Bangkok ... On the Way to Bhutan
(Part Three)

Between Part Two and Stephani's Letters Home

November 23-28, 2000

Thursday, November 23, 2000
(Thanksgiving Day – 4th Thursday in November – USA)

NEWNES 'finds' a curious job title with:

Another one who died in captivity:

Readers will, no doubt, remember her from last year. But, as her 'obituary' is as short as it is colorful, it is worth repeating. Well, yes, her seven boys do fall into the same paragraph.

Felicitas and Her Sons

Another martyred widow and seven sons. Their virtues aroused suspicion, their wealth a murderous covetousness. They would not hear of apostasy. The young men were put to death before their mother's eyes, one by one, in different ways. Because it would have been a delight to go where they had gone, she was kept alive for four months, then mercifully thrown into a vat of hot oil.

Are we still worried sick over who will be the next inhabitant of the White House? Is everyone looking to Dade and Palm Beach counties for the final word on who will lead the world into the 21st century?1 'Chads' ... 'dimpled ballots' ... will the fate of all mankind rest upon their fate?

1 Remember, dear reader, January 1, 2000 was not the beginning of a new millennium; it was the start of the last year of the last one. The next one is still 38 days away. So, all those dire end-of-the-century predictions won't start to come true for yet another few weeks.

America's woe over the '00 election has been making its way through the Bangkok Post. Starting on page 1, like it did everywhere else, it has gradually fallen out of popularity as the 'recount' has drained the event of interest. Today, the latest Florida Supreme Court decision is noted on the back page of the paper. Captioned as GORE LIFELINE, it is sandwiched between RESTRAINT URGED (about street violence in Cairo) and IN OTHER NEWS (Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest in Burma).

A century ago, another man worried about his future ... and his title:

[from the International Herald Tribune]
1900: Dubious Duc

PARIS – Some time ago the "Temps" newspaper threw doubts on the validity of the title of the so-called "Duc de Warren." This article has brought forth the following letter from him: 'I am in possession of a brief of His Holiness the Pope Leo XIII, dated June 27, 1900, bearing the Ring of the Fisherman, and countersigned by Cardinal Alois Macchi. The Pontifical authorities do not deny this fact. The Pope conferred the title of duke on me in consideration of my Royal Origin (William the Conqueror-Warren-Plantagenet). On the maternal side I descend from the Venerable Jeanne d'Arc."

Of interest, locally, is the escape of eight Burmese prisoners from a Samut Sakhon provincial prison. After dousing their hostages with fuel, they now sit in a 'Carryboy' enhanced pick-up truck near the Burmese border. "We want to go home," said group leader Maung Win. They did not want to stay in the prison because they could not stand their "poor living conditions." It is not a coincidence that the escape started when the prison's 2,500 inmates gathered in the mess hall. Expecting brunch, they were instead offered a lecture on Buddhism.

The massive explosion was preceded by a crescendo ... starting as small arms fire, with harmless sounding 'pops', intermittent at first ... Fire on the Watergrenades next, their 'pineapple' pieces zinging everywhere ... mortars followed smartly, arcing into the water ... then, the big stuff, their launching bores too far away to be seen, lumping their large loads with horrific thumps. By then we were on the balcony, Watcharee and I, staring at the floating, burning carnage 14 floors below us.

Thailand, bordered every which-way and that ... by a truculent Burma to the west, by a fanatical Cambodia lying off to the lower right, by an envious Laos, upper right and colored purple on the map ... well, dear reader, what was hemmed-in Thailand to do? Were the notorious Htoo brothers (Luther and Johnny) and their Army of God behind all of this? Or, was this just another provocation from the East ... disgruntled Khmers unhappy with the way Pol Pot had to pass his retirement years ... Laos functionaries miffed about some imagined diplomatic slight?

Malloy's "The Mystery Book of Days" reminds us that today would have been Boris Karloff's 113th birthday:

Friday, November 24, 2000

Ed Anger would have loved this ending!

Yesterday I reported, quite 'lightly', on the escape of some Burmese prisoners from a jail here in Thailand. I 'asided' something about a Buddhist scold in place of the expected late morning brunch as being the root cause of the prison break.

Well, what followed this jailbreak ever so sharply contrasts AnyTown, USA with "AnyBuri, Thailand". What would have pleased Ed so much is not the fact that nine of the prisoners were shot dead ... rather, that their death sentence was gaveled at a late night meeting of the top cops. That the escapees were to be taken "dead."

Here is this morning's Bangkok Post:

"Condemned to Die at Late Night Talks"

The Burmese fugitives killed in Kanchanburi yesterday sealed their own fate when they took hostages, killed a Buddhist lecturer and then broke out of Samut Sakhon jail.

They were condemned to death at a top-level meeting between Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, police and military leaders late on Wednesday night, a military source said.

The meeting, at Phanurangsi military camp, Ratchaburi, decided the escapees would be recaptured dead.

"The meeting agreed the hostage-takers must die to set a precedent for other people, because they had killed a Thai official and committed a serious crime", the officer said.

Meanwhile ... well past the front-page fold, practically hidden on page 14 ... the Post updates what's going on in America:


"This late-breaking news has just arrived from the US election: No new president yet. Mr. Bush still leads the voting, by 930 votes. Bad news for Mr. Gore: The Miami recount has been abandoned because it can't beat the Monday morning (Thailand time) deadline. Mr. Bush is demanding the US Supreme Court stop all counting and just give him the darn contest. Green Party loser Ralph Nader is proposing a Bush-Gore coin flip to choose a winner. Mr. Cheney is all right after a minor heart attack. Americans celebrated Thanksgiving Day. It is unclear why."

It is a light day at NEWNES:

For events, too:

Many months ago ... perhaps, more than a year ago ... I wrote, right here in these very pages, about the mystery of the 'sticks'1. The 'sticks' were those little pieces of wood (about the size of a wood match) that were cleverly employed by The Oriental's floor butlers to ascertain if the guest was in or out of his room. Almost fool proof. When seen in their upright position, leaning against the outside of the room door, the butler knew at a glance that the guest was still inside. If seen in a fallen position, this was excellent evidence that the guest had parted.2

1 My first references to these 'sticks' appeared in two of my earlier Bangkok journals. On December 1, 1999 I ever so lightly touched the topic. We were about to leave for Kathmandu ... I was in a bit of a rush ... my Screwy Tuskers had just finished training ... tremendous pressure prevented me from digging any deeper. I raised the issue again on Christmas Eve. As the year ended, the Secret of the Stick was revealed. Then, some months later ... on March 18th, to be exact ... I was able to tackle the general concept more fully. I remember it clearly, for it was when Mike Lincicome independently discovered the existence of The Oriental's 'toilet-bowl-flush' detection devices.

2 Of course, a devious guest could thwart the system by repositioning the stick into an upright position after he had left the room. With equal ease the same guest could 'down' the stick while he was still in the room ... either by opening the door and closing it, or by seeking out a blade or other flat object by which he could 'trip' the stick by passing the thin foil under the door. A more difficult task would confront our wily tenant if he had to convince the butler into thinking that he was in the room when he was, in fact ... YES ... in the room. For example, if the guest wanted his temporary absence from the room to go undetected he would need some way to 're-erect' the stick after he had reentered the room. If he were working with an outside accomplice this would be easy. But, if alone, he would need a terribly thin pair of pliers, very nimble hands and a set of good eyes ... all of which would have to be harmonized or orchestrated to accomplish his goal. This guest (myself) attempted to do this with a wood match and a pair of Leatherman pliers. He was not successful. And, of course, there is the complication of multiple guests per room, sloppy stick positioning, vandals, earth tremors, etc.

Right now, all the clever readers out there are raising and waiving their hands all about ... footnote junkies, too. Hold on, I know where you are going!

No, no, no ... ! Not mirrors and smoke, my friends. Not a sleight of hand, nor even an overlarge sleeve. Nothing like that at all! But, it COULD have been ... yes, it's all just as mysterious as those wonderful devices of yore ... those magical tools that men like the Great Houdini and Blackstone used when easily befuddling the masses. But, here we have lights ... magnets, and ... something more. And, it is this 'something more' that has us so puzzled.

You see, dearest reader, immediately above each room door there is a little, ever so tiny, light source. Tap HereIt never glows ... it is never 'on' ... EXCEPT when the butler taps a little magnet on the surface of the shiny metal plate that houses the room's "Do Not Disturb" light. When tapped it glows 'red' if there is someone inside, 'green' if the room is empty. "But," you very well might ask, "How does it know when to glow green and when to glow red ... I mean, how does it know if there is someone inside the room?" Very good question! A visual sweep of our rooms did not find any conventional 'motion detectors' ... there is no evidence that the rooms themselves rest upon giant scales that constantly monitor the weight of the room and its entire contents ... heat-seeking technology does not appear anywhere; besides which, bubbling fondue pots can be left unattended and the proper light still comes on ... voice sensors are right out of the question, as some of the hotel's richest guests are 'dumb' from birth on ... and sophisticated oxygen/carbon dioxide 'sniffers' would suffer unacceptable errors with even the shallowest of pet poodle breaths ... yes, dear reader, the 'something else' is the mystery.3

3 There is one tiny clue in all of this. Apparently, the actual use, in the room, of a computer or a fax machine causes the little light to glow 'wrong'. Any help would be appreciated.

To the engineers out there ... to those far cleverer than Alf ... to anyone, I ask: How do they do this?

Saturday, November 25, 2000

NEWNES, wanting someone ... almost anyone, I guess:

Meanwhile, bottom feeding in the 'history' stacks:

Dear reader, this cash-and-carry cart is new to the area. Just to the west of where the Silom Road passes beneath the elevated motorway there is yet another of these terribly convenient nomadic fast food wagons. Bangkok is famous for them. Most of these mobile eateries pretty much offer up the standard fare ... not so with "Bugs Galore". Though, initially only quick-fried roaches are available, the owner promises a wider assortment of insects once she has developed a firmer customer base.

Anyone who was with us last Thanksgiving Day will surely remember Catherine. Hers is a tale beside which all others must look anemic. Everything about this woman, from her engagement to our Lord and Master to her picturesque last moments, ekes out sobs and wails from believers.

Catherine of Alexandria, or of the Wheels
DIED 310

This princess, perhaps, was Constantine the Great's half-sister. Her Egyptian subjects, or her relatives and friends – as the case may be – wanted her to marry; instead, she engaged herself to Jesus Christ. The Emperor Maxentius, during his persecutions, assembled a host of able philosophers; the scholarly virgin out-talked and converted them; the emperor put them to death. Then he shut her up in his palace; she converted the empress and her ladies; and he put them to death, intending, in any case, to marry Catherine. She told him that her mystic fiancι was everlasting and handsome – whereas he was old, sick, fickle, filthy. Hurt feelings then combining with orthodox pagan fervour, he ordered her to be torn apart on four spiked wheels; but lightning struck the atrocious machine, and she was simply beheaded.

There is some contradiction between all this and secular history. The church appears to have ascribed to Catherine many traits of the pagan Hypatia, murdered by a mob in St. Cyril's employ – a depressing though politic sort of retribution.

From Malloy's "The Mystery Book of Days":

Sunday, November 26, 2000

Yesterday, Catherine of the Wheels confused us with her romantic tinkering. Flirting with the memory of Mary's only begotten Son, pretending the affection of another and playing cruelly with the withered heart of a fickle pagan ... she 'begged' to be lashed to the machine of four spiked-wheels. Perhaps Mary's Son, now safely back with Father and Ghost, yearned for her loins ... that being the reason for the lightning's miraculous intervention. The 'beheading' quickly sent her on her way.

Because of her, little is known of Mercury ... the co-tenant of the 25th. But, Wescott allows us this:


A Greek soldier in the Roman army, put to death by Julian the Apostate. A little later, during the Persian wars, St. Basil had a dream about the dead soldier's vengeful intentions. He hurried to the tomb and found it empty. Meanwhile, an unknown horseman, riding up to Julian in the field, ran him through with his lance. The emperor felt the wound, waived his dripping hand in the air, cried out, 'You conquer, Galilean,' and died. The next day Basil revisited the tomb: the soldier's body had come back, the lance was blood-stained.

Leonard of Port Maurice has the 26th to himself. He would have been an awkward roommate for almost anyone.

Leonard of Port Maurice
1677 – 1751

A popular preacher. When he had exhausted the effects of mere eloquence, he would strip, turn his back to the audience, and whip himself until his blood spattered about the pulpit. His tireless missions greatly quickened religious feeling throughout Italy.

NEWNES, ever thoughtful of the under-recognized:

As did Coventry Patmore, poet, in 1896.

According to NEWNES, The Great Storm of London fell upon the city on the night of 26-27 in 1703. Perhaps, Andy knows more about this.

No, dear reader, this is not from the Bangkok Daily News. Had it so been, Morton and his magical 'dot-engine' would have left little for your eyes ... perhaps only the girl's nose and gaze would be visible. No, this is from the same roll of film on which I found this photograph of The Bottlescrue, a London wine bar. Taken more than a year ago, I can only vouch for the pub. The girl ... (a 'tart card' wench?) ... what IS she offering? The film canister, found in the bottom of my camera bag, also had scenes from Maruti's traveling circus. Do you remember Maruti? The little circus at the Pushgar camel auction ... in India? I think Paul can find a link to that. Paul! [From Mike's Journal last year]

Monday, November 27, 2000

Tomorrow night we'll be in Calcutta. Watcharee and I will be the last to arrive. Our flight from Bangkok will be relatively short ... just several hours; Annie and Tilman, coming from Seattle, will change planes in Amsterdam and New Delhi; Stephani and Shamane travel via New York; Sian comes from London; the others by way of Singapore.

Later this week ... perhaps as early as St. Andrew's Day ... Tilman and Annie will take over the journal. A refreshing change of prose and pictures! Long overdue, I agree. NEWNES, Wescott, and the IHT ... these will be left back at The Oriental.

While waiting for Ah (Watcharee's Thai nick-name) to return from Ayutthaya ... she went up-country for the day to visit her mom ... I started browsing the "A's" in MRS. BYRNE'S DICTIONARY OF UNUSUAL, OBSCURE, AND PREPOSTEROUS WORDS.

Here are a dozen "A" words that I liked. See if you can match them up with their meaning. I'll give you the answers tomorrow.

  1. Accubitum
  2. Aegrotat
  3. Autophagia
  4. Antibiosis
  5. Anagnorisis
  6. Amphigory
  7. Absinthism
  8. Amaxophobia
  9. Ambagious
  10. Allograph
  11. Allotriophagy
  12. Ansate
  1. Nonsensical writing
  2. Having a handle
  3. A nervous or mental illness resulting from over imbibing absinthe
  4. A fear of riding in a car
  5. Relationship between organisms, beneficial to one but harmful to the other
  6. Biting oneself; nourishment from body tissues
  7. Talking or doing things in an indirect manner; devious
  8. A student's written medical excuse
  9. The craving for weird food
  10. A signature made for someone else
  11. The denouement or unraveling of a dramatic plot
  12. A crescent-shaped couch for five people used by ancient Roman diners

Being sandwiched between yesterday's Leonard of Maurice and tomorrow's James of the Marches should, alone, satisfy heaven's entrance requirements. But, no ... she ran her own race:

Margaret of Savoy

A princess of the royal family of Savoy. St. Vincent Ferrer having fired her imagination even during her husband's lifetime, she refused to remarry, even royally, and, instead, founded a Dominican convent in Sardinia. There she lived like a person of humble origin, preferring unearthly privileges to those to which her birth entitled her, and after forty-four years of piety – ripe for heaven, as her nuns said – died happily.

Today, NEWNES has little to give:

Photographs in this morning's Bangkok Daily News, absent Watcharee's interpretation, remain puzzling. Given the gloomy faces ... and the paper's penchant for seeking moments of woe ... they probably don't capture happy moments for the participants.

Tuesday, November 28, 2000

As promised, here are the answers to yesterday's little word quiz.

1 – L
2 – H
3 – F
4 – E
5 – K
6 – A
7 – C
8 – D
9 – G
10 – J
11 – I
12 – B

While rummaging around in Tibballs ... in his "The Best Book of Lists" ... I found two more wonderful "A" words:

Alektorophobia – fear of chickens


Aulophobia – fear of the flute

Both came from Tibballs' list of "20 Unusual Phobias". This list, and its accompanying footnote, is so in harmony with what we here at hold dear that I must reprint it here and now ... well, except for the first two "A" fears, which I have already mentioned.

Clinophobia – fear of going to bed
Ecclesiaphobia – fear of churches
Eisoptrophobia – fear of mirrors
Geniophobia – fear of chins
Genuphobia – fear of knees
Gymnotopophobia – fear of nudity
Ichthyophobia – fear of fish
Levophobia – fear of the left side
Linonophobia – fear of string
Meteorophobia – fear of being hit by a meteor
Nephelophobia – fear of clouds
Odontophobia – fear of teeth
Ouranophobia – fear of heaven
Pediophobia – fear of dolls
Pogonophobia – fear of beards
Siderophobia – fear of the stars
Stygiophobia – fear of hell
Trikatidekaphobia – fear of the number 13

Tibballs, in a footnote to this list of phobias, graphically illustrates how debilitating such a fear can be ... even to men of letters. Curiously, the phobia that he uses to make his point, 'onomatophobia', or the fear of certain names, is NOT one on his list. Anyway, here it is:

"German physicist Phillip Lenard suffered from onomatophobia, the fear of certain names, in his case that of Sir Isaac Newton. Even though Newton had died 135 years before Professor Lenard was born, Lenard couldn't bear to speak, hear or see Newton's name. At lectures, he would turn his back on the students if Newton's name had to be mentioned. Lenard's phobia stemmed from a hatred of all British scientists whom he accused of stealing German ideas."

Backing off a bit, it's not surprising that the dictionary in Microsoft Word gave a red underline to every one of these phobias ... as well as to all but one of yesterday's curiosities from the BYRNE woman. 'Antibiosis' was the only word it recognized.

Bad neighbors can make the best of homes a living hell! Yesterday, Leonard's name came up when we worried about the excesses that poor Margaret of Savoy had to suffer on her road to heaven. Sleeping on thorns and eating sand for forty-four years apparently was not enough torture. To her north, mad Leonard kept her awake with his flagellations; not content with ranting and raving about his God, he splashed the place with his blood.Yes ... allowing the hedge along the property line to grow thick and tall ... keeping the curtains drawn on that side of the house ... having the lawn furniture face a different direction ... yes, there are a few things that she could have done to limit the damage. But, bad luck! To the south, another preacher ... not content with just wailing and lashing about on his own property ... dragged sinners in off the street.

James of the Marches
DIED 1476

This Franciscan, the son of poor people of the Marches of Ancona, first distinguished himself as a preacher. By one sermon on the Magdalen's tears, he converted thirty-six prostitutes; and he himself gave them a house and an income, to make their new and edifying integrity possible. Then he went to Germany and Hungary as an inquisitor. He is said to have made two hundred thousand converts and to have brought back into the fold fifty thousand heretics; and, as one might expect, he was cruel to himself and others.

NEWNES'S 'deaths' for today are outnumbered by 'births' six to five. Of the 'five', only one is worth repeating:

Dear reader, starting tomorrow, or the day after, Tilman and Annie will start busying themselves with this journal. Though I may come in with the occasional chirp now and then, the bulk of everything that you read here ... from now until December 18th ... , will come from them or their assignees. Right now they are in Calcutta. I think that Stephani, Shamane and Sian have already joined them ... , as will Watcharee and I, later on this evening.

But not before Morton, our Daily News 'dot' tech, throws himself into one more job. This time he has to 'cover' a bus accident.

P.S. This is silly, but what does an ouranophobic stygiophobe do? Pray?

Next: Stephani's Letters Home

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