Back to Bangkok, Part III

Between Part II and Part IV

December 20-25, 2000

Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Julia of Rena

Striving to be humble, this aristocratic girl went to work as a servant, but she found that there were satisfactions of vanity even in this humble position; so she took the veil. Then she happened to save a child from a fire, and began to be regarded as a nun of some consequence. This exasperated her, and she withdrew into a little hut far off in the country and saw no one for thirty years. Of course her life did no one any good; but it was perfect of its kind a model for scrupulous mystic egoists and a reminder to those not so scrupulous.

More than a century later ...

Dear reader, at this point I have to interrupt NEWNES. Last night, while having dinner at "Harmonique" (more later), Watcharee quite casually mentioned that we were in a new year.

Alf (slightly taken back): What do you mean?

Watcharee (with the same calm that a listener would expect from a "I like the food here."): December is the first month of the New Year.

Alf (with the same concern that a listener would expect from a "How late are you?"): What do you mean? You mean it's no longer 2543?1

Watcharee (reaching for what looked like something Vietnamese): "Yes."

1 Those of you who are not familiar with "The Best Six" will wonder why my concern peaked. Birthdays have not been missed ... tax deadlines have not passed ... credit cards have not expired ... no dates that most of us care about have gone unnoticed. My worry was that the photograph of my "best-six" corkscrews was sent late. Though safe under the Gregorian calendar, did my mailing qualify under the Thai Buddhist one? Were the stamps affixed in 2543, or not until 2544? And, if the latter, was I still in compliance with ICCA rules?

Continuing with dinner:

Harmonique is a Thai restaurant but ten minutes by foot from The Oriental. Watcharee and I agree that this is the best 'off campus' Thai food that we have had. Tucked into a former home, it is a warren patch of tiny tables that just spill out of crannies and nooks. It's a wonderful combination of taste and atmosphere.

Reverting to NEWNES:

The editors over at the Bangkok Post had a hard choice this morning. Which picture should go on the north side of the front page fold: the photo of the arrest of a Russian prostitute at a Bangkok "entertainment venue" or, a computer-generated image of the "Super Jumbo" Airbus A380 (once called the A3XX) taking off from a Thai resort? The loser to go below the fold.

Thursday, December 21, 2000

Wescott devotes a lot of type to Thomas ... perhaps due to the importance of the man to both sides of the question. Was the Lord less troubled by doubt than by outright disbelief? Is he, or should he not be, the patron saint of all university professors? Is his the mindset that we should welcome on all fronts of exploration? Probably!

Thomas the Apostle

It said that not only Our Lord, but other members of the divine family were indulgent toward the great doubting disciple. He was unable to attend the ascension of the Virgin to heaven; and when her tomb was opened and found to be empty, he took the attitude which was natural to him, for which he was famous.1 The Virgin let fall her girdle from above, to set his mind at rest; scraps of it are preserved in a number of churches.2

When the apostles drew lots for their various parts of the world, Thomas drew India; but he doubted his strength, and protested, saying that he did not care where he went, so long as it was not India. But Our Lord appeared, and sought out an India-merchant who needed a carpenter, and sold the doubter to him for twenty pieces of silver.

St. Francis Xavier found traces of his mission in the Far East. He is believed to have baptized the three Magi. He was an architect; and Gondophorus, King of the Indies, provided him with a great deal of gold and silver to build a palace. The saint gave it all to the poor, and therefore was thrown into prison. But the king's brother died, and came back in the king's dreams to say that the building had been erected after all, in heaven.

One day, in a place on the Coromandel Coast now named after him, St. Thomas was on his knees praying, beside his hut, in the shadow of tropical branches; and a flock of peacocks hid him from sight with their great open tails. A native shot an arrow at one of the vain birds and killed the skeptical saint.

This morning's Bangkok Post brings to our kitchens a fresh way to soften the family joint:


Paris Scientists have come up with a novel way to tenderize meat: blow it up with explosives.

Researchers have found the blast breaks down tough fibers and zaps food-poisoning bacteria by sending a shockwave through the meat, the British weekly NEW SCIENTIST reports.

The meat, put in a sturdy container, is placed on top of a steel plate at the bottom of a water-filled garbage can.

The equivalent to a quarter stick of dynamite is detonated inside, resulting in a thousand-fold reduction of bacteria levels in the meat,it reports. AFP

Our next-door neighbor, the French Embassy, French Embassyis undergoing a face-lift ... if not more. Long in need of paint, the building to our immediate north is now wrapped with scaffolding. Perhaps this trail of improvements will eventually lead to the Bangkok fire department (once the Custom's House), which sorely needs far more than paint.

NEWNES started today (December 21) by reminding us that this is the Winter Solstice. The Bangkok Post delivers the exact figures for our town:

Sun rises: 6:36am
Sun sets: 5:58pm

And, it is the Bangkok Post that reminds us that in just over 10 days we will enter the new millennium. No, the new millennium did not wash over us 356 days ago ... though "2000" reads the calendar; those triple zeros just started us on the last year of the preceding millennium. So, dear reader, if you are worried about what God has planned for "The End", you still have about ten days to sort things out. Even though there are no Eiffel towers to time you down to ground zero ... even though you are on your own on this count ... well, this just might be the kind of 'end' that we deserve.

Returning to NEWNES:

1 So "natural" ... so" famous" ... that "doubting Thomas" is widely used to describe anyone who doubts authority. Some see it as a broad-brush pejorative; others reserve it for those who sincerely question that which others hold dear; the better position keeps it for minds that have looked, weighed and have walked away not convinced.

2 Bits of this relic I have never seen; nor even heard about, save in Wescott.

Friday, December 22, 2000

Let's get right to the sun's movements and see how today compares with yesterday:

Sun rises: 6:37am
Sun sets: 5:59pm

Yes, a minute was 'shaved' on both sides ... I guess this means that the 22nd is the Winter Solstice day for 2000.

[from the International Herald Tribune]
1925: Mad Train Driver

BUDAPEST The engine driver of a passenger train from Reschitza to Temesvar, Joseph Winter, was suddenly attacked by a fit of insanity and left the locomotive, while the train was running at full speed, before the fireman noticed that something was wrong. The insane man climbed over the tender to the roof of the first car and there started walking up and down, excitedly gesticulating. Before the fireman could put on the brakes, the train reached a point where telegraph wires crossed the permanent way. The engine-driver was caught by them, swept from the roof and killed almost instantaneously.

NEWNES notes two birthdays:

The Daily News starts the day with strange photo juxtapositions: a lone flower, two clocks, and what appears to be a couple of shrink-wrapped burning bodies.

The above photos turned out to be quite bland:

  1. The flower, just that ... a flower, albeit a new one for Thailand.
  2. The clocks, just that ... two clocks, albeit questionable gifts to prospective voters.
  3. The burning bodies, just mock bodies ... another part of the same ongoing Thai election as are the clocks.

A shepherd in the mountains of Asia Minor. A Christian,fleeing from persecution, appealed to him, and he showed the frightened man ahiding place that only shepherds knew about. Then he refused to lead theimperial officers to it, and was tortured to death in the other's stead, thoughthere was no friendship between them. The mountain was his home; the law ofhospitality applied to it all.

There are other versions of this story.

Saturday, December 23, 2000

Good morning, from Bangkok.


1 After the war (the last of the 'great' ones), Lord Rank's English company provided a near endless roll of B/W grade B movies to grade B movie houses throughout the English speaking world (in my youth the Rialto, Ritz and the Grand were my three favorites as I didn't have to transfer from my #10 bus). The movies always began with a bare chest Turk striking a giant vertical gong under a floating: "J. Arthur Rank Productions" ... or, was it "J. Arthur Rank Studios Presents?" I am quite sure it was the former. Either way it was a kid's guarantee of a good movie. In America, Relart Studios turned out movies of the same vein.

[from the International Herald Tribune]
1900: Sports Unhealthy

PARIS Dr. Albert H. Hoy, of Chicago, after years of patient research, has, according to the New York "World," started a new theory. He says exercise is positively unhealthy for men past thirty-five years of age. Dr. Hoy has published a book on "Eating and Drinking" which is praised by the profession. "I say that exercise for the business man or men past middle age is detrimental. Every action, whether of the brain or of the muscles, destroys cells, uses up tissue and creates waste matter to be taken up by the blood and to be eliminated from the system."

1925: Santa Drops Dead

NEWARK, N.J. In sight of children, Santa Claus died in Newark. He was standing at Halsey and Market streets ringing his bell for a cause in which the children who watched him had little interest. To them he was Santa Claus. Suddenly he clutched his hear and fell. At City Hospital it was found that Max Siegelac, seventy years old, had died of heart disease.

1950: Mean Mousetrap

LONDON Laurie Lee, in charge of "eccentrics' corner" of next summer's Festival of Britain, was offered a "pepper-maze mousetrap", a bewildering maze of passages which leads to a hunk of cheese. The secret of its infallibility, the inventor says, is the pepper sprinkled along the runways. "The mice scamper frantically in search of the cheese," the inventor wrote. "They kick up a cloud of pepper and sneeze themselves to death." Unfortunately, visitors to Britain won't see the pepper trap because the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also heard about it.

This cheery season is kept alive by Wescott with:


A paralytic beggar who lay all his life in the porch of the church of San Clemente in Rome. As he lay dying, his friends if a beggar may be said to have friends or those who saw in his death, after such a life, an edifying occasion, gathered about him and sang hymns. But he made them keep still, crying, 'Don't you hear the music in heaven?'

Time for a buffet breakfast.

The caption under the photograph summarizes it nicely:

Jesus' Tomb

"Visitors view a wooden cross standing on a snow-covered mound that is believed to be the tomb of Jesus Christ. It is located in Shingo, a hamlet in northern Japan. Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus fled the Middle East, crossing Siberia to Japan by way of a boat ride from Alaska."

Known as the "Jesus-in-Japan" theory, it digs at and slashes the roots of Christian traditional beliefs. Casting aside the crucifixion, the resurrection three days later, and the subsequent elevation to heaven, the 'new' theory is based on Christ's 'last will'. Though the original will has disappeared, it indicates that Jesus was buried in Shingo, Japan. Researchers believe this is what happened:

"Christ came to Japan in his early 20s to study Japanese culture and religion, and then returned to Judea when he was 33 to spread the word of the 'sacred nation' of Japan. He was never crucified having switched places with his younger brother Isukiri and managed to flee across Siberia to Alaska and hence to Japan by boat. In Shingo, Christ is said to have married, had three daughters and lived until the age 106. Next to his burial mound is a second mound, supposedly containing in a macabre touch one of Isukiri's ears and the hair of Saint Mary."

Visitors to Shingo are shown a photograph of a villager, now dead, who was supposedly descended from Christ.

Believers who want to return home with something from Shingo are directed to Mitsuru Takahashi, 49, who sells "Christ Hometown Sake" at his liquor store.

Sunday, December 24, 2000

Only 39 years separate these nods from NEWNES:

"She should not have been a mountain when in this world. Not even a hill. Let her be a trough ... nay, but a foul stinking ditch laying next Him ... her candle must flicker only faintly ... her halo giving barely a glow. Yes, it's only 'right' that any being entitled to a curtain call on this day ... a day just prior to Our Lord's Big Birthday ... be worthy of so little ... so very little." - Anon., Persicus 2nd


St. Gregory the Great's maiden aunt. After her death, her knees were found to be 'as tough as the hide of a camel,' due to her diligencein prayer.

Dear reader, just a few hours after I posted my nostalgic comments about Lord Rank's English film company, J. Arthur Rank Productions, I received this e-mail from my friend, Andy Page. As many of you know, Andy is my authority for all things British. I lay his letter before you in its entirety, despite its total incorporation of my footnote of the 23rd.

Subj: J Arthur Rank
Date: 12/23/2000 3:32:23 PM Eastern Standard Time
From: (andy)

1 After the war (the last of the 'great' ones), Lord Rank's English company provided a near endless roll of B/W grade B movies to grade B movie houses throughout the English speaking world (in my youth the Rialto, Ritz and the Grand were my three favorites as I didn't have to transfer from my #10 bus). The movies always began with a bare chest Turk striking a giant vertical gong under a floating: "J. Arthur Rank Productions" ... or, was it "J. Arthur Rank Studios Presents?" I am quite sure it was the former. Either way it was a kid's guarantee of a good movie. In America, Relart Studios turned out movies of the same vein.

Alf, I believe it was "productions" ... The Studios were at Shepperton in Middlesex!

The Name Rank survives in various guises including food company Rank, Hovis, McDougal. And at one time there was a "Rank Xerox" but alas The World moves on!

[At this point Andy shifts gears ... or jumps pages ... or skips days ... whatever! Taking us to January 22, 2001 (St. Vincent's Day), he warns all of us that a centennial event without peer will be celebrated on that day by more people everywhere than anything has ever been celebrated anywhere at anytime by anyone.]

Please reserve space in your journal for 22/01/01 for on that day it will have been 100 years since Victoria, Empress of India left us for the great Royal Castle in the Sky!


And, that's it from him!

Closer at hand: Only one day to Christmas; fifteen to our Bangkok elections.

December 25, 2000 (Christmas Day)

Who else was born today? At least according to NEWNES:

Though births outnumbered deaths eight to three on this major birthday, the scholar, Richard Porson, stole the honors from everyone, including Christ himself, by also electing it as his "deathday."

1 Dying at exactly age 49, he may or may not have beaten the actuarial tables of his day. Since 'day one' our loyal NEWNES has been poring over birth and death records for the rich and famous. Though his own death (or, boredom with the subject) brought the count to an end in the late '50's, extrapolation (even considering an accelerating birth and death rate) to the present suggests that no one else (a 'worthy' no one else) would capture this double crown until sometime in the third millennium. Of course, a wider or narrower definition of 'worthy' would either pull or push the probable date of the next 'worthy' two-timer one way or the other. It is impossible to include 'still-births' in this figure. Granted, a 'still-birth' on any Christmas day would propel the 'birthees' name into the 'to be considered' tray. However, the brevity of his/her life would almost guarantee that the 'worthy' test would not have been satisfied. It goes almost without saying that NEWNES worked his way 'backward' ... the worthiness test was given first; if the candidate made it his or her name was noted with a birth date (e.g., Christmas); the final test was administered at the time of death.

NEWNES records only three worthy events2 for the day:

2 The temptation must have been almost overwhelming. Anything to come up with that 'triple crown' ... some notable bit of scholarly work on the part of Porson ... anything to guarantee the scholar a place in history that could never be duplicated. A copyright date ... a Christmas morning gestalt...just one final peg ... but, no ... it was not to be.

My son, David, and his wife, Adriana, arrived in Bangkok yesterday. They will stay with us until the ninth of January. Last night, the four of us spent Christmas Eve at the Sala Rim Naam having a non-traditional holiday meal and watching not very traditional fireworks. Readers from last year will remember that Christmas Eve 1999 was passed on the Oriental side of the river.

Weekly World NewsIt came one day early. Though unambiguously dated for a December 26th read, it prematurely slid into my 'suite box' sometime early this afternoon. Yes, I am talking about my very first1 subscription copy of the Weekly World News2! Though I would like to believe that I am Bangkok's sole recipient of the WWN ... well ... that would be just too much to hope for. But, I am pretty confident that no one else at 48 Oriental Avenue can look forward to a scheduled weekly sit-down with this paper. My copy of the WWN now comes to me in a plain brown envelope ... an envelope that carries no hint as to its contents.3

1 Well, of this decade anyway. Back in the late 90's, for a reason I can no longer remember, I foolishly allowed my maiden contract with Lantana to lapse. It had originated with a gift subscription from my friend, Paul; one which I continued to renew until something that I don't remember caused me to not renew (or, not to renew).

2 Unlike The Wall Street Journal and its 'sister', The Asian Wall Street Journal, there is no Asian Weekly World News. And, unlike The Asian Wall Street Journal, the edition of the Weekly World News that reaches my desk is not printed on presses located in Bangkok or, for that matter, presses located anywhere other than in Lantana, Florida.

3 But, dear reader, it wasn't always like that. As per the delivery terms of my maiden contract with the publishers of WWN, my personal copies of the paper were delivered to my home, in Florida, without the protection of a shielding envelope. This meant that every handler of the paper knew full well what he or she was holding. Because of this I had to suffer terrible delays. Sometimes the paper would arrive weeks after the publication date. Not only late; but, well 'thumbed'. AND, if the "Page 5 Girl" was something super, God only knows what other damage my paper experienced!

But, I am drifting into a sea of footnotes.

Being the 'Christmas Issue', most of this week's stories are pretty upbeat. Even the 'Page 5 Girl' looks like she is fresh out of church.The front page "O.J." headline is nicely balanced with a 'Real Meaning of Christmas' message from Mr. Fuzzy Wuzzy. And, sure enough, inside there are a couple of heart tugging tales about pussycats for the blind and 'piggy' police dogs who have to eat cop food. And, what would Christmas be like without Ed Anger's MY AMERICA? You have to go the whole way to page 45 before you realize that you can't have Christmas all the time. Buried on that far away page is a pictureless tale of a boy eaten alive by lions while dad looked on.4


RECIFE, Brazil A half starved circus lion snatched a screaming 6-year-old boy from his father's arms, pulled him through the bars of his cage and ate him alive!

"He dragged my son away," grieving father Jose Fionseca told reporters. "There was nothing I could do".

The nightmare occurred as the crowd milled about looking at the animals before a performance of the Vostok Circus, the Dario Da Manha newspaper reported.

Desperate for food, one of four lions in the small cramped cage shot its paw out, snagged the terrified boy with its claws and yanked him from his father's arms, the paper said.

A police investigation revealed the lions had not been fed for three days.

Next: Part IV

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