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Your Health & Happiness

The Doctor's Consultation 

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in the Laugh Lane

Your Health & Happiness:  Spa operators seek urgent state assistance

Spa operators have called for urgent assistance from the government after sustaining damages of almost 1.6 billion baht from last month’s tsunami disaster, leaving over 2,500 people jobless. Paiboon Piranowas, president of the Thai Spa Federation, said the damages inflicted on the spa business totaled around 50% of the country’s entire market value of around 3.6 billion baht.

Before the tsunami tragedy, spa operators in Phuket set a target to earn 1 billon baht in revenue per year. Now, total revenues have been reduced to 10 million baht, with the number of spas falling to 111 from 121 and the workforce declining to 1,500 from 3,740.

In Phang-nga, operators have targeted 420 million baht in annual revenue. Now, however, the number of spas has dropped to 3 from 24, with revenue expected to be flat. The workforce was reduced to 10 from 200.

In Krabi, operators hoped to earn revenue of 180 million baht per year. Now, they expected to earn only 4.32 million baht. However, the number of spas remained unchanged with the workforce dropping to 180 from 200.

Paiboon Piranowas said spa businesses have not yet obtained concrete assistance since the tsunamis wrecked the six southern Andaman coastal provinces. So, the federation wants the government to accelerate working out a plan to expand spa business in areas which are not affected by the disaster, and find jobs for the affected workers.

Thai spa villages should be established in Phuket, Phang-nga, and Krabi so they could be new tourist sites where tourists are accessible to local spa services, he said. The government should also set aside a budget to promote low-cost tour packages with accommodations. (TNA)


The Doctor's Consultation: Drug abuse - just a Thailand problem?

by Dr. Iain Corness

With all the various “Wars on Drugs” over the past few years you could be forgiven for thinking that this was some sort of peculiar local problem. It isn’t. The report, A National Survey of Canadians’ Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs, which is available at www.ccsa.ca/pdf/ccsa-004804-2004.pdf would show that drug abuse has increased in Canada over the past 10 years.

Where in Thailand it is amphetamines that are the ‘pleasure’ drug, in Canada it is cannabis (marijuana). What is additionally brought out in the Canadian report is that the authorities overseas also consider alcohol as a drug which is overused, and they are correct. When you look around you in Thailand, you would have to agree that this is just as great a problem here as it is overseas.

The Canadian addiction study was done as a phone survey, and was the first since 1994, and covered the habits of Canadians aged 15 and older. While these types of surveys really only scratch at the surface, and are not totally accurate, they are sufficiently sensitive to show trends that occur, especially when taken several years apart.

According to the report in the British Medical Journal, a total of 13,909 Canadians from across the country took part in telephone interviews for the latest study between December 2003 and April 2004. It focused on the impact that alcohol and drug use has on physical, mental, and social well-being.

Overall, 45 percent of Canadians reported using cannabis at least once during their lifetime. Fourteen percent of Canadians reported using cannabis in the past year, nearly double the rate reported in 1994. Of these, almost 46 percent had not used cannabis or had used it only once or twice in the three months preceding the interview. However, 18 percent of users in the past year reported daily use.

While it could be said that this does not represent much of a threat to society, when the figures were broken down into age groups, a picture emerges that is worrying for Canadian health professionals.

Again returning to the British Medical Journal, reported rates in youths show that almost 30 percent of 15-17 year olds and more than 47 percent of 18-19 year olds said they had used cannabis in the past year. Almost 70 percent of survey participants between ages 18 and 24 reported having used cannabis at least once.

The study also showed that the prevalence of lifetime use of cannabis increases with education and income, the study found. Also, people who had never been married were more likely to use cannabis. This has to be another worry for the public health people overseas. The better educated group, that should know and understand the problem, are choosing to ignore health directives.

Without wishing to spark off debate as to whether or not cannabis is dangerous, even the pro-marijuana lobby has to admit that for the vast majority of users it is not taken for medicinal purposes, but for the mind altering states that it can induce. “The rise in cannabis use, especially among young Canadians, is of concern because we know that cannabis is not a benign substance,” said Michel Perron, chief executive officer of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. “There are a number of health risks associated with use.”

Nor am I ignoring that alcohol is another mind-altering substance with serious health effects. It is a sad reflection on our societies that we have to escape from reality in these ways.


Agony Column

Dear Hillary,
My Thai girlfriend is wonderful in every way except that she lives at home with her family. We have been going out for almost a year and I am tired of living on my own, as I have been for the past year. My girlfriend and I agree on every point, other than the fact that she says she cannot stay with me as her family would not allow it. We even have to have her aunt as a chaperone when we go out in the evenings. Is there something different with Thai women? After this length of time any of my UK girls would have moved in no problems. Other friends of mine have had no end of girls staying with them, though I have to admit that these were girls from the bars. My girlfriend is not one of those girls. How do you get a Thai girl who lives at home with her family to move in with you?
Will

Dear Will,
You poor Petal, you have discovered where there’s a will, there’s a won’t! You have fallen into the trap of thinking that all Thai girls are easy, just because the ‘professionals’ from the bar scene are happy to change addresses, while the money holds out. There is much to be done before you are going to prise your lady friend away from the family. There is a bill to be paid, Will. Even if your lady has told her family that she would like to change her address and take up residence with you and your rotten jocks, then there will be prior approval required, plus approval of your financial status, which will be judged appropriate when a large lump of it leaves your home and moves in to her family home. Dowry is important, Petal. If you haven’t even reached that stage of negotiation, then you are still several months away from your conjugal goal. Perhaps it is time for you to broach the subject with the lady and then start haggling from there. Bargaining is part of life in this country - even including the affairs of the heart. If all else fails, you could always try moving in with her!
Dear Hillary,
My girlfriend rings me a lot while I am overseas. I am quite happy to pay the phone bill because she has to ring me in Saudi. I also bought the mobile phone for her, because I know these items are not cheap for Thai people, but she keeps telling me she has lost the phone. So far this year she has “lost” or had “stolen” three mobile phones. I have tried ringing the numbers and the phones are still connected, so they have not been trashed. What bothers me is that a friend of mine had a similar situation with his girl and it turned out she was just ripping him off. Is this a cause for concern, or do Thai women lose things like mobile phones?
Sandy

Dear Sandy,
I think you have a problem. Thai women do not lose anything, especially anything of value. What you have to do is find out where the bills are going. I think you will find they will still be going to your girlfriend’s address. Check the dates. Since you wrote this letter to Hillary, you must have some doubts. I would have some too.
Dear Hillary,
You always telling the falangs to look for good Thai lady. I good Thai lady but where you go to meet good falang?
Nid

Dear Nid,
Just as the Thai ladies in the bars are generally looking for a financial mate and are not the best bet, the farang men in the bars looking for company are similarly not the best bet. What you should do is read the Community Happenings in the newspaper and go along to concerts, charity drives and music nights at the better pubs and venues. Enjoy the music and talk to any farang who is also enjoying the music and who comes up and sits next to you. Give him a card with your name and phone number at the end of the night if you like him and go from there. If he is interested he will ring you. Best of luck.
Dear Hillary,
My secretary is a good employee in every way - other than never replacing the butter in the fridge. I like a piece of toast mid-morning and there is nothing more annoying than going to the fridge with my hot toasted bread to find an empty butter container! I wouldn’t care if she told me the butter was all gone, but she leaves the container there which is dead set empty. How do I break her of this habit?
Browned Off

Dear Browned Off,
Oh dear! The empty container in the fridge problem again. The reason is fairly simple to deduce, Petal. The last one to use the butter would have to replace it, so unless you have plenty of spare cash, don’t be seen as the last one in! Since secretaries are usually not all that well paid (but if yours is, then Hillary will apply for the job) then she does not want to be seen as the last in. Just tell her to come and see you as soon as the butter gets low and you will give her the money for the new container.


Camera Class: More powerful photography

by Harry Flashman

A few weeks ago I published a photograph of Pablo Picasso, all dark and moody with lots of shadow, taken by the famous photographer Irving Penn. Look at this week’s photograph, that of the eminent historian Thomas Carlyle. It was taken in 1867 and is ranked as one of the most powerful portraits in the history of photography. I have written about this before, but it stands repetition. This is photography with a capital P!

Now look again - technically it is imperfect. There is blurring of the image, but when you realise that the shutter was open for probably around three minutes, then you can see why. The sitter could not possibly remain motionless for that period of time.

The dynamics of this shot come from the very first principles of photography - painting with light. It is not the subject - it is the way you light the subject. The light is falling on the sitter almost from the side and slightly above. One eye is partially lit and the other in shadow. The hair and beard show up strongly. The photo is totally confrontational.

Analyse further. If the face had been front lit, and both eyes, the nose and the mouth were all clearly visible then there would be no air of mystery. The dark shadow areas of the photograph have made you look further into it. You begin to imagine what the features were like. You also begin to imagine what the person was like. You have just experienced the “perfect” portrait.

The shot was taken by Julia Margaret Cameron (1815 - 1879) a British lady who had been raised in India, in the days of the British Raj. Surrounded by servants, she had never had to do anything for herself, and yet, in her late forties she took up the new fangled notion of photography. This was not the age of the point and shoot simplicity we enjoy today. This was the age of making your own photographic plates by painting a mixture of chemicals all over it - chemicals you mixed yourself - exposing the plate in a wooden box camera and then fixing the negative in more chemicals and finally making a print.

It was the 29th of January 1864 when Mrs. Cameron finally produced her first usable print. She had made the exposure at 1 p.m. and in her diary recorded the fact that by 8 p.m. she had made and framed the final print. (And you think you are doing it tough if you have to wait two hours, instead of one!)

As opposed to the tiny “cartes de visite” that were the norm at that time, Julia Margaret Cameron was making close up portraits 30x40 cm. However, she would not have managed to photograph so many of the notables of the era had it not been for her next door neighbour, the Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson. After Tennyson saw his portrait he persuaded his eminent friends to sit for her as well. Most of these portraits were different from the Thomas Carlyle photograph in that they were taken in profile. Mrs. Cameron felt that the innate intelligence could be more easily seen in the profile and this may have been the result of the influence of the quasi-science of Phrenology, whereby your cranial bumps showed your true talents, which was all the rage at that time!

Julia Margaret Cameron contributed to photography by showing that it is the eye of the photographer that dictates the photograph, not the “smartness” of the equipment. She also showed a personal determination to succeed which should be an example to the young photographers of today.

So you can stop reading the photographic magazines to see if you should buy the latest offering from Nikononanolta complete with one zillionth of a second shutter speed and dedicated flash power for up to three kilometres and just go out and take photographs with what you have got. Look at what is in front of you and “make” your own photographs “work” for you. Thus endeth the inspirational lesson. Thank you Mrs. Cameron. Class dismissed!


Money Matters: Economics

Alan Hall
MBMG International Ltd.

If one can accurately predict what the US consumer will do in 2005, than one would be a very wealthy man or woman. In an unbalanced world, where trade still relies on the US, its health or otherwise is still key in determining how or where to invest one’s money. On a balance of probabilities, it is our view that US growth will disappoint in 2005. This we base on a number of factors, chiefly that tax cuts for consumers are now largely exhausted; Greenspan has indicated that interest rates are rising and wage income growth has not kept pace with consumer spending.

However, the latest economic numbers have not helped solve this conundrum. On the one hand, retails sales remain buoyant, but on the other hand real average weekly earnings are anaemic and mortgage refinancing is coming off the boil. It may not be 2005 that the consumer capitulates, but with debt at sky high levels, it is only a question of time before the US housewife starts to try to save. Modern history is replete with examples of consumers maintaining their spending habits long after they ceased to be affordable. Inevitably the payback has been painful.

Equities

Risk aversion seems to be the name of the game, as most major indices have started the New Year off in the red. In a recent Merrill Lynch survey of global fund managers, the dominant theme seemed to be one of avoiding risk and holding on to the spectacular gains seen in the final quarter of 2004. So why this sudden change of heart? We think it has everything to do with Greenspan and his comments made at the December FOMC meeting, which is why the focus on the February meeting is even more intense than usual. In December he indicated that he was concerned about inflation and the excessive risk taking in the markets.

Rather than any decision to increase or not increase on Feb 1, this indicated that the Fed is suddenly serious about raising rates through 2005 and that short term rates will probably have only one direction to go and that is up. Given that the dollar carry trade has been all the rage for the last two years (thanks to a weak dollar and low interest rates in the US), it is probably not that surprising to see that higher beta trades are currently under pressure, as rates start to rise in the US and the dollar has pulled back from historic lows.

The majority of strategists that we read have collectively turned bearish on world markets in the short term. Belkin, who is one of the most bearish, advocates selling into any strength and says that he feels that any new rallies in the market will struggle to reach higher highs than those reached in late 2004. This is even more pertinent, given his bullish view of markets in the final quarter of 2004.

The markets also make Richard Russell nervous and he bases this view on the technicals of the US markets deteriorating. The Buying and Selling indices are off their highs, the advance decline ratio is struggling, there is non confirmation of the new high by the Dow Transports by the Down Industrials and the Big money breadth index (an indicator of the institutional investors’ interest in the markets) is off its highs.

Bonds

It is clear that one of the few asset classes (apart from being the long dollar) to achieve positive returns, so far, for 2005 has been long dated US treasuries. This fact is all the more amazing, given the weakness in equity markets on the back of rising inflation and interest rate concerns. The only way that this current rally makes any sense is if investors honestly believe one of the following:

- Deflation is just around the corner;
- US growth will slow;

- Foreigners are continuing to support the treasury market (which would at the same time explain a lot of the strength of the dollar).

Currencies

As predicted, the dollar has staged a comeback in the early part of 2005, which we can happily report is the call we made late 2004. It also did not surprise us to see the dollar bounce back from the horrific November trade deficit numbers, as we have long argued that a weaker dollar is not the answer to the world’s trade imbalances. What is needed is stronger growth outside the US and until either that happens or there is a recession in the US, the deficit is not going to suddenly get any better, weak dollar or not.

In the short term we maintain that the dollar could enjoy a bit more strength, especially against the euro. The euro, from a purchasing parity point of view, is starting to look expensive and the ECB is starting to mutter that exports could come under pressure.

The above data and research was compiled from sources believed to be reliable. However, neither MBMG International Ltd nor its officers can accept any liability for any errors or omissions in the above article nor bear any responsibility for any losses achieved as a result of any actions taken or not taken as a consequence of reading the above article. For more information please contact Alan Hall on [email protected]


Life in the Laugh Lane: Think Thai or Die: Chapter One

by Scott Jones

I’m hoping to save a few lives by writing a book about traffic in Thailand. You’d better read a chapter a week in this column since I may not survive on the roads long enough to finish it.

If an actual book of traffic laws exists in Thailand, no one has ever read it. If you try to figure out what the book says by watching the traffic, you assume there must be regulations like: “Anyone can ride a motorcycle at any age once they have left the womb and the umbilical cord is severed, or before, until death, or after.” Or, “Anyone may drive as fast as they can, anywhere they want, in any direction, including up, down and sideways, on any road, path, ditch, sidewalk, lobby, field, stream, escarpment, paradangle or particle of the earth.” Or perhaps it’s a very thin book with one page and one word: “Whatever.”

Every road in Thailand

Laws in the West were written in stone by Moses. Here they seem to be flexible guidelines, chalk lines in the wind, that change depending on the person, the place, the time of day or the relative position of Uranus. Nike gets their shoes made in Asia. They may also have gotten their slogan here: “Just do it.” These mercurial, ever-changing laws seem to exist only in the minds of the drivers, so if you don’t get into their heads, you’ll quickly be scraping yourself on cement or they’ll be scraping you off the cement. Think Thai or die.

In America, this double One Way sign doesn’t make sense. It’s a mutually exclusive non sequitur. Like “jumbo shrimp.” Or “semi-boneless” chicken. Or “military intelligence.” What do you do? You either back up or live there. You can’t go both ways on a one way road. If you drive the wrong way, you’ll pay. Do it a couple more times and they’ll take your license away. Once more and they’ll take you away. One way in America relates to the road. One way here seems to relate to the driver. This sign describes exactly the way Thais drive. “I go one way. I always go one way. Whichever way I go, it one way.” The police don’t seem to care, too busy with their Random Stationary Checkpoints for motorcycle riders without helmets. Moving violations don’t seem to interest them since they would actually have to move to apprehend violators. A Die-hard Helmet Devotee who doesn’t want to die, I support these educational, fund-raising activities and don’t quite understand riders who use their helmets to protect their bike basket.

This sign at every intersection would be a good reminder for foreigners to look both ways. No, look every way. Twice. Something may be coming across the median or out of the ravine: bike, tuk-tuk, truck, water buffalo. If it’s a bike, I guarantee the driver will only be looking one way, his way, day or night, lights on or off, talking on a cell phone and carrying a family of seven: dad, mom, the kids, grandma, two dogs. Whatever.