Bangkok Forever? ... Part II

Back at the Oriental Hotel

Between Part I and Part III

May 7-10, 2000

Sunday, May 7, 2000


Maurelius appears to have been a king of Mesopotamia who abdicated in favour of his brother in order to be a priest, and eventually a bishop, in Italy. Hearing that those of his faith were being persecuted in the fatherland, he returned; but his brother regarded it as none of an expatriate's business, and put him to death.

Many of today's teens look at the '50s as the era of the halcyon generation. Now, more than a half-century away, black and white images of these "what-did-you-do-back-then" years haunt young minds troubled by today's difficult life-choices.

But, was it really a better time ... or ... was it just a different time? Let The Onion be your time machine for some '50s headlines:

May 7, 1950


October 4, 1951

Unstoppable General Defies Truman's Orders, Continues to Advance North 'The North Pole Shall Be Free of Communists by 1952,' MacArthur Pledges

July 28, 1953

Antics of Hawkeye Pierce, Hot Lips Houlihan Bring Close to Amusing Asian Conflict

September 18, 1954


October 1, 1955

'Screw This Bus Shit,' Says Montgomery, Alabama, Commuter

Sadly, the 1950's drew to a close with the forced retirement of The Onion's editor, T. Herman Zweibel. His parting message reflects the times in which he lived ... though, somewhat sourly:


So, the Board of Directors has decided to force my retirement, has it? And, it's even going to court to prove me mentally incompetent and banish me to my 627-room estate back East? They'll not get rid of me without a knock-down, drag out fight! I'm T. Herman Zweibel! I've edited and published every blasted page of "The Onion" for 60 years! They don't even run the bridge column until I approve the hands! I was born with printer's ink running through my veins, and, by jiggledy, I'll die with my printer's shade and my sleeve guards on, at the same desk I've worked at since 1896!

Or, if God is merciful, I'll be snug in my subterranean bomb shelter, and you'll all be incinerated by the hellish fire-storm. Didn't I tell you long ago that the fiendish Spaniards were up to no good again, planning a ruthless revenge for their 1898 defeat? Didn't I tell you that they were developing a huge and terrifying weapon made of fertilizer and gun powder, stronger than even the most powerful cannon, that would be aimed at our Republic's very heart-land? But, no, I'm perceived as a senile old coot barely able to hold his water, let alone his position at the helm of America's greatest news-paper.

As you traitors roast in your own juices, I will be safely ensconced three miles below the earth's surface, listening to my wax-cylinder player and enjoying a delicious phosphate! My bomb shelter is a lavish network of antechambers encased in steel and titanium alloy several yards thick. It has all the latest conveniences, such as a central-heating system powered by burning coal and enough potted-meat and cabbage-juice to last well into the next millennium. I will be waited on hand and foot by a bevy of comely young lady-actresses including Miss Mary Pickford and Miss Lillian Gish. And, as the Spaniards are busy crushing your charred skeletal remains under their jack-boots, I will be busy under-ground fathering an invincible warrior race of Zweibels, which will one day emerge into the sun-light and destroy the wretched Iberian occupation once and for all!

So adios, apologists and running dogs of the Spanish menace! We true Americans will someday have our place in the sun!

Today's Bangkok Post carries this photograph with the caption:


An Orthodox priest leaves the field of the air force base in the Russian city of Engels after blessing the new TU-160 strategic bomber on Friday - AFP

Enough of other folk's woes! My own plight makes any nuclear peril for others pale ... for mine is near and damn near immediate. Tick-tock-tick ... yes!

As I breathe, ALIMAK's giant siege engines are being readied! Yesterday only the tall gantries were there ... standing erect like poised praying mantises. But, sometime during the night great boxes were roped and wired to these towering monsters ... these hideous machines that have struck terror into the bowels of the tiny Frenchmen who gather defenselessly in their shadow. Welder's torches worked by moonlight to give the fiend an unbreakable grip on The Oriental's soft under-belly. What can we expect next? Caldrons of boiling lamb fat? Pox infected cow carcasses hurled by catapults? What evils will we suffer before being forced to abandon our suites?

Look! One of the dreaded siege engines is on the move! [160kb MPEG]

Meanwhile, across the river, over at the Spa the danger goes unnoticed. While guests scramble for room on the down elevators, while fist fights break out at the exits, while the weak and the infirm are shouldered into the pool ... as the main building takes the first blows from ALIMAKS's mighty machines ... all is calm at the Spa. Oh and Noo have never looked finer. Oh has a new hairstyle. Noo is as pretty as ever.

Monday, May 8, 2000

NEWNES briefly explains that it is Furry Day on St. Michael's Day ... but, only over at Helston, Cornwall ... and, only when Furry Day falls on a day other than Sunday or Monday. In those years when May 8th does fall on a Sunday or a Monday there is no festival at Helston because the festival is only held on Furry Day.

NEWNES yields yet another great name after whom something useful was named:

The death-day of another writer whose books are not usually found in hotel lobby shops:

NEWNES finds three really unusual events to wonder about:

Felix of Cantalicio
1513 - 1587

A man of humble origin, appointed to do the begging of food for his monastery; all were astonished by the quantity of food he brought in. He had no education, so he could not sing in the choir; but, whatever happened, he said 'Deo gratias' - probably all the Latin he knew. Children flocked around him, and he taught them to say it.

One day when he was carrying wine to his convent, he met Philip Neri in the hot streets of Rome, and gave the great-hearted man a drink. They became good friends and used to wish each other, not good day, but a day full of hardships. The harsh St. Charles Borromeo also liked the plain friar, more saintly than himself.

Somewhere on this great planet of ours it is Earth Day. But, back in 1910 Earth Day really meant something; a day when Man yanked from the Earth what he wanted. Sadly, no more. But, The Onion allows us to revisit those days when Man could kick anything he wanted, when he wanted. In the diminuendo style of the time, the writer cascades the reader with multiple sub-banners before plunging into the finer print:

Herds Found in Remotest Idaho, Wyoming
News Mollifies Game Hunters Disappointed by Recent Extinction of Hoofed Plover
Majestic Animals Expected to Last Until October

Washington, May 7 - U.S. Secretary of the Interior Richard A. Ballinger announced to a relieved crowd of citizenry today that clusters of bison are still present in the American West.

This comes as welcome news to game hunters who have grown discouraged by the lack of creatures to hunt in recent years. Buffalo ShootThe passenger pigeon is an increasingly rare sight, as are Carolina parakeets and prairie chickens. The buffalo was feared extinct, until an agent of the Department of the Interior reported small herds in remote regions of Idaho and Wyoming near Indian reservations. The Secretary's agents have entered into the national registry estimates that over 600 wild buffalo roam these United States territories. It is expected that the number will satisfy the game hunter for another five months until the buffalo is extinct.

"I am overjoyed," said prominent San Francisco banker H. Mulgrew Stubbs. "When I was a lad, I shot my first buffalo as my family rode the Union Pacific trans-continental line, happy just knowing I had downed the great animal, albeit to rot in a forgotten patch of prairie. I thought my young grandson would never know this great thrill. But now, Saints willing, he will."

The Last Buffalo

In a related story, the Secretary has commissioned famed hunter Buffalo Bill to preside over the killing of America's last buffalo.

A gala ceremony is planned for late October to slay the last of the bison. Cordons of sash and decorative partitions will encircle a 20-yard radius about the beast. Promoters are promising a lively affair and encourage spectators, travelers, and children to attend. Buffalo Bill will sing, perform his celebrated circus-show reenactment of the storming of Fort Flatgatt, and then, with great pomp, fire a thick volley of bullets into the animal. Top hats and ladies chapeaux are expected to be tossed about to the accompaniment of cheers, after which music will be played by Buffalo Bill's traveling brass and wicker band.

As part of the gala event, famed Indian villain 'Sitting Bull,' killer of Custer, will have his memory desecrated with great fanfare.

But, we are in Bangkok!

From today's Bangkok Post:

Tuesday, May 9, 2000

NEWNES lets the reader make the link:

I normally don't read obituaries; not that they make me uncomfortable, or anything like that. It's just that they usually are so full of boilerplate, ordinariness and that standard rebuff of flowers. And, unless the cause of death is catastrophic or the result of a colorful quarrel, the whole thing tapers out on a boring chime.

But, yesterday's International Herald Tribune carried the life of a most remarkable man. Bear with me and read the first paragraph; if you do, you'll not stop.

By Douglas Martin
New York Times Service

NEW YORK - Charles Boxer, 96, who was Britain's chief spy in Hong Kong in the tumultuous years leading up to World War II, a prominent historian of colonial empires although he never earned a college degree and a lead player in one of the most flamboyantly public love stories of the 1940s, died April 27 in a nursing home near his country residence northwest of London.

His achievements ranged from writing 330 books and articles about the origins and growth of the Dutch and Portuguese empires to holding professional chairs at five universities on both sides of the Atlantic to collecting a celebrated library of rare books.

But it was Mr. Boxer's breathtakingly public romance with Emily Hahn, the author of 52 books and a longtime contributor to The New Yorker magazine, that account for most of this fame. He was married to Ursula Norah Anstice Tulloch, a woman commonly called the most beautiful in Hong Kong, when he met and had an affair with Miss Hahn, the New Yorker's China correspondent, who herself was involved with one of China's leading intellectuals, Sinmay Zau.

Miss Hahn made the new romance - not to mention her avid opium addiction - a topic of discussion in her 1944 best seller, "China to Me." She told how she fell for Mr. Boxer immediately, even though she was friendly with his wife.

She wrote that he suggested having a child and offered to be legally responsible for the baby. A few weeks before the Japanese bombed Peal Harbor and the United States entered World War II, a daughter named Carola was born to the couple. After the Japanese took over Hong Kong, a British colony, Miss Hahn convinced the authorities that she was Eurasian and stayed on to carry food parcels to starving prisoners of war. Fearing for her daughter's safety, though, she led in 1943.

In March 1945, unconfirmed reports carried in American newspapers said the Japanese had executed Mr. Boxer. Miss Hahn said she refused to believe the rumor. In truth, another British officer had been executed, and Mr. Boxer was sentenced to a long term of hard labor as a result of being implicated in a secret radio-listening operation.

Upon his release at the end of the war, Mr. Boxer, by then divorced, told United Press that he intended to marry Miss Hahn as soon as possible. "I am going to make an honest woman of Mickey," he said, using her nickname. "It's high time, don't you think?"

Each step of his journey home was reported in the newspapers, from a flight delay in San Francisco, to Carola's excitement at spotting her father, to the couple's marriage by a justice of the peace in New Haven, Connecticut, after a judge granted a waiver of the standard five-day waiting period.

Miss Hahn died in 1997.

Charles Ralph Boxer was born on the Isle of Wight into a long line of admirals and generals, as well as affluent stockmen, who raised sheep in Tasmania and Australia.

After being rejected by the Royal Navy because of poor eyesight, he joined the army in 1923 and rose to the rank of major by the late 1930s.

From 1930 to 1933 he served as a language officer in Japan and became fluent in Japanese, Dutch, French, German and Portuguese. In 1936 he joined the British intelligence service and was assigned to Hong Kong. A 1993 article in the Canadian Journal of History cited his perspicacity in estimating the strong military threat posed by Japan at a time when many British analysts played down its capabilities.

He was severely wounded in December 1941 and after a long convalescence was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp for the duration of the war.

His rare book collection, which centered on the Dutch and Portuguese empires, was sufficiently celebrated in East Asia to be seized by the Japanese for the Imperial Library in Tokyo. He was able to recover most of it after the war.

In 1947, just as Mr. Boxer was realizing that he had little chance of advancement in the military, he was offered the position of Camoens Professor of Portuguese Studies at King's College, London.

Dearest reader, many of the suites have been abandoned. The lesser rooms, too.

The first siege engine leveled its attack shortly before dawn, while the floor attendants were still attending to the morning papers, croissants and coffees. Their great rams started their smash through the perimeter walls at the hotel's most vulnerable spot: the little room near the elevator where the attendants prepare the morning trays.

My excitable neighbor, Ms. Cawfield, a medievalist who stays in 1414 is always quick to run with the ball:

"To capture the scene in all of its horror one would have to go back to the Middle Ages, to the great siege of Malta: where the Knights of St. John tossed sheets of blistering lard over the screaming ranting infidels as these heathens clawed their miserable way up the ramparts. These defenders of the chalice, keepers of the Virgin's chastity and protectors of the sacred robe also knew that the battle would be lost."

I think that I am the only guest, aside from Ms. Cawfield, left on the 14th floor. Throughout the day people have come and gone taking with them salvageable bits of furniture and appliances. Beds have been stripped and broken down. Mini-bars wheeled out of the rooms. Curtains slipped from their rods. Paintings unhung from the walls. In my mind it's like end of term at boarding school.

Tomorrow I'm moving over to a pair of rooms in the old wing.

But, there is still a guest on the 16th floor of this building: Dan Quayle. I just rode with him on the elevator. I think he is checking out tomorrow.

Today's International Herald Tribune contained two disturbing photographs.

The first, of a disfigured woman, is captioned:

"Zahida Perveen's eyes are empty sockets of unseeing flesh, her earlobes have been sliced off, and her nose is a gaping, reddened stump of bone. She is one of thousands of Pakistani women who are maimed every year by men who believe their wives or daughters have brought dishonor to the family.

The second shows two children, and the print beneath the photograph says:

"MARRIED - A 6-year-old Indian girl crying at her wedding Monday to a boy, 10, in the northwestern state of Rajasthan. Though illegal, child marriages are common among some rural Hindus there."

Wednesday, May 10, 2000

Beatrice d'Este
A noble nun who appears to have taken a great interest in the affairs of her family, even after death. Whenever misfortune threatened the D'Estes, her body in the tomb made a great noise.

NEWNES nods toward the man who brought the world a "proper tea."

Piven and Borgenicht instruct you on the correct use of this little known and mostly misunderstood appliance. The keen reader will happily observe that today's health lesson is far less problematical than the one requiring a tracheotomy on the street.


Defibrillation is the delivery of a powerful electrical shock to the heart. (The defibrillator is the device used in movies and TV shows: two handheld pads are placed on the victim's chest while the actor yells, "Clear!") In the past, defibrillators were very heavy, expensive, needed regular maintenance, and were mostly found in hospitals. Now there are more portable units available. A defibrillator should be used only for Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), an electrical problem that cannot be helped by CPR.

How to Use a Defibrillator
  1. Turn on the defibrillator by pressing the green button. Most machines will provide both visual and voice prompts. Defibrillating
  2. First, remove the person's shirt and jewelry, then apply the pads to the chest as shown in the diagram displayed on the machine's LED panel. One pad should be placed on the upper right side of the chest, one on the lower left.
  3. Plug the pads into the connector. The defibrillator will analyze the patient and determine if he needs a shock. Do not touch the patient at this time.
  4. If the machine determines that a shock is needed, it will direct you - both audibly and with its visual prompts - to press the orange button to deliver the shock. Do not touch the patient after pressing the button. The machine will automatically check to see whether or not the patient needs a second shock and if so will direct you to press the orange button again. Note well: no amount of shocks will revive the patient if he/she is dead; continued abuse of the defibrillator, though amusing to watch, will only result in nasty odors.
  5. Check the patient's airway, breathing and pulse. If there is a pulse but the patient is not breathing, begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. If there is no pulse, repeat the defibrillation process - but not to the point where you are just 'playing' with the body.
Be Aware

A defibrillator should be used for a person experiencing sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), a condition where the heart's electrical signals become confused and the heart ceases to function. A person experiencing SCA will stop breathing, the pulse will slow or stop, and consciousness will be lost. The defibrillator is not a toy, and should not be treated as such.

This morning's Bangkok Post shows us that not all quirky family life is confined to Asia:


Rio de Janeiro - Geraldo and Sebastiana Castro haven't spoken since a Monday in May 35 years ago, when their seventh child was born with green eyes. Mr. Castro thought his wife had cheated on him with the local baker.

"Rumours," said Mrs. Castro, 65, who has honoured her husband's vow of silence with her since 1965, preferring to have her children or grandchildren talk to Mr. Castro for her. But the pair, who live in the town of Unai, say they love each other and understand each other very well. "A wife doesn't need to know that her husband loves her, it will make her arrogant," said Mr. Castro, 71. "In all of this silent time we have loved each other and we have made five more children."

Mrs. Castro, the mother of 12, explained how the last five children were conceived. "When he wants to go to bed with me, he just gives me a smack."

Mr. Castro says he has forgotten his accusations of infidelity but doesn't want to break the silence. - dpa

Dear reader, as this is my last morning that I shall spend with Gore Vidal, I'd very much like to show you a few pre-dawn views from his 14th floor. Sometime today everything will change for me. I'll be in another building. I'll be on another floor. I'll see at Bangkok from a different perspective. Change is hard.

Does anybody here remember Carlos? He was an international bad guy who made quite a name for himself by pulling off very clever capers. I think his career peaked when he kidnapped all of OPEC during one of their meetings back in the 70's. I don't think he was ever captured. And, I don't think there ever was a photograph of him. Only artist's sketches with sunglasses. He just disappeared off the face of the earth. Poof, he was gone ... just like that.

He is probably about my age right about now. For all I know he might be that other long term guest of the hotel: the fellow in 1210 who always dines with the Filipino singer.

But, where am I going with this? Let me back up.

What is remarkable about Dan Quayle is that He is so unremarkable. He blends so well into the background. He never attracts a second glance. Just another gray suit. You would never notice Him in an airport, at a rental car desk, in a restaurant, in a hotel lobby, at a fitness club, anywhere.

I'd traveled 14 floors with Him just yesterday. He was not two feet away from me. And I wouldn't have recognized Him had my friend in hotel security not pointed Him out.

But that was yesterday. I thought He'd already checked out of the place.

I was wrong!

But I wasn't sure that I was wrong when He stepped onto the stair climber. And I wasn't sure even when He left the gym.

The first guy who came into the gym was really beefy and big. He was dressed in a black workout suit and he had an American accent. Just another guest at that point.

About ten minutes later He came in. He got on the stair-master and kept His gaze fixed on the performance read-out. He didn't look at what was on the Fashion Channel. Since I knew Quayle was in the hotel ... and since the guy in black looked like a bodyguard…and since the guy on the stair-master looked like no one in particular, I guessed that He must be Quayle.

But, there was something wrong here.

Here I was, right next to Him. And right next to me was my little black bag ... in which I carry my camera, my room key and my wallet. But, it could have been a gun ... a bomb ... a knife ... and with one quick yank it could have been all over for the former VP. And the bodyguard, what was he doing? Just working out ... not paying any attention to his boss. No eye contact. Maybe I was wrong. But, could this be? Didn't the Secret Service swarm over their charges ... wasn't the 'man' always buffered by a safety zone ... weren't agents supposed to throw themselves on grenades ... take the bullet themselves?

Then He left. I checked the sign-in book. Sure enough, it was D. Quayle (room 1609 - the Oriental Suite).

I asked the guy in black if he worked for the Secret Service. He said "no." I told him that the guy on the stair-master was Quayle. He said: "Gee, I wouldn't have recognized him."

I am no longer amazed that there are successful assassinations. I am amazed that there are not more of them! I could have been Carlos.

But, who would want to kill Quayle? He's such an unremarkable guy.

Next: Bangkok Forever, Part III

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