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: Get real about real estate - Part 3

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

Rent or buy?

Before deciding whether to rent or buy a property in Thailand, look at the ratio between the purchase price and the rent being asked for the same property.

In the West, the ‘standard’ rule-of-thumb for value/rental is around 100-120 times. In other words, if your house is worth ฃ100,000 and in a prime location and good condition, you could get perhaps ฃ830-ฃ1,000 a month rental income from it.

(Of course, after paying taxes, rates, maintenance costs & repairs, insurance, agency fees, etc., you may end up with only 4%-5% per annum net return on your investment property. Considering the inflexibility of the investment, not a very enticing return.)

Here in Pattaya, however, the rule-of-thumb ratio seems to be more like 200 times.

For instance, the ‘average’ shop-house sells nowadays for around 1.6 million baht , depending on location. That same shop-house would rent for perhaps 8,000 baht per month. Which means the purchase price is about 200 times the rental price.

In other words, if you bought the property you would have sunk an amount of capital into it equivalent to paying 200 months’ rent (which for those who don’t have a calculator handy is 16 years and 8 months.)

Alternatively, the same 1.6 million baht wisely invested in secure medium-risk offshore investments could reasonably be expected to generate an income stream averaging 8% p.a. over the longer term - or 128,000 baht a year, while leaving the capital intact and securely yours.

Renting that property for a year would have cost you only 96,000 baht from this income-stream, so you would still have money left over for fun or whatever.

Simple arithmetic tells you it makes better economic sense to rent rather than having your capital tied up in a property which is unlikely to appreciate much in value and almost certainly not beat inflation, if past history of the local property market is any indication of future trends.

Location, location, location

Another point to consider is location. That property may be located in a ‘nice’ area now, but who knows whether that area will have become more popular or less popular 10-15 years hence?

“Ah,” you say, “But that’s how I’ll make a capital gain!” Yes, if the area improves. But you might have to swallow a capital loss if the area deteriorates - and that has happened many times in many ‘select’ spots of Pattaya which are booming one year and deserted the next. (And, I freely admit, vice versa.)

So making a capital gain on an investment property is very much pot luck.

Housing estates and even condominiums are subject to the same whims and fancies, it seems, although less than commercial property.

But consider whether you would be content living in the same house in the same location for the next 16 years. Because that’s the rental equivalent of purchasing the property outright.

It is more likely that you will want to move to another location - perhaps quieter, cleaner, newer - sometime during that period.

Then you’ve got the problem of finding a buyer for your house - perhaps in a deteriorating neighbourhood. After 16 years what repairs will your house require? Just look around a few 10-15 year-old houses to gauge the answer to that one.

An investment or a millstone?

Buying a property to live in is one thing; buying it as an investment is another, whether in Thailand or indeed anywhere.

While the property market in Thailand is still relatively depressed, homeowners could suffer a considerable capital loss if they sell their properties for what many buyers would regard as true market value. Naturally enough, they are reluctant to do so. This is one reason why property prices have not come down as much as was anticipated after the currency crisis of 1997.

If the homeowner bought the property on a mortgage or financing arrangement, the loss will be compounded by the interest he or she will have paid in the meantime, which until very recently was inordinately high - not to mention the taxes that may have to be paid on the property, either by the seller or the buyer.

Thus if you are looking at property purely from an investment perspective, it could take many years for the overall costs to be recovered. Even in developed markets, property values over the long term just about match inflation.

In the meantime, there are all sorts of ‘charges’ on the investment to be considered: taxes (discussed next week); insurance; maintenance and repairs - which could be a major expense should the tenants run amok and trash the place, as has happened to some friends of mine right here in Pattaya!

I know of other cases where a property was bought as a long-term investment, and has become a millstone round the owner’s neck. The property is sitting idle with no prospective buyers in sight, no rental income, but still incurring a tax liability each year. It is therefore a depreciating capital asset which is a drain on resources, rather than an income-generating investment.

At the end of the day, it is entirely up to you whether you buy or rent your home, and this is often an emotive rather than rational decision.

But after taking into consideration the significant capital outlay, bureaucratic complications, peripheral costs, taxes and inflexibility, my advice would have to be “Rent don’t buy.”

(To be concluded next week)

Personal Directions: Being assertive generally leads to winning situations

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

I was talking with some colleagues the other day about young managers and, how today, there are so many areas of responsibility that they have to attend to and deal with. One skills area or should I say - behaviour - that is a necessity in any successful form of management or managerial style is being able to assert oneself. Now some of you may say that there are enormous cultural boundaries with respect to (and which affects) the way people behave and, to an extent I agree. But I don’t like to focus too much on cultural differences because sometimes they get in the way, turn into excuses as to why people don’t perform, and lessen our ability to view - and understand - the real person beneath what we see.

Just what is

Assertiveness emphasizes self-confidence and a persistent determination to express oneself or one’s opinions.

It’s about improving interpersonal skills, being more effective in communication in order to better handle problem people and situations.

It’s about being positive and in control - of thoughts, tone of voice, body language - the ability to communicate.

What does it

It involves greater self-awareness, getting to know, like and be in-charge of the real you!

It involves listening and responding to the needs of others without neglecting a person’s own interests or compromising their principles.

Being assertive generally leads to winning situations, where both parties feel good about themselves.

For a little bit of background on this, let’s take a look at conditioning, and its contribution our patterns of behaviour. When we first entered this world, and until we were about six months old, we knew and demonstrated two forms of behaviour: aggressive, demanding behaviour and passive, dependent behaviour.

In our early development we were conditioned by people and events, and soon adapted to please parents or other adults responsible for our social training and up-bringing. We were told what was good and what was bad; what to do and what not to do. Good behaviour was rewarded with smiles and favours, but sometimes bad behaviour was rewarded too - with attention. And so the passive / aggressive pattern builds and as adults we slide into the adapted behaviour to achieve our own ends, to keep the peace or to satisfy others - often forgetting and sacrificing our own well-being.

Passive and aggressive behaviours come naturally to us and often seem the easy (though not usually the most effective) way out, whereas assertive behaviour requires a cognitive process rather than a gut reaction.

Assertive behaviour is learnt - we were not born assertive.

Depending on our own mood, the situation, the people involved and so on, we frequently respond somewhere between passive-through-aggressive, without giving a thought to the assertive option which recognizes the needs, feelings and opinions of both ourselves and the other person.

Conditioning plays an important part in the way we act and react as an adult. As a child we may have learned that it is not polite for a lady to express anger, or that it is a sign of weakness to cry in public, or that men should enjoy physical contact sports and so on. This quiet conditioning has coloured the way we see ourselves and others, but the good news is that conditioning has not fixed our personality forever. We are constantly developing and changing. Things learned can be unlearned, alternative behaviours can be rehearsed and practiced until they become natural behaviours.

It should be stressed here that it is not necessarily a bad thing to react passively or aggressively, just as being assertive might not always be the best behaviour choice. There is such a thing as appropriate behaviour choice and passive and aggressive behaviours are sometimes appropriate, depending on the situation.

Before I go any further, I would like to add that being assertive is a quality not only desired in today’s managers, it is quality desired in just about everyone in view of the richness of life it can give to individuals and to society as a whole.

Assertiveness training can be of huge benefit as a means of self-development. People with good assertiveness skills will also have increased self-awareness, greater confidence and self-esteem, honest and powerful effective communication skills. They will have respect for themselves and others.

Most central to this is positive thinking. Assertive people have a positive self-image; they will use positive language; they will look for positive outcomes to interactions; they will work with the other person to provide positive solutions to problems by which both sides win; they will be positive in their respect for the other person’s views and opinions, whether or not they share these views.

In preparing to be assertive there are many such factors to consider, such as, self-awareness and self-esteem, positive self-image, body talk and body language, positive verbal skills, voice volume, intonation and projection, position and status.

Out of all these factors, let’s take a brief look at positive verbal skills. Assertive communication means be able to express oneself concisely and clearly in a direct, honest and spontaneous way.

It also means to:

* State exactly what you feel or think; don’t expect people to be mind-readers

* Tackle the problem, not the person

* Match vocabulary to the listener

* Deal with specifics, not generalizations

* Don’t over-apologize - once is enough if sincerely said and in an assertive manner. Don’t apologize for everything and to everyone!

* Don’t give excessive explanations

* Take ownership of your message. Have the confidence to say “I” and take responsibility for individual opinion!

Being assertive generally leads to winning situations. Unfortunately, in the same way as you will not become slimmer and trimmer by watching a fitness workout video, you will not become assertive just by reading words on a page. You need to be actively involved and you have to get out there and practise. Start with something small and if you make a mistake, forgive yourself and try again!

For more information on our programs including Assertiveness for Managers, please don’t hesitate to contact me at [email protected]

Until next time have a very positive week and please continue to send in your comments or opinions, should you wish to share them.

The Doctor's Consultation by Dr. Iain Corness: SARS - a pimple on the bottom of an elephant!

by Dr. Iain Corness

The other day I heard of a dog that was going to the UK was refused his kennel on the plane because the authorities in an airport in Europe, where Rover was going to be shifted onto another flight, would not let him out because of SARS!

My incredulous response was that dogs don’t carry SARS, but it seems that the ban on Rover the flying puppy was because the ground handlers wouldn’t touch anything that came from Taiwan! Entreaties that Taiwan and Thailand were totally different countries fell on deaf ears. As far as the ground handlers were concerned, Taiwan and Thailand were in Asia and that’s where SARS came from! Rover is still grounded at last report.

So should the ground handlers be that cautious? No! The simple answer is that SARS should only be thought of as a pimple on the bottom of an elephant. It is truly that insignificant!

Now, I would not blame you for being suspicious of my stand on this disease, after all, the media all over the world elevated SARS to a continuing front page saga, after the war in Iraq fizzled.

However, I would like you to think about the following facts. As I write this, the latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that the cumulative number of SARS cases in the entire world is 8,240. Please note that this is not the number of people currently lying in hospital. This is the total number of people who have the disease now added to the ones who have HAD the disease over the past six months (and got over it in the vast majority of cases)! Total deaths stand at 745. That’s 745 in the entire world in the past six months.

Now I want you to look at these figures - last year, in America, 36,000 people died from Influenza. That’s right, 36,000 DIED from the flu. In addition, the latest figures I have from Australia indicate that in one year there were 24,600 cases of pneumonia, and 1,746 of them died. Yes, that’s 1,001 more people died in one small population than have died in the entire world from SARS.

In the light of these figures, especially 36,000 deaths in the US, shouldn’t the WHO be issuing travel warnings to America? Well, don’t cancel your ticket, they haven’t - but they did issue a travel warning to Vietnam because of SARS. You want to know why? Well, in Vietnam, 5 people died from SARS in a population of 81 million people. That’s right FIVE deaths in 81 million and the WHO pulled the plug on Vietnam.

Using the WHO’s own figures, the death rate from SARS is still less than 10% and the vast majority of those who succumb are the old and frail or those with compromised immune systems. Remember too, that the WHO bases its figures of SARS sufferers from the lists in hospitals. What about all those who had SARS, didn’t go to hospital because for them it was a mild illness, and so never got counted in the list of those who got better? The death rate from pneumonia in a developed country like Australia is 7%, so I would expect the death rate from SARS (a form of pneumonia), to be about the same. It is. It is not a killer disease. It is a pimple on the bottom of an elephant.

Agony Column

Dear Hillary,

I’m just curious to know. Does (sic) all foreigners marry or have relationships with bargirl/freelancer prostitutes. I’m asking this because all the men that I know of have those girls as companions. And I was told by Thais that if they see foreigners and Thais together, its (sic) usually is between prostitutes and her/his customers.


Dear Curious,

I think it is high time that you took a closer look at all the men you know. Are these people the only ones you know? Change your circle of friends, my Petal. And soon. You are also doing a great dis-service to the majority of women in Thailand, such as accountants, architects, business women, doctors, hospitality professionals, opticians, nurses and many other women who may be married to someone from another country. It is not that difficult to spot the difference between the way a prostitute dresses and behaves, compared to other women - in any country in the world, not just in Thailand. If you don’t believe me, try a quick trip to Soho in London, Kings Cross in Sydney or Amsterdam. However, you are correct, that if a foreigner is seen with his arm round a scantily dressed girl in a bar in a red light area, then it is most likely that this is an association between a prostitute and her customer, be it in Vietnam, Hong Kong, Australia, Germany, Holland, America or even Thailand. There’s jam tarts, apple tarts and plain tarts. It’s about time you knew the difference. You men make me sick sometimes. Pay more attention to your spelling and grammar and less to the bar room small talk.

Dear Khun Hillary,

I am in love with your column! You maybe do not have an idea how much your reply to Mr. Cheesed Off has just hit right to my core heart! I am called “a Thai” of course... I would suggest to anyone who is always busy and has missed that issue that pretty soon you might need to have the alarm set on your personal computers to remind you for when the next great new Mail is due out. I apologise for my poor plain English, however I will try to improve and write to you more. A big thank you to the great Optimistic Hillary.

Thai Woman

Dear Thai Woman,

A big thank you to you too, my Thai Petal. It is always nice to know that somebody appreciates the hours Hillary spends slaving over a hot keyboard, with only chocolates and champagne for nourishment, just to get the column finished in time for the ungrateful editor (who never sends me choccies, even at Xmas time). Your English is fine and your writing very legible, which is more than I can say for some of the other contributions from native English speakers who should be able to string a few sentences together in readable script.

Dear Hillary,

Like Traffic Jam Johnny (two weeks ago) I am heartily sick of the never-ending story of road repairs. Even when they lay new concrete, they will come along two months later and dig it all up to lay water drains. Don’t they have anyone to coordinate the work so that they don’t have to dig up the same through roads twice? You might wonder what this has got to do with Hillary, but they have been digging outside my house for the past six days and I can’t get to sleep in the daytime and it is playing hell with my love life. Got any suggestions?

Traffic Jam Jim

Dear Traffic Jam Jim,

I must say I certainly did wonder what the local road works had to do with me. I was beginning to think that I was supposed to rush out in the early morning, hair in curlers, in my pink chenille dressing gown and start laying concrete or similar physical nonsense. Now to your insomnia. Have you thought of going somewhere else during the daytime? Ear plugs perhaps? But why do you need to sleep during the day anyway? Surely you haven’t got a job that has you on night shift? In the meantime, why don’t you go out there yourself and give them a hand. I’m sure they will appreciate it, and the extra physical activity will make you so tired you will go to sleep immediately.

Dear Hillary,

Do you have the answers to constant requests from people in the old country who want to come over here and think they should automatically get a spare bed in my house. Some of these people aren’t even close friends, or worse still, friends of friends. I have lived here for a couple of years now and in that time have had 11 different house guests. None of them ever say thanks, or offer to pay for anything, they drink the refrigerator dry and leave the towels wet and sopping. They want my maid to do their washing and ironing and don’t pay her either. How do I stop this?

Harry Hotel

Dear Harry Hotel,

This is very easy to fix. Learn these two words next time you are asked, “Sorry! No!” There, that was easy, wasn’t it, Petal?

Camera Class: Get a new viewpoint on life

by Harry Flashman

Successful photographers are people who have learned to develop their art of ‘seeing’. When you boil it all down, photography is really just about ‘seeing’ and presenting images. Successful photographers are very often ones who have discovered a “different” way of seeing the subjects that they (and you and I) photograph.

Bill Brandt photo

One obvious example was the British photographer Bill Brandt, famous for photographing nudes using a wide-angle lens on the camera. This gave a very distorted figure, but one that became “arty” and produced fame for Brandt. Whether you find Brandt’s viewpoint aesthetic does not matter - the important fact to remember was that it was different.

This does not mean that I suggest you race down to the closest beach with a fish eye lens glued on the camera and try and persuade people to remove their clothes! Far from it. What I am suggesting is that you should stop for a while and consider something unusual, compared to your “standard” way of taking shots.

You see, it makes no difference whether you have an SLR with multiple lens choices, or just a humble point and shooter with a fixed lens, we eventually get into a “habit” while taking photographs. Habits include the lens you stick on the front of the camera. I will wager that you have a favourite lens that stays on the camera body, and the others are only used when you cannot get the subject in the frame and have to use an alternative. And habits certainly do die hard, even if it is just the one of always taking shots in the horizontal (landscape) format. Look at your last parcel of pictures. How many were vertical format?

What I am suggesting is to devote one complete roll of film to some new or different ways of doing things. Many times it is impossible to predict what the final result may be. You may have discovered a radical new approach, a highly individualistic way of presentation. The end result may not be to everyone’s taste (like my idea about Bill Brandt’s work), but you will never know till you try. And what is a roll of film worth compared to the fun (and fame and fortune, perhaps) that this weekend could produce for you.

To get you going, here are a few ideas you might like to explore. The first I will call the child’s eye view. Our viewpoint is generally around 1.75 metres from the ground. That’s where our eye level is and that is the viewpoint we use in 99% of our pictures. Now imagine you are a three year old child. Your viewpoint on life is very much closer to terra firma. You spend more time looking up at the world. It would certainly be worth re-viewing some items from this very low viewpoint. OK, I know you will end up looking up people’s noses - but it just might work. You won’t know till you get the pictures back.

The opposite end of the spectrum is the “Bird’s eye view”. This takes some more thought and planning - and sometimes a stepladder as well, but again you will get different shots. Ever noticed how many rock bands have photographs taken from above, with the members of the group looking up at the camera? Ever wondered why? It is because you end up getting a very powerful shot - and a different, memorable shot. Try standing on anything high. Just don’t drop your expensive camera or fall off! It is actually quite easy to become unbalanced looking through the viewfinder when up high.

For those who do have choices of lenses, or do have zoom facility in the point and shooter, you can try using the two extremes that you have, even though you may think that the lens choice is unsuitable for what you are photographing. After all, remember Bill Brandt! It is even worthwhile taking the same subject matter with both of the two opposite extremes - wide angle and telephoto.

Recipes from Rattana: Larb Gai

This is a traditional dish which originates from North Eastern Thailand. Being an Isaan item can have problems for the western taste buds, with the extreme degree of chilli ‘heat’. This recipe has been modified, to retain the original taste and texture, but tone down the spiciness. However, if you wish to increase the amount of chilli powder indicated this will increase the ‘fire’.

Larb may be prepared as beef, pork or chicken. The recipe presented here is for chicken as I believe it is the most popular variation. Serve with side dish of iced sliced cabbage and runner beans.

Ingredients Serves 2-4

Ground chicken 200 gms

Onion diced small 1

Shallots chopped 15gms

Dry-fried rice 1 tbspn

Fish sauce 1 tbspn

Lemon juice 1 tspn

Chilli powder 1 pinch

Mint and dill leaves for garnish

Cooking Method

Dry-fry rice in a pan or roast in oven till golden brown. Grind or pound it coarse with mortar and pestle and set aside.

Cook the chicken in a non-stick pan over a low heat. Mix in the other ingredients, stirring well. Check the mixture for seasoning, adding more fish sauce or lemon juice to suit and serve, garnishing with mint and dill on the top.

Ask your local US Consul

Dear Consul,

I tried to get something notarized on Thursday afternoon and was told I had to come on Monday or Wednesday between 1 and 3:30. What is the deal with you people at the Consulate working a 7-hour week?

- A. Noid

Dear Mr./Ms. Noid:

You know what annoys me? Hollywood actors. I mean, think about it: Tom Hanks received millions of dollars for “Castaway,” and worked for, what? All of 145 minutes?

My point being, gentle Noid, that we can quibble about whether Hanks’ salary is any less obscene if we figure in the time he spent growing a bushy beard for the role and gaining and losing 55 pounds, but he most certainly worked for more than the 145 minutes we see him on the screen. The same thing, of course, goes for work at Consulate, except that the beard was a lot harder to grow (the weight was a cinch to gain), and the salary isn’t even a little burlesque.

American Citizen Service window hours is the small, 7-hour tip of an iceberg. The other 43 hour-per-week submerged slab of cold, hard reality is comprised of visa window hours; processing time for visas, passports, reports of birth, reports of death, and federal benefits checks; inventorying and shipping the estates of the deceased; visiting prisoners; repatriating destitute citizens; accounting paperwork (fees and materials); reports; correspondence (telephone, letters, and fax); and responding to various taskings from both the Embassy in Bangkok and the State Department in Washington. All this is the routine stuff; I’m not even mentioning the crises and emergencies, which are also routine in frequency, but harder to describe (ranging over but certainly not limited to bites from monkeys, pachyderms, and bargirls; naked hotel loungings and defecations; medication eschewals; and internecine warfare. And that’s just the Consulate staff).

In a larger embassy, such as - well, just about anywhere in the world other than Micronesia, really - there are different, specialized sections to deal with each of these issues. In Bangkok, for instance, there are 30 employees who do nothing but consular affairs every day. In Chiang Mai, which covers the same breadth of issues, albeit on a smaller scale, there are 3. For the needs of sanity and fairness to those with crisis situations (the ones not mentioned above - child abductions, death threats, and life-threatening injuries), we have to corral routine transactions into certain specified times.

Because the U.S. expatriate community has been growing, and, with it, demands for citizen services, we expanded our hours as of March this year. Now, if you need a non-fee service, such as extra passport pages, registration, or picking up checks, forms, or completed passports - not notarials, sorry - you can opt to come in between 8 and 10:30 on Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday mornings, thus doing your bit to reduce the lines during the regular hours. Next year, with the addition of another officer, we hope to do more of our bit, garnering a little more screen time and opening for all services on those mornings as well. Watch this space for previews.

In the meantime, you can save yourself some hassle by arming yourself with the facts before you make the trek in. Our long-promised informational recordings are now on-line, where you can learn about the types and times of services offered, what to bring, visa categories, and even whether the passport you applied for is ready. Just phone 053-252-629, and press “1” to get to the consular section menu.

And please give my regards to your brother, Para - he’s a very loyal customer of ours.

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 isn’t selected, you can get an answer by calling the Consulate at 053-252-629, from 8 to 4.