- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 19, 2003

BANGKOK (AP) — President Bush took his cue yesterday from the Buddha — a serene, meditative figure — and wasn’t too chatty.

On their first full day in the Thai capital, Mr. Bush and first lady Laura Bush toured the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, one of the most sacred in Thailand.

“Inspiring,” Mr. Bush said of the brightly colored buildings, golden spires and glittering mosaics that date back to 1782.

The president and his wife removed their shoes in the temple and walked up to stand close to the sculpture, said presidential spokesman Scott McClellan.

“Beautiful,” Mr. McClellan recalled the president saying.

If you are a gambler, odds are you have taken the Thai government’s suggestion to leave the capital during the major economic summit here.

Trying to clear Bangkok of its notorious traffic jams and improve security, the Thai government called a five-day holiday during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which ends tomorrow.

That sparked an exodus to the countryside, and thousands of hard-core gamblers filled the eight casinos in the Thai-Cambodian border town of Poipet, the Bangkok Post said.

In fact, resort areas throughout Thailand were reporting a booming business. One forecast estimated as much as $100 million might be injected into the tourism sector during the holiday period.

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President Bush welcomed China to the space club yesterday, four decades after the Soviet Union and the United States pioneered manned spaceflight.

During a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Mr. Bush saluted China for the successful mission of astronaut Lt. Col. Yang Liwei. His flight capped a decade-long effort by China’s secretive space program.

“The United States warmly welcomes the People’s Republic of China’s achievement in becoming only the third country to launch an astronaut into space, and wishes you continued success in this endeavor,” Mr. Bush wrote in a letter.

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin launched manned spaceflight when he orbited the Earth in 1961. The United States sent Alan B. Shepard Jr. into space less than a month later. In 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth.

A state dinner with the Thai king and queen at Bangkok’s Grand Palace last night gave an amused President Bush and his White House entourage a quick lesson in the elaborate protocol that governs Thai greetings.

Mr. Bush and first lady Laura Bush took their places in a receiving line alongside King Bhumiphol, Queen Sirikit and a few other Thai royals in the ornate Chakri Throne Hall.

One by one, the titles (but not the names) of the aides accompanying Mr. Bush were read off as they approached the line. All had been briefed to make sure not to reach for the king or queen’s hand in greeting, but rather to perform only a small, Thai-style tip from the waist.

Because of his exalted stature, the only acceptable response from the king was the barely perceptible half-nod he sent in his guests’ direction.

All this had Mr. Bush in high humor, his eyebrows moving up and down furiously as top American officials and White House staff moved past.

As for the Thais, they apparently were struck by the novelty of reporters’ presence that came along with Mr. Bush’s attendance at the dinner.

The king cast a sidelong look at the small representative contingent of Mr. Bush’s traveling press corps as they were brought inside for the predinner greetings. As the U.S. journalists were escorted out, a man was overheard exclaiming that they represented a significant increase in all previous press appearances there.

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