April 10-18, 2002
Wwwwwwssssssshhhhhh ... Chop! Thunk. Drip, drip, drip ...
Most people think of execution by the guillotine as just an archaic, but colorful, form of capital punishment; something carried out by the State. For sure, and something definitely with a French touch ... either done on the Frog's own home turf ... or, by proxy in one of his many colonies.1
But the guillotine as a suicide tool? Never!
For starters you can't buy one.
And to make one ... well, just getting the parts together would be a major undertaking ... the heavy angled-edged razor-sharp blade would probably have to be a custom order ... as would the greased and grooved parallel rails that would insure a smooth and quick drop. Though I suppose a basket (for the head catch) could be fashioned out of any old wicker thing. But, if you really wanted to kill yourself in the manner of a State Execution it would be far easier to build yourself an electric chair. Any old piece of aluminum lawn furniture hooked up to your 240-volt outlet would do the job nicely; a quick body rub with some glycerin, a fine mist from the nozzle on the garden hose and one final flick of the switch to the juice from the clothes dryer outlet and:
So it was a given that both of the great national Thai dailies could not resist featuring this bizarre suicide on their front pages. Yes, suicide by a homemade guillotine!
The Thai Rhat and the Bangkok Daily News reported that the 46-year-old suicide 'victim' was always very clever with his hands. Though he had a fondness for Thai Whiskey and though he had spent a lot of time in a hospital for "crazy people," there was no suspicion in his neighborhood that the machine that he was building in his backyard was for anything other than for chopping "things."
Tonight, the Organizing Committee2 of the Screwless Tuskers Elephant Polo Team met at Bangkok's Dusit Thani Hotel. Do you remember, in yesterday's journal I mentioned that we were going to audition for 'ladyboy' spots? Well, we did!
This evening, two promising Thai 'ladyboys', "Wise" and "Jean," met us at the hotel lobby bar for drinks. After a perfunctory and tedious recital of the Rules of Elephant Polo we repaired to the hotel's Thai restaurant where the conversation happily drifted into things not very related to the game.
From these impressions both Ning and I agreed that Wise and Jean would be valuable additions to the Screwless Tuskers. Both 'ladies' have completed all of their surgeries so there will be no problems, come play-day, about the application of the "one or two arm" rule.3
Both 'girls' are 20 years old.
More about them later ... come back tomorrow.
1 A nice 'ready to roll model' of a French built guillotine is still on display in Hanoi. Currently it's in one of their niche museums: either the one dedicated to the worries of life of the common man under colonial rule or in the one on war crimes. And, I think, The House of Corkscrew Balloon Dot Com has a picture of a fake guillotine ... tucked away somewhere in one of its 'torture' sections.
2 Alf and Ning (Mr. Ice came as a beauty consultant).
3 Men can whack the ball with one arm; ladies can use both.
BULLETIN - FLASH - SCOOP - BREAKING NEWS - FIRST PHOTOS
A black and white photograph from a hidden camera first detected it.
Moments later powerful lenses confirmed it in color.
Within minutes there was more evidence, also in color.
Yes, the Oriental Queen ... the flagship river cruiser owned by The Oriental Hotel...has been discovered lying deep in the water, just inches and feet from where everyone knew it was all along.
"Can you rephrase that, Alf?"
Sure! The Oriental Queen is down there ... under the water. Right under those barges. And, it appears that they are going to bring it up.
"Do you think they'll do it during the day...or will they wait until it is dark?"
Don't know. But, our cameras will be here.
Hours have passed ...
The Oriental Queen will probably not be raised until the 16th ... .and it will be done in broad daylight and when the tide is just at that moment between 'waning and waxing.'1
The technique will involve air bags and cables. Together they will gently (in a rolling fashion) rock the ship free from the muck and allow the Oriental Queen to float to the surface on assisted buoyancy. Apparently most of the ship's windows are now broken and there is a thin film of mud on the carpets and flat surface areas. There is at least one hole in the bow section; there may be a second hole near the engines, in the rear. When the ship sank it settled on an angle ... the bow at a 40-degree incline.2 Incidentally, there is an 'ancient' post or pole of sorts that has also managed to puncture part of the ships bottom; this, however, occurred after the start of the initial descent as the top of this pole is too far beneath the water surface to have been a cause in the ship's sinking. As to why the Oriental Queen sank, in the first place ... well, that is still a mystery.
Now we have some pictures of the preparation work taken from sea level and from the top of the Taksin Bridge. They add little or nothing to what you have already seen. The photographs of topside work are also meaningless, at least to the untrained eye.
Our old friend from the Oriental Spa, Noo, has made the inside cover of Metro Magazine. Though she no longer works at The Oriental Hotel, she is seen here advertising The Spa in the April 2002 issue.
1 Though usually applied to lunar illumination, it works with tides, too. But, here it means that the river has stopped going one way and has not yet started going the other way. [River pirates described the moment as: "If he be impaled from his arse hole to his eye hole on a pointy thorny stick ... nay, his bloody guts won't move nary a king's foot up or down the River Wren."]
2 Now it is resting flat on the river bottom.
All day the crypt minders have been watching the water over the spot where the Oriental Queen died.
Throughout today's daylight hours men have been busying themselves with building a strange contraption on the top of a giant barge. Whether this will serve as something like the gun carriage that carried the Queen Mum to her final resting spot we don't know. From up here it appears to be taking on the shape of some extraordinary cradle.
But, tonight all is calm.
1 Had NEWNES' compiler, Robert Collison, been working with Microsoft's latest version of Word his software Thesaurus would have offered him so many other ways of saying "died": "Give up the ghost, Cash in your blue chips, Go to meet your maker, Expire, Pass away, Depart this life, Pop off, Breathe your last breath, Elapse for good, Bite the dust, Conk out, Come to an end, Make your last tracks, Fade out, Succumb once and for all, Bring to a close, Bring down the curtain, Fold the cards, Deep-six it and, finally, Chuck the lamb chop in the oven for the last time."
PS Click here to see a photograph of Wise or Jean.
Songkran! This is the Thai New Year. And, it is generally celebrated by getting drunk and throwing water on everyone.
Many Bangkokians leave the city ... they go north, south, east or west ... to spend this holiday with their families. Those that remain in the city either have their families living here in Bangkok, or ... for one reason or another ... can't stand to be with their family wherever they are. And then there are those who just can't leave their jobs because the holiday brings in good money: like workers in Patpong.
Today's journal is mostly a lot of photos of Songkran in Patpong.
PS. Watcharee and I have the whole 14th floor of The Oriental to ourselves. It's 'spring housecleaning' time and this is the week for our floor.
PPS. The 'cradle' for the Oriental Queen in taking on an advanced shape. We'll follow this story right to the end.
Yesterday I flooded my journal with photographs of Songkran at Patpong. Not everyone was happy. Miss M.B.F. of Bethany, Maryland (USA) writes:
Usually I am not given to writing letters of complaint; perish the thought that my children's ungrateful spouses should have even more ammunition to shoot in my direction. But, I take umbrage at your interruption of the coverage of the raising of the Oriental Queen with some frivolous excursion into the seedy and steamy world of Bangkok sex. The fact that you excuse it by shrouding it with the trappings of some pagan holiday makes it even worse.
Luckily for Miss M.B.F. April 14th was an action-crammed Sunday for the men and women who are doing their best to lift the soggy Queen from her muck filled grave. And, The House of Corkscrew Balloon Dot Com was there to record, in living color, the whole story. So here, Miss F., are eleven photographs that show the great 'cradle'2 being slowly and laboriously flipped on its back.3
During the past few hours (after sunset) the giant barge on which the cradle was built has moved its position about 15 meters to the west ... to a point just about at, and parallel to, the widest part of the water space under which the Oriental Queen rests. This strongly suggests that a retrieval attempt is close at hand. My nighttime photo shows some of this 'free' water as reflected light between two dark masses (the land and the barge).
A Postscript to Miss M.B.F.: You may not be pleased with tomorrow's journal. THOCBDC will return to the Dusit Thani Hotel for an interview/dinner with yet another 'ladyboy' candidate for the Screwless Tusker Elephant Polo Team. Ning and Mr. Ice will be with us. Should the Oriental Queen get her jump-start while we are busy elsewhere ... well, so be it.
Watcharee and I are completely alone on the 14th floor. Plastic sheeting covers everything in preparation for the great annual cleaning.4 As you can see from the floor butler's 'leader board', all the rooms save 1410 have zeros for occupants.
1 Last year my American friends said that they could find nothing in their Hallmark shops to honor the day. What about now, in 2002?
2 We call it a 'cradle', for the want of a better word. The speculation around the Gore Vidal Suite is that this 'cradle' will eventually be lowered into the water; that the Oriental Queen will be rocked onto it; and that the whole thing will be lifted high and hauled away. As THOCBDC freely admits to a checkered history of missing the obvious and embracing the absurd, anyone's guess is probably better than ours. Are there any nautical engineers out there? Help is needed.
3 Or, being flipped on its front.
4 During the slow season rooms in the River Wing are given a major cleaning floor by floor. Last week the 15th got the sweep. This week it is our turn. As there is no 13th, 12 is next.
PS My friend, Don Bull, has been playing with dynamite. Literally! In the process of building a vault (in an unnamed American state) for his vast corkscrew collection he has been forced to blast to pieces rock formations that date from the Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian periods of geologic time. Amused by the destructive power of explosives I egged him on with this note:
"... but many of us were looking forward to some more dynamite blasts. How about setting off a few sticks just for show!!!"
He obliged us with a few small 'puffs' that blew down a small tree and tossed a few rocks about. As I was hoping for something more, I egged him further:
"That was nice ... but, we'd really like to see something explode ... like an old car or even a shed. Video would be best. Maybe with some ducks sitting on top of the shed or some dogs from the pound in the car."
This is what he gave us! Perhaps the dogs were already dead, or heavily sedated, when the car blew up.
BULLETIN - FLASH - SCOOP - BREAKING NEWS - STOP THE PRESSES
At 11:45AM (Southeast Asia time) 'frogmen' were seen climbing aboard the salvage barge ... after apparently making a deep visit to the dead Queen. These revealing and very moving photographs now clearly show that 'room' ... on the surface of the mighty Chao Phya River ... has been made for the eventual elevation of the dead Queen.
A promise to our readers1:
"We, at THOCBDC, will be 'shore side' when the wet and slimy hulk of the great river cruiser is finally lifted up and on to her final cradle."
1 Unless, of course, this conflicts with tonight's meeting of the Screwless Tusker recruiting team.
The Screwless Tuskers Search Committee (Alf and Ning) met, again, this evening at our old haunt: the lobby bar of Bangkok's Dusit Thani Hotel. Readers will well remember that it was only last Wednesday that we pulled together at this same spot to interview two fresh candidates for one of the two Elephant Polo teams2 that we plan send to Hua Hin in September. Tonight the third candidate was in the 'grill' position. Her name is "A". Yes, just plain "A".
Do you remember the names of the other two? Yes you do, "Jean" and "Wise".
And, it's now time to flood you with their pictures.
Though we expect that Miss M.B.F. of the American state of Maryland may once more attack us for 'interrupting' the salvage operation of the Oriental Queen, THOCBDT takes the position that this is an editorial decision that the majority of our readers will support.
Besides, right now things are pretty quiet 14 floors below the Gore Vidal porch. Though, what we thought was a cradle has actually turned out to be a lifting support. In other words the Old Dead Queen will hang from this steel square-like structure ... not lay on it.
2 The Screwy Tuskers is the other team; it is made up of women from America and England. It is our plain vanilla e-polo team ... the one that has competed in Nepal for nearly the entire past decade.
The Oriental Queen is still in deep sixes. Tides and sucking mud have kept her glued to the bottom for yet another day.
But that is NOT the big news.
What I saw today will go down in history as ... well, it will rank right up there with the Roswell sightings (you know, UFOs ... New Mexico ... aliens from space ... government cover-up, etc).
While relaxing on my Gore Vidal porch ... waiting patiently for the marine engineers and the salvage crews to catch the tide when it was just right ... I 'clicked off' a few test exposures and 'fired' a short video clip. Mostly out of boredom ... but, I did want to double-check my equipment to make sure that everything was working A-OK when the right moment came; when the big Queen herself belched to the surface.
Oh My God!
What my cameras accidentally caught must surely be the answer to the mysterious sinking of the Oriental Queen: a GHOST SHIP ... one that travels under the water and beneath the waves. A ship that passes through water as easily as it once did on water. A ship that was a proud but aging vessel before it was damned to the breakers yard by the Oriental Hotel's management because it was not new enough. Now the ship's ghost is on a course of vengeance. I am convinced that last year it was responsible for the sinking of one of ALIMAK's construction barges ... now the Oriental Queen. What next?
Not much is happening ... though, a third barge joined the scene. And some gas is bubbling to the surface.
But then ... a blue roof began to appear ...
In a strange ...(Machiavellian?) ... twist the Oriental Queen sank again ... less than thirty minutes after surfacing.
Shy of bright sunlight?
The 'word' on the river is that she will sneak downstream late tonight after all of us are in bed.
It was another 'yoyo' day for the Oriental Queen:
UP in the middle of the night [1AM] (a very dark photo with just the roof of the Oriental Queen glistening slightly).
DOWN in the late middle of the night [4AM] (another dark photo, but the lifting cradle is visible).
UP once more at just after sunrise.
DOWN again around noon.1
STILL DOWN right now [about 23:00 hours Southeast Asia time] (no photo available).
Dear reader, this "bobbing Queen" story is wearing thin. Unless the Oriental Queen should catch fire and explode in a spectacular fireball, I'm going to sleep the night through.
I'll again look out the window tomorrow ... but, unless there is something interesting ... well, we'll just have to bring back our Patpong Corkscrew Club girls for a refreshing morning minuet.
By the way, next week Watcharee, myself, Ning, Mr. Ice and two of the Screwless Tuskers (Wise and Jean) will visit a Bangkok cabaret show that stars our latest recruit: "A". That will surely be more fun than keeping an up and down vigil beside our dead Queen.
1 This Ghost ship was spotted just before the Queen ducked down for the last time.