VISITATION RITESSixteen Cistercian monks who inhabit the British island of Caldey rely on tourism to fund their abbey. When an oil spill in February spoiled the island's coastline, killing off the tourist trade, they tried to raise money by selling some of their prize cattle. Mad-cow disease ruined that venture. Finally the monks turned to television, giving up their vows of silence to make a series of commercials aimed at luring back tourists. "We have a strict rule of silence," Brother Robert said, "but we also have to live in the modern world." Bangkok, whose average winter low temperature is 67 degrees, is the planned site of a $25-million winter wonderland being built to boost tourism. Alphamax Corp., developer of a system that produces what it claims is natural snow, said the domed resort in the Thai capital will feature skiing, tobogganing, sleighing and skating, as well as such effects as blizzards, artificial glaciers and snow caves -- all in 0.6 acre. Tourism is Libya's fastest growing business -- despite the United Nations ban on commercial air travel there. Visitors travel overland from Tunisia or Egypt or ferry across the Mediterranean from Malta to see the Roman ruins at Leptis Magna, Sabrata and Cyrene or to spend months with Bedouin guides touring the desert.Vietnam announced plans to open a portion of the Ho Chi Minh Trail to tourists. Hikers will experience the rigors of the so-called American War by climbing steep paths and sleeping in villages where the North Vietnamese were once sheltered. Bucharest has only 19 functional toilets in the city available for tourists, according to Romania's daily newspaper Evenimentul Zilei. It reported most of the city's toilets are "too gruesome" to use.In June, Beijing staged China's first exhibition of public toilets in the Museum of the Chinese Revolution on Tiananmen Square. Its 1,200 photos, paintings and displays portray the country's 5,000 years of toilet history. "Many foreigners who come to China leave with a very deep impression of Chinese toilets," said the exhibition's organizer, Lou Xiaoqi. "They say China doesn't care about toilets, but it's not true." Further evidence to that effect comes from Shanghai, where only 60 percent of the residents have indoor plumbing and the rest use chamber pots that have to be emptied and cleaned daily. The city government invested nearly $1 million to build public toilets that resemble European villas, glitzy bars, even office buildings. The Los Angeles Times reported that a newly redecorated three-story public washroom on Nanyang Street was voted China's "Best Public Toilet." It features a mosaic-tiled entryway, wheelchair ramp, automatic hand dryer, air conditioning and a conference room with leather couches and a large-screen video-karaoke player. "We care about toilet culture," said Cui Yuzhen, 47, deputy director of the Jing An District Sanitation Department, who vowed, "by 2000 we will have ended the era of the chamber pot."DENNIS RODMAN IS IN THE HOUSEWomen commuters in Tehran beat up an Iranian man who rode on a bus dressed as a woman to win a $33 bet with his father. The newspaper Ettelaat reported that the 31-year-old man, identified only as Mohsen, rode in the segregated female rear section of the bus, but his large body and shoes gave him away. After the women beat him up, a court sentenced him to 20 lashes for committing "an ugly and improper" act.The gold-medal winners in men's volleyball at Thailand's national games in June will not be representing their country in international competition because the 12 men wear women's clothing. The teammates have had plastic surgery, have grown breasts and wear heavy makeup, but have not yet "changed our sexual organs" to become women, according to team coordinator Patphong Srinutham. Compared with most societies, Thais generally are more tolerant of cross-dressers, and some were surprised when told that fans from other countries might jeer if cross-dressers played in an international match. To avoid conflict, the winners bowed to the inevitable. "We have to admit that we want to be beautiful, wear makeup, long hair," team player Pitsanu Pleankum, 32, said. "So we know and accept that we cannot be in the national team and have to think about our country's reputation."THIS MOVIE'S A STINKERWhen ushers at a movie theater in Tokyo told a woman she would have to move because someone else had a ticket for the seat she was in, she sprayed a foul-smelling gas into the theater, injuring 28 people.CURSES, FOILED AGAINPolice searching for a bank robber in Fairfax County, Va., had no trouble finding their suspect. They went into a nearby subway station and saw a man matching the robber's description standing on the platform, with money and exploded dye hanging out of his pockets.When police responded to a bank alarm in Columbus, Ohio, they caught Timothy E. Lebo, 39, and Charles J. Kinser, 32, in a bank parking lot with a battered automated teller machine chained to their car. The men were arrested even though they insisted it wasn't an ATM but a washing machine.TOUGH LOVESocial workers in sub-Saharan Africa reported that wife-beating is so common in certain ethnic groups that if a man's wife dies without his having beaten her, he beats her corpse to prove his manhood. "As it stands now," researcher Janet Kabebri-Macharia told the Washington Post, "a lot of men -- and women -- think that beating your wife is something you do if you really care about her."In Tasmania, just-widowed Stella Serth was fined $300 for disorderly conduct because she danced on her husband's grave while singing "Who's Sorry Now."FOOTLOOSEHigh-school students in Kanpur, India, were banned from wearing shoes during their final exams after some students were found stuffing memory aids into their footwear.Compiled by Roland Sweet from the nation's press. Send clippings, citing source and date, to POB 8130, Alexandria VA 22306. Odd-news hounds will enjoy the latest compilation, "Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest: True News of the World's Least Competent People," by John J. Kohut and Roland Sweet (Plume/Penguin).