Back Home in Bangkok, Part VII

After Part VI and Part VIII

April 16-23, 2001

Monday, April 16, 2001

IN OUR PAGES: 50 YEARS AGO
[from the International Herald Tribune]
1951: Nut in the House

LANCASTER, Ohio A self-styled Maine legislator who turned out to be an escaped mental patient was back in custody after holding the Ohio House of Representatives in rapt attention while he discoursed on the mashing qualities of Maine potatoes. One Representative asked why Maine potatoes don't mash well. Mr. Snow blamed the government's surplus policy. There were a few puzzled looks but no open objection to his explanation.


"Thar's gold in them thar hills!"

Wagon trains stream across the Great Plains ... families on foot wind their way through the Rockies ... saloons and ladies of the night in their wake ... snake oil salesmen, too ... lawmen, badmen ... the gamblers, the sheepherders ... cattlemen. They all went west.

So, too, in Thailand.

But, this time the charge to the hills will be led by officials from the Forestry Department. And, it's way down deep in the Lijia Cave ... far, far away in the Kanchanaburi Khao Laem National Park where "thar's gold".

According to Senator Chaowarin Latthasaksiri, that's where the gold is supposed to have been buried. And, on just what facts does this good Senator base his claim? A monk told him so!

"At the onset of WWII, Japan had planned to conquer the world and therefore stocked up on bonds and gold for the purpose of financing its military invasion. Thailand was the nerve center where the valuables were stored."

Understandably, the Japanese High Command anticipated that this would be an expensive operation. But, for just how costly this land grab might be, we have to ask. So, Mr. Senator, just how much did the monk say was buried beneath the rocks?

"Well, according to this man of sacred cloth, the cave holds 2,500 tons of gold, plus fifty-five billion dollars in US Treasury Bonds."1

At $259.902 per ounce for the metal alone, that's almost $21 billion ... combined with the Treasuries ... well, does $76,000,000,000 sound about right? This amounts to more than $1,000 for every Thai citizen!

Hmmmm ... .I wonder if there is any chance that the 'finders' of this tucked away treasure might now need to raise a little cash? Just enough, of course, to finance the opening of the cave? Then, of course, the 'investors' would get to share handsomely in the discovery. A comparatively tiny investment now ... a huge payback once the rocks have been swept off the tops of the packing crates.


1 As to why the Japanese Imperial Army was so heavily invested in US Treasuries is unknown. That, combined with the fact that the price of gold in the '40s was artificially pegged at less than one tenth of today's market close ... well, maybe the Japanese officials in charge of keeping the 'nest egg' were less optimistic about their Empire's post Pearl Harbor days than were their leaders back in Tokyo.

2 April 13th closing price, according to Reuters. Off exactly 8% on its one-year intraday trading.


Tuesday, April 17, 2001

IN OUR PAGES: 50 YEARS AGO
[from the International Herald Tribune]
1951: Gore on Korea

WASHINGTON Rep. Albert Gore, D., Tenn., indicated that the United States has developed a "cataclysmic" method of poisoning the ground by atomic radiation, and said it should be used to "dehumanize" a belt across Korea. Mr. Gore proposed in a letter to President Truman that all inhabitants be removed from an area across the waist of the Korean Peninsula and that the ground be poisoned. He said the Communists should be warned before such action that entrance to the area would mean "certain death or slow deformity" and that all weapons, food, vehicles and clothing would become poisoned.

Yesterday, I wrote of this thing as if it ranked right up there, risk wise, with helping a Nigerian widow transfer millions of her own money out of Lagos.1 From a lackluster page 3 coverage, this bewildering tale has 'leap-froged' to the covers of the Bangkok Post and the Daily News. The Prime Minister himself is now involved. With $55,000,000,000.00 (yes, fifty-five billion US) in US Treasuries gathering mold in a cave, there is a lot of top-level talent looking at all these zeros. Are the bonds for real? Are they still accruing interest? Can they be redeemed? According to the Senator who 'found' this cave, Prime Minister Thaksin "has a close relationship with US President George W. Bush and the issue could be discussed between them."

In a bizarre twist, the Senator said that the Thai "... government would not redeem all the money from the US in one lot. I agree with the prime minister's idea that we take the bonds out for a road show to increase their value before putting them up for auction. This way we will get more money than their face value."

The Senator's claim that the bonds were stored in titanium chests by Japanese soldiers seems suspect as the Du Pont Company first produced titanium for commercial purposes not until 1948.

Some of the bonds were alleged to be in $100 million denominations, even though the US Government denies ever issuing a bond in that denomination.


1 Yes, this swindle is 'available' to almost everyone with an e-mail address. Recently widowed in Lagos there lives a deserving person (Doctor, Miss, Mrs.) who can 'wire' tens of millions of US Dollars (once earmarked for Nigerian overseas purchases) to a Canadian or Bahamian bank. All you have to do to collect a 50% 'helper's fee' is to show up in this country and take delivery of the cash ... (to help a widow) ... on her behalf. Of course, you might have to 'front' $25,000 to cover some handling fees. But, you'll get that back ... on top of your 50% 'helper's fee'.


Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Grumblers! Malcontents! Look at what the 'letters to the editor' box brought today!

Sir,

There is way too much blood & gore on your site! Please clean up your act!

That picture of Doctor Sam was the final straw!

Disgusted
Of Tunbridge Wells

What does this man want? Smiling babies? He's got smiling babies! How about the Gerber twins!

One!

One!

Two!

Two!

Wow! Triplets!

Triplets!


Moving back to the view from my balcony, do you notice something different?

Looking...

Closer!

Closer...

Closest!

Closest!


Thursday, April 19, 2001

With America's much-ballyhooed execution of Timothy McVeigh barely a month away, are our own Thai executioners trying to capture the Oscar for best foreign execution ... or, even the one for best overall performance? It looks that way.

For more than a century Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, has been the scene of the Great American End Game. This May will be curtain time for Mr. McVeigh. Yes, the final jamboree in McVeigh's long lasting run will take place right here in this mid-America city.

But, it didn't start here.

It all began years before ... with the long, tedious and terribly 'labyrinthal' investigation into the bombing of some Oklahoma federal building ... Machiavellian-like pretrial maneuverings followed upon this ever so carefully ... the evidence drizzled down in parallel time ... the plea ... the sentence ... the appeal ... the interviews for the magazine and book deals; yes, they all awaited their turn. Finally, only the execution itself remained yet to be done. It was time to pause. Oh, yes, the jockeying and negotiating for the best (gurney-, pole-, trapdoor-, chamber-, chair-) -side seats had to be worked out. But, more about that another day.1

Back to the long 'pause'. This 'pause' phase is pretty much unique to American proceedings. It's that time between the final scheduled 'event' and the last blink of the one convicted to die. And, it's not until one of the following props is pulled on stage that you know for sure that there will be an end to the play:

"So how was it in done in Bangkok, Alf? What's behind these Oscar hinting headlines?"

I'm glad you asked.

Farewell to Five

All five executions took place at the Bang Kwang maximum-security prison ... in a room comfortingly named, "Place to Relieve Suffering". But, let's just follow the path of one of these men: Vichien Saenmahayak. Convicted of "possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell", this 42-year-old drug smuggler had no knowledge that April 17th was to be his curtain call. Not until just two hours before his performance did he know that he had already dined on his last meal.2 One hour and 38 minutes before his time, the 42-year-old criminal was taken to a small pavilion in front of the "Place to Relieve Suffering" room. He was seated in a chair ... the shackles were removed from his arms ... a bunch of flowers and joss-sticks were placed in his hands ... he was blindfolded with a white cloth. Incidentally, while this last bit of costuming was taking place in the pavilion, the final stage was being readied for him. The prior act3 had spilled a lot of blood that had to be washed away ... gouges in the backdrop that needed to be hastily filled with putty. Anyway, when that was done ... the room freshened ... Vichien and another4 were led into the chamber with the solace sounding name. Short muffled bursts from twin HK automatic rifles wrote 'al fin' on the screen.


1 That is a whole book in itself. We'll have to wait until McVeigh's 'end game' is over before we comment on that seating arrangement.

2 A prison official said that they were not given special last meals of their choice "because that would give them a hint of their last fate".

3 As the "Place to Relieve Suffering" could only handle two at a time, the day's 'suffering' had to be relieved in pairs. Vichien and his co-tenant were preceded in the room by two others. In their wake, a fifth had the quarters to himself.

4 Romali (alias Romalee Tayeh), a Muslim, not in need of joss-sticks, was allowed to bow low while facing Mecca.


Friday, April 20, 2001

"How dangerous can they be? "

"Why is the protection of their anonymity so important?"

As you can see, last night the darkroom at the Bangkok Daily News was forced into high gear. Count them ... one ... two ... three ... yes ... seven black eye-bars hide their identity. Morton,1 no doubt, emptied his drawer of eye-blocks on just this one print.

"Hey, even the stuff around the eye-bars seems ... well ... fuzzy."

You're right! It looks like Morton ratcheted up the 'protection' by printing the faces through the bottom of a Smirnoff bottle. Good thinking, Mort!

"I guess we'll just have to wait for Watcharee on this one. When will she be back?"

In a few hours. But, remember, this photograph is ON the cover (and ABOVE the fold) of today's Bangkok Daily News. This is not something I found floating above a 'Hubbies Play Canasta' caption in the Boca Raton Neighbor. Nope, we are looking at something with serious gore potential.

"Anything to keep us warm in the mean time?"

I found this in the archives. Do you remember it?

Remembrance of Things Past


1 The paper's alcoholic and ever-so-overworked dark room technician (nightshift). Nocturnal work, combined with an unlit work place, allows Morton to 'hide' his little 'weakness'. Rows and shelves and counter tops of opaque bottles of all shapes and sizes permits Morton to keep his personal restoratives always at arm's reach. And, never does the night editor come around to sniff at the contents of the bottles labeled D-76.


Saturday, April 21, 2001

Weirder

This is the headline.

How could it have come this far? How could so many people at such a high level been fooled so easily?

A few days ago, all of Thailand's newspapers reported that in a certain cave, high in the Thai mountains, there was a titanium box containing $55,000,000,000.00 in IOUs. Not just any IOUs ... no, these were IOUs from the biggest and best of the world's borrowers: the US government.

Denominated in easy to use $100,000,000.00 units (allowing all 555 of them to be bundled together with one rubber band), this mega fortune1 allegedly had been tucked away by high officials of the Imperial Japanese Army in order to finance Japan's ongoing real-estate acquisitions. Along with this 'paper', 2,000 tons of gold was promised to be hibernating in the same cave.

Dear reader, in these pages you saw ... bulldozers at work ... men with miner lamps ... rocks shoved aside ... cameras focused on fresh digs ... and much talk of the national debt being discharged with but one shovel's worth of effort.

All that wasted effort could have been spared with one phone call to Washington.

"How, Alf."

When a country decides to borrow money, how does it show its intent and its ability to pay the money back? It issues bonds ... 'markers' ... essentially IOU's ... pieces of paper that promise to pay the owner of that piece of paper X-number of dollars (or, any other currency) at some future date. Generally, the debtor doesn't care to whom he pays the money ... just so long as that when it is paid it is paid in full ... no more is owed. However, the person 'holding' the paper desperately cares about who is the person on the paying end. Uncle Sam is viewed as a man who keeps his word ... and as someone who has the stuff to back up his word.

Now we come to the evidence of the debt. The piece of paper ... the IOU ... the 'marker'. One assumes that somewhere in Washington there is a big book with a lot of pages in it, showing how much and when. That's all! One call. One question.

Yesterday we missed this dose of NEWNES (but, I do think we'll need a little help from Andy on this one ... please):

Today, still huffing to catch up with NEWNES, we'll look at his 'Events' section first:

Still NEWNES ... and still for today ... we find the old gentleman peeking into the bassinette of:

Donning a black hat, our dear NEWNES moves a step sideways for a hurried glance into a pair of caskets:


1 Remember, all these zeros are in 1940s US dollars.


Sunday, April 22, 2001

At this time of the month1 there are just a few odds and ends ... bits and pieces ... lying about the shop:

NEWNES has to deal with Immanuel Kant's2 birthday (1724), the passing away of Lamoignon-Malesherbes (off went his head) in 1794, and the discovery of Brazil in 1500 ... .oh, yes, and poison gas was first used by the Germans in 1915.

Recently 'anniversaried'3 himself, Wescott offers us CAIUS (died 296), the "... Dalmation pope who devised six orders preliminary to ordination as a priest: Ostarius, Lector, Exorcist, Acolyte, Subdeacon, and Deacon ..."

Incidentally, Patty White, a good friend of Paul and an acquaintance of mine, might find something useful in the pages of this third century pope. Being herself only a fresh arrival at base camp, a glance skyward ... if only as far as the Ostarius peek ... will show her just how far away is that Papal Ring ... to kiss, much less to wear.

William Malloy's The Mystery Book of Days marks today as the 89th anniversary of the death of Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula.

I have a few other knick-knacks lying about. Rather than attempt a theme,4 I'll just sprinkle some stuff about.

Pictures of Noo are always welcome. Her super-model looks have allowed her to grace the covers of books, ride the glossy insides of fashion magazines, appear in ads for Nescafe and even to act as the 'introducer' on Channel 4's big screen TV. She looks lovely from whatever the angle.

Jumping off the pendulum at its highest arch on the other swing ... well, this lands us right in the middle of Bangkok's famous Medical Museum. Paul can build a link for those who want the full detour.5 If you've already been there and would just like a 'freshening' of the place, here is a snap or two. The 'full frontal' gives you only half a view, as this head-shot is on museum-display just to illustrate a 'head-shot'. The companion side-shot allows you to trace the surprisingly neat trail left by the invading bullet. Perhaps the bullet was from a small caliber weapon; if so, soft brain tissue would have just collapsed behind the relatively mild wake of the rapidly decelerating bullet. A larger slug, acting much like a snowmobile, would have tossed blood and gray-matter to the four winds, leaving more of a tunnel to its rear.


1 David has just left for Florida; Annie and Jez have but a few more days in Bangkok before they have to leave for Seattle. Watcharee and I are planning out our May and June journeys.

2 Somewhere Monty Python has a skit about him. It was hilarious when I first heard it. Will it be so now? I expect, yes.

3 The 100th took place in America. Hosted by the man's last lover, it was probably a maudlin event.

4 Could be 'heads', though.

5 A full tour of the place is highly recommended. This is where I took Watcharee on our first 'date'. Though Paul has only seen it from 'afar', he has expressed great interest in seeing all of its exhibits in 3D.


PS Dear reader, I want to sign off from this bits 'n pieces kind of day with a near sunset, one just to the right of my camera. I took the picture using the high resolution adjustment on my Sony Mavica.

Bangkok Dusk


Monday, April 23, 2001 (St. George's Day)

The only one that she would pose for was one taken through the good offices of a friendly, anonymity guaranteeing, ambient light ensured, maximum bend1 convex mirror structure.

The other picture was taken while her boy friend, Jez, was busy sorting out our direction on the Sky Train, Bangkok's best bargain in city travel.

Tomorrow ... (actually, the day-after: at 2:10AM), Annie and Jez are going to fly back to Seattle. They have been here in Bangkok for a little over three weeks. Annie, being terribly camera shy, has 'allowed' just these two photographs of the two of them together. Balloon FleetBut, we'll meet Annie again in less than a month.

In mid-May, Annie, Watcharee and myself, Paul, Cindy and Mike will join up in Copenhagen for another ad hoc balloon adventure. It will start with the 8th AGM (Annual General Meeting) of "Helix Scandinavica": a Scandinavian corkscrew collectors club. We'll spend a long weekend in Esbjerg, Denmark, looking at corkscrews ... and, of course, flying in the inflatable models. The balance of the month and the first week in June will be passed in Germany (ballooning over Hermann and his cars) and in Switzerland (ballooning in and around world famous cheese).

For those of you who have never seen the Sofitel Hotel WITH its logo, here is a full-length shot of the building. As you know, the lettering has only recently (just days ago) come down. At this point we really don't know what all of this means ... the sign is being moved to another building, one suitable for human occupancy ... allowing the sign to linger where it was perpetuated a bad image ... a new sign is being readied for the place ... the building is about to be torn down, and this is the first thing to go ... ???

For those of you who have never seen what happens when a hand grenade goes off in your lap, here is a picture of the carnage.

According to NEWNES, William Shakespeare was born and died today:

In 1932, also according to NEWNES, the new Shakespeare Memorial Theatre opened at Stratford-on-Avon.


1 Just what is this 'maximum bend'? We need a 'geometrist' for this one ... someone comfortable with angles and logarithms. Does an accelerating bend always collapse on itself? Is any bend enough for closure? Is being convex something that is always 'looked out of'? Is concave forever just the opposite? Bending away from ... bending toward? Please return to the photograph of what the exploding grenade leaves behind for even more questions.


Next: Part VIII

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