Back to Bangkok, Part II

Between Part I and Part III

December 14-19, 2000

Thursday, December 14, 2000

The fireworks thundered in the occasion. The Oriental (the Bangkok hotel of preference for 'tired' Republican vice-presidents) timed the first rocket to coincide with the announcement by longtime Gore advisor, Greg Simon, that "It makes you want to call 911 and report a burglary." More rockets swished skyward on Tipper Gore's page, "Hang tight with me. We're trying to figure it out." But a crescendo of pops drowned out the words of Pakistani high school student, Zeeshan Ahmed, "It seems funny that the world's only superpower is such a mess." But, it was left up to Kuala Lumpur marketing assistant, Raymond Ng, 24, to give us the last words, "Bush won. Let it be."

Sadly, some the icing was wiped off the victory cake when the Japanese-language newspaper Mainichi Shimbun used the opportunity to teach it's readers a new English-language phrase: "It ain't over until the fat lady sings."

NEWNES, wisely waiting in the wings until after the fat lady finishes her song:


1 It is only coincidental that Sir John's name is similar to that of a General Motor's product ... a product that, too, is about to get the ax.


The 'historians' over at Neuilly-sue-Seine were probably pleased with today's work. I am particularly happy with what they have done ... and Gabby Nelson should be equally tickled ... with this wonderful 1925 entry. You see, it took place in Wilmington, DE ... my birthplace and Gabby's home town.

IN OUR PAGES: 100, 75 AND 50 YEARS AGO
[from the International Herald Tribune]
1900: Queen in Nice

LONDON The weather yesterday was bad as it could be, and persistent rain is beginning to tell on people at last. Many people are going to Paris for Christmas, and now that the Queen is going to Nice the season there and at Cannes is likely to be better than it promised a fortnight or three weeks ago. Of course, hunting people will not think of leaving until quite the end of March, and then they are most likely to run down to Monte Carlo for a change before the London season begins.

1925: Band Plays On

WILMINGTON, Del. A panic was narrowly averted in a local theatre here to-day [Dec. 12] by the presence of mind of the conductor of the orchestra who continued to play a lively dance tune while the curtain was rung down to conceal from the audience a dozen chorus girls who were pinned to the floor by a mass of debris that fell on them as a section of the roof over the rear of the stage caved in. The traps man accentuated his beat and began to sing, while the trombone men blared the air, and the saxophone players foxed the lilt of the catch tune.

1950: U.S. War Crimes?

LONDON Pravda accused American troops today [Dec. 13] of "monstrous atrocities" in Pyongyang. Pravda charged that "hundreds and thousands" of Pyongyang residents died of blood poisoning from red-hot metal bands placed on their hands or feet while in questioning in prison and that the "American monsters" publicly executed a large number of Communists and subjected the bodies to the medieval practice of "quartering" or tearing into four parts.

We have seen Sabinus before. But, of this life, few can tire or fail to gain inspiration:

Sabinus
FOURTH CENTURY

According to St. Gregory the Great, this Bishop of Piacenza, at a time when the Po was in flood, asked one of his deacons to warn it to stay within bounds. The reasonable deacon would not undertake such a hopeless business. So the bishop himself wrote a letter to the river, emphasizing especially the inviolability of church property, had it sworn to by a notary, and threw it into the flood; and the great stream did as it was told.


FLASH!

Dear reader, yesterday I posted in these pages a bit of history ... half century old facts lovingly scraped from the bowels of the IHT. It dealt with an eerie Devonshire jukebox ... one that cheated its listeners by refusing to play "God Save the King" even after the proper coins had been inserted into its all too receptive slot. Instead of a tune that would bring all to their feet, the infernal machine just hurled stanza after stanza of "Annie Laurie" at the troubled listeners.

I asked for help. Perhaps a word from Andy Page would set us right, I hinted.

Today I heard from him:

Alf you may record on your web-site that I detest God Save The Queen.

I am a European and stand for Beethoven's Ode to Joy

Andy

Last night Watcharee and I had dinner at new fast-sushi restaurant ... located on Silom Road ... not far from Patpong. For its logo it uses a frowning face ... rather like a little Japanese terrorist ... "Red-Something-Or-Other". The dishes were delivered to our counter seats by a tiny conveyor belt.Those little bits of rice-wrapped urchin and chopped squid bladder looked so adventurous clinking their way toward us. We were the only diners, so when the dishes pulled into our station they stopped.

On our walk back to The Oriental we passed a Christian cemetery. Normally its gates are pulled shut, but this time they were ajar ... swinging in the wind, almost ... hinges squeaking. Apparently, grave robbers had been at work; much had been cracked open ... but, no lose bones were in evidence ... no teeth scattered about. Some of the still upright crosses now serve the laundry needs of the neighbors.


Friday, December 15, 2000

Yes! A very rich day, indeed!

NEWNES'S quill must have been all-atwitter as the names popped up before his eyes: Haakon from Norway, Walton of the young America, Eiffel the Frog, the Pole Zamenhof, Rasputin in Russia and Sitting Bull from the great savage plains of our westward-ho days.

Of the above, one man stands taller than the rest. Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof ... the Pole ... the oculist ... and the man who gave the world Esperanto. Born in 1859 ... a hundred and forty one years ago to this day ... Zamenhof, a Sagittarian, came onto this earth under the sign of the archer. "Free-spirited, humanitarian, exciting and fun loving ... "only the unexpected was expected from this savvy guy. Devoting his leisure hours to the creation of funny languages, but toiling by day as an oculist, he had no way of knowing that Kim Basinger, more than a century later, would be born under the same sign.


Wescott is oddly neutral about him:

Eusebius of Vercelli
DIED 370

The adopted son and namesake of Pope St. Eusebius. He was banished from his see because he took sides with Athanasius against the Arians. He would not allow any hermits to live in the diocese, obliging all the clergy to work for each other and for the people. He died a natural death, but is honoured as a martyr; probably because of the trouble the heretics gave him.

Call it a 'trade association,' if you like. A 'niche lobby,' perhaps. Whatever! Soon it will be a formidable force in world politics ... starting in the backwater bits of Asia, but spreading fast to America and Europe. For now, it operates as a very loose amalgam of 'odd ducks,' playing for position on the outer fringes of the Beijing's innocuous sounding "China Light Industry Group." Poised to 'take-over' the powerful China Fermentation Industry Association, the group's spokesman claims that what it offers " ... can strengthen the appetite of the old, the physically feeble, pregnant women and children with poor appetite." Bolstered by a 1987 decision by the World Health Organization (WHO) to place its amino acid derivative in the "safest category of food ingredients, along with salt, vinegar and the like," the group hopes that a consumer explosion is just around the corner.

Dear reader, do you notice any changes to the waterside view of The Oriental? As with Saving/Standard time in America, it comes and goes but twice a year.


"Condoms and Cabbages" ... "Cabbages and Condoms" ... one or the other, though I think it was the former. That is the name of a popular Bangkok restaurant. Paul, we should have a link to it ... somewhere. Whatever ... Geoff Tibballs in his THE BEST BOOK OF LISTS didn't stop when he gave us the 'top ten' condom brand names.1 Nope, his curiosity allowed him to dig about in the history of the things. Here is what he says:

"Italian anatomist GABRIELLE FALLOPIUS published the first known description of a condom in 1564. It was made from linen but most early condoms were of animal intestines, soaked before use. Since they were porous, people were advised to wear two at a time one on top of the other. Casanova used condoms made from the dried gut of a sheep while the Japanese preferred condoms made from tortoiseshell, presumably to slow things down. The vulcanization of rubber2 brought about a new material and the brand Durex, much to the confusion of Australians to whom cellotape is known as Durex. Japan uses more condoms than any other country they are sold door-to-door by 'skin ladies' and the Tokyo head office of the manufacturer Fuji Latex is built in the shape of a condom. Sweden has its own official penis character, Proud Pete, to encourage the use of condoms while some Danish restaurants3 began serving after-dinner condoms instead of mints. Flavours include banana, lemon, liquorice, mint, strawberry, Caribbean coconut and peach punch. There are condoms that glow in the dark and musical condoms. Italian physics student Lino Missio has patented a condom with a microchip which warns of any tear during sex by playing a Beethoven theme."


1 Tibballs' Top Ten Condom Brands:

  1. Billy Boy (Germany)
  2. Enormex (U.K.)
  3. Eurogliser (Netherlands)
  4. Happy Face (New Zealand)
  5. Honeymoon Super Stimulation (Germany)
  6. Jiffi Exciter (U.K.)
  7. Licks (U.S.A.)
  8. Mamba (Sweden)
  9. Power Play (U.S.A.)
  10. Skin Less Skin (Japan)

2 According to NEWNES, the vulcanization of rubber was patented on November 21, 1843.

3 An after-dinner offering at Bangkok's "Condoms and Cabbages" ever since the restaurant's opening day.


It's not as sophisticated as a Mongolian fire pot ... and the ritual is somewhat different. A Mongolian cookery unit looks like an Angel Food cake pan; it has a center ... a core ... a chimney ... surrounded by a 'moat' of bubbling liquid. SukiStuff is added gradually to the 'broth', the stuff being meats, vegetables, spices and any odd thing from the fridge. As the cooking proceeds, the liquid is reduced to a rich soup of sorts. The heat comes from the core or the chimney of the unit. In the 'basic' fire pot only real fire is used. Today's electric models have done away with the colorful briquettes; plugs, in-line circuit breakers and heating coils now do the job.

Less sophisticated is "Suki." For starters it is cooked in a very plain-vanilla pot. Sitting right on top of an electric coil, the water reaches a boil rapidly. 'Stuff' comes from the long menu ... it's rather like ordering a pizza ... "hold this ... double order of that" ... Watcharee ordered lots of vegetables, pasta and egg for our Suki. The ordered bits came in little red plastic trays ... all stacked on top of one another in the order in which they are to be cooked. Once fed into the roiling water the wait is short; within two minutes it is time to go 'fishing.'


Saturday, December 16, 2000 (Dingaan's Day, Union of South Africa)

With the 'revisionists in the driving seat, it's unlikely that people in this bit of southern Africa are going to toot horns and wear funny hats to celebrate the 162nd anniversary of Zulu King Dingaan's crushing defeat by the Boers.

Beethoven (1770) and Jane Austen (1775) share a birthday. Grimm, of fairy tales, died in 1859. Joining him, in 1921, was the composer, Camille Saint-Saens.

NEWNES'S 'events':

Much ado about ...

Ado
799 875

A Burgundian teacher of sacred and profane sciences, the author of a famous martyrology, and of a history of the world, from the beginning of time up to date.

It doesn't look like your typical 'slip 'n fall' case, does it? For one thing, there is that wicked looking puddle of blood ... pooling onto the tile and inching its way along the grout. Morton's fabulous dot-making machine is clearly not required here. A green 'face towel' thoughtfully covers the identity of the corpse ... while what appears to be a checked tablecloth hides his nastier bits.

Tucked into the lower-left is another picture ... and another body ... this time a blue 'comforter' does Morton's cover-up work. Almost hidden by the comforter is a revolver. If the spilled blood is not enough, surely the smoking gun has labeled the place as a crime scene.

The upper-right finds the couple in happier times ... perhaps the moment was captured during the holiday season (note the decorated tree in the background ... the flowers about the necks ... smiles for the camera). What went wrong? I don't know ... Watcharee is still in bed.


A few hours later ...

Alf (handing the front page of the Daily News to Watcharee): "So, what was it?'

Watcharee (laconically allowing the dwindling-interest thread from the colorfully spilled blood on the front page to take her into the darker but more detailed inner reaches of the Daily News): "Classic stuff; W finds H with another woman ... shoots him, then turns gun on self."

Watcharee (her interest doing a very smart about-face): "Hey, look at this." Charming Hair(pointing to a 6X6 black and white ad in the middle of page 29).

Alf (showing little curiosity in what appears to be an ad for hair replacement): "It looks like an ad for hair replacement".

Watcharee (only slightly impatient): "Of course it is, silly. But, I know the man. He is the human resources manager here at The Oriental."

Alf (nodding and looking again at the paper): "Obviously this is a 'before' and 'after' ad ... what with the two photographs showing amazingly different scalps. But, why is the word 'charming' in the ad ... it's all in Thai except for that one word ... why?"

Watcharee (explaining, as if to a child): "A client with a bald head is like a painter's canvas without a picture. He can have anything he wants painted or grown on his head. For example he can have a 'charming' heart of hair planted on his forehead."

Alf (truly amazed): "You mean ... like the thing they do to shrubs, turning them into topiary hedges ... or, maybe like what happens to the end-zone grass at Super Bowls? In other words, he can have really picturesque hair transplants just like that?"

Watcharee: "Yes, any design he wants. Here, a hair heart 'plugged' into his forehead was just a 'charming' example."


Sunday, December 17, 2000

Waqar Ali Shah's helpful and thoughtful e-mail1 of the other day has again brought to the surface the idea of God having family or friends. Though most of us have been taught that God is (was, and always will be) a loner, there has been no end of speculation to the contrary. Theologians of the far right are adamant: God had no parents, no kids, no collateral relatives ... full stop. His DNA is unique! To the left, God's linkage to other humans ranges from an Alanis Morissette kind of God ("just like any one of us") to a "Big Guy" God (feigning punches on his buddy's shoulder while downing a cold brewsky or two at a local pub).


1 "You have written that Ali was the son in law of Allah. This is utterly wrong and nonsensical, since Allah is the arabic word for God, and God never had a family or children according to all sects of Islam."


Wescott comes right out and names the friends:

Lazarus
FIRST CENTURY

The man whom Our Lord raised from the dead, the brother of His closest friends, Mary2 and Martha. They all emigrated to France; and he introduced the faith into Marseilles, and had his head cut off.

In the fifth century there was another Bishop of Marseilles named Lazarus; his mission may have been confused with the more glamorous legend. But, when strictly historical evidence is lacking, the least probable traditions of the church should not be distained.


2 A bone from this particular Mary is on constant display in Vezelay, France. Located near Vault-de-Lugny, it's an easy visit for alternative viewing whenever the weather up above the clouds turns sour.


From William Malloy's THE MYSTERY BOOK OF DAYS:

At NEWNES's:


Our Christmas Tree

Here in Bangkok, the Christmas season starts not that much later than it does in London and Florida.3 If you look out our window you can see that The Peninsula Hotel has already erected a rather grand tree ... right across the river from us. And, just this afternoon, a totally decorated Christmas tree mysteriously appeared in our own room (as it did last year). And, a few days into January, this tree will mysteriously disappear from our room (as it did last year). This is precisely how Christmas should be handled: pre-packaged, without any mess. Forget the maudlin manger scene and let us go directly to the shiny gift-wraps. Christ would have wanted it that way.


3 Thank God it is the market place that so nicely dictates the opening and closing of Christmas. If it were left to religious zealots ... well, who knows what nonsense we would be forced to tolerate ... it's bad enough that most shops are closed on Christmas Eve as well as Christmas Day ... if the Rev. Timothy Weems had his way we'd all be locked up in our pews for days on end ... listening to endless sermons and awful organs.


Monday, December 18, 2000

IN OUR PAGES: 100 YEARS AGO
[from the International Herald Tribune]
1900: Casus Belli

VIENNA In regard to the origin of the deadly duel between Count Orlovsky and Count Zakrzewski, two versions are in circulation. One is that the cause was the neglect of one of the parties to salute the other. The second version is that the duel was about a lady. In Salzburg it is stated that a lady, dressed in black, was a spectator of the encounter. Count Orlovsky had a duel this summer in Paris with Comte Boni de Castellane. The cause of the encounter was a sarcastic observation regarding French officers, made by the former while a guest of the comte.


Weather, from the Bangkok Post:

Cool overnight and mostly clear.
NE winds 10 30 kph
High: 32, Low: 23 (89/73F)
Sun rises 6:35am, sets 5:57pm

Baht, from the Bangkok Post:

Baht is Steady

New York American banks were selling dollars in the offshore forward market. But action is slim, and the baht remains supported within a tight range.

Today 43.50
Dec 11 43.43
1998 35.75


NEWNES:

The front page of this morning's Bangkok Post has a little something for everyone: mother and baby elephant, child attacked by dog, men in custody and ... of course ... a dot-protected murder victim.


Tuesday, December 19, 2000

"MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION, PLEASE? A FIRE EMERGENCY HAS BEEN REPORTED IN THE BUILDING. WHILE THIS IS BEING INVESTIGATED PLEASE LEAVE THE BUILDING. DO NOT USE THE ELEVATORS." [Accompanied by a wailing digital siren and pulsating strobe lights]

Gore Vidal is on the 14th floor.1 That's, at twenty per floor, 280 steps down ... not counting the extra ones built into the lobby level. So, unless there was smoke roiling out of some windows, I decided to sit out what I hoped was an unscheduled fire drill. The last time I was forced to evacuate to an emergency staging zone was a couple of years ago when I was in London for a corkscrew meeting. Then, everyone looked like they had either just got out of bed (which they had) ... or, they hadn't been to bed for days (true, too) ... or, they were teen-age girls who looked good no matter what they had been up to.


1 The Oriental does not have a floor "13". Its "up" elevators always pass seamlessly from the twelfth floor to the fourteenth; similarly, the "down" ones descend with no option to alight at the thirteenth. Of course, the 'cautious' guest will avoid sleeping in any rooms immediately above the 12th floor, as it is but an hotelier's fiction that keeps them from being unlucky. Ah, but as you so fairly ask: "where do you start the count?" Does the lobby count as "1", even though the floor just above it is clearly marked with the Arabic "1" ... thus making "12" the bad luck floor? And, what if there is a Mezzanine between the Lobby and where the numbers start? Is "11" now the level to avoid? In my case, room 1410, I am on the 14th floor. If I jumped off my balcony I would pass 13 levels (11 floors of rooms, one 'public' floor and one lobby) before I hit the concrete. So, in the case of The Oriental, it is the 11th that has the bad horoscope.


This morning's gore is a freshly sewn-back-on ear. Dog attack? Freakish industrial accident? Enraged husband? Flying cutlery? We won't know until later. For the same reason, we won't know if those circled dots are bullet holes in the right front fender panel of the black Isuzu. Even more puzzling is the photograph of two men at a desk, immediately adjacent to the picture of someone dressed for a happier occasion.

IN OUR PAGES: 100 AND 50 YEARS AGO
[from the International Herald Tribune]
1900: Flying Lesson

PARIS MM. Filippi and Macler gave a lecture with experiments in the Salle des Fetes of the "Figaro" yesterday, to explain the system by which they hope to solve the problem of aerial navigation. They made several experiments, lifting visiting cards, disks of wood, cardboard and metal, to show those present the reality of the force upon which they had set their hopes. MM. Filippi and Macler claim that the conquest of air is not only possible, but certain, by a simple method that Nature employs for lifting heavy weights that is, atmospheric depression.

1950: Christmas Stars

SAN DIEGO, Calif. Adm. William H. Standley, former American Ambassador to the Soviet Union, set off a controversy here yesterday [Dec. 17] by demanding that the city take down Christmas stars in a civic center because they resembled the red star of Russia. "We checked the stars," said a Chamber of Commerce spokesman. "They are orange. They were painted orange with orange paint that came out of a can marked orange."

NEWNES tells us of two explorers: Vitus Bering died in 1741; Sir William Edward Parry was born in 1790. But, much earlier (1498), the religious reformer, Andreas Osiander was born. Charlotte Bronte, the novelist, died in 1848.


FLASH

Watcharee, after having a chance to read the Daily News, has this to say about this morning's front-page photos ... her 'captions' should easily self-link to the photographs:

  1. "Another one bit her ear off. She owed 500 baht (about $11.43) to another lady and would not pay."

  2. "Someone tried to kill the politician ... but the bullets missed him ... he says his lucky Buddha saved him."

  3. "This dancer tried to live off the money of a rich old woman. When she told him that she wouldn't support him anymore he killed her."

Gee ... these are not much different from the crimes we see at police precincts in Gotham City, or at Main Street cop shops in Anytown, USA.


My friend, Don Bull, has written a number of books about corkscrews. In fact, his THE ULTIMATE CORKSCREW BOOK is the 'standard work' on the subject. So, you can imagine how pleased I was to discover that one of the pieces that I gave him a few years back now graces one of the pages in his book. At the time, I didn't think too much of it ... it was just another little multi-tooled item that I happened to find in a flea market. But, Don fell in love with it after the first use. I am not sure if it was the helix, the traveling razor, the dental floss dispenser or the contact lens case that captured his fancy. Whatever, I am proud that he has found a place (right up there with "Read's Coaxer") for this little jewel. For readers who want to view this corkscrew on it's original page (page 294), Don's book can be ordered directly from him:

Donald A. Bull
P.O. Box 596
Wirtz, VA 24184
USA

Don's world-class corkscrew web site can be found in my 'Corkscrew' section.

Next: Part III

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