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Life in Chiang Mai  By Colin Jarvis


A pampering day out

Oasis Spa has two branches, one on Walking Street, the other on Sirimangkalajarn. The tranquil garden and peaceful atmosphere certainly made the massage that much better.

By Shana Kongmun

Living in Chiang Mai we are surrounded by all sorts of options when looking for a bit of pampering, from the budget to the luxurious. I must confess, I’ve never been a dedicated self pamperer, having foregone facials, manicures and pedicures my entire life, it feels a bit strange to indulge in it now.

However, I have taken to regular massage like a duck to water and have a few favorite places. Foot massages are nice when your feet are tired, but to be honest, I like a full body massage best. I never knew all those places hurt until the massage lady’s strong hands finds them all!

I get a regular massage in the basement floor of Kad Suan Kaew on a regular basis and the ladies there know me by now as I rotate through the roster! But, I thought, its time to see what all the fuss is about when it comes to serious luxurious pampering since I have never really indulged in it myself, maybe that will make me a good candidate.

So I hearkened off to Oasis Spa on Sirimangkalajarn road. Oasis is a Chiang Mai success story and founders Pakin Ploypicha and Toby Allen a staple on the Chiang Mai social scene. Oasis has been awarded the Award of Excellence for Thai Day Spas several years runnign, SME's Best Brand Award, and The Prime Minister's Export Award (Most Recognized Service 2007). So, I figured, this must be the place to go. And it was.

The courtyard in front immediately takes you away from the hustle and bustle of Chiang Mai (well as much hustle and bustle as Chiang Mai musters, that is) and into a tranquil garden. The rooms are beautifully decorated (and smell great from the essential oils!) and the outdoor bathroom just outside the massage room luxurious and beautiful.

But, down to business. I went for the 2 hour massage which started off with the hot herbal ball. I’d never had one of those before and was pleasantly surprised at the warm pressure of the ball. Unlike my massage ladies who start on the front of my legs, this masseuse had me lay on my stomach with my head in the face sized gap at the top of the table. After the herbal ball, I got the oil massage. The oil was fragrant and warm and felt wonderful. Then came time for the Thai massage which involved stretching and pressure points.

Finally, after receiving the massage of my life, I rolled over and she proceeded to the front of my legs, arms and neck. The warm herbal ball on my abdomen at first felt odd but once I grew used to it, it actually felt quite good.

Once the massage was over, I retreated to the bathroom to shower off the oil. I must confess, it smelled terrific, so I figured I wouldn’t be too enthusiastic in washing it off since it must be offering some moisturizing qualities for my skin!

I went home feeling rather refreshed and thinking that for a strong massage, I hadn’t felt as pummeled as I usually do. I woke up the next morning and realized that my body had received a work out, not that I hurt, but I could tell things had been adjusted! I must say, in the days that followed, I did feel more relaxed and less stressed. Taking two hours out of my busy day seemed like a lot at the time, but it yes, it was worth it.

Oasis also offers other services including body wraps, scrubs and the famous 2-hand massage. I may give the wrap a try, they have ones for dry, medium and oily skin and even an aloe wrap for people with sunburns.

Next stop, shall I try a facial? I have the feeling that now I’ve taken the first step, I may find myself turning towards the pampering thing more often!

In Memory of Mr. Nelms and His Ilk

By Colin Jarvis

I first met Mr Nelms, in the late 60s. He was the manager of the District Bank in Kingsway in London. He had been my father's bank manager when my father had been at university in the 40s.

I had a small current account, at Mr Nelms’s bank, into which my grant and my father's allowance were paid whilst I, too, was at university. I had decided that I needed a car and hoped that I could persuade Mr Nelms to give me a loan.

I had studied the car market very carefully and realised that most cars lost their value over a relatively short period of time. There was one exception and that was the amazing Land Rover. I believed that if I could find a Land Rover in good mechanical condition but that needed some work on the body I could obtain transport which I could sell at a profit after six months or a year. In other words I would have the use of a car for one year which, theoretically, would cost me nothing.

I planned my presentation very carefully and explained my thoughts to Mr. Nelms and asked him if he would be kind enough to lend me, unsecured, 350. He listened very thoughtfully to my presentation, then he laughed, following which, believe it or not, he arranged the loan.

He had made a judgement about whether or not I would be likely to repay and whether I would have the means to be able to do so. The fact that I had no capital at the time and, indeed, very little income, did not matter. He saw a proposal and decided that it would probably work and he used his own judgement. He did not have to refer to anyone else as the value of the loan was relatively little. In those days bank managers were paid on the success of their judgements.

I think that if a young man made the same proposition to any U.K. bank manager at the moment, the bank manager would again laugh, but would then ask the young man to leave the bank.

The reason for this is the reason that I sincerely believe that banks in the U.K., and probably most Western countries, will fail again in the relatively near future.

In the days of Mr. Nelms one would walk into a bank and be immediately confronted by a counter. Behind the counter was a screen and behind that were hundreds of employees with Comtometer (a complicated mechanical calculating device) machines. As computerisation took hold, fewer and fewer employees were needed in the branches. The counter moved gradually to the back of the premises leaving a great deal of underutilised space in the front.

The point is that computers have taken over most of the functions of human beings in the western banking system. People no longer make decisions, they simply interpret the decisions of the computers. I know what you are going to say, "But computer programs are written by human beings". That is true but no written instructions can cover every eventuality and consequently tend to follow the middle ground and cannot see potential, particularly when it is novel.

No computer program written today would have lent me money for a Land Rover. What banking programmes do is to try to take over the day-to-day management of the people in the branches. Head office thinks this reduces risk but it simply removes the responsibility from the branch employees. This is what this article is about.

Let us stay within the retail banking system in the U.K. If you were to wander into any branch of the HSBC, a bank which I do think is one of the best, you will find the place full of machines which will take your money, provide you with cash, and undertake many other functions including taking your request for a loan, insurance and many other services. If you are unsure as to how to use these machines there are hostesses in place to help you. This must be a good thing as it reduces the costs of the transactions and enables us or to compete business quickly.

We can also see that many financial services, even opening a bank account, may now be undertaken on the Internet. So what is the ultimate result of this?

You can already see it. People in the branches can no longer make decisions. They simply report what the computer tells them. This, in the short term, means two things. Firstly, these people are not really required. More and more people are becoming computer literate and happy to interface with a machine if they need to. So a human being, that simply reports what the computer says, is a very expensive loudspeaker. The logical conclusion of this is that within 10 years these people will not have a job. If they doubt this, let them ask the old Comtometer operators of yesteryear.

The second, and far more important aspect of this trend, is the fact that no one can make decisions any more. People who work in banks are normally paid, at least in part, on commission for the products they sell. Mr. Nelms was rewarded by the profitability of his branch. If you buy a loan today the branch employee will receive a bonus. Forms that you will have to fill out on the computer, with their help, will score your request according to criteria that are part of a computer program. Consequently the bank employee may well steer you to answer questions in a certain way in order to ensure the success of the request and thereby their bonus or commission. This is exactly the situation that created the sub prime loans in America and elsewhere.

There are now so many rules and regulations relating to loans that perfectly legitimate business proposals being rejected simply because they do not fit the criteria. You can rest assured that anybody with a novel idea is unlikely to receive any help from High Street banks. I really do believe that the current situation that is prevalent in the UK with high street banks will not solve the problems of the past but in fact encourage them to be repeated.

So why do I write about this in a regional newspaper in Thailand? It's very simple, if you're reading this newspaper you are likely to be a foreigner and a high percentage of you will be likely to have banks accounts in European or North American countries where I believe the same situation exists.

The olden days, when bank managers would look at a business proposition and make a judgement as to whether they thought it would succeed or not, have passed. The financial future is in the hands of people who try to cover most eventualities and who try to exclude anything that is a little unusual, regardless of whether it makes commercial sense or not.

I am sure that all the banks employ people who could take on the mantle of Mr Nelms and would probably make more profit and create less risk than he ever did. I wonder if I will ever see the day when Mr Nelms is brought back. I am pretty confident that I will see the day when high-street banks in the UK and other similar countries will face further financial crises of their own making and which cause great difficulty to their customers, that’s you, but probably not to themselves. Oh, and by the way, the Land Rover made a profit!

Work Permits Less Confusing?

In April I wrote about the confusion relating to work permits for foreigners, in particular those wishing to undertake creative activities, voluntary work or as freelancers.

Since writing that article Khun Ruchuchai Potha, from the Ministry of Labour came to speak at a meeting of the Chiang Mai Friends to clarify the position. This was followed more recently by a meeting organised by the radio programme "Helping Hands" where Khun Ruchuchai and his colleague Khun Witthya from the Immigration Department appeared in front of an audience of about 100 foreigners.

What have we learnt?

Firstly, whether or not one receives payment, in any way, is irrelevant. Work is defined as the exercise of skill, knowledge or effort and that's it. Theoretically playing a round of golf could count as work except for the fact that there needs to be the intention to work. This is not quite so easy to define but seems to be linked, most of the time, to someone, somewhere benefiting in some way. So if some musicians play regularly in a bar this must be to the benefit of the bar and since the musicians are exercising skill, knowledge or effort, they are working. Again, any performer facing an "audience" is likely to be breaking the law.

If one undertakes voluntary work this is normally defined as work by the Department of Labour. A work permit is therefore required. If you happen to have a retirement visa then, as you will know, you are not allowed to work and therefore a work permit will not be issued. Attempting to help your fellow citizens may well land you in trouble.

If you are a freelancer, even though you may not deal with clients in Thailand, the general advice is that you will need a work permit. But you cannot get one as an individual.

If you go along to the Ministry of Labour and apply for a work permit as an individual you will be told that you need a sponsoring organisation. If this is a company of some sort then for every foreigner they "employ" they need to employ four Thais and all must pay the national insurance. You are also likely to be taxed on a minimum income of 50,000 per month. Not particularly attractive if you are doing this work on a voluntary basis.

Providing your work is "Necessary and Urgent" and can be completed in 15 days or less, you may obtain a dispensation from the Ministry of Labour. However you can only apply for one such permit in any three-month period.

The good news is that, if you are a musician or other creative person who wishes to put on a performance to support the fundraising activities of a charity you may apply to the Ministry of Labour and they are very likely to give you a permit for that event.

To most foreigners these rules will seem to be very difficult to follow unless one becomes a couch potato. However there does seem to be some willingness on the behalf of the Thai authorities to help, particularly in areas where the activities will benefit the society in general.

Chiang Mai Friends has begun to offer help and assistance to foreigners in this area and it would be worth contacting them if you feel in need of help. They are particularly keen on helping voluntary workers stay on the right side of the law whilst undertaking their beneficial activities.

There is no doubt that in the last few weeks the situation has been greatly clarified. It is to be hoped that, in the future, the situation may be changed to enable foreign residents of Chiang Mai to contribute more fully to the city they love.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

A pampering day out

In Memory of Mr. Nelms and His Ilk

Work Permits Less Confusing?