June 22-30, 2005
9:29 am on March 31, 2004 was the start of an auspicious and expensive minute. Old time readers will recall that it is the custom in Thailand when purchasing a new car to consult monks as to when they should start their ignitions. A little over a year ago two monks (independently) decided that 29 minutes after the 9th hour on the 31st day of the 3rd month of the 2547th year after Buddha's enlightenment we could drive our car off the dealer's lot without fear of winding up with a 'lemon' or ... worst case ... in a coffin of twisted German steel.
I have become a believer. Aside from the loss of one of those little caps that screw onto the valve that lets you put air in your tires we have had no problems with the car (*).
For today, 10:09 am was the auspicious moment that we had been waiting for. We went to the same dealer (brand loyalty ... but for a different model). Now convinced that the monks knew which 'blue book' to check I was a stickler when it came to our countdown. This morning I downloaded beeps from the atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado, into my digital clock ...(OK, last year, when I was an infidel, I relied on the sweep hand of a 40 year old Rolex that may have been fast or slow by as much as 5 minutes).
But now I have the faith.
Today, offerings were made ... instructions given ... and the second hand was watched.
As the dealer's grandfather's clock slowly approached the holy minute my accurate-to-a quadrillionth-of-a-second beeper said "Gentlemen, start your engines!" And, we were off.
The two auspicious ones are now snugly together.
(*) Cynical wags might claim that our luck had more to do with the brand than the tick of the clock.
Note: The number 9 in the Monk's playbook always comes up. You will never take delivery of a car 15 minutes after the hour; or when the hands are straight up. 9's have it all the time: 09, 19, 29, 39, 49, or 59. My guess is that September 9 next year (2549) will be a bumper year for car deliveries in Thailand.
Yes, it is a convertible!
Unlike our Florida based ancient SL our Bangkok garaged brand new SLK has a hardtop that automatically folds into the upper part of the trunk or boot. One button does it all: 24 seconds from up to down. (*)
But, do I ever want it to be a convertible ... in the down position?
Probably not when we are driving in Bangkok ... the local air is fickle when choosing partners: one day the air will dance with rain, another day humidity and heat will share the dance card, and pollution frequently taps on the shoulder. Many times all of them hold hands for a huge round-about. And then there is the human factor. Because many of Bangkok's busses are not air conditioned they have very wide-open windows; allowing spit and cigarette butts to mark their indiscriminate trail.
So, in Bangkok the best place to put the top down is in my own garage.
Though, a few days from now when we drive the new machine to Ayutthaya for its formal blessing I'll probably push the 'down' button ... but only after we have reached the 50 kilometer toll plaza on the way out of Bangkok.
(*) The SL's hardtop comes in one solid piece. It has to be lifted off the car as a unit; and once you have done that you still have to find a place to store it. In Florida I have a winch that allows me to hoist the top up, up and out of the way. But even with that bit of convenience the undocking or docking procedure still takes about 5 minutes. Plus I have to align up the car with the winch. OK, the SL does come with a rag top that I can, with a button, pop open/close in 30 seconds ... but is a soft top ever an advantage? Maybe only for a rakish look; otherwise not ... mildew and sun are not friendly.
We took several members of The Oriental's fitness club to dinner.
We took our new Mercedes SLK to Ayutthaya today to visit Watcharee's Mom. My turn was first. I drove up the pike at a modest 120 kph (about 75 mph) speed. ... But, Watcharee made our return trip down the same road at a 160 kph (closer to 100 mph) pace. Of course, those were our motorway speeds ... the secondary roads that we traveled cut our throttle thrust considerably ... though, Watcharee probably out-sped me on those lanes too (*).
I am convinced that we drive better in our own culture zones: Watcharee is much more cautious when driving in America ... and I tend to be less adventuresome when I am on Thai roads. It probably has a lot to do with what we think the other driver will do.
(*) The Thai government wants every driver to keep their car's maximum speed below 90 kph (56 mph) in order to save energy. No one does it.
Reader L. F. from Bamako in Mali writes: "I am an engineering student at a local technical college so I am very curious as to how the metal top of your SLK folds into the vehicle's boot. Can you post some photographs that show the various stages of this transformation?"
Of course! These three photos show the roof leaving its womb and sequencing its way to its protective shield position...in other words, going from 'off' to 'on'. By running the film backwards you can see it going the other way.
Reader J. F. D. (the 1st) from Boston, Massachusetts in America writes: "Can we see what's under the hood?"
Not having popped the bonnet myself since I bought the SLK I am more than willing to please. As a fillip I'll even toss in a look at what powers the S (*).
Damn, these engine compartments look so amazingly clean! Of course, I am comparing them with what Detroit and England put behind their radiators in the 50's and 60's: hunks of in-line and V-shaped iron, supporting thick 4-throated carburetor necks topped with giant ugly air filters. (**)
Hmmmmmm ... the SLK's 250 page owner's manual says that I have to do something after 250,000 kilometers or 12 years, whichever comes first. I'll worry about raising the hood again then.
(*) I think I looked there once or twice before...but, I don't remember why.
(**) Oily and ugly, yes! But, they were easy to fix and fun to modify. When I was in high school I frequently took apart my engine1. I even 'shaved' the heads to increase the compression. I added non-stock mufflers to give my machine a more throaty roar. And, 'lowering blocks' added to the leaf springs gave the car a more sexy laid-back look. Back in 1957 a chopped, channeled and sectioned '57 Hudson was the ultimate chic magnate.
1 Now I am even afraid to deviate from the manufacturer's default settings. The steering wheel activated menu goes on for pages and pages of options. Hey, I am not even sure how to set the clock in the dashboard....thank God Thailand does not have Daylight Savings Time.
Here is GOOGLE's beta 'map' of Bangkok.
The other day I chipped a tooth.
I immediately drove over to Bumrungrad Hospital to have it tended to. Bumrungrad is a private hospital that feels more like a 5 star hotel than a place where you go to get yourself fixed. It greets you with valet parking. The atrium lobby rushes you with at least half a dozen restaurants in case you feel more 'peckish' than ill (*) ... [but there is no stand alone bar for someone who wants a little bracing before facing the needle or knife]. ... Best of all, there are no long tedious forms to fill out: one swipe of your American Express card performs miracles. The nurses are all svelte and beautiful. There are no long waits before a doctor or dentist will see you (**). And, when you do see him (or her) you will be confident that you are in competent hands: he'll be an Asian Dr. Kildaire or Rex Morgan MD. From start to finish you are treated like a pampered guest. Check-out is simple; your medication is in the same envelope as your credit card receipt.
Watcharee reminded me that most of the local people have their dentistry done on the street ... almost literally. Just two blocks away from River Garden a street ('soi') dentist has set up shop on the sidewalk right next to the entrance to our local 7/11. He has choppers to go!
(*) OK, most people don't make this a destination for food.
(**) The waiting area is devoid of people who look really sick. Moaning children or old ladies coughing up gobs of blood ... well, that would take a star or two off the five that the place deserves.
PS: I have to try that 'Volcanic Fried Mussel and Oyster'. It's just around the corner from our 'soi' dentist. I wonder if the 'soi' supports a stomach guy?
On June 13th THOCBDC went to the law school at the way-far-out-of-town campus of Thammasat University. A week later it visited the even more distant ABAC campus of Assumption University.
Continuing our thin academic thread ... but staying closer to home ... THOCBDC, this afternoon, only had to drive a half dozen kilometers to see the best of the Thai law schools: the one at Chulalongkorn University.
"Lay off the 3rd person, Alf ... it is so pretentious."
Chulalongkorn University operates the largest and most prestigious law school in Thailand. It is modeled on the Anglo-American concept ... with more emphasis on the Anglo part, because the Bachelor of Laws in Thailand is the first university degree, as it is in England. In America the three years of law training follow four years of undergraduate work. This means that a minimum of seven years at university are required before you can apply for admission to the Bar in America.
Does this mean that American lawyers are any better? No ... just older.
PS: Bored with Law School?
Reader K. S. (*) from the American state of Arizona writes: "Does the new car have any trunk space, Alf?"
Kevin, the SLK has a surprising amount of room, especially when the top is in the up position. But, before I can automatically store the hardtop into the upper part of the trunk I have to slide the boot divider into its 'limiting' position. This positioning ceremony only serves to visually mark off or mask out the area into which I can safely carry stuff when I want to retract the top.
I can fit a normal size suitcase under this shield; if the divider is pushed forward I can carry a couple of suitcases. As a safety feature the top can not be retracted unless this divider has been activated rearward. All in all it is a very clever bit of engineering ... very German.
Another smart bit of German engineering: if, after the sun goes down, I am carrying a very heavy load in the boot the machine's headlights will compensate for the SLK's slightly lower stern (and relatively elevated bow) by directing its forward beams slightly lower ... so that they illuminate the road safely. But, if there is a weight compensating passenger riding with me it won't bother.
(*) K. S. is the same person who used to operate one of the most famous bars in Bangkok; located on Soi Cowboy it was called the "Old China Hand" when Kevin owned it. Now it is named "Sam's 2000".