Paul's Bangkok Year-End, Part II

After Part Iand Before The New Year

December 28-31, 2001

Friday, December 28, 2001

Do you sometimes check your horoscope in the newpaper, or perhaps in Cosmopolitan? Sure you do! Isn't it nice how, in the US, printed horoscopes almost always have something positive to say? Perhaps, once in a while, you will be advised to stay home and wait for the next day, but in general all is upbeat.1 Well, today's Bangkok Post offers up a preview of the entire year 2002 for its readers, and it looks as if the majority of us had better make the most of the next three days. The first part of the year looks especially bad, and Taurus and Scorpio in particular should think about simply entering a coma for the next twelve months and trying again in 2003. Here are selected tidings:

Alf and I think we have actually solved a Bangkok Daily News "what the hell is happening here??" mystery! The front page of today's Daily News contains a number of shadowy photos that are replete with blue rectangles.2

Bangkok Daily News Mystery

What could this be? We think we know! You see, page A2 of this morning's Bangkok Post carries a photo and caption that might provide the actual explanation of it all.3

On the other hand, it appears that I was wrong in yesterday's proposed solution to the daily mystery. Today, the explanation is actually provided in a front page story in The Nation.4 Rather than a new police "tuck-in" service, the woman in the photos was apparently a Chinese prostitute ... and the publication of the photos has caused an international controversy!

Last night we went to a Bar-B-Q restaurant in River City, which is just a brief walk upriver from The Oriental. We arrived at about 8:00; the shopping center was largely empty, and most of the few shops that were still open were in the process of closing. The restaurant itself was pretty empty, too.

This is a "cook it yourself" place: The waiter brings a bowl of glowing coals to the table and covers it with a metallic grill, and we were then on our own to cook the pork, chicken, beef, fish, and squid. A trough around the periphery of the grill holds water; since it is also heated by the coals, it provides an excellent place to cook cabbage, carrots, and noodles, and to pre-cook the fish. The morsels Alf and I were grilling tended to stick resolutely to the grill, and so Watcharee (who proved to have a knack for the process) did most of the actual cooking for all of us. We walked home through the pleasant night air, and I retired for the night fairly early.

This morning for breakfast I had something quite unusual. In addition to coffee and croissants, I had the hotel bring me some sort of frothy green thing consisting of cucumbers and mint. Cucumber and MintIt was very different, to say the least.

Of course, the highlight of the morning for me is the arrival of the newspapers. Because I've been getting up fairly early, I have occasion to go peer into the little newspaper delivery slot5 on a few occasions before I am rewarded with the papers' presence. This only adds to the sense of excited anticipation.

I flipped through the Bangkok Post, The Nation, the International Herald Tribune, and the Asian Wall Street Journal. There were a few interesting pieces, about which I've already told you. I flipped a bit more quickly than usual today; I miss the Christmas stories out of England and can only hope that the New Year celebration will provide similar entertainment from those quaint little islands.

While the newspapers have tapered off a bit, I must say that I am completely enthralled by the year-end double issue of The Economist. There are so many marvelous articles included! If you have a chance, find a copy and read it. Beyond the usual news stories, a number of special year-end features offer wonderful insights. Among the items that I read today is one focusing on 'alternative' vacation destinations. One suggested travel spot is Pyongyang, North Korea; the magazine provides useful travel tips for those who would visit there.6

1 Americans, unaware of what the Bangkok Post is predicting, actually think they are going to have a year that is better than the one just ending. From The Nation:

A majority of Americans said they believe that the New Year will be better than the current one for both the nation as a whole and themselves personally, according to a poll [from Zogby International] released on Wednesday. ... When asked about their personal lives, 54 percent of those polled said they expected their personal lives to improve next year as compared with this year. Another 41 percent said they expected their lives to be about the same in the coming year, and only 5 percent said their personal lives would worsen next year. - AFP

2 Do these rudimentary masking techniques indicate that the Daily News has found a trainee to replace the apparently vanished Morton?

3 Or maybe not. Watcharee has now translated the text, and these photos apparently depict a Thai 'curtain' hotel (a place offering hourly room rates for quickies) that is frequented by students (note their uniforms). The owner of the hotel took secret photos and posted them on the Internet. While this story is similar to the one reported in the Post, uncertainty has now reared its head.

4 Providing explanations for the contents of Thai-language newspapers within Bangkok's English-language newspapers seems to be a new (and useful) phenomenon.

5 This magic passageway has two levels: top for incoming newspapers, bottom for outgoing shoes. I haven't ever actually used the bottom slot, although my shoes have nevertheless been through the Oriental's 'rehabilitation' process.

The first time was last summer, when the butler (who was bringing some pre-dinner snack into my room) saw my shoes and gasped in horror. He immediately grabbed them and ran out with them. Now admittedly, they had a little Ayutthaya mud on them, since we had been walking around the ruins earlier that day, but the fact is, these are really just pretty beat-up shoes. They came back cleaned and polished, but still ... no silk purses come from sows' ears, and there's really not much that can be done for these old soldiers.

I've only been here a few days, but I see that the same shoes have once again (this time more surreptitiously) been kidnapped. I thought I had hidden them well under my bed, but they were found. I know this because they are now sitting next to my other shoes in a lovely white body bag, and once again they have been cleaned and polished ... once again to little avail. The Oriental does try, anyway!

6 Another suggested "unusual destination choice" was Zimbabwe. In addition to the other tips, The Economist offered some pointers regarding wildlife in that region:

Beware of hippos. They have evil tempers and can bite a crocodile in half. Float into their territory and they will defend it. Despite being vegetarians, they kill more people than any other African animal.

Never run from a carnivore: it will immediately conclude that you are edible. Stand your ground, and you will probably live. Your correspondent, for example, while walking in the bush, disturbed a pair of copulating lions. The male was visibly and audibly annoyed. But your correspondent's guide stood still and roared back, which persuaded both lions that he was not edible. They slunk off.

Saturday, December 29, 2001

It's another beautiful morning!

We had dinner last night at a very busy buffet. To get there, we walked up Silom Road and past the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza (which was where we thought the restaurant was located) and into the shopping center next door. Eat what you take!We had to wait for a while to get in, because it was so busy. But we knew that there was sushi inside, and so we were patient!

While not up to the standards of The Oriental or The Peninsula, the sashimi was pretty good, and we were more than happy with it. We were puzzled, however, by the message on the plates and the placemats.1 The restaurant was an 'all you can eat' place, but of course it wanted to discourage people from taking more than they actually would eat. Saturday Boat RideWe assume that this was the rationale underlying the slightly cryptic message, and while we weren't entirely sure what they meant, we did worry that our failure to achive full 'clean plate club' status might result in an additional exit charge when we tried to return home.

This afternoon we took a very scenic ride on a long boat2 downriver, past boats, bridges, little homes, temples, and a huge apartment complex that must have the highest population density of any place on earth. I was snapping away on my Coolpix furiously, burning through the batteries and filling up the Compact Flash card. It was a great voyage of discovery: Even our boat pilot had never before gone downriver to this part of Bangkok.

For dinner, we went to the Shangri-La hotel, just a short walk downriver. I stopped in at the Shangli-Lobby a few days earlier, but I didn't look around too much. It turns out there's a fabulous buffet downstairs, near the hotel's lovely pool. The Tandoori offerings were especially good.

1 The exact message was a little unclear, as there was a small grammatical difference between what was imprinted on the plates and the placemats.

2 These are interesting boats. You've seen them before in the Bangkok journals, plus in that James Bond movie that was partially shot in Bangkok. The boat itself is a very long sliver, and it is propelled by a Ford automotive V8 engine. The driveshaft, which is of normal automotive length, terminates in a propeller that the skipper dips into the water.

Sunday, December 30, 2001

Oops! I have fallen a bit behind in the journal, as I have launched myself into a full-blown year-end crusade against spam! Over the course of the past few weeks, the number of 'unsolicited commercial email' messages darkening my inbox has grown to hideous proportions, and I have finally thrown open the window to yell "I'm mad as hell! And I'm not going to take it any more!"

This morning, therefore, I have been poring over "procmail recipes,"with the goal of shunting most of this crap off into separate folders on my server, before it even gets downloaded to the mail client on my PC. It's quite an adventure! Every few minutes a new piece of spam arrives and I examine it with the goal of creating a formula that would have prevented it. As time goes on, I am hopeful that the vast bulk of these little gnats will be swatted before they come through the door. I know perfection is unattainable, but every little bit helps.

Anyway, I know I ought to settle down with the morning papers and see if there is anything worth telling you about ... but first I think I'll visit the Verandah for lunch.

The green curry chicken at the Verandah was excellent! Hasselblad 500cMidway through lunch, another diner arrived, sat down at a nearby table, and ordered the same thing. I barely noticed this, however, because she set down on the table next to her an absolutely beautiful 500C. (There is no more lovely piece of equipment on earth.) From that point on, it was hard to concentrate on the curry, as I contemplated how nice the balloons of Chateau d'Oex would look through that 6x6 groundglass.

Ah! The Nation gives us one more Christmas story, this one out of Rotterdam:

Sex, Lies, and Mobile Phone Calls

An unfaithful Dutchman faces court action after phoning his wife over Christmas to tell her he had been kidnapped when he was really with his mistress.

The 60-year-old Rotterdam man called his spouse from a mobile phone on Christmas Eve to say unknown assailants had abducted him, police said. The police called in more than a dozen extra staff and launched a search, but discovered the kidnapping claim was false when they traced him on Christmas day.

"The man had decided to spend Christmas in the company of his lady friend instead of his wife, and thought up a ruse that was appreciated neither by his spouse nor by the police," a statement from the Rotterdam police said. Police said they would file a civil claim against the man for making a flase statement and wasting police time. Police are also considering criminal proceedings, a spokesman said. - Reuters

Monday, December 31, 2001

Wow, it's already the last day of the year! This is amazing, since I'm still writing the date as "1999." This year, 2002, will be a 'palindromic' one ... flippable left to right with no effect.1 Who knows what exciting events it will hold? Well, of one thing you can be sure: There will be lots of excitement at! The annual balloon festival at Chateau d'Oex, Switzerland is less than three weeks away. Some months later, there will be another, as yet unannounced ballooning extravaganza involving several still classified stops. Details of these and other matters will spill forth in the months to come!

For now, I see from the December 31 papers2 that the world is beginning to fill up with Osamas:

Army of Osama Namesakes
Some 70% of Babies Named for bin Laden

Some 70% of infants being cared for in the northern Nigerian city of Kano are named after Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind behind the Sept 11 attacks on the United States, hospital officials said.

"Osama babies are being brought in daily for postnatal care,"said Jamila Shehu, a nurse at the paediatric ward of the government-owned hospital in Kano, the largest medical facility in the city.

"At least seven out of ten babies brought here for post-natal care bear the name Osama," she said, adding, "This is, indeed, a season of Osama babies." - AFP

Hmmm, shouldn't some of them be named "Osamette"?

[from the International Herald Tribune]
1926: Television Proof

NEW YORK That "television" is now an accomplished fact was demonstrated here to-night [Dec. 30], when, before the Royal Institution, Mr. J.L. Braid, the young Scottish inventor, gave evidence of the claims he had already advanced of having discovered a method of projecting images of living persons across space. Mr. Braid's discovery has been brought to the notice of the Admiralty and the War Office, both of which Departments are now investigating the invention.

David and Adriana returned from Phuket yesterday, and I joined them for dinner at the Riverside Terrace last night. We've been having all of our dinners 'off-campus', and it was nice to revisit this fabulous, more local buffet.

Tonight, of course, is New Year's Eve, and the Terrace is the site for the Oriental's spectacular New Year's Eve celebration. I've been trying to log some extra sleep, so that I might be able to stay awake until midnight, but I'm a bit concerned. I think I'll try to take a nap this afternoon; perhaps that will help.

With David back in town, our thoughts are turning once again toward Pantip Plaza. I foresee another visit there sometime this week.3

It's 2:30 pm Bangkok time, and it appears the New Year's Eve game is already afoot!4 Kurt Wachtveitl, the manager of the Oriental, just had a bottle of champagne delivered to my room.5 Preparations are also obviously underway to prepare the Terrace for tonight's big celebration.

Champagne for 2201/2002

Indeed, the staff spent the entire afternoon getting things set up for tonight's event. During this peakest of peak seasons at The Oriental, everything is very crowded around the pool: By 7:00 am, all the best spot are already occupied with people wanting a bit of sun, and the 'poolside' expands onto all areas of available lawn. Everything had to be cleared out this afternoon to complete preparations for tonight, however: the Verandah closed at 3:00, the pool at 4:00.

1 On Meet the Press (which aired here just before midnight last night) William "Scarecrow" Safire discussed this fact at great length, including a couple of expansive tangential discourses on prior and future occurrences of this type of event. Since the question Tim Russert had just asked him was simply whether or not the Republicans would regain control of the Senate in 2002, Safire's rambling soliloquy left both Russert and fellow guest David Broder slack-jawed in befuddled amazement as the allotted minutes for the show's broadcast ticked away.

2 Because it's Monday, I have again received a full complement of four newspapers this morning. Yesterday, only the local Post and Nation were published. Today, the International Herald Tribune and the Asian Wall Street Journal slipped through my slot, too. Of course, for them it's but a one day visit: They'll both be taking New Year's Day off tomorrow.

3 Speaking of computerish things, my anti-spam crusade is already bearing fruit. Of 20 commercial messages that arrived during the night, only 4 made it through the filters. Of course, one of the ones that didn't make it was a note from my friend Brian, so the tweaking process continues.

4 Back home in Washington, there are still some minutes left to go in December 30. Bangkok is quite precocious.

5 I think I forgot to mention that there was also a bottle of champagne on ice in my room when I checked in a week ago.

Next: 2002!

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