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  COLUMNS

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:
 
Family Money: Balancing the Risks
 
The Computer Doctor

Successfully Yours: Father S. claus
 
Snap Shots: Walk several metres closer!
   
Modern Medicine: The Quality of Life

Heart to Heart with Hillary
 
Grapevine

Dining Out: The Year in Retrospect - The muncher’s millennium!
  
Animal Crackers: Otterly Fantastic!
  
Auto Mania: Eff Wun in 2000

Fitness Tips: Fit Facts

Family Money: Balancing the Risks

By Leslie Wright

At some point in discussing investments you’ve probably been asked about your “attitude towards investment risk”. Most people immediately react with a comment like, “I don’t want any risk!” But giving this question more serious thought only raises yet more questions in the minds of most investors. What is investment risk and who or what do you measure it against?

Last week we offered a ‘self-help’ quiz to help you evaluate your own risk profile and give you some indication of whether you’re a high, medium or low risk investor (which result may well have differed from what you thought you were.) Also, whether your current investment strategy is overly aggressive, unduly cautious, or just about right.

The questions that made up that quiz also emphasise that evaluating one’s individual risk profile is not as simple as it might sound - but is vital to helping you choose the right solutions from the infinite range of savings and investments on offer nowadays.

The dilemma, highlighted in the diagram below, is that higher potential returns involves sacrificing capital security. At one end of the safety scale, a fixed term deposit will give a certain return at the end of the deposit period, but you won’t get any pleasant surprises. At the other extreme lie high-risk investment schemes that can be a spectacular success, or could result in a dramatic loss.

Remember that a longer investment period generally reduces the impact of the ups and downs that are a natural feature of stocks and shares in the short term.

In the short term, a market ‘correction’ (which is the financial community’s jargon for a drop of less than 10%) often leads investors to panic and sell out, thereby locking in what otherwise was only a loss on paper. If they had kept their nerve and held on for a few more months - or even better, bought more when the market had over-reacted (which it often does, caused by the herd’s panic selling) - they would stand to make a nice profit once the market had recovered, which historically it always has within a few months.

Even in the case of a ‘crash’ (the financial world’s euphemism for a drop exceeding 20%), such as the collapse of the speculative bubbles of 1987 or 1993, the indices quietly crept back above their pre-crash ‘highs’ within a couple of years. Nonetheless, some people still talk about The Crash of ’87 as if it was a major disaster and a good reason never to invest in equities.

Spreading your money across a mixture of investments can be an effective way of dampening down the risks. On the other hand, investments denominated in currencies other than your ‘home’ currency increase the level of investment risk as the values of international currencies change against each other.

But these are all reasons why investors who have neither the time, interest, nor access to the specialised information required even to attempt to gauge the future direction one or another market may take should either seek professional advice on a regular basis as to the appropriate portfolio mix for their investment strategy, or keep it simple and use broad-based diversified investments such as Global Managed Funds and stick with them for at least five years.

Class distinctions

It’s important to recognise that whilst the rules of risk and potential reward can’t be broken, they can be engineered to a degree.

For example, government bonds (otherwise called fixed income securities) offer a regular fixed income if you’re prepared to accept a small element of capital risk. Similarly, capital protected investments give cautious investors the opportunity to benefit from growth linked to stock markets investments while removing the risk of loss of capital.

So let’s take a brief overview of the risk/return spectrum, and where along it different types of investments fall.

Savings Accounts in one’s base currency are generally regarded as safe but unspectacular. Higher balances and longer term deposits generally attract higher interest rates.

However, every expatriate in Thailand knows that just a year or so ago, fixed term deposits at local banks were paying up to 17% p.a. - but now only about 4-5%.

The currency risk also has to be taken into consideration, bearing in mind that the baht has fluctuated from 25 to the US dollar in 1997 to as low as 55 in ’98 and is wobbling around 40 at present.

Bond funds and capital-protected funds tend to offer higher returns than savings accounts, but their values will fluctuate as interest rates change over time. In economic theory, lowered interest rates make bonds more enticing, which are then traded at a premium. Similarly, increasing interest rates make them less appealing.

1999 has been a notable exception to this ‘rule’. After interest rates were lowered in late 1998, international investors seem largely to have eschewed bonds in favour of equities (stocks & shares), and despite positive forecasts, bond funds have generally had a very poor showing so far this year. With the return of rising interest rates, this under-performance may continue for some time to come.

Investors are now faced with the dilemma of maintaining their portfolios at what is generally perceived as a relatively low risk-rating by including bond funds, and perhaps seeing their capital being eroded if bonds continue to under-perform; or increasing their exposure to inherently more volatile equities, and hence increasing the overall risk-rating of their portfolio.

The relatively safe solution to this dilemma is the recent and innovative introduction of various limited-risk and capital guaranteed funds, all of which offer a limited (or in some cases, even zero) downside, combined with potentially higher gains from exposure to global equity markets. But as these various funds differ markedly in their investment strategy and management style, professional advice should be sought before venturing into them.

Managed funds combine the relative stability of bond investments with the high potential returns from equities. But these funds also come in various guises and flavours, which can be confusing to the uninitiated.

As has been discussed in previous articles, all funds are managed. But what has historically been called a Managed Fund (technically but more appropriately termed an Asset Allocation Fund nowadays) can, at least in theory, invest across the entire investment spectrum and anywhere in the world where the fund managers believe the best returns are to be found. How any particular one of these funds is managed and the parameters & constraints under which its managers must operate are important to understanding why some Managed Funds are much more volatile than others, and why some produce much better (or worse) returns than others. The key is the asset allocation mix - what proportion is held in bonds versus equities versus cash, and how much of each of these asset classes is invested in which geographical areas and/or market sectors.

Regionally invested funds reduce the risk of equity investment by purchasing shares in a number of countries within a geographical area. European Stock Market and Pacific Equity funds are just two examples of this type. But again, some produce much better (or worse) returns than others. And once again, the key to understanding this is knowing the management style and parameters of the fund in question.

Single country funds are more geographically focused. Investing in a narrowly-focused emerging single country fund inherently carries a greater element of short-term risk, while at the same time offering potentially higher short-term returns. The degree of risk will vary according to the nature of the underlying economy, so that a UK stock market or North American Equity fund will tend to be less volatile than, say, a Hong Kong or Japan stock market fund.

Single country equity funds that invest into an emerging market - such as Thailand for instance - will tend to be even more volatile, and the reasons are slightly more complex. Partly this has to do with relative capitalisation. A capital influx or outflow of just a few million dollars can have a marked influence on a small stock market (such as Thailand’s or Korea’s), as indeed has been the case this year. These movements of capital are more often made by international institutions’ fund managers than by an accumulation of small investors, who are often late joining the ride and can be left holding the bag when the large institutions sell out.

Here the key to success is correctly identifying both the buying opportunities and the danger signals - which is a fund manager’s full-time job, but much more difficult for most amateur investors.

Commodities, futures & options are investment classes which can produce very substantial gains, and very spectacular losses. These markets can move so fast that most amateur investors are unable to keep pace with developments, and are certainly not recommended for widows & pensioners.

Nowadays, however, these highly volatile sectors are accessible to investors through specialist funds which are actively managed, thus removing the hassle of day-to-day (or perhaps more aptly, minute by minute) trading that is the norm with these investment classes. Nonetheless, such funds should only be considered by more sophisticated investors who understand the inherent volatility and risks involved.

Interestingly though, these asset classes (and other specialist sectors such as energy, telecommunications, healthcare, leisure, and privatisation) are often not correlated to movements in major markets or ‘blue-chip’ stocks, so do not move in line with them.

Thus adding an element of commodities, futures & options (or the other somewhat less risky specialist sectors mentioned) to your strategically balanced portfolio can increase the overall gain while actually reducing the overall risk!

This premise is perhaps more easily understood with the analogous principle learned by every secondary school physics student: add a sine wave to a cosine wave of the same frequency and you end up with a flat line. However it is worth remembering that this principle concerning interference patterns also holds true if the peaks or troughs coincide: two coinciding peaks augment each other to make a ‘super-bump’, just as two coinciding troughs combine to produce a spectacular loss if we keep in mind that it’s your money we’re talking about.

When considering higher risk investments, then, the potential for spectacular returns has to be balanced against the increasing risk of capital loss. The lure of potentially high gain should always be secondary to the question: “How much can you afford to lose?” And that’s the only amount of money you should consider placing into adventurous investments.

If you have any comments or queries on this article, or about other topics concerning investment matters, contact Leslie Wright directly by fax on (038) 232522 or e-mail [email protected]. Further details and back articles can be accessed on his firm’s website on www.westminsterthailand.com.

Editor’s note: Leslie sometimes receives e-mails to which he is unable to respond due to the sender’s automatic return address being incorrect. If you have sent him an e-mail to which you have not received a reply, this may be why. Please ensure your return e-mail address is complete, or include a phone/fax number, to ensure his prompt response to your enquiry.

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

From Jozef Hendricz, Belgium: I am living in Belgium with my Thai spouse and any time I come to Thailand I read the Pattaya Mail. It is a very interesting newspaper and I prefer it above the Bangkok Post and The Nation but unfortunately I cannot find it in Thai shops in Antwerpen (only the Bangkok Post, once a week).

I would like to ask for some information from you. For 3 weeks, I have connected my PC to the Internet and I would like to visit Thai Web sites. As long as these sites are in English I don’t have any problem but my web browser is unable to show me Thai letters. Can you please help me with the following:

1) How can I install Thai fonts for using them with my web browser (Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 5)?

Computer Doctor replies: To do this you need to have installed Thai Language support as an option when the install was performed. If you did not choose it, then run set-up again and check this option. Once installed, from the View Menu, select Encoding and from the drop down list select Thai (Windows). You should then be able to read Thai web sites.

2) I use WIN98 and I want to write Thai letters with my word processor (MS-Word 7). A friend told me I need Thai fonts and a utility to switch from Dutch language to Thai and vice versa. I already bought a keyboard that responds to the Thai character sets. Can you tell me where I can download Thai fonts and that switch-utility? By the way, we use “AZERTY” keyboards in my country and the keyboard I purchased in Thailand is a “QWERTY” one.

Computer Doctor replies: You need a keyboard switch; this is a small TSR (Terminate and Stay Ready) program, which allows Thai to be typed on a non-Thai language-operating platform. You may download this from http://thaigate.rd.nacsis.ac.jp/refer/thaiio.html.

With regard to the keyboard layout, you will of course be typing Thai with the QWERTY keyboard connected. In order for the system to correctly recognise it, you will need to open Settings, Control Panel, Keyboard, then select the Language tab and Add English United States. You will then be able to adopt a shortcut keystroke combination to ease the chore of switching between QWERTY and AZERTY. Do bear in mind that when you connect the different keyboards to the PC you will have to restart the system.

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, on South Pattaya Road (900 metres from Sukhumvit Road). Providing total computer, IT solutions, website and advanced graphics design to corporate clients and home users on the Eastern Seaboard. Please see our advertisement or call 038 374 147 or 411 063 www.act.co.th

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Successfully Yours: Father S. Claus

by Mirin MacCartthy

Santa is here! Yes, he is arriving early in Thailand this year. Because of his busy schedule he will be visiting Pattaya on Saturday December 11th at a party for street children at the Bangkok Pattaya Hospital and everyone is asked to come along and help distribute presents.

Santa Claus is pretty successful at his job, being one of the best known people in the world. He lives on top of Korvatunturi mountain near the Polar Circle in Lapland. Korvatunturi is called Mount Ear because it has three ears that let Santa hear messages from all the children everywhere.

Santa is so busy these days that he keeps the exact whereabouts of his home a secret and no one has ever been there except Mother Christmas and the elves. Mother Christmas enjoys the quiet life and prefers to work behind the scenes.

Today Finland and Lapland are some of the few countries where children actually see Father Christmas delivering presents on Christmas eve, in person. It is also probably the only place where Santa asks the kids if they behaved during the year. In America and other countries it is kept a secret, that is why he has to sneak down chimneys at night.

Santa Claus is a “well nourished” jolly old chap with a white beard and long red robes to keep him warm and visible in the snow. He used to travel around Lapland by reindeer, but he became so popular and is in so much demand he now jets around the world for all the pre Christmas events.

It was one of Thailand’s heroes, Hanuman the magic monkey, who invited Santa Claus to the Bangkok Pattaya Hospital this year. Hanuman was concerned that the children of Thailand who do not usually make a big tradition of Christmas, preferring other festivals such as Songkran, might not be as well versed on the legends of Santa Claus and could miss out.

However, Santa Claus wasn’t all that surprised to receive the invitation. “I just love spreading goodwill and giving out presents. A December holiday here gives me a chance to catch up on a couple of Singha beers and on my suntan too!”

Rudolph and his other reindeer have been left at home in the care of the elves. “They leave a dreadful mess everywhere - worse than elephant poo.” (I think he means the reindeers!)

Santa is actually following a long family tradition, “Ho! Ho! Ho! My parents were Father and Mother Christmas of course. This job is handed down from father to son through the centuries. I can trace my ancestry back to St Nicolas and even before that in pre-Christian times to the Pagan chieftain Mithra. I love telling people about St Nicholas, Old Saint Nick we call him. He was a rich and kind old Bishop, a friend of the children, who went about helping poor people, sailors and merchants. My great grandfather told me Old Saint Nick used to give gold coins to the poor. On Christmas Eve he would dress up in disguise and hand out sweets for the kids, and money from a little sack to the really needy.” (So it seems nothing has changed really!)

Santa Claus has many different names, Sinter Klaas in Holland, Father Christmas in the U.K., Babba Natal in Italy, Pa Norsk in Norway, Joulupukki in Finland, Papa Noel in Spain, and Grandfather Frost or Baboushka in Russia. Does this bother Santa? “Oh Ho! Ho! Ho! No, not al all,” he chuckles. “All my uncles and brothers have spread to the furthest corners of the world, not because nocturnal traveling is in our blood. Oh Ho! Ho! Ho! No, every Santa Claus has traditionally been entrusted with the very special mission of bringing peace and goodwill to everyone everywhere. Not just presents, but giving and taking the time for each other, and celebrating together, that’s what its all about.”

Santa admitted he has a problem here. “I had to leave my elves at home in charge of the messy reindeers, so I need all the helpers I can get. I was a bit overweight on my baggage too, so we are a little short on presents. Please come along and help us all party tomorrow. Just drop off as many presents as you like to the International Department of the Bangkok Pattaya Hospital beforehand. The home for street children has boys aged between 6 and 17. They haven’t seen much of the way of toys in their life, but please no weapons, toy guns or knives. I need help with singing the Christmas Carols too. I’m only good with the chorus, ‘Ho! Ho! Ho! Though I’ve heard I get the backing of the Street Children’s Choir and the Seaboard Sound and Friends and other guests stars beside me.”

The Christmas party for Street children at the Bangkok Pattaya Hospital is on Saturday December 11th, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Santa has personally invited you. Be there!

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Snap Shots: Walk several metres closer!

by Harry Flashman

The biggest single factor in the failure of a good photograph is the camera being too far from the subject. The advice “walk several metres closer” should be in your mind every time you look through the viewfinder of your camera. The real words in photographic parlance are “Fill the frame”, but this does not seem as easy to understand as the “walk several metres closer”.

You see, when the picture appears in front of you and you decide to record this on film for posterity, you have a pre-conceived idea in your mind’s eye as to what this photo will look like. The only trick is to make that pre-conceived picture bob up in the viewfinder!

It sounds so basic that no-one could get this incorrect - but thousands of people do get it totally wrong! The problem comes from the fact that the camera does not “see” the same visual field as you do. When you start to use different lenses, rather than the standard lens, this effect is even more exaggerated. You are standing on one spot and seeing the scene, but you will most likely have to move to allow the camera to “see” the same thing. And generally that means several metres closer!

Use two hands!

The next problem that photographic shops see so often is “unsharp” photos. There are really only three reasons for this. Firstly, the camera was wobbling when the shot was taken. Secondly, the lens was not focussed properly and thirdly, but not all that rarely, the lens was dirty.

So just how many times do you see people holding their point and shoot camera with one hand? Lots of times is the answer. And the chances are that every one of the one handed shots will be blurred. Always hold the camera with both hands, hold your breath as you squeeze the shutter release and keep your elbows in towards the body to stabilise yourself. Do this and you will see an improvement in the sharpness of your prints straight away.

Getting the lens focussed is simply a matter of taking your time and focussing on the subject. If it is an auto focus lens then it becomes even more important to focus on the subject, then keeping the shutter half depressed, compose your shot.

Dirty lenses? Clean them with a soft rag. It is that simple.

There is actually another cause for “soft” pictures. That is when the photo processing shop does not correctly focus their auto-printing machines. Unfortunately, this does happen more often than it should in Pattaya. This is one reason why Harry uses the Kodak place next to McDonalds on Beach Road, Royal Garden Plaza.

Read the manual!

“When all else fails, read the instruction manual.” These are prophetic words! How often has Harry heard questions being asked about the operation of a camera, when just a few minutes reading the manual would have answered the query.

When you get any new camera you should spend at least an hour going through the manual with the camera in your hands. Get used to opening and closing the camera. Get used to turning it on. Get used to every function.

Many new cameras, even compacts, have got “red eye” compensation settings. If you do not know how to turn it on when you are about to take a picture in a pub you will either lose that moment in time, or end up with a nasty red eyed picture. When about to take a shot outside and the subject is strongly back-lit, do you know how to activate the exposure compensation? An hour spent with the camera and the manual will return excellent rewards in the improved standard of your pictures.

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Modern Medicine: The Quality of Life

by Dr Iain Corness

Having read all about life spans in Leslie Wright’s Money column a couple of weeks ago, I thought that perhaps in this column I should do a short dissertation on stained fingers brought about by counting one’s pennies and the likelihood of getting copper poisoning counting your superannuation payout. But I’m being facetious!

What Leslie’s column did remind me of was a little motto I used to have on my surgery wall. It read, “An increase in the length of life is not necessarily equivalent to an increase in the quality of life.” Actually these words are very deep, so stick with me for a while.

Over the past couple of decades there has been a great deal of research into the causes of death and whether we can alter (or should I say - delay) the inevitable outcome. Statistical work has shown the importance of metabolic agents such as cholesterol, for example, and it has been shown that reduction of cholesterol levels does reduce the incidence of heart attacks in any given population. That population will therefore live longer. Add in cigarette smoking and booze and again reductions will give longevity to the group.

But death is inevitable. We all have to die of something (even if it is boredom!) so what are these “extra” years going to be like? Quite frankly, if there is not sufficient “quality” in those years, are they worth having? For my money, most definitely not!

There is also a tendency amongst my specialist colleagues in Australia to look only at their own narrow field. Consider the cancer surgeon. So you have abdominal cancer - don’t worry, he can remove it and all the spread out lesions in the bowel. Of course you will need chemotherapy which will make you nauseated and perhaps some radiation as well. Sure you’re going to be hospitalised for several weeks, end up with a colostomy bag for the rest of your (now miserable) life and be unable to eat the foods you like and alcohol is definitely a no-no. Is this the quality of life someone in their 70’s would want? The cancer surgeon has done his job - he’s removed the cancer - but removed the quality of life as well.

I always advised my patients, when they had been given a “nasty” diagnosis, to ask the specialist to tell them exactly what “life” was going to be like after the specialist treatment. Would they still be able to go fishing? Would they still be able to hug their grandchildren?

Certainly, all these things are relative. The decisions one would make when 40 years old are not necessarily the decisions one would make at 70. The important factor is that the Quality of Life must be considered. Living longer may not be the be all and end all. Actuarial tables be damned! Look at life! Sermon over!

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Dear Hillary,

I just do not understand these Thai girls at all. My Thai girlfriend can be sweet and loving some days and on others she does not want to know me and will even shun me in public. When I ask what is wrong she says, “You know, and I’m afraid, I don’t.” Is there something that I should know about Thai women that the guidebooks do not tell you about?

Perplexed

Dear Perplexed,

It is very simple, modesty rules. Good Thai girls do not want to be touched in public at all by a male, even one they are related to. It is taboo! Husband and wives do not kiss, fathers and daughters do not hold hands, teachers and doctors never consult with the opposite sex without chaperones. Ever heard of the very true story of the Thai princess who drowned when the boat overturned because none of the boatmen were allowed to touch her? Please remember that the amazing bar and cabaret shows here are not part of the general Thai morality. Ever noticed how many Thais swim fully clothed? I recommend two guide books with an insight to your problems, “In the bedroom out of Trouble” by Bud Knackstedt and Oiy Ford, in Thai and English available at Bookazine and “Culture Shock Thailand” by Robert & Nanthappa Cooper.

Dear Hillary,

The local police towed my car away the other day and I am furious. The kerb I parked next to had so little paint on it that at night you could not see that it used to have (a long time ago) red and white paint on it. It cost me 800 baht to get it back and I really do not think it is fair. Would it be worth my while to fight this? As I do not know Thai legalities, I thought you just might be able to help. What should I do?

Kerbstone Ken

Dear Ken,

So sorry, like many things here, just grin and bear it or practice a cool heart, ‘Jai yen’ as they say. Remember you still have something to smile about if you haven’t seen the inside of a Thai jail yet. You say you do not know Thai legalities, but do you know the Thai way? Aggression is not on here and no-one wins any fight except perhaps in Muay Thai (Thai boxing). Just think about it this way, it would cost you much more to bail out your car plus a hefty fine back home in the Old Dart.

Dear Hillary,

Every time I walk down Soi 7 on my way to my favourite watering hole I get accosted by girls from the beer bars. It makes it very difficult and can even be embarrassing if I have my wife with me. She is French and visits here for one month every couple of months. Do you think the council should fence in these open bars or stop the girls from being so pushy? Perhaps some legislation might quieten them down a bit. What do you think?

Soi 7 Sam

Dear Sam,

Are you serious! All the luscious lovelies of Pattaya corralled and legislated? The mind is definitely challenged! OK, Hillary can think about the bizarre. When all else fails legislate! I’m happy to say it doesn’t work here! Have you noticed how effective legislation is around town? As a small example look at the “motorcycle riders must wear a crash helmet” law. I rest my case, except to say that if you are embarrassed, then catch a taxi down Soi 7, or at least frequent only five star hotels with your wife. For that matter, what does your wife make of the Place Pigalle or the Moulin Rouge in La Belle France?

Dear Hillary,

My landlady is holding back my three months deposit I gave her on the house where I stayed in for a year and a half. We left three weeks ago. She says she has not got all the bills and refuses to give me any of it. The deposit came to B. 60,000 so it is no small sum. How can I get her to give me the money? Is there anything like the Rental Bond Authority as they have in other countries?

Bill Bond

Dear Bill,

Your landlady will wait at least a month to get all the bills in before she returns you any bond - that is standard practice. Did you sign a rental agreement drawn up by a reputable real estate agent?

Noooo, there is no rental bond authority here. Perhaps sweet smiling persistence or ringing and faxing her several times daily may have some effect. After two months you may contemplate contacting a trustworthy Thai lawyer. The Tourist Police can also assist at times.

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GRAPEVINE

Holiday guide
With the resort fast filling up for the millennial celebrations, Grapevine this week publishes its seasonal advice to new visitors on coping with the unexpected and with avoiding problems. Many thousands will have an enjoyable and trouble free vacation. A few, whether by accident or design, will not be so fortunate.

Visas
Tourist visas from Thai consulates abroad are valid for a sixty days stay in Thailand and non immigrant for three months. But most short stay visitors do not require a visa in advance and will have been stamped in at the airport for thirty days. This visa on arrival, as it is called, can be extended once for about a week by visiting the immigration police bureau on Soi Eight. You need one passport photo and 500 baht and must fill in an extension form available at the office. Under no circumstances should you overstay your visa, an offence which is taken very seriously in the kingdom. Always contact the immigration police if this is likely for any reason and explain the circumstances. They are experienced and helpful guys and gals.

Renting vehicles
Under Royal Thai law, the driver is the person responsible for any accident or damage. Renting a car, motorbike or boat does not automatically include insurance and some “policies” make you specifically responsible for any claims. Some renters may ask extortionate amounts for even slight damage and, if you argue, the police will be summoned. The best advice is to hire vehicles only from reputable companies who offer comprehensive insurance cover which you have read and understood.

Losing your passport
You should, beforehand, have made a photocopy of the relevant pages and deposited them in your hotel safe. Even better, leave the passport in the hotel (unless you are money changing) and carry the copy with you. Never give the original to third parties such as vehicle renters or people you meet in a bar. If you happen to have an argument with them, you will soon discover why this was a bad idea. If you do lose your passport, in spite of all, obtain a tourist police report (which will be written in Thai) and contact your embassy in Bangkok as soon as possible. The tourist police have an office on Second Road, speak English, and are very helpful when misfortune like this occurs.

Running out of money
If your cash, credit card or traveler’s checks are stolen, follow the same procedure as for visas. But if you have spent all your money too soon, and don’t have an international credit or debit card for withdrawals here, most large banks will be able to arrange emergency transfers to you through the Western Union or similar system. Provided, of course, there are cash assets in your home country, e.g. your bank or a friend. Unless you are lucky, expect this procedure to take around a week or more, especially if you don’t already have a bank account here. You can’t ever hurry the Orient. Thailand does not have a welfare system for destitute farangs. Few, if any, embassies will loan money without proper security. The only solution to holiday bankruptcy is to ensure it never happens in the first place.

Injuries and hospitals
Pattaya has several first class hospitals of international standard. But they are profit making institutions and want to see the color of your money or your insurance papers. Treatment is usually excellent, but the costs are comparable with those in the West. There are also cheaper government hospitals, but even here you will be asked to pay the bills. If you have arrived here without insurance, you should immediately arrange some temporary cover with a local agent. If you are traveling alone, all your personal papers should be in the hotel safe.

Police and the law
The Thai legal system is in many ways totally unlike the West. For example, all reports must be written in the Thai language (you won’t get a translation) and lawyers won’t come near you unless you pay substantial fees. Police station cells and prisons offer no comforts and only minimal food. If you are arrested, try to stay calm and, if possible, get friends to visit you. If you are charged, the police automatically inform your embassy. The most common reasons for foreigners being arrested are drunkenness, violence and visa overstays. Possession or trafficking in drugs and, most particularly, sex charges always receive a high publicity profile in the Thai press, on local TV and within hours all over the world.

On your guard
Pattaya is probably one of the safest holiday destinations in the world. Many people return here again and again without being ripped off. But you have to use your common sense. Never argue in a bad temper with a Thai or you will lose face, or worse. Flaunting wealth and jewelry in public is just plain silly. In entertainment plazas, remember always you are a dollar sign on legs. If you are offered a bargain too good to be true, then it undoubtedly is. Be wary of touts or of foreigners offering to sell you a share of a condo or of a business at knock down prices. Pattaya is a great vacation spot for 99% of those entering the city limits. The important thing is to stay out of the remaining 1% bracket. Be cautious and enjoy this great city.

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Dining Out: The Year in Retrospect - The Muncher’s millennium!

by Miss Terry Diner

Since everyone who does any critique anywhere on anything will be doing their “Best of the old millennium”, the Dining Out Team has decided to get in early and present a potted review of the many eating places that Pattaya has to offer.

Jose Cohen of Au Bon Coin

Since, over the span of 12 months, the Team has not visited every restaurant (and there are over 500 in Pattaya) do not be disappointed if your favourite is not mentioned. It is also impossible to say that “this is the BEST restaurant in town” because there are so many different cuisines represented here. There are some places that are also more memorable than others, and it may not necessarily be the food that made them so. Ambience, surroundings, staff, seating and attitude all have an important part to play. So here is what remained in our minds after the food was long since digested, over the last 12 months.

Best Breakfast - not too many starters here, as the Team tends to miss brekky a lot, but our choice is Delaney’s Irish breakfast, and the coffee was superb.

Lobsterpot Restaurant

Best lunch - Euro’s schnitzels and jagerschnitzels. Top floor Royal Garden Plaza. Price has inched up to 85 baht, but still good value.

Indian Food - Alibaba. Delicate flavours, not harsh. Impressive menu. On Pattaya Klang, Beach Road end, closely followed by Sher-E-Punjab on Soi Pattaya Park Tower. Consistent and good service.

Chinese - the Marco Polo in the Montien. Huge menu and brilliant food. Very skilled Chinese chef spends time each year in Hong Kong to stay abreast of the latest variations.

King Sea Food

Local sidewalk style eating - Leng Kee on Pattaya Klang. Great food and top value. Air-con inside when it gets too hot on the sidewalk.

Best Hamburger - Big Boy on Beach Road. Big and meaty.

British food - Pats Pies on Third Road. You’ll find all the Brit expats eating here.

French cuisine - Au Bon Coin, now on Soi 5. Stuffed mussels are sensational, and Jose is a wonderfully expansive host.

Delaney’s

Japanese - Royal Garden Plaza with Benihana and the newly opened Kabuki section as well. Good food and a great show.

Best Thai food - Equal first between Siriporn at Maprachun Dam and the new Larn Thong at the Royal Cliff Beach Resort. Opposite ends of the surroundings and price spectrum, but just the best Thai cuisine. You choose!

Bistro eating - the Moon River Pub in Thai Garden Resort and stay for the music. Good Thai menu as well.

BBQ Buffet - The Grand at the Royal Cliff Beach Resort on Saturdays for the most comprehensively “grand” one. The Captain’s Corner, Thappraya Road - the best value for money one. Superb after dinner coffee selection.

Kabuki Restaurant

Best new restaurant - New Orleans. Their Baby Back Ribs are good.

Most innovative cuisine - Walter Thenisch’s in the Grill Room at the Royal Cliff Beach Resort.

Pizza? Build your own is best. Wednesday night at the Admiral’s Pub, Soi White House at Jomtien, if you want the “homely” atmosphere, or the Amari Orchid Resort’s Friday night dinner under the stars for “the works”.

Seafood - King Seafood on Walking Street with the Lobster Pot just 50 metres away, a close second. Great Irish coffee at both.

Carvery - Delaney’s Irish Pub. Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Wonderful choice of roasts.

Of course there are some very notable omissions in this list. Where is Bruno’s? Where is La Gritta? Both of these restaurants are favourites with all members of the Dining Out Team, but we have not done a full formal Dining Out feature on either of them for well over 12 months. This will be remedied in the near future!

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Animal Crackers: Otterly Fantastic!

Otters are fantastic adaptable creatures. Some are seafaring, feed on sea urchins and wrap themselves in kelp to stop themselves drifting while asleep. Others prefer a more sedentary riverine life. Otters also live on every continent in the world except Australia and Antarctica.

Our own Asian Otters

The Asian small-clawed otter, also called the Malaysian or the Oriental small-clawed otter, lives right here in rivers and wetland swamps. This otter spends more time on land than many other otters, living along rivers in burrows called holts and abandoned dens that other animals have made.

Size

Some otters are as big as seals some are as tiny as cats. The Asian otter is one of the smallest otters in the world and is about 600 mm long and weighs less than 5 kg. It has a glossy brown coat with a lighter-colored throat. Its back webbed feet have small blunt claws. And like all otters a cute bright-eyed whiskered face.

Out to play

Otters are endearing, playful and have a life full of fun. They can spend hours just playing with a leaf or just chasing each other like cats. In years past, Malaysian and Thai upcountry villagers used the otters as fishing helpers. Although how they trained them to deliver up the fish and not eat them is amazing.

Diet

The Asian small-clawed otter catches its prey of crabs, mollusks, fish and other small aquatic animals with its hand-like paws. Truly intriguing to watch, they use their hands to eat like primates.

Otter speak

Otters can hold their breath under water for 3-4 minutes. If the otter is in danger it can actually hold its breath for 15 minutes. They keep their eyes open under water too. Otters most used senses are sight and touch, though they do not do so badly with hearing and smell either. Otters use sounds of chirps, chuckles, squeals and screams to express their feelings.

Asian otters are social

It is one of the few otter species that is social and not solitary in its habits. Both parents stay together after breeding and help raise the litter of two to six pups. The pups may then stay with their parents, which forms the nucleus of a small social group.

Threats to Survival

Our local otter has itself become threatened by destruction of the otter’s wetland habitat. It is very difficult to keep otters in captivity even for breeding. One of the foremost concerns of otter conservation programmes is in reducing the incidence of kidney stones in captive otters. If you would like to know more about these wonderful creatures you can read the Asian Otter Newsletter, published by the IUCN/SGC Editor, N. Sivasothi. E-mail: <[email protected]>

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Auto Mania: Eff Wun in 2000

by Dr. Iain Corness

The first race on the calendar is in Australia and is being billed by the Down Unders as the first F1 race of the 21st Century. However, some people say my Aussie mates have got it wrong. The last year of the century is 2000, the first year is 2001. After all, the first year AD was the start of the first Century, not year 0001. Perhaps they should say it’s the first Y2K GP!

Grant Supaphongs

Apparently the meeting has been losing money hand over fist and people are surprised by this. Surprised? The great brown sunburned land of Oz only has 17 million people in it and the distances across the country are vast. For example it takes 6 hours to fly to Perth on the West coast from Brisbane on the East coast. There are not enough true enthusiasts, with money, to fill the grandstands at $325 a pop. Oz is also too far away from Europe, the seat of the millions of enthusiasts.

In some ways the Malaysian GP was in the same boat. Despite the population, not enough heads with large wallets and too far for the Euro’s to travel.

Whilst I am an enthusiast, I can understand the GP’s (General Public’s!) thoughts on events such as these. Funded with public money, does the average taxpayer get value for his tax dollars spent? I really don’t think so. Of course the government waffles on about tourism benefits and heightened awareness, but I’m damned sure it doesn’t return as dollars in the tax payers pocket.

I used to run at the CART races held at Surfers Paradise around the main streets. Even that cost the Queensland Government $9,000,000 (nine mill, count the zero’s). It never recouped that amount, though all the hotels benefited with great occupancy rates for the weekend.

Clubman Series for Bira circuit?

Chatting with Urs Schonenberger from Albar Thai Motors the other day and he is toying with the idea of floating a Clubman Series. These would be Super 7 look-alikes with equal specifications and performance. Built properly, they would be very low maintenance race cars, yet would provide all the thrills of bigger and more expensive forms of the sport.

There are many, many race drivers who have come up through the ranks from similar vehicles all over the world. The advantage of a locally produced unit would be the availability of spares and technical assistance when necessary.

Action in the pits

Imported cars often tend to end up as “orphans” and it isn’t fun waiting for specialised parts to be fabricated overseas and then sent at huge expense to you, the anxious owner. My Cosworth BDG was a bit like that. Great service from Cosworth, but my gawd - the price! I remember paying over $1000 for one piston and rings for 4. They had it all to me within 3 days (UK to Oz) and we were up and running for the race at the weekend. They even sent me a telegram wishing me luck, a nice touch. But the price!

Urs reckons he could get a Super 7 type vehicle on the track for around 700,000 Baht. What do you think, Automaniacs? How many of you would be interested in competing in a local series? Let me know at fax 427 596 or email [email protected] and I’ll talk further with Urs.

Round the houses

Whilst Monaco is the race that instantly comes to mind, there are other round the houses events. One is at Macau and one of the local drivers, Grant Supaphongs has just returned after winning the Gia Trophy race (Honda Civic 1.6 litres). He actually led last year till the final lap and suffered mechanical maladies. Macau is a great circuit and the corner round the Lisboa Casino is a beauty.

Racing on street circuits is quite different from normal race circuits. From the driver’s point of view at least, you have to adopt a totally different mentality. On an ordinary circuit there are run-off areas, verges and gravel traps. You know you get a second chance if you slide a wheel off the black stuff. On a round the houses circuit you haven’t got that luxury. The track goes all the way to an unforgiving concrete wall.

There is another very important difference and that’s approaching the corners. On a road circuit you can see around the corner, while on a street circuit you can’t. You have to rely, even more than normal, on the skills of the flag marshals. The corners on a round the houses track also tend to be 90 degrees, like a normal street intersection.

Mind you, having raced at the Surfers round the houses event it is a real buzz belting down the main street at full bore, with the exhaust noise bouncing off the concrete wall one metre away from your ear. You also play little mind games with yourself seeing how close you can let the car slide out to the wall exiting the corners.

Bira Bits

The Thailand Grand Touring cars were a little disappointing last weekend, with mechanical attrition taking away most of the action. The V8 engine 3 series BMW was a wonderfully noisy beast, but refused to run properly all day. The leading Mazda RX7 challenge threw itself away with a wild spin into the mulga while the others were nowhere and Kajohnsak in the pretty Toyota MR2 had transmission problems. Winner was the immaculate BMW of “Poh” in the Three Crowns Racing Team car. A smooth, polished performance.

In the support races, however, was where all the action was concentrated. The Group N 1.6 litre cars really turned it on, with Grant Supaphongs putting his borrowed Civic on pole and driving a very calculated and smooth race to show a clean pair of heels to the rest. He did not have it all his own way either, dropping back to second at the start, but Grant bided his time and at the appropriate moment forced his rival into error and stormed through.

It was actually nostalgia time for me at Bira, bumping into a chap by the name of Fred Gibson. Now Gibbo is a famous name in Australian Motor Sport, being owner of the team that won the Bathurst 1000 km race three weeks ago, for example. His team has won countless Aussie championships in many categories and he also built the fastest Nissan GTR’s in the world. A very talented bloke. Fred was also a very talented driver and in fact we ran against each other in the Australian Sports Car Championships in 1970. Gawd, that’s almost 30 years!

Fred is toying with the idea of bringing a few Aussie cars up to Bira to run in the GT class. Hope he does. My race suit is cleaned and pressed, waiting.

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Fitness Tips: Fit Facts

by David Garred, 
Club Manager Dusit Resort Sports Club

G’day Pattaya, more short and sweet stuff this week.

How to regain fitness quickly

What’s the best way to quickly regain your fitness after a couple of weeks’ lay-off?

Let’s say that you have an important competition coming up, and returning to your routine training will not get you back quick enough. To upgrade your capacity as an endurance athlete you need to improve your strength, power, VO2 Max, economy and lactate threshold - thus the return-to-form workouts should enhance the majority of these variables. This means that if you are a cyclist or your sport involves running (Rugby for example), you need to find a three minute hill (an incline that takes about three minutes to climb when, if you are a runner, you are moving at about 5km race intensity). Why a three-minute hill? A three-minute hill is just right, because you need moderate duration intervals to get you back in shape. (Moderate duration intervals on the Rugby pitch would be 10-second runs at 3/4 pace and above with no more that 20 second rests runs up to 1/2 speed for up to five minutes.)

Since you have lost fitness you are not ready for sustained, hard exertions or long intervals. You’ll be able to move faster during a three-minute interval than you could during a six-minute effort and when you get tired, you will be more willing to tackle one more three-minute interval while a six-minute effort would give you the shakes. In addition, the three-minute interval is long enough so that your rate of Oxygen consumption will get to a very high level as you near the top of the hill.

So what do you do?

You warm up, surge up the hill at what feels like a 9 to 9.5 on the effort scale, ease back to the bottom and repeat. Actual steepness of the hill isn’t terribly critical - the hill should simply be steep enough so that you have to work, but not so steep that your leg action slows down dramatically. For the first workout, about four or five repetitions are fine and you can add a rep or two with each subsequent session two or three times during the first two weeks back from you layoff. In addition, to prepare yourself for the sustained movement that you must carry out in a race, once a week go for a 20/25 minute run or cycle at a pace that you couldn’t sustain for more that 30 to 35 minutes. Two weeks of this type of training will have you back in good form, ready to resume your normal training routine.

The best treatment for back pain

Back pain is one of the most common complaints in primary care, second only to the common cold. It has been estimated that around 80% of the population suffer at least one episode of back pain in their lifetime and in as many as 50% of cases, the problem will reoccur within the following 3 years. Research into the efficacy of treatment of low back pain is lacking; however, recent literature appears to favor active conditioning, centered on low back strengthening to restore the musculoskeletal function (to make it work the way it is supposed to). This paper found that isolated lumbar extension exercises with pelvic stabilisation, using specialised equipment, produced the most favorable improvements in low back strength, muscle cross sectional area (muscle size) and vertebral bone mineral density (showing the increase in effective bone strength).

Training volume was kept to a minimum i.e. one set of 8 to 15 repetitions performed to volitional fatigue (when you think you have done enough) only once a week. Thus, specific low back strengthening could show promise for preventing back injuries.

With the lower back being such a delicate area and the exercises which involve the muscles, nerves and bones in that part of the body can easily be over done, please ensure that you get not only advise but also the supervision of a professional. This will ensure optimal safety and results from your training.

Carpe Diem

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