the day

11. Develop a project

12. Change the batteries

Recipes from Rattana: Tom Yum Talay (sour and spicy seafood soup)

This is another ‘classic’ Thai soup, with tom yum goong, the prawn variant, being the most well known. The tom yums can be very spicy, but you can dictate the degree of spiciness by how many chillies you use (and whether you remove the seeds). The quantities shown here should produce “medium” spiciness. It does not take a long time to cook, and in fact, most seafood is better with shorter cooking times. Watch it while cooking - not a walk away and come back after that telephone call!

Ingredients Serves 4

Prawns, shelled and de-veined 100 gm

Mussels, shelled 100 gm

Squid, bite size pieces, scored 100 gm

Crabmeat pieces 100 gm

Chillies, small, crushed, no seeds 3

Lemon grass, chopped 1 stem

Chilli paste 1 tbspn

Lime juice 3 tbspns

Dried chillies 3

Kaffir lime leaves 3

Fish sauce 2 tbspns

Water 3 cups

Cooking Method

Heat the water and add the lemon grass and the kaffir lime leaves torn into pieces to the pot. When the water boils, add the prawns, mussels, squid, and crabmeat pieces. Bring to the boil again, then turn down the heat and add the lime juice, fish sauce, and chilli paste. Add the fresh and the dried chillies, pour into a serving bowl, and serve with steamed rice.

Ask your local US Consul

Dear Consul,

I’m worried about this new virus, SARS. Is it still safe to go to [insert place here]? Is the government of [country] doing everything it can? I know this [nationality] person at [guesthouse] who has [description of symptoms]. Is there SARS in Chiang Mai? Why aren’t we getting more information? Is this all one big [something or other having to do with the White Chedi]?

- General Inquiry

Dear Mr./Ms. Inquiry,

First, let me thank you for being such a good sport and agreeing to be a fictional person so that I could represent the dozens of inquiries about Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that the Consulate has been receiving lately. Second, I don’t mean to make light of the severity of the disease or the justifiability of the concerns - I’m worried, too - but I do think it’s worth reviewing the known facts before deciding that panic is the most appropriate response.

A great place to start, and to check often for updates, is the website for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC): As of this writing, the CDC reports 2,223 cases worldwide, with 78 deaths. The numbers from Hong Kong and Mainland China account for 85 percent of reported cases and 80 percent of reported deaths.

So: should you travel? Well, to Mainland China or Hong Kong, probably not so much, no. Indeed, another great resource, the State Department, has published travel warnings for both Mainland China and Hong Kong on its website (

For the lucky ones among you unused to government-speak, a travel warning is issued when the State Department determines that travel to a particular world region or country is sufficiently dangerous that it urges that the trip be postponed, if possible. A travel warning can be contrasted with a public announcement, which is made when something happens that U.S. travelers or expatriates ought to know about, a transient potential threat to health or safety that should be taken into consideration when deciding to travel to (or remain in) an area. Even when a travel warning is issued, of course, the decision of whether or not a trip is elective, or whether the gains of going outweigh the risks, is always up to the individual traveler.

Moving on to person X coughing up lungfuls of goo in guesthouse Y. First of all, this week has been just a tad too heavy on the colorful descriptions of mucous for this Consul’s liking - please bear in mind, before you send your email, that the reader may happen to have a habit of catching up on her correspondence over lunch. Second, goo is good. Or, at least, probably indicative of a less high-profile cold or flu, as SARS is characterized mainly by a fever over 100.4 (Fahrenheit; in Celsius, the number is 38), and a dry cough. Third, there have not been any cases of SARS reported in Chiang Mai. As of today’s writing, seven cases have been reported in the country. While that’s seven more than any of us would like to see, the key piece of information is that no local transmission has been reported - that is, all seven cases were acquired from other countries.

Thailand’s been doing a lot to try to keep that number down, from having a medical team at Don Muang to screen passengers arriving from afflicted areas, to requiring that all passengers returning from Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Singapore and Taiwan wear surgical masks for two weeks. There’s every indication that all governments are taking the epidemic seriously, and the level of international cooperation in research - which itself is proceeding with great speed - is unprecedented. Everyone agrees this bug is bad.

Now - deep breaths. (Well, unless someone just coughed near you, anyway.) Let’s return to those fatality statistics. Seventy-eight deaths in 2,223 cases is a fatality rate of 3.5 percent. That’s about the same as the death rate for dengue fever. My intent in mentioning that is NOT to make you rush out and buy mosquito repellent - though that’s not a bad idea - but to point out that massive lifestyle change may not be the answer, unless your lifestyle involves frequent trips to Hong Kong and mainland China.

Of course, what the head says and what the heart says are two different things, or at least that’s what I get from reading Ms. Hillary’s column. Newspapers tell us - sometimes - that the majority of patients recover, but that little phrase is absolutely defenseless in the face of vivid and tragic descriptions of patients fatally infecting members of their families. But remember, that “majority” is 96.5 percent strong. Most of us don’t refuse to leave the house for fear of mosquito bites. Neither should you necessarily alter your daily habits because of SARS, except perhaps to wash your hands more frequently. And frankly, I’d probably suggest that even if there weren’t an epidemic going on.

Thought I’d forgotten the “conspiracy” card, didn’t you? I’m only going to dignify it with a quick aside. A virus with a 3.5 percent fatality rate doesn’t make the best bio-weapon. I’m trying to be soothing here, so it would be counterproductive for me to point out the efficacy of the alternatives, but someone with the wherewithal to engineer a more infectious coronavirus ... well, wouldn’t waste his or her time with a coronavirus.

Stay healthy,

The Consul

In the “spoke too soon” department: Alert readers will have noticed that the promised new Consulate phone system hasn’t exactly materialized yet. This one may actually be a conspiracy. Stay tuned.

Have a question about visas, passports, travel to the United States, services for American citizens, or related issues? Ask the Consul. Send your e-mail to [email protected] with “ask the consul” in the subject line. If your question isn’t selected, you can get an answer by calling the Consulate at 053-252-629, from 8 to 4.