Columns
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: Rethinking Pensions

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

As I wrote about some weeks ago, global pension fund assets are in serious trouble. Recently published figures are perhaps even more frightening, and should serve as a clarion call both to retirees who are relying on corporate or private pensions, and to those hoping to retire in the next decade or so.

Three consecutive years of heavy stock market falls in 11 major markets have taken $2,800bn off world pension funds, leaving them back at 1997 levels. Half of this - some $1,400bn of asset value - was lost last year alone.

The increased liabilities pension planners now work under only make matters worse: the money has to be found to honour pre-existing commitments, but taking these liabilities into consideration, global pension fund balance sheets have worsened by over 20%.

Global pension funds peaked in 1999 at $13,485bn. Annual average growth in the nine years up to the 1999 peak was a healthy 12%, ahead of a post-war market annual average rise of 8.2%.

Over that period average growth was stable - but the TMT (Technology, Media, Telecommunications) bubble inflated valuations and created expectations of early retirement. That bubble burst in April 2000 and set off the subsequent three-year slide. As a result of market falls, more and more companies have been closing their final-salary pension schemes to new entrants.

Work longer, draw less

Most countries in the developed world are struggling with severe pension funding shortfalls. Increased life expectancy and declining birth rates have led to an ageing population, placing a heavier burden on pension providers, both State and corporate.

Many European countries are switching to "funded" schemes and avoiding pay-as-you-go schemes. For instance, after the market falls of the past three years Germanyís funded pension assets now stand at just 10% of GDP. By 2025 Germanyís pension shortfall is forecast to be 110% of its gross domestic product (GDP). That is unsustainable, and pension funds will be under pressure, either through statutory force or through their own industry, to put their funds into better order.

The news is not looking good for expats with dreams of taking early retirement at 55. A recent survey asked independent financial advisers (IFAs) for their views on possible UK government policy options to address the UKís pension funding crisis. Most respondents believe that only by taking drastic action will more people be persuaded to plan adequately for their retirement.

Of those IFAs who took part, the majority (58%) believe that a key solution would be to increase the current State retirement age from 65 to 70 years. The chief reason why IFAs are keen to support this retirement age increase is their belief that clients would save more if they planned to retire at 70 rather than 65. A cynic might think this opinion to be self-serving - but the growing number of bodies in the UK calling for an increase in the State pension age include the National Association of Pension Funds and the Institute of Public Policy Review, as well as most financial institutions. The implications for workers approaching retirement age are massive. But there is no question that radical steps need to be taken to address a very real crisis.

More choice, more options

Expats are somewhat luckier, with more options available for offshore personal pension planning. There are a number of offshore retirement-income providers, most of which are life assurance companies based in Dublin, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. The products on offer are called Ďinternational pensionsí - but this marketing wrapper is slightly misleading, since you should not expect such products to operate in the same way as pensions back in the UK.

For example, these plans do not guarantee a proportion of a final salary. Rather, they operate along similar lines to defined contribution schemes as they are designed to build up a capital reserve over time from investments made in a range of equity and bond funds. The amount of capital built up will depend on the amount you contribute over time into the plan, your selection of funds - conservative, balanced, or aggressive - and of course, the performance of the markets in which these funds are invested.

Essentially, offshore international pensions are investment-based savings plans which are built up by expats making either regular payments (premiums), or contributing lump sums as and when they can afford to. Some plans offer a combination of both payment methods.

These offshore savings plans are favoured by many for being more flexible than comparable pension plans back in the UK. Offshore plan holders are not restricted as to when monies may be drawn down, nor are investors beholden to purchase annuities with the accumulated capital.

Another difference from onshore pensions is thereís no pre-set limit on a specific age for maturity: you may choose your own maturity date or contributory period.

Many plans allow you to increase or decrease regular contributions, typically on each anniversary of the plan (to offset inflation and keep pace with rising income), and most will allow access to accumulated capital if you suddenly need some emergency cash.

At maturity, you again have choices: you may elect to remain invested in the plan, drawing down either a regular Ďpensioní or irregular amounts as & when you need them; or you may withdraw all the accumulated capital and simply keep it on deposit in the bank.

One obvious advantage is that offshore plans grow without tax being deducted at source, and drawdowns remitted into Thailand are free of tax too.

There are a variety of plans available with differing features and charging structures to suit each individual investorís needs and circumstances - but remember that if you stop these plans early, youíre likely to suffer a penalty, and most importantly, it will never achieve the goal for which it was set up: providing you with an adequate pension for the rest of your days.


Personal Directions: To measure intention, look at the results

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

I had the experience yesterday of being asked why I did not respond to a particular e-mail that was sent to me. In view of the fact that I check my e-mails about five times a day, I asked the person the simple question of, "when was it sent?" The reply, which was rather long-winded was, "about a month ago". I stopped to gain my composure and to think before reacting and to enquire a little further into this. As it turned out, the basis of this meeting we were having revolved around the information contained in the elusive e-mail! The immediate thought that came to my mind was, "if this meeting was so important and the information was so crucial to the meeting, why didnít anyone follow-up on the e-mail? Why didnít the sender ask for a receipt? Why didnít anyone call me?"

This type of situation is not rare or isolated. It happens with avid frequency and not only with e-mailing and every other form of communication, but with the way we go about doing almost every kind of task. It makes me think of two important things (apart from the obvious) and they are:

1. To measure someoneís intention, look at the results of their actions, and

2. People are more reactive than proactive.

In most conversations I have with managers and businessmen and women these days, these subjects always come up. They struggle with such matters in the workplace and of staff not initiating tasks, not thinking ahead, not planning ahead, but sitting back and waiting for results to magically appear - to suddenly happen. They wonder why a lot of projects donít have the expected results and this concerns small, medium and large-scale projects.

The first statement is as clear as a bell. If you want to know how intent someone is on doing something, just have a look at the results. The results speak for themselves. In my episode with the "one-month-ago e-mail", the sender gave zero importance to this - he had no real intention of doing anything about it and it was obvious because of the end result. If he had really intended for me to get the e-mail, he would have followed up the same day, if the matter was so important. It is that simple.

This way of measuring intention can be used for everything that we undertake to do in life. When people say theyíll call back for instance, or get in touch with you later, you can gauge their level of intention by when or if the call comes. How you interpret their level of intention is entirely up to you. Perhaps there are factors out of their control that influence their efforts and their intentions.

Measuring your own level of intention is an interesting exercise. Just go back to some task you have set yourself to do, maybe you have been meaning to write to a friend who is overseas or you have been meaning to call a family member back home, and you just havenít got around to doing it. What does it tell you about yourself and your intention to do these things? Is it that you are too busy or is it that you havenít placed enough importance on them? If you really wanted to do these things, you would have done them, right? If you really intended to write the letter or make the call, you would have done it, right? Take a quick look at results, and you will instantly realize the level of your intention. Your level of intention will determine the kind of results you produce. Half-hearted intention produces half-hearted results. Whole-hearted intention produces whole-hearted results. The arithmetic is fairly easy to follow.

This statement becomes very interesting when you take a look at the workplace and at the people you work with. It can tell you a great deal about them in a moment. And it will help to confirm the fact that most people are reactive as opposed to proactive. Itís much easier, after all, to be that way and you donít have to think or do very much.

Such is human nature, but in the world of getting ahead and performing well in a job, it pays to be on the proactive side of the table. When companies call for new recruits in virtually any position, this characteristic or attribute is high on the list of selection criteria. It identifies those most likely to get ahead and to be more successful in their working careers. They are a rare find indeed and employers will search high and low to source them and when they do find them, itís like striking gold.

But in the real world, we are who we are and there are a many great ways that we can learn to improve ourselves and the way we do things. In order to do this, it doesnít mean that we have to change who we are, but it means that we have to able to change some of our thinking and our attitudes towards things. Learning how to be more proactive is not an impossible task and like any task we all undertake, if we place a high level of importance to our intention, then the results will come out accordingly and they will speak for themselves.

The amount of intention we put into something is a major factor in the final outcome. It is a driving force in the way we approach our everyday private lives and our professional lives. It can dictate whether something is going to be a success or a failure. It can determine whether you are going to be a success or a failure. It is so much a part of who we are that it is critical to be able to understand its ultimate power.

For more information on these subjects and other training matters, please contact me by e-mail at Christina. [email protected] and visit our website at www. asiatrainingassociates.com

Have a great week!


The Doctor's Consultation by Dr. Iain Corness: Your personality - can it change your disease pattern?

by Dr. Iain Corness

Can your personality determine the diseases you will get? Yes it most certainly can. And thatís for certain, too. After much recent research, including clinical studies, the answer is out. Be happy and stay well. Be aggressive and get heart attacks and cancer.

Now that does not mean that all happy folk live to be 183 and the misery bags croak at 45 - but there is enough evidence to show that your personality type influences the sorts of diseases you will get later in life.

However, this is really nothing new. In the ancient times of Hippocrates, the healers were interested in the personality of the patient, because they felt that this had a bearing on the disease process. This conclusion was reached after observation of the patients. This combination of mind and body and disease is the basis for holistic healing, and even though Hippocrates and his healers did not have all our pharmaceutical treatments and wonderful tests, they did treat the person, not just the disease.

So why do we fall ill in the first place? Is it a personal weakness, is it just "lifestyle" or just plain bad luck? Since I am not a great believer in "luck" be it good or bad, my leaning after many decades of medicine is towards a type of personal weakness. After all, you can take two people with the same lifestyle but one gets ill and the other does not. Why? Simply, one person was more susceptible than the other - in some way they had a pre-disposition or call it a "weakness". Simplistic I know, but it seems to fit.

So what factors seem to be involved in bringing about the pre-disposition. Genetics are one, and do play a part - if your parents are diabetic then you will most likely have the problem too, but it is not the be all and end all. The modern scientific studies with large numbers of people have come up with interesting statistics. One famous researcher, Eysenck, lumped us all into four main personality categories.

Type 1 have a strong tendency to suppress their emotions and tend towards "hopelessness" and are unable to deal with personal stress.

Type 2 people, on the other hand, are also unable to deal with personal stress, but react to life with anger and aggression.

Type 3 is less clear-cut with a mixture of all these personality traits.

Type 4 covers the optimistic and relaxed who deal much better with interpersonal stress.

Using these broad categories and looking at disease profiles that each type gets, returned some amazing facts. Type 1 was the cancer prone group, Type 2 got the heart disease, Type 3 got both while Type 4 people were not prone to either cancer or heart disease. Can you see whatís coming next?

Eysenck did not stop there. He went on to show that when people modified their personality they also modified the expected disease profile. When you think about it, this is staggering stuff! By attention to your personality profile you can modify your disease profile!

The most significant personality trait was "anger". Learn to modify your anger response (and this can be done) and you become less "at risk". This is almost approaching Buddhist philosophy now - but you CAN modify your personality. That last sentence can make you live ten years longer, happier and disease free. Forget all the wonder cures, just look at yourself first! Hippocrates did more than say oaths!


Agony Column

Dear Hillary,

Is there something that can be done about telephones in this country? So many times when I ring a company looking to buy something I get a recorded voice (in Thai) and I have no idea what they are talking about and eventually I give up in disgust. They miss on a sale and I donít get what I want. Why donít they take a leaf out of the American telesales marketing book? If they want to sell to me, they have to speak my language. Surely this is obvious? What is your answer to my problems, sweet Hillary?

Cheesed Off

Dear Cheesed Off,

You have lots of options, Petal. First off you can get somebody who speaks Thai to ring up for you. Secondly, you could try learning enough Thai so you can do it yourself - after all, this country is called Thai-land, if you hadnít noticed, and the native language is called Thai. Surely this should be obvious, even to you. Or thirdly, you can ring America and order what you want from there direct, in that quaint dialect called "American" English. Or fourthly, and probably the best option in your case, is to go back to America, where life will be simpler for you.

Dear Hillary,

A little something for you to chew on! I realise that Thailand is not a cricketing nation, but wonder if protective boxes are available in Pattaya. My problem is not from Ďgoogliesí but more on Ďgooliesí when traversing certain sois. What can I do? I have recorded a recent episode in verse to illustrate this matter and append a version for your consideration.

"As we were walking down Soi Six,

Two ladies grabbed us by our mits

Sawasdee Khar, the first one said,

Letís pop inside and see Uncle Ned.

It may be haa roi, may be hok;

It all depends on how much you joke."

Advice please on this sticky wicket, Hillary.

Mistersingha

Dear Mistersingha,

One week I get sketches (thanks again, Dickens 44), and on another I get verses! But yours is going from bad to verse, Iím afraid, Petal. As you can see, I cleaned up the rhymes a little and decided that iambic tetrameter was a more preferential cadence for the rhyming couplets, but your meaning has been retained. So what can you do to keep yourself safe while traversing certain sois? Simple, drive down in a Volvo - theyíve got great safety records. I think it is also safer if you give up writing poetry, it doesnít appear to be your best medium, Mistersingha. Stick to your day job!

Dear Hillary,

My Thai friend is driving me nuts with his giving in to his family at all times. Anything they want, he will give them, even if it is personal items of jewellery that I have given him. They want money and he will dish it out - only problem is that it is my money that he is doling out. And itís not just a few hundred baht here and there, itís by the thousand. I believe that it is the custom in Thailand that children look after their parents, as a matter of duty. I did not know that this covers a grasping avariciousness by the family towards the children. Is this the norm for this country? It seems that the family condones this behaviour, and even encourages it. If it is, I think I will make some other country my next port of call.

George

Dear George,

Duty to oneís parents is part of Thai culture, but how that is applied is not quite so clear. Since you are worrying because your finances are part of all this, you should consider that you also have a duty to your bank account, and your duty is not to his parents. However, once you give something to your boyfriend, it is his prerogative as to what he does with it. Nevertheless, it is also your prerogative to ignore the begging from your boyfriend, no matter what the reason for the asked for hand-out from his family. There are families in Thailand that are not so avaricious. In all countries there are cultural differences, you have come across one extreme. There are others in Thailand not so extreme. The choice is always yours

Dear Hillary,

With so many of the men writing in with problems, would it be possible for you to start some kind of dating service so that we would know that the girls have your recommendation. This would stop a lot of problems and heartache, surely?

Me First

Dear Me First,

Iím sorry, Me First, but you are not the first to suggest this as an answer for all the broken hearts out there. Apart from the fact that Hillary is a columnist and not an introduction agency, I see many, many problems with your suggestion. How could I possibly give the girls a Ďrecommendationí as you suggest? Even after an interview, I would still not really know the full story behind any Thai girl who would want to have an association with you. The responsibility and care is yours, Petal. Not mine.


Camera Class: Become an ĎEventsí photographer - and return with the goods!

by Snapshot

We all get asked to take photographs at events. Happy Anniversary! Happy Birthday! Congratulations on your engagement, graduation, marriage, baptism! Have a great vacation! It just goes on. Every week there will be some sort of celebration. Now have a look in your own family album and you will undoubtedly get all sorts of memories - hereís Bill when he graduated, Noiís birthday, Lekís wedding or even Felixís funeral.

For all these people, the event is an important milestone in their lives, in some way or another, and so the event deserves to be recorded properly. And guess what, you canít do it with one shot - it should even take more than one roll of 36 shots on.

So to make sure that you can get the event in its entirety, here are a few hints from Harry Flashman. The secret is to start long before you get to the event venue and sit down and make yourself a list. A checklist, in fact. What you have to remember at all times, is just what is this event all about? Let us assume that the party you are going to record is a birthday. Hereís what you should be thinking about.

What do you need to show? Firstly you have to show that it is a birthday, not just any old party. Secondly you have to feature the person whose birthday it is. Thirdly you have to show who came to celebrate the birthday and fourthly any significant gifts that were received. Not even Henri Cartier-Bresson would be able to get all that lot into one photograph!

It should go without saying that you have checked your camera, it does work, you do have film and you do have spare batteries for the flash. Here is the type of list I would draw up for myself if taking photographs for your childís birthday:

1. Shot of birthday boy looking at a birthday card (close up - this gives the visual clue that it is a birthday)

2. Birthday boy opening present (close up - more clues)

3. As above with parents and friends standing around (wide angle shot)

4. Mother placing candles on birthday cake (classic clue)

5. Father lighting candles

6. Blowing out the candles (close up - an absolute "must")

7. General shots of people singing and clapping

8. Happy time shots

Note that all these shots are designed to set the scene, show the participants and nominate the "star". There are varied shots, some close up, some group shots and together they make a package called "Billyís Birthday".

Probably one of the most important items to remember is my adage - "Walk several metres closer!" When people are just small dots, you cannot pick out who they were, several months later. Do not be afraid to walk in close - this one factor alone will result in much better pictures.

For many of the shots, you will also have to be prepared, because when the action happens at an event, it can happen very quickly. For example, blowing out the candles. You canít say, "Sorry, I wasnít ready. Can you do it again please?" The name of the game is to know what you are wanting to shoot, and be ready for it.

Now when you come to put them in the family album, you have a nice group of pictures which many years later will continue to say "Billyís Birthday", unmistakably. And you made it happen photographically. Well done!

So next time you are going to photograph an important event, buy a couple of rolls of film and plan your shots, take them deliberately according to the plan and be amazed at how much better your results will be!

One final word of warning. When you have become the Ďofficialí photographer for any event, you cannot be the life and soul of the party until you have taken all the shots on your list. You are being relied upon to come home with the goods. You canít do it with a belly full of gin and tonics!


Recipes from Rattana: Gazpacho - the famous Spanish cold soup

Gazpacho is always served cold, so it is a most refreshing soup for these hot days. This recipe is particularly simple, as it uses canned tomato juice, rather than having to process tomatoes in the blender. You will need a blender to prepare this soup, but do not over blend. The soup should have a thick consistency. You can also substitute red and yellow bell peppers for green if you wish.

Ingredients Serves 4

Tomato juice 1 litre

Cucumber peeled and chopped 1

Green bell pepper cored and chopped 1

Onion chopped 1

Garlic 2 cloves

Olive oil 2 tbspns

Vinegar white 4 tbspns

Cooking method

Using the blender, first chop up the garlic, then add the cucumber and bell peppers (capsicum), adding tomato juice as needed to liquefy. Finally add the rest of the juice. If you want elegance, press through a sieve. If youíre going for heartiness, just leave it the way it is. Mix in the olive oil and vinegar. Now refrigerate overnight.

When ready to serve, pour into bowls and garnish with salad vegetables as you see fit: minced or notched and sliced cucumber; thin green bell pepper slices; chopped coriander and croutons.


Ask your local US Consul

Dear Consul,

My girlfriend got a U.S. visa yesterday - yay - but why did we have to pay a hundred bucks for a two-minute interview?

- Also in Need of Beer Money

Dear Readers,

You arenít seeing double (at least, not in this instance). Last time, we pondered the "why did we have to pay a hundred bucks?" issue. This week, we turn to the immortal question: What is the visa interview, and why does it last two minutes?

Longtime readers already know that, by the decision of our nationís duly elected representatives, visa applicants to the U.S. are "guilty until proven innocent." Visa officers are required to assume that tourists are in fact planning to stay permanently, unless the applicants can demonstrate otherwise. (A visa refusal doesnít mean we think youíre lying. It just means you canít prove youíre telling the truth. Thereís a vast gray space of inscrutability between those two statements, and thatís the zone occupied by a visa refusal.)

In order to ferret out what an applicant intends, a visa officer relies on several tools: the information on the application; the information supplied by supporting documents; the personís application history (if any); the results of an antifraud analysis; a computerized check of the applicantís name against "lookout" databases around the world; and the interview. The interview is not the sine qua non of visa issuance. In fact, by the time the applicant reaches the interview window, the officer often already has a pretty good idea of whether the visa can be issued, based on the other tools.

Although the interview serves to elicit any additional information thatís needed, its more important function is to confirm whatís already been presented: good information, good interview, pass; bad information, bad interview, no pass; good information with bad interview or bad information with good interview, things get interesting. In the first two of these situations, the interview can be very fast indeed. In the third and fourth cases, the interview is likely to last longer than two minutes. Even here, however, the interview will not last longer than it takes to gather disqualifying information. Remember that old board game "Operation," where the goal was to remove plastic organs with a pair of tweezers, without touching the metal parts that would make the patient buzz? A visa interview is like that - if the guyís already buzzed, weíre not going to waste your time seeing if you can complete the appendectomy.

So: How do you ensure a good interview? Easy one: Be honest. It happens all too frequently that an applicant has what she thinks is an unusual situation (we get several thousand applicants per year, so whatever it is, it probably isnít), tells us what she thinks we want to hear rather than explain it, and is refused - whereas if sheíd been straightforward, she might have left with a visa.

Not only does a visa applicant sign a certification that the information is accurate - making misrepresentation potentially perjury - but, for all the new technological safeguards, a large part of the process still involves trust. Damage that credibility with a deliberate inaccuracy, however small, and it becomes nearly impossible to convince the officer to take a leap of faith that the person is coming back.

To clarify: an applicant who comes in and says, "I want to be honest. I just paid a guy 6,000 baht to get me a job as a waitress in Las Vegas - funny, but they only accept women - and Iíd like to go on a tourist visa" WILL be refused. However, if sheís honest, then when she comes back to get a student visa to go to NYU, that previous refusal wonít necessarily be held against her (Las Vegas Community College might give us pause). If sheís caught in a lie the first time, the threshold for making the patient buzz is going to be that much lower the next time around.

Coming soon: Social Security applications as "Twister".

The Consul

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 isnít selected, you can get an answer by calling the Consulate at 053-252-629, from 8 to 4.