Bangkok for a Month, Part V

Home at the Oriental Hotel

Between Bangkok Part IV and Bangkok Part VI

March 26-31

Sunday, March 26, 2000


An officer of the imperial palace who was found guilty of hiding Christians. Having survived three rounds of torture, he was buried alive in gravel.

NEWNES reveals:

I think that the following survival suggestion could have been written by Laurie F. Jones. Before she went to law school she made several hundred parachute jumps, some of which involved falls with a parachute that did not open. It is not known if either Piven or Borgenicht are passing on first hand experience when they penned their 6-point checklist. The credits at the end of their book are ambiguous when it comes to telling the reader if anyone involved in this publishing venture actually was ever faced with a chute that did not open when requested. Here is what Piven and Borgenich say about their source:

"Joe Jennings, skydiving cinematographer and skydiving coordination specialist. He has designed, coordinated, and filmed skydiving stunts for numerous television commercials, including Mountain Dew, Pepsi, MTV Sports, Coca Cola, and ESPN."

Anyway, here is the 6-point checklist:

  1. As soon as you realize that your chute is bad, signal to a jumping companion whose chute has not yet opened that you are having a malfunction. Wave your arms and point to your chute.
  2. When your companion (and new best friend) gets to you, hook arms.
  3. Once you are hooked together, the two of you will still be falling at terminal velocity, or about 130 miles per hour. When your friend opens his chute, there will be no way either of you will be able to hold on to one another normally, because the G-forces will triple or quadruple your body weight. To prepare for this problem, hook your arms into his chest strap, or through the two sides of the front of his harness, all the way up to your elbows, and grab hold of your own strap.
  4. Open the chute. The chute opening shock will be severe, probably enough to dislocate or break your arms.
  5. Steer the canopy. Your friend must now hold on to you with one arm while steering his canopy (the part of the chute that controls direction and speed). If your friend's canopy is slow and big, you may hit the grass or dirt slowly enough to break only a leg, and your chances of survival are high. If his canopy is a fast one, however, your friend will have to steer to avoid hitting the ground too fast. You must also avoid power lines and other obstructions at all costs.
  6. If there is a body of water nearby, head for it. Of course, once you hit the water, you will have to tread water with just your legs and hope that our partner is able to pull you out before your chute takes in water.

It is simple mathematics. It is a scale. A balancing act. Thirty-five hundred equals one. One equals one hundred and fifty.

Dear reader, this hotel operates half a dozen top quality restaurants behind its walls. Fitness CenterOutside these ramparts and within a ten minute walk from this property lie two other five star hotels that, between them, offer a decade of restaurants with open doors. The Peninsula and the Shangri-La are equipped with kitchens that daily turn out pretty fine meals. Lesser properties like the Sheraton and the Crowne Plaza pepper the neighborhood with still more Asian and European eating-places. So, what am I getting at?

The Fitness Centre! On the other side of our river The Oriental operates a fitness center that makes it convenient to tear down some of the calories that the restaurants have built. Ninety minutes on the treadmill balances out two servings of coconut ice cream. Or, returning to the first paragraph, 3,500 calories equals one pound ... one mile equals 150 calories.

You've seen the lobby ... the Spa ... the business center ... the rooms. Here is the fitness center.

On the widely respected Westin-Alcor Disbursement/Satisfaction Index, Bangkok tops the list. Due to space considerations I have listed here only the figures for Bangkok and London. Standing by themselves the Bangkok numbers would mean little. But, when compared and contrasted with those for London they take on a three-dimensional quality, especially when you are aware that London is about halfway up (or down) the pile. Most American and European cities fall south of London. And, as expected, many of the Asian cities are comfortably higher than London.

The "disbursement" figure is calculated with US dollars in mind. Acting as a numerator in all cases but one, it gives the most reliable twist to the sum of the divisors at the end of each row.

The "satisfaction" figure uses the Twine-Ekhardt scale. Though not readily apparent due to its burial in the factoring, this again ensures consistent cross comparisons.

Of course, the figures presented here are a marriage of the two scale points ... using an algorithm that best mates the measured qualities.

One prefatory note to the reader: as this data is being transmitted from a Microsoft Word document via AOL e-mail to an intermediate webmaster ... and from him to a server in New York, there is a chance that what you see is not what I saw. Enough said!

Residence (Dunn & Bradstreet Standard #4): 8.7
Food & Wine (Paris Match "Elite"): 9.0
Wife (a BP&N 9.0 or above): 10.0
Residence (Dunn & Bradstreet Standard #4): 5.1
Food & Wine (Paris Match "Elite"): 5.2
Wife (a BP&N 9.0 or above): 4.2

Though these figures may come as a shock to lots of folks, they sure don't surprise me.

Moving into the nether world of unseen hotel "plumbing," grim and dour faces (as opposed to the smiling ones that greet us in public) make hard and dark decisions when we have our backs turned.

This clandestine photo captured something rarely seen by guests. Here is the picture-board used by the floor concierge and other 10th floor employees. Used in harmony with the little wooden sticks, the client's comings and goings can be so accurately tracked that there is never a chance that anything will ever go wrong.

Note that The John LeCarré Suite is not "that" for the purposes of this board; it is just plain 1010. After the "XX", coded words probably talk about us. Could it have anything to do with the number of shoes that Jean brought on this trip? Eight!

Monday, March 27, 2000


The daughter of a brutal pagan duke. It is easy to see, by what followed her conversion, why the gentle new religion was attractive to her: her father found her in prayer, dragged her from the church to the castle, and murdered her.

NEWNES again gently reminds us that some standard units of measurement have their roots in flesh:

And the folks who "Hoover" their carpets have a Gramps who listens to the (7 letters across):

Rarely, unless you are Laurie F. Jones, do you plummet toward earth without billowing silk overhead. Infrequently are you forced to find your way across the roof of a speeding railway car. Jumping from a high place into a dumpster only happens to the most unfortunate of us. And, performing an al fresco tracheotomy is a once in a lifetime treat.

Equally useful is:

Quicksand Survival
  1. When walking in quicksand country, carry a stout pole - it will help you get out should you need to.
  2. As soon as you start to sink, lay the pole on the surface of the quicksand.
  3. Flop onto your back on top of the pole. After a minute or two, equilibrium in the quicksand will be achieved, and you will no longer sink.
  4. Work the pole to a new position: under your hips and at right angles to your spine. The pole will keep your hips from sinking, as you (slowly) pull out first one leg and then the other.
  5. Take the shortest route to firmer ground, moving slowly.

I am thinking about not returning to Florida. I don't mean, "Never, never, never will I ever go back." It's just that those Twine-Ekhardt numbers are starting to haunt me. I feel like the early visitors to Seattle must have felt when Money Magazine, years and years ago, published its first list of the best places to live in America. Of course, their researchers were working with data that was horribly skewered in favor of giving positive points for such things as pastor to parishioner ratios, affordable day-care facilities, and the percentage of college bound seniors from inner-city schools. The Twine-Ekhardt calculations totally ignore those things when giving stars. If they are counted at all, they are lumped into a negative column that is reserved for "potential meddling on the part of clergy or taxmen."

Much can be gleaned from footnotes. Perhaps a co-researcher's caution is buried there. Maybe the doorknob into another world is hibernating next to a (4). Or, the little * might hint at something that the author is too timid to dare broadcast in bolder print. Anyway, it usually pays to pause ... to avert ones eyes to the bottom of the page. That's how I found it. It was next to a (7). The first six of these footnotes worried about giving credit to others who live in minutiae, that Minneapolis/St.Paul really is just one city and that 3.117 is not statistically different from 3.116. It was (7) that ushered the meat.

"(7) These figures for Bangkok would have to be adjusted still higher if certain subjective factors were allowed to enter into the evaluation process. However, it would be politically unwise for the authors to include what is an obvious "plus" to everyone else who has ever had any contact with life in Bangkok. And, gender insensitivity accusations could not be avoided if the authors were allowed to express what they really like most about this city."

The publisher's brief about the authors is brief:

"Morton C. Twine retired from the practice of law at age 39. He currently lives on a sailboat in southern Thailand. His girl friend, upon completion of her high school studies, plans to pursue her interest in Thai cooking via the Internet."

"Hans Ekhardt lives at The Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. As a long-term guest he is allowed certain privileges denied others."

Tuesday, March 28, 2000

NEWNES allows us to make the connection:

Sixtus III
DIED 440
St. Augustine wrote this pope a letter, congratulating him on his uncompromising opposition to the Pelagian errors about the nature of grace; other writers of the time say that he fell into them himself. Probably he was an exceedingly discreet pontiff. He did, however, quarrel with a celebrated bishop about something, lavishly decorating the church of Santa Maria Maggiore to celebrate the bishop's deposition.
[from The International Herald Tribune]
1925: For Birth Control

LONDON - Dr. Adolphus Knopf, of New York, addressing the International Birth Control Conference, said that if the present rate of increase in population continued until the year 3000, there would be standing-room only left on earth. Mr. Harold Cox, the editor of the "Edinburgh Review," advocated birth control as a means of preventing war.

Dear Christopher and Cameron,

Tomorrow morning your mother's holiday starts its end. Or, as she puts it, "Look, Dad! Chris and Cam need me at home. Though I'd love to hang around the pool with you and pamper myself with afternoons at The Spa, I have to face the fact that I am the only mother and house minder that these boys have. If I thought for one minute that they could get along without me I'd stay here. Wouldn't anyone? I mean, given the choices, who would want to fly back to a wet, rainy and dreary Seattle when The Oriental is everything to everyone?"

Well, boys, what do you have to say to that? You can pretend that you didn't read this and your Mom will be home in about 48 hours ... or ... you can show a little kindness to the old girl by letting her know that you two are OK just kicking around the house by yourselves. It's up to you.



Green Shirts!

Speaking of things they don't have in Seattle, the House of Green Shirts is another darling hangout that we always tap into when in Bangkok. Annie discovered the place the last time we were in transit from Islamabad. As it was on the direct trading route between The Peninsula and Patpong, its precious offerings weren't unnoticed for long. Like over at the "white shirts" parlor, an hour passed here can do nice things for worn innards.

Wednesday, March 29, 2000

No, the boys did not call Annie to tell her to enjoy her extended stay in Bangkok ... and that they were perfectly capable of functioning without her ... and that they would see her in a week, etc. etc. etc. No, I don't think that they even read yesterday's letter.

She just said over dinner: "I don't think I'll go home tomorrow."

She is going to stay here for another week. I fully understand. Bangkok just does that to you.


An African nobleman whom Genseric, King of the Vandals, tormented because he was not Arian. Tight cords were twisted about his feet; with a mere glance at heaven, he broke them. He was hung up by one leg, but went to sleep peacefully. Then he was worked to death, lest the orthodox should regard him as a martyr. Needless to say, they did so anyway.

Ice Sculpting

It starts with big blocks of ice. They freeze the water right here on the premises. It takes all night to get it hard. Three hundred and sixty five nights a year they do it. And, then they soften it a little bit in the outdoor shade. By 5:30 in the afternoon they are ready to attack it with chisels, saws and such. An hour or so later it's ready for the buffet table ... or for the entrance to The China House ... or at the door of one of the reception rooms. This is how they do it ... and this is how one piece looks when it is finished. By midnight it has melted back into soft water ... either to run down the drain or to find its way into the roots of some plants.

NEWNES reads from a couple of long-ago tilted head stones:

My visa expires tomorrow. It's not a very big thing. The fine for overextending a stay in Thailand is 100 bahts per day ... a little less than three dollars. Since I'm booked out on April 15th this will cost me 1,600 bahts if I don't do something about it. As the immigration offices are not too far away I may do something about it.

Thursday, March 30, 2000

Today's Bangkok Post reported an apology from a sister publication over the unfortunate juxtaposition of two photographs in a recent issue. Apparently, the photo-editor of Nanfang Dishibao was not sensitive to the relative parking positions that pork chops and Mecca shrines held in Islam. Reuters, or someone, reported:

"Furious Chinese Muslims have bombarded the authorities with complaints after an official newspaper published a picture of cloned pigs next to another picture of Islam's holiest shrine in Mecca. Muslims planned a series of protests after Nanfang Dishibao newspaper in Guangzhou printed the pictures side by side, forcing a groveling apology."

In another light note, this morning's International Herald Tribune reports from Sao Paulo:

"Angry commuters who had waited for hours to board a suburban train and then spent hours crammed inside as it sat on the tracks burned the train down, the police said. Local television reports showed a helicopter view of a long chain of carriages, all of them smoking or in ashes, after passengers abandoned the train and set it on fire."

Quirinus the Tribune

There is confusion about a number of saints called Quirinus. This one appears to have been a governor of the Roman prisons. Pope Alexander I - by getting out of his cell into that of another Christian prisoner, with the assistance of an infant angel - converted him. His hands were then cut off and his tongue given to a hawk or falcon; the helpless body dragged by oxen, the speechless head cut off.

NEWNES nods toward two unconnected deathbeds:

Who is this girl?

Friday, March 31, 2000


The daughter of the above mentioned Quirinus. At his request, Pope Alexander cured her of scrofula. In her excitement she kissed the Holy Father's chains; he told her to go instead and find St. Peter's, which were lost; and she did find them.

NEWNES, again reminding us that some common lab instruments owe their names to people:

Yesterday afternoon the Chao Phya River was busy with boat traffic; most of it carrying commuters on the first leg of their journey home. Here are some photographs that I took from my 10th floor balcony.

[from The International Herald Tribune]
1900: Baron Insulted

PARIS - Baron Robert de Rothschild received on Monday (March 30) a letter from the Comte de Lubersac, referring to a quarrel that took place between them years ago. The comte offers, but in insulting terms, to meet him in a duel. "If you consider yourself too unworthy to meet me," concludes the comte, "I shall be obliged if you will deposit 100,000fr. with the committee of the Ligue de la Patrie Francaise." Baron de la Rothschild wrote to the Comte de Lubersac a violent letter, the terms of which the "Figaro" prefers not to reproduce.

Jean started her homeward bound trip this morning. Twenty-five hours after departing from BKK she'll be in MIA. I'll follow on April 15th. The trans-Pacific flights (BKK-NRT-LAX), though much longer, are far more comfortable than is the LAX to Miami segment. There is far more room on the first two segments; and the service is generally quite a bit better on the Asiatic routes than it is on our (USA) domestic ones. Also, the Asiatic carriers usually offer more of everything than do the American ones flying the same routes. While I'm in this paragraph on USA/Asia flights, I want to point out that the best of all possible ways of doing this is to completely skip the trans-Pacific part and do an Atlantic crossing instead. In other words, go the other way. In that direction you arrive in Europe in the early morning, and later that same morning you can catch a non-stop trans-Euro-Asian flight that will get you here in the morning. The reverse also works well: a late evening departure from Asia ... a morning flight out of Europe ... and an early afternoon east coast USA arrival. Sure, the elapsed time is a couple hours more but the advantage lies in the nocturnal legs. Here I am speaking only for the benefit of USA east coast residents. However, there is a big disadvantage: cost.

Next: April in Bangkok

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