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Last Night In Bangkok

My final dispatch before coming home.

Bangkok is at once like every major international city you've ever been to, and also uniquely its own.

It is fantastically dirty, with sewage dumping directly into the Chao Praya River. That's right, the same river that serves as a major avenue of commerce and transportation for Bangkok is also a toilet.

Taking a water taxi through the various canals gives you a sense of the pointillist juxtaposition of poverty and wealth that makes up the city's overall impression. What do I mean? I mean that a dilapidated shack commonly sits next to a million-dollar compound.

Buddhist temples of vibrant coloration are found throughout the capital. And although the people are as friendly as Thai stereotypes suggest, you really do have to be on the lookout for scams.

More than once, we were accosted by apparently harmless "officials" who "helpfully" informed us that [fill in the blank] temple was closed for a Buddhist holiday. They do this in order to direct the hapless tourist toward whichever store they happen to receive kickbacks from.

Even when sufficiently informed about these scams, you're not entirely prepared for how helpful these men seem. We knew better, but I have to say, I was impressed with their spiel.

We've had the great fortune to stay at the Mandarin Oriental for the duration of our visit to Bangkok. It is, without exaggeration, a magical hotel, and I use the adjective magical rarely--if ever.

Our first night here, we met an attaché to the French ambassador to Vietnam, the former head of Ernst & Young's operations in the Middle East, and a direct descendant of John Witherspoon, signatory of the Declaration of Independence, who splits his time between London and Zurich.

Needless to say, my wife and I do not normally travel in such circles. But I did feel a small thrill in politely arguing with this group over cocktails. Surprisingly, the men regurgitated many of the same easily debunked ideas about government and finance you hear from any number of conservative hucksters.

They were, of course, very well-spoken, and far less shrill than your average talking head. Universally, they were genteel and charming, and one could easily see how multibillion-dollar deals are conducted over golf and tea that leave thousands of schleps out of work, or dead from methyl isocyanate poisoning as happened in Bhopal, India, in 1984.

Suspended so far above everyday concerns as the very wealthy are, it is easy to lose sight of the poverty and struggle that result from acquisitions and margin calls.

I don't fault them; after staying in this hotel, I'd prefer to live where they live too.

Given my career, however, it's about as likely as making it big with a fantasy series about an adolescent wizard and his sexually repressed cohorts who thwart evil with magically crooked phallic symbols and third-grade Latin.

In any case, I'll keep you posted, and will be back next week to skewer as many conservative cutouts and cultural clowns as Patch will allow.

Thanks for hanging out with me.

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