Bangkok Forever? ... Part XIV

Back at the Oriental Hotel

Between Part XIII and Part XV

July 14-17, 2000

Friday, July 14, 2000

You've already seen who was born here and who died here ... and what happened here ... you saw it a whole month ago.

Well, not entirely. As with most of NEWNES' dates, I jotted down only the ones that jumped up and down and waved their hands furiously. The 14th was also the burial and birth date for some terribly shy people:

Aside from the storming of the Bastille, NEWNES chalks up two other events, albeit minor ones:

Making up for yesterday's torpid day for saints, Wescott's choice for the 14th is rich:

1231 - 1274

The so-called Seraphic Doctor. When he was a child St. Francis cured him of an illness, exclaiming, 'O Buona ventura!' and his mother changed his name accordingly. He was a great diplomat and man of the world, and bears to St. Francis much the same relation as that of St. Paul to Our Lord - deforming his doctrine while infinitely fortifying his order. He taught at Paris at the same time as St. Thomas of Aquinas. It was he who devised the celebrated formula of the Unity of God: 'His center is everywhere, and His circumference nowhere.' He also wrote a touching life of his master, but could not get it done before he died; and his ghost came back for three days and finished it - so his literary executors said.

The River Wing of The Oriental is now only partially occupied by ALIMAK'S men. The lower nine floors have been returned to the guests; but the top six or seven remain under strict hammer and saw orders. It is on these upper floors where the bulk of the work remains undone. Much of what is happening up there remains a mystery. Curtained off from invasive eyes, it's only the sound of tools1 that allows anyone to believe that something is happening. But, there is one visual oddity afoot on these higher floors. Setting themselves apart from the bottom nine layers, little windows have appeared where there was once none. No one seems to know why. As the river-facing rooms on these top floors are suites, this could be the link. My guess is that they are bathroom views ... in particular, waist high peeks from the shower stall.

1 On the floor immediately below the yammering jackhammers, a few chronic grumblers and unremitting malcontents worried about their Champagne glasses jiggling off the table and plaster falling into the wine. But, they are ones who fault everything; possibly, they are French ... and, it IS their day today. Just as likely they are Americans, and they wish it was their day today.

My friend, Oh, has just returned from a weekend of temple services. At the onset she wasn't at all enthusiastic about having to listen to monks chant all day. Being a Buddhist, her services noticeably differ from those that Paul and I knew as young lads. This clipping from The Onion does its best to tell non-Christians how spiritual weekends are organized in a Christian community ... in particular, a Norse community in Minnesota ... not far from Fargo, the movie. After reading about Lutheran life, Oh is pleased that she is a Buddhist.

YOUNGSTERS OF TODAY ENJOY SOCIALIZING AT CHURCH Experience Opportunity To Sing, Consort With Non-Relations Outdoor Meals of Pickled Cucumber, 'Potato-Chips' Make for Merry Time

Minot, N. D., Jul. 17. - Young people consider attending church their most favored form of socializing, if the activities of the youths who live in the vicinity of this northern North Dakotan county seat provide any indication. The young people noted that they very much enjoy the weekend activities of professing their faith in Christ, setting foot off the farm, and meeting other young people with a different last name than their own.

The youths enjoy other activities organized or sanctioned by their local parish or regional synod, such as prayer meetings, barn dances, and Book of Leviticus recitation contests.


Young men attending church events also have the opportunity to sing hymns of worship while sitting on a bench next to a young woman to whom he is not related.

The young ladies, meanwhile, have the chance to leave their family kitchens and put on their finest Sunday dresses, apply dusting powder, and demonstrate their cooking and serving abilities during the year-round church picnics and luncheons, Church Socialswhich often include such specially prepared delicacies as pickled cucumbers, chipped potato wedges, and liverwurst sandwiches.

The congregation inspires many a young man to seek courtship with a young lady and, following the customary courtship period of five years, possibly ask for her hand in marriage, provided neither party has been carried away by the typhus.

Seven engagements alone were announced shortly after last week's Youth Prayer Meeting at the First Lutheran Church in Minot. One groom-to-be, Cletus Anderson, reported that he had grown quite fond of a young lady who had been seated in a pew adjacent to his, and the fact that they had politely exchanged approximately fifteen words in six years was reason enough for a betrothal.


Other forms of socializing do exist for young people, but they take a distant place behind church attendance. Some enjoy vexing goats and other livestock by tying cans to their tails, or throwing small rocks in the air and striking them with a bat.

In other news:

Though The Onion might have shrieked it, The Nation put it on page one only because there was so little else to talk about. Yes, a bomb went off in Bangkok yesterday. Not a very big one. And it took place at a low-key election rally ... a rally for Samak Sundaravej, a candidate in the race for Bangkok governor.

Though the candidates wished the bomb had something to do with the campaign, the national police chief said that the explosion might have nothing to do with the governor's race. "There have been business conflicts going on in the area, and there was not much gunpowder in that bomb."

Saturday, July 15, 2000

I thought it was Sunday.

It is disturbingly easy to lose track of the days of the week when so much of what is unimportant on a Saturday is equally unimportant on a Thursday ... or, on a Monday.

The hotel does not discourage this. It is in the interests of the hospitality industry to wish for the homogeneity of time. But, this wasn't always the case. At one time Asian hotels reminded its guests that it was Tuesday or Friday in a very clever way ... with elevator carpets. Aware that its guests were total captives ... between, say floor 17 and the lobby ... what better place to grip their attention. Humans, riding in machines, have a fear of eye contact with other humans. Nowhere is this fear greater than in elevators. Looking at the ceiling is goon-like; staring straight ahead smacks of being in a trance; looking down is safe and comforting: what better place for an embroidered message ... or, a word of solace: "It's Friday."

Also, it's a little 'ice-breaker,' prompting witty exchanges. Chuckles abound when someone says, "Hey, look, it's Friday."

"How time flies," someone chirps back.

Return volley: "Sure does!"

By then, you're at the lobby level.

But, no longer! Gone are the seven sets of elevator carpets, each with its own day of the week emblazoned into its own woof 'n warp. Gone are the colorful midnight crews changing out 'Mondays' for 'Tuesdays.' Gone are the helpful reminders of lost days.

Maybe ... just maybe ... if the elevator carpets had just honored the saints ... maybe things might have been different:

"Hey, look, it's Swithin's Day."

"How time flies."

"Sure does!"

Though it IS Swithin's day, Wescott prefers to lead with Henry:

Henry of Bavaria
972 - 1024

The German emperor who founded the cathedral of Bamberg. He built a number of other churches and monasteries, fought the heathen down the Danube and in Italy, and lived with his wife, St. Cunegunda, in entire chastity. At last he wearied of all this, and asked for admission into the monastery of Verdun; but the church, for the sake of its worldly work, made him go back to his throne.

According to a holy hermit, there was some hesitation in heaven when his soul was being weighed. The hermit saw demons, like a company of lawyers, hurrying to the trial, and asked them to stop on their way back and tell him how it turned out, which they did. The emperor's faults (among others, no doubt, his excessive jealousy of the empress) seemed to the Archangel Michael heavier than the good that he had done; whereupon St. Laurence arose and put a golden pot on the scales - something the emperor may have contributed to one of his churches, or perhaps part of the papal treasure for which the courteous Spaniard died. To prove it, the demons showed the hermit the handle of the pot, which they managed to steal.

DIED 862

Bishop Swithin educated King Ethelwulph, and later became his prime minister. In spite of his high position he was too humble to ride on horseback; and he asked to be buried outside Westminster Cathedral, where everyone would walk on his grave.

His feast is now remembered chiefly in connection with the weather. According to tradition, if it rains then, it will rain for forty days, because, when the cathedral authorities wanted to bring his body inside the pompous and sacred walls, it rained steadily until they sensed his displeasure in heaven and gave it up.

The only miracle Swithin is known to have performed during his lifetime was the mending of a poor woman's basket of eggs; but those which took place at the humble grave outdoors were so numerous that at last the weary ecclesiastics refused to give thanks any more.

You have to remember that NEWNES and his compilers were putting together all of his stuff back in the days when "carriage return" or "CR" or that little return arrow really meant just that ... the 'woosh-clang' of a Smith Corona. The man was working with books and erasers and pencils and bookmarks and paper clips and little scraps of paper and clippings and bits and pieces that fall on the floor. God knows how he came up with most of his things. It wouldn't be hard to say, save for the icons and idols, that it all came out of a bottle.

Only Andy Page would know if NEWNES fudged this one:

The Thai English language dailies:

Today, both The Nation and the Bangkok Post carry photographs of the rain-induced floods that hit the northeast part of the country. Hundreds of millions of bahts went down the drain; also four people.

Competing for cover space at The Nation is a photograph of a Buddhist monk at Bangkok's Wat In Bang Khunprom. He is shown cleaning the left foot of Phra Sri Ariyamettrai, the temple's landmark standing Buddha statue. This sprucing of toes is being done in preparation for Buddhist Lent, which starts on Monday. The statue is 32 meters high. It was built in 1867.

At the IHT:

[from the International Herald Tribune]
1900: Coal Famine

LONDON - A circular has been issued by the colliery owners in Lancashire and Yorkshire stating that, although there is no apparent scarcity of fuel, the country is undoubtedly on the verge of another coal famine. The collieries during the past twelve months have not kept pace with the increasing demand consequent upon the enormous activity throughout the coal mining industries, particularly by the expansion of electric lighting and propulsion.

1925: 'Monkey Law'

DAYTON, Tenn. - Judge Raulston, leading sign and carriage painter of Dayton, lay minister and dispenser of justice in Rhea county, ruled that the Tennessee "Monkey Law," prohibiting the teaching in State schools of any conception of the human species' origin clashing with the account in Genesis, was no violation of the State Constitution. This was theoretically a victory for the Fundamentalists led by Mr. Williams Jennings Bryan.

If today was tomorrow I could look forward to a lunar eclipse. And, today would be Asalha Bucha Day. But, it's not ... so ...

Sunday, July 16, 2000

This, from Atiyanee Mathayomchain, Public Relations Director at The Oriental:

Asalha Bucha Day, the full moon of the 8th lunar month which falls on 16 July this year, commemorates the occasion when the Lord Buddha, after having attained enlightenment, preached his first sermon to the first group of disciples. The event took place in the 6th Century B.C.

I think it is entirely coincidental! The eclipse AND the full moon! The eclipse AND the full moon AND it being the 8th lunar month! But, what a coincidence! Multiplying the odds and you come up with one occurrence in not a thousand years ... but, one in all the time since the Big Bang.

The longest total eclipse of the moon in 141 years - lasting 1 hour 47 minutes - will occur over Thailand tomorrow. [now, tonight ... as this is from yesterday's paper!]

Reading on, selectively:

The initial phase will begin shortly after the full moon arises at 5.46pm.

Sittichai Jantrasillpin, of Bangkok Planetarium, said the total phase, or 'totality', Lunar Eclipse Geometryhas not lasted this long since 1859, and will not be equaled again for over a thousand years.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through the Earth's shadow, cast by the Sun.

The shadow comprises two cone-shaped parts, one nested inside the other. The outer or penumbral shadow is a zone where the Earth blocks some but not all of the Sun's rays, while the inner or umbral shadow is a region where earth blocks all direct sunlight from reaching the moon.

'When the moon passes through the penumbral shadow, observers may not detect any change but a dimmer view of the full moon. Then once the moon passes through part of the umbra, a partial eclipse will be visible, followed by totality when the entire moon passes through the umbral shadow,' Mr. Sittichai said.

During the long total phase, the moon will take on a vivid red or orange colour due to the scattering of the Sun's rays.

Dear reader, those of you who were on the Palio trip with Linda and I last August surely must remember the awful predictions that surrounded the solar eclipse that struck Paris. And, you remember that the promised apocalypse failed to happen: the Mir space station did not crash into Paris, etc., etc. Of course, at the time things did look grim:

[the International Herald Tribune]
1999: Moonstruck: Rationality Eclipsed

PARIS - In one of the most bizarre pre-eclipse events in a competitive field, the French fashion designer Paco Rabanne has called it quits in the face of an apocalyptic event, loosely predicted by Nostradamus, that he says he believes will coincide with the solar eclipse. The explosion of the Russian Mir space station over Paris, according to the Rabanne scenario, will turn the city into rubble. But, Reuters reports, spirited residents in Lyon, the major French city that lies outside the darkest part of the projected moon shadow, say that they are prepared to establish a provisional government of the post-apocalypse France, should Paris in fact be reduced to ashes.

No such happenings have been predicted for Bangkok. And, no marginal towns have volunteered to take over Bangkok's municipal responsibilities should the city come out of its umbral-viewing scathed.

It amazes me that some neighboring capital, like Rangoon or Phnom Penh, has not moved in this moneymaking direction. A year ago Sienese chair-brokers were making themselves filthy rich over Paris's problem with the sun. This is what it looked like then:

All of us wanted to get as far away from Paris as quickly as possible. And, of course, we wanted to get good seats for the eclipse and the spectacular end to Paris. Accommodating Sienese entrepreneurs had thoughtfully arranged rows of bleachers that not only had a commanding view of the sun but also of several stadium-worthy TV screens that projected unblinking views of the bits of Paris that would make the biggest "POWS" if smashed from above.

Linda and I were in our seats early.

Predictably, the sun was reduced to a sliver right on time. Paris, unpredictably, remained Paris. The spectators who had individually spent upwards of 100,000,000,000 lira to watch both colorful happenings were not pleased with the finish. As I have friends in Paris, I had mixed emotions about being shorted out of this widely billed double feature by the ticket sellers.

Of course, the Asian economic slump might explain this.

Yesterday I forgot to report on yet another "Christy Lawrence, a Jaffna-born Tamil with a Norwegian passport" sighting. It was on page 2 of the Post:

Diplomats Escorted To Island Shipyard

PHUKET - The submersible being built in a Phuket shipyard is similar to a vessel used by Tamil Tiger rebels, Sri Lankan ambassador Karuna Tilaka Amunugama said yesterday.

The envoy, who made a one-day trip to the province where he was briefed by Phuket Governor Charnchai Soontornmust, said later that the vessel, once completed, could accommodate two or three people.

Tamil Tigers

Mr. Amunugma did not elaborate on the discovery of the vessel in the yard partly owned by a suspected sympathizer of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Earlier, a senior Sri Lankan diplomat said the vessel was believed to be of the same type as the one seized by Sri Lankan government forces from the Tamil Tigers in Jaffna in the early 90s.

Several senior Thai security officials have played down the discovery at the Seacraft yard on Koh Si-rae, as well as suggestions the vessel was intended for acts of sabotage in Sri Lanka.

Some claimed the vessel was designed for coral-viewing excursions.

The Seacraft yard is owned by Christy Lawrence, a Jaffna-born Tamil with a Norwegian passport. Mr. Lawrence was arrested in April when police found military uniforms, provisions and propaganda material linked to Tamil Tiger rebels aboard his speedboat.

Mr. Amunugama said the people who were building the vessel should be in a better position than him to know of its intended purpose.

He said he had visited Phuket to collect first-hand information about alleged activities of Tiger rebels in Phuket, which has become a rebel operating base according to Loyd's List, the international shipping digest.

He said he had inspected the vessel when he was taken to the yard by Mr. Charmchai, Vice-Adm Sanay Chaichomlert, the Third Fleet commander, and Pol Maj-Gen Kongphol Suwannarak, the Phuket police chief.

An intelligence official expressed hope the publicity brought on by the discovery of the sub might put an end to Tamil rebel activity in the area.

NEWNES chronicles two deaths:

His 'events':

Monday, July 17, 2000

Yikes! I have not been outside of downtown Bangkok since May Day! ArrivalsFor the last eleven weeks I have been practically glued to the intersection of Oriental Avenue and Charoen Krung Road ... well, within walking distance of that point. Last night, on the drive out to the airport, it hit me just how immobile I have been for the past three months. I think I saw more of Asia when I was living in Florida.

Anyway, Annie and Cam arrived last night. They flew, in cattle car configuration, on United's 875 from Seattle to Bangkok via Tokyo. As they will be here for the next couple of weeks, we'll do more than wander around the campus. Today is a good start for that as it's the start of Buddhist Lent:

Again, from Atiyanee Mathayomchan over in Public Relations:

Khao Pansa is a three-month period during which the monks remain within their monasteries performing their spiritual tasks for the community including study and meditation without journeying round the countryside as in other months.


Never having disobeyed his parents in anything, this Roman senator's son married the girl they had chosen, but fled on the wedding day and sailed to Asia Minor. After many adventures, worldly and unworldly, he returned home; but his parents did not know him. For seventeen years he lived there, in a shed and under the cellar-steps, on scraps the servants allowed him. His father and mother and wife of a day went on mourning his absence. He heard them; but, like St. John Chalybita, he kept his secret - for aapparently opposite reasons. John was only a spoiled child; Alexis was a too obedient and somewhat treacherous one, and felt that all this family affection was a vile earthly thing. He did not say goodbye even to his mother before he died; but wrote a doubtless proud account of his life and left it in his shirt.

He is the patron of beggars.

NEWNES dryly stacks their two names together, as if no one else either died or was born in the nearly three decades in between:

The next 'life' worthy of an entry:

'Events' that amused NEWNES:

1 Your web proprietor's comments: Sadly, Punch no longer is a working Fleet Street title.a When I was a student at Kings (Lond.), Alan Coren was the editor of Punch ... I think he was the editor long before I came to London; and, I know he remained its editor for years thereafter. He developed the type of humor ... the genre ... that Monty Python honed so well on the screen. The reverse of the visual non sequitur, if that makes any sense.

a Perhaps Andy Page can add something.

Unfortunately, 'prostitution' is never far from anyone's minds when you say 'Bangkok.' Whether the connection is deserved depends on your vantage point. What do you think of when someone says 'London?' Big Ben? Bobbies? Double-decker busses? And yet, my little sampling of 'tart cards' tells me that prostitution is just as prevalent in London as it is in Bangkok. That some women will sell themselves is a given. Just as much a given is that some men will buy them. I think that the only differences between towns are the cultural ones that allow a different perspective of the same act.

This morning's The Nation adds something interesting:


An Indian academic is likely to trigger a storm of controversy here with her claims that Thai society had in place an infrastructure - religious and legal - that favored the development of prostitution.

Organized brothels were operated in Thailand as early as the 14th century, said Lipi Ghosh in her recent lecture at Thammasat University called "Prostitution in Thailand: A Historical Perspective." Later, the tide of colonialism in the 19th century, and then the Vietnam War, during which Thailand was a favorite destination for American GIs on R&R (rest and recreation), further propelled the growth of Thai prostitution, the University of Calcutta academic said.

But according to Ghosh, long before Western influences made themselves felt, Thai society already had in place an infrastructure - both religious and legal - that favored the development of prostitution.

Unlike Islam and Christianity, whose stringent moral codes are written, so to speak, in stone, Thai Therevada Buddhism offers an attractive laxity of mores, she said.

Buddhism invites its followers to form their own understanding of Buddha's teachings, the values of Buddhism are vulnerable - to a certain extent - to a loose and personal interpretation, Ghosh said.

"Buddhism in Thailand, of course, does not encourage prostitution," she said. "But it doesn't altogether proscribe its practice either." One Thai panelist, a Thammasat professor, however found Buddhism less to blame than the individual's 'laisser aller' (freewheeling) observance of it. "Buddhism is a mature person's religion," she said and added that most Thais were not fully practicing Buddhists.

During the Ayutthaya and Sukothai eras, the legal code legitimizes prostitution. The trading and purchasing of women was a common as well as a legal practice, with women occupying the ranks of slaves.

But rather than slave labor, they were slave "entertainers" for men, according to Ghosh's research of ancient documents.

She found that a woman's worth was about the same as that of a buffalo. Even more disconcerting, she allegedly came across a law saying that a daughter must "physically" serve her parents - meaning that she had to perform sexual favors at her parent's command.

For all her painstaking research in the legal and religious aspects of the time, Ghosh, however, dismisses these factors as the real reasons behind the rise of prostitution. She claims instead that the real culprit is patriarchy - men over the years have connived to manipulate the law and religion to become devices to serve their own sexual promiscuity.

Thai academics reacted defensively to Ghosh's paper. One Thammasat professor recommended that Ghosh pay a visit to Patpong.

"What she would notice, is that most of the customers are not Thai, but foreigners," said the professor.

Another Thammasat professor responded by pointing to the Dutch as being the main customers of Thai prostitutes. He partly blamed Dutch women for not keeping a leash on their men and asked why they couldn't satisfy them.

Other academics took Ghosh's paper as an attack on the customs of traditional Thai society. In her defence, Ghosh explained that Thailand was just one of many countries she was studying, the findings of which she will publish in a book to be called "Prostitution: Myth and Reality."

One female Thammasat student asked Ghosh if "all" Indians believed that Thailand was teaming with Prostitutes.

Answering with diplomacy, Ghosh said: "Contrary to the warnings Indians gave me about Thailand before I left, during my nine months here I have not met one prostitute."

Next: Bangkok Forever, Part XV

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