Bangkok Forever?

Back at the Oriental Hotel

Between New York and Bangkok Forever? ... Part II

May 1-6, 2000

Monday, May 1, 2000

I'm home!

Actually, my suite (John LeCarre) is having some work done on the plumbing so I'm staying with Gore Vidal for the next ten days. They are clones structurally; only the decorative details are different. Gore Vidal's ViewThe view from here is a little loftier, as I'm on the 14th floor (really the 13th, but elevators here are superstitious, too). The perspective from the porch is almost identical. And, there is no Barbara Cartland pink to be seen anywhere ... across the hall is Graham Greene.

The ride in from the airport took less than 25-minutes. May Day is a holiday in Bangkok. It's sort of a fuzzy one, kind of like what it is in the United States ... most people aren't sure exactly what it means ... just that the banks and government offices are closed. More of an inconvenience than a day for fireworks. But, it was enough time to give the Bangkok Post a quick read. Page 2 carried this airport story:


"A total of 1,200 snakes were seized at Don Muang airport on Saturday. The snakes, worth more than 500,000 baht, were on their way to China."

"Acting on a tip-off, customs and forestry officials found the 'sing hang-lai' snakes at the airport's second warehouse."

"No one claimed the protected species, which weighed 1,095kg and were shipped in 54 boxes."

"Warehouse officials told customs officers the snakes had been documented as frozen shrimp."

Meanwhile, on the next page the paper reports on neighbor Cambodia's attempt to give women a "leg-up":


"Phnom Penh - With Cambodia's women dogged by domestic violence and a flourishing sex trade, it may appear strange that the latest government initiative for women's rights is a beauty contest."

"But organizers of the Culture Ministry-sanctioned 'New Face of Cambodia' are promoting their parade of starlets as a 'social development'."

" 'Make no mistake: this is not a beauty contest.' Said Vann Phenn, a Culture Ministry official on the all-male panel of judges seeking the 'ideal Khmer woman'."

" 'We want to stress that there is more to Cambodia than the sex trade and Angkor Wat'."

" 'That is why these women have to be intelligent as well,' he said. - AFP"

Peregrino Lazioli
DIED 1345

For thirty years this aristocrat of Torli never sat down or went to bed. He sometimes leaned against the wall, and took a few minutes' nap in that position. Late in life he had cancer of the bone; the doctors were just about to cut off his leg when he recovered, miraculously; and his mistreated body did not actually wear out until he was eighty.

NEWNES notes the birth of one who gave his name to the one London hotel that only one in forty-four Americans can pronounce correctly:

Sometime shortly before midnight we had chocolate ice cream and watermelon juice on the 43rd floor of a skyscraper.

Tuesday, May 2, 2000

The Bangkok Post is forever keen on reporting quirky behavior in other countries:


"Teheran - An Iranian couple murdered their eight-year old daughter because of her poor grades in school, the official Iran news agency reported yesterday. It said the couple made their daughter drink a glass of weed-killer two months ago to keep her from 'becoming a burden to society' after she came home with a bad report card from school. They buried her in the yard of an abandoned house in the Caspian Sea province of Gilan, Iran said, citing police officials. - AFP"

[from The International Herald Tribune]
1950: Soviet May Day

MOSCOW - Premier Josef V. Stalin, Vyacheslav M. Molotov and other members of the Politburo reviewed one of the most impressive military parades in Soviet history in Red Square today [May 1] from the top of the red and black granite Lenin Mausoleum. May Day slogans festooned across Red Square in giant gold letters proclaimed "unity in the fraternal struggle of peace-loving peoples." The most prominent slogans called for the workers of the world to unmask criminal wrongdoers and hailed the friendship of the Anglo-American and Soviet in the common fight for peace.

NEWNES and The History Channel lead with:

Dear reader, the monsoon season is not far away. Yesterday The Oriental erected its protective gear: tental stuff that will keep the guests and the food dry when all else gets wet. Dark SkiesThough nothing heavy hit today, the sky made serious noises and there were numerous flashes. Heavy rains in Bangkok create quite a mess. The streets don't drain very well and the traffic lights fail with alarming frequency. Also, all those millions of extension cords that drape themselves over everything start to spark and hiss at the first hint of rain. Here are some Sony Mavica views of the threatening sky shot from the safety of the tent.

I think that my government owes me some money. Not a lot. Apparently, I over-paid something about nine years ago and now the Bureau of Mines and Indian Affairs wants my current address so that it can send me a check for $74.62. Now, just hold on for a second. Do you, dear reader, remember that scene in one of the early Bogart movies when Sydney Greenstreet gets his government checks sent to a bar in Marseilles? OK, never mind if you don't. This is what I am going to do: I'll ask Mines and Indian Affairs to send the check to me in care of Super Queen, 17 Patpong Road, Bangkok. I've always wanted to pick up my mail at a low-life bar.

Wednesday, May 3, 2000

Ever curious about how foreigners instill a proper school ethic in their children, the Bangkok Post continues to ferret out the little coaching eccentricities found in homes across the sea:


"Beijing - A Chinese teenager who sparked national soul searching when he killed his mother after she threatened to break his legs for playing soccer instead of studying has been jailed for 15 years, state media reported yesterday. Xu Li, a 17-year old described as a model student at a school in Jinhua in eastern Zhejiang province, was sentenced on Monday at a court in Jinhua for killing his mother with a hammer during a row, said Xinhua news agency. His mother had demanded he be among the top pupils in his class every year, and she banned him from playing football."

You May Already Have Won!

As one of Thailand's newspapers of record, the Bangkok Post each fortnight publishes the roll of winning lottery numbers. As a service to my readers, I want to re-broadcast this list to those of you who don't have the BP delivered to your room along with your breakfast. The holder of number 070715 has just won 3,000,000 Baht (a little under $80,000). Lest you despair too much for being only one number off (in either direction), there is a "Pre-first prize" of 50,000 Baht (roughly $1,300) for the owners of 070714 and 070716.

Today, while I was in Bangkok, Christie's South Kensington held a corkscrew auction without me.

But what is odd about this lottery is that each number has 24 chances of being chosen. In other words, there are twenty-four 070715s. Assuming all are sold, each winning slice of the pie is only worth 125,000 Baht (less than $3,200). Down at the bottom of the winning stack are those whose last two numbers are "20". They each get 1,000 Baht (way less than $30).

Last year on this date NEWNES reminded us that May 3rd was the 87th anniversary of the death of Emil Leopold Boas, the general manager of the Hamburg-Amerika Line. Today he is 88 years dead.

Last night my Sony Mavica looked at one face of Buddha five ways.

One of the local temples encourages return visits with a friendly sign.

Thursday, May 4, 2000

My friend took me here last night.

Cabbages and CondomsIt's a Thai restaurant, but you can't tell that from its name: Cabbages and Condoms.

Located off Sukhumvit Soi 12, Cabbages and Condoms is run by the Population and Community Development Association (PDA), a private organization that promotes family planning. The name of the restaurant comes from the founder's belief that for any population control program to be successful "birth control should be as accessible and easy to buy as vegetables in the market!" The restaurant is located on the ground floor of a building that is also the working edge of a clinic that specializes in "Non-Scalpel Vasectomy."

Side by side with a menu from which you can order Gung Obb Mapraow (steamed prawn in coconut) or Samlee Det Deao (deep fried cotton fish) you can read about what's on the upstairs menu:

"The Non-Scalpel Vasectomy is performed under local anesthesia using a special instrument to make a small hole in the scrotal skin. The 'vas deferens' (a tube from the testis that the sperm passes through) can be elevated, tied and cut through this hole. The whole procedure takes about 7 minutes and is almost painless. The hole in the skin heals in a few days. The clients normally return to their routine one-day after the vasectomy."

Though curiously decorated with condoms and scrotal surgical instruments, the tone of the place is surprisingly relaxed. Yes, there is a Condom Room that seats 30 persons; and, it can be booked for private parties. And, yes, there is a Spicy Condom Salad that the compilers of the menu describe as "a naughty combination of Shanghai noodles garnished with chili sauce and herbs."

As expected, there is a theme gift shop in the building. For Mom a condom wall clock for the kitchen is available. Dad can choose from a wide array of T-shirts, each faithfully decorated with the logo of his favorite brand of condom. Junior will surely want a condom slingshot. Mom's little kitchen helper can choose an apron adorned with cute little condom cartoon characters. Penal chastity cages come in various sizes.

When leaving the restaurant, instead of a bowl of after dinner mints from which to choose, the diner can reach into an assortment of complimentary condoms.

Meanwhile, back in the 13th century:

DIED 1225

The son of a family of converted Jews of Jerusalem, Angelus, or Angiolino, emigrated to Sicily and preached there. His eloquence is symbolized by flowers falling from his mouth, but it must not have been all sweetness: for a nobleman had him hung on a tree and shot full of arrows for what he had said about him.

In the seventeenth century the Jesuits and the Carmelites got into so bitter a controversy about the authenticity of his story that the pope had to forbid them ever to mention it again.

Over on the chirp of the day is only 13 years old:

NEWNES' little bag of obscurities reveals:

The Bangkok Post is up to its usual good read ... on the other hand, I might be at the point where ingredient labeling looks nice:

Claimed Benefits May Be Misleading

"The Food and Drug Administration has suspended a television advertisement campaign for Brand's, a concentrated essence of chicken soup, in which a prominent scientist says the product is good for the brain."

"Dr. Siriwat Thiptharadon, the FDA deputy secretary-general, said the advertisement will be held up until the authorities have considered whether it is deemed to be misleading customers."

"If there is an obvious intention to mislead, the campaign would be banned, said Dr. Siritwat. Officials were also trying to establish whether the campaign had the necessary authorization."

"Dr, Siriwat said that though the National Food Law permits academics to provide information through the media without having to seek FDA approval, this campaign may require legal interpretation."

"In one spot, Naiphinich Kotchabhakdi, a scientist at Mahidol University's science and technology development institute, talks of the benefits of the essence, particularly to brain development, After a small interval, an advertisement for Brand's essence of chicken soup is aired."

"Dr Siriwat said in this case, it has to be seen whether the scientist appeared with the logo or brand of the product. If so, it is against the National Food Law."

Dear reader, being John LeCarre prepared me well for being Gore Vidal. Knowing one is knowing the other. Even the idiosyncrasies of one are the idiosyncrasies of the other ... but, that is a tale that will start to unfold a week from today. Before the surgeons start their tinkering, here is how it looks on the 14th floor.

Friday, May 5, 2000

Perhaps ALIMAK is the prime contractor. More likely he is one of those makers of really huge machines that bear his name in very bold arresting letters. In any event, he was not here the other day ... today he is. ALIMAKFor me, his work is not just the clanging of an annoying construction project that takes place next door. In a few days I'll have to pack up and move from Gore Vidal to a room with numbers. Through the balance of May and during the better part of June this building will be a mess; at least from the 16th floor on down. Built in the '70s, its innards need fixing. With age, the plumbing has startled to misbehave: what should flush, sometimes - just sloshes about; hot water turns cold, and vice versa. And, that is the more visible stuff. The wiring wants work; the old electric outlets are of a mixed generation and heritage: some demand three prongs, others seek only two ... and none are really in the perfect place.

A hundred meters away ... directly across the river from us ... is The Peninsula Hotel. Slightly over a year old, her stuff is brand new. Last April (well, 1999's April) I stayed there for a couple of weeks. I think Paul has some pictures lying around somewhere. With waterproof televisions above the bathtub, with electric motors to drive the curtains and with totally soundless and totally vibrationless fast-as-lightening elevators to move you all about ... well, the place is quite the place! Had it not been for the highly visible arrival of this long time Hong Kong foe, perhaps Mr. ALIMAK might be doing his hotel work over in Hanoi.

I wonder if the French are annoyed! They can be so easily irked by what the neighbors do. As you know, their embassy is right next door to us. It's a very old ... but quite attractive ... building (imagine their plumbing problems!). Due to the way God allowed the Chao Phraya River to meander, our shade never darkens their garden parties. But, rather rudely, Mr. ALIMAK's first machine has its back to their swimming pool. Protective plantings on the French side keep the gears and motors of the ALIMAK machine out of sight. The noise will be another matter. But that is their problem. Not mine. I just have to move from one set of rooms to another set of rooms. And, then back again when all of the water and electric problems have been dealt with.

Yesterday, I mistakenly gave you today's saint. Florian is yesterday's:

Florian of Lorch

An Austrian soldier in the imperial army. He stopped the burning of a city by throwing a bucketful of water in just the right place. During Diocletian's persecutions he was thrown into the river Enns with a stone around his neck.

His help is asked against fire.

Though not for poolside reading, NEWNES observes:


Today's International Herald Tribune and this morning's Bangkok Post carry front-page headlines announcing the birth of the I LOVE YOU virus. As this thing started somewhere in Asia, I received my copy of it yesterday. Out of laziness, not wariness, I did not open it.

The Love Bug

The Financial Times said that opening the "love letter" was like "picking up a sweet off the street and eating it." This was no solace to Paul and me. Read on and find out why.

My friend, Paul, also received ONE of these e-viruses. And, dear reader, the word ONE is the operative word here! He, like I, did not open it. Maybe he had better things to do, perhaps some other piece of junk looked more inviting at the time ... or, was there a sixth sense that warned him off? We'll never know for sure. With these things there is always an overflowing basket of reasons. For me, too! For when I say "he," I mean the both of us! Whether the flush of self-congratulation was deserved or not ... whether it was just laziness or chance that kept our letter openers in the drawer ... the realization finally hit us. As the details started to trickle in it soon became apparent that there was a disturbing and irritating note that went way beyond what was playing on the surface. As teams of investigative reporters hurled themselves at the story, it became obvious that only the most popular, admired and well-liked names in e-maildom were getting the bulk of the bulk. Our glow of pride turned first to niggling disappointment, then to hurt, finally to rage. By the time we had read the third or fourth paragraphs in the first editions, the facts confirmed that WE were just not to be found in too many people's address books! Sadly, my own I LOVE YOU virus was launched from the address book of a salesman of pre-need cemetery plots.

Saturday, May 6, 2000

The unpleasant incident at Lakehurst, New Jersey, involving the airship Hindenburg made the memory calendars of practically everyone. Well, almost everyone.

For May 6th NEWNES recognizes nothing of importance between 1882 and 1962. His last entry for that day is:

NEWNES'S compiler, Robert Collison, darkly hints that NEWNES closed the door to further May 6th entries owing to the nasty spirit behind the murders. It was Irish patriots who, on 6 May 1882, murdered Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Henry Burke in Dublin at Phoenix Park. Unanswered, of course, is whether NEWNES, for intensely personal reasons, could really distance himself from this Dublin tragedy. However, in an odd sentence in the preface to the first edition of NEWNES, Collison (almost parenthetically) seems to suggest that there is a place for subjective objectivity: "Some of the entries may, in comparison with their neighbors, seem trivial, but it does seem that life being not wholly serious there is scope for items which, in spite of their poor claim to immortality, have an immediate interest for the curious." Is this an apology for 6 May 1882 being "the end of history" in NEWNES'S mind? Or, is Collison saying something else? Surely, the Hindenburg incident must stand on its own as the sole historical marker of the end of the ebb tide of helium, children's balloons notwithstanding.

The History Channel, with unfortunate brevity, pinpoints the time of the incident only to the nearest minute. And, for those of us who heard it live on the wireless, the HC's quote is shallow and context-less:

"The airship Hindenburg burst into flames at 7:20 P.M. May 6, 1937, as it neared Lakehurst, N.J. The inferno was witnessed by NBC Radio's Herbert Morrison who cried out, 'Oh, the humanity,' upon realizing the tremendous loss of life."

Morrison actually said: "Oh, the humanity of it all." He said something else, as well.

Deeper and broader coverage of the Hindenburg incident is found in The Onion. Its next day (May 7, 1937) coverage is a casebook study of fine journalism.

Starting with the headline:


Paralleled with a dramatic photo captioned:

"The lively show provided by German pyrotechnic experts thrilled onlookers and radio listeners alike."

And, on to the column inches themselves:

LAKEHURST, N.J., May 6 - In the most lively fireworks display in recent memory, the German airship Hindenburg exploded to the delight of hundreds at the Naval base here today.

The Onion's Hindenburg

The show was offered by the German Zeppelin Company for the assembled vacationers, families, and press. The crowd cheered and applauded wildly, as the golden flash and richly textured fireball shot outward, spewing singed bits of the ship's cloth shell and flailing passengers. Many in attendance called it a 'once-in-a-lifetime' show.

'After years of poverty and want, I thought my childlike sense of wonder had long since died,' said onlooker Myrna Schuyler. 'But seeing the Hindenburg explosion made me as giddy as a schoolgirl. It was like Christmas, Halloween, and the Fourth of July put together.'

Fortunately, radio announcers and motion-picture camera-men were present to capture the glorious sight and sound for future generations to enjoy.

Said one radio announcer: 'This is the most terrific thing I've ever seen.'

'Oh, the luminosity' he added.

Hollywood producers are said to be considering a musical version of the fire show. Closer to home, programmers of this summer's New Jersey State Fair hope to treat audiences to a repeat performance during their annual fireworks display.


American bottle-rocket and sparkler companies are eager to get their hands on this impressive German amusement technology, and have offered Dr. Hugo Eckener, chairman of the German Zeppelin Company, great sums of money for his winning formula for fun.

Before the spectacular display, many had not realized how advanced German pyrotechnic skill had become. But now there can be no doubt.

Said New Jersey State Fair promoter Hal Kroeger, 'The Germans have long been known for their ability to produce the world's finest beer, leather short pants, propaganda films and ceramic figures of cute, chubby-cheeked children. But now they have demonstrated a keen mastery of live, pyrotechnic displays of the carnival variety, as well. Is there anything at which the determined Germanic mind cannot excel?'

President Roosevelt sent a special telegram to Adolf Hitler, thanking him 'for this most merry airship disaster'. Roosevelt praised the exploding ship as 'the best airship explosion we've seen since the Grossmńdchen.'


Herb Morrison, announcer for Chicago's WLS radio station, The Onion's Hindenburgmade broadcasting history at the thrilling event with the first ever on-the-scene radio disaster report. It is reproduced here in its entirety:

"The Germans are expected to put on quite a spectacular light show here today. We are watching now as the great airship approaches. Oh, there it goes! [laugh] It's wonderful! Oh, my! Get out of the way, please! It's bursting into flames! And it's cascading splendidly onto the mooring mast!"

"All the folks here agree this is spectacular. One of the most terrific fireworks shows in the world, ladies and gentlemen. Oh, the flames, four or five hundred feet in the sky! Ladies and gentlemen! The smoke and the flames now, and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring mast. Oh, the luminosity! The gaiety!"

Lunch at the pool intervenes. Lunch at the PoolAs does curiosity as to where I'll be living four days from now. On the 10th - next Wednesday - I have to turn Gore Vidal over to the face-lifters. While his innards are being rearranged and freshened I'll be carrying on with my license over in the Garden Wing. The owners have given me a set of rooms on the next to the top floor - right below Le Normandie, reputed to be the best French restaurant in Asia. Becky would consider this move to be an upgrade. I don't.

Coincidentally, this afternoon I received a FedEx package from Vault-de-Lugny. Maxou and Rose-MarieFor several months Becky has been curious about the health of Maxou. Dear reader, do you remember him? He is the little nomadic bear that I adopted when Becky turned her full attentions back to the Chateau. Anyway, as Maxou has not appeared in any of my recent travel photograph, her concern was not without merit. At one point her worry even reached the depth of "Alf, have you lost Maxou?" Though I assured her that Maxou was still in his little traveling coffin, she apparently was not pleased with my parenting. So, today Maxou has been joined by Rose-Marie - an arranged marriage. They are now enjoying a honeymoon here in Bangkok.

This morning's Bangkok Post continues to innocently explore the idiosyncratic ways of foreigners. Meanwhile, in America, oily divorce lawyers dab the perspiration from their brows:


Dubai - In an Internet first, a Dubai court is set to make a landmark ruling on the legality of a divorce conducted in the emirate by e-mail, a newspaper reported yesterday. An American man of Arab origin and a convert to Islam informed his Saudi wife - who was living in a separate villa - of the divorce by e-mail before filing a case at the personal status court in Dubai, the Gulf News said. A source close to the case said the divorce was close to being finalized. Under Muslim laws, a man can divorce his wife by simply telling her "I divorce you." - AFP

Next: Bangkok Forever? ... Part II

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