1999 Notebook: Interval XVII

2 June 1999
Big Bang Cigarette
Seven-meter-long hydrogen cigarettes are bad for your health.

On Monday, such a cigarette was the centerpiece of the World No Smoking Day festivities in Bang Khen, Thailand. Phayong Mukda, identified in the Bangkok Post as a "national artist," sliced the cigarette with his sword to release the balloons inside. (The Post account is a bit sketchy on the rationale behind the event. Apparently the organizers believed that the sight of balloons floating skyward would lead people to quit smoking. Or something like that.)

(I wonder what kind of art Mukda makes? I see lots of possibilities with sword art. It could be as simple as a misspelling of "words art," or it could be something completely different.)

Hold everything. I've lost the chain of events, waylaid by irrelevant parenthetical comments that have nothing to do with the tragedy at hand. (Oops, the mention of tragedy introduces both unnecessary foreshadowing, as well as yet another parenthetical comment.)

So, anyway, this seven-meter-long hydrogen cigarette is being held by a plethora of Thai celebrities including, according to the Post, "Sombat Methanee, the veteran actor, Pongsi Voranut, the singer, Thatsuang Maneechan, the nude model," and a firmament of other stars.

We're at the climax of the story, at last. Mukda raises his sword, brings it down on the evil cigarette, and ...

(Was there no one involved in this production who'd learned the sad lessons of the Hindenburg?)

... BANG!!!

Bang as in Bang Khen; bang as in Bang-on Rithiphakdi of the Action on Smoking and Health Foundation; bang as in BOOM!!!

Hydrogen explodes in both Thailand and New Jersey, as it turns out. The amount of hydrogen involved was close to 200,000,000 liters less than used to be found in zeppelins, so fortunately no one was killed.

The Post reports that the nude model is still in the hospital. I hope she was clothed at bang time.

Oh, the humanity!

3 June 1999
The Forgery
Lee's a real nomad, at least relatively speaking in these days of pseudo-nomads like me. Lee told me about some place she was visited in Arizona that had lots of facilities for making art, including a forgery.

A forgery! What a great idea! Instead of stealing ideas here and there willy-nilly, I could instead spend my time ensconced in the forgery, engaged in wholesale larceny.

I started asking Lee how the forgery worked in practice, about the resources available, about what she felt were the strengths and weaknesses of the forgery system, et cetera.

Her answer broke my heart.

"The forgery you want doesn't exist. I meant to say 'foundry,' not 'forgery,' " she explained. "If you really want a forgery, maybe you should make one."

"I think it would violate the spirit, the essence of a true forgery, if I were to make one," I explained. "I think the only proper way to use a forgery is to take advantage of someone else's forgery, to benefit from someone else's work."

"I agree," said Lee. "Working in order to avoid work quite defeats the purpose, doesn't it?"

4 June 1999
Catching Wildlife Poachers
I've been asked to join some friends on a trip into the jungle to investigate wildlife poachers: sambar deer, tigers, elephants, that sort of thing.

I think it's a daft idea. Although there's certainly enough water in the rainy forest to poach a plethora of elephants, the criminals would need a damn big cauldron just to poach a tiger. And they'd need a pot almost as big as a small swimming pool to poach an elephant.

I'm sure we're not going to catch any poachers, but I agreed to go along nevertheless. I've always done well by taking advantage of absurd offers; this one actually sounds somewhat promising.

5 June 1999
Blood-filled Leeches
I was warned about leeches before I went into the jungle, but I wasn't too concerned. From what I understood, they only do cosmetic damage. And besides, living off a host's unnecessary surplus is how most life on earth survives, anyway.

And so it was that I wasn't surprised to see a leech on my biceps brachii. I was surprised, though, to see how small it was. It was only about thirty or forty millimeters long, and no thicker than overcooked spaghetti.

"You call this a leech?" I asked my native guide. "I was expecting something like a Pacific Northwest banana slug."

"They only start out small," she replied. "Once they fill with blood, you'd be surprised how big they can get."

"Sounds pretty phallic to me," I responded.

"Hmmm, I never thought of it that way," she said.

6 June 1999
A Fantastic Night in the Jungle
I dreamt I was in a jungle beside a river in a typically surreal dream.

I was sitting on a bamboo platform, talking, in clear English, with a charming woman who appeared to be from somewhere in Asia. The platform was covered by an awning of plastic tarps that protected us from the hardest rain I've ever heard. We were surrounded by little waterfalls from the rain running off our improvised roof. It was difficult to follow the conversation in the white noise of raindrops slamming against the thin ceiling. The rain kept getting louder; we kept moving closer together in order to talk.

We were many kilometers from the nearest road in a camp captured from wildlife poachers. The forest rangers in our patrol were sitting around campfires, cooking, laughing, drinking, cleaning their guns, eating, bathing, and talking in a language I that couldn't understand. The air was viscous with smoke, humidity, boiling rice, mystery, mosquitos, isolation, frying meat, ancient animal perceptions almost extinguished, sweat, the screeching of cicadas, and the vapors of the poachers' moonshine that we were drinking. It was hard to see; the thick smoke from the fires dimmed the already weak light from a few tiny gas lamps.

The poachers, handcuffed, laid on the bamboo platform trying to sleep in spite of the cacophony. Their stillness and silence amplified every other sound, every other motion, every other thought.

I was exhausted, exhilarated. It was a wonderful conversation, but I don't remember a word of it. What I do recall is the rare and unambiguous sensation that everything that happened that night was being permanently burned into my memory. I knew that I was experiencing something fantastic that I couldn't possibly forget, ever.

An old Asian man who looked a little bit like my father sat up in the darkness in the corner of the platform, clapped his hands twice, and said something in a high voice I couldn't understand.

"He says it's time to go to sleep," the woman with whom I'd been talking all evening said.

She walked away into the dark rain. I'm sure I wasn't dreaming.

7 June 1999
Lovely Thailand Fun
I just got back from a three-day excursion in the jungle. I have leech bites, rattan scratches, shredded clothing, wasp stings, a mud-encrusted backpack, bamboo wounds, boots full of sludge from all the rivers I forded, blisters from walking in those wet boots, mosquito bites, sunburn, strange skin rashes, amnesia, euphoria.

At some point of the trek, when one of my waterlogged Nikons quit working, when I was dripping in sweat and rain from the top down and soaked in silty stream water from the bottom up, I told myself that I'd never come back to the jungle, never ever.

I lied. What lovely fun!

8 June 1999
Holiday in Cambodia
I'm in Poi Pet, Cambodia, to buy a saola skull. Saolas are so rare that they've only just been discovered and recognized as a species. I'm not sure what my do-gooder friends are going to do with the critter's skull. I suppose they'll use it to do some sort of good; that's what do-gooders do.

Poi Pet is an amazing border trading town, amazingly depressing. The streets are full of mud, motorbikes, mud, children, mud, corrugated tin shacks, mud, young men pulling huge carts through the mud, and still more mud. Tong Bai refused to go in; he said there were too many chemicals and poisons in the mud from years of napalm, agent orange, and other airborne poisons.

I spent the entire trip hearing the Dead Kennedys' Holiday in Cambodia in my head.

It's a holiday in Cambodia,
Where the slums have so much soul,
Pol Pot!

Poi Pet!

9 June 1999
Bean Eye
Now that I'm back to my slothful aesthetic pursuits, I recognize just how much I've recently wasted my time being a pseudo-journalistic photographer.

I've spent most of the past few days with a couple of big Nikons and a bag of lenses on my shoulder looking for just the right thirtieth of a second. (Photo-weenies curious about my choice of shutter speed should note that it was dark in the jungle, and that I don't like fast film.) I made around 300 photographs, so I "captured" about ten seconds of the last week on film. If I'm lucky, I'll have caught perhaps a few dozen semi-decisive moments, at the expense of not having seen much else.

At one point during my adventures I was looking for an object that was in plain sight directly in front of me. When I asked where the object was, my native guide said, "be nai," or something like that.

"What's 'be nai'?" I asked.

"It's 'bean eye,' like you have a bean for an eye," explained the guide. "It's a Thai expression that suits you."

It sure does.

10 June 1999
Tim and His Worm
Tim came back from Viet Nam with a new friend, a worm in his leg. It's apparently quite a creative worm; it's been making interesting patterns underneath his shin skin.

The two of them seem to be having a great time together. They just got back from a trip to the beach; tonight they're going out to dinner together then off to see a film. Tim's too much of a gentleman to say anything, but it wouldn't surprise me if they end up sleeping together.

If you can pick up friends in the Vietnamese jungle, you can make friends almost anywhere.

gratuitous image
11 June 1999
Lee Middleton (snaportrait)
Lee is a friend of mine.

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©1999 David Glenn Rinehart