Bangkok for Six Weeks, Part VII

Home at the Oriental Hotel

After Bangkok Part VI

April 7 and Beyond ...

Friday, April 7, 2000

The Bangkok Post, at police urging, has required me to shoulder this traffic warning (along with its helpful map) ahead of anything from either NEWNES or Wescott:

POLICE TIP TO AVOID JAMS
Traffic Tips

Highways police have recommended alternative routes to bypass central Nakhon Ratchasima, which will be jammed over Songkran.

Drivers heading for Buri Ram, Surin, Si Sa Ket and Ubon Ratchathani should turn right from Highway 2 at the Si Khiu interchange and take Highway 24 for Si Khiu-Pakthongchai-Chokechai-Nongki-Buri Ram.

Those heading for Khon Kaen and Udon Thani should turn left off Highway 2 at Ban Khoke Kraud and use Highway 2068's Ban Khoke-Ban Nongsuang section, then turn right at km 5 to Highway 2198's Khamtalaysor-Ban Khoke Soong section. Then turn left to Highway 205, turn right at km 390 to a Public Works Department road to get back on Highway 2 to Khon Kaen.

Those bound for Chaiyaphum, Nong Bua Lam Phu, Khon Kaen and Udon Thani can turn left off Highway 2 at the Si Khiu interchange to use Highway 201's Si Khiu-Dan Khunthod-Nongbuakhoke-Chaiyaphum-Nong Bua Lam Phu section or Chaiyaphum-Kaengkhro-Munjakhiri-Banphai-Khon Kaen-Udon Thani section.

Also, from The Bangkok Post (but tucked away in the little history section, page 16):

Though NEWNES acknowledges that both El Greco and Henry Ford died on an April 7th, his longest sentence is reserved for:

IN OUR PAGES: 100 AND 50 YEARS AGO
[From The International Herald Tribune]
1900: Plenty of Islands

NEW YORK - The Buffalo "Courier" remarks: "It is quite as well that negotiations for the acquisition of the Danish West Indies and Chatham Island in the Galapagos have been abandoned for the present, We have a sufficiency of islands already."

1950: Tower Plunge

PARIS - A well-dressed middle-aged woman plunged to her death from the Eiffel Tower in Paris, falling more than 600 feet from the fourth platform of the tower - to the second platform. Eiffel Tower authorities were quick to rule out the possibility of a fall, explaining that the platforms are protected by a high guard rail. The victim had been alone on the platform. Then employees of the tower saw her body drop on its way to the second platform. The last suicide from the Eiffel Tower occurred in 1949, when a twenty-seven-year-old American art student died in a plunge from the second platform.

Herman Joseph
DIED 1226

Herman was a poor German who loved the Virgin and wanted to make her an offering, and had nothing but an apple, his dinner. The sculptured Mother in the cathedral of Cologne took it and gave it to the sculptured Child. Later she appeared to her whole-hearted suitor, put a ring on his finger, and called him hers. Consequently the name of her husband on earth was added to his name. Upon another occasion she gave him her Baby to hold.

Today we talked about ballooning in France and Italy ... Palio ... Butterfield & Robinson trips. I haven't mentioned anything about corkscrews ... well, that's not completely true ... my balloons opened that door. Oh, I was again with the girl who likes orchids.


Saturday, April 8, 2000

They don't look particularly cuddly in pre-death, do they?

Of course, that makes the choice far easier than it does for the folks sitting down at Inman's House of Muslim Lamb. Over there, several bleating things are led to your table on short leashes and it is up to you to slit the throat of your choice. Naturally, this "commitment" to the dish doesn't allow for much back peddling. Once the mops have started their work you are pretty much limited to asking for rare or well done…and, perhaps requesting a substitute garnish.

With shrimps, crabs and lobsters it's all done by reverse drowning or gentle heat ... and out of sight of the guests. No squeals, no final fits, no distressing slurping noises ... in short, food preparation as it should be: silent.

Leaving street dining for the Trib:

IN OUR PAGES: 100 AND 75 YEARS AGO
[from The International Herald Tribune]
1900: Women Duel

NEW YORK - The details of a duel in which the principals and seconds were women prominent in Mexican society have just come to light. One woman was so seriously wounded that a surgeon had to be called in. The duel grew out of a love affair. Rafael Riquelme went to a ball accompanied by Senorita Marta Duran, the belle of the city. Senorita Juana Luna, to whom Riquelme had been paying marked attention, also attended the ball. She saw Senorita Durante in company with Rafael. In a passion she confronted Senorita Duran and after a quarrel challenged her rival.

1925: Smoking Car

ST. PAUL, Minn. - There will be a new and supplementary smoker in the Olympian, crack flier of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad. There may not be cuspidors; but soft lounges, dainty ash trays and probably a beauty parlor annex will feature the luxurious compartment, for it will be exclusively for women.

Martin
FOURTEENTH CENTURY

This Genoese Martin was a tailor who, during his military service, killed a man. Though it was accidental, he condemned himself to life-long penitence, in misery, in a cave by the sea. People went on pilgrimages to see him, and he mended their clothes.

Dear reader, every so often Glenway Wescott likes to include an additional saint-of-the-day. Normally, when he does this I include the fellow, observing Wescott's reverse chronological order of things. Chalk it up to a bad cup of coffee or something worse; but today, Wescott most uncharacteristically, slipped in his own view of the world and of things to come when he penned this blurb about REDEMPTUS. I have removed the offensive parts, which is most of the paragraph.

Redemptus
DIED ABOUT 586

This Italian bishop had a vision of the end of the world: all battles, invasions, breakage, and burning.

For the serious biblical scholar who prides himself on being able to read prophesies without blanching, Wescott's full treatment of the life of REDEMPTUS lies but one click away, if you have the password.

As if NEWNES, too, felt something awful was about to happen:

And, forty years later, to the day:

Meanwhile, in today's local press, a hometown bank announces a big soft step:

"Thai Farmers Bank expects its eight e-Girls to help attract one million new banking customers by the end of the year." This is the lead sentence in today's Banking Section of the Business part of the Bangkok Post.

The bank apparently conducted several early-retirement programmes in order to make room for the new e-cadres. Applicants were screened based on three criteria, defined by the bank as: "enchanting, educated and electrifying." The winners, whose ages range from 18 to 25, all have some experience in modeling. For one lucky "selectee" the one million baht per year job came as a total surprise. "I never even heard of the job until one day, while walking at Siam Square, some members of the bank's recruitment team came to ask me to apply."

Each of the eight new employees will have a different job title. Lower case letters will be used throughout the job description to ensure that the bank retains its warm and cozy image with its clients:

Perky Plexiglas ornaments in the shape of small tennis rackets, with the letter "e" where the strings would normally have been strung, will designate the desks of these e-girls.


Sunday, April 9, 2000

Lenin's EmbalmersToday NEWNES allows me to provide you with an exciting link to one of my earlier journals. One in which a great deal of free time allowed me to quote extensively from a book that dealt in depth with what those who were left behind did to Lenin's final bits and pieces. For all of you who have just joined my journal, this link will be a welcome respite from Bangkok's heat. It takes you deep into the chilly chambers of Moscow's embalming rooms. The fact that V. Lenin was born on this day in history is of no concern. Suffice that his name cropped up today.

NEWNES, like a faithful bookmark in a yellowed book, doesn't let us forget that lesser lights were also born on April 9th:

Jumping from "people" to "events", NEWNES gives Canadians the shivers with:

From today's Bangkok Post:

CURRENCY PLUMMETS

Kabul - The Afghan currency hit a record low yesterday because of drought hitting the poppy harvest which makes Afghanistan the world's biggest source of opium, trader said. Money traders said drought damage to the poppy crop, the country's main source of income, was the cause, together with a decision by the ruling Taleban to cut production by a third following international pressure. Traders in Kabul's informal money market said the Afghani had sunk to 59,000 per US dollar from 56,000 a week ago. - Reuters

JUNTA 'SAVES CULTURE'

Rangoon - In an effort to guard national culture, Burma's military junta has destroyed $218,000 (10 million baht) worth of imported videotapes, compact disks and video compact disks, news reports said yesterday. The bonfire on uncensored, smuggled goods was held on Friday at a government compound in Rangoon under the supervision of the Office of the National Intelligence Bureau, said the state-run NEW LIGHT OF MYANAMAR newspaper. Colonel Than Tun, who heads the Office of Strategic Studies, said the smuggled goods had to be destroyed to "prevent youths from apeing wrong behaviors" and since the material might "cause harm to national culture". - dpa

Very early this morning, through the empty streets of Bangkok, I was chauffeured by a beautiful Thai woman to a place never seen by westerners. If you have the password, once you click on the dashboard clock you'll see her profile against the blurred background of Bangkok's fleeting night. If you don't have the password you can see the clock that never "ticks".

Password Required!

Monday, April 10, 2000

This man's birth, heralded today by NEWNES, brings back memories of that one credit course in law school ... the one that we thought was so totally irrelevant that none of us paid much attention to it until the night before the exam ... the one that was taught by a soon-to-be professor emeritus; who honestly believed that nothing could be more relevant to the educated lawyer:

Sharing this day in an odd way: he died ...

I hope that what happened this morning (or, didn't) is not a prescient rumble. April 10th is my 42nd day in the John LeCarre Suite (aka room 1010). And, every morning since March 1st, except on Sundays, The International Herald Tribune has dangled from my doorknob. Today it was not there! For the first time in close to six weeks I do not know what happened IN OUR PAGES: 100, 75 AND 50 YEARS AGO. Now, this would not be something to write about had it not been for a very eerie entry by NEWNES for this date:

Is there an innocent explanation for this? Did the hotel run out of copies of the IHT before the elevator reached the 10th floor? Did the delivery van run off the road? Did a larcenous guest in a nearby room swipe my copy? We'll never know.

The somewhat younger 40 YEARS AGO snippet in the Bangkok Post offers local history:

"Prime Minister Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat agrees the mosquito is more dangerous than the tiger, and announces an anti-malaria campaign. 1960"

Macarius of Antioch
DIED 1012

This Armenian archbishop went to Palestine to convert the Jews, but it was such a thankless task that he journeyed North across Europe as far as Flanders, where he died of the plague. He sorrowed so bitterly over the sinful races he found everywhere that he had to carry a handkerchief in his hand all the time, for his tears.

Dear reader, the view from the top of the Grand Hyatt in Shanghai is impossible to top ... especially, on a morning that flows in on a tide of low hanging clouds. There is no quarrel with that at all.

But, given a horizon with storms dancing in all four quadrants, the Sky Lounge atop Bangkok's Baiyoke building puts on a mighty fine 360-degree show. This used to be Bangkok's tallest building: forty three or forty four floors, depending upon whether you chose to ride up on the odd or the even bank of elevators. Well, not exactly. All the stone-work, plumbing, wires and such went up 44 floors, but the biggest available number on the elevator panel was a 43 or a 44; your choice of turning to the right or the to left leaving you either at a 43 or a 44.

I had dinner there with a friend.


Tuesday, April 11, 2000

Leo the Great
DIED 461

This energetic pope somewhat put down three heresies, that of Mani, that of Pelagius, and that of Eutyches; but his great fame rests upon a feat of more active and important statesmanship. When Attila with the Huns drew near Rome, he put on his white robes and went out to persuade him not to sack it. St. Peter and St. Paul, it is said, came out of the air and stood beside him, to give weight to his arguments. The well-named 'Scourge of God' consented to take his hordes away and receive an annual payment of money instead.

Some years later, when Genseric and the Vandals came, he tried to turn them aside also, with less success. They did not burn Rome and did not torture anyone, but took with them to Carthage shiploads of men and valuables, including the seven-branched candlestick.

It's a triple-witching day for Becky, thanks to bookwork by NEWNES:

IN OUR PAGES: 100 AND 75 YEARS AGO
[From The International Herald Tribune]
1900: Risky Crossing

PARIS - Foreigners are sometimes twitted on account of their extreme caution when they cross streets in Paris in order to avoid being run over, the phrase common under these circumstances being "You're not Parisian, that's evident," and the conclusion is that to be Parisian one must risk one's life in the streets.

1925: Women Athletes

LONDON - Women of every clime and color are entering the field of athletics, and Mme. Milliat, president of the International Federation of Women Athletes, has received inquiries relative to the next Women's Olympic Games from such far away places as India, China and Japan. The chances of the African girls are fancied by Mrs. Elliott Lynn, a well-known athlete. "If they can be persuaded to adopt a Western garb for athletes," says Mrs. Lynn, "I am confident that the African girls will make their European sisters work to retain the laurels, both for track and field work."

Dear reader, with only a few days remaining in my current stay in Bangkok, I have done a rough draft of a letter to my children:

Kids,

I have discovered that pretty much everything I need I can find right here in The Oriental. There is a very competent barber right on the premises. If my laundry is "out" by noon, it is "in" by four. I get three newspapers a day (two morning and one evening). There are seven in-house restaurants and room service operates 24 hours a day. Hotel cars also run around the clock. In-house movies and cable cater to my meager video needs. I have a nice stereo system. There is a good tailor right around the corner and he has all of my measurements. Across the river there is an underutilized fitness center that I have pretty much to myself each morning. I have a standing booking for a 90-minute massage at 1:30PM each day, except when Lek has her day off. The only weak link is the swimming pool: it gets a bit crowded around mid-day.

So, my basics are tended to quite nicely, without ever having to roam very far.

Love,

Dad

PS Yes, I shall probably move here.


Uniforms change everything. That's nothing new, but today I walked into a striking example of that: one of the hostesses at my hotel. Out of UniformFor the past 42 days I have only seen her in her work uniform. Sure, she always looks nice but what can you do with a uniform? You aren't supposed to do anything with it. You are just supposed to look "in place." And she has always looked perfectly in place ... until this afternoon.

Rounding the corner by the house of A. Song (tailor), I saw her standing with her back to the street. She was having a belt mended by a ... well, I guess a belt mender. I recognized her only because of her really short hair. I don't have a "before" photo of her ... only these ones that I took today. But, I'll try to get one of her "in place" later ... and you'll see the difference. Until this afternoon I never knew she had a tattoo ... it's similar to the one my daughter has. Anyway, she is a walking case of how much better a girl looks without a uniform. Aside from being a nice person, she is an excellent hostess who always does her best for the hotel guests.


Wednesday, April 12, 2000

Dueling doesn't neatly fit into any WORST-CASE SCENARIO chapter. It could. But the movies have always made it out to be something mostly mulled over, if not something actually sought after. Being a clash fraught with etiquette ("so-many" paces, "seconds," early starting times, starched white shirts, etc.); and one in which the contestants are required to play the game because of some silly point of honor or because a woman's adoration was up for grabs, it lacks the needed texture of self-defense.

I think that Piven and Borgenicht would have very much liked a chapter on dueling. But, it just would not have been right. Not here, anyway. Maybe, as we speak, galley sheets for a new book are being furiously marked-up in the margins. I, for one, vote not for a DUELING FOR DUMMIES. That would be too much like reading the rules for badminton. Quicker to move off the shelf would be SMART DUELING. And, I think the most useful tip would have you, the reader, backing through the crowd without actually appearing to.

HOW TO WIN A SWORD FIGHT

"Always keep your sword in the 'ready' position - held in front of you, with both hands, and perpendicular to the ground. With this method, you can move the sword side to side and up and down easily, blocking and landing blows in all directions by moving your arms. Hold the tip of the sword at a bit of an angle, with the tip pointed slightly toward your opponent. Picture a doorway - you should be able to move your sword in any direction and quickly hit the edge of the doorframe."

How To Deflect And Counter A Blow

Deflection!1) Step up and into the blow, with your arms held against your body. React quickly and against your instincts, which will tell you to move back and away. By moving closer, you can cut off a blow's power. Avoid extending your arms, which would make your own counterblow less powerful.

2) Push or "punch" at the blow instead of simply trying to absorb it with your own sword. If a blow is aimed at your head, move your sword completely parallel to the ground and above your head. Block with the center of your sword, not the end. Always move toward your opponent, even if you are defending and not attacking.

IN OUR PAGES: 100 AND 75 YEARS AGO
[from The International Herald Tribune]
1900: Bayonets in Use

CAPETOWN - A dispatch from Pretoria states that Mr. Kruger has decided to arm the Boer forces with the bayonet, a weapon which the burghers have learned to respect. Already the Transvaal officials have commandeered a number of suitable foundries in the Republic, and these have been given the task of manufacturing thousands of bayonets of the best steel.

1925: Forced to Marry

WASHINGTON - How Jackson Barnett, the Creek-Indian, reputed to be the wealthiest of any of his race, fell the victim of a mere squaw and was literally dragged to the altar is an unusual story of a caveman being vanquished by a cavewoman in papers filed with Barnett's suit to recover $200,000 in Liberty bonds deposited at the Riggs National Bank here. Barnett is seventy-five years old and his fortune is said to amount to $5,000,000 made from oil. He alleges that a lone widow started on his trail with all the persistence of a primitive Diana, kidnapped him and took him in a taxicab on a long hunt through three States before finding an official to marry them.

I am usually ready to leave for home at this point. This is almost always the case; somewhere between the second or third day from the end of a trip ... and it doesn't make any difference if the trip is a two week hop or a seven week stay ... I start to think of the exit. Not so this time! I don't want to leave. I don't want to go home.

I am sure it has everything to do with my decision. The other day I sent a letter to my kids in which I said, in short, that I really liked it here and that the place seemed to nicely fill my wants. I signed off by saying that I'd probably move here.

On Saturday I am booked to fly home. Two weeks later I'll be back in Bangkok: same room, same view. This time my air ticket will be open ended. Provided that I am still in this frame of mind, there is no reason why I should return home until July. I have a CCCC (Canadian Corkscrew Collector's Club) meeting in Toronto on the last weekend of July. Some ballooning in Europe'll follow that.

The new machines looked like a really big disk drives; something from Sun that could hold the whole lot and much more ... for all eternity and even longer. But, it was just a pair of paper shredders. The hotel business center bought two of them. Side by side, like twins, they looked hungry. Their maker was so clearly concerned about their blanket tastes that it warned men and women what was most dangerous for each to feed them.


Thursday, April 13, 2000 - Songkran Day (traditional Thai New Year)

This, from Atiyanee Mathayomchan, Public Relations Director of The Oriental:

Songkran begins "Songkran essentially is a religious holiday, commemorating the beginning of the Buddhist year. Traditional Thais observe it by going to the temple to sprinkle water on Buddha Images and giving their house a thorough cleaning. A more festive Songkran custom, which has become popular over the years is to throw water on anyone who happens to pass by; however, such carefree water-throwing is more common elsewhere (e.g. up north in Chiang Mai, or Phra Pradaeng which is closer to the Thai capital) than in Bangkok."

The Director goes on:

"May we suggest you wear casual clothing, protect your camera and other belongings with plastic covers."

A note from me:

Years ago, when Patpong's main trade danced around "weaknesses of the flesh" (a good Catholic term), Songkran was best experienced midst the chirps of its native pole dancers. Festive with their little pinned on ID numbers and tiny dance togs, they squealed with impish joy when squirted with icy bar water. Retaliating with wet kisses and devilish tugs they brought happiness to all they touched.

Now that fake Rolexes and pirate CD's rule the street, this Buddhist holiday has gone commercial ... like Christmas at home.

Carrying on with the sword fight that started yesterday:

How To Attack

1) Move the sword in steady, quick blows up and down and to the left and right. Assuming you must disable your attacker, do not try to stab with your sword. A stabbing motion will put you off balance and will leave your sword far out in front of you, making you vulnerable to a counterblow. However, if your sword should penetrate your foe in some vital squishy part, he/she may not be able to launch a counterblow. In that case, twist the sword until you hear a gurgling noise. That will tell you that atmospheric equilibrium has been reached and the sword can then be withdrawn without making a "slurping-puck" noise.

2) Do not raise the sword up behind your head to try a huge blow - you will end up with a sword in your gut.

3) Hold your position, punch out to defend, and strike quickly.

4) Wait for your attacker to make a mistake. Stepping into a blow or deflecting it to the side will put him/her off balance. Once youropponent is off balance, you can take advantage of their moment of weakness by landing a disabling blow, remembering not to jab with your sword but to strike up and down or from side to side.

NEWNES notes a curious coincidence:

Songkran dawned auspiciously. The rain started and left just before the sun had a chance to rise, so everything was wet and waiting for the real water. But, none of that came until late morning. It was still too cold for wet work.

Songkran

But, by noon the inventory of the street had changed. Gone were the fake Rolexes and the real silk shirts; in their place lay an arsenal of water weaponry. We were in the market. The one that my driver carried was from last year's war, and 366 days of non-use had apparently dried out the rubber gasket. At best, it wheezed air ... and leaked water. One hundred and forty bahts later we weren't much better off. Under-armed and stuck in traffic we were no match for the shock troops that the Buddhist marshals unleashed on our Toyota. Fusillades of water kept us from returning fire while paste-covered hands blinded our windows. We were prisoners to the fun.

We weren't actually liberated from our attackers. They just sort of walked away ... at about time that the traffic started moving again.


Hours later and miles away ...

Launching the Fish

I am lucky that I did not have to release one of the birds. A lot could have gone wrong! Fortunately, my charge was a little school of catfish. Short of dropping the bowl on the dock and having to kick the flapping things into the water, there was little risk involved in my role in the "release." Songkran traditionalists say that if birds and fish are given their freedom, good luck will follow the one responsible. My six fish made it into the river. Was one of the just released birds temporarily blinded by a flash bulb? Did it fly blindly headlong into a tree? Did it drop to the ground amidst gasps of horror? Did a hotel employee quickly scoop it up and toss it in a high arc over the shrubs ... crying "fly on, oh bird of state"? Was it dead already when it hit the ground, mercifully out of guest range? We'll never know.


Friday, April 14, 2000 - PAN AMERICAN DAY (a Hallmark oversight?)

NEWNES positively gushes:

The "A" team:

The "B" team:

"April showers bring May flowers ... when it rains, it pours" ...even Wescott was amazed at this one:

Lidwina
DIED 1433

This Dutch virgin, not liking to be beautiful and happy, prayed for another fate, and was gratified with thirty-eight years of abominable illness. One day she met a man who had the worst habits in the world, and advised him to lie on his side all one night without moving, thinking of hell; and it brought about the desirable change in him.

This morning started with another heavy rain. Though April is the hottest month, it is also the month when Bangkok starts with double digit wet days. Today is my last full day in Bangkok. Let's see what it brings besides another edition of the Bangkok Post and another room service breakfast.


Saturday, April 15, 2000

NEWNES, ever reaching out to the little guy with a problem:

As well as to the not-so-famous:

NEWNES likes to think that the movie would not have been made without his little nudge:

Briefly considered for ScrewSaint canonization, but reluctantly sent home due to a whiff of necrophilia:

Basilissa and Anastasia
DIED 68

Two aristocratic ladies who not only got the bodies of St. Peter and St. Paul away from the authorities, but who acted as undertakers in the emergency. The hands and feet which had laboured with so much blessed temerity were cut off by Nero's officers.

It's time to re-read that article on water landings. You know, the one I talked about way back in February ... Ticket to Ridethe one in which the author said it was a total waste of time to pay any attention to any safety instructions that had to do with a commercial airliner ditching into the sea. The short of it: once the "put on your life vest" sign lights up, its time to grab for everything on top of the drinks cart. And, if my flight noses in over one of those deep Pacific trenches ... well, then that total stranger who is strapped into the next seat will be my skeleton mate forever. Scary, huh?

Not really! Ten days after unpacking myself in Fort Lauderdale I'll be on another plane. Back to Bangkok. This time the snappy title of the journal will read BANGKOK INDEFINITELY.

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