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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 specialist from Chiang Mai joins Wellness Summit in Hua Hin

Reinhard Hohler
Indian-born Dr. Rajeev Marwah speaks during the upcoming Spa Asia Wellness Summit in Hua Hin on August 23-25, 2006. The three-day event will feature spa operators, hotel managers, academics and consumers from the wellness industry. The summit expects an all-time high number of 50 speakers and panelists.
Dr. Marwah is a doctor of holistic medicine, specializing in ayurveda, acu-pressure, reflexology, gemology and magnet therapy. He is the director of the Dheva Spa and Ayurvedic Centre at the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, Chiang Mai, where he is responsible for conceptualization, planning, implementation and controlling the delivery of all the treatments. He was chairman of the First World Congress of Holistic Medicine in Thailand, which was held at Chiang Mai in 2004, and worked as consultant for the Department for Traditional Thai and Alternative Medicine, Ministry of Public Health, Bangkok.
On Day 3 of the Wellness Summit, Dr. Marwah will join the plenary session entitled “Integrating Holistic Treatment Systems into Spas: The Western/Asian Perspective.”
For further information, please go to www.spaasia.com/summit


The Doctor's Consultation: Are shopping centers deafening your children?

by Dr. Iain Corness

Deafness is an increasing problem in Thailand, a fact which is being acknowledged by the various noise abatement bodies in this country (and yes, amazingly there are some)
For some reason, noise seems to have become part of the local ‘culture’. How many times have you heard people screaming into their telephones? At volumes so loud they really don’t need the phone at all. Go into shopping centers and be physically assaulted by noise levels so great they approach the threshold of pain. I personally experienced one promotion for children that had passers-by holding their hands over their ears, whilst two screaming and amplified emcees exhorted the children to crowd around the stage (and its boom boxes). The damage to the hearing of young ears could be horrendous! Even walking down the street your ears are assaulted by not just motorcycles but slow moving promotional vehicles with mobile boom boxes to tell you all about the newest shopping center, where you can shop in comfort, other than unrestricted noise!
What does not seem to be understood by the public at large, however, is that hearing, like eyesight, deteriorates over time. However, damage the hearing early in life and when the hearing loss through aging is added to the hearing loss from noise exposure, you are guaranteed of increasing deafness as you get older.
Having been involved in industrial hearing protection in Australia for many years, we had to convince a reluctant workforce that it was necessary to wear hearing protection, if the industrial noise level exceeded 90 decibels (dB) for a 40 hour week. In auditory terms this is known as a ‘noise dose’ of 1.0. If the noise level experienced by the unprotected ear was over 120 dB, then the ‘safe’ exposure was measured in minutes. And as an example of 120 dB, that is the level reached by an ambulance siren – or a rock concert. Other examples are the hammer drill that you use to drill holes in concrete which operates at 114 dB or a headset for personal listening at full volume, so the ‘safe’ level here is 15 minutes a day. Even a hand drill operates at 98 dB, so the unprotected ear should not be exposed to this level for more than two hours.
The noise induced deafness characteristically affects the hearing at 4 kHz first, and that is towards the upper musical ranges, and it goes on from there. If this noise induced hearing loss begins early in life, then the chances of the person ending up clinically deaf by the time he or she is 50 years old is very high.
So what can be done? Various research papers from around the world have managed to quantify the risk, and others have managed to show that the risk is perceived by older children and young adults, but they are not likely to do much about it. In some ways I can agree with them. Why bother going to a rock concert if you have to sit quietly to hear the music?
The Canadian Journal of Public Health looked at this problem last year and reported that 74 percent of rock concert attendees thought it was likely or very likely that noise levels at music concerts could damage their hearing, but only three percent wore hearing protection.
Dr. Jeannie H. Chung and co-workers from the Harvard Medical School found that only eight percent of young adults thought hearing loss was a very big problem and yet most respondents had experienced tinnitus or hearing impairment after attending concerts (61 percent) and clubs (43 percent).
So we know the problem exists. We know the relative ‘safe’ levels of noise exposure, but is wearing ear protection the answer? Quite frankly, this is a classic example of the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, rather than the fence at the top of the cliff. Preventive action needs to be done at the noise source. It is time for us to start shouting at the regulatory authorities! And keep your children away from noisy shopping center promotions!


Agony Column

Dear Hillary,
After the recent month long ecstasy of the World Cup, I am left with a dilemma. My lady, who before never had the slightest interest in football, has developed an unbelievable passion for the game. I believe it started when Germany played their first game, and she took a fancy to Bollock (I do hope I’ve spelt his name right), the German captain. Even now the World Cup is over, I am being woken from my alcohol induced slumbers at two and three o’clock in the morning, to my darling watching the football channel and asking me if I’m sure the World Cup is over. Even her previous hobby of sleeping appears to have taken a back seat to football. Hillary, do you have any ideas how I could dampen her enthusiasm for the beautiful game, as I fear that come the new football season, watching the premiership football at my local watering hole with the lads on Saturday and Sunday nights will never be the same again.
Wayne Looney

Dear Wayne,
Your letter is interesting, for it shows the lengths some people will go to hide the true reasons for their queries. It is not the fact that you get wakened from your alcohol induced slumber that is the problem, it is the nagging worry that your football mad darling will want to come with you to your weekend watering hole and spoil your “fun”. This is where you and your mates use the football matches as the excuse to neglect wives and family and perhaps indulge in a bit of dribbling and ball play with the bar girls. With your darling now so engrossed in the game it will be difficult for you to get her to play Left-Right-Out at weekends, so you really do have a problem, my Petal. Perhaps the answer is for you to install a satellite TV that shows the Bundeslega, so she can follow Bollocks and other ball kickers, even if she can’t follow the commentary, but make sure the watering holes doesn’t show the German league, or you will have blown it.
Dear Hillary,
My girlfriend wants me to get her a credit card. Do you think this is a good idea? I am worried that she will go mad with it in the first month and I will be left with a huge bill to pay. Do Thai women work this way? I really do need help here. I have an ordinary credit card myself, nothing special, and I just use it for when I need some quick cash out of the ATM.
Credit Card Charlie

Dear Credit Card Charlie,
The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I think those were the words of an old song, but a quick glance at the financial pages of any newspaper will show they are still pertinent today, my Petal. What brought this to mind was an article I read the other day on platinum credit cards. You know, the expensive ones, not your ‘ordinary’ card.
Now I have never been in the situation where I would be eligible for one of these platinum beauties. You have to show that you have a very high income before you can upgrade from the ordinary cheap plastic variety, up to a silver and then a gold card. To aspire to a platinum card requires an income that has so many zeros after the first number that I run out of fingers counting. No, the banks don’t need to keep one aside for me, or you, it sounds.
However, if I were able to get one of these cards, the banks would then shower me with additional goodies. Extra discounts will be made available to me, special low prices on goods, and the bank will, for no charge, give me extra services and travel planning, booking, insurance and assistance. I will even get the internet cheaper! Will somebody please tell me why?
If I have this super abundant financial status, I can afford to pay full price quite easily. I can pay for travel bookings and assistance. Just the same as I currently have to, because I haven’t got an astronomical income. Surely this is absurd! If I am rich, I can get the same goods and services cheaper than I can if I am poor! The poor pay top price, but the rich get a discount. The banks are certainly making sure that the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer.
It certainly is a topsy-turvy world that we live in. The poor pay more taxes than the rich. In fact, the super-rich don’t pay taxes at all (though, to be fair, they do have to pay the sharp accountants who ensure their tax-free status). The poor are lucky to get any credit cards at all, while the rich are showered with them. Please do not get me wrong, I am not jealous. Money isn’t really all that important. It is merely the lack of it that is the problem! However, perhaps one day the bank will make a mistake and send me a platinum card, and then watch me become the discount king! But for your problem, Charlie, I would suggest that you tell your girlfriend she should apply by herself for a card. Don’t get involved. Unless you like being a big spender!


Camera Class:  Have camera - will travel and shoot for food

by Harry Flashman

Want to travel all over the world, taking photographs of gorgeous women on tropical beaches? Many amateur photographers wonder just what it is like to be a professional and be paid for doing what amateurs do for no pay at all. What a wonderfully idyllic existence. Unfortunately, I must burst your bubble I’m afraid. Pro shooting is a sure-fire way to get stomach ulcers.
Let’s take the Overseas Trip to start with. I’ve been there, done that, and my first was to the Solomon Islands to principally shoot some beachwear fashions. Air tickets paid for photographer and model, accommodation free and arranged in resorts all over the island groups – this was going to be one giant paid holiday. Well, it was – on paper!
Before going on an overseas shoot you have to very carefully choose your equipment. And take enough to cover all emergencies. For that trip I took two Hasselblad medium formats and a 35 mm camera. A whole bunch of lenses and a Polaroid back, some filters and many, many rolls of pro film, all kept under refrigeration and then stored in a special “cool” bag. A large flash and there was also a large Italian tripod. Nothing was left to chance. Nothing could go wrong – go wrong – go wrong …!
Of course you have to record all the serial numbers of every piece of equipment you are going to take, and make several copies. One to give to Customs as you leave, one to give to Customs when you arrive at the tropical paradise and another when you return to your own country. Forget to do this little paperwork can see you paying import duty on your own equipment on which you have already paid taxes, because you are carrying much more than the ordinary person would be carrying. You are now into the “commercial quantities” bracket – especially with film stock.

The first problem we had was the special screw that fits in the tripod head and screws into the base of the camera just vanished. No-one keeps a spare of those – and certainly no-one had a genuine large Italian one in a one pelican coastal town in the outer Solomon Islands. Fortunately, the model could speak Pidgin English and between us we managed to get a screw of the right size and pitch and made a replacement.
Hasselblads are the best cameras in the world in my opinion and they never break down – break down – break down …! Oh yes they do! Both of them suffered a malfunction and by three quarters of the way through the idyllic week I was rapidly going bald! Fortunately we had brought the 35 mm camera along – but the refrigerated pro film was medium format – not 35 mm. Fortunately again we managed to find the only pro photographer resident in the Solomon Islands, an underwater guy, but he had 35 mm pro film. I happily paid whatever he wanted!
Of course, when you are shooting fashion overseas you take the garments with you and they just tumble out of the suitcase freshly pressed and immaculate. No, you have to take an electric iron with you, but some of the locations were so far from civilization that there was no electricity. Ever wondered why you see so many tropical beach shots where the model has obviously waded out to sea in her good gear and is standing there in wet clothes? It’s because they couldn’t iron the creases out!
By the end of one week, you are totally exhausted. You have got up early for seven days to get that magic morning light. You have spent the major part of the day trudging through tropical paradise undergrowth, loaded down with photo gear to the next location, in time to set up for the magic late afternoon light. You then spend the evening getting everything ready for the next day – including ironing fashion clothes, some of which the model will drop in the mud the next day.
Who’d want to be a Pro? Mind you, all that drudgery didn’t stop me when I was asked to go to Fiji and shoot a travelogue the next year! Who wouldn’t want to be paid to take photographs in a tropical paradise?


Money Matters:  Big is Best? Part 2

Alan Hall
MBMG International Ltd.

The currency and taxation arrangements of many expatriates are extremely detailed. To our mind, private banking hasn’t grown to reflect that - it still remains the case that banks will just propose investing client funds into equity markets when deposits become sizable, just as they would have 100 years ago.
UBS launching their range of Absolute Portfolios and funds is a big step forwards, but it’s more of a step into the 20th century than the 21st. The banks would argue that in local branches no-one else can provide this service to small account holders today - that may well be true - for sure the internet has not yet even begun to offer advantages that can compare to local personal service.
The bank also argues that their biggest clients don’t need a holistic service - investors with US$100 million or upwards may well employ their own tax lawyers and other specialist advisors and, therefore, simply come looking purely for fund management services in isolation.
However, the vast majority of our clients, with investable assets between US$50,000 and US$5,000,000 require a personal, tailored, efficient, holistic solution. We believe that the onus is on us to select the best banks, the best portfolio managers, the best custodians, the best trading platforms. These are all very different skills and therefore require different providers. You may choose a TV, video and DVD player from the same manufacturer but private banking equates to also buying your car, fridge, laptop and washing machine from the same company too!
Specialization generally allows focus on core skills - we believe that private banking was once an extremely useful local service but in this day and age has become outdated and much better alternatives are available.
We’re not sure whether the idea of a single provider purporting to offer a wide range of specialist skills amounts to corporate arrogance (clients must deal with us because we are XYZ Banken Geschaft) or corporate complacency (we don’t do a very good job, but it is good enough for most people to continue to come to us rather than find better alternatives), but either way it distresses us that so many people are so willing to settle for so much mediocrity.
In the 21st century better alternatives are available and as more and more clients take advantage of these, private banking will, hopefully, be forced to sharpen up its act. UBS launching the range of Absolute Return portfolios and funds is one of the first signs that this is happening. We’d recommend as essential reading Michael Lewis’s excellent “Liar’s Poker” as evidence of how private banks’ self interest invariably prevails in the conflict of interests between the banks’ own trading desks and their private banking clients.

UBS strengths

That’s not to say that there aren’t positives to the UBS offering - the marketing here is excellent and the materials extremely well put together. UBS is a huge multinational conglomerate that leverages their brand extremely well. However, we are extremely concerned about some of the UBS Absolute Return Portfolio’s weaknesses.

UBS Absolute Return weaknesses

- Lack of impartiality and suitable experience/skillset at portfolio construction - UBS Global Asset Management effectively operates as 5 investment divisions :
Equities
Bonds
Property
Deposits
Alternatives
Once you make it to the top of one of those divisions you get placed in charge of asset allocation. This means that your preparation for deciding how much allocation is suitable to stocks, how much to bonds, how much to alternatives, how much to property and how much to deposits could be made by someone whose experience and qualifications are based upon knowing whether Microsoft is a better buy than IBM or not - a very different skillset from intimate knowledge of something like commodities. Also, if you’ve spent 30 years working in equity departments you’re invariably going to be biased towards equities as your understanding and familiarity is higher. This leads to sub-optimal portfolio construction.
- There is also a lack of pre-eminence across asset classes. We don’t believe that any one organisation has the skills across every asset class, let alone every sub-class. This creates 2 problems:
a) Their investment to certain sectors doesn’t yield results that are as good as they could be;
b) They don’t have exposure to sectors where they lack skills - they might miss out on the most attractive sectors because they know that their skills in this area are weak.

Independent, impartial and personal

Whereas MBMG’s portfolio managers regard every type of market as offering an opportunity and we’d want to have access to whoever has the best skill set in that market place, UBS is well placed in that they do have excellent skills in alternatives, strong skills in equities, reasonable skills in bonds and deposits. However, their performance indicates below par skills in property. More importantly they only cover a fraction of the markets that exist and therefore constantly run the risk of missing opportunities and when they do capture the opportunities, there is always the risk that someone else is doing it rather better. There might be 10 sector property funds of which 9 are doing a better job than UBS but they can only use their own fund.

Performance

MBMG has, in essence, 5 core portfolios and UBS 3 - in their material they only mention 2 portfolios that relate to the 2 best performing of the 3 funds - it would appear that the worst performer has been swept under the carpet and forgotten about. If that’s the case, this strikes us as somewhat misleading. This is a new discipline for UBS, as they started offering these portfolios as private client portfolios in 2004 and made them publicly available in June last year. We’ve monitored the public portfolios closely as UBS’s marketing machine has ‘encouraged’ use of them.
However, thus far, we have chosen not to take exposure because our concerns are:
a) They’re too new to be fully tested - i.e. it’s maybe too early to form an opinion;
b) They’re new within UBS, the asset allocation process there isn’t sufficiently mature - i.e. we’re not sure that they know what they’re really doing yet;
c) The weaknesses referred to above;
d) The relative performance hasn’t been compelling.
It’s very difficult to talk about overall portfolio performance here - we do have standard portfolios which we use as a benchmark BUT virtually every client portfolio that we put together tends to be unique - just our ‘standard’ portfolios performance in every currency would, however, run to War & Peace. However, by using our core investment advisors, Miton Optimal, and just using GB Sterling, we can state that over the last three years an average portfolio has always been in the top decile and is usually first, which is why Miton Optimal has been recognised as the top fund performance manager by S&P, Lipper and Multi-Manager.

Continued next week…

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: Short and Long Roads to Romance

by Scott Jones

Mango Joe has a way with words. “I love Thailand. All I have to do is get off the plane and I’m taller… younger… handsome… and rich!” He also has a very democratic and liberal way with women. He met me at a restaurant escorted by five beautiful women, much to the chagrin of the table of four single men sitting at the next table and plotting to make him shorter, older, ugly and poor. Mango wants to meet every woman in Thailand before making his final choice, though he recently raised his age standard after a short, shallow courtship of an egg. A self-proclaimed golf addict, he’s really a caddy addict, has played a round with every one in Chiang Mai and appreciates their ability to point out the correct hole, hold his club and wash his balls. Mai pen rai! Life is a journey, not a destination. If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.

Is this the cow from last night or a cousin of the dog at my feet?

Jon the Babcock (whose identity will remain anonymous since his middle name isn’t really “the”) took a more straight-forward route to romance. After visiting me in January, he went to Issan in February, met a woman, and by the time I saw him again in America in May, he had already gotten engaged, brought his fianc้e to America and was preparing to leave to be married in Thailand in July. Her name is Ya, which means “pill” or “medicine” in Thai. “My wife is a pill” doesn’t sound particularly complimentary in the USA, since it basically means she’s hard to choke down, but “medicine” for everlasting love and happiness sounds pretty good. Ya is actually a splendid name in America since it means “yes” and everyone can pronounce it, unlike many Thai names with eleven syllables, several hundred foreign letters and tongue-tying tones. It may, however, be difficult for the American Nazi Immigration Police who currently believe anyone with olive skin and black hair are terrorists carrying nuclear weapons shaped like lipstick containers or exploding underwear. “What is your name, miss?” “Ya.” “No, no, what is your name?” “Ya.” “Don’t get cute here at security. Just tell me your name.” “Ya.” “Look, wench, do you think I’m an idiot or something?” “Ya.”
Jon the Babcock is very familiar with blood, sharp tools of torture and wide-eyed victims since he’s a dentist by trade, but the Thai wedding preparation tested his fortitude. His email home is priceless. “Ya’s brother in-law drove to their farm to kill the first cow for the following day and by midnight the hammering started. I found fifteen men turning the freshly slaughtered cow into hamburger by chopping it with machete-like knives. I took my place at the table with the rest of the men so I wouldn’t look like the wimpy westerner that I am. For the next two hours I whacked one-pound slabs of warm cow into coarse ground hamburger with my two-pound blade. It was a National Geographic kind of experience: sitting with these “real men” and listening to their constant talk, the hacking of machetes, the pungent odors of raw cow, the Thai whiskey being consumed in great quantities. After two hours of non-stop whacking, I was relieved of my duties. Too guilt-ridden to go to bed and leave Ya to work with the women, I sat down again and was given a knife to trim the bits and pieces of meat from the various bones that had been lightly boiled - large sections of spine with their attached ribs produced massive quantities of gelatinous matter and meager quantities of actual meat. The real fun came when I was given the head - not by accident I am sure - complete with lips and eyes and a very small brain that I was never able to uncover. I worked for quite a while but finally gave up after carving out the second eyeball. Burgers will never be the same and I’ll never be able to look a cow in the eye.”
This may be the kind of experience Mango is carefully putting off until the unforeseen future, though it may expand Jon the Babcock’s medical career here in Thailand. “Well, it looks like your tooth has to come out. If you’re having problems with your eyes, I can remove them as well.”