Bangkok Before Polo

After Olympic Interlude

August 17-23, 2004

August 17, 2004

Ousted from Athens for unsportsmanlike behavior (too much lobbying for elephant polo), we are now back in Bangkok!

In a little more than two weeks the Screwless Tuskers will be in Hua Hin. We hadn't anticipated that we would have to spend that much time in Florida; so, we (like the Greeks at Athens 2004) are running against the clock.

This morning and for the better part of the afternoon Watcharee, Pom and Golf were at the sewing machines ... putting together the 'off the field' wear for the Screwless Tuskers. As you may recall from last year, the organizers of the King's Cup provide all the uniforms for the play on the pitch; but, what the teams wear while frolicking is left up to them.

Pom's niece, Golf (and the captain of the Screwless Tuskers), can be seen wearing what just came out of the Singers (*).

(*) A brand of sewing machines well known to your grandmothers.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Oh God, it is wonderful to be back in Bangkok ... (my home for the past 4 1/2 years) ... with all the familiar things and places and smells that seem so much more real than the plastic place settings of Florida. OK, the pictures that I just took are quick and shallow but they make me feel happy about my life here.

It's really raining now! And it is a much better rain than the Florida ones.

PS: For all of us who were here .... Don sends us an invitation to visit his place at night ...

Thursday, August 19, 2004 (pre-journal)

Another afternoon rain storm ... (live) ... 523k AVI video.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

It happens in the best of families: diarrhea. And who knows when it will strike; but when it does, relief had better be on its way.

This afternoon Watcharee and I and four or five members of her family were sitting around our apartment; it struck. Not at Watcharee or I ... but, to one of the others.

I immediately volunteered to go to the pharmacy to buy something to reverse the tide.

[OK, dear reader, pronounce this word out load: "DIARRHEA!" Yes, there is a reason why I have asked you to do this.]

Remember, this is Bangkok and the language here is Thai. And that I have just gone into a local pharmacy and I have, in English, asked the clerk for a cure for diarrhea.

The clerk smiles knowingly and gives me three packets of pills; I rush back to our apartment and give the medicine to the afflicted one.

PS (but you have to read the fine print):



PPPPS (swiped from an atheist page):

Atheist Symbol Suggestion

A subject that often crops up on atheist newsgroups is "What is the atheist's symbol?"

After all, Christians have their cross, Jews have their star, Muslims have their crescent moon and so on. What can Atheists have?

There is a reasonable argument that states that it is pointless for atheists to have a symbol of any kind. We are not a group, or an organisation, and certainly not a religion. We are just people who don't have a god (and think that the whole idea is a bit silly anyway).

However, many think it would be useful to agree on some sort of general atheist symbol in order to simply identify ourselves to each other, in much the same way as the Christian "Jesus Fish" that you often see in the back of cars.

Suggestions for atheist symbols often revolve around other religious symbols, like the "Darwin Fish", or a crucifix with a red line through it. But that's not what we're about. Our symbol should have nothing to do with any religion or philosophy. We simply lack a belief in any deity - atheism is not necessarily anti-anything.

So, my suggestion is the image at the top (I am not the originator of this idea - it was mentioned some time ago on alt.atheism, IIRC. I just like it.). A simple black circle. It has the following characteristics in common with atheism:

  1. It is simple
  2. It is whole
  3. It is unbroken
  4. It is obvious
  5. It is all-encompassing
  6. It is strong
  7. It has nothing to do with any religion or belief system

And, it makes for quite a small image file.

Friday, August 20, 2004

The Bangkok subway opened in late June; though its first few weeks of operation were essentially dry runs (and, thus, free for the public). But, the people lost their guinea pig status at the end of July right after the German designers turned the keys over to the Bangkok operators (*).

And, since Watcharee and I have been in America for the last eight weeks, today was the first chance that I had to ride it.

It is brilliant. I just wish that it serviced the places that I need to visit on a regular basis.

The system was built by Siemens (as was the Bangkok Skytrain) so the cars on both the Skytrain and the underground have an almost identical feel. The big difference is in the speed and station design.

These few photos show the entrance at the Silom Road station (near Patpong) ... also the escalator that takes people to the bowels of the snake ... the ticketing area, too ... and the loading platform (**). Yes, and a few pictures of the route and vicinity maps ... though they might not be too clear due to the scale.

More later ...

(*) Compared with undergrounds in the West this one is amazingly cheap. I rode it for about an hour for less than 35 baht (about 80 US cents)

(**) The double door system was designed to discourage suicides....and it keeps the air fresher.

Saturday, August 21, 2004 (pre-journal)

The Economist (Aug. 21 - 27 edition) carried a nice sidebar entitled "The Business of Death: Stiff Competition". After detailing Costco's march into the coffin market, it brought the reader's attention to an online coffin monger named MHP Enterprises. MHP, via the Internet, sells plans to build your own. "MHP's line starts with the modest and unchallenging 'simple pine coffin plan', which, for just $14.95 helps you build a final resting place which looks surprisingly like a croquet-set box."

Price: $14.95 USD

A simple, inexpensive, easy to build rectangular pine coffin plan.

Dimensions: 79 1/2" x 24 1/2" x 14"

Important: Upon completion of the purchase process, you will receive an email with a link to download your plan. This email will only be sent to the email address specified in the purchase process.

Note: Plans are not available in a hard copy format and cannot be delivered by regular mail. All of our plans are in PDF format. To view your plan, you must have Adobe Acrobat Reader and WinZip installed.

Sunday, August 22, 2004 (pre-journal)

Name this Screwy Tusker; and when. The 'where' is pretty easy.

Sunday, August 22, 2004 (main journal)

Last night we (right to left: Pom, Watcharee and Golf - I was behind the camera) had dinner at the Shangri-La Hotel.

PS: Long time reader and contributor, Andy Page, reveals holes ... (via his source at the BBC) ... in Norwegian art security (*). THOCBDC is disproportionately concerned about this theft as its founder (me) was deeply moved by Edvard Munch's 'Scream' on his first trip to his ancestral homeland. THOCBDC knows that webmaster Paul Fjelstad shares this hurt. As to the 'Madonna' painting that was swiped during the same caper, THOCBDC has no comment ... does it have anything to do with the aging American singer (or vice versa)?

Reader Clem Faucet from Little Rock, Arkansas in the USA writes:

"What is with it with these Nor-Fin-Swede people? The fuckers need more guns in the hands of their average Joes ... or whatever they call their kids. Don't they have something like our National AK-47 Flame Thrower lobby?"

(*) The same 'Scream' was lifted by baddies about 10 years ago.

Monday, August 23, 2004 (pre-journal)

This is what I missed most of all when we were in Florida.

PPJ (post-pre-journal):

Here's more from Andy on "The Scream" ... he is following this story closely. And, he would go to Oslo himself to pursue all the leads but Norway is not an EC member, so his passport won't work there. Had the theft taken place at the Louvre ... well, it would have been a piece of cake for him.

Munch's 'Scream' Is Stolen From a Crowded Museum in Oslo
August 23, 2004

OSLO, Aug. 22 - The Norwegian police were scouring the country on Sunday for "The Scream" - Edvard Munch's masterpiece of existential angst and one of the world's most famous paintings - after armed robbers grabbed it and another painting off the wall of a crowded museum and sped off in a black station wagon.

The painting, which features a haunted-looking stick of a man howling on a bridge under a sunset, is an icon of the modern Expressionist school of painting and has been replicated humorously on coffee mugs, T-shirts and shower curtains the world over. The other stolen painting, "Madonna," is perhaps the second best-known image by the artist.

"'The Scream' is in a league by itself," said Franck Giraud, a New York art dealer and a former head of modern art at Christie's. "It's almost impossible to value, but if it were for sale today, it could sell for over $100 million and become the most expensive painting in the world."

Art experts said that given the fame of both "The Scream" and "Madonna," it would be nearly impossible to sell them to a collector. They speculated instead that the thieves would demand some form of ransom. That is what happened in 1994, when another version of "The Scream" was stolen and later recovered.

In the theft on Sunday, two robbers, wearing dark ski hats over their faces, burst into the Munch Museum in Oslo at 11:10 a.m. and threatened unarmed guards with pistols, the police said.

Speaking in Norwegian, one of the men held two guards at gunpoint, ordering them to the floor, while the other used a wire cutter to clip the framed paintings free of the wall, museum officials said. Witnesses described the thieves as clumsy, even dropping the paintings on the way out. A silent alarm alerted the police.

"One of the guards, a woman, had to be sent to the hospital because she was in such shock, but no one was physically injured and the police were here in under a minute," said a museum spokeswoman, Jorun Christoffersen. "There happened to be a police patrol right in the neighborhood, but it all happened so fast that the thieves were gone."

Two hours later, less than a mile away, the police found shattered wooden frames and glass from the stolen works - a discovery that caused art experts to fear that the two treasures might already have been damaged.

"They are very fragile, I'm afraid," said the director of the Munch Museum, Gunnar Sorensen, said in an interview. He said "The Scream" in particular, painted in tempera on cardboard measuring about 33 inches by 25 inches, could be irreparably damaged if bent. The slightly larger "Madonna," another ghostly composition, was painted in oil on canvas and is more likely to survive intact without its protective frame, he said.

The getaway car, an Audi station wagon, was found in northern Oslo. Witnesses said it had been driven by a third man, also masked. The police said they were examining the car and the discarded frames for fingerprints or DNA evidence.

The version of "The Scream" stolen in 1994 had been hanging in the National Gallery, also in Oslo, when burglars entered through a window before opening time.

Three months later - after the government refused to pay a $1 million ransom demand - four Norwegian men were arrested in an elaborate sting operation in which British undercover agents from Scotland Yard posed as representatives of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and offered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to secure the painting and return it to the National Gallery in Oslo, said Leif A. Lier, the lead detective on the case and a former assistant police chief in Oslo.

"The important thing was that we got the picture back," said Mr. Lier, who today is a private detective. That alternate version of "The Scream" can still be seen in the National Gallery.

Mr. Lier said he was astounded that robbers a decade later could charge into the Munch Museum in broad daylight, with close to 80 people milling around in the galleries, and escape with two priceless works of art.

"Hasn't the city of Oslo learned anything about security in 10 years?" he asked. "I am shocked that once again it was so easy."

Munch was a troubled recluse who lived in only two rooms of a large house in Oslo, the rest of which was filled with storage boxes, clutter and paintings that he refused to sell. When he died in 1944 at age 80, he willed his art to the city, which built the Munch Museum to house it. City officials have been criticized for spending too little to protect and promote it.

Mr. Sorensen, the Munch Museum's director, defended his facility's security precautions. "If you have a pistol or a revolver pointed at your head, there is not much you can do," he said. "In Norway, not even the police carry guns."

He said he thought it was unlikely that "The Scream" and "Madonna" would disappear forever.

"If you bought a work like that, how would you use it?" he said. "You can't present it for the public or even your friends. It is possible that some lunatic collector in some remote place in the world would like to have it, but that sounds more like a good film manuscript than reality."

What is more likely, in his estimation, is that the thieves or associates will make a discreet attempt to ransom the treasures - a possibility he declined to discuss further.

Charles Hill, a former Scotland Yard detective involved in the 1994 case, gave the perpetrators less credit. He said they were probably street hoodlums who did not realize how hard it would be to sell the paintings. "These guys are cunning and stupid at the same time - there's no way to unload them," he said.

The National Gallery and the Munch Museum maintain a good-natured rivalry over which of their versions of "The Scream" is the better. But there are also two other, less detailed versions, one of them in storage at the Munch Museum and another in the possession of an unidentified private collector.

"Madonna," which shows a mysterious bare-breasted woman with flowing black hair, is one of five such images painted by the artist. In 1999, Christie's tried but failed to sell a version of "Madonna." The auction house had estimated it would bring about $12 million. The most ever paid for a painting at auction was $104.1 million, at Sotheby's in May, when an unidentified collector bought Picasso's "Boy with a Pipe."

Walter Gibbs reported from Oslo for this article and Carol Vogel from St.-Tropez, France.

Next: Part II

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