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Sunday 29 July 2012

Bangkok Posts: Ruffling Feathers with a Typewriter

I have been giving away a lot of typewriters lately. Perhaps the typewriter gods are smiling on me for doing this, because each time I give one away, I almost invariably and instantly get offered two back in return.
Just after the typewriter exhibition opened at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, I was asked to go into the ABC Radio studios to talk about typewriters on air with afternoon show host Louise Maher. Even before the producers had called back to ask me to take a typewriter in with me, I had decided to give one to Louise, and a “dispensable” Italian-made plastic Olympia Splendid portable had come readily to hand. The producers requested something that made a loud “ding”, and I figured Louise could get some excellent sound effects during our interview, from typing, “dinging” and winding on and ripping out paper from of the platen. It worked out exactly the way I imagined.
Louise was delighted with the gift, but no sooner had I walked out of the studio than one of the producers tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a note. A listener had called in during the show. “Lisa has two typewriters for you,” the note said. “Call her on …” [There was one good "catch" among this lot, too: An Imperial Good Companion Model T which had travelled extensively around the globe but was still in excellent condition.]
I popped my head back into the studio and waved the note at Louise: "Told you so," I said. The same thing had happened last year, when I was on ABC Radio in Melbourne with Alan Brough during the I Am Typewriter Festival. See.
Louise aside, it seems that lately I’ve been on a bent of trying to encourage, as far as I can, anyone under the age of 40 who shows the slightest interest in typewriters. What better way than to give them a nice typewriter, to get them on their way toward sharing my obsession?
This probably started late last year, when I gave workmate Michael Ruffles first a dull grey plastic Optima and then a small, black, restored 1950s Royal portable (see). Michael got plenty of use out of both, and was all set to join the Bijou on the Nile collaborative fiction project with the Royal when he decided instead to go on a clandestine trip to North Korea. As one does.
For me, one of the low points of the year so far was when Michael later quit The Canberra Times, left Australia and settled in Bangkok. He had proved not just a good friend but a brilliant all-round young journalist, and I knew I would miss his company. Michael is one of those rarities among Generation Y journalists who still actually cares about quality journalism, about newspapers in general, and about good writing, all of which is reflected in his work and demeanour.
I had to "upgrade" Michael's Royal, as the restored model didn't have a case
he could use to travel with, so he was given this later model instead.
Still, who am I to get in the way of true love? And Michael has found that with Penjai. So once Penjai had returned to Thailand from Australia, Bangkok irresistibly beckoned for Michael. At least there he is assured, for the time being, of the chance to continue using his undoubted skills as a print newspaper journalist, unlike the vast majority of his former Australian colleagues.
Penjai using the "restored" Royal in Murrumbateman late last year
What’s more, Michael has gone to join the English-language Bangkok Post with the interest in and knowledge of typewriters he had acquired in Canberra during the preceding 13 months (since he was the first to alert me to that silly business of Mumbai’s “last typewriters in the world”, a story which went feral on the Internet in April 2011).
And in the “retro” and antiques shops in a “cool” market in the inner-north suburbs of Bangkok, Michael has found a treasure trove of typewriters.
The second image, of a Salter No 10, is of a machine from the late
Tillman Elster's collection, as featured on the European Typewriter Project website put together by Will Davis.
The same applies to the second image of the Triumph, below.
First, this Salter Standard No 7, from 1907, for which the sellers want a very reasonable $1333.
Next, this Triumph Standard from around 1914, which had an asking price of $230.
Of course, Michael has not just spotted but has also offered to buy these two machines for me. So given what excellent “finds” they are, the “give one away, get two back” rule must be seen to apply in this case, too.
Brooklyn-born Bernard Trink in the Bangkok Post editorial office
with his stripped down Olympia.
Michael also messaged me to say:
“You'll be pleased to know a typewriter is still in use here at the Bangkok Post.
Bernard Trink, our book reviewer, comes in periodically and taps away. Every few minutes there is a ding.
“These words are then transcribed by some lucky person into cyber for us to edit. The typed notes are passed to the subs in case they need parsing …”
Michael informs me Trink now uses a Smith-Corona Classic 12. Apparently the big Olympia he used for many years has given up the ghost.
In a 2004 online, onsite interview, Trink was asked: “You still come in here everyday?” To which he replied:
“Until they axe the typewriter or move the desk or something like that. I mean, whenever I come in, I look at the typewriter to see that it is still here!  Yeah, same work environment as before.”
Not surprisingly, in 50 years of writing for Bangkok newspapers, Trink has gone through a few typewriters. In the same interview, he recalled: “When I moved from the [Bangkok] World to the Post [in 1987], it was really funny because I kept the same desk, same typewriter (not the [Olympia] on his desk now) which finally imploded.”
Until Michael told me about Trink, I had not been aware of him.  But a bit of research reveals he is something of a Bangkok living legend, most notably as the author of the infamous and long-running “Nite Owl” column in the now defunct World and in the Post, from which Trink signed himself off, “I don’t give a hoot!”
In December 2003, Trink was forced by management to sign off on the Nite Owl column one last time. To that date, it had run for 37 years and was claimed to be one of the longest-running columns anywhere in the world.
But Trink then took his column online and in 2004 he was still being described as Thailand’s “best known farang”. Farang (Thai: ฝรั่ง [faràŋ]) is a generic Thai word for someone of European ancestry, no matter where they may come from.
Trink was born in Brooklyn in 1931. He served for the US Army in the Korean War and found the Orient had some sort of irresistible  attraction. A some-time English language teacher, Trink said he “started the writing part of my journalistic career in Japan [where he lived for three years] … Worked for two English language papers there and even before that in Hong Kong I had done proofreading for the South China Morning Post. And even before that in India I was writing little stories.” He arrived in Bangkok in 1962. 
In 2002, the year before Trink was “retired” by the Post as its full-time entertainment editor, Seth Mydans described the 8pm start to Trink’s working day for a New York Times Saturday profile: “Bernard Trink walked into the newsroom and sat down at a gigantic battered typewriter. He took off his shoes, tugged off his socks, unbuckled his belt, unzipped his pants and leaned back…”
In 2000, Robert Horn reported in Time that, “Bernard Trink isn't very popular with the new generation of female staffers at the Bangkok Post. Many of them believe his weekly Nite Owl column doesn't belong in the paper. Trink, however, is a Bangkok institution.”
Time also reported Trink’s “retirement” in its Milestones column, on December 20, 2003: “Bernard Trink, 72, revered and reviled newspaperman … He wrote in a retro style in which press releases were preceded by the phrase, ‘The tom-toms have it ...’” Editor Veera Prateepchaikul was quoted as saying, “Do you want something that's modern, or something from 30-40 years ago?”
This photo of a young man called Craig using Trink’s typewriter was taken last year during a “Reporters for a day” visit by Bangkok Prep Year 4 students to the Post. “They pretty much take over the place as they act out their roles of student reporters and photographers.”
Trink’s typewriter was “the only one still in use in the editorial department”.
Trink recalled in his 2004 interview that his most memorable interviews were with Marlon Brando, Robert Mitchum, Sean Connery and Loretta Young (he actually found one of the Three Stooges one of the most fascinatingly insightful).  I guess we have two things in common: I also still use a typewriter (though with a USB fitting, see below) to write a weekly newspaper column, and we both interviewed Bob Hope, though Trink found Hope an interesting interviewee.
And like Trink in 2003, I am about to have “retirement” forced upon me by my newspaper’s management. That means my days of typewriter giving and receiving are now seriously numbered. Unlike Michael Ruffles at the Bangkok Post, I will no longer be able to use my skills as a print newspaper journalist. I am not alone: I will be joining a large army of Australian journalists in these forced redundancies. In my case, 47 years of newspaper experience around the world will go down the drain.
*Trink is the subject of an unauthorised biography by Jennifer Bliss, called But, I Don't Give a Hoot, 2000.


L Casey said...

Great post! That Salter is absolutely beautiful, and I hope you take Michael up on his offer.
How much longer do you have until 'retirement'? I wish you all the best of luck with this, and all else, Robert.

Thanks so much for sharing.

Bill M said...

Very wonderful post! Trink seems a very interesting character. It is a shame the newspapers have been falling apart for about the past 20 years and we are loosing all the good old journalists.

Venus said...

Michael, I'm glad to hear that you have found home away from home in Bangkok and true love! Wish you all the best!!

Anonymous said...

Hello! Would you happen to know where I can find typewriters in Bangkok?
Thanks in advance!