Bangkok Again

This Time Between Boats and Corkscrews

September 1-9, 2000

Friday, September 1, 2000 (First night back in Bangkok)

Sadly wanting for inspiration? Here is Giles ... from the pages of Wescott:


Giles was a noble Greek, a healer by profession. Wearying of his practice, or plagued by scruples about the pride he took in it, he emigrated to France and settled savagely in a forest near Nimes. He had a pet doe and lived on its milk, with a few roots. One day the Gothic king of the neighborhood went out hunting; his hounds startled the blessed beast, which fled to its master's arms; the king shot at it, and wounded the hermit.

In expiation of his great days in Greece, or in the perversity of extreme old age, Giles did his best to keep the wound from healing. The king made amends by building him a great monastic establishment in the forest.

He is the patron of woodland and of the lame, and, because of the wound, is expected to relieve cancer.

The new month seems to have given NEWNES renewed interest in his task:

Events are quirky, too:

I should arrive in Bangkok at a little after noon ... coming in from Paris on the Air France 'sleeper.' Watcharee will meet me at the airport, as will my driver from The Oriental.

[I did! She did! So did he!]

For the next week and a half ... until the 10th ... Watcharee and I will be in Bangkok.

On the 10th Watcharee and I will fly to Berlin, for the ICCA. After that we'll go to Norway and Sweden for a couple weeks of ballooning. Yes, CB3 will be the envelope of choice. Paul and Annie will join us, as will Stephani and Robin.

Saturday, September 2, 2000

Now the stairs are in the middle of the room. Until today my temporary Oriental quarters have been rooms into which I descend. Open the door, go down six steps, I'm there; go up six steps, open the door, I'm out of there. In and out. StairsThough I'm still in the Garden Wing, each of the rooms this time has the stairs in the middle, dividing the sleeping area from the living area.

NEWNES gives us two meddlers:

NEWNES must have taken Latin as a child:

But, also well schooled in things of the Empire:

The last of August, in century years, does not smile on Glasgow. 2000 saw flaming gasoline on the tarmac. 1900 brought a nasty disease:

[from the International Herald Tribune]
1900: Glasgow Plague

LONDON - The doubt which has been entertained as to the outbreak of the dreaded bubonic plague in Glasgow was dispelled yesterday [Aug. 30]. Despite the confirmation of their worst fears, the citizens of Glasgow have shown no signs of alarm. They are confident of the ability of the medical staff to promptly stamp out the malady without letting it get a further hold on the city. As showing that the outbreak is considered serious, the Glasgow sanitary offices have been ordered to remain open day and night. It is believed that quarantine regulations will be put into force.

Sunday, September 3, 2000

"The Love Songs of Richard Clayderman"

Every guest room in the Oriental Hotel has, as a minimum, a cassette machine and a CD player. For the Purchasing Department that was the easy part ... a simple equation: Sony-Top-of-the-Line-Machine 'times' Number-of-Rooms.

But, who chose the music? And, how? One likes to think that The Oriental has its finger on the pulse of every guest. That some terribly wise and insightful hand in Housekeeping sagely sifted through the vast music library of the property and selected the bits that would best suit my personality. That input was sought and taken from those who know me. That serious thought was given to my listening wants.

Perhaps so. Other selections on my shelf: Paul Anka's "Amigos," Frank Sinatra's "My Way ... The Best of Frank" and Kenny Rodgers' "A Decade of Hits."

NEWNES looks at a bad day for airships:

And, this one is for Andy Page:

[from the International Herald Tribune]
1925: To Protest Speed

TIENTSIN - All traffic was held up in one of the busiest thoroughfares here when, as a protest against the dizzy speed the tramways maintain, a funeral cortege came to a halt in the congested downtown district and laid a lacquered coffin on the street-car tracks just at the point where the departed, a well known Chinese cyclist, was killed by a train. The coffin was guarded by a strong force of weeping relatives, who were successful in preventing police from removing it from the tracks.

Monday, September 4, 2000


DIED 1160

A spinster of Palermo, remotely related to Charlemagne, who retired to a cave and died there amid the little trickling springs, under the stalactites. Five hundred years later her body was found, petrified by the mineral water, the head overgrown with roses. She herself had carved an inscription in the rock, telling who she was.

Dearest reader, this little paragraph, pulled from a cold marble slab in the subterranean morgue of the IHT, is a very wise lesson that few have recognized and far fewer have followed:

[from the International Herald Tribune]
1950: Indo-China Crisis

WASHINGTON - The United States was reported to be speeding arms aid to Indo-China in expectation of a new crisis within a few weeks in that sector of the Asian front. Reports from American and French sources forecast that Moscow-trained Ho Chi-minh is preparing to launch a long-prepared offensive against French and Viet Nam forces by Oct 1 or soon thereafter. By that date, weather conditions are expected to be favorable for a renewal of large scale fighting in Indo-China.

ALIMAK is now in full retreat!

Since early May, when we were driven from our suites and forced to take quarters in the Garden Wing, ALIMAK'S operations have been veiled in secrecy. For months green tarps have blacked the tell-tale glow of sodium vapor lamps, muffled the 'thunks' of concrete bashers and held back the stench of evacuating sewers.

But, no more!

Like the Christian crusaders who left Vezelay only to return in defeat ... like the French Legionnaires who gave their best at Dien Bien Phu ... ALIMAK'S men are packing up. The end is near. Within a fortnight The Oriental will again be in full control of the River Wing. These first photographs show the exteriors of the suites. Please compare this with what the camera saw six months ago.

Tuesday, September 5, 2000

September starts are about as slow as August windups. NEWNES can find little with which to amuse the jaded palate:

Wescott's man is useful to have around when times are dire:

Laurence Justiniani
DIED 1455

A patrician of Venice, its first Patriarch, and a devotional writer of unusual sublimity and simplicity. Harsh and idealistic, he refused to give the daughter of one of his relatives a dowry, lest the money be misspent, spending it instead on food and clothing for the poor, lest he be thought avaricious. For years he carried on a constant campaign against the extravagancies of women and the theatre. The pleasure-loving Venetians were indulgent toward those eccentricities because they believed his prayers to be effective against plague, war, and famine.

Today's Bangkok Post does not carry happy news on the front page:

  1. The riot story: "The residents ran riot on Saturday night and demanded an investigation into the actions of corrupt and abusive police officers. After initial talks failed, the protesters set fire to motorcycles and cars, threw stones at the police station and rampaged around town destroying telephone boxes and traffic booths."
  2. The debt story: "Thai Rak Thai's debt moratorium policy will bring about the downfall of financial institutions, Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai said yesterday."

The classifieds in the Bangkok Post bundle prostitutes and lawyers into the same category listing: Services.

Finally, today's Bangkok Post is the media vehicle used by the makers of Scotch Bird's Nest Beverage to Sueapologize to the people of Peru for an inappropriate television commercial. Scotch Industrial (Thailand) Co., Ltd. expressed "sadness," felt "grievous" and "deeply regretted" what it did.

Dear reader, my Air France flight from Glasgow to Paris the other day was aboard an Embraer 145. The manufacturers of this Brazilian built jet have designed a very charming in-flight safety instructor who cheerfully tells all the passengers how everything works on her little airplane. When things don't work as they should, she has some helpful tips on how to get out of her little airplane. Her name is Sue.

Wednesday, September 6, 2000

We know so little about the man. Was he more than a scribe? Surely ... for this book is a labor of love! The fact that he was English goes a long way in explaining things. But where lies the creativity? Every once in a while we see something like this:

How did NEWNES know this? What does he mean by "hid"? Is he being critical of the then future king? Did the Battle of Worcester go horribly wrong because of something that Charles did…or didn't do? How long was he in the tree? There are so many unanswered questions.

Exactly 250 years later President McKinley was shot.

Later, NEWNES will tell us that McKinley died.


A friend of St. Gregory the Great who had to be taught the impropriety of priding himself upon his supernatural talents. He exorcised a child possessed of the devil, but as soon as he boasted of having done so, the child began to toss and froth and blaspheme as before. It required a veritable siege of praying and fasting to expel the unwelcome spirit a second time.

This morning's International Herald Tribune reports:

"Indian scientists say they have identified the world's hottest pepper, with a kick that makes the previous Mexican pretender to the title seem bland by comparison. Experts at the Defense Research Laboratory in Tezpur in Assam said Tuesday that the local Naga Jolokia was nearly 50 percent hotter than the Red Savina Habanero from Mexico."

Yet another disturbing headline from the Bangkok Post:


Thursday, September 7, 2000

Happy Anniversary, Adrianna!

But, NEWNES sternly reminds us not to forget:

Devout though they had to be, details of their saintly work seem like thin ice on a lake. Wescott, ever protective of life's skaters, gives two patches upon which to glide:

DIED 560

Cloud, or Clodoalus, was a grandson of St. Clotilde, Queen of the Franks, who brought him up. His brothers were murdered by their uncles in order to secure the throne, and he saved his life by becoming a monk - one, that is, who could not expect to rule.


The man who is supposed to have brought St. John the Baptist's lower jaw-bone to Italy.

Dearest reader, I rarely jump into the future with things. And, I try not to take stuff out of order, or savor it before its time. But, this is a special case. Very early Saturday morning (12:30AM) Ah and I shall take one of the Thai 'sleepers' to Berlin. This year the ICCA (International Correspondence of Corkscrew Addicts) is going to hold its AGM in Germany. [And, a sprightly meeting that will be! - so don't miss it!] Anyway, since Wescott will sit this one out in Bangkok, my daily ring-up of saints will go missing. However, September 11th is (or will be) too good of a day to miss. Annie's friend, Rande, would be quite comfortable with Sperandia.

Elias Speliotes

A lucky Calabrian monk, said never to have known 'bodily disease or mental perturbation.' He was one of those who worked on the manuscript copy of the Gospels known as Codex 13.

DIED 1276

A woman who learned in a vision what to wear: a pigskin with the bristles inside and an iron chain as a belt.

Meeting Ah's family! Yesterday Ah and I drove to Ayutthaya. She was born there, and almost all of her family still lives in Ayutthaya.

[from the International Herald Tribune]
1900: Cured by Cold

NEW YORK - Mr. George Traver having recently cured himself of hay fever by spending two hours in a cold storage warehouse, from which he emerged with a frozen nose, scores of sufferers of that disease are applying at every icehouse in the city. A plan is under discussion for the addition of a "refrigerator" ward to the city hospital in which the temperature will be kept almost at freezing point for the treatment of hay fever, asthma and kindred diseases.

1925: Pesky Spirits

PARIS - Mischievous spirits put an unexpected crimp in the opening session of the congress of the International Spiritualist Federation last night [Sept. 6]. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who succeeded in making a fervent plea for spiritualism as a religion, absolved "spirits" and blamed "sabotage" for the interference which developed after the congress had been in session for half an hour. Whatever was wrong and wherever the blame may be traced, Sir Arthur suddenly found that his lantern slides were not being properly projected. Ectoplasmic emanations were being discussed when the lantern suddenly began to play its worst tricks.

1950: No Prisoners

ON THE U.S. 25TH DIVISION FRONT IN KOREA - American troops almost took some prisoners but had to kill them instead when a surrender offer turned out to be a trick. About 100 North Koreans trapped near division lines offered to surrender. As they came in, ostensibly to give themselves up, they revealed their trick by tossing hand grenades. Then they raced toward the Americans. The Americans mowed them down.

Usually you look out of my front window: the view with the Chao Phraya River and its water traffic in the foreground ... the Spa on the far west bank ... the klongs of Thonburi winding around inside. Looking east from my rooms you can see the heart of Bangkok. The city's tallest building is where Oh and I used to have dinner.

This morning's Bangkok Post catches China's track coach Ma Junren monitoring his women runners during one of their training sessions in Tibet. Cigarette in hand, God bless him! Happy Dragon brand cigarette endorsements like this one take us back to the good old days in America when Lucky Strike, Camel and Chesterfield could claim that medicinal puffs of their smoking herbs would ward off painful shingles and unsightly warts.

Friday, September 8, 2000


A listless day for people:

Events, better:

Wescott's lady of the day suggests that being 'wronged' is, in itself, enough for sainthood:

Seraphina Sforza

The Count of Urbino's daughter, married to Alexander, Lord of Pistoia. It was a happy marriage for a year or two; but Alexander fell in love with a lady most unsuitably named Pacifica, and put his wife out of the house. She took refuge in a convent of Poor Clares. When the passion for Pacifica had worn itself out and Alexander wanted her back, it was too late: she had become an abbess and taken irrevocable vows.

And, now for something entirely different [272k MPEG].

Dear reader, three days from now we'll be in Berlin. Thanks to Thai Airways trans-Asian sleeper service, we'll leave Bangkok shortly after midnight and arrive in Germany a dozen or so hours later.

But, Alf, why are you going there? It seems like you have just returned to Bangkok. What powerful force is driving you back to Europe? Is it a woman?

Oh, dear gentle reader, we are going there to see some exciting things: things that made history.

Like what, Alf?

For starters, we will visit Martin Luther's rooms.

But of what interest to you is German church reformation? You are always swiping at saints. And, this is so out of synch with your Monty Python flicks.

Dear, dear reader! There is more. Much more. We are also going to see a cutlery collection.

A what?

Knives ... forks ... spoons.

Is that all?

There will be corkscrews as well.

Saturday, September 9, 2000

Call yourself a 'Believer'? Think you have the 'Faith'? You never ate meat on Friday? You 'hit the rail'1 every Sunday? Did those 'stations of the cross'? Well, move over for these lads:

Gorgonius and Dorotheus
DIED 303

The first of these Christian officials of Diocletian's court in Nicomedia, seeing the second tortured, challenged him and the torturers to a trial of their endurance. Flesh was whipped off the rivals' bones; salt and vinegar were sprinkled in their wounds; they were grilled over a slow fire: nothing much was left of them, but their obstinacy lasted. The torturers finally gave up hope of the Christians' changing their almost maddening minds, and hanged them.

A mighty big day for deaths (U.K. readers only):

And, for fans of a full-service religion (none of this 'separation' business):

This evening Ah and I are going to Berlin. We'll be in Germany until the 17th, attending the twenty-something annual meeting of the International Correspondence of Corkscrew Addicts (ICCA). Yes, I have been doing this sort of corkscrew thing for years and years. If you recall, last year we met in Philadelphia ... next year the meeting will be held in Florida. And, of course, all three of my hot air balloons are decorated with these useful little engines. Corkscrews are a major part of my life ... even my elephant polo team has the little things built into it: Screwy Tuskers.

Anyway, midway through our German occupation Mike and my crew will arrive with CB3. This will be the first time that I'll be able to fly one of my corkscrew balloons at a corkscrew meeting. Though I had CB1 at our corkscrew meeting in France last year, the weather didn't allow us to fly at any of the corkscrew venues. We pretty much had to fly on our own, far from my addict friends.

After the ICCA unscrews itself, Annie and Paul ... along with Stephani and Robin ... will meet us near Frankfurt. Like a decamped army we'll cross the sea to Norway ... and then to Sweden. This will be the first time that we've ever flown in Scandinavia. This will be somewhat of an adventure, rather like our trip to Ireland was ... virgin skies, virgin venues ... no promises from geographers or weathermen. Ah is understandably worried about the local cuisine. Viking cuisine was pretty much built around 'take-out' service ... something to tuck away while doing duty with the oars. North Sea chilled herring bits (with skin and head still attached) are the ideal finger food in rough waters ... but Thai tummies are unhappy with them.

When we return to Bangkok on the 27th of this month a whole new book will open. Up until last spring I lived in the River Wing of The Oriental. My evacuation to the Garden Wing on May 10th was necessary; the 'old' place was in desperate need of surgery ... not just the cosmetic type that nudges in with the passage of the years ... major organ transplants were required.

Dear reader, you've seen what a thousand laborers can do. What a thousand workers can do when pressed to work 24 hours a day. What an almost unlimited construction budget can do. Well, it's almost finished now. When Ah and I return on the 27th we'll move into a set of rooms that has been built to our specifications.2

Lest you think that The Oriental allowed itself to be anything other than 'top drawer' during its surgery, let me point you to Travel and Leisure's annual reader's ranking of the "World's Best". Yet again, The Oriental ranked as the Number One hotel in the world.

When we return to Bangkok, one of my friends will no longer be working at The Oriental. Oh, on October 3rd will begin a new job: at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

1 Catholic prep school slang for 'taking communion."

2 Give or take some exaggeration.

Next: Corkscrews in Germany

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