Red and yellow and pink and green
Purple and orange and blue
I can sing a rainbow…

To make life simple political protest in Thailand is colour-coded.

We have the reds – fans of Thaksin (or, at least, fans of the vast handouts he made to poor people from the public purse). They are again staging massive rallies every week (except when there’s a major UK football match on the TV – no I’m not joking) in the retail heart of Bangkok, bringing business to a standstill.

Then there are the yellows – broadly speaking, supporters of the monarchy and of the establishment. When they’re not seizing control of the airport they’re protesting and blocking the traffic around Government House.

Then there’s Santi Asoke (a renegade Buddhist sect) which favours brown. They’re ultranationalists protesting against Cambodia’s claim to a tiny patch of disputed territory on the Thai/Cambodian border.

Members of the Thai Patriots Network – formerly in yellow – are now in blue pyjamas thanks to their having been arrested in the disputed territory and being given new, prison garb to wear by the Cambodian authorities.

The security forces wear green, and the police, brown.

The only colour that hasn’t shown up lately is black, the favoured colour of the paramilitary group that was notionally responsible for protecting the reds during the rallies last year, but was allegedly/apparently/possibly responsible for shooting a few/some/many of the red shirts during the final bloody hours of the protests. However I fear, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, they’ll “be back”.

I could add the saffron robes of the monks, and the white of the nuns.

All very colourful.

It is, however, clear, that political tensions and public protest are rising again. I fear for Thailand’s future.


One of the negatives of being an expat in Thailand is that it comes with so many stereotypes. I’m not typical: I don’t frequent girly bars and use the services of ladies of the night; I have no interest in kiddy fiddling or dirty videos; I’m not married to an ex-prostitute from the north east; I’m neither an alcoholic nor a drug fiend; I’m not grossly obese and don’t (as far as I know) have problems with my personal hygiene; I’m not boorish, ill mannered, pushy, arrogant, yobbish or a football thug; and I can eat spicy food. In short, I don’t fit in. I therefore find it hurtful when even the English language press decides to comment broadly characterising expats. From an article in today’s Bangkok Post about hospitals treating foreigners who couldn’t afford to pay their medical bills:

“Many retired foreigners … are now struggling after spending their pensions wastefully”

“‘These patients are mostly European men,’ … ‘They didn’t take out health insurance. They renew their visas every year and have no savings.'”

“Some of them produced fake financial statements to have their visas renewed.”

“Foreigners’ savings often were quickly used up on entertainment and women.”

“In a lot of cases, the patients require long-term treatment for chronic illnesses such as alcoholism”.

So much for stereotyping. I don’t ask or expect to feel accepted or wanted, but I don’t want to feel reviled.

And as for the hospitals, perhaps they should all stop the double-charging system whereby foreigners pay more than Thais for the same treatment.

And perhaps the government should recognise that long-term expats pay a lot of tax into the Thai system (particularly if they’re alcoholics with a penchant for wine with its 300% tax rate) and provide them with free medical treatment at government hospitals.


The social niceties of public urination for men are manifold, though the rules unwritten. In a public urinal one mustn’t talk. One must stare at the wall whilst peeing, not look down. There’s a complex etiquette of which urinal one should elect. And there’s the standard distance away from the wall that one must stand. (Curiously, in Thailand that distance is much less than in the West.) It also appears that it’s mandatory to sprinkle a few drops on the floor in front of the urinal – at least, it appears so to judge by the state of most men’s public toilets.

Peeing is, of course, a competitive activity. A few years ago a company introduced a range of porcelain with a single fly printed at a strategic point. The idea was that men would aim at the fly, reducing spashback and misfired streams. Now the wily Japanese have gone one step further. Sega (the creator of Sonic the Hedgehog) have produced urinals with built-in video games controlled by pee. Now when one micturates one can make the skirt of a cartoon girl rise, and with sufficient force and accuracy one might even see her panties. Only in Japan …


The madeleine holds an iconic position in the world of French bakery. So important is it that Napoleon erected a church in Paris in its honour. And for Marcel Proust eating it was the jumping off point for a rambling seven volume, 1.5 million words – a novel responsible for most lost time than perhaps any other.

For Nigel Slater, toast holds is similar status. Though I read and thoroughly enjoyed his autobiography (entitled “Toast”), I enjoyed the movie (for which the producers came up with the startlingly original title – “Toast”) more. True, the movie did rather overplay the way that Nigel was light on his loafers from a surprisingly early age – though omitted the episode where he becomes a rentboy in Piccadilly. There were also things that didn’t seem right. Did he really cook tinned spaghetti bolognese in 1967? I didn’t think that the Elizabeth David effect had reached Wolverhampton so soon – and certainly not in canned form. And the cookery book with large pictures that he studied (I think, by Marguerite Patton) – did cookery books of that era have such glossy images? I remember a battered copy of The Daily Telegraph Cookbook by “Bon Viveur” (Fanny and Johnny Cradock’s nom-de-plume) from about that era – plain and picture-free. (That cookbook holds the record for the most disgusting dish I’ve ever attempted to eat: ox liver soaked in milk to make it, allegedly, taste like duck. Absolutely vile.) Didn’t the glossy cookbook start with Robert Carrier? (“Great Dishes of the World” was published 1967.) And would a schoolboy (Slater’s friend) have used such profane language at that time? I went to a primary school in the middle of a cluster of large council estates yet didn’t encounter such language until later in life.

But, small gripes aside, for me it was just wonderfully evocative. Slater is two years older than I, so much of his history is my history. The cream and green colour scheme of the kitchen was just à propos, the nasty plastic cups used at picnics on the beach so familiar (though they didn’t have the canvas windbreaker that seemed an indispensible part of any beach outing in my childhood), the crimpelene dresses, the looooong dried spaghetti (how I remember the blue paper packets of “Lily Brand” spaghetti), the vile school milk (probably Thatcher’s sole act of kindness in her entire life was to snatch milk from the hands of schoolchildren – that said, she’s not dead yet so there’s still time, but I won’t be holding my breath), the heavy NHS glasses frames, the cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks (though they should have been stuck into a grapefruit wrapped in aluminium foil, rather than a pineapple).

It’s only January, but this is probably my favourite film of the year.

Footnote: when I came up with the title for this posting I was really pleased with myself. I thought I was being original. However, Google is not my friend, and reveals that a quarter of a million other sites have used the same pun. Bah!!!


The Burmese authorities (i.e. the brutal, repressive military dictatorship which refers to itself as the State Peace and Development Council) has decreed that more than 60 Buddhist monasteries and 10 Buddhist teaching centres in Rangoon will be razed to make way for a new road and port financed by two army cronies. A plot of land on the fringes of Rangoon has been earmarked for the monasteries to relocate to. However, the monks depend on alms from their supporters to survive, and the area to which they’re to move is remote and desolate. To add insult to injury, the monasteries and centres have been told they will receive no compensation for the loss of their existing land and buildings and no assistance with the costs of constructing their new accommodation.

And to think that ASEAN has just asked western countries to lift sanctions against Burma.

Welcome to the new, democratic Burma.


News also from Burma: the government is going to tax all purchases by NGOs at rates of up to 20% – just another way for the junta to feather its own nest whilst increasing the suffering of the Burmese people. In contrast, businesses close to the junta and those run by relatives of the generals are exempted from paying any tax.


18. January 2011 · 1 comment · Categories: Money

In Britain I thought of banking as pretty much a commodity; there was little to choose between the high street banks. When I worked in Japan a few years ago I was surprised to encounter cash machines which could receive deposits, handled coins as well as notes, and allowed one to pay one’s bills. Ah, the wily Japanese.

My first impression of banking in Thailand was that it was primitive. Most accounts are passbook based and there are no monthly statements. Few people have chequebooks. And for foreigners debit and credit cards are very difficult to obtain. Even then, banks often demand a deposit of 100% or 200% of the credit card limit as security. (In fairness to the banks, in the past they’ve been badly hit by foreigners running up large debts then leaving the country.)

Online banking is a mixed bag. I can’t have internet access to my Krung Thai bank accounts – only Thai nationals can have that. The Bank of Ayudhya system is badly designed and parts of it (such as “set up a favourite account for transfers” plain just don’t work. And the transaction retention period is poor (though not as pathetic as Barclays in the UK, which keeps only a month’s worth of transactions online). On the other hand, there’s no stupid electronic card reader required to access your account and make transfers. (How, exactly, is a card reader a great security device when all the card readers in the UK are functionally the same? If a criminal has your card and your PIN then his/her not having your card reader isn’t going to protect your hard earned cash.) Rather, the Thai banks rely on something much closer to Thai people’s heart: the mobile ‘phone. Every time I make a transfer a security code is sent to my mobile ‘phone which needs to be entered on the website within a few minutes to complete the transaction.

My main Thai bank shows no interest in me. Even though I maintain a high balance and have had a few very large transactions passing through (car, house) they have never tried to offer me any additional services. I don’t even get a free calendar at New Year, and have never been offered a free bank-branded umbrella or patriotic flags to put outside my abode. So, when I saw that Bangkok Bank on its website was offering accounts to foreigners – even those visiting on holiday – including a Visa debit card I thought I’d give it a shot.

At the branch, the first reaction was “can’t do”, followed by “come back with a Thai person” when I persisted. However, when I showed them some material printed from their website they eventually relented. In the end the process was fairly painless.

So far I’m pretty happy. It saves the hassle of finding an ATM and withdrawing cash – particularly for larger transactions. And there were a couple of nice surprises: transferring money from an existing account to my new account was instantaneous. (Is the delay in the UK still three working days?) And now, every time I log on to my new account or a transaction takes place I get an email and/or text message (user’s choice). I think the UK banking system could learn something from the Thai banks.

Something else the UK banks could learn about is “interest”. I was rather taken aback to see a line on my December statement of “Interest and Tax Deducted” – zero pounds zero pence. It seems that some time ago Nationwide stopped paying interest on its current accounts – not that they actually did anything to bring this to people’s attention as far as I know. In contrast my Thai accounts pay 0.625% per annum – hardly earth-shattering, but better than nothing.


Now I no longer work I depend upon my investments to sustain my lifestyle. True, in 16 years’ time I’ll be entitled to a state pension, though that date may well disappear into the future like a herd of wildebeest charging across the plain off into the sunset. And anyway, the value, even today, would be pretty minuscule. Who knows what it will be worth when I eventually receive it? So, the long and the short of it is that I depend upon the performance of my investments. That means I spend a lot of time thinking about them, and I’ve learned a few lessons along the way.

The key to performance isn’t choosing the right stocks or when to invest (so-called “market timing”). It’s asset allocation. When I was younger, this was easy. Equities returned, on average, about 12% a year over the longer term, bonds about half that. That made it easy: put all the money in equities and sit tight. Asian equities and emerging markets perform better than the more mature markets of Europe and the US, so put a fair chunk of the money into them.

When I moved to Thailand my strategy shifted. The conventional wisdom was that one needed to diversify. The logic was (put simplistically), bonds and equity prices tend to move in opposite directions in a given market situation, so by investing in both bonds and equities, if the equity markets are hit badly your bond investments will cushion the blow, and vice versa.

Of course, the key word here is “tend”. Market performance over the last few years has shown this tendency to be rather elusive.

Retail investors who want to diversify can buy “ready made” packages of bonds and equities, managed by expert fund managers, where the risk is managed for you. One group of such funds is known as “Cautious Managed” (a sector defined by the Investment Management Association). As you might imagine from the name, these funds are skilfully run so that you never lose money, and you see a steady but modest, gradual increase in your wealth … NOT! Here’s the average performance for that sector over the last five years (income reinvested):

Cautious Managed 5 Year Performance

So, over five years you’ll have seen your wealth increased by a measly 14.5% – less than 3% per annum – and that’s assuming that you’ve reinvested all your income. Of course, these are average figures. A few funds have done a little bit better. Many have done a lot worse and lost the investors a lot of money. (Of course, the fund managers continue to be paid their high salaries for their amazing expertise, and their employers continue to raking in the management fees from the hapless investors.)

Unfair! you might cry. The last five years have been very bad for the markets. True. Let’s look at the last ten years:

Cautious Managed 10 Yr Performance

42.3% over ten years is hardly impressive. Is it possible to do better? The answer is “yes”. Have a look at the following graph. It shows the performance of the Ruffer Total Return fund (blue line) over the last five years compared with the Cautious Managed sector (red line).

Ruffer Total Return 5 Yr Performance

Nice steady growth. 55.0% over five years. No major dips. Looks pretty good.

But perhaps Ruffer just got lucky. Surely they couldn’t replicate the performance in other markets? But yes they could.

Ruffer Funds 5 Year Performance

In the Pacific (the green line) they had pretty similar performance (61.9% over five years), whilst in Europe (the yellow line) they did even better (109.9% over the period).

These aren’t fancy funds using derivatives or taking short positions. They’re traditional, long-only funds investing in bonds and equities.

So, what’s the difference? The experts at Ruffer study the economy and shift between asset classes according to what they predict for the economy. If they think equities will perform better than bonds, they move more of the money they manage into equities. If they think that bonds will outperform equities, they shift to bonds. And if they think both will suck over the coming months they sell the bonds and shares and hold on to the cash.

Of course, in theory, this is exactly what all the cautious managed sector fund managers should be doing – but they (with lamentably few exceptions) just aren’t doing it right. Frankly, investors should be up in arms about the poor performance of their funds in this and similar sectors.

Unfortunately, the Ruffer funds aren’t available on the major platforms such as Fidelity Fundsnetwork and Cofunds, nor are similar funds such as Iveagh Wealth, so most investors don’t have access to them and are stuck with the mediocre offerings from the major fund managers.

But it didn’t set out when writing this post to extol Ruffer. Rather I wanted to show that the usual model as touted by investment magazines and financial advisors along the lines of “put 60% of your investments in equities, 25% in bonds and 15% in property” just doesn’t cut the mustard. Allocation across asset classes needs to be cyclical, and needs to be done right, for superior long term returns.


When I moved to Thailand the exchange rate was around 75 Baht to the pound. What’s happened to Sterling since then? The following graph is based upon the last six years’ interbank exchange rates.

THB-GBP Historic Exchange Rate

So, the pound’s value has dropped from 75 Baht to around 47 Baht. In other words, it’s lost 37% of its value. This hasn’t been a stepwise change, but rather a gradual but ceaseless errosion of worth. Let’s add a trendline to the graph, just to be sure.

THB-GBP Historic Exchange Rate with Trendline

Yup, that looks pretty linear.

Now let’s zoom out and extrapolate.

THB-GBP Exchange Rate Projection

It’s official. You read it here first. By 2021 – in just ten years’ time – the pound will be worthless.