May in Bangkok

After Post-Songkran

May 2004

Saturday, May 1, 2004

Though May 1st is supposed to be the day for the workers ... the workers at 5A have been putting in a full day.

PS: We have been shielded from May 1st by hiding out on the 33rd floor of The Pen.

PPS: Apparently the local hotels (OK, I think for the moment it is just our immediate neighbor: the Shangri-La) have beefed (porked?) up security by requiring all vehicles within striking area to show ID. Due to the troubles in the south, Bangkok is being especially careful.

Sunday, May 2, 2004 (pre-journal)

Yikes! Is that an ITV (News) helicopter perched on the top of the Shangri-La Hotel ... right next to our apartment? (*)

Yesterday THOCBDC reported heightened security at the hotel. What's up?

(*) Yes, it is!

PS to Pre-journal of Sunday, May 2, 2004

Back to "Orange" alert (maybe even "Yellow"): the pilot looks relaxed.

Sunday, May 2, 2004 (The boring bits)

"Nan" (?) "Cat" on a reverse Bull. (*)

(*) Meaning a real telephoto pull.

PS to Whatever Was Earlier:

Work at 5A took a day off: tiles delayed.

PS: Tandoori lunch at "Little India", my newest neighbor.

Monday, May 3, 2004 (pre-journal)

Rain is coming in from the northeast ... and the was-to-be Hotel Sofitel is looking very worn. (*)

(*) The two are not related.

PS: Canon's Photo-StitchTM technology treats our Pen room differently, depending on where the first shot was aimed; it uses the initial exposure to calibrate the remaining ones.

A really nasty lap-filling post-PS:

Reader A. P. from England brings us this stomach-turning bit of news about an operation that went very sour ... through a tummy stapling error by M.D.'s who are paid but 'tuppence' a stitch under the United Kingdom's National Health Program:

Man's stomach 'fell out' after op

A man recovering from a stomach operation had to be rushed back into hospital after his innards "fell out" when his wound burst. George Sternat, of Cairns, Australia, had just had surgical staples removed from his abdomen.

Cancer patient Mr Sternat was relaxing in his garden when he screamed out in pain, the AFP news agency reported.

Mr Sternat had undergone
a stomach operation

His partner Cheryl Orme said he shouted: "Get the ambulance, my stomach fell out."

Mr Sternats had undergone the operation earlier this month to remove cancerous tumours from his abdomen.

The wound was closed with medical staples.

Doctors removed the staples on Wednesday morning and Mr Sternats returned home.

Stable condition

When his wound burst open, Mr Sternats wrapped a towel around himself to hold his stomach in while his partner called an ambulance.

She said: "They wanted to know if he had pains in his chest and I screamed at them 'His stomach fell out, he just got staples out from a cancer operation'.

"What more can you say when your man's stomach's hanging out? Isn't that enough for them to come straight away?"

Following his re-admittance to hospital, Mr Sternats was reported to be in stable condition but Ms Orme said she planned to sue health authorities for negligence in removing the staples too soon.

She added: "It's the most horrific thing I've ever seen, especially with someone you love.

"Every time I try to sleep I see George holding his stomach in his hands."

A spokeswoman for the Royal College of Surgeons of England told BBC News Online: "Operations should be carried out so that does not happen."

And, don't you dare forget ...

The US Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand would like to remind American citizens that the Department of State's Public Announcement on Thailand dated April 8, 2004 remains in full effect and will not expire until July 6, 2004.

The Public Announcement made on April 8, 2004 provides information to US citizens on the need to exercise special caution in the far south of Thailand and recommends avoiding nonessential travel there. The Songkhran holidays are past, but the Public Announcement remains in force and should be given careful attention by US citizens considering travel to that region of the country.

The Department of State is deeply concerned about the heightened threat of terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens and interests abroad. The Department is also concerned about the potential for demonstrations and violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas. U.S. citizens are reminded to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness.

The Department of State remains concerned by indications that al-Qaida continues to prepare to strike U.S. interests abroad. Al-Qaida and its associated organizations have most recently struck in the Middle East and in Europe but other geographic locations could also be venues for attacks. Future al-Qaida attacks could possibly involve non-conventional weapons such as chemical or biological agents as well as conventional weapons of terror. We also cannot rule out that al-Qaida will attempt a catastrophic attack within the U.S.

Terrorist actions may include, but are not limited to, suicide operations, hijackings, bombings or kidnappings. These may involve aviation and other transportation and maritime interests, and may also include conventional weapons, such as explosive devices. Terrorists do not distinguish between official and civilian targets. These may include facilities where U.S. citizens and other foreigners congregate or visit, including residential areas, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, hotels and public areas. U.S. citizens are encouraged to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness.

U.S. Government facilities worldwide remain at a heightened state of alert. These facilities may temporarily close or suspend public services from time to time to assess their security posture. In those instances, U.S. embassies and consulates will make every effort to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens. Americans abroad are urged to monitor the local news and maintain contact with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

The U.S. Embassy is located at 95 Wireless Road,
Bangkok 10330, Thailand (Nearest BTS Skytrain station: Phloen Chit)

American Citizen Services Unit Window Hours:
Monday - Friday, 8 - 11 AM and 1 - 3 PM

Beginning May 10, ACS Unit Window Hours will change. The new hours will be:
Monday - Friday, 7:30 - 11 AM and 1 - 2 PM

Tuesday, May 4, 2004 (pre-journal)

Rocket attacks hit south Thailand

BANGKOK, Thailand (Reuters) -- Suspected Islamic militants in southern Thailand fired three rounds of M-79 rockets into a Thai security post near the Malaysian border,

Soldiers patrol outside the Chiang Hai temple in southern Thailand.
police in southern Yala province said on Monday.

No one was injured in the Sunday night attack, but a policeman was wounded when suspected militants ambushed his patrol as it pursued the attackers.

About the same time, another group of people torched a remote local government office in Yala Province, causing substantial damage to the building, police said.

The incidents follow last Wednesday's uprising in three southern Thai provinces that stunned the predominantly Buddhist country, unsettled Thai financial markets and strained ties with neighboring Malaysia.

More than 100 machete-wielding, suspected Muslim militants were shot dead during pre-dawn attacks on heavily armed security posts aimed at seizing weapons. Three policemen and two soldiers were also killed.

It was the latest and most serious incident since a Muslim separatist movement, dormant for the past two decades, flared up in January.

In Sunday night's attack, the suspected militants fired rounds from an M-79 grenade launcher at the police post in Thanto, just across the border from Malaysia, the police official said.

That type of U.S.-made grenade launcher was among the weapons stolen when suspected militants raided an army weapons depot in neighboring Narathiwat province in January, torching 21 schools as well in an apparent diversionary tactic.

The attack marked the beginning of the flare-up of unrest in southern Thailand.

Since then, the government has issued conflicting statements about the latest chapter of a conflict that dates back centuries, when the kingdom of Pattani in southern Thailand ruled the south and parts of present-day northern Malaysia.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Saturday blamed the spate of violence on drug dealers, contraband smugglers and gunrunners, acting under the cover of separatism.

But some cabinet members and top military officials say they suspect the attacks are the work of true believers who have support from foreign militant groups.

Thai officials said in March militants behind the renewed violence had taken refuge in Malaysia.

Refuge offer

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said on Friday his country was willing to offer refuge to Thais fleeing the trouble.

Apparently referring to Abdullah's offer of refuge, Thaksin said on Saturday some foreign countries were trying to interfere in Thailand's internal affairs, though he did not identify them.

But amid signs the spat is being patched up, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Najib Razak and Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar will visit Bangkok for talks on Tuesday.

"There should not be a misunderstanding," Syed Hamid said at the weekend. "There are currently no plans to open our borders for refugees."

The Thai foreign ministry on Monday welcomed Malaysia's position.

"We see it as significant and welcome that Malaysia has expressed its interest and concern," foreign ministry spokesman Sihasak Phuanketkeow said."

Fresh deployments

A fresh Thai army battalion arrived on Monday in southern Pattani province.

Most of the 700 troops had experience in a multilateral peacekeeping force in East Timor and will provide security for schools -- targets for militants as symbols of government authority -- that are due to reopen on May 17.

"We are here to protect our motherland, to provide security to teachers and our sovereignty," said Lieutenant General Pisan Wattanawongkeeree, commander of the Southern Army Region, in addressing troops at the Pattani city railway station.

Another battalion is due to arrive in the south later this week, for a total of eight battalions deployed in the south since the troubles began four months ago.

Unlike the movements of previous decades, the new generation of militants in southern Thailand do not have public leaders or written manifestos and are generally not guerrillas in fatigues fighting in the jungle, officials in the south said.

One of the missions of the arriving battalions is to mingle among the local population in civilian clothes and sniff out signs of trouble, Pisan said over the weekend.

Tuesday, May 4, 2004 (The corpus)

The master bathroom (as seen from afar and close-up) is reaching a usable stage. Four or five more days at The Pen ... and then we'll be home.

PS: Sunset to the rear; with the 'pano' set to 'vertical'.

Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Work continues ... we are hoping to move back in on Friday.

PS: What company we now keep ... ?:

MONG LA, MYANMAR -- Available soon: Luxury condos with a spectacular view of an immaculately groomed golf course, surrounded by an idyllic Asian landscape of rice paddies and lakes.

Slight disadvantage: Your neighbours will be opium merchants, guerrilla leaders, drug lords, prostitutes, loan sharks and gamblers.

Chinese-style capitalism has arrived in the heart of the Golden Triangle, the notoriously lawless region where much of the world's opium and heroin are produced, and the result is a bizarre boomtown of the nouveaux riches and the old warriors.

The new city of Mong La, which has sprung up from the wilderness of northern Myanmar in barely a decade, is a garish mix of wealthy Chinese tourists, tribal army commanders, drug traffickers, casino clients, thrill-seekers, Russian burlesque dancers, Thai transvestites and migrant businessmen.

As many as 600,000 Chinese tourists cross the frontier every year to visit the exotic attractions of this fast-growing border town, built on profits from the opium trade. Because gambling is illegal in China, the casinos are a huge draw for Chinese tourists, who fly to an airstrip on the Chinese side of the border, then travel a short distance by road across the border to reach Mong La.

For more than a century, opium poppies were the only cash crop in this remote region of mountain villages and obscure tribes. But the former guerrilla fighters who command the region are under heavy pressure to ban the opium trade. Now poppy fields are giving way to a new economy of casinos, karaoke bars, golf courses, brothels, hotels, bowling alleys and tourist gimmicks such as elephant polo.

On the outskirts of Mong La, a luxury housing development with several dozen condominium units is being constructed beside the gleaming greens and fairways of a nine-hole course, where the town's elite are fond of golfing. Every afternoon at 4 p.m., local government leaders -- mostly ethnic Chinese -- show up for a round. The course's official logo is a dollar sign -- with two golf clubs crossing the S to form it.

The night sky of Mong La is brightly lit by the neon lights of the gaudy casinos and posh hotels. One of its central squares is little more than dozens of brothels and strip clubs. Its wide boulevards and newly paved streets are a sharp contrast to the poverty of the farmland and villages surrounding it.

Chinese gamblers stake as much as $100,000 (U.S.) on a single wager at Mong La's casinos. Loan sharks hover near the betting rooms, ready to lend money to desperate gamblers at exorbitant interest rates -- enforced by violence against those who don't repay their loans.

Mong La's booming casino economy was created by a local drug boss, Lin Mingxian, who heads the tribal army in Myanmar's eastern Shan State. "When he comes to town, everybody stands at attention," said a local restaurant owner, one of many migrants from China's Sichuan province who have moved to Mong La to make their fortune.

The restaurateur tells stories of the guns and drugs that he sees in town, including bales of opium as big as a suitcase. But while the opium traders pass through Mong La, it is the Chinese businessmen who really control the town, he says. "The whole place is run by people from Sichuan."

Many tribal leaders in Myanmar are convinced that Mong La is the model for the future: an economic paradise to replace the lost revenue of the illegal narcotics business when opium is banned across most of this region next year.

United Nations aid workers worry the casinos will create as many problems as they solve, including gambling addictions. They are trying to persuade local leaders to switch to livestock or fruit orchards instead of creating new cities of vice and tourism. But the revenue from Mong La is an alluring temptation for the tribal leaders.

In the border town of Pang Sang, leaders of the Wa tribe have built a shopping mall with a massive three-storey casino, open 24 hours a day. So far, however, the casino is failing to draw Chinese tourists. Instead it is filled with hundreds of impoverished local residents, including soldiers who spend much of their tiny monthly salary (less than $6 Canadian) on wagers.

All across the territory of the Wa and Shan tribal armies, the Chinese influence is increasingly obvious. Shops are filled with Chinese goods. The main currency is the Chinese yuan. Street and road signs are written in Chinese characters. Stores and hotels set their clocks to Chinese time, rather than Myanmar time. Much of the business and labour is conducted by Chinese migrants. The biggest investments, including a new swath of rubber plantations, are financed and promoted by Chinese investors.

The tribal region is still officially part of Myanmar. But as China's economy booms, Myanmar's grip on the region weakens.

"Basically," said a Western diplomat in Myanmar, "this region is drifting away to China."

Thursday, May 6, 2004

Almost done ... ...

PS to the pre-:

Our escape route, should it be necessary ... ...

I had lunch today at Cream ... a Thai restaurant, despite its name.

PPS: It even looks better after the cleaning crew made their sweep.

Readers A.K., L.J., P.M. and X.Y. from Manaus, Brazil ... Perth, Australia ... Kazan, Russia ... and Cavan, Republic of Ireland write:

"What shit! ... Have you lost your imagination? Why do we need to know about your f***ing bathroom (loo, can) ... and in such detail?"

I told you so ... OK, you have to look back a few days to see how right (*) 'Mom' was:

0.70 -0.10 (-12.50%)
as of 05/05/2004 at 02:13PM EDT (OTCBB Delay: 15 mins.)

(*) Unless, of course, you were one of the ones who were 'making' the market for IJJP. Hmmm...I wonder just how much these 'small-cap' hookers rake in on one of these deals. For sure it probably has it roots in a classic Ponzi scheme...but, with a nice Internet the cash turn-around is enviably fast. Maybe THOCBDC should go 'public'.

Sorry: More than you probably care to know about the original Ponzi Scheme:

Double Your Money in 90 Days.

Have I got a deal for you! I can double your money in just ninety days, guaranteed.

Nonsense, you say!

What? You don't trust me? I promise you that it can be done. A man named Charles Ponzi delivered on such on such a promise back in 1920.

Now, I know what you are thinking. This has to be some type of scam. Well, I would be lying if I said that it wasn't. (Put your money back in the bank. You're not getting rich this week.)

How it all started.

Carlo "Charles" Ponzi was born in Parma, Italy 1882 and then emigrated to the United States in November of 1903. Over the next fourteen years, Ponzi wandered from city to city and from job to job. He worked as a dishwasher, waiter, store clerk, and even as an Italian interpreter. In 1917, he settled back into Boston where he took a job typing and answering foreign mail. It was here in Boston on that fateful day in August of 1919 that Ponzi discovered the mechanism to make both him and his investors very wealthy.

At the time, Ponzi was considering issuing an export magazine. He had written a letter about the proposed publication to a gentleman in Spain, and when Ponzi received his reply, the man had included an international postal reply coupon. The idea behind this enclosure was quite simple. Ponzi was to take the coupon to his local post office and exchange it for American postage stamps. He would then use those American stamps to send the magazine to Spain.

Ponzi noticed that the postal coupon had been purchased in Spain for about one cent in American funds. Yet, when he cashed it in, he was able to get six American one-cent stamps. Just think of the possibilities if you could do this. You could buy $100 worth of stamps in Spain and then cash them in for $600 worth of stamps in the United States. Then cash in or sell the stamps to a third party and you have, well, good old cash. You just can't get this kind of interest in the bank.

Ponzi's mind quickly went into overdrive and devised a clever scheme to capitalize on his idea. He was determined to be a rich man. His first step was to convert his American money into Italian lire (or any other currency where the exchange rate was favorable). Ponzi's foreign agents would then use these funds to purchase international postal coupons in countries with weak economies. The stamp coupons were then exchanged back into a favorable foreign currency and finally back into American funds. He claimed that his net profit on all these transactions was in excess of 400%.

Was he really able to do this? The answer is a definite no. The red tape of dealing with the various postal organizations, coupled with the long delays in transferring currency, ate away at all Ponzi's imagined profits.

Things got just a bit out of hand ...

A failed scheme couldn't keep Ponzi from bragging about his great idea. Friends and family members easily understood what he was saying and they wanted in on the investment. And, lets face it, if you flash money in someone's face, they are bound to take it.

On December 26, 1919, Ponzi filed an application with the city clerk establishing his business as The Security Exchange Company. He promised 50% interest in ninety days and the world wanted in on it. Yet, he claimed to be able to deliver on his promise in just forty-five days. This, of course, translates into being able to double your money in just ninety days.

Word spread very quickly about Ponzi's great idea and within a few short months the lines outside the door of his School Street office began to grow. Thousands of people purchased Ponzi promissory notes at values ranging from $10 to $50,000. The average investment was estimated to be about $300. (That was a big chunk of pocket change in those days.)

You are probably sitting there puzzled. Why would so many people invest in a scheme that didn't work? The real reason was that the early investors did see the great returns on their money. Ponzi used the money from later investors to pay off his earlier obligations. It was a new twist on the age-old pyramid scheme.

With an estimated income of $1,000,000 per week at the height of his scheme, his newly hired staff couldn't take the money in fast enough. They were literally filling all of the desk drawers, wastepaper baskets, and closets in the office with investor's cash. Branch offices opened and copycat schemes popped up across New England.

By the summer of 1920, Ponzi had taken in millions and started living the life of a very rich man. Ponzi dressed in the finest of suits, had dozens of gold-handled canes, showered his wife in fine jewels, and purchased a twenty-room Lexington mansion.

The Crash

Any get rich scheme is certain to attract the attention of the law, and Ponzi was no exception. From the start, federal, state, and local authorities investigated him. Yet, no one could pin Ponzi with a single charge of wrongdoing. Ponzi had managed to pay off all of his notes in the promised forty-five days and, since everyone was happy to get their earnings, not a single complaint had ever been filed.

On July 26, 1920, Ponzi's house of cards began to collapse. The Boston Post headlined a story on the front page questioning the legitimacy of Ponzi's scheme. Later that day, the District somehow convinced to suspend taking in new investments until an auditor examined his books. (Why anyone who was doing something so highly illegal would let auditors examine his books is beyond me.)

Within hours, crowds of people lined up outside Ponzi's door demanding that they get their investment back. Ponzi obliged and assured the public that his organization was financially stable and that he could meet all obligations. He returned the money to those that requested it. By the end of the first day, he had settled nearly 1000 claims with the panicked crowd.

By continuing to meet all of his obligations, the angry masses began to dwindle and public support swelled. Crowds followed Ponzi's every move. He was urged by many to enter politics and was hailed as a hero. Loud cheers and applause were coupled with people eager to touch his hand and assure him of their confidence.

And Ponzi continued to dream. He had planned to establish a new type of bank where the profits would be split equally between the shareholders and the depositors. He also planned to reopen his company under a new name, the Charles Ponzi Company, whose main purpose was to invest in major industries around the world. (Apparently, no one ever told Ponzi that the key to any successful swindle was to take the money and run.)

The public continued to support him until August 10, 1920. On this date, the auditors, banks, and newspapers declared that Ponzi was definitely bankrupt. Two days later, Ponzi confessed that he had a criminal record, which just worsened his situation. In 1908, he had served twenty months in a Canadian prison on forgery charges related to a similar high-interest scheme that he had participated in there. This was followed in 1910 by an additional two-year sentence in Atlanta, Georgia for smuggling five Italians over the Canadian border into the United States.

On August 13th, Ponzi was finally arrested by federal authorities and released on $25,000 bond. Just moments later he was rearrested by Massachusetts authorities and re-released on an additional $25,000 bond.

In the end ...

The whole thing turned into one gigantic mess. There were federal and state civil and criminal trials, bankruptcy hearings, suits against Ponzi, suits filed by Ponzi, and the ultimate closing of five different banks.

Of course, we cannot forget the problem of trying to settle Ponzi's accounts in an attempt to return all of the people's investments.

An estimated 40,000 people had entrusted an estimated fifteen million dollars (about $140 million in U.S. funds today) in Ponzi's scheme. A final audit of his books concluded that he had taken in enough funds to buy approximately 180,000,000 postal coupons, of which they could only actually confirm the purchase of two.

Ponzi's only legitimate source of income was $45 that he received as a dividend of five shares of telephone stock. His total assets came to $1,593,834.12, which didn't come close to paying off the outstanding debt. It took about eight years, but note holders were able to have an estimated thirty-seven percent of their investment returned in installments. In other words, many people lost big time.

Ultimately, Ponzi was sentenced to five years in federal prison for using the mails to defraud. After three and one-half years in prison, Ponzi was sentenced to additional seven to nine years by Massachusetts's authorities. He was released on $14,000 bond pending an appeal and disappeared about one-month later.

Where did he go? Did he leave the country? Did he just vanish off of the face of the Earth? No one was really sure.

No, he turned up a short time later in the great state of Florida. Under the assumed name of Charles Borelli, Ponzi was involved in a pyramid (big surprise, huh?) land scheme. He was purchasing land at $16 an acre, subdividing it into twenty-three lots, and selling each lot off at $10 a piece. He promised all investors that their initial $10 investment would translate into $5,300,000 in just two years. Wow!!! Too bad much of that much of the land was underwater and absolutely worthless.

Ponzi was indicted for fraud and sentenced to one year in a Florida prison. Once again, he jumped bail on June 3, 1926 and ran off to Texas. He hopped a freighter headed for Italy, but was captured on June 28th in a New Orleans port. On June 30th he sent a telegram to President Calvin Coolidge asking to be deported. Ponzi's request was denied and he was sent back to Boston to complete his jail term. After seven years, Ponzi was released on good behavior and deported to Italy on October 7, 1934. Believe it or not, even after all of his swindling, he still had many fans that were there to give him a rousing sendoff.

Back in Rome, Ponzi became an English translator. Mussolini then offered him a position with Italy's new airline and he served as the Rio de Janeiro branch manager from 1939-1942. Ponzi discovered that several airline officials were using the carrier to smuggle currency and Ponzi wanted a cut. When they refused to include him, he tipped off the Brazilian government. The Second World War brought about the airline's failure and Ponzi soon found himself unemployed.

Once again, he wandered from job to job. He tried running a Rio lodge, but that failed. He then alternated between earning a pittance providing English lessons and drawing from the Brazilian unemployment fund.

Ponzi died in January of 1949 in the charity ward of a Rio de Janeiro hospital. Somehow, the man who had gone from poverty to multi-millionaire and right back to poverty in a matter of six months had managed to save up $75 to cover the costs of his burial. He left behind an unfinished manuscript appropriately titled "The Fall of Mister Ponzi". And what a rise and fall it was.

Friday, May 7, 2004

Heading home: back to River Garden ... after 10 days at The Pen.

Next: Part II

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