Bangkok Forever? ... Part IV

Back at the Oriental Hotel

Between Part III and Part V

May 16-20, 2000

Tuesday, May 16, 2000

For a while nothing was happening a hundred, seventy-five or fifty years ago. The odd literary gaff in Paris, a hotly fought over political plumb in Boston, a human-interest dog story out of Dublin; not much else. Today is brighter:

IN OUR PAGES 75 AND 50 YEARS AGO
[from the International Herald Tribune]
1925: Views on Voting

ROME - The administrative vote was approved by acclimation in the Chamber of Deputies today [May 15] after a vigorous discourse by Signor Mussolini. In his speech, the Premier revealed a just apprehension of woman's claims and a certain veiled irony for the exaggerated importance given to the subject, in view of what he termed the "fundamental nature of women in general and the Italian woman in particular," as being based, he asserted, on love. The Premier said, "Family life will not be influenced by the woman's vote. If the woman loves her husband, she will vote as she does. If she does not love him, she has already voted against him."

1950: De-Lousing Film

HOLLYWOOD - The film industry needs a "complete delousing of hard-bitten, revolutionary Communists," the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals said today [May 15]. The group, which consists of actors, actresses, directors, writers and union leaders, estimated that 100 of the 30,000 film workers were subversive Communists."

Meanwhile, 40 YEARS AGO in the Bangkok Post:

"The public television set on Luk Nuang Road beside Klong Padung Krung Kasem was stolen from its stand about 5 a.m. Sunday."

This obituary, I think, reflects the flavor of what has become my morning read:

ALEXANDER MACDONALD, POST FOUNDER

"Alexander MacDonald, founder of the Bangkok Post, first became interested in journalism at a young age."

"He studied journalism at Boston University. After graduation, he worked as a reporter and junior editor at newspapers in several states - his native Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Hawaii."

"He entered the US Army after Japan attacked Pearl Harbour in December, 1941. He was recruited for the Office of Strategic Services, and sent to the Pacific area. He wound up with Jim Thompson and others in the Burma theatre."

"During World War II, he worked with the Free Thai Movement against the Japanese. His close association with Pridi Banomyong - Agent Ruth - and others bound him closely to Thailand, a country he came to love."

" 'I just did not want to leave Bangkok' after the war, he wrote in his biography, 'Bangkok Editor'. 'I wanted to stay in Siam'."

"In 1946, he took a 10% stake in the new Post Publishing Company. On August 1, he and a few Thais and foreigners put out the first edition of the Bangkok Post."

"For the next eight years, MacDonald worked day and night to make the Post a success, both journalistically and economically. Censorship and government repression were his chief reporting problems. And a small but thankfully news-starved foreign community made up his initial readership."

"Ever since he founded the paper, MacDonald was plagued by rumours that the new, post-OSS Central Intelligence Agency helped finance his venture into publishing."

" 'Nothing could be further from the truth', he wrote in 1982 for a Bangkok Post supplement. Post Publishing was capitalized at 350,000 baht, and MacDonald had only a 10% stake - a modest investment even in 1946. Politics, however, had a lot to do with the struggling newspaper. To his surprise, MacDonald found out that Pridi not only refused to end censorship of the Bangkok Post, he supported it. And after Field Marshal Pibulsonggram staged a coup to oust Pridi, things got worse."

"One of his co-founders, Thawi Thawedikul, was assassinated during the coup. Another, Prasit Lulitanond, was imprisoned. MacDonald himself, although he has seldom commented on the details, was under intense pressure and received threats from government agents for being 'pro-Pridi'."

"MacDonald was busy assembling a team of newsmen. Although women were part of it from the start, the editor called his staff 'the Postmen'. The newspaper printed six days a week, with Saturdays off. For years, each page was formally censored, and the morning news was seldom fresher than noon the previous day."

"In an article for the Post's third-cycle anniversary in 1982, MacDonald described his core staff:"

" 'We were a very mixed but wonderful bag. As city editor, a Shanghai born German; as foreign news editor, an Indian from Madras; as political reporter, a wonderfully loyal but somewhat alcoholic Thai; as general reporter, a hugely talented Chinese-Thai; a resourceful bilingual English-Thai proof-reader, and a score of Thai reporters, printers, office people and distributors'."

"The first major story the Post covered was a corruption story. A major shareholder and director of the newspaper was prosecuted as a result. This was a sign that MacDonald's newspaper would report facts without favour."

"The next major story was the Pibulsonggram coup. It was a painful event for MacDonald and many staff. The American had been personally close to Pridi during the war. For several years, Pibulsonggram and his associate Phao Sriyanond ran a relatively harsh government, and often harassed the Bangkok Post."

"After several years, MacDonald was forced out of the editorship and out of Thailand by the regime's harassment."

"He eventually returned to America, where he resettled in Marblehead, Massachusetts, editing a weekly newspaper but never losing touch with his Bangkok Post."

NEWNES'S continuing kindness to the obscure surely has earned him something, wherever he is:

BULLETIN BULLETIN BULLETIN BULLETIN BULLETIN

ALIMAK's sappers seize control of Oriental lawn after furious battle leaves many dazed and dirty.


Wednesday, May 17, 2000 (Visakha Bucha Day)

Here in my cocoon, yet another holy of holies would have passed unnoted had it not been for the helpful pen of The Oriental's Public Relations Department:

"Wednesday 17 May is Visakha Bucha Day, the holiest of all Buddhist days during the year, marking the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. As it is a national holiday, banks, government and business offices and many shops will be closed. Department stores, however, will be open as usual for your shopping pleasure."

"On this day, people throughout the country will go to temples to listen to sermons by revered monks and will offer food to monks, free captive birds and fish. In the evening, there will be a candlelit procession around the main building of important temples."

Yesterday a rather strange photograph centered itself in the "HOME" section of the Bangkok Post. The caption read: "A boy studies the golden image of soccer player David Beckham at a Buddhist temple in Bangkok." The full Reuters story is worth repeating, as there is a follow-up item in today's edition of the Post:

FOOTBALL FAN GLORIFIES BECKHAM IN TEMPLE
Gold-leaf Statue of Man-U Midfielder

"David Beckham has been immortalized by a Bangkok fan who has carved a sculpture of the Manchester United midfielder in a temple at a spot normally reserved for deities."

Soccer Icon

"A 0.3m-high statue of Beckham covered in gold leaf has been placed at the foot of the main Buddha image in Wat Pariwas alongside nearly 100 other statues of minor deities."

"'Football has become a religion and has millions of followers. So, to be up to date, we have to open our minds and share the feeling of millions of people who admire Beckham,' said Phra Chan Theerapunyou."

"Sculptor Thongruang Haemhod made the Beckham image to keep his memory alive for the next 1,000 years, he said."

"'This is contemporary art and we want the people of this and the next generation to know what was going on in the year 2000,' the senior monk said."

"The image shows Beckham with a full head of hair - before his US$470 (18,400 baht) crew cut, dubbed a 'short, back and sides.'" - Reuters

This morning, the Bangkok Post carried the following story on its front page (below the fold):

BUDDHISM
Officials in a Tizzy Over 'Blasphemous' Beckham Sculpture

"The gilt sculpture of David Beckham in Wat Paiwas has left spiritual officials with some soul searching."

"The 0.3m statue of the Manchester United midfielder, carved by a sculptor who is also an avid fan, is on the pedestal of the temple's Buddha image, a spot reserved for minor deities."

"Suthipong Tantayapisarnsuth, deputy director general of the Religious Affairs Department, said: 'It is not suitable to create divergent styles of Buddha images because it is the most sacred thing for Thais and it is the national religion.'"

"The department would send officials to check the Buddha pedestal and decide if it is blasphemous."

"However, he conceded: 'There are no exact rules governing the pedestal of Buddha ... as long as it does not include women.'" - AFP

But, what effect will this whole David Beckham thing have on the markets? If the introduction of "divergent styles of Buddha images" was confined to just its impact on the Thai bhat the US Federal Reserve would not have insisted that the FOMC (the Fed's policy-making open market committee) factor this into its once gradualist approach to monetary policy.

Foreign currency dealers had largely discounted the effect on the bhat. In fact, the Thai bhat bounced back from a fresh seven-month intra-day low of 39.38 per dollar in late Asia trade yesterday due to dollar profit-taking by offshore parties. Alan Greenspan"The baht bounced back a bit as offshore players took profit from recent gains of the dollar to square positions," said a dealer at a major Thai bank. Clearly no one was shorting the bhat over this "Buddha affront," as one wag called it.

In Washington the idea that one could put a 0.3m statue of a Manchester United midfielder on a pedestal, without it creating serious waves further out on the financial pond was considered naïve. All sorts of unknowns, such as the seasonally adjusted consumer price index (excluding food and energy) for April, would have to be "refactorized" if the statue was allowed a permanent place on the pedestal. Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, repeated his now familiar concern that the rapid pace of demand growth was outstripping supply. With an uncharacteristic swipe at two sacred cows, Greenspan said, "You can't mix sports and gods and hope to come up with something sensible."


Thursday, May 18, 2000

In the past, Wescott has brought us a lot of saints who just don't cut the mustard. Admittedly, I have not been as critical as I should have been; and I know that it's a weak excuse that I have had no other source for the product; that I have had to make do with what sits on the shelf. Oh, sure, occasionally I have had to completely "pass" on a saint, being too embarrassed by his total lack of duplicity or complete absence of absurdity to deem him worthy of even a peripheral inclusion. But, I think today's selection makes up for yesterday's "weak sisters". Don't you?

Venantius
DIED 250
"Having been tortured almost to death, this eighteen-year-old youth was thrown out on a dung-heap. An angel appeared on it, dressed his wounds, and led him back to the judge, who, in his astonishment, fell down and denied his pagan gods and died. Then the young man was thrown to the lions, but they lay down before him. He was rolled in thorns, which did not even scratch him; and the fall from a high precipice broke none of his bones. At last, as usual, when more picturesque executions failed, he was beheaded."

Had I not read this myself I would have thought that I made it up. Not so! It comes from www.historychannel.com. However, I don't know how this thing is tied to today, May 18th.

THE REVOLUTIONARY TECHNOLOGY INVENTED BY A HOLLYWOOD BEAUTY

"As a teenager, Hedy Lamarr starred in the movies' first nude scene."

"In the '40's she dazzled audiences with her beauty."

"But behind that sexy demeanor lurked a brain bent on technology."

"In 1942, Lamarr patented an invention to prevent the jamming of radio-controlled torpedoes. Her innovation was "frequency hopping" - signals that constantly switch frequencies to make interception impossible."

"It was way ahead of its time…and wasn't put to use until the Cuban Missile Crisis 20 years later."

"Today, its a critical part of cell phone technology."

"Thanks to an actress who was 'heady' in every sense of the word."

NEWNES brings us the birthday of someone about who either more or less should have been written. It is one thing to say that "SoAndSo, inventor, born"; or, even "SoAndSo, inventor of self-righting lifeboats, born." But, the halfway house doesn't work:

He is better with:

Dear reader, I am only surprised that it took this long. Though the Internet has been peppered with a number of amusing "death dot-com" sites for a long time (see my Useless Site), the serious (Useful) offerings in the field are just starting to blossom. Today's IHT works a front-page story with this catchy lead:

DEATH PROVES LIVELY SOURCE OF ONLINE BUSINESS FOR FUNERAL FIRMS

A number of mortuaries are offering live Webcasts of funerals and wakes for those who can't - or choose not to - pay their respects in person.

Need a coffin? Try www.paylesscaskets.com.

Want your uncle's memory to live on forever? Consider a posting at www.legacy.com.

To view a loved one's headstone, try www.HeavenlyDoor.com.

Customers can now order caskets, urns and funeral accessories as easily as they might order a compact disk. One site even offers the opportunity to leave behind a posthumous message, essentially an e-mail from beyond the grave.

The business www.FinalThoughts.com, based in Hollywood, has grabbed attention with its posthumous e-mail service, which allows people to leave final messages for relatives and friends. Todd Michael Krim, the firm's founder, envisions the site as an 'end of life portal,' with memorials, estate-planning information, chat rooms and other services.

Executives of these death dot-coms say they will limit advertisements in the interests of taste.

Nevertheless the funeral field is crowded with Web sites of dubious origin and questionable decorum, causing consumer groups to worry.

We are seeing a lot of new mischief with this new technology.

Dear reader, you'd have thought that The Oriental itself had passed through the final portal, judging from these photographs of the pool and the main building. Taken yesterday, they clearly show how complete has been the exodus. But, is this a Phoenix?

I found an old roll of film lying in the bottom of my camera bag. Apparently these pictures were taken right after I moved into my new quarters here in the Garden Wing. Lest you think that The Oriental only has rooms and windows that face toward the river, here is the view from my back porch. The first shot shows the access road to the hotel; while the second view is an over-the-shoulder look at the neighboring Catholic college and its church. Cutting through the campus is the shortcut to Silom Road that avoids most of the hawkers.


Friday, May 19, 2000

This morning opens with five "identical" photographs of a storm that was just starting to roll in to compete with last night's sunset over on the Thon Buri side of the river. The building in the foreground houses my favorite in-house Thai restaurant: Baan Rim Naam. The river, of course, is the Chao Phraya. The five photographs were colored, sequentially, in "wysiwyg" color, negative color, sepia, black and white…finally, there is one that has been solarized.

All of today's important deaths differ: one just died; another lost her head; the last one met with misfortune. NEWNES also provides the dates:

NEWNES tells us little about this treaty:

Dunstan
925 - 988

In his youth, Dunstan was believed to have dabbled in magic. He did not then want to be a priest, feeling that he might need to marry; but after a severe illness the flesh no longer seemed worth taking into account. Having been ordained, he lived in a room five feet long and half as wide, and made a great reputation as a goldsmith or silversmith. His reputation as a visionary and a moral censor grew greater still. It seemed that he stood for God in the minds of the series of English kings who then succeeded each other rapidly and irregularly - in disgrace when they happened to be immoral, in power when they were repentant or naturally good.

His kindness was proverbial. School-boys used to invoke him when they were about to be flogged, and he seemed to put some of the teachers to sleep, in the midst of their foolish brutality: the canes fell to the floor, and the excited boys got away.

Co-billed is a lawyer:

Ives of Brittany
1253 - 1303

Ives, or Ivo, of Yvo, was a lawyer who handled the cases of widows and orphans free of charge.

He is the patron of legists of all sorts.

The Bangkok Post is certainly getting full value from its Associated Press subscription service. Along with full coverage of the second Test (cricket) between West Indies and Pakistan, its readers can follow some of the more "sub-rosa" quirks of European sports; well, of European sports memorabilia, anyway. Today's curiosity is a photo of a man holding a framed bit of sod. Precious Sod It is captioned:

"Chelsea owner Ken Bates yesterday paid £20,000 (US$30,000) for a piece of Wembley turf made famous by England's controversial third goal against West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final. The small piece of turf marks the spot where the ball bounced after Geoff Hurst's shot had hit the crossbar. - AP"

Dear reader, it's really not a big world. Guess whom I met at the Spa this afternoon. Liz Cohen! For any of you who followed last December's gripping elephant polo tournament you will remember her as the team coordinator for my Screwy Tuskers team. Screwy TuskersBut, for those of you who have no idea of what I am talking about here is a link to those thrilling days. Anyway, she is here in Bangkok for some brief R&R before heading out on a three-week trek from Nepal to Tibet. I hope that she can again be at Tiger Tops in December.

It is pouring rain and I don't feel like leaving the hotel. It's almost 7PM. Becky's jackets are ready; at least A. Song (tailor) promised they would be ready. If I pick them up this evening I'll be able to FedEx them to France tomorrow and Becky will be able to wear them sometime mid-week. You see, A. Song is a remarkable tailor; if you give him an item he can duplicate it to perfection. As Becky is French, perfection is her standard. As I am in Bangkok, I am the middleman. So, I did it.


Saturday, May 20, 2000

Didn't he just die? Back on Furry Day?

NEWNES again offers for poolside reading:

Equally light:

But, for raw American power; back in the days when "carrying a big stick" meant something:

Your diarist modestly admits that '56 was also the year that his first automobile rolled off the assembly line. It was a Chevy BelAir, powered by a 210hp V8. "Chopped, sectioned, lowered and shaved," fitted with dual "Golden Tone" mufflers, protected with clear vinyl seat covers and matching Chevy-logo floor mats ... it was the coolest machine on Las Olas Boulevard. Capable of a sub-8 "zero to sixty," the only thing than came close to it was a Pontiac fitted with a Mallory ignition and a Jensen blower.

From the Bangkok Post "FORTY YEARS AGO":

"Film director Alfred Hitchcock says if he cannot film a chase sequence in Wat Arun, he will not make a movie here."

Was that movie ever made? If so, what is its name? And, did it have the chase sequence in Wat Arun? The first person to submit the correct answer may be entitled to an all expenses paid holiday in Bangkok. Please send entries to Alf@corkscrew-balloon.com.

Civil disturbances in Peru, Fiji, Guadalcanal, and Paraguay cloud the front page of the Post. However, The Onion takes us back to the turn of the century when "Adolf" was the most popular name for boys, when the most preferred sheet music of the day was "Our God is a Vengeful God" and when Sears was a cutting edge name in retail marketing:

SEARS, ROEBUCK PLEAD 'NOT GUILTY' TO PORNOGRAPHY CHARGES
Noted Merchants Accused of Scandalous Etchings of Under-Garments in Catalogue Racy Spread Depicts All Manner of Corsets, Bodices, Night-Wear

Chicago, May 19 - Sears, Roebuck and Co., the famed Chicago mail-order entrepreneur of curious reputation, whose catalogue wish-books have proven greatly popular with settlers of the Great Plains and other outlying reaches of the Republic, pleaded not guilty to-day in a federal court to charges of sedition and corruption of the morality and virtue of American's manhood via distribution of pornography and obscenity through the nation's mails.

"Our catalogue is nothing more than a listing of household items readily available to the citizenry at a substantial discount," said Richard Sears, the merchant and warehouse wholesaler whose shipping business, co-founded with Alvah C. Roebuck in 1893, has revolutionized commerce on the frontier, from his place on the witness stand, where he and his partner stood accused.

Satan's Hand Maidens

Nonetheless, prosecutors for the state of Illinois asserted the merchant's guilt.

"Engravings in the Sears and Roebuck catalogue clearly depict arousing and titillating images of comely young ladies of questionable virtue clad in the merest and most slight of under-clothes, corsets, bloomers and night-gowns, plainly stripped of proper clothing, for the eyes to gaze upon," the charges read.

Numerous witnesses for the prosecution agreed, claiming that on many an occasion they had, despite earnest attempts to avoid temptation through prayer and church-going, been unable to resist the scandalous and prurient imagery depicted within the catalogue, and had succumbed to fascination and even, in several cases, bouts of wicked onanism by the rousing pictures within.

Ministers of the clergy of notable social standing also contested the moral purity of the mail-merchants. "With the effort they expend to disseminate their filthy catalogue, these evil-doers could have been distributing copies of the Holy Bible to poor families or spreading the Word of Christ to the savages," the Reverend X. Lucius Dalrymple said on the stand.

Presented in evidence of the ware-house's crimes were several reproductions of imagery taken from the catalogue's pages, clearly displaying underwear-clad lovelies in shameful poses.

Despite Sear and Roebuck's fervent claims of their own innocence, it is expected that any right-thinking and God fearing system of justice will find them guilty as charged and sentence them to hang by their necks until dead.

Buddha's day of enlightenment has slipped into the turned pages of the calendar; 2544 is well underway. My theory, which looked so good at the time, is shot. AOL continues to date my correspondence as if we were still fighting the Great War: '43. Can anyone explain this oddity? If so, I am receptive at Alf@corkscrew-balloon.com. That Bangkok holiday for one is still up for grabs, for the right person.

During the night ALIMAK'S men seized the main transformer room. To show their complete domination of the playing field, their shock troops have forced electricity and water rationing upon us. Between the hours of 14:00 and 17:30 our water supply and air-conditioning will be cut off. Elevator services will cease. It will be hard. To mollify us, we've been offered a 50% discount if we use the Spa during these difficult hours. This reporter will take full advantage of this offer, as he has no intention of being imprisoned in a waterless, boiling hot room that can only be vacated by the use of emergency stairs. Even after power has been resumed we will likely be subject to further discomfort: "Some discoloured water may be experienced…"

So far, room-service breakfast has been the only bright spot of the day.

Next: Bangkok Forever, Part V

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