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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:
 
Family Money: Is Goldilocks at home?
 
The computer doctor
  
Snap Shots: Size does matter!
  
Modern Medicine: Breast Cancer
 
Heart to Heart with Hillary
 
Grapevine
 
Dining Out: Supping in the Supper Room
 
Animal Crackers: Living in the shadow of your tail!
 
Auto Mania: The Bangkok International Motor Show

Family Money: Is Goldilocks at home?

The first and third largest stock markets in the world - the USA and UK - have long extended their arms across the Atlantic to hold hands.

For many years these two powerful economies rode up and down the roller coaster, carrying investors and the non-investing public with them, and most of the time rising and falling almost in parallel.

Sometimes it was a very bumpy ride, going from boom to bust and back again.

In recent weeks, both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and its British cousin, the FTSE 100 index, have been setting new highs. The problems that dogged world markets last autumn seem to be fading from the memory.

Many investors - especially those with short memories - have once again been buying heavily into the US equity market, driving the market up.

In recent weeks I have been asked many times what my outlook is on the US economy - mostly by people who hadn’t read my article on the subject published in this space on 22nd January. Some of these potential investors are euphoric about the recent rises; others are sensibly cautious.

Unlike some commentators on a certain global TV news network, I don’t change my opinion every time I change my shirt. But in view of the number of enquiries I’ve received on what seems to be happening in the US and what may result, and at the risk of boring regular readers of this column, I’ll venture my views once again (the guiding information for which, by the way, is gathered from various & sundry sources, primarily from commentary carefully put together by professional analysts at several major institutions as well as in the London Financial Times, but never last night’s TV news.)

Not too hot, nor too cold

At the moment, both the US and UK economies seem to be experiencing what economists call ‘The Goldilocks Effect’.

A Goldilocks economy, like the fairy tale heroine’s porridge, is one that is not too hot to cause inflation, nor too cold to cause recession, but just right.

On the surface, the key to the revival is that Goldilocks is alive and prospering, albeit to different degrees, on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the US, sure enough, economic growth marches briskly on without any sign of inflationary pressure. In the UK, the porridge might be tepid, but at least recession now looks less and less likely. It seems that Britain is avoiding the worst of its old boom-and-bust cycle.

But the economic news tells only part of the story.

Underpinning the remarkable resilience of the US and UK equity markets has been the most obvious form of support for any commodity: a shift in the balance of supply and demand.

With low returns on alternative investments (such as cash or bonds), more and more money is pouring into equities. And with most emerging markets still worrisome in the minds of most investors, they’re chasing after the ‘safer’ bets of the traditional major economies.

And this means the US & UK, since Japan, the world’s second largest economy, is seen by most investors as a sick aunt to be avoided until she either recovers or dies. The Japanese doctors keep fussing, and trying various pills and potions, but haven’t yet come up with a remedy that will get Auntie Nikkei going again.

In the US and the UK, however, because companies are buying their shares back, or not issuing new ones, the supply of equity is shrinking.

With demand rising and supply falling, it is no wonder prices are up.

Flights of fancy

There has been much talk and comment about psychologically-critical barriers, as if breaking through these somehow meant the investors had won a race and would get a medal for having done so.

A figure like 10,000 on the Dow is, of course, just a number.

But the anticipated reaching of that landmark inevitably raises the questions: how much longer can this last? How imminent are the threats that might bring the long bull run to an end?

Back last autumn, of course, it seemed as if the bull market was already over when Russia’s default, the continuing crisis in Asia and the near-collapse of US hedge fund Long Term Capital Management appeared to threaten a global recession.

Investors then fled equities for the safe haven of US bonds, resulting in the S&P 500 index dropping nearly 20%, the UK’s FTSE Index 25% and European markets 35% in less than three months.

The usual voices of doom & gloom were trotted out, if you recall, to forecast the end of the world’s economy - as they do with monotonous regularity every time there’s a bump in the ride.

The main effect of these gurus is to induce small investors (who mostly jumped on the bandwagon rather late in the day) to panic and sell out - and suffer a loss in the process, more often than not.

Fortunately for stock markets, central banks quickly rode to the rescue, with the US Federal Reserve cutting rates three times, the Bank of England five times, and even the euro bloc managing a collective rate reduction before the introduction of the single currency in January.

Once again, the gurus of doom & gloom slunk back to their holes... until the next time they’re needed by certain TV networks to comment on the latest dip, and maintain the network’s ratings by getting the ‘news’ to you first.

Going forward

Global growth is still not expected to be sparkling in 1999 and there are plenty of problem spots, such as Japan, Germany and Brazil. But the worst may be over for Asia, notably in South Korea.

Outside Germany, Europe seems on course for respectable growth; and above all, the US economy keeps charging forward. Economic growth was an annualised 6.1% in the fourth quarter of 1998, but as Alan Greenspan, the Fed chairman, said recently: "There have been no obvious signs of emerging inflation pressures."

The UK economy is enjoying nothing like the same kind of growth as the US.

Even on the UK chancellor’s forecasts, which many analysts feel are optimistic, UK GDP is expected to grow by only between 1%-1.5% this year.

But expectations of recession, widespread in the autumn, have started to fade as survey data have indicated an upturn in business sentiment.

All this has reassured those who feared that corporate profits were about to be severely squeezed.

According to one information company, US corporate earnings forecasts have been rising steadily since December. And the corporate sector is playing a big part in fuelling the rise in share prices.

At this stage of previous bull markets - notably in 1987 - companies were falling over themselves to issue new equity to take advantage of high share prices. But not this time.

In the four quarters to the end of September, there was net retirement of some $158bn of equity in the US, while in the UK the supply of equity was reduced by more than £30bn in 1998.

Take-overs & buy-backs

Two factors have been behind this shift: take-overs and share buy-backs.

Take-overs or mergers offer companies two advantages. At a time when low inflation and moderate economic growth make it hard to increase sales rapidly, mergers enable companies both to cut costs (which improves margins), and to achieve the scale needed to become a price-setter rather than a price-taker in their sectors.

As investors have recognised this trend, blue chip shares have outperformed small companies - increasing the incentive for companies to grow bigger by acquisition.

Share buy-backs have had an even greater influence than take-overs.

There seems to have been a revolution in corporate finance, with managers accepting that surplus cash should not be hoarded but returned to shareholders.

With cash deposits paying a low return and debt tax-deductible, buy-backs also enhance earnings per share and reduce a company’s cost per capital.

The result is that buy-backs normally drive share prices higher, something that managers - increasingly motivated by share options - have not failed to notice.

In the US they have happily borrowed money to buy back their companies’ shares. Over the four quarters to September, the corporate sector accumulated some $359bn of debt, the highest ever 12-month figure.

Of course, higher gearing increases risk, but why should managers care? They get generous severance packages when they quit or are fired. And if share prices fall, boards are normally willing to rewrite options schemes to compensate.

A bubble about to burst?

There are some clouds on the horizon. Arguably the latest rally in US share prices in particular is showing even greater signs of being a bubble than before.

But once again, the nebulous ERP (Equity Risk Premium) factor comes into play, as investors perceive the risk is acceptable in buying high-priced equities.

The long bull market in equities, which began in 1982, has been accompanied by a similarly profitable era for bonds, which has seen yields fall to levels not known for a generation.

Falling bond yields reduce both the borrowing costs of corporations and the temptation for equity investors to switch out of the stock market in search of a higher income.

But they also increase the theoretical valuation of equities.

The value of shares is the future dividend, or earnings streams, discounted to the present day.

As the discount rate (normally the prevailing bond yield) falls, then the present value of those future earnings increases.

Since 1982, the value of US equities has increased more than ninefold.

Only a third of this has been due to a rise in corporate profits; the other two-thirds has come from an increase in the multiple - the price-earnings ratio - which investors have been willing to attach to those profits.

The rise in that ratio has been closely correlated with the fall in bond yields. Without it, on measures such as dividend yield or price-to-asset value, shares would look horrifyingly exposed.

The strength of the US economy has unsettled the Treasury bond market, however, with investors fearing either that inflationary pressures will return or that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates to head them off.

The yield on the 30-year issue - which dipped to 4.7% in October - has risen to around 5.55%, undermining the valuation case for shares.

The Fed keeps track of the relative valuation of shares by comparing the forward price-earnings ratio on the S&P 500 index with the 10-year Treasury bond yield. A couple of weeks ago this showed equities looking 27% overvalued.

Such extremes of overvaluation had been seen only twice before: worryingly, that was in August and September 1987, just before the overheated, speculative bubble market crashed...

And the UK?

The UK stock market looks less exposed as both price-earnings ratios and bond yields are lower than they are in the US.

But as has been shown so many times in the past, London will not be able to escape a setback on Wall Street - and nor will anyone else.

The US equity market constitutes such an overwhelmingly large proportion of the world’s capitalisation - about 45% - that a substantial fall in US equities would put a dent not only in the US economy but also severely affect the rest of the world.

What could bring a halt to the bull run?

The most likely cause would be a realisation by investors that Goldilocks is starting to show her age.

There are two opposite dangers, which cannot simultaneously be justified.

Some fear inflation.

Part of the reason why inflation has been so low for so long has been the weakness of commodity prices; but oil prices have started to perk up in recent weeks. Without the support of falling oil prices, some analysts think US inflation could reach 4 percent by the end of next year.

But the bigger fear is deflation: that the debt accumulated by governments, corporations and individuals over the past 20 years will prove to be an intolerable burden in a slowing economy.

At some point, defaults will rise, creditors will start to demand their money back and the economy will suffer a credit crunch.

Optimists hope that the two forces will counteract one another and that neither threat will materialise. But the stakes are high.

The UK and European economies are dependent on the US to keep world growth moving ahead, and the US economy itself requires a rising stock market to keep consumer expenditure growing. Just getting to 10,000 on the Dow may not be enough.

If you have any comments or queries on this article, or about other topics concerning investment matters, write to Leslie Wright, c/o Family Money, Pattaya Mail, or fax him directly on (038) 232522 or e-mail him at [email protected]. Further details and back articles can be accessed on his firm’s website on www.westminsterthailand.com.

Leslie Wright is Managing Director of Westminster Portfolio Services (Thailand) Ltd., a firm of independent financial advisors providing advice to expatriate residents of the Eastern Seaboard on personal financial planning and international investments.

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The computer doctor

By Richard Bunch

I thought, judging by the number of virus’ we have seen in our workshops this past week, a timely reminder of the do’s and don’ts was in order.

Firstly, you should have a decent anti-virus program installed on your PC and ensure this is monitoring your PC at all times, thus preventing any nasties being run. However, this is not the be all and end all, it is merely the beginning. It is essential that you update the virus database at least monthly and the engine as advised by the developer. The good anti-virus software developers post updates on their web sites and these should be downloaded and installed regularly. Remember also that if you are installing anti-virus software for the first time, it should be updated immediately as the database will almost certainly be out of date.

One virus that seems to be particularly prevalent at the moment is Happy99, ska Trojan. This is a Win32 based Trojan program which when run displays some fireworks on the monitor. Apart from the fireworks, the program also does some other activities in the background. One of these is to modify WSOCK32.DLL.

You cannot get infected just by downloading the Trojan file, you have to execute it!

The modified WSOCK32.DLL detects e-mail and newsgroup postings made by you and will then send a copy of the happy99.exe to every user or newsgroup you send e-mail to. It is intelligent enough to only send one instance of happy99.exe to each recipient. The unique function of this Trojan is that it can spread on its own.

Happy99 also goes by other names, which include wsock32.ska, ska.exe, ska and iwormhappy.

Remember, if you implement and practice good anti-virus routines you should have no cause for worry from infection of this or other virus.

Please let me have your questions, I’ll try to help.

The comments contained within this column are not necessarily the views of the author or Pattaya Mail Publishing Co., Ltd. Letters may be edited.

Send your questions or comments to the Pattaya Mail at 370/7-8 Pattaya Second Road, Pattaya City, 20260 or Fax to 038 427 596 or E-mail to [email protected]

Richard Bunch is Managing Director of Action Computer Technologies, providing total Information Technology solutions to clients on the Eastern Seaboard.

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Snap Shots: Size does matter!

Well, that headline got you in, didn’t it? And it’s not really misrepresentation either. What we are talking about here is the size of your photographic prints.

Now what you have to remember is that size costs money. The bigger the print, the more expensive it gets. However, on the other hand, the bigger the print, the greater the impression!

So what we are going to do this week is show you how to get the maximum out of your images, but also reduce the costs of your photography as well.

snap.jpg (20591 bytes)Photo: Crop and enarge.

You see, if the pro’s were to get every shot they took printed full size, just to see if it was a good one or not - then the costs of commercial photography would be even more horrendous than they are at present. Some professionals do not even get the roll of 36 shots printed! They have the film processed and work exclusively from the negatives, looking at them on a light box, using a magnifying glass. Now doing that requires a very keen eye and bucketfuls of experience. We will not go that far.

What Harry Flashman did when he was running his Pro Studio was to have the film processed and then very small prints done, the same size as the negatives themselves. These are called "contact proofs" and you do need the magnifying glass to see if the subject has crossed her eyes at the time of taking the shot. This is too hard, as well as the fact that it is very difficult to get contact proofs done here in Pattaya.

So what to do? Firstly, reject the hinted "Big size, na?" when you take the film in for processing. Get the smallest (and therefore cheapest) size prints you can. In the course of a year, you’ll save a bundle.

Now, which shots should you get printed larger? Certainly not every one! Even the pro’s reckon on six good shots a roll. Or put another way, 30 shots not worth doing anything with! This is where you have to learn to be very selective. Only pick the best ones. Do not worry if there are not so many good ones on the roll. Practice makes perfect in any field of endeavour, doesn’t it?

The next step is to put the selected print on the table in front of you and study it for a while. Would it look better if you chopped out the bushes on the left of the print? Is there too much sky? Would the portrait be more pleasing if you chopped it through at waist level? With pieces of blank paper you can mask off the four edges of the print and finally come up with the photograph that really looks good.

The next bit is important. Taking a ruler and biro, draw on the small print the new edges you have chosen. You are now getting ready to selectively enlarge your photographs.

Check through the negatives to see which one corresponds to the selected print you have been working with. Mark in the cardboard folder that negative number and the approximate size you want the print to be. Now staple the small print (with your drawn new edges) to the folder and go and see your favourite photo processor.

You theoretically have covered all the loose ends. You have indicated the correct negative, the size you need and the "crop" you want. All things being equal, you should get the correct enlargement - but this IS Thailand! Be prepared to smile and get it done again if needs be.

Photographic enlargements are cheap in this country compared to overseas. It really is worthwhile to selectively enlarge your best prints. You will not be disappointed. Size does matter!

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Modern Medicine: Breast Cancer

Just the mere mention of the words Breast Cancer can instill extreme fear in the minds of many women. For them, breast cancer is taken as a certain death sentence. However, with improved knowledge of the disease, improved detection methods and improved treatments it is no longer the problem it once was.

It is still, however, the commonest cancer of western women with 10% of the female population developing the disease. It is also mainly a cancer of older women, with 75% of those with breast cancer developing it after the menopause.

Interestingly, Asian women have one sixth the incidence of their western sisters, but if they migrate to western countries their daughters have the same chance of getting breast cancer as the westerners.

There has been some publicity of late that the medical scientists have identified a "cancer gene" for breast cancer which is passed down from mother to daughter. This is not quite so simple, and only around 5% of breast cancers are actually inherited.

The most common factor in the cause of breast cancer appears to be "unopposed" oestrogen and breast cancer is certainly more prevalent in women who have not had children, or who did not become pregnant till very late in their childbearing life.

The presenting symptom of breast cancer is usually a lump in the breast, detectable by simply feeling for it. This has led to the advice for women to practice BSE. This stands for Breast Self Examination. This procedure should be carried out once a month after the period and note taken if the woman feels that the texture of the breast tissue has changed at all compared to last month. Now before you rush off to the bedroom, please note that normal breast tissue is not smooth. It is, after all, glandular tissue so will be "lumpy" anyway. What you have to remember is what your breasts felt like last month! O.K.?

Even when you have found a lump does not mean you have identified breast cancer. Over 75% of breast lumps are "benign" (non cancerous) so there’s no need to panic immediately.

Go along and see your doctor who will most likely arrange for an ultra-sound and mammogram (special breast X-Ray), and then a Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy if necessary.

Remember these figures and take heart - 90% of women do not get breast cancer, 75% of breast lumps are not cancer and only 5% of breast cancers are inherited. However, since it is an important cancer, do look for it every month. Get in the habit of doing BSE, and in between times - relax!

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Dear Hillary,

I have a problem. Of course, many people have problems but as your job is to give advice, I think you should do it and I’m sure you do, as it is your duty and...but I do run on so.

But, speaking of ‘doing one’s duty’. I have continually had the most upsetting experiences when eating out at Thai restaurants in Pattaya.

I love Thai food. It’s so trendy, uh, delicious.

My problem is that there are certain ingredients that I don’t like and whenever I ask the serving staff to not add them, they actually laugh at me! I find this very rude.

Just the other night we were at a restaurant and I ordered ‘Phat Thai’, that very famous noodle dish. We all have our preferences in foods. I told the serving staff that I didn’t want any chilies (much too hot), dried shrimp (rather awful little creatures), fish sauce (who knows what it’s made from?), MSG (need I say more?), bean sprouts (too much ‘crunch’ for my taste), those Thai green onions (never know if they’re washed properly), granulated sugar (when is Thailand going to find out how bad refined sugar for you?), or egg, (I must watch my cholesterol).

Well! Do you know what the waitress asked me?

"Do you want any noodles in it?"

She probably thought she was being funny but I found it impertinent and offensive.

What does one do with serving staff such as this? My husband didn’t support me and just kept quiet. I could tell he was not happy though, the way he kept staring at the waitress, with gimlet eyes.

Hillary, I’m

Miffed

Dear Miffed,

It IS terrible, isn’t it? One wants to eat the cuisine of the country one is in and then meets up with this type of behaviour.

I suggest you take your business elsewhere. There are many places that DO know the customer is right.

There is a very good restaurant (I’ll send you the name by mail. I can’t advertise in this column) that serves food the way YOU want.

They specialise in Thai food and never put chilies, fish sauce, any type of uncooked vegetables and do EXACTLY what you want.

They are so understanding. They even use carrots instead of papayas in their ‘Thai Style Papaya Salad.’

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GRAPEVINE

Origins of sex
A lecturer at a prestigious Chonburi educational institute has published a report to show that the first sexual encounter occurred in Pattaya 1.2 billion years ago. This is the computer calculated date for the first chance meeting of two single cell plankton in the South China Sea. In response to reporters’ questions, Dr Charles Pratley explained it was not possible to say for certain whether the intimate occasion was straight or gay or whether the plankton actually realized what was happening.

Skinny fellow
Christopher Jeburk, 31, suspected international jewel thief and candidate for deportation, has baffled investigators after he escaped from a holding prison near the Cambodian border. He disappeared through a window only seven inches wide and then evidently jumped over a twenty foot electric fence. The only clue left was a video cassette of The X Files. His cell mate is suggesting that Jeburk had managed to become like the flexible Eugene Tooms who bounces out of all manner of tight corners in the mysterious TV series.

Hole in one
Tiger Woods of all standards should note the special offer at Century 2000 golf course near Rayong. Every Tuesday thru Friday, the green and caddy fee combined is a very reasonable 250 baht. Golf carts, none too plentiful it must be said, are 500 baht for 18 holes and 300 for 9, sharing or not. Weekend and holiday golfing is also cheap at 430 baht for the green and caddy fee. Century 2000 is closed to the public on Mondays. The special offers are scheduled to last until May 31 upcoming. Prior to this plug, the course was not normally crowded.

Wish you were here
A farang businessman had to leave his wife in Hong Kong for twenty four hours because of an airline mix-up. Arriving in Bangkok he sent her an E mail but mistyped the address. The message was unfortunately misdirected to the sobbing wife of a vicar who had just died in tragic circumstances. It read, "Just checked in. Very hot down here but people very friendly. See you tomorrow."

Hull ahoy
Reader PL writes that he recently received a multiple entry, 12 months’ validity, non immigrant visa at the Thai consulate in Hull, UK. All he needed was a letter from his Thai lawyer relating to a holding company. This consulate also takes applications by post, which London no longer does. Several readers tell Grapevine that officials overseas still know nothing of the 800,000 bank deposit required for an annual retirement visa. None the less, that’s what you will need when applying for one at any Thai immigration bureau in Thailand.

International roundup
New research from America shows that jealous free men whose wives are ugly live on average twelve years longer than worried males with beautiful spouses... Fifteen mobile prostitutes have been rounded up in Phnom Penh and had their motor bikes impounded because they were not wearing the straps on their crash helmets... Maurice, the naughty New Zealand cat, has stolen 60 bras and panties in nocturnal expeditions stretching over two years. Owner Meg Springfield is appealing to neighbors to keep their smalls inside.

Equal opportunities
Following complaints from physically handicapped tourists, a resort restaurant with steep stairs has put up a notice reading, "If you find our steps difficult, please note our Bangkok branch hasn’t any." A newspaper has printed this ad from a company seeking to hire staff: "Men and women can both apply in confidence for these positions equally, but not if they are pregnant or have a husband."

Adaptable claws
Amazing Thailand continues to impress. From a sign displayed in a zoo in this area: "Do not caress any wild beasts as some are not your friends. But don’t forget to visit the bird sanctuary and see the rare species using our binoculars." Meanwhile, a hotel in Phuket carries this odd warning in its extensive gardens: "Please do not encourage the cats as there are already too many."

The interstate
Overheard in Cheers, the only bar to give potential quizzers an oral examination. A senior citizen was driving down a US freeway when his car phone rang. Answering, he heard his wife’s voice urgently warning him, "Stan, I just heard on the news that there’s a car speeding the wrong way down the 1-280. Please be careful!" "Hell," said Stan, "It’s not just one car. There’s hundreds of them."

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Dining Out: Supping in the Supper Room

Can you really improve on a good concept? Well, Pat of Pat’s Pies and Deli believes you can. After running her very successful takeaway operation, she and partner Chart have opened up Pat’s Supper Room almost next door to the Takeaway on 3rd Road (close to the Pattaya Tai intersection).

Pat met us at the door, all aproned and at the ready. "Come in, Luv! We’re just cheap and cheerful, Luv." Well, I would certainly agree with the "cheerful" aspect of the décor. Bright cane furniture, glass topped tables and funky palm tree lights in the corner and "old masters" on the walls. Bronze cutlery and heavy damask table napkins completes the picture. Probably seating around 30 diners at a pinch it is as welcoming as Pat herself.

dining.jpg (17147 bytes)Photo: Pat's Pies and Deli Supper Room.

The menu is British, starting with selections of Pat’s home cooked pies, all served with chips, mashed or roast potatoes and 2 veg, all varieties between 100 - 120 Baht. From there it goes on to the roasts with beef, chicken, pork or lamb 165 - 215 Baht. If you are into Yorkshire Pud then Pat offers some giant ones with fillings of lamb and mint sauce, or beef and onion, pork with stuffing and apple or chicken for between 150 -185 Baht.

It does not end there. Cod and chips, Rissoles, sausage egg and chips, gammon, burgers, pork pies with Branston pickle or even Scotch eggs.

Three brands of beer between 45 - 55 Baht a small bottle, plus some eminently drinkable house wines (red and white) for 60 Baht a glass.

If this is not enough, there is a whiteboard with the weekly specials and some desserts as well.

My partner decided on the special turkey roast from the specials board, while I immediately returned to childhood memories and asked for the gammon with egg and chips. Madame’s plate arrived with large pieces of turkey breast and roast potatoes while my gammon rasher was so large it practically covered the plate. Our waitress also brought along the vinegar and HP sauce bottles. With English voices surrounding us from the other tables it was like a family Sunday night’s dinner back in the "old country".

So, how was it? Simply great home cooked food! Great tasting tucker, very generous portions and I licked my plate clean, just as I used to on those Sunday nights at Mum’s, all those years ago. If you are hankering after some genuine British food in a friendly and funky place, then Pat’s Pies and Deli Supper Room is the place for you.

Only one word of warning - it filled up very quickly on the night we were there, so I suggest you book - and it’s not open on Tuesdays. Pat, Luv. It was great, Luv! As you said when we walked in - "We’re just cheap and cheerful, Luv." Dining out with you certainly is! Definitely recommended.

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Animal Crackers: Living in the shadow of your tail!

The tree squirrel is a very special animal. It is one of very few wild animals that have adapted to humans and learned to coexist with man. It can live on both natural foods and handouts. You will often see people with a small squirrel as a pet, but like all wild animals they do need special care.

The squirrel is a great acrobat. Its large tail makes it the most recognised mammal on earth. It will do amazing high wire acts, as it races through the tree branches.

animal.jpg (26699 bytes)Photo: Grey squirrel.

In actual fact, the Grey Squirrel is one of the oldest mammals in the world, having been traced back 50 million years, from a fossil record made in North America. It is a rodent, so it is a vague cousin to the rat.

The squirrel got its name from the ancient Greeks, where Aristotle called it a "skiouros," (skia meaning shade, while "oura" means tail). This is where the "Sitting in the shade of your tail" comes from. Many years later the French created the word "esquirel" to describe it. From the French derivation we now get the English word "squirrel".

Squirrels throughout the world are all related to each other, but there are 365 species of squirrels divided into 7 distinct families. The 3 common ones are the ground squirrel, the flying squirrel and the tree squirrel. The Grey Squirrel is the commonest tree squirrel, inhabiting most of the Northern Hemisphere and its cousins are often seen in Thailand (especially at Chatuchak Market in Bangkok!)

The average Grey squirrel is fifteen inches long and weighs about one pound. Its diet consists of nuts, seeds and fruit. They will eat scraps from the rubbish bin including bread, meat and even snack food (and a Big Mac for my squirrel).

Unfortunately, these lovely animals do not have a very long life, most living only around 6 years.

The Red squirrel is smaller than the Grey. Eight to ten inches in length, with fur that ranges from red to black. Most will have a white belly and a long fluffy red tail. Some subspecies can have red or black ear tufts. These grow more pronounced as winter arrives. The Red squirrel is found in coniferous forests, where it feeds on the seeds and cones of the Pines, Fir’s and Spruce trees. It is found in cold countries and not at Chatuchak.

The Asian squirrel that is most common here is the small Grey with a tail almost as long as its body and head. While they can be kept as pets, they need large runs or otherwise they can become nasty and will bite if provoked. You have been warned.

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Auto Mania: The Bangkok International Motor Show

While you are reading your Pattaya Mail this Friday, your hard working motoring correspondent will be sweating away in the hot-house called Bangkok, to get the latest on all things motoring at the Bangkok International Motor Show.

Since this will entail much walking from stand to stand and consumption of some several litres of high octane beverages, I can hear your sympathetic sighs from here. Mind you, it’s not all automobilia and Bolly, you know. There are the usual problems to be overcome such as Press Releases in Thai and some exhibitors who have a deeply entrenched distrust of all farang autoscribblers. Toyota were notable last year with their PR department being totally unapproachable. It will be interesting to see what this year’s lot will be like.

auto.jpg (37150 bytes)Photo: Gordon-Keeble

Grand Prix International, the group who put on the show, have been very helpful in the lead-up and have sent over the list of exhibitors. This includes the majors, Honda, Volvo, Toyota, Ford and Mazda plus Benz, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Jeep, Thai Rung, BMW, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Peugeot, Citroen, Audi, SEAT, Alfa and would you believe it - Holden! The big Aussie bleeder. It would be nice to see some of the Oz V8 muscle grunters on the roads round here. The latest top of the line models sport 17" wheels, a cool 10" and 12" wide.

Noticeable by its absence is the General. I do hope they haven’t gone back to building minivans out there at the Eastern Seaboard Industrial Estate and are hiding again! They’ve been rather quiet of late. Seems rather strange to me that the world’s biggest car maker isn’t represented at the Bangkok International Motor Show. Never mind, Holden is part of the General’s line-up, so they can build decent cars when they want to.

As well as the inside displays at BITEC there are also some outside areas with Off-Roaders, an Auto Salon with collectibles and some Rally vehicles.

New and different cars expected include the new S Class Benzes - the S320 and the S 500L, some concept cars from Toyota called the Fun-Cargo, Fun Coupe, Fun-Time (a Pattaya go-go on wheels?), a WRC Replica and an example of their Hybrid system (presumably a gasoline/electric - though a PBR could be an option)! VW are also bringing over the W12, which if my memory serves me correctly is the Le Mans style coupe designed to out-Ferrari Ferrari. VW, under Managing Director Pietch, has the ability to produce anything these days. Never underestimate them.

Oh yes, I almost forgot - there is a bullet-proof Chevrolet Suburban on display. For the man who has everything and wants to keep it. Or perhaps it’s for the General’s Head Honcho’s if they renege on building the Zafira’s out there at the ESIE!

The Show is on from March 27th (Saturday) through to April 4th (Sunday). Open from noon till 10 p.m. each day. 50 Baht for adults and 25 Baht for Primary and Middle School students. Cheap day out!

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked about the chain-drive sports car. It was, of course, as some of you knew already, the famous S600 Honda Sports of around 1964 (or maybe even 1963).

I will probably have to smarten myself up with dates as Ted Aspudd out there at the Bira International Race Circuit took me to task over the Metallurgique that I said was 1919 - 20. Ted reckons it was 1918, and since Ted is older than me he’s lived closer to the date of manufacture than I have! Mind you, he didn’t pick the fact that the picture I published was of the 1912 model.

Ted, who is always interesting to talk to, had also driven a Berkeley and reckoned that not only did they have the best brakes in the world in their day, but also the noisiest brakes in the world. Apparently they had to stuff chalk in the drums to stop the howl. How that works, I dunno, but Ted said it did.

Back to the Honda S 600. It actually began as the S 360, but I don’t think they ever released them with an engine that small. They did have an S 500 as well, but again I think it was a motor show display only. The S 600 was replaced by the S 800 and eventually lost the chain drive in that model. The engines were very much motorcycle derivatives complete with roller bearing crankshafts. One of these actually did quite well in Australia in the ProdSports category. It was very light and could deliver good horsepower. And did it ever rev!

Honda have certainly built some interesting sports cars over the years. The latest all aluminum NSX mid engined cars being good examples of this. They crashed one at Bathurst and it took them hours to pull it straight in the rack. Normal construction steel monocoques can be pulled straight under an hour at the race-track body shop at Bathurst, but the alloy NSX almost had them beaten.

Car and Driver, an authoritative American magazine, tested a road going NSX in 1997. They recorded performance figures that were staggering. 0 - 60 MPH in 4.8 seconds and a standing 1/4 mile in 13.4 seconds and 106 MPH through the traps at the end. So, for this week’s quiz question - what was the top speed of the road registered NSX? First correct entry wins the Automania FREE beer. Fax the Editorial office on 427 596 or email [email protected]

Had a nice note from regular Peter Cabrey in Hawaii who said he hadn’t won much recently, but with all the research he’s been doing it has improved his motoring knowledge no end. Thanks Peter!

By the way, if you’ve got an NSX sitting in a shed somewhere then do not sell it. This car will be a very hot collectors item in ten years!

More Autotrivia

Found another race driver in our midst. Martin Kent, who I haven’t met yet, will be instantly recognisable by his crotch-bulge. Drove a Gordon-Keeble with a 500 horse-power Chev up the sharp end. Gordon-Keebles were never noted for their road holding abilities and with 500 neddies on tap this one must have been a beast. Big cojones, big big cojones! Thanks for making the contact, Martin.

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