Bangkok Forever? ... Part V

Back at the Oriental Hotel

Between Part IV and Part VI

May 21-25, 2000

Sunday, May 21, 2000

Before wading deeper into NEWNES, his 1542 entry has a long string dangling from it.


Yesterday I dragged from the past my '56 Chevy; today I'd like to remember the Desoto. Even back when cars were made of real iron, the Desoto was a weak brand name. 1950 DesotoWhile Henry Ford, Nash, Fraser, Henry Kaiser, Horace Dodge, Tucker and other clever garage tinkerers were building machines that proudly carried their own names, the Pansy brothers had an assembly line that was turning out cars that were complete in every way except for a name.

Understandably reluctant to call their carriage a "Pansy," they commissioned a focus group to find them a proper mark for their machine. After much sifting and winnowing the group came up with "de Soto." The brothers were not happy. Unconvinced that a 16th century Spanish explorer would do much for their product they asked the group to go back into the room and think again. They did. Out came "Desoto": the name of a California gold-rush town once awash with bad guys, bars and brothels.

The car did not sell well, except to taxi drivers. 1959 DesotoUnable to do much on its own, it eventually became part of the Chrysler line ... joining Plymouth and Dodge to form a foursome. Listless sales figures continued to plague the ill named car. Many have wondered why. But, no one knows why. Decades drifted. America got itself involved in Vietnam. America got itself uninvolved in Vietnam.

And then something happened that changed everything we ever thought about the Desoto. Ho Chi Minh thought the Desoto was a cool name. At a stroke, every vehicle in Vietnam became a Desoto. Overnight! It didn't make any difference that it was a Toyota ... it could be a Mercedes ... even an old Jeep or a Rolls; but by the time morning rolled around it was a Desoto. Painted over the names of every other manufacturer was the name of Desoto. And this, dear reader, is a true story.

NEWNES observes other martial birthdays:

The event that NEWNES likes best for today:

Wescott's saint is quintessentially saintly:


Sillan, or Silaus, was an Irish priest and bishop whose legends are lovely with the last glow of epic Celtic fancy, essentially heathen, exuberantly dishonest. As a child, at night, he copied the Gospels; the fingers of his left hand burnt brightly; he held it up like a little five-branched candelabrum, and it gave enough light. St. Patrick sent him after some devils, who tore him to bits; Patrick put the bits together again; and he was as handsome as ever.

My friend, Paul Fjelstad, has contributed these paragraphs for our WORST CASE SCENARIO archives. Neither of us is totally convinced that this technique works. For all we know, coughing may be just the final whistle that the heart is listening for when counting out the last thumps. But, before deciding to post this on our "self help" shelf, we looked at other possibilities available to the lone motorist faced with a heart that is fast shutting down. None were wholly satisfactory. Groping under the hood (perhaps on a rainy night) in search of the highly juiced wires from the coil just plain ran out the clock. Sticking, even a wet finger, into the cigar lighter probably won't allow the right voltage. The only thing that looked promising, on paper, was swerving your car into a stream of soft pedestrians for the immediate adrenalin rush. Anyway, here is Paul's tip:


Let's say it's 6:15 p.m. and you're driving home, (alone of course) after an unusually hard day on the job. You're really tired, upset and frustrated.

Suddenly you start experiencing severe pain in your chest that starts to radiate out into your arm and up into your jaw. You are only about five miles from the hospital nearest your home; unfortunately you don't know if you'll be able to make it that far.

What can you do? You've been trained in CPR but the guy that taught the course neglected to tell you how to perform it on yourself.

Without help the person whose heart stops beating properly and who begins to feel faint, has only about 10 seconds left before losing consciousness. However, these victims can help themselves by coughing repeatedly and very vigorously. A deep breath should be taken before each cough, and the cough must be deep and prolonged, as when producing sputum from deep inside the chest. A breath and a cough must be repeated about every two seconds without let up until help arrives, or until the heart is felt to be beating normally again.

Deep breaths get oxygen into the lungs and coughing movements squeeze the heart and keep the blood circulating. The squeezing pressure on the heart also helps it regain normal rhythm. In this way, heart attack victims can get to a phone and, between breaths, call for help.

[from the International Herald Tribune]
1950: Sexual Politics

WASHINGTON - Senate Republican leader Kenneth S. Wherry, of Nebraska, said that Washington police estimate that there are 3,750 sex perverts in government, ranging from high-ranking officials to minor functionaries. In a formal report to a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Wherry said police authorities testified that 300 to 400 State Department employees are suspected of being homosexuals. The subcommittee voted unanimously to ask the Senate for a full investigation of sex perverts in government. The Washington police reported they have uncovered "a plan of the Communists to sabotage and damage" Washington in case of war with Russia and that a Communist fifth column "is using sexual degenerates for subversive purposes."

It was like the roof of the American embassy in Saigon twenty-five years ago; guests of a sieged host pushing their way to the exit without so much as a 'thank-you wave' from over their shoulders. As the sound of ALIMAK's doings drifted across the river, most hotel guests jammed aboard the boat for a trip to the bar or the Spa. While waiting for our tormenters to switch the electricity back on, each found comfort in his or her own way: most in the bottle. I sought solace in a rarely used room at the Spa. Located on the top floor, it is designed for meditation. The resident Buddha is still stained from its recent Songkran splashing.


Monday, May 22, 2000

Though both NEWNES and the History Channel share the observance of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's birthday (1859), their respective interests guide them down different tines of the fork after the turn of the century; NEWNES a more European route; HC decidedly American:

Electrical Storms

Last night Bangkok was savaged by violent electrical storms. They swept in from Burma with little warning. As ALIMAK's people still control the main transformer room, blame for the electrical outages is hard to parcel out. God surely must take responsibility for some of it; but whenever mischief is afoot ALIMAK's hand can't be far away. Never mind WHO caused the elevators to stop and lights to dim and the mini-bars to get warm. It's not important. A bigger question has been asked. Does lightning travel at the same speed as light? "Yes," you say! Most likely "not," said my wise Thai waiter. As we watched the lightning bolts zig-zag from cloud to ground, the question was raised and the answer was given. A zig and a zag is not the shortest distance between two points. So, it must follow that lightening, on its zany route to the transformer room, is going further than it need go.

Who is this girl?


A Scot who came from Italy with a woman, perhaps his sister, or his wife, or a mere traveling companion. His supernatural piety soon became evident; he did his ploughing amid a flock of doves; the woman thought he had gone mad; so he left her. Then he settled in the pale hills above Carrara, near another Scot, St. Pellgrino, who is said to have been a son of Scotland's wandering king. Viano ate thistle-blossoms; and the thistles on his slope still bend toward Pellegrino's - as it were, Scot greeting Scot. When he died, the shepherds carried his body down to a village; but in the night it fled back into the hills.

As you can see, this did not start yesterday. I first noticed it last fall when Linda and I were taking a boat up river. And, again, just before elephant polo when Stephani and I rented a longtail for a visit to Wat Arun. Just up the Chao Phraya, toward the Gulf of Thailand, the occupants of the penthouse and the flat directly below it seem to be engaged in some sort of curious botanical competition.

Shrub War

How did it start? When did it get out of hand? As outside observers, we'll probably never know. But, we can guess.

Everyone realizes that small irritants can easily get out of control in close living, as it apparently did in this case. And, most of us know that the water that feeds the unhappy twig can usually be traced to some core root, as is likely here. It goes back to the morning when the buyers picked up their door keys: Mr. and Mrs. "A," on top, get in the elevator and push "PH." Mr. "B," a floor under, never gets to go higher than 29. Great wars have been fought over smaller insecurities. Incidentally, the owners of the other apartments in this building apparently couldn't care less; maybe they are even wagering on the outcome of this floral dual.

Whatever. It is likely that this whole competition started with a small potted shrub ... an innocent bit of shade to cool a breakfast niche on a sunny morning. Ah, but the man underfoot, sensing escalation in a war in which he shall always run second, bought something bigger. Then the man above upped the ante with a still larger and, this time, more aggressive shrub. This was followed on the other side by a shrub especially bred to invade. Growth hormones were introduced. Foliage thickeners added. Gravity defiers came next. Before long, jungles reached up; jungles reached down.


From the International Herald Tribune:

LONDON (Reuters) - Barbara Cartland, 98, the British romantic novelist who wrote 723 books with estimated sales of 1 billion copies in 36 languages, died Sunday.

Dame Barbara died in her sleep after a short illness, a spokesman said.

Stepmother to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, she was just two months short of her 99th birthday.

For many years she wrote a book every two weeks, and she appeared in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's most prolific novelist and for having written more books than any other living writer.

From today's Bangkok Post:


Beauty Queen

Pattaya, AFP

Miss Tifany's 2000 has been crowned in the country's annual transvestite beauty "queen" pageant.

Chanya Moranon, 20, won the contest, which brings transvestites - both men who dress like women and those who have had sex-change operation - from around the country to Pattaya.

Gays paraded in gowns, answered questions and delivered routines to a packed auditorium during the contest, which is designed to improve the image of transvestites and raise money for HIV-infected children.

Chanya won 60,000 baht but will be unable to attend the international Queen of the Universe pageant in the US as it allows only cross-dressers, and Chanya has had a sex change.

Last year's Miss Tiffany won the Queen of the Universe contest.

Chanya's runner-up, who has not had a sex change, will go to the US instead.


Sydney - Customs officials at Sydney airport were chuckling yesterday over an incident involving billionaire financier Sheikh Ahmad Al-Maktoum, a shotgun and a private jumbo jet. When leaving Sydney after finishing 38th in the Olympic qualifying event for shooters, Mr. Al-Maktoum was questioned over an incomplete export form for the firearm. He had failed to write down his flight number - because he was traveling on a private Boeing 747 jet. He also didn't know the jumbo jet's registration - it was just one of the fleet. "I have five. I just phone for one to pick me up," the scion of the Dubai royal family is reported to have quipped. - dpa


Nop is a political cartoonist with the Bangkok Post. Usually his drawings poke at something that has been in the news. Today's target is Uncle Sam ... or, perhaps the little Thai figure who is doing his best to get out of the way ... but, probably the former. I'm puzzled because there hasn't been anything in the news of late that would warrant this sketch. Maybe Nop can see around the corner. I hope not.

Nop's World


New York - The baht has spent the past week below 39 per dollar. The most optimistic dealers believe it might rise to 38.75 this week, but no better


Cloudy with scattered heavy thundershowers. A low-pressure trough across lower North and Northeast meets a low-pressure cell in the South China Sea. Result: Widespread rain over land, heavy waves and winds in offshore waters, where navigators must be careful.

High: 34, Low: 25

Sun rises 5:54am, sets 6:40pm

Tuesday, May 23, 2000

Umiliana de Cerchi

The Blessed Umiliana had the gift of shedding tears whenever she prayed. She lost it at one time and tried to provoke it by putting quicklime in her eyes, which nearly blinded her.

NEWNES couldn't ask for a nicer Tuesday:

Yesterday's Bangkok Post went to the presses a little too late to timely carry the story of Barbara Cartland's death. But, as Sir John Gielgud obligingly expired just before today's editorial window closed, the night obituarian was able to include both "passings" in one front-page headline:


Stripping the obituary of connecting tissue, the quotations Reuters used seem to define her:

Barbara Cartland

"For 20 years, I've done a book a fortnight. Without fail, 600 words a day. Nobody else has done that."

"The reason I'm such a big seller is that the world is short of beauty."

"You won't find my characters rolling around in bed. It's not a very pretty sight."

"It (sex) was rather like going to the lavatory. You never spoke about it."

"I work very hard and when I need a plot I say to God, 'give me a plot' and he sends me one in 24 hours."

"Britain without them (the royal family) would become a rather boring little island with a flag."

The Reuters obituary, sadly, makes no mention of the 10th floor suite at The Oriental that proudly carries her name. Suite SealersBut a "click" here will take you there if you care to reminisce. While you are there, take the time to read the letter that she wrote to the owners of The Oriental upon the opening of her rooms.

Apparently, ALIMAK's people were tipped off that something was wrong with the old lady. Before any of the wire services even hinted that Dame Cartland would not be issuing any more sequels under her pen, those in control of the main building ordered that her 10th floor poolside suite be sealed off. The photograph clearly shows two distraught suite-sealers following orders.

May 23rd is an important day for the kingdom, according to the Post:


"His Majesty the King will today perform a very important ceremony marking his reaching the same age as King Rama I."

"This means that tomorrow His Majesty will become the longest living king in Thai history."

"His Majesty will today reach the age of 72 years, five months and 19 days or, in other words, he will become 26,469 days old."

Art Buchwald's column in today's International Herald Tribune quotes a spokesperson from Mother's Against Trigger Locks (MATL):

"We're hoping to get every mother against trigger guards to show up. Our kids can't protect themselves from evil if they have to carry a key around with them every time they go to school." Freida Bijou was commenting on the group's counter-demonstration against the Mothers for Stronger Gun Laws (MSGL).

I think I need to get out of the hotel more often.

Wednesday, May 24, 2000

"There were NO kangaroos at our Lord's last supper!"

"What about on leashes? I can put them on leashes."

"No! There were no kangaroos, PERIOD. Our Lord dined with only his disciples at the table. There were NO animals present. Furthermore, there was only one Christ, not two!"

"But with two the balance is nicer ... it allows the eye to roam over the canvas. Do you really want me to paint one of them out?"

Perhaps this exchange between Leonardo and his papal patron never took place. But, it would be surprising if it didn't. Monty Python isn't the only one who believes that great art chases money. My friend, Mike Lincicome, is rightfully convinced that had Michelangelo lived today the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel would be featureless gray stone while our boxes of Kellogg's Coco-Puffs would be dazzlingly beautiful. And why wouldn't a 16th Century artist want to nuzzle up to the biggest user of billboard space of all time? Keep your client (Church, Coco-Puffs) pleased and keep yourself in work. Michelangelo was only doing what common sense marketing dictated: give more than what is expected and you'll have a customer for life. A product with the occasional gratuitous "added-value-pak" keeps bringing the buyer back to your spot on the shelf. Look, every so often doesn't Kellogg's add an ounce or two of stuff to those boxes of Coco-Puffs; likewise, doesn't Mallory frequently throw in two extra batteries to make its six-packs eight packs? To say nothing of all those two-for-one specials. Are they doing it to rid themselves of excess inventory? I think not.

What are you getting at?

The best artists go where the money is.

Where is the money?

Obviously, in TV commercials and print advertising.

What does this have to do with your life in Bangkok?

For several hours each day I am prevented from seeing great art.


The Fitness Center at The Oriental subscribes to UBC (Bangkok's cable TV provider). As UBC is chartered to offer only commercial-free service, its viewers are barred from seeing even the "pass-through" advertising that is carried by international program providers. This means that CNN or CNBC will be interrupted every few minutes with intervening "static intermission slides." So, instead of snappy Coco-Puff and Duracell commercials I am forced to look at repetitive notices for remote agricultural fairs and the sort.

The UBC wired television can be clearly seen just above your journalist's treadmill.

To the far right, and partially severed from view, is the exercise machine favored by former Vice-president Dan Quayle during his recent stay at The Oriental: the "Life-Fitness Cross Trainer - Total Body System."

This photograph, while giving the reader a better view of the "stair-master" used by our former Vice-president, does not show the UBC wired television set. Of course, for those readers who are most interested in Quayle memorabilia this photograph is quite adequate.

From Reuters:

LONDON - British romantic novelist Barbara Cartland will be buried today in a cardboard coffin to the sound of Perry Como singing "I Believe."

Also died, according to NEWNES:

Newsworthy, in NEWNES' book:

A slow saint-day for Wescott:

The devout parents of this French friar allowed him to take vows at the age of five. He and his brother went on foot to Rome to see the blessed tombs. On the way home he suffered extreme pain in his head, and died. For a long time people appealed to him when they had headaches.

Weather from the Bangkok Post:

A low pressure trough lies across Central and Northeast. Scattered to widespread rain in most areas. Waves and winds in the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand are strong and navigators should proceed with caution.

High: 33
Low: 25

Sun rises 5:53am, sets 6:40pm

Thursday, May 25, 2000

Back to the girls, and why they tick.

"Oh, gentleman, sir, Miss Pretty Girl welcome you to Sultan Turkish Bath, gentle polite massage, put you in dreamland with perfume soap. Latest gramophone music. Oh, such service. You come now! Miss Pretty Girl want you, massage you from tippy-toe to head-top, nice, clean, to enter Gates of Heaven."

- SOMERSET MAUGHAM, "The Gentleman in the Parlour", London 1930
(From a calling card given to Somerset Maugham by a street tout during his visit to Thailand in 1923)

"In seedy and impoverished Manila, the bars were the fast-buck stuff of a puritan's nightmare; while in high-tech and prosperous Bangkok, they were quicksilver riddles, less alarming for their sleaze than for their cunning refinement, established by the country's exquisite sense of design, softened by the ease of Buddhism, invigorated by the culture of 'sanuk' (a good time). In Manila girls tried to sell themselves out of sheer desperation; in Bangkok, the crystal palaces of sex were only extra adornments in a bejeweled city that already glittered with ambiguities…In Bangkok, moreover, the ambivalence of the girls only intensified the ambiguity of the bars…no gaze was direct, and no smile clear-cut in the city of mirrors. And the mirrors were everywhere: one way mirrors walling the massage parlors, mirrors lining the ceilings of the 'curtain hotels,' mirrors shimmering in the bars, pocket mirrors in which each girl converted herself into a reflection of her admirer's wishes. Look into a bar girl's eyes, and you'd see nothing but the image of your own needs; ask her what she wanted, and she'd flash back a transparent 'up to you.' Everything here was in the eye of the beholder; everything was just a trick of the light."

- PICO IYER, "Video Night in Kathmandu", New York 1988

"As Calcutta smells of death and Bombay of money, Bangkok smells of sex, but this sexual aroma is mingled with the sharper whiffs of death and money."


Nothing really amazing happened today in NEWNES'S world. And, aside from one truly important American writer who died (Ralph Waldo Emerson), the names are all unknowns to me:

Siege update as of 1600 hours Bangkok standard time:

This morning ALIMAK has, for the first time, drawn his naval forces into the siege. Ostensibly, just to unload yet one more infernal contraption. But evil always comes in pairs, if not in even bigger lots, when ALIMAK is around ... so, beware ... perhaps we are only at Act 2, Scene One in this horrid drama. This fiendish new apparatus was quickly pulled ashore with the aid of great winches and fulcrums and heaving mercenaries. Lashed to the side of our building, its purpose is still uncertain. In fact, this whole operation has now drifted into what historians may later call "the uncertain" period. Hiding their work behind great curtains, ALIMAK's lieutenants are now operating around the clock. And, when the moon is at less than at its quarter-face, powerful klieg lamps and acetylene vapor torches kick in to burn throughout the night; Puitheir awful hissing noise only playing on the fears of those of us who now sleep so far from our plundered suites. When will this dreadfulness end?

Pui, one of the massage therapists at the Spa is a treadmill enthusiast. She, like myself, was fooled the other day when Dan Quayle made his appearance at our little gym. Although already a teenager when Quayle was our Vice-president, she did not recognize him as he worked out on his Life-Fitness Cross Trainer. Though of only "footnotal" interest to others, the staff at the Spa felt deeply slighted that the former Vice-president did not elect an Oriental Massage while he was here.

Wescott seems to admire Gregory. So do I. Most of his saints are either lovable for some horrible quirk that they have or because of the truly dreadful things they have endured; or, they bring the out the bile in us. Gregory might wear well as an uncle.

Gregory VII
1020 - 1085

Previous to his pontificate, this tremendous personage was called Hildebrand, which may be interpreted as meaning 'pure flame' or 'brand of hell,' as one sees fit. He is believed to have chosen the four popes who preceded him. When elected himself, he resumed the campaign against the married clergy begun five hundred years before by his more lovable namesake. But the great business of his pontificate was the desperate struggle between church and state, particularly between the temporally ambitious Holy See and the treacherous Holy Roman Empire. Henry IV deposed him, but the lesser German princes took sides with the pope, who then excommunicated the emperor and made him do penance barefoot for three days. In due time Henry recovered his prestige at home, deposed Gregory anew, set up an anti-pope, and drove him out of Rome. Gregory then called Robert Guiscard and the Normans to his assistance; it was calamitous for Rome, and helped the papacy very little. Gregory died in exile, self-righteously blaming everyone but himself. Perhaps he was a wise as well as an heroic figure, as the church historians say. The church, in any case, is bound to regard itself as triumphant in all its undertakings.

Next: Bangkok Forever, Part VI

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