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Soaking up the culture

Posted by pakin On October - 21 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

The City of Bath in Avon, southwest England, charms with its natural hot springs and 18th-century Georgian Architecture

October in England is notorious for its changeable weather so it is with delight that I wake up to blue skies and sunshine every morning during my four-day visit to Bath.

Bath, 90 minutes from London’s Paddington station by train, is well known for its Roman baths, Georgian architecture and its bond with Jane Austen. The city was named a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1987 and archaeological evidence indicates there was human activity around the hot springs on which the City of Bath is built at least 8,000 years BC.

“Royal visits in the 16th and 17th centuries increased the fame of Bath, especially the visit of King James II’s wife, Mary of Modena whose royal physician recommended that she take the waters in the Cross Bath to improve her fertility. Soon afterwards she fell pregnant. To celebrate this event, the elaborate Melfort Cross was erected in the Cross Bath,” says Peter Rollins, director of Marketing and Communications at the Gainsborough Bath Spa.

Though still very jet lagged after a long flight from Bangkok, the clear blue sky, cool gentle breeze and warm sunlight are too good to waste so I take a short walk around my hotel, the Gainsborough Bath Spa, to explore the city.

Less than five minutes into my stroll, I am standing in front of two honey-coloured Georgian buildings: St John’s Hospital and the Cross Bath, the open-air thermal bath where the Celts revered their goddess Sul. Legend has it that the Cross Bath gets its evocative name in commemoration of the body of St Aldhelm resting there on its journey from Doulting to Malmesbury Abbey in 709 AD. It was officially declared a Sacred Site by World Wildlife Fund in 2000.

Build around 1174, the Hospital of St John the Baptist was founded by Bishop Reginald Fitz Jocelin next to the hot springs of the Cross Bath to allow for a constant supply of hot water. The hospital was originally designed as an almshouse for poor men, but with Bath evolving into a resort town, the demand for lodging houses grew. The Hospital then leased blocks of property to the Duke of Chandos who employed young architect John Wood, the Elder, to rebuild the lodging houses in 1727. The architect’s first work in Bath is now a beautiful example of Georgian building.

Most buildings in Bath are made from the local, golden-coloured Bath Stone, and many date from the 18th and 19th century. The dominant style of architecture in Central Bath is Georgian, which is known for its harmony and symmetry with pale colour schemes and woodwork.

As I walk along Beau Street to Stall Street, I can hear music and follow the sound to the magnificent gothic Bath Abbey. Here outside the old church, a busker with an operatic voice is entertaining passers-by in the bustling square and I am totally overwhelmed both by her vocal range and the magnificent architecture. For a moment I allow myself to imagine that I have travelled back in time and can easily picture a lady dressed in 18th-century finery and a gentleman enjoying the warm sunlight as his spaniels and corgis run around. The moment doesn’t last though with a loud round of applause jerking me back to reality.

The Roman Baths museum and The Pump Room are immediately to the right of the Abbey. The Great Bath, at the centre of the complex lies below the modern street level. There are four main features in the complex: the Sacred Spring, the Roman Temple, the Roman Bath House and the Museum, which is home to artefacts from Roman Baths. The buildings above street level date from the 19th century.

According to legend, Prince Bladud of the Britons had contracted leprosy and was banished from the Court. The prince took a job as a swineherd but soon the pigs became infected with the disease. Observing that the pigs were cured after rolling in the hot mud around Bath’s springs, the prince tried his luck in the hot murky water and he

too was cured. He then returned home and became the 9th King of the Britons and the supposed father of King Lear who was immortalised by Shakespeare. Bladud founded a city at Bath and dedicated its curative powers to the Celtic goddess Sul. Nine hundred years later the Romans started the development of the city Aquae Sulis – the Waters of Sulis – as a sanctuary of rest and then built a sophisticated series of baths and a temple dedicated to the goddess Sulis Minerva.

I join my friends for a light lunch at Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House close to the Roman Baths. Sally Lunn’s is one of the oldest houses in Bath (circa 1482) and serves the most famous local delicacy; the Original ’Sally Lunn’ Bun.

After our bun and tea, we have a two-hour walking tour led by local guide, Tony Abbott. From Bath Abbey where Edgar was crowned as the first King of All England in 973 to Pulteney Bridge, designed by Robert Adams – the only historic bridge apart from the Ponte Vecchio in Florence to have shops built into it – we walk along to The Circus. Originally called King’s Circus, the building was designed by John Wood, the Elder and completed by his son, John Wood, the Younger when his father passed away just three months after the first stone was laid.

Wood, the Younger proved that he, like his father, was a great architect with his magnificent Royal Crescent, a row of 30 terraced houses laid out in a sweeping crescent. It is one of the greatest examples of Georgian architecture in the United Kingdom.

Walking on cobblestone streets through and around the city of Bath is really like travelling back in time, from the Celt to the Roman eras and onwards to 18th-century England.

The well-preserved buildings, hot springs, parks, museums, theatres and fine tea shops offer endless possibilities for how to spend a restful day.

I am quite sure there are other, less attractive parts of the city but for me Bath will always be a sanctuary, a place to rest and relax – and take the waters.

PM returns to spotlight in fine voice

Posted by pakin On October - 21 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

AFTER staying out of the spotlight for a week, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha returned yesterday looking somewhat calmer.

Before presiding over the Cabinet meeting, he began the day by jokingly kicking a boxer who was visiting Government House to promote cultural campaigns.

Prayut then told reporters that he had been busy preparing for the “five rivers” meeting next Wednesday, as well as other events. The prime minister managed to retain his style of “elaborating”, but his voice seemed softer than usual.

That was until he was asked about the legitimacy of the charter-drafting process, especially the public acceptability of the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) members.

“If you don’t like how the country is now, then go back before May 22 [last year],” Prayut replied, referring to political clashes before the coup. “Could those conflicts solve political issues?” Prayut seemed to relax before raising his voice again. “It’s been long that I haven’t been this loud.”

In the course of the 40-minute press briefing, the PM managed to convey his disapproval of “limitless democracy and freedom”, referring to how Thailand suffered from a series of political conflicts. The government will also strive hard to solve previous problems and put everything in place, he insisted.

Prayut also announced his intention to make rarer public appearances, but stressed that he would still provide interviews on important issues.

“The PM has been fine with us,” said Government Spokesman Maj-General Sansern Kawekamnerd, who has been appointed to fill in when the PM is less inclined to assume his public role. “We haven’t had any problem speaking for him so far.”

The less frequent nature of Prayut‘s public appearances will not necessarily keep the government from getting its message across, however. The prime minister’s updates can still be tracked through his “Returning Happiness to the People” TV programme every Friday.

Observers believe his rare appearances are unlikely to obstruct news reports, as major procedures relating to the government, such as the charter drafting, are still only at the beginning.

BBL, KBank post third-quarter profit falls

Posted by pakin On October - 21 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

The third-quarter net profits of two large lenders, Bangkok Bank (BBL) and Kasikornbank (KBank), declined from the year-earlier period, largely due to higher loan-loss provisions to provide a cushion against the economic slowdown.

BBL, the country’s second-biggest lender by assets, announced that its unreviewed consolidated quarterly net profit fell by 5.4% year-on-year to 9.06 billion baht.

The bank put aside 4.87 billion baht in provisions for the three months through September, up from 3.13 billion in the same period last year.

BBL’s net interest income for the third quarter rose by 9.3% to 14.4 billion baht, with net fees and service income of 6.01 billion baht, up from 5.49 billion.

Gross non-performing loans (NPLs) rose to 2.8% of loans outstanding of 1.81 trillion baht at the end of September from 2.5% at the end of June.

KBank’s unreviewed third-quarter net profit fell by 19.2% year-on-year to 10.1 billion baht on higher loan-loss reserves.

The country’s fourth-largest bank set aside 1.47 billion baht in provisions for the three months through September, compared with 620 million in the same period last year.

Gross NPLs rose to 2.62% of loans outstanding of 1.58 trillion baht at the end of September from 2.39% at the end of June and 2.2% at the end of December.

KBank’s net interest income fell by nearly 1% year-on-year to 21.1 billion baht, while net fees and service income rose by 3.07% to 9.4 billion baht.

Meanwhile, CIMB Thai Bank (CIMBT) delivered a 81.2% year-on-year rise in third-quarter net profit to 498 million baht, though the small bank’s provision of 729 million between July and September was well above the 502 million in the year-earlier period.

BBL shares closed yesterday on the SET at 166 baht, down one baht, in trade worth 325 million baht.

KBANK shares closed at 187.50, down two baht, in trade worth 592 million baht.

CIMBT shares closed at 1.43 baht, down three satang, in trade worth 6.76 million baht.

ASIDE from boosting sales, Procter & Gamble has a lot to focus on in Thailand – much of it involving education, clean drinking water and the empowerment of women.

While the schemes in these spheres do not directly increase sales, Raul Falcon, managing director of Procter & Gamble Trading (Thailand), believes they benefit the company indirectly, as US-based P&G and other multinationals have witnessed in other parts of the world.

“It’s a growing trend, and not only in Europe. People are more aware of companies that are responsible,” he said at a press conference last week.

Like other businesses in the Kingdom, P&G has faced challenges, including a fall in purchasing power that has driven down its sales growth.

As Thailand’s economy is expected to expand by less than 3 per cent this year, P&G is delighted that its sales are still expanding, though at a single-digit rate compared to double-digit growth in the past.

Falcon attributes that to P&G’s efforts to deliver products and services that are relevant to people.

Supporting this would be the company’s CSR (corporate social responsibility) schemes.

“Being a good corporate citizen not only strengthens the equity of brands, but also the total company,” he said when asked how CSR influences brand |loyalty.

In the past four years, three major schemes have been launched with partners such as local non-government groups and United Nations bodies.

Under P&G’s education-oriented project, more than 100 teachers have been trained by local NGOs to provide learning classes to the underprivileged, as well as to those with disabilities.

To date, about 1,000 students benefit from the scheme.

Under its drinking-water scheme – a global programme of the multinational – it has donated 30 million litres of water through the Thai Red Cross Society and others.

Meanwhile, the third scheme, its SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) training programme, targets equipping women with new business ideas.

Having non-business partners is one great benefit of the initiatives, Falcon highlighted, as P&G has in return received closer support from them.

Meanwhile, P&G employees, encouraged to volunteer and take part in the schemes, are inspired by the company’s commitment to improve what the company is committed to become, he stressed.

“We look forward to improving and touching life in many aspects. CSR is not a business undertaking, but it’s the responsibility that helps strengthen business partnership,” the managing director noted.

Moreover, he is pleased that the company’s three CSR pillars support the UN’s recently unveiled 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Built upon the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, SDGs seek to tackle the underlying causes of inequality, marginalisation and poverty.

Communications award

Last week, P&G also received the UN’s “Peoples’ Voices Award 2015” in the category “Best Communications Campaign” for its partnership role in the “My World Survey” in Thailand since 2013.

From the 69,000 votes cast, Thais highlighted ‘education quality’ as the biggest challenge facing the country.

At the event, Luc Stevens, the UN resident coordinator and UNDP representative in Thailand, acknowledged that the United Nations Development Programme’s campaigns in Thailand had secured support mainly from multinational companies, thanks to cooperation with their parent companies in other parts of the world.

Yet, the UNDP is striving to win support from large local companies to address issues that could hinder the Kingdom’s economic, social and political prospects, he explained.

For now, P&G is committed to working with the UN in addressing the issues that it can. “We look forward to continuing our work on this. This has been a good run, and there are a lot more things to do,” said Falcon.