Welcome, loyal readers, to 2002: The Year of the Horse!
Here in Bangkok, 2002 began in grand fashion indeed, at the Oriental Hotel's amazing New Year's Eve (and 125th Anniversary) party1. After surveying the layout from Alf's porch, we went down to the Riverside Terrace, which we shared with over 400 people for hours of leisurely dining and musical entertainment. There were even balloons (although not of the usual "hot air" variety). The celebration culminated at midnight with a spectacular fireworks show, coordinated with the Peninsula Hotel across the Chao Phraya. And after the fireworks, a special cake to commemorate another special event. This was definitely worth staying up for!2
I forsook my sneakers and my 'shoes that even the Oriental can't make presentable' in favor of some dressier footwear, and tossed on some fairly nice sartorial accompaniments for my more elevated levels, too. A lot of the people were really decked out, however: Lots of black tie, lots of black gowns, plus various other takes on the 'formal wear' concept. It was very deluxe all around.
The band was pretty good. Their first couple of sessions, with somewhat languid dinner music, were all right, although I was a very disquieted by their rendition of "My Favorite Things," which was one of the scariest numbers I've ever heard.3 With the later sets, however, as midnight approached, they shone quite brightly with their livelier dance numbers. They lived the vida loca, they asked us if we wanted to couchez avec them çe soir, they assured us that they will survive.
The fireworks were great! You'll recall that there was a nice show at the conclusion of the Christmas Eve festivities, but this presentation went much further, and we were all transfixed by the explosions of color.
After midnight, the band continued to play on the Terrace, but the lobby of the Oriental Hotel provided an alternative venue, with a 'DJ'. All of the lobby's furniture was spirited away to some unknown location, and the entire space was converted into a dance hall.
I went up to bed a little before 1:00. ("Just in case," The Oriental thoughtfully left a couple of Alka-Seltzer tablets on our pillows.) It felt strange to be living in 2002 when it was still the morning of December 31 back home in Washington.
Speaking of year-end things, traffic at corkscrew-balloon.com continued to grow throughout 2001. Of course, this may be caused by the stepped-up monitoring activities of various law enforcement (and God enforcement) authorities, but there are some things at the site which seem to remain popular. Looking over the top "search engine" search requests that landed people here in December, we see (of course) "Patpong girls" at the top of the list. The next-most-popular search term was "elephant"; we've certainly got those here. There is less of "Bizarre Magazine" and "Beckingham Palace," but those searchers were at least somewhat rewarded with information at c-b. I'm not sure there was much success for all the people who came here seeking "girls in jail," but I might be forgetting a section of the site. The biggest puzzle was all the people who came here seeking "parenthetic." I'm not even sure what they had in mind, let alone what they might have actually found.
This afternoon I was pleased when the hotel notified me that I had been given a box of flowers. When the deliverer arrived in my room, however, it turned out they were actually for somebody else. Oh well.
1 The Oriental has been celebrating its 125th Anniversary for at least a year. We think that particular celebration might finally have reached its end now.
2 If you're one of those 'don't end sentences with prepositions' people, feel free to read that last sentence as: "This was definitely something up for which staying was worthwhile."
3 There's a very good scary version of "On the Street Where You Live" on Holly Cole's Blame It on My Youth album, but those Alan Jay Lerner lyrics do basically have a stalking theme at their heart to begin with. And with "My Favorite Things" last night it wasn't the part about the dog biting and the bee stinging that was so terrifying. No, this girl made kitten whiskers and woolen mittens sound really scary. I was relieved when they moved on to other tunes.
Last night I was surprised to be treated to another fireworks display! I was enjoying a quiet dinner at the Riverside Terrace buffet; I had followed up some outstanding sushi with a few assorted morsels from the Bar-B-Q counter; and I was reflecting on how relaxing and wonderful this visit to Bangkok had been. Just then, when things seemed incapable of being any better, the Peninsula Hotel directly across the river fired off a long show of wonderful fireworks! They must have been left over from New Year's Eve ... or perhaps they were simply to commemorate New Year's Day. In any event, this was marvelous icing on an already perfect cake.
On a less rosy note: I am so sick of hearing about the Euro! Both CNN and BBC World are covering this "story" with a frenzy usually reserved for O.J. Simpson, Chandra Levy, and anthrax. It's practically a total 24/7 thing.1
Oh, all right, I suppose it is kind of important, as it affects what 300 million people carry in their pockets every day. Mainly, though, I think we're in a slow news cycle. And yet ... Argentina is falling apart; India and Pakistan could start nuking each other at any moment ... the U.S. is still rooting out O.b.L.
Here in Bangkok, the story of the Euro ran at the bottom of the front page ... thus receiving a placement equivalent in status to this story from 'back home': 2
Legless Thief Runs Off With 10 Pairs of Pants
Vancouver, British Columbia - Police in a Vancouver suburb were on the lookout for a legless man wanted for allegedly stealing 10 pairs of pants.
The wheelchair-bound man was one of two suspects who witnesses said fled a Gap Inc store in a West Vancouver shopping mall two days before Christmas, carrying trousers and jackets worth $1,600.
The men escaped from the crowded mall in a car that had previously been reported stolen, West Vancouver police said on Friday. - Reuters
In more serious news, a survey conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project has found that 25% of adult Internet users have gone online to find religious and spiritual material ... more than the number who have visited gambling web sites, participated in online auctions, or traded stocks online. "As we were watching these sites post-Sept 11, there was a lot of angst, spiritual angst," said survey director Lee Rainey. "A substantial number of people were saying, 'Where is God in this?'"3
I've been spending so much time in The Oriental, basking in the wonderful service and taking advantage of the opportunity to get caught up with various tasks that needed to be done by the end of 2001. Today I decided to get out and spend a little more time in Bangkok. Shortly before noon, therefore, I headed out the door and hiked far up Silom Road ... all the way, in fact, to Patpong.4 I thought about continuing onward to Pantip Plaza, but that is much farther ... also, I wasn't entirely sure I would be able to find it without a map (and I had left mine behind). So I turned around and walked back, down the other side of the road. In all, it was a three-hour walk: at once quite invigorating and quite enervating.
Here's another crime blotter item, this one from the International Herald Tribune:
A judge has reduced a charge against Marilyn Manson from criminal sexual conduct to disorderly conduct in connection with a July concert in Clarkston, Michigan. The rocker was charged with fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct and assault and battery after allegations that he assaulted a security guard. Manson is accused of gyrating against the neck and head of the guard. The guard testified that he was shocked as Manson locked his head with his thights and rocked back and forth. Manson's attorney, Walter Piszczatowski, argued that although the act was "in poor taste," it was not a criminal sexual assault.
1 Actually, CNN International and BBC World are generally even more repetitive than is CNN back home. I suppose these channels are intended for travelers who only turn on their sets for a few minutes each day, between their forays into galleries, cathedrals and ruins. Pity the poor fellow (me!) who has their broadcasts on in the background while he pounds away on his notebook computer in furtherance of various projects!
Even more serious than the "Euro news" glut is that CNN broadcasts an hour of Larry King Live [sic] about six times a day. If Larry gets any residuals at all from these blanket rebroadcasts, he will be sailing past Bill Gates on the Forbes list in no time.
2 This is something of an 'old' story; perhaps the Bangkok Post was 'saving it' for a slow news day such as this.
3 These people, of course, are idiots. 'God' was the main force in the cockpits of those planes. If it weren't for the hijackers' deep belief in such primitive mythologies, there would have been no 'Sept 11'.
I haven't seen anyone mention another little problem 'God' had with a different tower, many years ago, which made 'Him' a bit nervous:
Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
Genesis 11:4-9 (Rev Std Ver). (It's not entirely clear to whom 'the LORD' was speaking when he suggested going down and smiting those uppity tower builders who seemed so threatening to 'Him'.)
As for the appropriateness of punishing those who built the tower, Matthew Henry says in his Concise Commentary: "How soon men forget the most tremendous judgments, and go back to their former crimes! Though the desolations of the deluge were before their eyes, though they sprang from the stock of righteous Noah, yet even during his life-time, wickedness increases exceedingly. Nothing but the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit can remove the sinful lusts of the human will, and the depravity of the human heart." And then, many years later, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey made the same stupid, arrogant blunder of messing with 'the LORD'. Well ... duh!!
4 Patpong in the early afternoon is not the same as Patpong at night. Nevertheless, a lone marketer walked by my side down most of the length of Patpong Road, extolling the great advantages of 'happy hour' (which happened to be going on right now) with its lack of cover charge and its 'free look.'
Last night: Dinner on the Terrace again! More sushi, more Bar-B-Q tidbits. No fireworks, however.
Our group here at The Oriental has been a bit scattered lately: David and Adriana left yesterday morning, on another side trip to another lovely resort area of Thailand. Watcharee went up to Ayutthaya to visit family. Alf has experienced a catastrophic DSL failure. I have been glued to various Internet projects, plus there was my trek to Patpong yesterday. What a busy world!
Meanwhile, the world is getting back to business, and the presses have stepped up to the plate to keep us informed. The holidays plainly seem to be over: This morning's complement of newspapers has reached a level of thickness that has been lacking of late. Although it's nearly 10:00, I haven't had a chance to work my way through them all yet.
My days in Bangkok are rapidly drawing to a close. Today will probably bring another field trip.
Alf stopped by my room this morning and dropped off today's Bangkok Daily News. As always, the front page has a couple of intriguing 'human interest' stories. As always, those of us who don't know the Thai language can only speculate on what the color photos actually depict. Here is an offering from today's paper:
It looks pretty messy! Watcharee was very tired this morning and she slept late, but we were finally able to learn the story behind the gore. Apparently, this fellow was despondent because his wife would not accede to his desire for a "ménage à trois." Indeed, this emptiness in his life left him so forlorn that he threw himself into a device normally used for mangling plastic that is to be recycled, and it ended things for him rather quickly, if quite unpleasantly. A great deal of cross-hatching was required in the Daily News's photo lab.1 Perhaps his wish will come true in the beyond.
This just in: CNN has just spent a few seconds relaying a non-Euro story! It's about AOL Instant Messenger, a product of the same company that owns CNN. Apparently, a security hole has been found in "AOL Instant Mess". I have been quite suspicious of this for a few days now. Indeed, just within the past hour I killed an Instant Mess session after watching constant data transfers in and out of my PC when no such transfers should have been occurring ... and watching the memory consumed by the Instant Mess process rapidly climb up well beyond 60 megabytes of RAM, with no apparent end in sight. According to CNN, their brethren over at AOL are scratching their little heads and attempting to find a 'fix' for this problem.
1 Similar tools were employed at Thai Rath, the other leading Thai-language daily, which also carries this story. The Thai Rath photo is a bit different, however: It includes a man who seems to be either congratulating the departed or perhaps offering him a hand in extricating himself.
It's a sad day around the world, as we learn that Bill Clinton's dog Buddy was hit by a car and killed. We wish him well in the doggie hereafter. Meanwhile, CNN continues to swirl down the drain, as Greta Van Susteren jumps ship for Fox News1 and a $1 million contract.2
There's good news on the front page of the Herald Tribune, however. For some reason, the IHT looks at it in a 'glass is half empty' way, but I think they're wrong.
A Grim Choice: The Ravages of Age, or of Cancer
Scientists See Startling Link Between 2 Human Scourges
WASHINGTON - A critical protein that protects animals from cancer in their early years appears, in later life, to cause much of the deterioration associated with aging, according to a provocative new study.
The results, by scientists at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, "raise the shocking possibility that aging may be a side effect of the natural safeguards that protect us from cancer," two commentators say in an editorial accompanying the new study, which appears in Friday's edition of the journal Nature.
How can this be bad news? As for myself, I already KNOW that I'm experiencing 'the ravages of age,' big time. For me, this news means that I'm fighting cancer like gangbusters. So now, when I get up in the morning and look in the mirror, instead of my usual thought ("Holy crap, what happened here?!?") ... I'll be able to think (apparently with increasing conviction every day, if the past indicates the future), "Take that, you feeble cancer cells! I totally rule!!"
Meanwhile, in Rome, those wacky Catholics are up to their usual pranks.
1 Let's hope she's Catholic and Republican, if she expects to fit in there.
2 I wonder if Greta sends OJ Simpson holiday greeting cards? It was, of course, Greta's coverage of his "trial of the century" in 1995 that first brought her to our television nation. Later, William Kennedy Smith and Katherine Harris teamed up to help, too. I will miss Greta!
It took me an entire weekend to fly to Bangkok: I left home before 8:00 am on a Saturday morning, and I reached the Oriental at about 2:45 am Monday morning.
Going home, however, will be a breeze! I am scheduled to leave this morning at 6:10 am ... and I will arrive in Seattle this morning at 6:15 am. With a bit of a tailwind over the Pacific, I might actually land before I take off. Man, this is the life.
I'll be journaling once again (with some help from Pauline Fjelstad) in under two weeks, when we all get together at Chateau d'Oex. Until then, it's back to Alf!
Next: Alf in 2002