Bangkok Forever? ... Part III

Back at the Oriental Hotel

Between Part II and Part IV

May 11-15, 2000

Thursday, May 11, 2000

Perhaps the Mergenthaler self-sharpening eyebrow pencil came before its time. More likely, "Linotype" (his other invention), was softer to the ear. NEWNES, in deadpan style, offers little more than his birth date:

It's hard to picture NEWNES jotting this down:

Glenway Wescott must have been pleased that the day's saints had so little to say about themselves; yet, they compliment each other like antique eclectic bookends. Somehow the reader walks away feeling a little warmer for having read about them:

Francis Jerome
1642 - 1716

A Neapolitan of great beauty, though wasted-looking, who was a celebrated preacher. His eloquence seemed supernatural, and when he spoke of sin, his squeaky little voice became a great strange leonine thing.

Job
DATE UNKNOWN

The stoic patriarch is also honored on this day, especially in the East. He is powerful against syphilis, ulcers, and melancholy.

Today's Bangkok Post, in its never ending curiosity with foreign curiosities, looks at a curious problem that haunts Japanese train schedulers on the heavily traveled JR East line:

MIRRORS ON TRACKS TO FOIL THE SUICIDAL

Tokyo, AFP

Japanese officials plan to put up big mirrors on railway platforms to stop suicidal passengers leaping on to the tracks, East Japan Railway said yesterday.

The idea is that people see their reflections in the mirrors and think again, said the railway company which carries a world-record 16 million passengers a day.

"We have been consulting with a number of psychiatrists on how to reduce the number of suicides," said East Japan Railway (JR East) spokesman Masahiko Horiuchi.

"When they see their own reflections in the mirror they come to their senses and this may help us deter suicides."

To test the theory, the railway will put up one mirror at Tokyo's central Shinjuku station, which handles on average 756,000 passengers a day, and another in western Tokyo's Ogikubo station, he said.

The 1.5-by-2.0 metre mirrors will be placed on the opposite side of the tracks in the most popular spot for suicides.

There were 212 suicides at JR East railway stations in the past fiscal year.

"A suicide delays train schedules and it usually takes us 50 minutes to restore the schedules," said Mr. Horiuchi. "In one incident, it took us three hours to restore train schedules as we searched for a missing head."

Suicide, murder or accident. It had to be one of the three.

The boatman jumped up and down and pointed to something bobbing in the water. FloaterAside from the driver and the boatman, I was the only person on board. The Oriental's shuttle was heading west across the river toward the Spa shore when the boatman spotted it. People on other boats saw it, also. I am not sure if anyone stopped to pick it up. Perhaps it just continued its tidal drift.

This morning's Bangkok Post made no mention of it. So, I guess he wasn't important enough; or maybe he just didn't die in a newsworthy way.

My friend is going away with her family for a few days; she won't be back until Monday. As I'll have a lot more free during the balance of the week, I'll try to show you some of the quirkier sides of Bangkok. Anyway, last night we took a popular river cruise. Look what my Sony Mavica's "Neg. Art" option did to the Thai Farmer's Bank building. It was kinder to my friend; but she always looks good, whatever the option.

But, before we venture out let me show you around my new quarters. I've moved from Gore Vidal's place on the 14th floor to a pair of rooms that only carry digits on their doors; Numbered Roomperhaps they are "numbered" after famous prisoners. Though, being sequential, that is unlikely. Hmmm ... .I wonder if numbers of "great" criminals are ever "retired" like those of world-class athletes? Was O.J.'s number retired? And, had he been convicted would he have wanted to ... but, forget it ... down that road lays silliness.

Ah ... speaking of crimes ... today, while waiting for the boat to take me to lunch, I was chatting idly with one of the dock hostesses. She told me that the man found drifting and very dead in front of the hotel yesterday afternoon had been murdered. Well, at least he had been shot ... and, presumably not by himself, as the entry wound was in his back. Shortly after the body was discovered floating face down, I rushed into print with a photograph of it bobbing away. Have you seen it? Unfortunately, I didn't have my mini-video Mavica with me ... otherwise you would have been able to see how little buoyancy a corpse really has. Even a small wave chop and the whole thing is lost from view. Only when the body is between crests ... or when the water is very still ... does the real-dead floating body look like the movie-dead floating body. But, as you can see from the photograph, it is only the rear of the head and the upper back that cleanly breaks the water surface. Presumably, the lesser extremes of the remains dangle below the more buoyant parts: those bits with chambers that either naturally contain air or, due to putrefaction, have been puffed up with gases.

Anyway, here are some shots of my new place. This'll be my home for the next six or seven weeks; maybe even longer if the contractors working on the suites find unforeseen problems.


Friday, May 12, 2000

Wescott never speculates as to why saints do not come in pairs…they never seem to marry one another, or even share an apartment. This is true even when they live in the same town at the same time. The reader is left to conclude that saints are basically loners. Allowed to wander further, the reader may even conclude that saints don't even like to be near other saints…in time or place. Was yesterday's "nut" today's saint; or vice versa? Wescott allows us to arrive at our own conclusions.

Pancras
FOURTH CENTURY

This Phrygian boy would not deny his faith, and for centuries after his death came and tormented those who swore falsely.

Imelda Lambertini
DIED 1333

A little girl who never knew a moment's frivolity. One day, unable to feel the presence of God, she sat weeping about it. Suddenly the bread of the sacrament fell from heaven; a priest caught it on a patten (platter?), and gave it to her; and she died of joy. She was then only eleven.

NEWNES finds one dead pope, one dead astronomer and one dead critic. Taking their place: one king, one composer and one nursing pioneer.

Researchers at the History Channel up the voltage with:

According to the Bangkok Post, Mahayana Buddhists celebrated the birthday of Lord Buddha yesterday. It would have been his 2544th birthday had he been alive. Here in Thailand, Buddhists will celebrate the birth, death and enlightenment of the Buddha next Wednesday with the Visakha Puja festival.

Emptiness Reigns

Dear reader, at this point The Oriental is like a giant ocean liner that has been forsaken by most of its passengers. Though a full company of crew is aboard, this ship is sailing with a skeleton guest list. My friend from the front office told me that just 48 rooms are now occupied by clients. ALIMAK's forces have seized all the rest. Figuring on two people to a room ... safe, as I haven't seen any young kids about ... that's just 96 of us on board at the max. Since I'm taking up two rooms with just myself, the total now drops to 93 if we count all the other beds as being occupied. As that is rarely the case, I guess that the total number is closer to 70. My friend also told me that the number of staff is holding firm at 1,020. And all nine kitchens are in operation. Wow! That's about eight guests per dining facility ... and 14 to 15 staff per client. And, it is going to be this way for just over a month. What a wonderful time to be living in The Oriental!


Saturday, May 13, 2000

NEWNES, coming up with yet another man who made the dictionary:

And:

From today's Bangkok Post:

"The baht closed stronger in a volatile session yesterday. It opened at 38.755 to the US dollar, dropping as low as 39.005 before gaining to end at 38.835/91 on strong dollar sales by exporters."

In a nearby paragraph, the Bangkok Post quoted Bill Clinton on the sex scandal involving his wife's Senate rival, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani: "People in public life have challenges and difficulties like people in other kinds of life do."

Gerard of Villamagna
THIRTEENTH CENTURY
A peasant boy who went on two crusades with different noblemen, and made a great reputation. Upon his return, people came from far and wide to see him and hear his stories. Toward the end of his life, too weak to go to market, the old soldier appeared to live on cherries; but the pilgrims could never find any fruit on his tree.

Late yesterday afternoon, just after the presses closed, yet another benefit of Oriental tenancy surfaced, albeit all too briefly. Supermodel WeddingNot only do bland and boring pols bring their worn out bodies to The Oriental ... the hotel is also the first choice among the "better" set when freshening up a relationship. On average, The Oriental boasts three wedding receptions per week. Of course, most of them are bunched in on Saturday, but other days of the week aren't immune. I get to see most of them, as getting to the Business Center on these days requires a walk right through the reception line. Most of them are all too typical: bride looking better than she ever will again in her life, lots of little kids underfoot, mixed bag of guests who have little in common, no TV coverage. Yesterday's nuptial celebration was a splendid treat as the bride was one of Thailand's "super-models." Fitting her station, her entourage was not just a selection of sniveling brats of a friend: they were "super-models" in their own right. And, aside from the obligatory parents, most of the invited guests were also "super-models." The majority of the faces can usually be found at www.thaisupermodel.com.

The latest bulletin from the "front" is not good. Apparently the ALIMAK siege machine did not stop rolling when the last of our vastly out-numbered guests fled from their suites. Your reporter was one of the few still to be in the building when it fell, due to a mix up with his room service breakfast order. Anyway, not content with looting the mini-bars, vandalously ripping out the plumbing and pillaging the bathroom amenities, these plundering Huns negligently allowed builders rubble to spill toward the concierge's desk and the tiny lobby flower stall… which scared the children and their nannies no end. Grief was everywhere!

By late in the afternoon the news was bad. Very bad! As of 10 hundred hours tomorrow the following draconian measures will be taken by our defenders:

  1. All restaurants, with the exception of the outdoor Verandah facilities, will be closed from 10 hundred hours until 16 thirty hours. However, the Sala Rim Naam restaurant, located on the other side of the river (and, apparently out of gun range), will "serve an excellent Thai buffet, on a complimentary basis."
  2. Again, from 10 hundred hours until 16 thirty hours, no air-conditioning will be available in any of the besieged hotel facilities. Evacuation ShipThe rationing of cool air will spread from public areas to private areas as the need arises.
  3. A sea-lift from the facilities may be necessary if the conditions worsen. Arrangements have been made for The Oriental Queen to evacuate guests to the ancient Thai capital of Ayudhaya if things get nasty. Should this be necessary, boarding will begin at 8 hundred hours (Mother's Day). Suite-entitled guests will embark first so that they can comfortably and leisurely locate seats with the best views. The totally blind, the hopelessly crippled and the really old will then be given a green light. Pregnant women and tiny children are next in line. Others may follow at their convenience. As it is expected that the suite-entitled guests will be bringing lots of luggage with them, the others should expect delays, and not assistance.

Sunday, May 14, 2000 (Mother's Day)

This is a very special day for my daughter, Annie, and I. We have something in common here that none of the other Erickson children can even hope to share. Annie, I hope that this little ditty from the History Channel will chill your heart, as it did mine:

THE REMARKABLE WOMAN WHO STARTED MOTHER'S DAY
... AND LIVED TO REGRET IT!

Racked with guilt when her mother dies in 1905, fearing that she wasn't a good enough daughter, schoolteacher Anna Jarvis vows to honor her beloved mother by creating a new national holiday. She launches an extraordinary one-person campaign.

And in 1914, President Wilson establishes Mother's Day on the second Sunday in May, the anniversary of Anna's mother's death. But the triumph turns to tears. Anna is appalled at the growing commercialism of the holiday and spends all of her money trying to fight it.

She dies penniless, childless and embittered in a room filled with Mother's Day cards ... 'thank you's' sent by strangers ... for a day she'd come to dread.

Dear reader, the above paragraphs sound suspiciously as if our very own Glenway Wescott had dropped them on the page. Don't you think? I wonder if Anna Jarvis's name is now working its way through those Byzantine corridors over in the Vatican's canonization department. Checking Wescott for May 14th reveals no dyed-in-the-wool saints who couldn't be shoved aside for Ms. Jarvis. Just an ex-gigolo who gave up skirts for Jesus; more about him tomorrow.

Yesterday, I made a mistake with NEWNES. What was "for" yesterday was meant for today. So, what follows here should have been posted yesterday:

The other day, last Thursday I think it was, I reported on a newspaper article about suicides in Japan. You know, the ones in which unhappy "salarymen" hurled themselves in front of speeding bullet trains ... and JR East, the operators of the trains, figured that mirrors just might give pause to these would be jumpers. Well, that wasn't JR East's first attempt to curtail these embarrassing disruptions of service. Gillian Tett in yesterday's Financial Times carries the ball a little further:

"In previous decades, railway tracks were not a common location for suicides in Japan, since Japanese culture strongly disapproves of methods of suicide which cause 'embarrassing' public disruption. Consequently, most suicides tend to use more 'discreet' methods, such as hanging."

"However, JR East, which handles 16m passengers each day, admits that it had 212 suicides on its tracks last year, while the other Japanese carriers are believed to have experienced slightly lower numbers."

"The deaths have disrupted services - an unusual phenomenon in a country where the railways are usually extremely punctual. 'We usually have to stop the train for 30 to 40 minutes [after a suicide],' says one JR East official, who says the company gets flooded with angry complaints from the public when this occurs."

"The company has already attempted to stop these deaths by charging the families of suicide victims with the cost of any railway disruptions or damages caused by the death, which can reach ¥10m ($92,000). However, this has had little success."

Who is this girl?

The Bangkok Post, aware that its readers (mostly hotel guests) have tabloid tastes, has culled the world's wire services to make them feel at home. Taking up more column inches than the adjacent article dealing with the trillion dollar total collapse of the Nasdaq, a non-bylined AP report from Portugal reveals the so-called "third secret of Fatima."

Dear reader, this is sort of a Catholic thing. So, if the facts of this case don't ring a bell it's because you didn't have to spend any time as a kid in a catechism class learning about not eating fish on Friday, mortal versus venial sins, infallibility of popes, etc. For those of us who had to suffer this route, the thing that frustrated us the most was knowledge that the third secret was being kept from us.

Briefly here are the facts: "Believers hold that the mother of Christ appeared before three shepherd children in 1917 in Fatima and gave them three prophesies, two of which have been reported: a vision of 'hell,' interpreted as World War II, and the rise and fall of Soviet communism."

The article, in part, goes on:

"After decades of speculation, the Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Angelo Sodano said yesterday that the 'third part of the secret of Fatima' speaks of a bishop 'clothed in white' who 'falls to the ground, apparently dead, under a burst of gunfire'."

"Cardinal Sodano recalled that Pope John Paul has credited the Virgin of Fatima with intervening after he was shot by a Turkish gunman in St. Peter's square on May 13, 1981 - the anniversary of the first reported vision of the Virgin of Fatima in 1917."

"Many in the crowd applauded when they heard the long-awaited third secret, announced at the end of the Pope's Mass. Some said they were eager to hear more details while others expressed disappointment that the secret did not foretell a momentous event, as many had speculated."

"The Pope beatified two of the shepherd children yesterday during a 24-hour visit to Fatima. Beatification is the final step before sainthood."

Near the end of the AP story it is revealed that one of the bullets fired into the Pope has been placed in the crown of the statue of the Virgin Mary at Fatima.

Easily shifting gears, as is the want of a good tabloid, the Post again finds gold in its AP wire service agreement:

NIGERIANS EXECUTED

Riyadh - Saudi Arabia beheaded seven Nigerians yesterday for armed robbery, in what is thought to be the country's largest execution in 20 years. Authorities amputated the right hands and left feet of three other Nigerians involved in the same bank heist, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. The executions took place in the Red Sea port city of Jiddah. The Nigerians had stolen a car to rob a bank, where they threatened the employees with cleavers, the ministry said. - AP


Monday, May 15, 2000 (Royal Ploughing Ceremony Day)

This day would be just May 15th to you and I had it not been for the helpful reminder service provided by the Public Relations Department of The Oriental Hotel:

"The Royal Ploughing Ceremony is a religious ceremony whereby rice seeds are blessed by Buddhist monks and distributed to farmers as good luck. Graceful Brahminical processions in white and gold costumes with soldiers in red will take place at the Royal Grandstand in front of the Royal Palace, followed by the first royal plough of the year. The ceremony is presided over by His Majesty the King."

It probably goes without saying that Government offices will be closed; of course, everything else will be open.

Caesarea
DATE UNKNOWN

When this girl's mother died, her father could not live without a woman, and he wanted her because she looked like her mother. She was afraid, and told him that she would bathe first, and tied two pigeons in the bath-tub so that he could hear them splashing, and thus escaped. He set out after her, and saw her from afar fleeing along the sea-shore. Then a heavy fog arose, and he stumbled off the rocks and was drowned.

Yesterday's forgotten saint ... the one who could easily be swept aside for Anna…

Boniface
DIED 307

This Boniface was a man-servant who for years was the lover of the rich Roman lady he worked for. Upon his conversion he left her and went East, where he fell into the hands of the Saracens and was killed. NO doubt his mistress loved him still, she built a chapel for his remains. She was also canonized.

The "ticks" on the Geiger counter? From him or his wife? NEWNES doesn't say:

Dear reader, while an inconclusive battle raged here in Bangkok between the black hats and the good guys, the rest of us sailed up the river to Ayutthaya, the kingdom's capital for four centuries. I am pleased with what my Sony Mavica saw.


I don't know if I'll be able to put my hands on it. I think I discovered it while we were in London for the Millennium. Probably ... as the piece had to do with the adoption of something called "e-time." Anyway, this "e-time" was supposed to be the worldwide standard for time stamps on e-mails. For example, if Paul sent me a message from Seattle (which probably got rerouted through New York and Virginia, being the homes of our respective servers), that message should arrive in my Bangkok mailbox with an "e-time" stamp; presumably reflecting the same time as the big clock in Greenwich, England. And, vice versa. Good idea? Yes, that way everybody would know when something was sent (or, delivered?).

OK, I found it:

GREENWICH TO BE CENTRE OF E-TIME

"The historic status of Greenwich as the home of time is to be assured for the new millennium under a scheme to make the London site the global time-keeper for the Internet."

"Tony Blair will this week announce the creation of Greenwich Electronic Time - known as GeT - to act as an international standard for all electronic commerce."

"The move will provide a 24-hour clock for Internet traders and users around the world in the same way that Greenwich Mean Time has helped travelers to keep time since 1884. Then the world's 25 leading nations agreed the need for a single time reference based around a uniform nautical and astronomical 24-hour day."

"The project will give all Internet companies and consumers a single time standard."

"All e-mail messages and e-commerce transactions already carry a 'time stamp' based on Co-ordinated Universal Time - the modern equivalent of GMT. But most computer clocks have software which converts e-mail and message dates into local time. Supporters of GeT argue that although this is suitable for personal e-mails, it is not workable for worldwide trading."

I wasn't too far off with my memory.

Now, to the point. Whenever I have received or sent e-mail from Bangkok, using America On Line, the date stamp in the AOL header has read something like this ... I'll use today's date:

Subj: Photographs for journal
Date: 15/5/43 14:02 Bangkok Standard Time
From: Paul Fjelstad
To: Alf Erickson

Notice the date: day first, month second, followed by the year. Hah! But, you say, "Silly goose, it is 2000, not 1943 ... when we bombed the bridge over the River Kwai did the shock wave mess with the clocks? Ha. Ha. Ha."

OK, go reread the last paragraph of the article in The Times; in particular the middle sentence: "But most computer clocks have software which converts e-mail and message dates into local time."

So, you might well ask, what is "43," if not a year of blackout curtains and ration books? The answer lies in one more cut and paste.

Last Friday I reported:

"According to the Bangkok Post, Mahayana Buddhists celebrated the birthday of Lord Buddha yesterday. It would have been his 2544th birthday had he been alive. Here in Thailand, Buddhists will celebrate the birth, death and enlightenment of the Buddha next Wednesday with the Visakha Puja festival."

If my theory is correct, the little date stamp on all of my AOL message will change from "43" to "44" on this Wednesday at midnight, Bangkok time. The reason: local time is days, months and years after Lord Buddha…did something.

Unfortunately, I have not dug into why "15/5" precedes the year. Perhaps Pope Gregory XIII was more widely read than I thought.

Next: Bangkok Forever, Part IV

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