Bangkok Forever? ... Part XIII

Back at the Oriental Hotel

Between Part XII and Part XIV

July 7-13, 2000

Friday, July 7, 2000

We will never know, will we? Not for sure, anyway. Readers in a rush not wanting to grapple with his name? Book mongers leaving the box next to his name unticked? Reviewers poking fun at his name?

Names are everything!


Watson? Sherlock Holmes? Dr. Moriority? Would we know any of them had Feuchtwanger been the author of the events in and about Baker Street?

We'll never know.

Do you remember that murder in Queens? A couple of months ago ... end of April? The headless body? The New York Times lead: DECAPITATION OF WITNESS PUTS TRIAL ON HOLD?

This morning's Bangkok Post feels its readers like this sort of thing, too:


"A Thai has been arrested in Ho Chi Minh city on charges of killing a Vietnamese gambler and chopping him to pieces following bets on Euro 2000."

"Denchai Nutipanich was apprehended after police found a headless and dismembered body in a hotel room he had rented."

"The body of Trang Ngu Luong was found on June 30 when housekeeping staff at Quyen Thanh Hotel noticed a smell emanating from Room 301."

"When police arrived, they found four plastic bags containing four severed pieces of Luong's corpse. Luong's head has not been found."

"Mr. Denchai told police he had given Luong $45,000 in payments for bets stemming from the European football championships and then they had parted ways."

"But authorities who searched the Thai's Ho Chi Minh City home confiscated notebooks with gambling statistics as well as black bags similar to those used to conceal the body."

"Chief investigator Nguyen Manh Trung told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that Mr. Denchai is likely part of a larger gambling ring based in Thailand and that he may have been operating on orders from Thai superiors to murder Luong."

"While most forms of betting are illegal in Vietnam, the communist leadership has gradually eased restrictions on certain forms of gambling."

Dear reader, do you recognize these body parts? And, who are the owners? All of them have appeared in one way or another in the pages of this journal.

Last evening another great storm [173k MPEG] lashed The Oriental. One of its little ferries, carrying diners, barely made it back to the dock on this side of the Chao Phraya. The forecast for tonight, again does not augur well for the little ships or for the diners.

Saturday, July 8, 2000

This little case has been percolating quietly. Every so often it turns up on one of the inner (lower corner) pages of the Bangkok Post ... never near anything else that is otherwise readable ... so, even when it does appear it hardly ever gets any accidental readers. Its persistence in print is remarkable.

By Sirkul Bunnag

Two witnesses in the Wat Phra Dhammakaya case yesterday told the monastic court that former abbot Phra Dhammachayo and his deputy, Phra Thattacheevo, had distorted the Lord Buddha's teachings.

Manop Polpairin, an expert at the Religious Affairs Department and Rangsri Suthon, a Buddhism scholar at Maha Chulalongkorn Buddhism College, said the two monks had violated the monastic code of conduct.

Phra Dhammachayo and Phra Thattacheevo, now abbot of Wat Dhammakaya, had cited Pali texts to support their unorthodox teaching that Nirvana was "atta," or self.

This went against the Lord Buddha's teaching that all were "anatta," or non-self, the two witnesses testified.

Mr. Rangsri and Mr. Mnop appeared before the monastic court at Wat Sam Phraya, chaired by Phra Dhammolee, acting chief of Monastic Region 1.

The court set July 27 for the next hearing of witnesses.

Phra Dhammachayo and his former deputy stand accused of embezzling temple funds and violating Buddhist teachings.

The caption under the photograph reads:

Supporters of the mainstream Sangha Council turn out to support the senior monk chairing the monastic court hearing the case against Phra Dhammachayo, former abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya. He and his deputy are accused of misappropriating funds and distorting teachings.

Elisabeth of Portugal
1271 - 1336
The King of Spain's daughter, also known as Isabel de Paz, married Dionysius, King of Portugal. He was an unusually unfaithful husband; but all her life she tried to make her son obey him and generally to keep the peace in the family.

I first met Al Rockoff in a bar in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Al RockoffAt that time the place was called Poets; now it is named Mangoes. Al was a regular, as was I. Jean Marks used to work there ... usually on tables, but sometimes as a barmaid. This goes back almost 15 years.

So it was really surprising to see Al's face on the back page of yesterday's International Herald Tribune. I actually would not have recognized him from the photograph, because for all the years that I knew Al he never had a beard. Yesterday he did; a gray one at that ... but that is another tale. Anyway, the article in the IHT described Al's life as a free-lance photographer in Cambodia at the start of Pol Pot's reign of terror. In the movie, "The Killing Fields," John Malkovich portrayed Al - a portrayal that he hates.

Apparently, Al was in Phnom Penh in connection with an exhibit of his period photographs. More than 50 of his photos covered the walls of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Cambodia. The article, which originated from the New York Times Service, is undated.

Perhaps Al is now back at his barstool at Mangoes.


Since it was not mentioned in any FDR biography ... nor even recorded in Fred Friendly's hilarious "Pardon my Blooper" series ... every American born after the Great Depression might have been forever ignorant of Roosevelt's most unusual "fireside chat." But, The Onion was there: in July 1933:


In a drastic departure from the traditional 'fireside chat,' President Roosevelt held American radio listeners captive last night with a stream of lurid profanities that lasted thirty minutes with nary a break to take a breath.


While millions of families gathered around their radios in rapt attention for their leader's reassuring words during a time of great hardship for the nation, the president cleared his throat, then said, in his familiar, soothing, Harvard-educated drawl, "My fellow Americans ..." After the customary opening, the people of the nation huddled even closer to their radio receivers to hear every nuance of the president's tidbits of fatherly wisdom, recent policy actions which would bring the Depression to a swift end, and his positive-minded thoughts about recovery.

Roosevelt then spoke again: "Cock-sucker, mother fucker, fart-fucking, tit licking, Christ-humping fucker," the president said. He went on, adding, "Shit, bull shit, and horse shit. A good God-damn cunt-kicking ass-hole-sucking tit-fucking piss-shitter."

He continued to swear, making no attempt to connect the obscenities to any larger theme, or even explain to what or whom the curses were directed.

He spoke for nearly 30 minutes before falling silent.

Sunday, July 9, 2000

Something from the Bible to freshen your morning?

And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt. Very grievous were they, before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such.

For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened, and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left, and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt.

- EXODUS 10:14, 15

They look like endless missives ... never ending epistles ... things that drone on and on forever. They were.

Everyone has seen copies of them: the very first newspapers.

With nothing to go by ... with no history of what sells print ... with no idea of what people read and how they read it ... with no clue as to what catches the eye ... the earliest editors just pointed their ink-stained fingers at the upper left hand corner of the cover page and allowed the words to dribble out to the end ... much as is done with a book. When faced with two really great stories the editor started them both on page one ... they ran sort of parallel to one another ... either right and left of one another or up and down from one another.

A journalistic generation later someone thought of mixing fonts on the same page. Not long after: different sizes of print popped out to the reader. Then, multiple stories on a page packed in something for both mom and dad. Next, the mildly annoying "continued on page ..." allowed for junior and sis and gramps to have their own stuff on page one, too. And so on and so on it went ... until The Onion thought up this "humdinger" (Old Man Zweibel's coinage). Under the wise eye of Editor Zweibel "The Best Source of News" came up with the idea of the "free standing teaser": a brilliant marketing ploy that sucked readers into its pages with the promise of something truly big inside. No more than half a dozen words ... a bit of bait ... and the reader was hooked. Unfortunately for journalism, Zweibel and Son allowed its editorials to tap into this rich lode ... soon its advertisers shared the straw.

Tart Cards for Schoolkids

Good Lord! If it's in today's Bangkok Post it must have hit the London dailies on Saturday. See, I was right. Long ago I predicted that these would be the collector's items of tomorrow. Well, tomorrow arrived either yesterday or today. And, I was in on the ground floor ... no, I was the ground floor! Tart cards! That's where the big money is now. How much do I hear for my first edition "Asian Beauty ... Your Dim Sum Tonight"? Will my little web page become the Christies Catalog of tart-cardom? A great clearing house for tart-art? My early write-ups "vacu-sealed" for eternal preservation in the reading room of the British Museum's hall of tart-pulpdom? I deserve it. I was there first. Go ... look for yourself!

Monday, July 10, 2000

NEWNES never even hints that some names really do suit their occupants:

Yesterday's Bangkok Post carried a follow-up photograph of mid-June's tragic elephant story. If you remember, about a month ago an adult elephant was found shot-dead near the Khao Salak Phra wildlife sanctuary. Local murmurs suggested that the elephant had developed a taste for cash crops, etc. etc. ... obviously a fast track to jumbo heaven.

This week, activists, officials and monks performed a religious rite for the dead elephant. From the photograph, it appears that the skull, spine and jawbone of the creature are about all that is left. The summer heat and humidity around here must allow the maggots and other bone scrubbers an easy time negotiating all the tiny crevices in search of that last bit of meat. I wonder how Barbara Cartland is doing?

To all the little Ericksons out there: this 1956 story allowed our little family to loaf:

White Bread

When shoppers across the nation get in line at the super-market, it's white bread that's going into their carts. White bread sales are up over 200 percent since the beginning of the year.

A survey by the Holsum Baking Company shows that consumers are choosing white bread over other varieties such as rye or wheat, specifically for its simplicity, homogeneity and consistency.

Factory 'pre-sliced' white bread is especially popular, ensuring that each and every sandwich is exactly the same size and shape.

I wish that I had read July 10th earlier. The lives of Rufina and Secunda more neatly parallel the fictional lives of my own two Screwsaints than does the Spartan subsistence of Luceja and Ethelreda. Though not as colorful as the girls who wound up wasting their virginity on a rock, these sisters lived closer to the CBIII over flight zone.

Rufina and Secunda
DIED 257

These two sisters were engaged to marry two young Christians. The persecutions of Valerian then began, and, unfortunately, the bridegrooms were afraid and renounced the faith; whereupon the sisters lost all respect for them, and would not allow the double marriage to be consummated - though the timid youths still loved them, and though they themselves were beaten for their romanticism or piety, and thrown into the Tiber.

Yesterday's annual Oriental Hotel soccer match brought out eight teams:

  1. Room Service
  2. Front Office
  3. Food Preparation
  4. Staff Canteen
  5. Housekeeping
  6. Normandie
  7. BRN Stewarding
  8. Friends

Tuesday, July 11, 2000

Pius I

"One of the first popes to be able - thanks to an interlude in imperial persecutions - to give his attention to heresies within the church, and thus to begin the long series of its own persecutions."

1950: Stephani Weaver, halfway to a Presidential birthday card and a cheesy tip of the hat from Willard Scott, born.

Stephani, you have, says NEWNES, these crib-fellows:

Sadly, everybody else died: The Aga Khan and George Gershwin nudging out The Rev. William Gregor and Charles Maklin for name recognition. The former was a mineralogist; the latter an actor.

Though the 'people' who share your spotlight are not terribly remarkable, you do have a shared 'event' that I envy:

[from the International Herald Tribune]
1925: High Brows

WASHINGTON - The slang appellation "highbrow" and "lowbrow" where they mean superior or inferior mentality, are entirely incorrect, according to Doctor Ales Hrdlicka, anthropologist of the Smithsonian Institute, who says that the height of a person's forehead has nothing to do with his intellectual qualifications. "Many stupid people," he says, "have high foreheads and the opposite is likewise true. Much depends on the way the hair grows, and the appearance of a high forehead is often due to the beginning of baldness."

The front page of this morning's Bangkok Post reports on an orderly protest march ... perhaps a march that only accountants can dream about. The accompanying color photograph appears to be OF accountants.

Taking to the Streets

A bill to merge the Bank of Thailand's two reserve accounts will not be tabled in parliament, Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai said yesterday.

The government had backed the merger of the accounts of the Banking and Issue departments until it came under pressure from Luangta Maha Bua, who raised more than one billion baht to replenish the country's coffers.

Reports the merger bill would be tabled in the House tomorrow prompted the monk's followers to launch a new protest that ended when Mr. Chuan and Jurin Laksanavisit, a PM's Office minister, set them straight.

Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Some really big names in 'births' this morning ... sorry, Stephani:

Though, NEWNES' singer doesn't strike a chord (if we're introduced in the after-life I'll mumble something about "not really up on music"). My guess is 'opera'; but, what else was there back then ... 'country?'

NEWNES' death list is thinner, but not shabby:

Today's business section of the Bangkok Post has a graph that shows the route of the baht since I moved into The Oriental. Of course, the real world is not at all like this.

John Gualberto
DIED 1073

The founder of the Vallombrosan Order of Reformed Benedictines. His favorite brother had been killed, and he felt honor-bound to avenge his death; but when he met the murderer, alone and unarmed, asking for mercy in Christ's name, he did not have the heart to do it. This weakness or wisdom gave him so ravishing a sort of satisfaction that he resolved to spend the rest of his life imitating the indulgent God.

When his order was till young an unworldly, it was almost wiped out by the fierce persecution of an immoral archbishop of Florence. One of John's monks then successfully submitted to the ordeal by fire, as a result of which the archbishop was deposed.

No one comes to Bangkok for fast food. Sure, there is a KFC shop just around the corner from The Oriental. And, Golden Arches and Pizza Hut are within sight. But, the only people who I ever see in those places are locals ... and maybe a few tourists with kids. And, kids with backpacks.

Gee, Alf, who else is there?

I am just trying to point out that fast food doesn't have to be that way. Look at this ad from the front of The Nation. For just 25 baht (see the graph? ... 40 baht to the buck!) you can have this:

25 Baht Lunch

For two weeks, through the end of July, the Bangkok Playhouse will stage the play titled 'Pinaikam Kamkuam' (The Ambiguous Will). I think that our Spa's very own Miss Noo is doubling as an actress. What do you think? In this photo from today's The Nation, she is second from the left. She denies it ... but the resemblance is too great for a simple denial. Also performing in the play will be HRH Princess Siribha Chudhabhorn, the elder daughter of HRH Princess Chulabhorn. She is in the center of the photograph.

The Cast

More to come ...

Thursday, July 13, 2000

Throughout Christendom would-be saints napped or otherwise occupied themselves with low profile activities.

"Oh Lord, from this drudge, deliver us." - Anon 20th century candidate, also practicing saintly speech patterns while dusting.

"Even the best of them have to Hoover 1 on their day-off." - Anon English biographer of lesser-known men of God.

1 "Hoover" is an English colloquialism that has to do with vacuuming. Contrary to popular belief, it does not have its roots in the US President who died in 1964. Rather, it comes from the man who invented this popular vacuuming machine.

Jacobus de Oragine
1230 - 1298

The author of the 'Historica Lombardica,' of 'The Golden Legend,' one of the most popular books ever written.

NEWNES does not say, but the runner-up morning to Bastille Day is always slow:

Yesterday Bangkok's other newspaper, The Nation, carried two elephant stories in its front section. For Thai readers, anything to do with elephants is a sure magnet. I am just surprised that the papers have not spent any more column inches on the meanders of Bangkok's itinerant elephant population.

The first one, warranting a color photograph, is traditional. It shows a smiling elephant being fed by a passing Isuzu. ElephantCutely captioned, "Trunk Call," it ends on a poignant note:

A young Sumatran elephant receives food from the driver of a passing car near the national park in Aceh Besar, Aceh. After being evacuated from a training center in Lhokseumawe due to the disturbances in Aceh, the elephants are now starving because forestry officials stopped supplying food eight months ago.

The other, deserving only a black/white photo, is traditional, too. Thais, being naturally very svelte and thin of waist, are fascinated with all things fat. Captioned "Heavyweight Ambassador," the upward angle of the camera captures the nearby girth and the distant happy smile of the heavy woman:

Weighing in at 187 kilograms (@400 lbs), Panta Inthalak, 34, wins the title of Elephant Conservation Ambassador during a contest organized by the Alliance for Thai Elephants at Bangkok's Siam City Hotel yesterday. According to the organizers, Panta was the heaviest among the contestants and also holds the unofficial record as Thailand's heaviest woman.

This morning's International Herald Tribune notes the award of the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for really bad writing. Gary Dahl, the man who invented the Pet Rock in 1975, authored the "truly awful" winning entry.

The heather-encrusted Headlands, veiled in fog as thick as smoke in a crowded pub, hunched precariously over the moors, their rocky elbows slipping off the land's end, their bulbous, craggy noses thrust into the thick foam of the North Sea like bearded old men falling asleep in their pints.

[from the International Herald Tribune]
1950: Korean Surprise

WITH AMERICAN FORCES ON THE SOUTH KOREAN FRONT - American troops have learned in the enforced retreats of the last six days that the Oriental peasant - under Russian direction - has been vastly underestimated as a fighting machine. This has made it a very rough war. For the Americans were not adequately prepared in equipment or morale for a really tough fight. Many officers and men thought that the North Korean Communists would be a pushover for American troops.

Today's Bangkok Post, probably balancing yesterday's poignant tale in The Nation, warns its readers that elephants, too, have tempers:


Chon Buri - A bull elephant killed his mahout's brother after he gave the animal's feed to a female at Suan Chang resort, Pattaya, on Tuesday night.

Oun Insamran, 50, was gored in the chest by Plai Yokie, who was chained at the time, and died instantly.

Witnesses said Plai Yokie, angered, had thrown stones at Oun, who ignored the elephant. Mr. Dam, the mahout, said yesterday the assault on his brother was purely personal.

He said his brother had been mean to Plai Yokie when they were back in Surin and the animal had lost his temper when his feed was removed.

Plai Yokie had been with the zoo for more than two years and never hurt a single tourist, Mr. Dam said.

The zoo management yesterday sent Plai Yokie back to Surin and said it planned to send 10 other bull elephants back to their home provinces.

Next: Bangkok Forever, Part XIV

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