Bangkok for the Change of Seasons,
Part II

Between Part I and Part III

October 1-6, 2000

Sunday, October 1, 2000

A little about where I live:

The compiler of THAILAND, A TRAVELER'S COMPANION calls it "the old colonial quarter." What remains of 'it' today are but half a dozen buildings: and all of them are my close neighbors. Two of them I look down upon when I'm sitting on my verandah: the closest is the French Embassy ... the other is its immediate neighbor to the north, the Old Customs House.

All of the early foreign legations were located by the Chao Phraya River. The earliest was built by the Portuguese ... and bits of its old trading office can still be seen at the back of the property. The British site, just a few doors away, was on property now occupied by the General Post Office. The Americans were tucked in nearby ... though today nothing remains of their earliest footprint.1 Other legations were also scattered just off the river. But only the French Embassy remains fully intact on its original spot. As expected, the French throw some wonderful lawn parties; I almost feel a part of them.


1 The Americans now occupy a huge hunk of land over near The Regent Hotel. Those responsible for the safety of the American ambassador and his minions have circled the property with tank traps and bomb buffers. Only the around-the-clock whirling helicopter gun ships are missing.


The Old Customs House was built in the 1880's. Now it serves the fire brigade, though not for much longer. Soon it will be retrofitted and converted into a shopping center. I am quite pleased that both of these properties are just below my windows.

On the down-river side of The Oriental (next to my former space in the Garden Wing), commerce and Catholic churches mingled easily in the old days. The Portuguese pretty much ran the latter, while H. N. Andersen of Denmark was the hand on the protestant ethic.

The East Asiatic Company occupied a group of wooden buildings immediately to the south of The Oriental. The present building dates from 1901. Incidentally, Andersen, after founding the East Asiatic Company, returned to his native Denmark, where he served as the Thai Consul-General until his death in 1938.

Also to the south of the hotel, and a nudge to the east, is The Assumption Cathedral. Built by religious meddlers in 1910, it replaced a much older church that was also built by religious meddlers. Early meddling included teaching future King Rama IV Latin.

In the middle of it all is The Oriental Hotel. In 1865 it opened as a small guest house ... short lived as such, it burnt down in the same year. It was replaced by something bigger even before the ashes cooled. Less than two decades later, the place was purchased by H. N. Andersen. Not satisfied with what he bought, Andersen had an Italian architect design a proper hotel with "forty commodious and well furnished' rooms. Opened in 1887, the hotel soon became the 'place' to stay when in Bangkok. Today, the only part of the original structure is the Author's Wing.

Though NEWNES felt that the PRC 'deserved' the full across-the-page banner, he did allow an unusually large number of others to share this first day of October. One wonders whether this was a case of damnation by faint association. By including the birth of James Lawrence (naval officer) and the death of Benjamin Jowett (theologian), was NEWNES trivializing the 1949 event? And by reminding us that both the beginning of the Colloquy of Marburg AND the introduction of halfpenny postage in Britain are first of October days, NEWNES might be coupling them with distain. If you, dear reader, feel that my sample is way too small and that I am implying too much from so few ... well, add this and that to today: Othmar Spann, sociologist, was born ... the painter, Sir Edwin Landseer, died. And, in 1843 the News of the World began publication.

Bavo
DIED 654

This Duke of Brabant was one of those in whom love works with dangerous generosity. He was worldly and happy, but the death of his duchess broke his heart; he went off by himself and lived in a hollow tree for the rest of his life.

(Watcharee, thinking): *"Tomorrow we WILL get out of the hotel!"


Monday, October 2, 2000

These two 'statesmen' were born exactly two years apart. One, everyone knows ... not many, the other. And, yet, was it Hull who did more to shape the century to his liking?

But, when we add:

Test your knowledge of 'greats': a NEWNES mix 'n match:

  1. Sir Pelham Warner
  2. Max Bruch
  3. Gunnar Wennerberg
  1. Poet
  2. Cricketer
  3. Composer

According to NEWNES:

IN OUR PAGES: 20 YEARS AGO
[from The Onion]
SONY INTRODUCES POPULACE-PACIFICATION DEVICE

NEW YORK - Sony unveiled its new line of portable populace-pacification devices this week.

The remarkable new "Walkman," a combination cassette player and AM/FM radio, transports its user to a warm self-contained aural environment, freeing him from social interaction with others.

"This new product all but eliminates the risk of contact with people and all the unpleasantness associated with it," Sony spokesperson David Gelfand said. "It's superior to other music playing devices in that it not only plays music, but also blocks out one's awareness of the rest of the world."

With the Walkman, any sound below 60 decibels - including the voices of nagging authority figures, co-workers, intrusive bus patrons or loved ones - is eliminated, along with the need to respond.

"When each and every American consumer is outfitted with this small metal box and the accompanying length of cord and two sponge-like ear-mounted speakers, all forms of discontent will cease to exist," Gelfand said.

Gelfand predicted the Walkman devices will soon become standard-issue for all Americans.

"Everywhere you go, you will see people wearing Walkmans, blissfully unaware of the world around them as the device wraps them in a warm cocoon of musical-entertainment isolation."

The government has made no formal statement as of yet. Inside sources say that, upon learning of the pacification device, top officials discussed the possibility of subsidizing mass distribution.

But, for everyone here in Thailand all of the above is for naught.


WIJAN'S GOLD SENDS FANS INTO FRENZY

"This medal is for my King. I will give it to him."


Bang and Olufsen

The "Okey Dokies" were on top.

But spinning at 78RPMs it was time to flip to the other side less than five minutes after the oh-la-la's and the harmonica had hit full stride. All this wonderful noise was punched into the Siam Centre lobby by a B&O Hyperbo 5RG: the top of the line item in the Bang & Olufsen sound catalog for 1934. It was a combination mono radio receiver, amplifier, gramophone and loudspeaker. It was from this machine that the "Okey Dokies" pulled in Thai shoppers to see and hear the B&O traveling exhibit of "75 Years of Excellence."

(Watcharee, feigning interest in ancient cabinets): Watcharee and Hyperbo"Really interesting! And, it's good to get out of the hotel ..."

(Watcharee, continuing the sentence ... but, silently): "... I guess."

Other B&O offerings from the past included a 1951 Beocord wire recorder. It was the forerunner of the tape recorder and this model allowed early 'pirates' to copy 78s onto wire. The Beolit 39 radio receiver (1939) bragged a cabinet made of 'bakelite' that permitted the designers to make rounded shapes. The Horisont TV from 1962 was an attempt to make a transportable TV; a suitcase lid covered the screen during transportation.1


1 I am sure that this latter piece's clone lived with me throughout my law school days. It was the most temperamental piece of machinery that I ever owned. I finally murdered it by tossing it out of a car window while driving 80 miles per hour. It exploded satisfyingly in a spray of glass and parts.


Tuesday, October 3, 2000

This morning Wescott in one easy-to-diagram sentence deals with the lives of two saints. Tomorrow, using dozens of semi-colons, dashes, hyphens and quotations he goes on near endlessly about just one man. Sure, their relative importance in God's eye can probably explain this, though we can't discount Wescott just having a real chatty day when he tackled Francis of Assisi.

Ewald the Dark and Ewald the Fair
SEVENTH CENTURY

Twin brothers, Englishmen, who went into Saxony as missionaries and were killed, one with a stick and one with a sword.

NEWNES, rarely needing more than a single noun and one verb, gives us all we really want to know about the person:

'Events' sometimes cry out for more:

Others, not:

Lack of money or a structural fault?1 Surely, one or the other ... perhaps both. Hotel SofitelThe Hotel Sofitel has remained unoccupied ever since the last worker walked off the job several years ago. But unlike many unfinished construction projects in Bangkok, the place looks like it's ready for business. Signed and painted ... windows installed ... aerials and satellite dishes pointed upward ... it is not a raw concrete riverside eyesore. Only the total lack of room lights prove that the place is empty. Even then, a lone lit window is testimony that a night watchman is doing his rounds. Every morning and every night it is the same; I see it every time I look up river.


1 Southeast Asia is awash with partially put-together buildings. Most of them owe their unfinished look to a boom that went horribly bust. Many of these projects have been kick-started again ... but, in a patchwork pattern: some are moving ahead full steam; others are inching along on a floor by floor basis. A few are dead in the air. The Hotel Sofitel stands by itself. Though apparently complete (at least on the outside), there is no sign that anyone cares about the place. Other hoteliers think that the building has a major structural fault that no amount to money or engineering can fix. Though it is hard to imagine that any major hotel company would allow one of it's properties to rise to the sky without making sure that it wouldn't fall down in the first stiff breeze.


Yesterday, Watcharee and I rode Skytrain over to the B&O exhibit. This was another construction project that started in the best of times. Fortunately, due to the nature of the beast, construction could not be halted. Today it is the quickest, cleanest and coolest way to get around Bangkok. Since it does not go where a lot of Bangkokians want to go ... and because it is relatively expensive when it does go there ... the cars run nearly empty.


Wednesday, October 4, 2000

Remembering this is like stamping myself with a barcode ... do YOU remember where you were when this happened? You only have to be a few years older than the person who remembers where he was when JFK was shot.

This date might not have been so mind-sticking:

Safely in the distant past:

Others that NEWNES found for this day ... I've heard of none of them:

Dearest reader, yesterday I warned you that Glenway Wescott had really warmed up to his theme-person for this date in history. Made curious by this anomaly, I reread the 'forward' to A CALENDAR OF SAINTS FOR UNBELIEVERS ... but, I found nothing there that would set Francis of Assisi apart from ... say, Catharine of Sienna or Colman of Lindisfarne. Why Wescott devoted pages and pages to St. Francis ... but only a paragraph to Veronica of Binasco ... and just a simple sentence to Agnes of Monte Pulciano ... well, perhaps we'll never know.

Rather than serving St. Francis as one helping I shall spread him out over the next half dozen days.

Francis of Assisi
1182 - 1226

The most godlike of saints was the son of Pietro Bernardone, a dealer in silk and wool, and of a lady of Provencal origin. He learned French, and therefore was called Francesco instead of Giovanni, his real name; and his spirit was steeped in northern romances and love songs. He was an immoral youth, pleasant and charitable; but, by a certain half-wit who liked him, and probably by himself, his strange future was soon felt coming on. He went to the wars and was taken prisoner. Two bouts of fever, and the sight of a powerful general reduced to begging in the street, warned him of the ephemeral nature of the world and the flesh. He changed clothes with the general. Then he grew ashamed of himself as hotly as another man of his age might fall in love, and resolved to go everywhere bewailing what happened on Calvary. The children of Assisi stoned him as a lunatic. He seized and sold some of his father's property to restore a church; his father shut him up; and their differences were brought before the bishop, who decided that Francis had no right to his father's money, either then or by inheritance. Francis stripped, and threw down his clothes and his money at their feet. The bishop's gardener gave him an old coat to cover his scandalous divine body.

[To be continued - see how his 'little almost pointed ears' and 'short arms' made men love him.]

Those of you who were here in early May surely must remember the night when ALIMAK'S siege engine was rolled into place. When the order for retreat was given. When the suites were abandoned. When we were forced to take shelter and comfort in the Garden Wing. Yesterday, a final footnote to that sad chapter in history was penned: ALIMAK'S last troops were sent packing.


GOOD GRIEF!

I never knew. Paul had to tell me. Today is Gore Vidal's birthday ... his 75th.
Gore Vidal
"I can't believe
you missed it!!"
I am living in the man's house and I don't even have the common decency to go to the trouble to find out when is his birthday. Of course, over at Barbara Cartland's place that would not be a problem as she is quite dead; and the only people who care about those anniversaries are the lawyers and accountants for the estate ... even then their caring extends only for so long as it takes to determine if the alternate valuation date will better serve the pocketbooks of the legatees. I think John LeCarre is still alive.

The Gore/Bush debate was last night. Bangkokians were not glued to their sets. Nor was I. How did it go?

Oh Lord! Back to the other Gore again! Forget this stupid presidential race thing. Gore Vidal's birthday was "today" only if I was where Paul is. But it was tomorrow here ... that means his birthday is OVER. Of course, the birthday should follow the person so ... ... ...

(Watcharee, bored with the sound of clicking keys): "Where do you want to have dinner tonight?"

(Alf, glad to have the Gore thing behind him): "Up to you, my love."

Peter and Svend(Watcharee, pleased that the ball is in her court): "How about the Sala Rim Naam? I want to look at the new menu."

(Alf): "Guess what. I forgot to post a photo of Bang and Olufsen."

(Watcharee, puzzled): "Who?"

(Alf): "Peter and Svend."

(Watcharee): "Let's eat."


Thursday, October 5, 2000

Francis of Assisi (continued)

He was twenty-seven when he was disinherited: 'round head, low forehead, black eyes without malice, a delicate straight nose, little almost pointed ears, a vehement sweet voice, white teeth, even and close together, thin lips, spare beard, delicate neck, short arms, long fingers and fingernails, thin legs, little feet, and little or no flesh on his bones.' Men soon began to love him and the fantastic free godhead which he loved, and to follow him about. He drew rules for them out of the Gospels, not so much rules as visions of virtue, half negation: chastity and charity, happiness and nothingness, above all owning nothing - not even, if he could help it, a breviary, nothing but a tunic and a cord and a pair of drawers. Having no home, they slept in haylofts, under the stars, in no matter whose house. They peddled kindling-wood and gathered olives and gave away all they earned. The Clowns or Jokers of God, people called them, because they were very gay.

(to be continued ...)

In a little over three weeks Americans will have chosen a new president. Today's NEWNES entry is a stiff reminder that capturing the White House is not always a sure-fire way of getting your name chiseled into marble.

Though he was the President of the United Sates from 1884 to 1888, little is known of him ... in fact, little is known of those years at all. Falling in the barren years between our great wars, the Arthur presidency and the American nation had precious few things to worry about. The Vice-President (name unknown) pretty much had a blank agenda as well.

Even NEWNES had to go back to the beginning of the decade to find something:

But, moving up in time, a richer lode was struck in the IHT morgue:

IN OUR PAGES: 100 YEARS AGO
[from the International Herald Tribune]
1900: Deadly Duel

PARIS - Bar-le-Duc was the scene of a fatal duel between M. Ferrette and M. Joseph Marlier. An article appeared in the "Courrier de L'Est" in which M. Marlier was grossly insulted by M. Ferrette. Yesterday morning [Oct. 4] the adversaries met four kilometers away from the city. It was a sword encouner. In the very first bout M. Marlier received a slight wound in the right arm, which the surgeons agreed was insignificant. In the fifth bout M. Marlier was struck in the right breast, the weapon perforating the lung. Blood at once flowed in torrents from his mouth, and despite all the efforts of the medical men in attendance, he expired at 10:55 a.m.

This morning's Bangkok Post is all about a local boy who made good. Wijan Ponlid, who won Thailand's only gold medal at the Sydney Olympics, had a rock-star's welcome when he arrived back in Bangkok. The Post spent most of its column inches talking about how much money he was expected to rake in. Little was said about the boxing match that brought him the glory. I, too, latched on to the real 'gold' part of the triumph: He'll soon be twenty million baht (@$475,000) richer. Other perks include a job promotion (up from 'police lance corporal' to 'sub-lieutenant'), a house and a lifetime free use of police resorts. To say nothing about his increased rating with the local ladies.


Friday, October 6, 2000

(continued ... Francis of Assisi)

According to Francis, the body is a sort of donkey on which the spirit rides with its burdens, to be kept in good condition therefore, but spurred to work, whipped if necessary. He was an advocate of flowerbeds, even in poor gardens. He had a pet lamb, adopted out of a flock of wolves - Christ among the Pharisees, he said - which he gave to one of his women friends. On various occasions he endeavored to convert birds, rabbits, wolves, fish, either in an abandon of his fully promiscuous love, or to amuse and captivate the men around him. God as he knew Him was a melody, so sweet that it could just be borne. One of his best friars, Giles, when attacked by theologians, answered their arguments on the flute. His processions with his followers, amid popular music and unreasonable lamenting and rejoicing - he himself in their midst, naked, being whipped, or later in life, in a cart, bleeding from his mystically ruptured side - bore some resemblance to those of Bacchus or Cybele.

(to be continued ... .)

NEWNES, ever the Anglophile on matters of the cloth and gown:


1 Strangely enough, 'strangling' OR 'burning' was never quite enough for theologians who were on the out. Apparently the thinkers of wrong thoughts had to be doubly dealt with.


Today, October 6th, is also the Feast of "Mary Frances of the Five Wounds of Jesus." Though Wescott 'treated' her last year, she at least wants a footnote for today.2


2 "Before Mary Frances' birth, her mother was assured by St. Francis Jerome, the famous preacher, and by St. John Joseph of the Cross, the friar who never changed his clothes, that she was pregnant with a saint. The saint's father, however, expected her to make a good match, and beat her and starved her for refusing an aristocratic suitor. Finally the Franciscans persuaded him to allow her to join their Third Order. For three years she lived here and there as a sewing-woman; then she returned home. But after her mother died, she could not stay with her irreligious father, and went into domestic service in a merchant's house. The merchant's wife, jealous and suspicious, complained to the archbishop, who put a notoriously severe director in charge of the holy maid's conscience; but he did not, or could not, find any fault in her. In her old age she became a sort of uncrowned queen of Naples, both the masses and the clergy taking her advice."


Watcharee and OhYesterday, we had our first guest in 1410: One of Watcharee's best friends, Oh, visited us for a peek around the premises. Oh used to work with Watcharee over at the Sala Rim Naam. Starting on the 16th she'll be a hostess at Lord Jim's: another Oriental restaurant.

This morning, breakfast was chaperoned by three 'wise men': my favorite room service waiters. This overlap was probably due to a shift change. Whatever, I think that all of them very much approve of Watcharee's change of address.


Ever since the invention of the 'iron horse' humans have frequently turned to the brute force of a thousand tons of flying steel to end their misery. No wishy-washy poison for the MAN-OF-ACTION ... no babyish gas in the nose for our MR. I'M-OUT-OF-HERE-RIGHT-NOW ... no 45-dumdum-leave-a-mess-on-the-wall from this MR. CARE-ABOUT-THE-CLEAN-UP-LADY. Remember the Japs with their mirrors? You know ... all those 'salarymen' who ended life's little inconveniences by jumping into the path of a Tokyo commuter train? Well, those responsible for keeping the Genoa-Rome express in tip-top shape had an even tougher job. An 'ounce of prevention' ... blah blah blah ... may have worked very well for Japanese face-savers. But, the Italians didn't have that luxury on their long line rails. You know what I mean, dear reader? Sure you do! They could afford no puking children on platform "D" when the Pope pulled into Rome. Couldn't have bits and pieces of gramps stuck to the grate when everyone was expecting bunting and banners. The Italians had to hose off hair, gristle and bone chips long before their train could chug to a stop before the crowds.

(Watcharee, looking up from her bowl of Corn Flakes): "What's that all about?"

(Alf, folding away the paper): "Three solid hits today."

IN OUR PAGES: 100, 75 AND 50 YEARS AGO
[from the International Herald Tribune]
1900: Suicide Catcher

ROME - One of the methods of suicide most frequently employed in Italy is that of jumping in front of an express train. A short time ago the Genoa-Rome express, in a run of eight hours, was used no fewer than four times as an instrument of death by as many individuals who were tired of life. This extraordinary frequency of suicides on the railway has led to the adoption of a special apparatus to be fixed to the front of the locomotives. This apparatus is designed to pick up the would-be suicide and place him in safety on a kind of platform.

1925: New Radio Sets

PARIS - Radio sets within the limits of the humblest worker's purse seem to be the aim of French manufacturers of wireless apparatus. With the cost of apparatus reduced to what a year ago would have seemed an impossible minimum, the interest in lamp, or "valve," sets has diminished. One of the sensations of the season is a "baby" apparatus, gauged to accept anything that may strike a small antenna with a 450-meter wave-length. This will permit the tired business man or his wife to hear the evening concerts sent out by the French government's PTT station.

1950 - 110 Wives

LAKE SUCCESS, N.Y. - Iraqi delegate Awni Khalidy told the United Nations that the Fon of Bikhom, in the British Cameroons, who has 110 wives, should be left alone. "It is enough to handle 110 women at one time. May God give him the strength in his arduous task," the Iraqi said. A British Catholic organization complained about the 81-year-old Fon's polygamy to the UN in 1948.

Next: Part III

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