HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The Doctor's Consultation

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in the Laugh Lane

The Doctor's Consultation: How much exercise should I do, Doctor?

by Dr. Iain Corness

We medicos are good at handing out advice, but not too many of us follow our own wise words. Of course, we have an excuse – we are so busy telling people what to do, that we haven’t got the time to do it ourselves. Exercise is a classic example. I tell everyone that they should build in an exercise component into their lifestyle, but my mate Alan is the only one I know who does it. For many of us, the excuse is that we don’t know how much.

My next door neighbours had a concession on Jomtien Beach. You know, the usual beach chairs and tables, umbrellas and drinks. They also had what was probably Thailand’s oldest truck. It is around 50 years old and crawls down the street every morning and evening, laden down with ice, bottles and deck chairs. Many times I have had to help the old girl into the driveway as it has wheezed to a halt half way in. But it continues to stagger on. Good enough for the job it has to do. After all, it is 50 years old.

Every morning I also see the 50 year old joggers along Jomtien Beach as I go to the office. They appear to be held together anatomically by leotard and lycra, or even older men doing what I call the “cardiac shuffle” having been advised by their doctors to get some exercise following their heart attack. I also ponder in the mornings as to whether these people are really going (jogging) down the right track?

The question, “How much exercise should I do, Doc?” is one that I have had to parry all my medical life. When I was a young buck it was easy. “You can’t get too much of it,” was my usual reply (and that just about covered everything in life!). However, now being ten years older than my neighbour’s truck I tend to be a little more conservative. More and more I have learned to look at the animal kingdom for a pointer.

What is the difference between your new puppy and the old dog it replaced? Or the kitten and the 14 year old tabby? Or the lion cub and the lord of the pride? One thing is for certain, the older animal is less active than the younger, exercises less and sleeps more. If we accept that the older members of the animal kingdom have not been advised by their doctors to train for the Octogenarian Olympics, whose advice are they following? Nature, that’s who. Mother Nature has told the old lion to lie under the tree.

Now with regard to the human animal, is Mother Nature wrong, or are the doctors on the wrong track? Actually neither is “wrong” - the correctness comes in the sensible application of advice, be that coming from within yourself or given to you. Your body, by the time it is as old as my neighbour’s truck, has already told you to slow down somewhat. Even in the “what you used to do all night now takes you all night to do” department. This is all very natural.

However, we do also know that activity is good for you, and even protective against some of the more terminal conditions that we can get, like the aforementioned heart attacks. So, sounds like plenty of jogging is good for you at any age. Not necessarily so! The secret is in the balance.

As we get older, we must stay “active” both physically and mentally. Staying “active” does not mean pushing your 50+ year old joints beyond the limits that Mother Nature intended. It really is all things in moderation. Think about it.

Agony Column

Dear Hillary,
With reference to Oct. 14 edition, “Another Lonely Old fool”, may I commend your reply, and, as I was touched by the gentleman’s letter may I add to what you have written.
Firstly, an Esan wife in Thailand is easily replaceable.
Secondly, it is my understanding, that most Thai ladies living abroad do not settle very well, and yearn to return to their families and homeland. The majority who do stay, do so mainly for financial reasons, and when that goal is achieved, they, too, return to Thailand.
Considering the nature of the job and the profession (police officer) or the upstart his ex-wife has taken up with, I would think, I would give a higher than average chance of her wanting to return to Thailand, with her daughter - sooner rather than later.
I am at a loss to understand why, when his daughter was approaching school age, he was only considering local international schools for his daughter’s education. As his wife was Thai, and I assume his daughter was born here, she would have been eligible for placement in the state schools. The state schools in Thailand are good, and under the present government, are continually improving. My lady’s son this year stared at a good Thai secondary school. The total coast for the year for food, books and all his uniforms came to approx. 8,500 baht, and this was offset by a government competitive grant of 6,000 baht for the brighter students. I am also informed that junior state schools here are of the same standard and the cost even lower. From what I have heard recently regarding international schools and my own low opinion of money-orientated services in this country, an international school would not be my choice for a child’s education.
Unfortunately this information is too late for this chap. Perhaps his return to Thailand, were he does not have to confront bigoted, narrow-minded western values, is a wise move. Also his money will go a lot further here than it will in his home country. Take heart that you discovered this wonderful country, and enjoy it again like the rest of us old codgers.
An Old Codger in Paradise

Dear An Old Codger in Paradise,
Thank you for adding your piece and I hope that the original letter writer has read all the replies and understands that life more than carries on, but moves forward into pastures new. As Tom Lehrer once said, “Life is like a sewer, you get out of it what you put into it!” (And for those of you who don’t know who Tom Lehrer was, shame on you. He was one of the finest cynics to ever come out of the USA. Look him up in Google.) However, I would take you to task, my Petal on your statement that an “Esan wife in Thailand is easily replaceable”. Certainly there seems to be a never-ending supply of Isaan (I prefer this spelling) women prepared to take on “wifely” duties, but that does not make them good wives. You are equating “wife” with “paid servant” and there is a huge difference. Certainly you will be able to find a woman to live with you, but if the emotional connection is not there, there is no depth to the relationship, and length or stability to it either. Just something to think over.
Dear Hillary
If I am not mistaken, you published the letter inquiry of Mr. Windblower at least twice in only few month? In Europe, there are quite few cars circulating and powered with pure biogas or natural gas. Biogas has a tremendous future, due to the exorbitant increase of gasoline prices. Motorbikes, might as well fit for this unlimited new source of power. The driver of a very slow moving motorbike, must therefore be your penpal, or did you invent the whole story on your desk? Well, sometimes I wonder, if letters such as the one of Mr. Blower or the notorious Mr. Singha do not cause you serious headaches?
Rolf B.

Dear Rolf B.,
Many people have doubted the existence of the Mistersingha person, but let me assure you that someone using that nom de plume regularly writes in detailing his exploits with his Isaan twins, whilst promising Hillary champagne and chocolates. The only headache that person gives me will be when he actually delivers the bubbly as I will be so surprised I will drink it all in one sitting. Fortunately, that day will never happen, so I can save the headache pills for a real ripsnorter of a pounding headache.
As far as biogas is concerned, thank you for the lecture, and perhaps I should have suggested that Windblower connect himself to his motorcycle and ride off into the sunset, though it sounds as if that would be very slowly and very noisily. Though as you say, biogas has a tremendous future, so the young man is really sitting on a sizable fortune, if he can harness the supply and be prepared to produce on demand. Could he perhaps bottle it?

Camera Class: The 10 best tips you will ever get

by Harry Flashman

In answer to repeated requests for my best tips, I wrote these down around three years ago. They still remain my top 10, three years later. These “secrets” come from years of experience as a pro photographer, and many of them come from painful learning experiences. None of it is made up. Follow these tips and your journey through photography will be plain sailing!

Tip number 1. When you find a roll of film in your camera bag or suitcase, that you’d completely forgotten about, use it to throw at predatory poodles, rather than using it in your camera. If you do, you can be guaranteed the results will be no good at all. The colours will be all wrong because the film has been hot at some time or exposed to airport irradiation. No matter how tempting it is to slip it into the camera when you urgently need another roll of film, don’t do it! You will be disappointed. Guaranteed.

Tip number 2. When going on holidays with your camera, take spare batteries with you – always. No matter how new the batteries, if there is a failure while you are trekking in Transylvania, or just lazing on the beaches in Koh Chang you will not be able to get the correct replacement. That’s as sure as God made little green apples as the song goes. Remember that your camera may also use more than one type of battery, another trap for young players.

Tip number 3. Always carry one more roll of film than you think you’ll need when on holidays. The shot of a lifetime will appear and you will have already used all your film. And don’t use the one you’ve suddenly found in the bag – see Tip number 1.

Tip number 4. Always put exposed film immediately back into their plastic canisters. In such a container, they are protected from dust and water. They will also float when you drop one overboard and you can scoop it up with a fish net. Having managed to drop one overboard while in the Solomon Islands, after taking pictures of coral through the hull of an expensively hired glass bottomed boat, I found the truth in this tip. The film was saved!

Tip number 5. Always check that the camera neck strap is indeed tight and secure on both ends. If one end lets go, the camera will hit the ground before you have time enough to react. Guaranteed. Cameras do not bounce well, if at all.

Tip number 6. When you get the book of prints back, and the envelope with the negatives from the photo shop, immediately write on both the subject material of the shots and the date. Do this with black texta pen so it doesn’t rub off and you will have saved yourself hours of work, flicking through books of prints, while looking for Transylvania trip 2005.

Tip number 7. Never keep your camera in the glove box of your car. With the temperatures that can be reached in the cubby hole reaching as high as 50 degrees Celsius in our blazing summers, at best the film is spoiled, at worst, the camera is spoiled. The newer “plastic” bodied cameras and camera backs can actually warp with the high temperature.

Tip number 8. When you decide that you want an enlargement made of one particular shot, arrange for it straight away, while you still have the negative handy, and before it gets covered in dust and scratched, making it impossible to get a decent enlargement. And before it gets lost. See tip Number 6.

Tip number 9. Frequently check the exposure controls on your camera, that it really is set on Auto, or Shutter priority or what have you. It is very easy to knock the controls and settings when taking the camera in and out of the bag, or even when it has been hanging round your neck. That also goes for the ASA rating, which will upset every calculation worked out by the electro-brain inside your camera.

Tip number 10. Remember tips 1-9. Happy shooting!

Money Matters: Pension Black Hole

Alan Hall
MBMG International Ltd.

A while ago we looked at the under-funding of pensions liabilities among US blue chip employers and virtually concluded that the scale of the problem allied to the generous US bankruptcy laws could result in a situation where just about every big US employer files Chapter 11 at some stage to divest their employer 401K obligations and therefore all employees suddenly end up being much worse off virtually overnight.

We would not want you to think that this is just a US problem - on our website we’ve, for some time, had an article about how the revered Swiss state pension scheme is struggling to fund its liabilities at current contribution levels (many other state schemes in Europe seem ready to throw in the towel already) and a recent report from the actuary firm Lane, Clark and Peacock (LCP) shows that there is a massive deficit on UK company pensions.

They report that the combined pension fund deficit for all FTSE100 listed companies now stands at GBP37 billion. Although there had been increased contributions from employers, a change from defined benefit to defined contribution and, obviously, a rally in the stock markets this is not nearly enough to close the gap. Indeed, Martin Slack, a senior partner at LCP, reckoned that the current trend would have to continue for another eight years before the deficit was brought down to zero. The staggering thing is that there are only three firms out of 100 that do NOT have a pension scheme deficit.

The change from defined benefit is worth looking at - in order to reduce the drain on profits, many companies have been replacing final salary schemes which guarantee a retirement income as a percentage of the employee’s final salary (the actual % being based on the amount of years an individual has worked for the company). What they have been exchanged for is money purchase plans where the company only has to guarantee how much it will pay into the pension and not how much it will be worth on retirement. This doesn’t so much solve the problem as transfer it to the individual. The scheme can’t generate enough money to cover its liabilities, so it will pay less to the members of the scheme.

Where the problems lie is that, as any regular reader of this column knows, there is expected to be a large market correction in the near future where the FTSE could lose up to 40% of its present value. This would then mean the time frame would be significantly longer than eight years for the deficit to be brought back to even manageable figures. In fact at expected rates of real return (over the level of inflation) it would start to look increasingly impossible.

The problem globally has been exacerbated by the fact that people now live longer against an unhelpful backdrop of lower interest rates - hence more money is needed to reduce the deficit. This explains why, even with the recent improved results, some employers had actually seen their deficits grow in the last twelve months and that unless they increased their contributions Martin Slack envisages them being down for “tens of years”.

Whichever way you look at it, company profits are going to be drained by the liabilities of pension fund shortfalls, individual pensions will be reduced in real terms to reduce the rate at which the shortfalls are getting worse and the bottom line is that both companies and individuals are in a worse position that they had previously thought because of this. What impact this will have on corporate balance sheets and valuations is hard to say but pension liabilities needs to become an increasingly significant factor in stock evaluation. For individuals the outcome is already being discussed - an increase in standard retirement ages to 67 or 68 is already mooted, and an increase in the minimum pensionable age from 50 to 55 becomes law over the next 5 years. Individual retirement saving is now of even greater importance then ever before.

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: Bike Weak

by Scott Jones

My Kawasaki motorcycle almost killed me in America. Redo a few of the letters and you’ve got Kamikaze, the zealous suicide pilots in World War Whatever. Now I have two more and am ignoring the obvious omens. They’re classics: The ZX10. The Zephyr 750. Okay, fine, they’re antiques, but so am I and they provide me with my only routine in Thailand: They live in repair shops. I don’t ride them, but visit them regularly like two old folks in an intensive care unit, rolling in and out of the operating room. I give Dr. Mechanic monthly payments of several thousand baht for their care, treatment and various metal prostheses guaranteed to cure their ailments tomorrow, the day after today, forever.

Mask, tattoo or the Devil himself?

Every mechanic seems capable of disassembling them into individual motorcycle molecules but not one can put them back together. Considering the eight-letter word Kawasaki isn’t even spelled correctly on my Thai jacket (KAVASAKI embossed in a lovely, black leather typo) I should accept the fact that assembling several thousand random parts could be a problem.

Recently the Zephyr actually ran very well, but wouldn’t start. Starting is an important prerequisite to running. With high hopes of participating in the Nan Bike Week (rather Bike Slumber Party since mainly you ride in, drink up, sleep late and ride out the next day) I finally sorted the starting problem but the brakes wouldn’t cooperate. Starting and running are pretty useless without stopping capability and I did want to stop in Nan or perhaps along the way in front of a few dogs.

So I rented a brilliant red Honda Super 4, donned my bright yellow jacket and cheery multi-colored helmet. This was really not the manly bike or outfit to ride among substantial leather-clad blokes with stainless steel piercing their faces, with massive choppers bearing skull and crossbones, with arms larger than my torso that held complete tattoo slogans like “Rehab is for quitters”, “The party isn’t fun until the neighbors call 911” or “WARNING: Do not accept a lift from this biker as it will cause a severe nervous breakdown with symptoms ranging from dribbling at the mouth to involuntary bowel movements followed by verbal outbursts like I DON’T WANT TO DIE to pathetic mumblings such as I WANT MY MUMMY”. Basically I had a shiny, little red wagon powered by a washing machine motor. The Easter Bunny meets the Black Werewolves.

With predictable precision, my rental soon refused to start, but I thought, “Hey, it’s mid-afternoon, I can start it with a push and be in Nan before nightfall.” Splendid idea; however, the final 46 kilometers included a formidable mountain, which left me in the dark, lights flickering erratically with one candle power, the engine slowly failing, leaving my fingerprints pressed into the metal handlebars all the way through the rubber grips. In spite of other dark riders like me, potholes the size of a bus and an array of blurry, nondescript creatures lurching out from the shadows, I arrived alive.

I immediately traded in my entire blood supply for Cheers beer and just wanted to collapse into bed, but a very friendly, very persistent Thai guy wanted my blood supply to be composed of his Chang beer. One more transfusion later, my head hit a pillow the size of my tire but considerably harder. The room smelled like a giant sweaty foot. The motel walls were as thick as two coats of paint and the TVs in the next rooms were in my bed. At least it was dark and I wasn’t riding in it.

Next time I’ll join those who carry their immaculate bikes in trucks, drive comfortably with headlights, air-conditioning and stereos, unload the bikes at the show and stand around as if they actually rode them. It’s much easier to find a qualified painter than a good mechanic. I’m hoping to get the rental bike fixed in time to ride back for Chiangmai Bike Week in December.