Bangkok for Thanksgiving

November 1999

Tuesday, November 23, 1999

A careful reader of NEWNES will note that justice was swift in England:

And, on a more boring note:

Glenway Wescott reminds us that this season was not always so festive and friendly.

Felicitas and her Sons

Another martyred widow and seven sons. Their virtues aroused suspicion, their wealth a murderous covetousness. They would not hear of apostasy. The young men were put to death before their mother's eyes, one by one, in different ways. Because it would have been a delight to go where they had gone, she was kept alive for four months, then mercifully thrown into a vat of hot oil.

Today we had the pleasure of flying Air India from Delhi to Bangkok. As this airline is exceedingly paranoid about bombs being cleverly disguised as batteries, everything electric that cannot be plugged into the wall for its juice must be sealed away in checked luggage. Hearing aids and pace makers were ripped from passengers and tossed into the hold along with cell phones and vibrators.

It was an all-smoking flight.

The in-flight movie was a product of Bollywood (India's movie capital: Bombay).

A few minutes before midnight we reached The Oriental. I am now in the John LeCarré suite. The door can only be opened with a gunmetal blue key. My bathrobe is gunmetal silver. TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY rests alongside of THE HONOURABLE SCHOOLBOY. Nearby are SMILEY'S PEOPLE.

Wednesday, November 24, 1999

[from The International Herald Tribune]
1899: Royal Chocolate

CAPETOWN - The announcement that the Queen's Christmas presents are destined for all the troops, imperial and colonial alike, has given immense satisfaction here, and I have heard the comment made: "A queen like that is worth fighting for." It is foreseen that many of these chocolate boxes will be preserved in the soldiers families as historic mementoes, and might be preserved in the national or colonial archive."

1924: A Senate Party

WASHINGTON - A sensation was created when Clara Miles, 26 years old, a blonde, leaped out of the window of Senator L. Lenroot's office and fell fifteen feet. She was badly hurt and suffered a broken leg. Her companion, John C. Dugan, was arrested on charges of intoxication. News of the latest disclosure that drinking parties are being held in Government buildings have greatly disturbed Senators. Police are said to be involved in liquor smuggling.

Though it is refreshing to again have the IHT in hand, let us not forget NEWNES' little memory ticklers:

The Oriental Bangkok is a pretty special place. If it were not for the pleasures of Patpong there would be no need to ever leave the premises.

This morning we stayed put. The river to cross, a game of squash for the boys, the pool to watch ... there is not much more to wish for on a lazy Wednesday morning.

Perhaps this evening we'll be more adventurous.

But before I run off from this wonderful suite:

Some of you who were with me on my last trip to Bangkok may recall the rather sappy letter that Barbara Cartland wrote to the Oriental Hotel when she discovered that the hotel had named one of its author's suites after her. It was a wishy washy thing about pink decorations and romance.

Anyway, there is a framed letter here in the John le Carré suite that is worth posting in its entirety; it is addressed to the hotel manager.

8 October 1985

Dear Mr. Wachtveitl,

It is a joy and an honour to have a suite in the Oriental named after me. I shall always remember my first visit to the hotel. It was during the troubled mid-seventies. Accompanied by David Greenway, then of the Washington Post, I arrived tired, dusty and unannounced after a swing through divided Laos and the unsettled regions of Northeast Thailand in pursuit of material for my novel 'The Honourable Schoolboy'. By a miracle the Somerset Maugham suite was unoccupied. Greenway insisted I take it - though I required little persuasion - and removed himself to comparatively humble accommodations elsewhere in the hotel. Another novel of mine was having a success in America at the time, which was our excuse for drinking a lot of champagne that night and making a great fuss of the correspondent of a lofty London newspaper who was on his way to Burma on miserable expenses. Greenway and I passed a festive evening and fell asleep full of self-congratulation, having parted with our spare shirts for our guest to give to his impoverished Burmese contacts. But I fear we may not have seemed as funny to him as we did to one another. A year later, when 'The Honourable Schoolboy' finally appeared, the same correspondent took time off from his political musings to give it a perfectly dreadful notice. How sobering to reflect that the Oriental can dispense correction to the overbearing as well as champagne to the thirsty.

Yours sincerely,

John le Carré.

With that I am off. Out the door. Down the elevator. Into the air.

Hours and hours have passed between the time I went out into the air and the time I came back to my Bangkok home. I just can't imagine what that old sweep hand was doing. Clocks love to hurriedly tick off the seconds when there is fun afoot. I wish the converse were true; if that were the case my last night's Air India flight from Delhi would have been sufferable despite the haze from scores of Camel unfiltereds.

Though, I did fritter away a chunk of the evening at an outdoor bar on Patpong II; one that Linda and I discovered last month. Then, one of the female bartenders took a liking to Linda and the two of them played parlor games endlessly while I watched the pole dancers. She was on duty tonight, as every night she must be. The first words out of her mouth were "where is Linda?"

Later in the evening I drifted over to Patpong's "buffet-street" to see if the clever chefs from Chiang Mai had added anything to the tables. As the "harvest" took place several months ago, I rather expected to see some fresh dishes. You see, dear reader, the slabs in the brothels of Thailand are freshened each year; shortly after the last months of compulsory schooling for young girls has been completed. At that time the owner's agents drift north toward the Thai-Burma-Laos border. Their trucks are loaded to the roof with all kinds of useful and desirable household gadgets ... beads with which to buy Manhattan, so to speak. For some families the appeal of a microwave oven and the repulsion toward a whiney teenage girl are like arrows flying in the same direction. And, there you've got it.

Thursday, November 25, 1999

Wescott reminds us that November 25 was not always a day to give thanks.

Catherine of Alexandria, or of the Wheels
DIED 310

This princess, perhaps, was Constantine the Great's half-sister. Her Egyptian subjects, or her relatives and friends - as the case may be - wanted her to marry; instead, she engaged herself to Jesus Christ. The Emperor Maxentius, during his persecutions, assembled a host of able philosophers; the scholarly virgin out-talked and converted them; the emperor put them to death. Then he shut her up in his palace; she converted the empress and her ladies; and he put them to death, intending, in any case, to marry Catherine. She told him that her mystic fiancé was everlasting and handsome - whereas he was old, sick, fickle, filthy. Hurt feelings then combining with orthodox pagan fervour, he ordered her to be torn apart on four spiked wheels; but lightning struck the atrocious machine, and she was simply beheaded.

There is some contradiction between all this and secular history. The church appears to have ascribed to Catherine many traits of the pagan Hypatia, murdered by a mob in St. Cyril's employ - a depressing though politic sort of retribution.

NEWNES is on a war footing today:

It is a workday for BOSFAR (Brotherhood Of Searchers For A Replacement). Yes, dear reader, while the little women in your families have been happily stitching up that once gaping turkey cavity - and while you men have been popping open cans of Bud and watching pro-wrestling on big screen TVs - and while your teen age kids have been plotting how to cut out early - and while the dog has been farting unusual smells (cranberry?) - and while the malls have been closed - well, the committee has been shuffling resumes about the place. Does a familiarity with P.J. Harvey mean anything? Is curling relevant? What's in a favorite movie?

If you have clicked on the main page during the past few hours you will have seen that my outgoing cable traffic has been heavy. Whether the regrets went to a nun in Alaska or a crack-whore in Alabama, the words were as painful to pen as they will be to read. Will a disappointed cosmetologist in Belgium slice her wrists with a close at hand razor? Will a schoolteacher in America swerve her car into the path of an oncoming Texaco road tanker? What about the German lathe operator? And, the others?

With less than 24 hours to go we toil on.

Friday, November 26, 1999

"... ... tock!"

That's it!

At precisely noon, Bangkok time, word was flashed to the world's wire services that Denise Hagan of Seattle, Washington will be the replacement Screwmaid aboard the soon to be christened CBIII.

Though advanced word had been leaked to Vatican, Kremlin and Icelandic power brokers, high sources in each of these centers confirmed that the secret traveled no further. Though publicly unwilling to comment on the choice, private communications indicate that world leaders throughout most of Europe and Asia are pleased with the selection. African and Antarctic reactions were mixed. As was the case in most of South America. Petty jealousies and a junta mentality are thought to be responsible for this somewhat childish and pouty behavior south of the equator.

In other news, A.A. Gill's latest novel, "Starcrossed," captured this year's Bad Sex in Fiction Award. James Hewitt, former lover of now dead Diana, Princess of Wales, presented the coveted prize at a ceremony in London. The Mirror newspaper commented, "The scene involving a deep-sea diver and a genetically modified, homosexually inclined giant squid has to be read to be believed."

Dear reader, you don't need NEWNES to once again tie November 26th to Queen Maud's birthday; or to remind you that 163 years ago today the fire under John McAdam's last tar cooker was quenched. But, with a gentle tug at his forelocks NEWNES asks you to remember that over the last century Coventry Patmore, Sir Leander Starr Jameson and Otto Sverdrup all perished on this date. One was a poet, another a statesman ... and the last was an explorer. It is of very little importance to NEWNES that you have never heard of these people before, and that you have no interest in hearing about them now.

The same can probably be said about:

Leonard of Port Maurice
1677 - 1751

A popular preacher. When he had exhausted the effects of mere eloquence, he would strip, turn his back to the audience, and whip himself until his blood spattered about the pulpit. His tireless missions greatly quickened religious feeling throughout Italy.

This evening the first member of the Screwy Tuskers team will arrive. Stephani Weaver started her journey in Miami yesterday morning at 7AM. From there she flew non-stop to Los Angeles in order to catch United's #1 for the long haul to Bangkok via Tokyo. Her flight is expected to be on time: 10:10PM. Annie and I are going to take an airport car to the airport to meet her.

By the time she reaches her room at The Oriental she will be one very tired woman. However, a box of best chocolates will be waiting for her if she still feels peckish. And, after a good night's sleep she can look forward to a "Jet Lag" massage at the Oriental Spa.

OK, we're off to the airport.

Saturday, November 27, 1999

Stephani arrived last night. Though she was in the air for more than 24 hours, she was not the least bit bushed when we picked her up from the airport. Amazing! Following a quick check-in, I gave her a tour of the hotel property; including a fast trip across the river for a peek at the spa where she is scheduled this afternoon for a rejuvenating "Jet Lag" massage. Last night she limited herself to just one piece from the chocolate box; saving the rest, presumably, for breakfast.

This morning everyone went to the weekend market. It is a place that doesn't interest me in the least. They sell dogs and cheap jewelry there…all in the blazing sun.

After Stephani's hour at the spa, the two of us had a latish lunch at the Verandah Restaurant; though most would call it a coffee shop, it actually offers a nice selection of Thai dishes. The meal was followed by a visit to the Green Shirts for some serious chats about what relationships are all about ... and where we also had a foot massage ... well, we had feet massages. Then, another round of shopping; Stephani found a cute jacket ... I bought nothing.

Tonight we are going to dine by the river. Our hotel does this so well.

Later this evening, while Annie drives out to the airport to pick up Tilman, our next Screwy Tusker arrival, perhaps Stephani and I will stroll down to the Patpong. It's a busy and interesting walk, especially on a Saturday night.

I'm feeling restless. Maybe there is something useful or fun in today's IHT.

[from the International Herald Tribune]
1924: Removing Trotsky

BERLIN - Trotsky's removal from his position as the Commissary of War and the loss of all his high posts in the Soviet Government are declared imminent in dispatches received here from Moscow. Trotsky's conflict with the Zinovieff faction of the Communist Party continues to dominate the internal political situation of Russia, with the army, navy and civil administration taking sharp sides. The majority of the army's rank and file and the officers corps are believed to favor Trotsky. The entire first edition of his book on the causes and origins of the Bolshevist Revolution, which provoked the present factional struggle, is sold out and a second edition is being prepared, despite the Government confiscation of the book.

And, today NEWNES couldn't be in worse form:

I'll spare you Wescott's saint for the day. Suffice that she was a fifteenth century Margaret who spent forty-four humble years being pious before dying happily.

For tonight I booked a riverside table at the Terrace Barbecue. It was the first time that all seven of us had been together for a meal. Stephani and I arrived at the water first; we looked around at the other five chairs and wondered if we got the time right. The minutes passed - still five empty chairs. "Did we get the time wrong or did they?" she asked. I shrugged. A few minutes later Annie and her two boys, Chris and Cam, walked over from the lobby. They thought that we were supposed to join up by the elevators. But, where were Christy and Bernie? Hey, no one told them that we were eating at 8:30. Then, by accident they fell upon the table. They had been shopping, and more or less luckily stumbled in our direction.

The Oriental Hotel each night presents a buffet and barbecue that has precious few peers anywhere in the world. Just ask Becky and Susan about Christmas 1997! I mean it. It is not the number of dishes ... no, not at all, it's the quality and assortment of what is available that makes it such a perfect foundation for building the perfect plate. The chilled seafood and the sushi is where I always start. Unfortunately, it is usually where I almost always stop. The Spicy Thai Shrimp Salad alone is worth the price of the meal. And, then there is the homemade ice cream. Well ...

After dinner Annie headed out to the airport to pick up Tilman: our next to arrive Screwy Tusker. She was due in a little before 11PM on a Northwest flight from Seattle (via Tokyo). Bernie and Christy took the boys street shopping along the Silom Road. Stephani and I walked into the Patpong area to catch some of the Saturday evening action. Our first stop, after a stroll through "buffet alley", was The Kangaroo Club: a notorious initiation spot for Screwy Tusker first timers. In years past Jean, Laurie, Susan and Becky have been welcomed into the Club. After paying our dues we moved down the street to Kings III for some soft music and gentle dancing.

Then the evening ended.

Sunday, November 28, 1999

The Screwy Tuskers have gone shopping. Well, almost all of them did; I stayed back.

According to NEWNES, Maximilian II, King of Bavaria, was born just one year before the birth of Ludwick Lindeman, composer: 1811 and 1912.

After last night, the life of JAMES OF THE MARCHES is an inspiration:

James of the Marches
(Died 1476)

This Franciscan, the son of poor people of the Marches of Ancona, first distinguished himself as a preacher. By one sermon on the Magdalen's tears, he converted thirty-six prostitutes; and he himself gave them a house and an income, to make their new and edifying integrity possible. Then he went to Germany and Hungary as an inquisitor. He is said to have made two hundred thousand converts and to have brought back into the fold fifty thousand heretics; and, as one might expect, he was cruel to himself and others.

The Screwy Tuskers have just returned from shopping.

After a light lunch Stephani and I booked a boat. It was one of those narrow pointy ones with a great big car engine near the stern. You really have to see these things to picture how they work. But, let me try with words. OK, for starters, this fat Chrysler V8 is attached to a really long drive shaft: one that is about 25 feet long. At the end of this drive shaft is a two bladed prop. The whole unit (engine, shaft and prop), is mounted on a gimbaled (sp?) like thingy that allows the driver to turn, tip and raise the whole pushing machine all over one great big arc of space. Of course, this gives the boat great mobility: not only can it turn on a small coin but it can do so in very shallow water. And, just as important, it can, with a flick of the motor mount, rid its blades of any fouling water plants that would otherwise marry themselves to the prop.

Our first, and only, stop on our river and canal journey was at Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn). What's a Wat? Fair question. It is a Buddhist monastery. But a Wat rarely, if ever, stands alone. Other stuff invariably lives with it. Like what?

Wat Arun is blessed with a central Prang that can be seen for miles. Not only is it taller than a twenty-story building, but four lesser towers that would be formidable by themselves if they stood alone also surround it.

After leaving the Wat in our wake we spent the next 90 minutes slicing through the canals of Bangkok. Zillions of stilted homes make up the shores of these canals; in fact, rarely can you see the actual shore (where dirt meets water) because of the density of human encroachment. These canals serve as a laundry, a bathtub, a swimming pool, a road, a toilet, a trash can, a fishing hole and a place in which to just dangle your feet.

We arrived back at The Oriental a little before sunset, just in time for my massage at the Spa. I almost fell asleep: almost missing the best part.

Tonight all eight of us are going to dine together….yes, exactly where we ate last night. Hey, if you find the perfect sandbox in your own backyard, why peek over the fence when the neighboring properties are not so nice.

After dinner? I don't know.

Dinner is done! Stephani and I went to our respective rooms: jet lag is kicking in for her, while both wicks of the candle have been burning for me.

But, not before some fireworks for the King's birthday.

Monday, November 29, 1999

A half, three-quarters and a full century ago were curious news days for the IHT:

[from The International Herald Tribune]
1899: Deluxe Squalor

PARIS - A woman died, says the "Figaro," who at one time excited great admiration and caused a great scandal, the beautiful Comtesse de Castiglione. She was the heroine of a ball at the Tuileries which is still spoken of by the survivors of the early days of the Empire. After the war she occupied a small apartment at the corner of the rue de la Paix and the place Vendome, where for twenty years she lived with the shutter constantly kept closed, gas light taking the place of the sun. She owned vast estates in Italy and yet lived in an odd combination of luxury and squalor. She finally succumbed to apoplexy.

1924: Marriage Battle

NEW YORK - Mrs. Alice Jones Rhinelander, daughter of a New Rochelle negro workman, whose husband, Mr. Leonard Kip Rhinelander, filed suit to annul their marriage on the ground that his bride told him she was white, will fight the case. A representative of the family of Mr. Rhinelander, one of the oldest and wealthiest families in New York City, stated that the young Rhinelander brought suit on his own initiative and that it was not prompted by the family.

1949: Against the Unfit

BIRMINGHAM, England - Dr. Ernest W. Barnes, Bishop of Birmingham, said that Britain should sterilize "unfit" persons to help reduce the country's overpopulation. He also advocated restrictions on immigration to Britain from eastern Europe, India, South Africa and the West Indies, and said many persons believed medically-controlled euthanasia for defective infants may be another solution.

NEWNES, very relevantly observes:

And, from today's BANGKOK POST:

LONDON - A naked man brandishing a sword entered a London church yesterday and began hacking at worshippers, police said. The man wounded eight people at Saint Andrews Church in Thorton Heath, south London, before members of the congregation overpowered him, Scotland Yard police headquarters said. Police arrested the man and the wounded were taken to hospital but none of their injuries appeared to be life threatening, police said. No motive was offered for the attack - Reuters

Shamane Simons, who will be the last Screwy Tusker team member to join up with us here in Bangkok, checked into The Oriental Hotel last night. I shall get back to this paragraph shortly; but right now I want to pick up the thread or trail of my last two Screwy Tuskers, Susan Cassone and Cindy Mielke.

Screwy Tuskers #6 and #7 will bypass Bangkok altogether and fly from Florida to Kathmandu in a more colorful way than what might have been their preference. Though not taking the same route that a bird would have picked, Susan and Cindy will be able to sample a very wide variety of in-flight meals during their days in the air. Their mind-boggling itinerary was built around a patchwork quilt of inconvenient and unhelpful frequent flyer programs. The first of their twenty-seven flights leaves Fort Lauderdale sometime today. The two will travel uninterruptedly with coupon #1 to Orlando on a Delta commuter, before joining a Northwest flight to Detroit. From the motor city, Frontier Air carries them non-stop to our nation's capitol. Leaving the Jefferson Memorial to slip behind a setting sun, Icelandic Air serves them a late evening snack before Reykjavik ground personnel shift their bags onto an Air Gabon flight to Benin. The next four close-connection flights are all within that part of Africa that lies far south of the equator. Emerging from the Dark Continent, their well-seasoned early edition and unnamed charter 707 allows them to reach Yemen in time for Wednesday's pilgrimage shuttle to Karachi. However, due to the little border inconveniences that have recently surfaced between Pakistan and India, the leg out of Karachi is longer and more complicated than hoped for. After changing planes at what was once known as Rangoon, Singapore will look very inviting to our two travelers. And, the Singapore-Delhi-Kathmandu segments should be uneventful this late in the terrorist/typhoon/work-to-rule season.

While Susan and Cindy must be contemplating the bewildering number of airplane seating configurations that they will have to choose from, Shamane, Stephani and I were doing the same thing with respect to dishes on our buffet table across the river at Baan Rim Naam. Shamane, being a chef in real life, chose from all of the more unusual offerings. Stephani and I were more conventional with our selections.

I wonder if Susan and Cindy watched the ticket agent attach the Warsaw Convention dictated baggage routing tags. Did he get all 27 airport codes right? And, in the correct order? Of course, that wasn't our worry ... as by then we were having our afternoon massage at the Spa.

Tomorrow Christy and Bernie and Annie's two boys head back to Seattle. We have one further day in Bangkok before TG 313 takes us to Nepal.

So, two nights left in Bangkok. What to do!!!!

Saturninus and Other Martyrs of the Baths of Diocletian

Saturninus, in his old age, with many others, was condemned to hard labour in the building of Diocletian's Baths, Cyriacus and his friends carrying water to them until the imperial officers found them out. As they worked, they all sang hymns to keep up their courage. This exasperated their masters; furthermore, they broke some heathen images which they should have revered. So they were dragged behind a wild bull, torn with hooks, and strangled. These exciting scenes of torment and fortitude so affected two of the soldiers in charge that they too were converted and executed.

Right! OK! Enough of those dreary old martyrs and their boring hymns. My feeling is that the codgers largely deserved what they got. You can't just go around the work place stomping on and kicking in the boss's collection of heathen images and not expect some repercussions. Though, being torn apart by hooks does seem a bit excessive ... a simple drag behind the wild bull probably might have been enough to make the point. But, we weren't there, were we?

Internet Credit SlipDamn, I digress! What should I do with my last couple nights in Bangkok?

Patpong, at least once ... yes, for sure. But, to show what a nerd I have become, just look where I went. Did I drift into Lipstick, King III, Kangaroo, Pinocchio's or any other welcoming oasis? No, I enrolled in a Patpong Internet Café and spent the evening surfing safe sites. Do you believe me? No? Well, just look at the proof.


Tuesday, November 30, 1999

Today is the last day of my pre-polo Bangkok journal. Starting with tomorrow, Tilman Smith will be fully responsible for what goes up on the wall. As she is going to do this with pencil and paper there should be a really horrendous delay between the time that she sees or hears what she wants to write about and the time that you, dear reader, actually read it. This warp is likely to far exceed the time that Mike has already allowed to creep into his journal about India.

I don't know if the Yak and Yeti hotel in Kathmandu is yet able to support telephone connections to distant lands. In past years the Screwy Tuskers have had to rely on runners to bring you the news of our victories and defeats. In those cozy days the British Consulate was our friendly link with life beyond the peaks: it allowed us to stuff our little scribblings into one of its outgoing diplomatic pouches. Once the pouch made its way by a flying machine to Delhi an embassy wireless operator laboriously dashed and dotted it on to London. At that point the great Fleet Street presses took over.

Today things may be different. But, don't count on it.

Lest we forget our dear companion, NEWNES:

Or, the fellow who mocks saints:

Andrew the Apostle

St. Peter's brother, the first of Christ's apostles to be called, and the first to preach in Poland and Russia. Upon his return from the North, having been so bold as to convert the wife of an official in Greece, he was condemned to death. He knelt and adored his X-shaped cross before lying down on it; he was tied, not nailed, so that he lived two days, preaching to a great crowd all the time.

One of his arms and his head are in Rome. His bones in Amalfi exude a colourless liquid called sweat, or his manna, which is a potent medicine. A saint named Rule, in the reign of the Emperor Constantine, was ordered by an angel to take the rest of St. Andrew's relics to the ends of the earth, which, as it turned out, was Scotland. By other accounts this translation took place much later, under a Scottish king also called Constantine.

Of all Our Lord's fishermen, real fishermen have taken St. Andrew for their patron.

So much for saints, folks. NEWNES, too.

This afternoon Stephani and I took the boat over to the Peninsula Hotel for lunch. Earlier this year I checked into this hotel with the intention of staying but three nights: I wound up passing sixteen days at the place. It is a wonderful property. And, any human being who has to make the choice of whether to have a river view room at The Oriental or a water view one from The Peninsula has the easiest job on earth.

After our lunch the boys at the house of Green Shirts took care of our feet. We fell asleep while they worked.

Tonight the Bangkok Screwy Tuskers had a room service dinner in Shamane's room. We ordered way too much food. Poor Shamane now has to sleep with the excess.

Tomorrow the Bangkok Screwy Tuskers will fly to Kathmandu to join up with Susan and Cindy ... assuming that they have completed leg 27 of their flight itinerary.

Next: My Polo Pre-Journal

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