Bangkok for a Month

Home at the Oriental Hotel

After Bangkok Pre-Journal and Before Bangkok Part II

March 1-7, 2000

Wednesday, March 1, 2000

Do you like international airports? I'm rather fond of them. They are like cloaks of concealment ... or tiny nations with whispering promises of anonymity ... places where you can't be found unless you want to be ... limbos between lives. Just entering one seems to allow a forbidden license. And, young women always look more beautiful there; they have thinned themselves for the experience, or they have taken up smoking in a sexy way.

The day before yesterday I started my start at MIA. Today I finished my start at BKK.


Thursday, March 2, 2000

IN OUR PAGES: 75 YEARS AGO
[from The International Herald Tribune]
1925: Forbidden Fun

LONDON - Saturday night dances have been forbidden by the Catholic Bishop of Galway in his pastoral letter. "I was hopeful," says Dr. O'Doherty, "that the public protest from the bishop of this diocese would suffice to end the evil craze of dancing. As my hopes have been somewhat disappointed I now formally forbid every Catholic in these dioceses to organize or take part in these Saturday night dances. Should this form of prohibition be ignored I will make the offence referred to a "reserved sin" in the first place and if that is not sufficient I shall use further powers, which Christ and His Church have placed in my hands."

NEWNES waxing popish unearths:

Wescott, keeping up with this religious string:

Chad
DIED 672

According to the Venerable Bede, this gentle Bishop of Lichfield was buried in a wooden tomb shaped like a house, with a hole in the wall. The faithful put in their hands and took out a pinch of the dust and gave it to sick men or cattle, which did them good.

And, now for something a little more refreshing!

Last night there was an elephant walking around in the Patpong. It did have a rider. Can you make them out? I hope that this silhouette convinces your eyes that that it was not an animal cookie cutter that so rudely sliced through the inviting neons of the Patpong.

Patpong Girls

Aside from this curious pachyderm visitor, little has changed on the street since I was here last Christmas. Sure, the nativity scenes are gone, the tree lights have been taken down, the Santa uniforms have disappeared, the artificial snow has been vacuumed up and the girls have switched from Yule time grog to gin and tonics. But, thanks to The Almighty, business is as usual on the street.

Ahhh ... but, how I do get so ahead of myself! Yes, there I go ... rushing into the night before the day has been done with!

This morning dawned gray with hints of rain all over the place. Not a typical Bangkok day. Tomorrow is supposed to be nicer. Let's wait.


I really couldn't wait. I am going to change the way the day looks by playing with some gadgets on my camera. The four scenes were all shot from my room at The Oriental. The target on the far side of the river is another part of the hotel property. Frequent visitors to my pages will recognize it as the home of the Oriental Spa, the Fitness Center, the Thai Cooking School and the Baan Rim Naam restaurant. So, I have a choice of living today in a normal world of color ... or I can flip to a color negative ... perhaps sepia for old time's sake ... or just plain black and white.


Friday, March 3, 2000

Ever prying Wescott reveals that today's saint wouldn't be wearing a halo without some "participation" from her husband. However, Wescott's wording is ambiguous as to whether "Henry" was just an emperor ... or, did his deeds on earth also entitle him to a celestial title.

Cunegunda
DIED 1040

This Burgundian princess was the wife of the Emperor St. Henry, but they never had marriage relations. Nevertheless, or perhaps in consequence, he was so jealous that on one occasion she had to walk over red-hot ploughshares to prove her purity. After that, she went to live in a convent. They began the building of the cathedral of Bamberg, where they lie.

NEWNES outdoing Wescott on the obscure and the hardly relevant with:

One of these two Buddhas watches over the working girls of Patpong. The other one looks after the fortunes of a new large luxury hotel and its associated designer shops. Any guesses as to which?

Those two photographs were taken last night when the attention of at least one of the Buddhas was taxed to its operational threshold. The other one works banker's hours only. By the way, that's not a hint as to which is which. I'm leading into something entirely different with this paragraph.

The Sony Corporation has its Bangkok Repair Center on the Silom Road ... not far from the place where one of the Buddhas keeps his watch over the night workers. My Bangkok lawyer has his office on the same Silom Road ... again, not far from this alert Buddha. Patpong SolicitorsFinally, the Internet café (The Patpong Explorer Internet) where I keep my account also maintains its worldwide headquarters within an alms throw of the same tireless Buddha.

To reach any of these places I must cross one of the most dangerous streets in the world: where sixteen lanes of motorcycles parallel sixteen lanes of taxis. There is no crosswalk and there are no traffic lights. I dare not do this on my own. I usually throw myself in the middle of a pack of local pedestrians and hope for the best. Today it did not work out well. Those who looked like locals were tourists from Sri Lanka who had never seen a motor vehicle before coming to Bangkok. Seven started across the road; four of us made it to the other side. What happened to the other three is a tale beside which that of Pinocchio pales.

My Bangkok "lawyer/solicitor/attorney" has an eclectic practice ... a no frills front office that encourages a diverse walk in trade. Bangkok Journal in BangkokBesides offering the normal stock list of services such as "translations", "marriages for aliens" and "notary services" he is able to do something that no 100-partner-stateside-firm could even hope to match: as he is a licensed fortune teller, he "can tell you everything". Do you know what that means? There are no "it could go either way" ... no "the weight of authority would suggest" ... no "in my professional opinion". None of that stuff! Just what will or won't happen ... full stop!

My second stop, after taking advice from counsel, was at the Sony shop. This explains why, dear reader, you will be seeing other than plain color shots every once in awhile.

Finally, I parked myself in the offices of The Patpong Explorer Internet, where after pretending to read my journal, I attempted to download Paul's screensaver onto one of their machines. A young girl who was philosophically married to the company logo intercepted my effort.


Saturday, March 4, 2000

Good Lord above! Of course, it is the shopping that has made this place famous. For fifty years these streets have been the workplace for millions for whom the concept of VAT or rent or electric bills is alien.

I don't want anyone to get the impression that the Patpong enclave in Bangkok is just a warren of brothels and Internet cafés. Patpong is the economic Mecca for so many: the Harvard Business School, the IMF and the Milton Friedman Institute each have coveys of PhD's on hand to constantly scrutinize the ebbing and surging of free market tides. Yes, right here in this micro-world of what life is all about ... the "Patpong Model", as it is called. For it was here that the first signs of the Asian crisis were noticed ... here that the inability of Brazil to pay its bills was initially sniffed ... here that the Euro's strength fell to doubt.

Patpong Commerce

For the past 48 hours you have seen only the milled edges of the Patpong coin. Well, perhaps that metaphor is wanting. Actually, it doesn't make sense at all. Let's start over. Since Wednesday or Thursday the Patpong that I have showcased has been the recreational side of the coin. Flip it over. Here you will see the head of the coin.

Again, I am rushing ahead of things. We have to go back to about 3:30 in the afternoon ... any afternoon, for this is a seven-day ... never a Sabbath ... operation. It all starts with rusty metal boxes. Locked ones. All are about the same size and shape. For 12 hours each night they hole up in burrows beneath bars and brothels. Then the forklift trucks come. The pipes ... the wires ... the muscles ... the noise. These are the birthing minutes. The first pulse is on its way.

Of course, the bars and brothels look kind of nasty at this time of day.

Speaking of vices of the flesh, today is a sad day for Patpongians. And, it is probably not a terribly happy day for most Thais. March 4th is when all adult Thais are required to go to the Election Daypolls to vote for candidates to the senate. But, if it were just that simple almost everyone would just stop off on the way to work and pull a lever and be done with it. But it is not that simple.

For starters there are more than 300 candidates for the 18 up-for-grab seats. So? Wait a second! None of these 300 candidates may tell anyone what their position is on anything. And, since there are so many names in the running, every one of them is assigned a number (like 134 or 82 or 17). For example, my friend San Porn is keen to have #82 in a position of power. Since #82 (like the other numbers in the running) can't advertise what he will or will not do when and if he arrives in the senate I'm not sure why Porn feels this dedication. But, she does.

The next puddle of oil on the road is that no one is allowed to consume any liquor on Election Day. Well, you can drink all you want out of your own stock ... but, if you drift into a bar before twenty-four hundred hours tonight you'll find lots of empty stools. This stricture hits the Patpongian market the hardest due to its impact on related industries.

Finally, the mandatory voting requirement has caused an exodus from the city. Thousands of migrant workers have surged toward their hometown voting booths, as being a "no-show" at the polls would be personally costly. Failure to vote for one of the "numbers" would certainly strip the offender of his right to send his kids to state supported schools. He would lose all social security benefits. And, he would be stripped of his ID Card. In short, he would become a non-person.

Meanwhile half a century and half a world away:

IN OUR PAGES: 50 YEARS AGO
[from The International Herald Tribune]
1950 - Against Cruelty

LONDON- The British Board of Censors said that it will ban any new movies that show people getting beaten up. It has told Hollywood and British studios it wants no more films with scenes of violence, cruelty and sadism. The censors' spokesman said, "We are having no more of it. We mean business." In the British Medical Journal, Dr. Clifford Allen, London medical specialist, condemned sadistic movies. "The diet of sadism," he said, "is causing young people to grow us with a fantasy life of violence."

Elsewhere, Wescott throws stamens to stun today's saint:

Casimir
1458 - 1484

The second of thirteen children of the King of Poland. Twice he was summoned to the throne of Hungary; the first time his army was ordered back by the Vatican; the second, he declined even to attempt to rule. He was remarkably pious and orthodox; his palace was like a temple; he never lost his virginity; and at twenty-five he died of tuberculosis. In pictures he wears the crown he never had the strength to put on, and carries a lily without stamens.


Sunday, March 5, 2000

Wescott, our basher of dead saints, brings us another pathetic soul:

John Joseph of the Cross
1654 - 1734

This friar from the island of Ischia lacked confidence in himself, and in his old age suffered acutely from a notion that his prayers were not only unanswered but unheard, and that God had abandoned him. A dead friar made an appearance to assure him that all was well. He was noted for his prophecies of children's deaths, being able to tell by the smell of the house. For sixty-four years he never changed his clothes.

Dear reader, midway through yesterday's journal entry I skipped from "the birthing minutes" of the Patpong market to something about yesterday's election impact on the Patpong trade. I want to jump back into last night in order to tie up that loose end.

A few hours after the warehousemen had allowed the pipes and crates and boxes and wires to find their proper spots on the street, the market was ready for business. In the interim, the vendors and owners had disemboweled the crates, screwed together the pipes and strung the wires all over the place. After flicking on the switch and making sure that there were no sparks and smoke, the first customers were asked to browse.

I pointed myself in another direction.

Was it the King's Arms ... perhaps the King's Head? Maybe King III? I'm not sure, but there was a King in it the neon sign somewhere. Christopher will remember, as it was in the King's "Something-Or-Other" where he was first introduced to the naughtier side of Bangkok. In the spring of 1999, after we had finished traveling around Pakistan, Annie and I took ourselves to Bangkok for some R&R. While we were sitting in this Patpong bar, Chris's ever-darting young eyes noticed a Screwy Tusker sticker on the one of the wall-to-wall mirrors. Now, the primary purpose of these mirrors is to allow the customers to view the pole dancers from all angles: a more informative menu, so to speak. However, over the years travelers from here and there have left their "signatures" ... in the way of stickers ... calling cards of sorts. The King PlaceI must have done just that during the embryonic years of the Screwy Tuskers. Anyway, by now the original purpose of the mirror has been dulled. The gyrations of the girls now serve as but wallpaper or a backcloth for the hundreds of stickers that now decorate the King "Place".

Surely a tastefully designed Corkscrew Balloon #3 sticker would be a welcome addition. Good grief! It was as if I had brought original sketches of the Virgin Mary into the Vatican! Priest and Nuns, genuflecting and pulling at their forelocks, tugged at my garments trying for my attention. Everyone wanted a personal CB#3 sticker for his or her private altar. The precious few CB#3 pins that I carried with me were given to those who wept and wailed the loudest.

Drinks were on the house. I paid for nothing! I was given an honorary membership. Commemorative photographs were taken, addresses exchanged, promises of undying friendship given. It was a glorious evening. Almost religious!

By the way, Paul, can you come up with a link to that photograph of young Christopher being entertained by one of the King's "nuns"? Though that shot "disappointed" his father, it made him the envy of his school classmates. I think it needs repeating.


Monday, March 6, 2000

I haven't shared anything from THE FIRST CUCKOO in quite awhile. So here goes:

[from The Times (London), October 14, 1910]
From Lady Edward Cecil

Sir,

On Saturday, traveling from Dover to Hawkhurst with my maid, I had a new experience in exaction on the part of railway officials. My hand baggage, consisting of a small bundle of rugs, a handbag, and a cardboard box, was weighed along with my heavy luggage. Thinking that this was a vagary of the Dover porter, I wrote the Managing Director of the South-Eastern Railway to inform him of what had occurred, and I have received the following letter in reply. The italics are mine:

"Madam. The General Manager has handed me your ladyship's letter of the 8th inst., and I have to inform you all luggage, whether conveyed with the passenger in the compartment or labeled and placed in the guard's van, is weighed in order that the excess weight, if any, may be ascertained. Trusting this explanation will be satisfactory to you."

"I am, Madam, your ladyship's obedient servant,
"____Thomson."
(The initials are illegible.)

This weighing of hand baggage is unique in my experience, although we who live in this part of England have learned to expect anything of the South-Eastern Railway Company, which seems to devise every possible means for keeping people from traveling.

I am, Sir, yours, &c.,
VIOLET CECIL
October 14, 1910

Wow! A NEWNES triple-header:

Yesterday Porn took me on a tour of The Palace and her Buddhist temple.

PS to Christopher, with regrets:

Dear Grandson, I hope that what I am about to tell you does not take too much icing off the cake. But, according to my friend Porn, the "girl" who was entertaining you a few months ago is a "lady-boy".


(Some Hours Later)

That little PS that I just left for Christopher has opened a little box, so to speak. Standing by itself it cries out for an explanation. For the past couple of days my friend Porn has been a useful tour guide, with benefits. I want to say a little more about her.

Two days ago I moaned pitifully about losing three of my fellow pedestrians to speeding Honda steel when we all tried to cross one of Bangkok's shooting lanes during rush hour. Yesterday, on the way to the temple, Porn led me into similar maelstrom of motorized terror. One finger, slightly raised above shoulder level, did exactly what our own Christ supposedly did to a sassy sea a long time ago. Porn, emphasized that eye contact with the driver was terribly important for this to work.

Yesterday while I was giving her a ThinkPad slide show of my newfound friends from Kings she observed that "lady boys" worked the poles with more feeling than did the girls.

(Alf, cautiously opening a door): "What do you mean?"

(Porn): "The ladies take bills."

(Alf, really puzzled): "Bills?"

(Porn, opening mouth and with an exaggerated hand motion dropping an imaginary pill into it): "Yes, and they look like they have no feeling."

(Alf, framing the obvious as a question): "So these girls aren't really girls?"

(Porn): "No, they lady boys."

(Alf, uncertain if he wants to know more): "How can you tell?"

(Porn): "They very sexy and it hard to tell if you don't know."

(Porn, laughing and volunteering): "You been coming to Bangkok many years. You probably fuck lady boy and not know it."

(Porn, laughing more and shoving my shoulder with the flat of her hand): "Haw, haw ... many fuck lady boy and never know it."

At about this point Porn (with the help of countless questions from me) quite graphically fleshed out what skilled Japanese and Bangkok physicians could do with surgical steel, stitches and silicone.

When I showed Porn the photograph of young Christopher in the arms of ... well ... someone:

(Porn): "Yes, lady boy!"


Tuesday, March 7, 2000

NEWNES' shovel has again clinked gold this morning. The reader may recall that a similarly important find was unearthed back in November when NEWNES reported on the anniversary of the patent of the vulcanization of rubber:

Still, NEWNES finds time for yet another papal burial. What with the Church's never ending obsession with keeping St. Peter's chair warm, there is hardly a day that can pass without the observance of some new robe on the throne. Or, in this case, a robe ready for the box.

And now for something in my neighborhood ... this just in from The Associated Press:

BANGKOK - A dozen elephants escorted by traffic police marched through Bangkok's car-choked streets Monday in a protest against the city's plans to enforce a ban against begging elephants.

The Nation

The handlers, or mahouts, are unhappy with the ban, which orders them to leave the capital with their elephants before Friday or face arrest. Begging from tourists is often the only way mahouts can keep their animals fed. Typically, a mahout sells bananas to a tourist, who feeds them to the elephant.

They say they have no other way of making a living for their beasts, whose traditional role in logging has diminished along with Thailand's forest cover.

City authorities say bringing elephants to Bangkok is extremely dangerous.

A few weeks ago, an elephant broke loose from its handler and charged down one of Bangkok's busiest streets. It was brought down by a veterinarian with a tranquilizer gun. Other elephants have been struck by cars or have stepped into open manholes.

To underscore the importance of this topic to the kingdom, THE NATION ("Thailand's Independent Newspaper"), carried a color photograph of this elephantine gripe on its front page. But, I am a naïve foreigner! A wiser wag has hinted at other motives; that readers have become so tired of the election, that anything that eats up front page acreage is a welcome respite from yesterday's boring diet. Supporting this theory is another colorful page-one article that also has precious little to do with who gets to sit in the new senate. Though, appearing below the fold, it's print is encouraged to jump from the page thanks to its salmon colored background. This makes for a good read:

SIX-KILOGRAMME FOETUS REMOVED FROM MAN

BEIJING - A Chinese farmer lived for 28 years with the foetus of his identical twin brother inside him, and it was only discovered after he injured his stomach at work, state media reported yesterday.

Surgeons removed a six-kilogramme cyst containing an ossified male foetus from the farmer, identified only as Heu from the northern province of Shaanxi, Xinhua News Agency reported.

'The foetus' teeth, hair, skin and pubes are similar to an adult, but his anus and navel are those of a foetus. His genitalia are the size of a three-year old child's,' said surgeon Liu Jianmin, who performed the operation at Hanzhong Medical School.

Liu said the foetus was the man's identical twin, and he described the discovery as an 'unprecedented medical phenomenon'. Experts at Xian University of Medical Science said the foetus had grown inside the man at first, but once it died the cyst had continued to grow because it was fed by the splenic artery.

Heu's family said he had been born with a particularly large belly.

The cyst was discovered by ultrasound during tests when Heu went to hospital with a stomach injury sustained while working in the fields.

- Agencie France-Presse

I stayed home all day today ... though I did move from one side of the river to the other side of the river and back again.

Next: Bangkok Part II

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