Paul in Bangkok, Part II

Between Part I and Part III

August 6-8, 2001

Monday, August 6, 2001

The controversy over the Thaksin decision continues in the Bangkok Post this morning. In response to the prime minister's comments yesterday, critics have pounced, saying that Thaksin did not receive a mandate to tinker with the constitution and "clip the wings" of the anti-corruption agencies. According to local law lecturer Somkid Lertpaitoon:

The 11 million people who voted for Thai Rak Thai in the general election did so because of policies such as 30-baht health care and a debt moratorium for farmers, or because they liked his leadership. They did not elect Mr Thaksin to amend the charter.

Mr Thaksin himself is considerably piqued because he didn't intend his "off the cuff" comments yesterday to show up on the front page of the Bangkok Post. After the story appeared, "the usually accommodating prime minister sidestepped journalists and refused to answer questions."

"No more words. Today, I have no comments. ... From now on, I will talk to the press less. I will limit myself to talking to them only twice a week."

Meanwhile, most Thais are happy with the Constitution Court's decision. In Bangkok, 69% are pleased; in the provinces, that number increases to over 73%.

I had expected to see something in the Bangkok Post about the Severed Sky Train Organ. Watcharee said that last night's Thai TV news carried an update. Perhaps the Daily News will provide details ... could there even be a photo, with discreetly-placed dots?

It's a quiet morning in Bangkok. Rain is falling from the overcast skies, and we're all just relaxing after yesterday's adventures. Nothing is on the agenda ... and the agenda will remain blank until lunchtime, when we will consider options. Outside my window, traffic on the Chao Phraya is gearing up to its usual weekday pace. I am quite successfully resisting.

Uh oh! I just found a floppy disk that Alf slipped under my door as he passed on his way to the sports center. Daily News Photo(Hmmm, I should probably be going there myself.) The floppy contains a front-page photo from today's Bangkok Daily News.

Photo editor Morton had to do a lot of crosshatching with this one! (I'm impressed with his ability to "stay within the lines" when he does his magic. I was always sloppy with my crayons.) The police officer in the photo appears to be pointing at something ... could it be that there are parts missing? If so, perhaps we know where they are!

Or, of course, it might just be something entirely unrelated.1

A quiet morning segued into a quiet afternoon. After yesterday's hot travels, it's nice to take a little time to enjoy the quiet pleasures of The Oriental. I stopped in at Lord Jim's, yet another restaurant in the hotel, for a buffet lunch. After some small appetizer tidbits, I focused on lamb curry with saffron rice.

After a late afternoon nap, I joined Alf and Watcharee for an evening at Sala Rim Naam, across the river. The program included dinner and a show of various Thai dances. Both the dinner and the dancers were exceptionally good.

There were several different dance segments, which the program described as follows:

Tomorrow will probably be another quiet day ... at least until evening!

1 The Nation, another English language Bangkok paper, provides a bit more information in its below the fold front page story today. (The article appeared right next to a photo of a hot-air balloon, just to ensure that it would catch our attention.)

Tuesday, August 7, 2001

One of the remarkable aspects of the Oriental Hotel is its relatively nondescript appearance from the river.1 Directly across the river is the very impressive Peninsula, which rises dozens of floors above the Chao Phraya. Slightly downstream on the same side as the Oriental are a couple of other properties that demand the boater's attention. The Shangri-La spans hundreds of yards of waterfront, and rich foliage sprouts from its every balcony. One could easily pass the Oriental without even noticing it.2

Yet the Oriental is generally considered to be the finest hotel in the world. Perhaps it is the hotel's very quality that immunizes it from the need to cloak itself in ostentation? In any event, once on the property -- in the rooms, in the restaurants, wherever -- one has no doubt that this is the finest place one could possible (short of some sort of especially pleasant afterlife which has yet to be confirmed).

This morning's papers bring no fresh news regarding the Skytrain severed organ case, but fallout from the Constitution Court's ruling on Prime Minister Thaksin continues to churn. The case has many unusual aspects, and it is perhaps a very good example of the old maxim, "hard cases make bad law." There were compelling political reasons for retaining Thaksin in power; the major question being posed now is whether the court came up with a less than preposterous rationale for reaching that end.

It's hard to evaluate the court's reasoning at this point, since it hasn't issued its full opinion but only a brief statement of its bottom-line ruling of innocence. This bifurcation in the release of its determination is indeed quite unusual, and it is one of the structural bases for criticism of the court.

Another criticism centers on the different rationales apparently propounded by the eight judges in the acquitting majority: four felt that Thaksin's failure was an "innocent mistake"; Commentarythe other four believed Thaksin was not subject to the applicable statute because it only applies to "political office-holders," and Thaksin was not in office at the time he filed his false report.

According to some commentators, the court should have first determined the applicability of the statute to Thaksin and then proceeded to determine whether his actions violated it.3 At a minimum, a "majority of the majority (of eight)" should have agreed on a single theory of acquittal.4

Of ten Thai politicians who have been prosecuted under the law at issue, Thaksin is the first to escape conviction and a five-year ban from public office. Needless to say, some of the nine who were previously convicted are a bit miffed at Thaksin's being issued a pass. One of them, the former Democrat secretary-general, is trying to round up the others in a call for the judges' impeachment.

Meanwhile, additional details have been issued concerning the clampdown on press access to the Thaksin administration. From The Nation:

'Minders' will oversee PM's interviews

The government is to introduce a system under which official "minders" -- designated civil servants -- will regulate how the prime minister and other Cabinet members are interviewed by reporters. ... Government Spokesman Yongyuth Tiyapairat said the prime minister and other Cabinet members would stop giving informal talks to reporters for fear that to do so "will lead to inaccurate reports."

The spokesman said: "From now on we will regulate the way reporters seek news here. Any reporter wishing to interview any Cabinet member can inform the office of the Government Spokesman or me so that we can arrange the interview. During the interview, an official from this office will be present to record it on audio tape."

In other news, there was a wedding in Turkey that put a new twist on the idea of a "shotgun wedding":

Bride bites the bullet

Bride bites the bullet

Ankara - A Turkish bride tied the knot with eight air rifle pellets lodged in her stomach after boisterous pre-wedding celebrations almost went tragically wrong, a newspaper said yesterday.

Aynur Tayoglu, 22, was accidentally shot by a relative at a party on Friday ahead of her wedding on Saturday near the Black Sea city of Zonguldak, the Milliyet newspaper said. She was taken to hospital, but doctors agreed to postpone surgery to remove the pellets after her fiancé's father refused to set another date for the wedding, saying people had travelled a long way for the festivities, the paper said.--Reuters

And finally, I have one other news item, especially for the Comtesse DeSpair. Actually, speaking of things morbid ... those of you who are growing tired of all the details relating to Thai constitutional government might want to check out the extra-large helping of fresh "Steele" clippings that Alf has added today:

Swedish Witch

1 I do not mean to imply that it inspires awe from its land-based side, either, for it is tucked away on a small street and therefore does not cry out to general Bangkok passers-by treading the city's major corridors.

2 This is certainly true now to an even greater extent than usual, as most floors of the river wing are shrouded in plain construction tarps.

3 According to The Nation: "The Constitution Court yesterday pleaded with the public to stop criticising its acquittal of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in his graft indictment pending the release of a written verdict. The court said in a press release that speculation on the ruling before studying the verdict in full would lead to more confusion."

4 The aggregation of votes based on different grounds is accepted in U.S. appellate courts. In the recent Bush v. Gore case, for instance, a binding majority was built when the votes of justices who believed their personal stock portfolios would fare better under a Bush administration were combined with the votes of justices who did not want Al Gore to appoint their successors.

As you can tell, so far I've been having a restful day with the morning papers. I can already tell that I'm going to miss having them available once I return home to Washington. Neither the Bangkok Post nor The Nation is available for home delivery where I live ... although both of the papers have web sites that carry lead stories, so I will be able gradually to wean myself from this dependency.

In the afternoon I ventured out into the midday Bangkok heat to do some exploration along Silom Road. This broad avenue is lined on both sides with all kinds of shops and sidewalk vendors. Especially popular items on the streets appear to be Polo shirts, t-shirts, ersatz Rolex watches, and lottery tickets, along with a dizzying assortment of food. I was merely an observer on this outing, and I made no purchases.

It felt good to get back to the air conditioning of the Oriental. Although it was only about 90 degrees outside,5 and the humidity was not at its total maximum, the heat was still draining. Refrigerator magnetI settled in for a little reading and a check of email developments.

At night, after some melon and lobster soup, sashimi, and ice cream at the Terrace buffet, Alf and I went to the regular Tuesday night Thai boxing program at Lumpinee Stadium. We were led into the stadium by a lovely hostess who greeted us as we exited our Oriental Hotel car; she put stickers on us, led us through the sidewalk throng, and passed us along to other stadium staff, who provided us with water, refrigerator magnets,6 and ringside seats.

The card began at 18:30, and it included eight matches. Thai boxingOur arrival at about 20:45 was perfectly timed for the main bout, match #5, between Buakhao (of Paw Pramook) and Orono (of Majestic Gym). As the bout progressed through its rounds, the intensity picked up, and the crowd's enthusiasm grew.

Unlike American boxing, where one seeks to concuss his opponent's head repeatedly until yet another incident of unconsciousness ratchets him one step further in his journey to permanent brain damage, Thai boxing involves a lot of kicking and knee thrusting with the apparent goal of preventing one's adversary from passing his fighting skills along to a subsequent generation. Thai boxers are considerably more wiry than their American counterparts: Each of the contenders in the main bout weighed in at 127 pounds ... and they were actually among the heavier fighters, with 14 of the evening's 18 participants coming in under 120.

Because of the lighting conditions and the distance,7 my little Coolpix was not up to the task of recording the actual boxing, but Alf brought along his Mavica with its 14x optical zoom and its steady-cam feature, and he snapped a bunch of excellent stills, plus some roaring MPEG movies.

5 Back in Minnesota, where I grew up, the temperature reached a toasty 98 degrees today.

6 Alf and I have had numerous discussions about collecting. It occurred to me as we took our seats that refrigerator magnets might be a good commodity for such a hobby. Of course, a collection of any size would quickly require additional refrigerator doors for display purposes. And that is when it hit me: Forget the magnets ... when I return home I will begin a collection of refrigerator doors!

7 Our seats were excellent, but this kind of event really calls for the kind of close-ups that require a bit more telephoto power.

Wednesday, August 8, 2001

[from the International Herald Tribune]
1926: Mercenary Girl

LONDON Anita Loos explained why Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. "Fair women are usually more frivolous and less apt to hold pronounced views on things and therefore they are better company for most men," said the brunette. "Dark women are likely to be more dictatorial and insistent," she continued. Anita Loos said English girls resemble the heroine of her book, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, less than American girls. "They are more independent, while American firls put up with wealthy men who spend freely, although they are terrible bores. Thus, America has developed a mercenary type of girl which is not found in England."

With no further word on the Skytrain Organ, the Bangkok Daily News dredges up a new body part: Today's front page shows a floating leg being retrieved from the river. Could this be another part of the same person? Will the Institute of Forensic Evidence be able to patch together a complete "body of evidence"?

Elsewhere around town, the Skytrain cameras have been at work once again, capturing the abrupt end of a trip to Bangkok for Court skirts the issuesomeone who is visiting here from my part of the world.

On to today's installment of Thaksin and the Constitution Court!

After considerable controversy over the split reasoning in support of Prime Minister Thaksin's acquittal, the majority of the Constitution Court have now decided that they will not rely on a claim that the disclosure law was inapplicable in this case. Instead, their opinion will rest entirely upon his "Oops! I forgot!" defense. The Nation covers the story succinctly. Previously ousted politicians who did not receive such solicitous treatment from the court are proceeding with their plans for retribution, according to the Bangkok Post.

The government's creeping crackdown on the press continues, too:

Meanwhile, Bangkok's "ladyboys" are the toast of Scotland!

Ladyboys a favourite in Edinburgh

The Nation - Bangkok 'ladyboy' Tor Athapon was so worried about his silicone breast implants at high altitude that he wanted to insure them for the Ladyboysflight from Bangkok.

He need not have worried. They passed with flying colours and survived for his cabaret appearance at the madcap Edinburgh Fringe, the world's largest arts festival. But the chilly Scottish weather turned out to be a bigger problem for the 22-year-old impersonator starring in a circus big top in the Scottish capital. On a crisp summer's evening in Edinburgh, he complained that his finest assets "became hard in the cold weather. I had to massage them back into shape."

Touring from their base at Bangkok's Mambo Club, the Bangkok Ladyboys have proved to be a worldwide hit. One in four members of the 20-strong troupe is a transsexual. Tor is now planning to take the biggest step of all. He has saved up enough money to have a sex-change operation when he returns to Bangkok. But doesn't the thought of the six-hour operation scare him? "I am not worried about pain. I want to be a woman so much," he said.

I didn't leave the grounds of the Oriental Hotel all day long! I had lunch at the Verandah (green curry chicken), I studied my newspapers in great detail, I exchanged faxes with my friend Pauline (in Oslo), I wandered around at dusk and shot some photos of the Oriental, and then I met Alf for dinner at Terrace Rim Naam (pomelo salad followed by seabass). Then I went to bed.

Oriental at Dusk

Next: Part III

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