Paul in Bangkok, Part III

Between Part II and Part IV

August 9-11, 2001

Thursday, August 9, 2001

A hundred years ago, the Herald was growing impatient with the lack of a cure for the cancer "parasite":

[from the International Herald Tribune]
1901: Cancer's Riddle

PARIS [The Herald says in an Editorial:] When King Edward VII recently asked for a remedy for cancer, he doubtless had in mind his sister, Empress Frederick, who has just succumbed to that disease. Cancer is still the disgrace of medical science. Some physicians regard it as hereditary and a disease of organic degenerescence; others believe it to be microbian in origin. Lastly, the most recent researches appear to point to its parasitic nature. In this case it would not be hereditary, but contagious. If cancer is parasitic and infectious, hope may be entertained of curing it.

I could resist no longer: Today I returned to Pantip Plaza, further to plunder its bargain riches. It is really amazing how many little shops they are able to jam into that space. Don't misunderstand: The building is five stories tall and very large ... but there are several hundred little shops in there, many of them with just a few square yards of floor space.

The higher floors tend to focus more on hardware and various larger items; Pantip Sales Counterthe tiny shops on the lower levels offer practically every software program in existence, along with hundreds of DVDs and VCDs (Video CDs ... a format I've seen before but never tried). Inventories are kept low, with just the empty cases available at the shops. Once you make a selection, the clerks run off to pick up the actual merchandise from some other place in the building. (Certainly many different shops run to the same place.)

As a lone male catting around in Pantip, I was approached by many vendors who held out discs and whispered "sexy movie ... sexy!" as I strolled the corridors. Judging from the package photos they showed, they did indeed seem to have quite a diverse array of offerings, catering to every interest. Of course, those were not the purchases I made on today's trip. Nothing but business software and PG-13 romantic comedies on VCD for me!

For transportation, I used the local taxicabs. The cars are quite nice ... comfortable late-model Toyota Corollas with sweet air conditioning. Bangkok TransportationOf course, this is Bangkok, so a substantial amount of high-speed swerving through traffic is mandatory for any vehicle. Thailand's election to use right-hand drive cars and the "keep to the left" system elevates the sense of adventure another notch or two for us habitual right-drivers, since it seems that the oncoming traffic is in "our" lane.

Like so many things in Bangkok, the taxi rides are an amazing bargain. The meter starts at 35 baht -- about 71 cents. As we drove through the city, the meter continued to sit at 35 for a long time. Eventually, when we reached Pantip, which is way the heck across town, the tally had finally reached 65 baht, or $1.44.

The trip back to the Oriental was even more hair-raising. We did a better job of hitting the lights right, plus this driver seemed to be substantially more crazed than the first. He nearly killed a motorcycle driver (whom we left screaming and fist-shaking in our wake). A creative maneuver that had us sailing past a bunch of cars we would otherwise have been behind was especially exciting: we practically had the left wheels up on the curb knocking over fruit carts during this exercise. Actually, as a result of this particular feat, we did have to stop for a few minutes, but we still made it back to the Oriental in much less time than it took for the outbound trip. The toll was even a few baht less.

Discontent over the Constitution Court's ruling in the Thaksin case continues to grow. The front page of today's Bangkok Post reports that Senate Speaker Manoonkrit Roopkachorn is claiming the court's judges have violated their charter. Free AdviceVarious parties are now challenging one another to swear before the Emerald Buddha that their actions have been honest and impartial.1

In its lead editorial today, the Bangkok Post takes Thaksin to task, suggesting that if he thought before he spoke, he wouldn't "make an ass of himself" with such frequency. This suggestion is largely in response to the prime minister's announcement that he will not make himself available to the media as frequently as he has in the past. While one might expect the media to object to this sort of thing, the Post believes that this reticence might actually be a good idea.

Meanwhile, the Scottish adventures of Bangkok's Ladyboys continue their rocky course ... although their travails are perhaps less severe than those of a hapless Copenhagen kitten.

1 The Nation also covers this aspect of the story.

Friday, August 10, 2001

Regular readers of this site's journals will recall our visit to the Vasa Museum in Stockholm last September. It is truly one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. If you're ever near Stockholm, by all means make it a point to visit this ghost ship.1

[from the International Herald Tribune]
1901: Canes in Salons

PARIS Is it the proper thing to bring your cane into a drawing-room? Mr Larroumet, the eminent Academician and critic, attacked an actor for appearing in a salon with his cane. The arbiter of fashion at the House of Molière defends the walking-stick. "You might as well say that the hat and gloves should also be left at the door," he resumed. A walking-stick maker was consulted. "It is not the thing to take an ordinary walking-stick into a salon. There are special articles for visits, light canes that are merely intended for ornament, not use. The mere fact of carrying such a cane is graceful evidence to your hostess that you did not merely drop in, but came from home with the intention of calling."

1926: Chewing Girls

CHICAGO - The chewing of gum makes the modern girl's face "as hard as the crockery of a railroad lunch counter," said Mrs Ruth J. Maurer, speaking at the School of Cosmetics here. "Human beings were not meant to be ruminating animals," she declared, "and when they try it there is a rebellion of nature and the muscles of the jaw become unduly enlarged."

In an attempt to avoid difficulties with Korean Air on my way home similar to those I experienced on my BKK-bound flights,2 Tickets confirmedI have enlisted the assistance of the Oriental's concierge staff in confirming the particulars of my eastbound flights home next week.3 It appears that everything is in order.

The concierge made a special point that I have to check in the day before my flight: Although my departure is on August 14, it is very early in the morning ... 01:20, to be precise. Check-in time is 23:20 on August 13. Apparently, many guests of the hotel wake up on the morning of their scheduled departure and check their tickets, only to find out that their plane left several hours earlier.4

Aside from a mid-afternoon walk through the crowded streets south of the hotel, I've spent most of my time at the Oriental today ... in my room and in various of the hotel's facilities. For lunch I once again had a marvelous pomelo salad, this time at the Verandah. The recipe for a similar version served across the river was made available in these pages almost a year and a half ago.

1 There is a chance that a troupe of corkscrew balloonists might be passing through Stockholm again next May, en route from Oslo to Helsinki. Watch for a possible future journal in May 2002!

2 Alf has figured out what was almost certainly the cause of my original problem. Although I had my reservations in place weeks before my flights, I had my tickets issued by the Delta ticket counter at Sea-Tac one week before my departure date. At the time, this was a source of much confusion, since Delta does not have any international flights leaving from Sea-Tac, and so the various agents behind the counter had never done anything like this before. It is apparent that they missed one little step that proved to be an important one.

3 It is difficult to believe that I'll be leaving in just a few days!

4 Actually, this doesn't sound like such a bad plan ...

Having blasted Prime Minister Thaksin in its editorial yesterday, the Bangkok Post today trains its sights on the Constitution Court. Post EditorialIt notes that the court has been found to be "largely wanting" as it has navigated the shoals of the Thaksin case... but the Post believes that the court still holds potential, and that its rehabilitation can be achieved through perseverance.

For the time being, the court remains in an apparently precarious position: "The Democrat party is considering petitioning the Senate to investigate judges of the Constitution Court in connection with their verdict acquitting Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of hiding his wealth." The new issue of The Economist opines that Thailand's great strides since 1997 in cleaning up a corrupt system have largely been washed down the drain as a result of Thaksin's contempt for the anti-corruption commission and the Constitution Court. The Economist"In the longer term, Mr Thaksin's lack of enthusiasm for political reform is likely to cost Thailand dear."

Several days ago, a footnote here briefly mentioned a possible homicide: A man claimed that his wife had received her deadly injuries when she fell going upstairs, although they lived in a one-story home. This story has continued to receive daily coverage in the local papers. Although the police have been very suspicious, and they have wanted very much to talk with the man (a university lecturer named Pipat Luaprasitkul), they have not had sufficient evidence to obtain an arrest warrant. Mr Pipat has refused to show up on his own for questioning.

Today, the police announced that statements from 29 witnesses had provided them with sufficient grounds for an arrest warrant, and they were now going to track down Mr Pipat (who has been something of a fugitive, just in case something like this warrant did come into existence). Lovers' warningIn a related story, the dead woman's sister denied that she had received money from Pipat in return for not cooperating with police who are investigating him "I've never thought about making money from the dead body of my sister," she said.

Meanwhile, email scammers are preying on the hearts of lovesick foreign men and netting big baht ... while local "co-eds" have been apprehended for advertising more genuine services. On the other hand, a local art exhibit provides less risky access to erotic elements.

In local news closer to our own hearts, there are plans for an elephant polo tournament right here in Thailand! The Nation reports:

Tuskers for International Clash
Polo with a Difference

The Nation - Elephants will replace horses at an international polo contest next month in Prachuap Khiri Hua Hin district.

E-Polo Comes to NepalIn the first tournament of its kind in the Kingdom, Dpal, Sri Lanka, Australia and Singapore will each send an "elephant team" to play off against two Thai teams from September 14-16. The giant beasts will confront each other on a specially prepared pachyderm polo-field at the local military camp.

The event, initiated by Anantara Resort & Spa's general manager Christopher Stafford, is being held under the auspices of the World Elephant Polo Association and the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Richard Lair, adviser and foreign affairs officer at the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre, said the tournament was a great opportunity to highlight his agency's work and to raise much-needed funds.

Needless to say, Alf is planning to attend the festivities. If this develops into a regular event, the Screwy Tuskers might even include a future Thai tournament in their schedule ...

We had dinner tonight once again at Harmonique, the excellent out-of-the-way Thai restaurant in the Muslim quarter adjoining The Oriental. We were joined by two of Watcharee's uncles, who drove her down from Ayutthaya where she had been visiting. We had a rather early evening, in order to permit their drive back north to Ayutthaya before it got to be too late. Along with Alf and Watcharee, they did take time for a post-prandial visit to the foot massage parlor, however.

Saturday, August 11, 2001

The latest issue of Bangkok's TIMEOUT Magazine contains a feature article about next month's Elephant Polo tournament in Thailand. Check back here in September for full coverage of the actual event. Again today, The Nation comments on the event, this time in its Travel Tips section. For an illustration, they used a photo from this site.1

And here's another example of how everything is woven together: As I sit here at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, I have just now been watching BBC World coverage of our friend Hermann Sieger boarding the new Zeppelin NT for its official maiden flight at its home in Germany.1 The world can seem very small sometimes!

1 The photo is from the 1996 WEPA Tournament; it was shot by Annie, and I scanned the print for the web. I'm not sure how it got into The Nation, but I think we have provided a couple of journalists with a copy over the years ...

2 Surely you remember our visit to the Zeppelin facility a few months ago. Hermann personally arranged for our tour to be conducted by Wolfgang von Zeppelin; we also chatted in the hangar with the director of the company (who was interviewed on the BBC broadcast).

After a little tracking into Pipat Luaprasitkul's bank accounts, the police have discovered that he recently transferred Bt900,000 to the family of his dead wife. Post EditorialThe police think this may explain the family's lack of cooperation in their investigation of Pipat for possible manslaughter charges. Wanna, the decedent's sister, says that it is all quite innocent.

The Bangkok Post is continuing its thorough criticism of the country's institutions. After picking on the prime minister and the Constitution Court, today it aims at the bureaucracy. The Post is hopeful that the Thaksin government will whip those whiny civil servants into shape.

There are no particularly exciting developments on the constitutional front today, but human rights activists have been rushing to the aid of the "co-ed prostitutes" who were recently rounded up. Over in the Daily News, pre-Mother's Day festivities3 turned sour for one family when a gun that Sonny pointed at Mom's head in fun unexpectedly turned out to be loaded.

Tonight we had dinner at the Dusit Thani hotel. This is a huge and quite opulent hotel; its lobby is magnificent. Dusit Thani HotelWe had planned to dine in its Vietnamese restaurant, Thien Duong ... but when we arrived there, it was too crowded. Because tomorrow is Mother's Day in Thailand, this is a popular night for taking Mom out to dinner.

Undeterred, we proceeded through the lobby and checked on the hotel's "Shogun" Japanese restaurant. Baby OctopusPlenty of room here! (Apparently Mom does not favor sashimi.) Our hostess escorted us to a fairly large private room. Leaving our shoes outside the door, we climbed down into the dinner pit and reviewed the menus.

Alf opted for some mixed sashimi to begin, followed by grilled yellow tail. This sounded pretty good to me, so I just "dittoed" the order.4 Watcharee ordered a dinner combination. It came with various unidentifiable items ... plus one little octopus embryo that I spent some unsuccessful time trying not to identify. After we contemplatively watched it for a while as it lay on its plate, Mambo CabaretAlf picked it up and nibbled its "legs" off.

After dinner, we attended the late show at the Mambo Cabaret. This was the first-ever ladyboy show for both Watcharee and me; although Alf has been to the Calypso Cabaret before (see March and July of last year), this was also his first time at the Mambo club.

What a great show! Despite the absence of several Mambo ladyboys who are off on a breast-endangering mission to Scotland, the home team Mambo crew displayed ample talent and amazing feminine beauty. Let it never be said that the circumstances of our birth retain control over what we might become in life! These people have broken their shackles. The ladyboy show was clever and very well presented. After all, who can resist a couple of exquisitely pretty ladyboys joyously lip-synching along to ABBA's Dancing Queen?5 I know I can't. If you had been there, you couldn't either.

3 Mother's Day in Thailand is set to coincide with the Queen's birthday. (It's her 69th this year.) Whenever there is a new queen, Mother's Day moves to an entirely new date. Of course, this doesn't happen very frequently: Long lives the queen.

4 I had already had sashimi as a first course for lunch, at Lord Jim's in the Oriental. But it is so amazingly good here, I figured I should take advantage of it while I can. I'm sure I have had enough raw fish, during the course of the past week and a half, to last me for a year.

5 We seem to be developing a recurring theme here: We were treated to another ABBA show just under a year ago, as we took the overnight ferry from Kiel to Oslo.

Next: Part IV

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