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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Your Health & Happiness

The Doctor's Consultation

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in the Laugh Lane

Your Health & Happiness: Chiang Mai campaigns in World AIDS Day

Kittiyaporn Kanjam and Pinutda Suwanchaisri (student trainee MFLU)

Dr. Surasing Witsarutrat, deputy head of Chiang Mai Public Health Office and Somchai Maneekarn, director of Northern World Vision Foundation of Thailand lighting the first candles.

AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) was first identified in 1981 in some parts of the world and in some ethnic groups. However today, AIDS is world-wide and the rate of transmission has increased rapidly especially in Southeast Asia countries and Africa.

The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS or UNAIDS announced in 2003 that there were more than 38 million AIDS patients around the world. By now, every country should realize the danger of AIDS infection and try to find successful measures to prevent and stop AIDS.

World Health Organization has declared 1 December of every year is the World AIDS Day which first started on December 1, 1988.

Students who participated in the World AIDS Day activity

Thailand also pays much attention to the AIDS problem because the incidence of AIDS in Thailand is very high. On December 1 of every year, many private sector and government organizations organize activities to campaign and give knowledge to people and make people realize the danger of AIDS. For this year, UNAIDS motto has been “Stop AIDS Keep the Promise”.

Chiang Mai province also realizes the importance and dangers and has cooperated with other organizations to organize campaign activities. These included the Public Health and Environment Office, Chiang Mai Municipality which cooperated with The Red Cross, Chiang Mai Provincial Public Health Office, Drug Users Network, AIDS Obligation, Thai Network of People Living with AIDS/HIV, educational places, and communities.

The activities were held in Chiang Mai Municipality’s stadium which had Chiang Mai MP Pakorn Buranupakorn presiding over the opening ceremony. The activities included a World AIDS Day campaign parade by students and communities, AIDS exhibition, health consulting, and a concert.

As well as the activity in Chiang Mai Municipality Stadium, there was a “Candle Light on the Bridge” activity in the evening also which was organized by World Vision Foundation of Thailand. The World Vision Foundation of Thailand is a private development organization that assists children, families, impoverished communities and people infected with HIV. “Candle Light on the Bridge” activity was held on the Nawarat Bridge with Dr. Surasing Witsarutrat, deputy head of Chiang Mai Public Health Office presiding. This event had more than 350 people from families that live in the area of AIDS Spread Out Prevention Project of World Vision Foundation of Thailand, children, teenagers, students, representatives of AIDS concerning organizations, and Chiang Mai citizens.

Toy balloons for release in the Candle Light on the Bridge event.

 


The Doctor's Consultation: Are Check-ups really worthwhile?

by Dr. Iain Corness

This may look like a strange concept, but bears thinking about for a moment. Are check-ups really worthwhile? We all have to die one day (even me), and as I often say, despite all the advances in modern medicine, the death rate will always be the same – one per person. So is it better to die in blissful ignorance, or rush upstairs in full knowledge of what got you?

One reason why I ask the question, is because many people have the feeling that by having an annual check-up, they have become invincible. Sorry, but annual check-ups do not make you 10 foot tall and bulletproof. You can check out as 100 percent fit today, and die from liver cancer in six months. That is the awful truth.

So let’s look at the whole concept of the annual check-up. What it does, is to provide a base-line, from which all other measurements can be compared. Obviously, if something is very much out of kilter on that initial check, then it will need to be dealt with, but I am looking at the fit young adult, where everything is 100 percent. Repeated measurements will show trends or movements relative to the 100 percent baseline. If blood sugar is moving steadily upwards, then you can almost predict when the level will become too high and the increasing sugar level becomes the start of Diabetes. Correction of the upward trend early in the history can stop the advent of Diabetes, with all the visual and metabolic problems, even including amputation of limbs. Looking at that scenario makes the annual check-up really good value!

You can use that same logical line of thinking to encompass blood pressure, cholesterol, prostate specific antigen, Pap smears and even liver function tests to see just how well your body is handling the daily alcohol workload. All of these slow moving parameters can give you the time for correction if you have some serial records taken at annual check-ups. The effects of increasing hypertension and high cholesterol are well documented, and longevity is not one of them!

Now there are those people who have had religious annual check-ups, and something happens medically that comes “out of the blue”. Has the check-up been a waste of time/effort/money etc.? The answer is a resounding No! Take for example, an illness that has appeared three months after the annual check-up. Since the problem was not present three months previously, your doctor can say confidently that this is a new, or fast growing condition. This can make a huge difference to the treatment. Conservative “wait and see” is probably not indicated. Something faster and more radical will be the way to handle this situation. Sure, the check-up could not ‘predict’ the sudden disease process, but has helped as far as the appropriate treatment is concerned.

While I did point out at the beginning of this item that the death rate will remain the same at one per person, the annual check-up can have a huge bearing on the quality of one’s later life. There is little point in getting to 80 years of age, if the previous 10 years are full of pain and physical restrictions, especially if the conditions producing the pain and restrictions could have been averted by timely intervention monitored by an annual check-up.

Do I think the annual check-up is worthwhile? Yes I do. That is why I have one each year too! And if I have convinced you to have one too, the Bangkok-Pattaya Hospital is having their annual check-up promotion where you can get around about a 50 percent reduction for the cost of the check-up. You have to pay before December 20, and the check-up has to be taken before April 30. Contact the hospital today!


Agony Column

Dear Hillary,

In Chiang Mai I recently met a Thai woman, Dong, and we’ve been going out nearly every night. Dong is not a bar girl, we met in a restaurant, and were introduced. I mentioned my thrilling new relationship to a married farang woman friend, who wrote the following, “Please don’t use the word love. It’s like each of you is living out a fantasy you’ve fallen into (I am big and strong, I’m #1, I’m important to this gorgeous woman, my masculinity is overpowering, no one else except this lovely has ever understood me before, etc.) and Dong is saying “If I add his payment to the other four I am receiving, I can buy the new moped I’m looking at. I will eat good tonight. Let’s see, he leaves in two weeks, and then Horst comes in on the following Thursday.” And all the while you are smiling from ear to ear, and why not? Thai women are taught to serve men, and would be doing that anyway, to a Thai man, but not reaping the financial benefits of the farang man. So why not work smarter?”
I know no one more cynical than you, Hillary, but don’t you think this is just over the top? I mean, I think we’re talking true love here.
Found true love

Dear found true love,
You have me a little confused here. You assert in the first paragraph that the wonderful Dong is not a bar girl because you met in a restaurant. So what is she? A restaurant girl? Bar girls do eat, my Petal. You also say you have been going out nearly every night. For how long? One week? One month? One year? It is fine and natural to fall rapturously in love with someone, but do not expect that everyone else will be as enamored of the relationship as you are. Your married friend is just trying to stop you breaking your heart in a whirlwind romance. Keep your eyes open and your wallet closed.

Dear Hillary,
Wise old owl that your are, can you please advise me on an important partnership problem ? My beautiful 21 year old Thai concubine is perfect in many ways and behaves generally like ladies should and gentlemen expect. For example, she doesn’t bend my ear with unnecessary female type senseless chatter and only speaks when spoken to, has learned how to make gin and tonic just as I like it, waits on me hand and foot, keeps the house spotless and the one rai garden in good order, twice weekly washes cleans and polishes the car to showroom condition, carries my beer cans when we go for a walk, clips my toe and finger nails and cuts my hair to perfection, is a cordon bleu chef in the kitchen and a slut in bed, knows better than to ask for extra money and accounts in writing for every satang she spends when shopping. In return she enjoys a generous allowance of 1,000 baht a month (out of which I deduct a mere 600 for board and lodging), I allow her to eat at table with me, take her out once a fortnight when we go Dutch, rarely swear at her and hardly ever beat her - then only when in my cups. A good, healthy, well balanced, two way relationship you would think.
But no, she has a couple of really bad habits I cannot cure. She NEVER leaves the toilet seat up ready for me to use and she will insist on squeezing the toothpaste tube in the middle and not at the far end from the cap. I find both of these insubordinate actions unbearable, so should I replace her with a lucky someone who is more amenable, or make her use the bathroom in the unoccupied maids quarters? I’m a modern man who believes in equality between the sexes, so do you think she is taking advantage of my generous and easy going nature? The age difference is negligible because I am just 62 and not inexperienced with women as I have been married and, for inexplicable reasons, divorced five times, but this lady has got me puzzled as I have never had to deal with such serious matters before. I am diplomatic in my ways and would never dream of causing offence.
I know you would dearly love to replace her, but please save us both embarrassment by not applying. I’m not into chocolate guzzling, champagne swilling, over-weight, aging and wrinkly farang women.
The Perfect English Gentleman

Dear Perfect English Gentleman,
A veritable paragon of virtue and joie de vivre, aren’t you? I can’t imagine why your concubine would want to leave, but then, she probably hasn’t got the keys to the leg irons, so wouldn’t get far anyway. I think you are being just a trifle ‘picky’ over the toilet seat, Petal. She’s leaving it down so that you can sit for a happy poo or two. (Men do sit for Number 2’s, I’ve been told.) As far as the toothpaste transgressions, I cannot countenance this either. The answer here is to make her buy her own tubes. Do not allow your toothpaste tube to become communal! Thank you for hinting that perhaps I might like to join you (I can tell you’re interested), but us wise old owls never nest with cantankerous buzzards like you!


Camera Class: Reflectors and absorbers

by Harry Flashman

Landscape photography is far more than just snapping a tree in a field, with mountains in the background, and then moving on to the next beer garden! All photographers.

Remembering that all of photography is really just “painting with light”, this week let’s look at how you can use the available light to your advantage to make better photographs.

To manipulate the available light to your wishes needs two pieces of equipment - called reflectors and absorbers, and neither is difficult to come by, and both cost next to nothing! Yet the difference these can make to your photos is remarkable.

Now a couple of years ago I was given a silver and a gold reflector, very natty, fold away, store easily, carry easily reflectors. These particular ones even come in their own little zip-up bags to keep them warm and dry. They unfold to make a one and a half metre diameter circular reflector. Both are white on one side, but on the other, one is gold and the other is silver. However, they are very simple to make.

But first, why do you need a reflector? If they are so damn good, why aren’t we all rushing around with silver and gold reflectors tucked under our arms? The simple answer is that we get too complacent and we end up saying that the results we get are “good enough”, or we were just taking snapshots anyway. However, if you really want photos that leap off the page, think about reflectors. Really!

The first thing a gold reflector can do for your photographs is to give skin tones that “golden glow” that just makes portraits look that much more pleasing.

So what else does a reflector do for your photographs? Well it allows you to photograph “contre jour” as they say in the classics. That is having the light behind your subject (generally the sun) and then you can throw some reflected light back into the subject’s face. If you do not do this, the usual result is something closer to a silhouette than a portrait – a bright halo around the subject which then becomes so dark in the face that you cannot distinguish the features. But with the reflector, you can push the light back in and pick up the details.

So that was the gold reflector – what about the silver one? Well, if you want “clean” and bright light on a subject anywhere, the silver reflector will do that for you. Use to use this type of reflector when photographing silver jewellery or even motor cars, for example. Mind you, if you are photographing gold jewellery you must use a gold reflector or otherwise the gold necklaces look silver on film.

Now, here’s how you make your own. Get some “foamcore” – that lightweight plastic material that is often used to make signs (any signmakers will have some). Around one meter square is OK. Now go to the newsagents and buy some gold wrapping paper and some silver wrapping paper. Cover one side of the “foamcore” with silver and the other side with the gold paper and you have lightweight, portable (you can fold them in half easily) silver and gold reflectors. And it has cost you less than a couple of hundred baht.

Now “absorbers”. To give your shots some shadow, or even an air of mystery, it is good to manipulate the amount of shadow in your portraits. You do this by placing something on the side of the subject away from the light source, to absorb (and not let light reflect back into the subject) and allow a natural fall-ff of light. The best absorber is black velvet. You bring the black velvet absorber as close as you can to the subject, without it coming into the viewfinder. It is that simple.

To make this absorber, use another one meter square sheet of foamcore and cover one side with black velvet material. You pin or clip the material to it and that is it.

You will really be amazed by the way the use of a reflector and absorber can put a different atmosphere into your photographs – especially portraits. Try taking the same shot using
different reflectors and note the difference for future
use.


Money Matters: The Three ‘R’s - Risk and Reward and Returns

Alan Hall
MBMG International Ltd.

In the spirit of always trying to find glasses that are half full, this week we’ll look more at how the last month has impacted upon the funds that we recommend rather than picking up on the horror stories that we’ve been telling everyone to avoid.

Our main thrust, the core of our portfolios, remains Miton-Optimal’s multi-asset class actively managed funds. You might recall that these look to allocate to:
Equities
Bonds and fixed interest
Property
Commodities
Cash
Hedge, derivative and alternative funds.
In a sense it’s quite difficult right now for Miton-Optimal because it would appear that markets are facing major inflexion points - the assets that have been going up most strongly of late (tech shares, residential property, the US$) are the ones that are most likely to fall in value and the ones that have been performing poorly (cash, Asian property, gold) are the ones that are most likely to perform well. The exact jumping off point will be impossible to predict accurately so achieving a reasonably close approximation is about the best that can be hoped for. If you’re holding assets that will perform well in the future and those are the opposite of the assets that are performing well right now, you’re in danger of looking slightly silly immediately prior to the markets hitting their inflexion points (and it should be noted that the inflexion point for each asset class will usually occur at a slightly different time so the overall inflexion period could be spread over several weeks or even months).

Short term then, it should be banana skins for our heroes in South Africa, Guernsey and Reading.

However, the evidence doesn’t really bear that out. For the last month the PSG Global Dynamic Series of funds managed by Miton-Optimal’s Scott Campbell came first yet again out of all the actively managed global portfolios within the S&P database of 15,377 offshore investment funds and portfolios. It’s newer sister series of funds, the Optimal Coreharbour Portfolios came first out of the newer neutral (no preference for any asset class) group of global funds compared by S&P.

Despite all this we’re the first to point out that one swallow (or even 2) doesn’t make a summer and that good fund managers need to perform all the time, ergo we need to review longer term data also. We’re also keen to point out that return is only one part of the risk/reward equation and that good investment managers achieve distinction in both sides of the equation, indeed that the risk side is in many ways even more important than the return part.

So looking back to the launch of the PSG portfolios which have been around for over 7 years. The more recent Coreharbour portfolios are only around a year old, although they simply represent a development of the older funds. How does Scott now fare? We know that for the 5 years to 2003 and to 2004 Scott’s portfolios achieved the highest returns AND demonstrated the highest levels of risk reward efficiency. However, we’re now 2/3 of the way through 2005, a year that has, so far, most rewarded those managers who are willing to take the greatest risks with their clients’ money. We would not have expected Scott to shine in such unsuitable conditions. Initially looks to be the case.

Over 5 years performance has fallen from 1st to 24th place (over 7 years the fall isn’t quite so bad - to 7th place). Still the portfolios remain very comfortably in the top quartile of funds over these periods, an extremely creditable achievement, especially as the difference between the very top performing fund and those trailing in its immediate wake are often marginal. In fact this highlights the greater importance of consistency than having the odd stellar year. Looking at significant periods since the launch of the PSG funds over 7 years ago, we can see that over 4, 5 and 7 years the fund has performed within the top quartile of actively managed global portfolios.

What does that actually mean in terms of the Pound, Dollar or Euro in your pocket ? (to make life easier we’ll convert all returns to Dollars, although we’ll restrict the PSG performance to the Euro and Sterling funds as the Dollar fund wasn’t sadly launched 7 years ago, otherwise the PSG numbers would look even more outstanding).

Let’s look at what would happened if $ 100 had been invested in July 1998 into Scott’s PSG portfolios and into an average performing global investment portfolio:

Averages of course can hide a great deal of detail. If you had changed funds each year, you might have managed, by some miracle, to choose the best performing fund each year. This is in despite of the fact that although these are global actively managed investment portfolios which are mandated to be able to invest in all asset classes some have ignored that and have taken a very specialist approach to investing only in, for instance, global technology stocks (the top performers in the first of the 2 years above and the worst in the following 2 years) or global property or global bonds - which started out moderately but were the best performers in the post millennium equity market crashes.

If you’d been psychic enough to pick leveraged tech funds until the crash, switch to bond funds in March 2000, move back into equities during the Iraq war and then move between commodities and property at the right times since then your original $ 100 would today be worth $ 426! We don’t know anyone blessed enough to make those precise calls at those times (Scott’s portfolio adjustments actually took in many of those moves BUT never exposed the investors to the extreme risks of taking 100% exposure to a single asset class). What we do know is that more investors were likely to choose the worst performing than the best performing funds. It always makes us cringe when we receive marketing materials sent to us in error by inexperienced new financial advisors in town recommending specific market investment funds that have performed strongly over the last 1 or 3 years. They obviously haven’t seen the piece of research that we saw a couple of years back calculated that investing 100% of your portfolio on January 1st each year into what had been the very best performing fund over the previous 12 months would actually ensure a diminution of your capital by around 90% over most 10 year periods!

Below we’ve tabulated the best performing fund of each year for the last seven years - irrelevant of sector or geo-political classification. We have also done the same for the worst performer of each year. As well as this you can see the average for each year and Scott’s PSG funds. Once we accept that we’re not likely to be able to guarantee picking the single best investment asset for the next 12 months, year in and year out, then looking at the performance versus the potential risk (i.e. the worst fund) and against the average become the most meaningful comparisons:

To us, this approach of consistency and capital preservation ties in with what most investors are trying to achieve. Some investors are prepared to take risks with their returns and their capital to try to ‘shoot out the lights’ in an given year, but most are realistic about their aims for their investment capital.

So, having satisfied ourselves that the returns are everything that they might reasonably be expected to be, that finally brings us round to assessing this aspect of risk.

The first aspect to consider is the way in which the skill of the fund manager has manifested itself in the investment decisions - his ability to add value by increasing returns and reducing risks by making the right investment decisions. In our arcane world of investment jargon, we refer to this as ‘Alpha’.

Over the long term, even in conditions that we have argued are not favourable, only 3 actively managed global funds have achieved higher Alpha than Scott over the 7 year period. In terms of the ability to generate returns and to reduce risks, if you choose the PSG portfolios then you have one of the top managers in the offshore investment universe making decisions for you.

However, that’s only part of the story; how does Scott choose to apply this Alpha - for increased return or for reduced risk? We’ve already seen that the return numbers are strong - should this concern us that the portfolios have been taking too much risk? As it turns out, no we shouldn’t.

Over the last 3 years no portfolio has exhibited less risk (in terms of variance from the average return - i.e. returns that shoot up and down like a rollercoaster). Over 4 years and 5 years, only 2 portfolios have. Over 5 and 7 years only 2 portfolios have sustained lower drawdowns (i.e. managed to lose less money in that 2 year period to 2002 when the PSG funds were off by just over 4%)

If there is a criticism therefore of the PSG funds you could say that perhaps they are skewed slightly too much in favour of caution - one of the most successful fund managers uses his Alpha to achieve exceptionally low risk and returns that are consistently very good rather than sporadically ebullient. We make no apologies for that - investors who suffered the 4% loss in the period to 2002 wouldn’t have return so quickly to profitability of greater capital risks had been taken and greater drawdowns suffered. We believe that most investors would have been happy to see the relatively drama free gradual accrual of returns over the last 7 years rather than the greater excitement that almost all other funds generated while also generating lower returns.

Last month may have been a good month statistically on terms of being back on top of the podium in terms of short term performance, but we’re not actually too concerned about that. For the long term, the Miton-Optimal methodology remains the right way for most people to set their capital to work for them without taking unacceptable levels of risk.

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: Body Parts a la Carte

by Scott Jones

Ignorance is bliss. Americans don’t really want to know what they’re eating. Stick it in a package or a can, give them some directions and they’ll put it in their mouth. When they’re in Thailand, they see the real thing in the markets and their stomachs turn somersaults: slabs of mystery meat, unidentified animal organs, severed snouts, distended intestines, chicken feet, all heaped on tables with make-shift fans battling the circling bugs. Is this any different than the slaughter house before the carcass hits the can? Though they may not have a clue as to what is leering at them from bins and tubs in the market, Asian menu items explicitly herald the contents of their featured entrees: “Fried Chest of Wind Pig.” “Roasted Pork Chin.” “Dumpling Stuffed with Ovary and Digestive Glands of a Crab.”

On American grocery shelves, you can find Potted Meat Food Product, a sinister looking fleshy paste resembling and smelling like refined dog food and probably composed of decomposed parts that didn’t quite make it into the dog food can. The serving suggestion on the label shows it scraped onto a cracker though it would look more authentic on a piece of toilet paper. First ingredient: “Cooked Partially Defatted Pork Fatty Tissue.” “Tissue” is not a big menu item in America but maybe it sounds more appealing than “Fat with Some of the Fat Removed.”

The generic brand really tells it like it is and lists all the scrapings from the slaughter house floor. Beef Tripe. (There are the intestines.) Pork Stomachs. (Do we get the last meal of the pig as well?) Pork liver. (There are the unidentified animal organs.) Pork Fat. (No fat removed here. You get all you need to coat the inside of your arteries.) Beef Tongue Trimmings. (Mmm. Let me lick a few of those taste buds. I’ve always wanted to French kiss a cow, but none of them wanted to kiss me back.) Water. (Probably the murky brown stuff straight from the trough.) Chicken. (There are the feet, the beak, the whole chicken. Hey, while we’re slaughtering the rest of the farm animals, let’s throw a few chickens into the blender! The feathers will tickle their taste buds!) Flavorings. (Broad, general, all-inclusive. This covers everything else in the world: Chihuahuas, cockroaches, used clothing, compost, whatever.) Extractives of Paprika. (Extractives? Paprika is already dust. What can you get from dust?)

Americans can feel right at home in Thailand with all the ingredients of their beloved Potted Meat Food Product right at hand. Some assembly required.