Bangkok Forever? ... Part VI

Back at the Oriental Hotel

Between Part V and Part VII

May 26-31, 2000

Friday, May 26, 2000

Unless you are living under a rock, you have already read about this wonderful hijacking. Here is how my Bangkok Post presented the facts:

Pilot Pushed Him Out Of Side Door

MANILA, AFP - A self-confessed cuckold with a gun terrorized 290 people in a Philippine Airlines Airbus in a mid-air drama yesterday that ended when he bailed out in a home-made parachute.

The 52-minute terror aboard flight PR 812 began when Augusto Lacandula left his economy class seat and announced a hijack in Cebuano language, brandishing a cocked pistol and a rusty grenade without the safety pin.

The hijacker pointed the gun at the stewardess as one of the pilots locked the cockpit door, said Capt. Butch Generoso, one of the pilots aboard the routine flight from southern Davao.

His face hooded by a ski mask topped with swimming goggles, the gunman banged on the cockpit door and fired a shot at it, forcing the crew to open only to have the grenade shoved into their faces.

"Go on. We will all die here together," the hijacker said.

Capt. Generoso said the hijacker ordered the plane back to Davao. When told the plane lacked fuel, the gunman demanded his wallet before robbing the three other pilots. A pilot who spoke Cenuano befriended him and was told the hijacker's wife had run off with a policeman, said Capt. Generoso.

The hijacker told the pilot he had planned the hijacking over two months, but did not tell them how he brought the weapons and parachute aboard.

Capt. Generoso said the crew calmed the passengers and told them to give their money to the hijacker. The gunman gathered three bundles of cash.

The plane was within five minutes of Manila when the hijack was announced. The airline said it had 7,000kg of fuel left, enough to stay airborne for less than an hour.

By that time, said Capt. Generoso, the gunman showed them what appeared to be a parachute in his rucksack and asked them to show him how to jump.

Noticing the supposed parachute had no rip cord, one pilot removed a curtain sash and attached it to the cobbled-together contraption.

The plane was decompressed while at 6,000 feet and the crew opened a door on the right side to allow the gunman to bail out.

Capt. Generoso said the hijacker was afraid to jump "so we pushed him." He clung to the side of the door but eventually let go. The pilots said his chances of survival were virtually zero.

NEWNES does not mention Philip Neri. Perhaps the absence of Neri's name from his list of those who were born or died on this day in history says more about NEWNES than what we can discover in Collison's preface to his compilation. Perhaps not. Wescott, on the other hand, is quite free with his pen when writing about May 26th's saint.

NEWNES, however, dared not forget these births and burials:

But, of this one we know very little:

My interest was piqued by Solvay's inclusion in NEWNES'S seminal (and only?) work. Why would the birthday of an obscure industrial chemist…someone who, quite likely, is still alive (only 78 at this writing)…be so forever observed, while Neri's life, work or death is not even damned by feint praise (e.g., 1515 - Philip Neri, almoner, born).

Tightly squeezed between "Solstice, winter" and "Somalia" is the "Solvay Process." Many of today's toothpastes would be far more costly had not this Belgian industrial chemist invented the ammonia-soda process for making sodium carbonate.

Philip Neri
1515 - 1595

Philip Neri was a disciple of Savonarola, and then St. Charles Borromeo's almoner, and now seems a much greater man than either. He believed in secular saintliness, but was persuaded by his friends to become a priest. The episodes of his life are infinitely entertaining and instructive. He often acted in apparent eccentricity, to point a moral or to clarify experience, and he had a particular genius for dealing with vanity, indolence, and softness of all sorts. His doctrine was somewhat more than Christian: 'DESPISE THE WORLD; DESPISE YOURSELF; AND DESPISE BEING DESPISED.'

One day he felt a terrible fire in his heart; it hurt so that he rolled on the ground; and all the rest of his life there was a great lump as big as one's fist on that side of his chest. After his death, three great surgeons examined him and explained what happened: the heart had grown so great that it had displaced one of his ribs to make room for itself.

He had a pet cat which lived to an extreme old age and which he loved to the end.

Goethe took pleasure in the fact that St. Philip Neri was his patron saint.

Maybe Annie can relate to my ambivalence. She hasn't spoken (phone, in person, or otherwise) to her mother in over four years. Now, there comes a point on every list of yet-to-be-done-things-that-should-be-done where the cumulative weight of the passage of time outweighs the sense of duty to do something about it. Two days after receiving a housewarming gift you send a thank-you note; no problem. Two months later? Too late, at this point ... best left undone. Haven't spoken to your mom in a month, Annie? Give her a call. Four years? You'll need a priest as a go-between.

I've been back in Bangkok for almost a month. And, I haven't yet stopped by Super Queen to see my friend Porn. Remember her? Of course you do. No one forgets Porn. And, that is part of the problem. Among the things for which I am indebted to her is the gentle way she nudged me down the more conciliatory path with respect to CBIII and Italy. Briefly: my Bangkok printer had run off two sets of "holy cards"; only to be used if my balloon attracted hostility ... altar boys with rocks, that sort of thing. Version "A" claimed that the two naked women messing about on the surface of my balloon were the two Marys; in their playful younger years, of course. Version "B" passed them off as obscure Danish saints ("screwsaints") with little or no direct connection with Our Lord. Without Porn's wise counsel and guidance I might have flown the twin Marys over Siena.

I haven't even given her a call. Should I just drop in to the Super Queen as if nothing has happened? Should I create a fabulous lie that would explain why I was seen around Patpong weeks ago and yet didn't drop in? Or, should I just postpone this for a few more days?

Saturday, May 27, 2000

Sloppy reading of yesterday's births and deaths confused me. Ernest Solvay was not born on May 26th in 1922; he died then. Obviously, his method of making sodium carbonate came at a time when toothpaste technology was still in its infancy. So, NEWNES'S inclusion of Solvay's name on his list of big deaths is not extraordinary after all.

A careful reading of NEWNES for today's date yields a dramatic end for one person and an awkward start in life for another:

Englishman NEWNES oddly omits, while American HC boldly highlights:

This morning's Bangkok Post follows up on one story and opens the chapter on another:

Locals Watched Him Fall As Plane Circled

MANILA, AP - The hijacker who jumped out of a Philippine Airlines Airbus at 6,000 feet with a homemade parachute has been found dead with only his hands and knees protruding from the mud.

Basilio Quisnundo, a village leader, said locals saw a plane circling on Thursday afternoon. Something fell from it, he said, and a parachute opened and a man floated for about five minutes. Then, he said, the man separated from the chute and fell into the forested mountains.


Fort Worth - An inmate on death row for a bomb-murder has tried to auction off five seats to his execution through the Internet.

Michael Toney, 34, started the bidding on Wednesday at $100 (3,900 baht) on eBay, an auction website, but no offers had been received when the site was closed down a few hours later.

People on death row in Texas are allowed to invite five people to their execution, but those seats are intended for relatives and friends. A state spokesman said no one who bought a seat would be allowed to attend an execution.

Toney was convicted in a 1985 bombing that killed three family members - dpa

It's always fully booked, even at low season. Every evening the Oriental Hotel's Baan Rim Naam Thai restaurant presents a "traditional dance and music" show. There are nine variations of this show that apparently don't repeat themselves with any set regularity. So, I have to thank either my declining memory or chance encounters for the fresh plates every time I go there. But, this girl is always there.

My friend, Ning, likes this photograph of herself better than the two that I posted on Monday. Ning is an aerobics instructor at my gym.

Most Thais, if not all Thais, believe in spirits. The spirit that guards Ning's home lives on the premises. The Oriental's Spirit HouseIt is a woman. Ning has seen her. I am going to visit her home on June 1st; perhaps, too, shall see her. The spirit that guards The Oriental Hotel's Spa, Gym, Baan Rim Naam restaurant, tennis courts, emergency generator and employee parking lot lives in a little house overlooking the Chao Phraya River. I have yet to see it. The next few paragraphs about spirits: their duties, wants and abodes come from THAILAND, A TRAVELER'S COMPANION.

"Far older than Buddhism in Thailand is belief in spirits, as well as various gods and demigods. There are spirits who guard individual pieces of land, for instance, and other who watch over villages and capital cities and make their home in trees and caves. The general term for such invisible beings is "phi," but special names are given to many who enjoy demigod status. To avoid difficulties and ensure harmony and prosperity, all must be placated, sometimes with a special abode of their own, always with carefully prepared offerings. Such animistic beliefs do not clash with Buddhism; rather they coexist comfortably and often overlap in ways mystifying to outsiders."


"The guardian spirit of a particular compound, whether residential or commercial, is generally provided with a small house on the property; the exact site must be determined by an expert and has nothing to do with esthetic considerations. Elevated on a post, the houses come in a wide variety of forms, some simple wooden replicas of a traditional Thai dwelling, others ornate cement creations that resemble miniature Buddhist temple buildings down to the smallest decorative detail."


"To promote harmony and goodwill, the guardian spirit is placated with daily offerings by household members, the most basic being fragrant incense sticks, candles and flowers. Employees and shopkeepers regularly present offerings at the spirit house of their workplace while actors and dancers do so before a performance. Chinese shopkeepers usually have a spirit house for the local spirits and a small shrine painted in red, dedicated to the Taoist gods."


"Spiritual abodes in wealthier compounds are lavishly supplied with a variety of elaborate offerings. In addition to small dolls to symbolize attendants, these may include floral displays, fresh fruits, and culinary delicacies ranging from sweets to full meals, carefully arranged on plates."

Spirits, like people, have individual tastes. My friend Porn has a little spirit house in her apartment ... actually; it's more like a spirit shelf or ledge. Her spirit has a strangely assertive diet of whiskey, cigarettes and pork. However, most of the spirits that I have come across in my other wanderings prefer delicately carved fruits, little cakes, fresh flowers and Coke. Porn's spirit, perhaps due to its indolent diet, is not terribly protective. Multiple, redundant and overlapping door locks take care of her place when her spirit is busy elsewhere.

Best Breast

Today's "Outlook" section of the Bangkok Post covered to exhaustion "Thailand's First-Ever Breastfeeding Contest." Sponsored, curiously, by "New Zealand Milk Thailand Ltd.," the event attracted 1,250 entries out of which 50 went on to the final round. "At the event, two temporary contest rooms were built so the mothers would have privacy while breastfeeding (for bahts). Each room had a few small windows with hanging curtains to let the contestants look out, and only judges could enter to watch the activities inside. Guri HansenThe public and family members had to wait anxiously in the rows of seating provided outside the rooms."

At first glance the Norwegian Embassy in Thailand looks as if it is one of the laziest of Scandinavia's diplomatic outposts. Is it just now getting around to asking for help from Bangkok's English language reading population? It seems that one of Norway's few citizens has come up missing while visiting Mae Hong Son almost fourteen years ago. Though the announcement in the Bangkok Post is aimed directly at "Norwegian Woman Guri Hansen," a full reading of the notice suggests that everyone thinks she is long dead and that today's newspaper notice is but a Norwegian statutory requirement that has to be complied with before folks back home can divide up her property. Though, one likes to think that she is living happily somewhere in southern Thailand, perhaps near Mr. Twine and his schoolgirl friend; in any event, far from Norway's tax people.

Sunday, May 28, 2000

Today's saint, Mary Bartholomew of Bagnesi, was a whiny little shit. But, the one whom I forgot to post for yesterday qualifies as a Solid Gold Wescott on every count. So, pretend that he is for today:

The Venerable Bede
673 - 735

The first great English historian. Having written forty books, he died dictating to one of his secretaries.

This is how he happened to be called Venerable: after he went blind, a malicious boy told him that a crowd of admirers had come to see him; the proud old author believed every word of it. The boy led him into a field where there was not a soul; Bede made his little speech; and the stones in the field applauded and said, 'Venerable! Venerable!' There is another explanation: the man who cut the rhymed epitaph on his tombstone, unable to find an appropriate adjective of the right length, left it blank, and an unknown person or an angel filled it in.

One of NEWNES'S finest:

Will the test of time be gentle if there is ever a third edition?

The HC records "the unlikely final days of two real life western heroes."

This room is never like this! Today it is vast and peopleless, thanks to ALIMAK. In better times, partitions and dividers fold themselves out of the wall to give cozy quarters for wedding receptions, showrooms to companies, forums for groups ... in short, it's space for rent. Even the mini-suites in the business office are empty today.

Not so, the river. Logs, from the north, are lashed together for the trip to the sea. And boat traffic is normal.

Cisterns Feel The Draught
Toilets Down
Water Rationing Imposed

ALIMAK'S grip on the utilities now appears to be complete. Only days after the transformer room fell to ALIMAK'S crack team of sappers ... only days after our vital electric power was tinkered and toyed with by the merciless fiend ... only days after we were reduced to groping our way by candlelight ... only days after…

Oh, for God sake, get on with it!

... it seems that the crashing headlines tell the whole story. Though the details make for dry reading, it's obvious that the conquerors have left us with but one remaining flush:

"... there will be no hot water available on Sunday, 28 May between 23.00 hrs and 05:00 hrs (Monday morning). This will, unfortunately, also affect flushing of toilets, our housekeeping employees will place a gallon of water in your bathroom."

Even after rationing is lifted the horrors of occupation will still be with us:

"Some discoloured water may be experienced ... "

Dear reader, some things in Thailand never seem to go away. First it was the elections (third round of rematches are due next week); next it was the tale of the wandering elephants.

Today's Bangkok Post devotes an entire broadsheet to the "jumbo dilemma." As you can see from the amount of print acreage given over to the problem, the situation with the elephants is not something that goes away once the voters leave the ballot box. It'll last for a century, or until the last of the beasts winds up in the breakers yard. Let's pick out the best parts:

"Despite being forced out of the city by the authorities a mere two months ago, scores of elephants will return to the capital's congested streets any day now."

"Their keepers candidly admit that the lure of earning in the region of 700-800 baht (@$20) a day is simply too good to resist when compared to the paltry 50-60 baht they can earn at home."

"Elephants have become trapped in a web of business. They cannot stop working because they have to feed their owners and themselves. What's more, their earnings help pay back bank loans for some owners. A few years ago when tourism was booming and plying the city streets was not a problem, many villagers took out loans from the Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Co-operatives and other sources to buy elephants. At the time, they foresaw high income from roaming the city streets and working at elephant resorts."

"Suriya, a wealthy kamnan, said elephants were bought mainly from Prae, particularly those formerly employed by logging businesses. The average price of each elephant varied between 100,000 to 300,000 baht (@$2,500 to $7,500). 'The price depends upon the condition of each elephant. Those in bad shape from hard work and drug addiction (amphetamines) fetch only 60,000 to 80,000 baht. But some villagers preferred cheap ones because they thought the elephants were good enough for six or seven years which was a good enough return on the investment,' Suriya said."

From these photographs you can see that the elephant has been an important part of Thailand's history.

Monday, May 29, 2000 (Oak Apple Day)

NEWNES, dipping his head to the left:

And, then to the right:

Two days ago (May 27th) NEWNES and the HC "clashed" over the timing of the start of beginning of the evacuation of Dunkirk. HC had the British troops fleeing the beach and piling onto tiny sailboats, commuter ferries, and pieces of driftwood ... anything that would float. Contributing to this offshore commotion, German troops were seen hurling spent bottles of Becks into the frothy surf while its brass bands provided the sound track. NEWNES has the same thing happening two days later (today).

In other news, NEWNES and HC agree that:

Inching my way toward the Super Queen ... and my belated explanation to Porn ... I've come as far as "In Traffic." "In Traffic," at one time, was named "At The Office." This weak, unimaginative and unconvincing name is supposed to provide cover for its patrons. Thirteen girls work here in the evening, three during the daylight hours. In Traffic ShrineLike Super Queen, it lethargically competes in a competitive world ... content with the bahts of ex-pats and regulars ... largely ignoring the tourists. It employs no touts. Unlike Super Queen, it is air-conditioned. Further distancing itself from Super Queen, its pirated first-run movies and a working dartboard scuffle benignly with the girls for customer attention. The girls don't seem to mind very much as most of the time they are chatting among themselves. The place has a resident shrine. Its location next to the dartboard probably carries no hidden message; "In Traffic" is short on usable wall space. Sharing the shelf with Buddha is a figure alarmingly similar to one of the many bodies of Barbie. Further parceling the ledge are assorted offerings: a bottle of franchised soft drink, little cakes with shredded coconut toppings, a glass with unknown contents and, of course, the obligatory incense sticks and flowers.

While American college students worry abstractly about unsightly singe marks left on corpses by Florida State Penitentiary's "Old Sparky," their counterparts in Yemen take a fresher and more vigorous look at recycling the remains of local murderers. This from the "In Brief - International" section of the Bangkok Post, which allows its editors to fill otherwise empty space with words that they did not have to write. Wire service subscription fees pay others to comb through foreign fields of chatty gray in search of things that will be make Bangkokians happy that they are Bangkokians:


"Sana'a - More than 10,000 students marched through Yemen's capital yesterday demanding that the 'Sana'a ripper,' who has confessed to raping and murdering 16 women, be executed and his body put on public display. The protesters also called for the arrest of the alleged accomplices of the 52-year-old Sudanese killer. They marched to the presidential palace with a letter for the president asking that Mohammad Adam Omar Ishaak 'be executed and put on display at the campus of the faculty of medicine' where he committed the crimes. - AFP"

Who is this woman?

Tuesday, May 30, 2000

A banner day for NEWNES' mini-obituaries:

Wescott, of course, never one to shy from the unpleasant, paints a far more disturbing account of Joan, her life and her tormentors:

Joan of Arc
1411 - 1431

The great soldier whom the King of Heaven sent to help the King of France. The voices that gave her advice were those of St. Catherine of the Wheels and St. Margaret of Antioch. Michael the Archangel came with them, and she must have loved him particularly; for, with a sort of modesty, she refused to say, at her trial, what he looked like or what he wore.

It is said that the first flame whipped off all her clothes, and the sight of the hard soldier's body with female parts irritated the impure crowd about the stake; along with the usual sobbing and nausea, there was some erotic disorder. In later centuries, to avoid scandal, women criminals were not burned, but buried alive.

She was put to death as a witch; and it may be indeed that she belonged to a secret order with a different and more ardent mysticism than that of the orthodox church at the time. In any case, she faced the Christian God without hypocrisy or shame to the very end, as if He were a sort of friend or lover or close relative whom she understood.

If she was not a witch, the church is guilty of having destroyed its rarest heroine as a political expedient: if she was, it is guilty of having canonized her for more amiable reasons of the same general sort. Certainly, it acted in ignorance in either case; one is bound to be somewhat ignorant of men and women of that magnitude.

The Thien Duong, in the Dusit Thani Hotel, is the best Vietnamese restaurant in Bangkok. Aside from The Oriental, I think the Dusit Thani has the best collection of restaurants in the city. When I first came to Bangkok, about twenty years ago, I used to stay at the Dusit Thani. Located just blocks from both Patpong and Lumpini Park, it was within minutes of all my needs at that time. Now I just go there for the food.

Last night, after a dinner of steamed fish and crab cooked in beer, we had mango ice cream. We have a lot in common. More about her later.

Bangkok Post

Today's Bangkok Post ... at least its front page ... is almost completely devoted to stories about "Black May." Eight years ago, from May 17th to 20th, a democracy movement that had its roots in the middle classes was crushed by the Thai military. According to supporters of the anti-coup, hundreds of civilians were killed and an equal number went missing. A heavily censored version of the official investigation into the crackdown has just been published. No one is happy.

Rather than worry about which side is telling the truth, I'm safely turning our attention to The Onion for related news from the past. Ninety-five years in the morgue, this story reminds readers that professional grumblers and malcontents have always been available for hire:


Albany, New York - A segment of society calling itself "Advocates For Criminals," is puzzling lawmakers in New York this week for its call to soften the whips used to punish imprisoned felons.

The Onion

Among their suggestions is a lessening of the number of lashes given a law-breaker as part of his regular punishment, from 30 per day to a mere 10. They also call for a lighter, softer leather in whips, varieties which simply break the skin, and not the tough muscle fiber beneath.

New York's Administrator of Jails and Holding Stockades Edwin Sheckmann issued a response to the citizens' call to action, calling it "the most absurd poppy-cockery."

He continued: "It is not for the mere misplaced concern for the lowliest of the low that I object to these points. It is the notion that the proper punishment within jails be usurped by citizens, preventing wardens and jail-masters from administering punishment by the terms of their own good judgment."

Wednesday, May 31, 2000

NEWNES records some also-births:

Events NEWNES liked best:

Normally stogy HC has an easy time today topping NEWNES for overall reader voltage:


The daughter or spiritual daughter of St. Peter, the founder of the church - a paralytic unable to walk. He would not cure her, because he thought paralysis good for her; but lest it be thought that he could not and was giving mere mystical excuses for his impotence, he restored her health for one day and made her walk about, in the presence of witnesses.

You would expect that the United States has a rather grand embassy in Bangkok. It does. Located at 120 Wireless Road, it takes up a huge chunk of well-manicured acreage. The buildings themselves, coddled by a free range buffer and ringed with protective, yet decorative, barriers seem to be in full compliance with Congress's mandate that American diplomatic staff be immunized from car bombs and other untoward gifts. Near the southeast corner of Lumpini Park, its nearest ambassadorial neighbor is that of Vietnam; the proximity presumably being more useful in the 60's and the 70's than now.

Many other embassies, too, have proper street addresses and proper lawns. Others don't. Or, their walk-in premises are so distant from downtown as to give them suburb status. Nepal, Iraq, Romania and Bolivia fall into this latter category. "Others" have their entrance at the sliding doors of elevators: Norway is on the 18th floor; Mexico one above; Peru three down; Slovak Republic on the Mezzanine…and so on. Only one stands out among the others: the Apostolic Nunciature at 217 Sathon Tai Road. Phoned repeatedly at 212-5853, there was no answer.

Why am I writing all this? You'll find out in June.

Oh, found in one photograph, and Noo, in a pair of photographs, bring colorful relief to an otherwise gray page.

Next: Bangkok Forever, Part VII

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