Modern Republicans, of course:
Friday, March 19, 2010
Thursday, March 18, 2010
As father fades, his children fight
Behind the present unrest in Thailand lie far deeper fears about the royal succession. And those may not be spoken publicly
Mar 18th 2010
From The Economist print edition
IN TRUCKS, boats and buses, protesters streamed into Bangkok for a non-stop rally that was billed as a “people’s war against the elite”. By March 14th the crowd, all wearing bright red and brimming with elation, had passed 100,000. On the stage, speakers railed against the government and its royal and military enablers. Banners read “No Justice, No Peace”. Another bruising round in Thailand’s protracted power-struggle was under way, with no clear end in sight.
By mid-week the red shirts seemed no closer to their goal of forcing out the prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, and forcing new elections. The army stands squarely behind Mr Abhisit, who took power 15 months ago by a parliamentary fix and remains the hero of Bangkok’s myopic monied classes, as well as the yellow-shirted protesters who support the status quo. But in a one-man, one-vote democracy, the have-nots hold the key to success.
Thailand’s twice-elected and now fugitive former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, understood this well. He has refused to keep quiet since the army ousted him in 2006. A court ruling on February 26th to seize $1.4 billion of his fortune has only made him angrier. Many red shirts consider Mr Thaksin to be the country’s true leader and, despite his enormous wealth and privileged life, make common cause with him.
Ruling-party politicians complain that the lowly red shirts are paid proxies and do not represent mainstream opinion. They bat away the idea that an election may be the only way to prove their point, arguing that an orderly vote is impossible amid the tumult. Most of all, they blame Mr Thaksin for the uproar.
But there is another figure in the political landscape to consider: King Bhumibol Adulyadej, at 82 the world’s longest-reigning monarch. At the rally site, a giant spotlit portrait of him gazed down impassively on the red-shirted crowds. To Thailand’s royalist movement the monarch is the nation’s father, and the “fighting children” on the streets are a source of distress to him. Some fear that Thailand’s troubles may be thwarting King Bhumibol’s full recovery from the respiratory illness that has kept him in hospital since September.
But it is precisely because “father” is on his way out that his “children” are fighting. The death of a monarch is always a moment of national drama and self-reflection. Thais feel a dread of it. Few have known any king other than Bhumibol, who ascended in 1946 to an institution that had slipped into irrelevance. As military rule gave way to a semi-functional democracy, the palace served as a respected power-broker. But its legitimacy depended on the charisma of King Bhumibol and the stealth of his courtiers.
The palace insists that the king is alert and active. But Thais already fear a destabilising royal succession. Investors are especially worried, and the more so because lèse-majesté laws discourage frank talk about it. When a large Thai brokerage polled fund managers about political risk factors in 2010, 42% of respondents chose what the brokerage describes as “a change that cannot be mentioned”. Rumours of King Bhumibol’s death last October sparked a two-day equities sell-off and a furious government witch-hunt for rumour-spreaders. The real thing is likely to outdo that rout.
Thailand has already endured four years of turmoil. The death toll has been low so far, but the rage unleashed last April, when red shirts fought the army in Bangkok, was a glimpse of how deep passions run. Splits within the army itself are starting to appear. Even if fears of all-out civil war seem overblown, it is reasonable to expect more years of political confrontation and paralysis.
The crown itself should pass smoothly. The designated male heir is Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, aged 57, and there is not much scope for doubt about his claim. A long mourning period, perhaps six months or more, will allow a pause in the political dogfight. Some protagonists may come to their senses and seek a compromise. The death of King Bhumibol would also signal a generational shift in Thailand: younger voices could start to be heard.
But this king will be a most difficult act to follow, and Prince Vajiralongkorn is already widely loathed and feared. Most Thais try not even to think about his accession. “This reign ends. And then, nothing,” says an academic. The next ruler must fill the shoes of a beatified icon whose achievements have been swathed in a personality cult. The role of a crown prince in an era of great longevity and public scrutiny is tough anywhere. In Thailand it verges on the impossible. “How do you follow someone who walks on water?” asks a senior Western diplomat.
Doubts about the prince
This conundrum is a familiar one. King Vajiravudh, Rama VI, who assumed the throne in 1910, had a rough ride in the shadow of his father, King Chulalongkorn, a vigorous moderniser. Even before he ascended to the throne he was tainted by palace gossip of alleged bad behaviour, according to Thongchai Winichakul, a Thai historian at the University of Wisconsin. Vajiravudh was a “fantastic poet and playwright” but an also-ran monarch who was eclipsed by his exalted predecessor. “The royals shot themselves in the foot,” Mr Thongchai told a recent public seminar.
His successor, Prajadhipok, Rama VII, fared worse. A bloodless 1932 coup ended absolute rule and nudged the Thai monarchy towards the margins. Prajadhipok fled to exile in London and abdicated in 1935, deepening the drift. He handed over to Rama VIII, King Bhumibol’s elder brother, who died in 1946 after a mysterious shot to the head. Bhumibol was proclaimed king the same day, and promptly returned to Switzerland to complete his studies.
In 1926 Prajadhipok had written frankly about the shortcomings of dynastic rule. In a letter, he wrestled with the clash between a society in flux and the law of hereditary kingship, a clash that seems to hang over Thailand today. The king’s rule was one “of great difficulty” as public opinion had turned against absolute rule. He fretted over who might be coming next. “Some sort of guarantee must be found against an unwise king,” he wrote.
Nearly a century on, no such guarantee exists. Instead, Thais are faced with the prospect of Prince Vajiralongkorn, a career army officer and fighter pilot, who has already assumed many ceremonial duties from his father. Largely absent in recent years on jaunts around Europe, he is now back in Thailand and in the public eye. The signals are loud and clear. Two weeks after King Bhumibol’s birthday speech, the Bangkok Post ran a stiff, respectful profile of him under the headline: “King in Waiting”.
For Thais used to King Bhumibol’s virtues, which include monogamy, Buddhist piety and old-fashioned thrift, the crown prince is a poor substitute. Salacious stories of his private life are daily gossip. A video circulated widely in 2007 showed his third wife, known as the “royal consort”, at a formal dinner with the prince in a titillating state of undress. Diplomats say Prince Vajiralongkorn is unpredictable to the point of eccentricity: lavishing attention on his pet poodle Fu Fu, for example, who has military rank and, on occasion, sits among guests at gala dinners. In the 1980s his rumoured ties to the criminal underworld, which he denied in a newspaper interview, inspired the gangster nickname of “Sia O”.
In contrast, Princess Sirindhorn, his sister, enjoys a saintly image as a patron of charity. Many Thais are praying for an eleventh-hour change that installs her on the throne. Some army and palace factions are said to favour the princess as the next ruler. Other possibilities aired in recent years are a jump to Prince Vajiralongkorn’s children, such as his youngest, Prince Tipangkara, with a regent, perhaps Princess Sirindhorn. The leaked video was presumably a bid to discredit the prince and push other options. So far, however, King Bhumibol seems to have made up his mind that Prince Vajiralongkorn will succeed him.
Vajiralongkorn, meddling already
Paul Handley, the king’s unofficial biographer, whose book is banned in Thailand, thinks there is a tiny possibility that King Bhumibol could decide on his deathbed to disinherit Prince Vajiralongkorn. That would require a written command. Life in exile in Europe might suit the prince, who would not want for money or diversions. Inevitably there are other, bloodier, predictions of how he might be removed from the succession. This might explain why soldiers in his personal guard are not allowed to wear guns in his presence.
One reason why Prince Vajiralongkorn is distrusted in military circles is his past association with Mr Thaksin, who was ousted by a military coup in 2006. Mr Thaksin, a telecoms billionaire turned populist politician, was said to have lavished money on the prince. That may have been the real reason for the coup, which appeared to have the blessing of Prem Tinsulanonda, the chairman of the Privy Council and thus the king’s chief adviser. The fact that Mr Thaksin, who is living in exile in Dubai, is still in contact with the prince is deeply troubling for those same royalists. In a recent interview with a British newspaper, the former prime minister lavishly praised the heir to the throne.
Nobody knows what kind of ruler Prince Vajiralongkorn would be. Sulak Sivaraksa, a veteran royal observer and social activist, says that the prince has matured during his third marriage and is more respectful of others than in the past. Others say that he is still easily bored by royal duties, unlike Princess Sirindhorn, who lives for them. Above all, say royal watchers, he needs able courtiers to steer him through the political pitfalls ahead. Many believe that Prince Vajiralongkorn will replace the Privy Council with his own men. For senior courtiers who have served the king and look askance at his successor, an exit will be welcome. But the new men “will definitely not have the calibre” of the current crop, says a foreign scholar.
Mighty but clumsy
A taste of this came last year when Mr Abhisit, the prime minister, tried to reshuffle the police force. His choice for police chief was blocked by members of his own team, including Nipon Prompan, an aide to Prince Vajiralongkorn, who lobbied for another candidate. A “powerful and mighty” backer was reported to be pushing the second man, a former head of national intelligence under Mr Thaksin. Mr Nipon later resigned from the cabinet. Mr Abhisit was unable to confirm his man, who is currently acting chief. The row exposed Prince Vajiralongkorn’s clumsy meddling. It also provoked apoplexy among King Bhumibol’s courtiers, says a palace source. Prince Vajiralongkorn was told that “we don’t do things like this,” the source says.
In fact, the palace has long patronised loyalists in the army and bureaucracy. This is how power operates in Thailand. What made Mr Thaksin such a threat to the palace was his determination to exert similar control. In turn, Prince Vajiralongkorn is itching to meddle in the annual autumnal shuffle of senior jobs in the armed forces and extend his support base, says a senior Asian diplomat. How far he succeeds may determine how long he lasts. Another possibility is a royal pardon for Mr Thaksin so that he can return to manage state affairs for the new king. This would delight the red shirts. But it would appal Bangkok’s elite and split the army. As for courting public support, this seems far-fetched. The prince knows he is unpopular, says a political acquaintance, but “he doesn’t care.”
One way out of this predicament would be to shrink the Thai monarchy back to its previous size. Top-down reform of the institution is more palatable than a push from below with republican overtones. Under King Bhumibol its stock has fallen already from its zenith in May 1992, when he could order a military dictator to cease and desist. Recent years have exposed the limits of his powers. In 2008 the king was unable to stop the People’s Alliance for Democracy from sowing chaos in his name. “We expect too much of him,” sighs a senior courtier.
Clearly Thailand needs a new equilibrium. Some fear that the power vacuum left by an enfeebled monarchy will be filled by the army, which is already the steel behind the palace’s gilded façade. But the generals who seized power in a coup in 2006 did a dismal job of running the country, and had to return power to the voters 15 months later. Business families do not want a repeat performance, and would prefer to have politicians and professionals in charge. Several banned MPs, some hoping to lead parties, will re-enter the field in 2012. But the rules of the game will need to be reset.
Some might argue that King Bhumibol shares the blame for the failure of democratic institutions to take root in Thailand. Relying on “a few good men” and the army to steer the country has left it in the lurch, says Mr Handley.
It is a sad twilight for the monarch. Thailand was once an outpost of freedom in a fairly repressive region. Scrappy politics did not choke rapid economic growth, as the bureaucrats kept a steady hand on day-to-day management. In the 1990s Western rights activists hoped that the dynamism of Thai civil society might spread to neighbouring countries. Instead, some now see Thailand as a cautionary tale of a botched democracy.
That may be too harsh. Thailand’s rival red and yellow mobs disagree about democracy, but both want a fair political system. To measure tolerance, the California-based Asia Foundation last year surveyed Thais about their views. It found that 79% of respondents would allow unpopular political parties to meet in their area. Only 6% said that they would stop seeing a friend who had joined a rival party. These are healthier figures than in other Asian democracies. Almost everyone agreed that democracy was the best form of government, though 30% would accept authoritarian rule in certain circumstances.
Thailand has not yet given up on democracy. But taking stock of its troubled politics should include talking about the crown. Of course, it is distasteful—and inauspicious, Thais believe—to speak of King Bhumibol’s death. But it is unavoidable. The stakes are too high. Respect and fear have kept a lid on the debate. Anyone who speaks out of turn in Thailand risks arrest under the lèse-majesté laws or a new, equally nasty computer-crimes law. Several people have been prosecuted for defaming the king and his family, including an Australian jailed (until freed by a royal pardon) for writing a novel that contained an unflattering depiction of the crown prince.
Behind closed doors, a spirited debate goes on over the fate of the monarchy when the king dies. An old prophecy holds that the Chakri dynasty will last only nine generations. King Bhumibol is Rama IX. Republican voices are rising to the surface—unreported in Thailand’s pliant media. The Bangkok Post struck a typical tone of pride and menace in its birthday eulogy for the king in December: “The Thai people’s love for his majesty is so ingrained in the national psyche that to declare otherwise is unthinkable.”
Gagged and flagging
Within palace circles, however, there is a dawning realisation that change is coming. Senior royalists know that King Bhumibol’s charisma and influence will not easily transfer to his successor. This is the crux of Thailand’s royal impasse. And King Bhumibol knows it, says Mr Sulak. As he puts it, the king “would like to see that the next reign will not be bloody.”
To this end, King Bhumibol recently asked three trusted emissaries to present ideas for reforming the institution, according to Mr Sulak. One emissary asked for Mr Sulak’s advice, explaining that the findings would be for the king’s eyes only. Mr Sulak replied that the palace must be transparent about its finances, including some $35 billion in assets managed by the Crown Property Bureau, decouple itself from the army and open up to public criticism. Only by becoming a European-style figurehead can a future monarch survive, he argues.
Preserving the tree
Mr Sulak has often been accused of lèse-majesté. He insists that he is a monarchist at heart. “To pull down the tree is easy. But I think it’s better to preserve it,” he says. Such steps just might rescue the Chakri dynasty. But a radical rethink seems unlikely. Allowing opponents to attack an insecure ruler could quickly escalate. Under King Bhumibol the silencing of opponents has been controversial, but many tolerate it out of respect. Prince Vajiralongkorn can expect no such leeway.
What might a diminished monarchy look like? Thailand may not be ready for such a thing. In Spain, the palace’s annual household budget of €9m ($12m) is audited by the government. Norway puts its royal accounts on a website. It is impossible to find out how much Thailand’s jet-setting royals spend. Japan may be a better model, as a respectful national press keeps its distance.
It took defeat in the second world war and an American occupation to curtail the powers of Japan’s emperor. Other royal houses were whittled down to size by assertive parliaments. This happened in Thailand in 1932, but was later reversed under King Bhumibol. Clearly, some constitutional fixes would be needed to shrink the sovereign’s role. But power in Thailand flows along patronage networks that start with the king. That is why elected ministers who care about their careers are continually looking over their shoulders for signals from the palace. Mr Abhisit attends so many royal ribbon-cuttings that it is hard to imagine how he finds time to govern, says a senior Western diplomat.
Royal censorship has kept much of this debate under wraps. That is a pity. King Bhumibol famously said in 2005 that he was not above criticism. But not many are ready to test that. Though the internet is humming with opinions, the taboo still stands. And because the country has never had a chance to talk openly, people cannot prepare themselves for what may be a rough road ahead.
Attention anyone living and traveling around Asia. Matt Gross of the New York Times has posted an excellent, excellent article about finding the cheapest air fares within Asia. This is a must read and clip article that will save you tons of money.
Matt Gross the Frugal Traveler on Cheap Air Fares Within Asia
Visit the website above for hot links. Here's a small sample:
A trio of Web sites — WhichBudget.com, FlyBudget.com and FlyLowCostAirlines.org — aims to answer exactly these questions. They all do almost exactly the same thing: Enter one location (anywhere in the world, not just Asia), and they’ll tell you which low-cost carriers fly directly from there, and the various destinations. That’s it! It seems like a simple thing, but with low-cost carriers adding and deleting routes throughout the world, it’s not..
Instead, visit SkyScanner.net, Momondo.com or WeGo.com, all of which let you comparison-shop by route and price, and among airlines both low-cost and traditional. Even though the companies are scattered all over the world (SkyScanner in Scotland and Poland; Momondo in Denmark; WeGo in Singapore), they’re all fairly similar with regard to design and functionality. Indeed, they probably look a lot like the travel booking site you already use
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Visitors who enjoy visiting temples in Bangkok, but have seen all the familiar wats in the modern enclaves, may want to cross the river and explore the forgotten and largely abandoned temples of Thonburi. With the aid of a map from 1910, that's exactly what one enterprising professor has been doing the last few years. This Bangkok Post article didn't include a map, but the descriptions are good enough that you should be able to find most of the following temples. I'd advise hiring a tuk tuk and make a day of it.
Eleven deserted wats in Thon Buri reveal the history of communities from the early Ayutthaya period
Published: 14/03/2010 at 12:00 AM
With an adventurous spirit and love for his community, Prabhassara Chuvichean, a lecturer at Silpakorn University's Faculty of Archaeology, set out in search for deserted temples in Thon Buri. He was looking for artistic and archaeological evidence to confirm that temples in Thon Buri on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River are older than those on the east bank, the site of present-day Bangkok.
"It is clear that Thon Buri is the site of an ancient community that dates back several hundreds years to before Bangkok became the capital," Mr Prabhassara said.
He said the Chao Phraya River originally flowed northwards at this point, curved up towards present-day Taling Chan, then turned south and swirled towards Phra Pradaeng and Pak Nam. These areas are where ancient temples and communities were established.
"During my research, I found deserted temples located within the curves of the river and its satellite streams," said Mr Prabhassara, recounting field surveys he conducted in 2006 based on art historian Nor Na Pak Nam's paper, "Silpakam Nai Bangkok" (Art in Bangkok), which explored more than 100 ancient temples in Thon Buri in 1970. He also conducted a comparative study between earlier and the latest versions of maps. The Survey Department's most recent city map marks some temples as deserted, while maps made between 1905 and 1931 mark them as active temples with monks.
"Some deserted temples exist and bear new names, while there are traces of certain missing temples such as the bases of ubosot [ordination halls] and vihara [chapels]. In the end, I found 11 deserted temples in Thon Buri," he said.
The deserted temples are Wat Phoommarin Ratchapaksi, Wat Noi Thongyoo, Wat Suan Sawan, Wat Pikul Nai, Wat Angkula, Wat Kradang-nga, Wat Suwannakhiri, Wat Mai Wichian, Wat Viharn Luang Phor Khao, Wat See Bart and Wat Nak. Their ordination halls, chapels, Buddha images and ruins date from the late Ayutthaya to the early Bangkok period. The most outstanding evidence is a fragment of a red sandstone sema, a boundary marker, found at Wat Nak, a deserted temple on Rama II Road.
In 2006, Mr Prabhassara first explored Wat Phoommarin Ratchapaksi at the mouth of the Bangkok Noi canal near the foot of the Phra Pin Klao Bridge. This temple was merged into Wat Dusidaram during the reign of King Rama VI when only one monk remained there. Its name is stated on a map made in 1910 but it is omitted from the latest version. However, there is evidence to prove its existence.
The temple's ubosoth and vihara remain in place. Their curvy shape reflects the Ayutthaya style. Decorated with stucco art, their roofs, windows and doors are still in excellent condition. The stucco detailing above the entrances are extraordinary.
One of the ubosoth features a peacock fully spreading its wings. Above the chapel's front entrance is a depiction of the god Vishnu riding his garuda. Murals on the interior walls of both buildings feature rows of angels. Their colours are mostly faded. Between both buildings stands a hor trai (dharma library). Behind one of the buildings is a large standing Buddha statue.
Another temple, Wat Noi Thongyoo, was also merged into Wat Dusidaram in 1945 after being destroyed by a bomb blast during World War Two.
"After some exploration, I found a pagoda with five broken tops, north of Wat Dusidaram School near a bus garage at the foot of the Phra Pin Klao Bridge. I believe this is the former site of Wat Noi Thongyoo as it is quite far from Wat Dusidaram. This pagoda is in the early Bangkok period architecture," the archaeologist said.
Later, Mr Prabhassara honed his search for Wat Suan Sawan by using the 1910 map, which indicated it to be behind Wat Kharuehabodi in Bang Phat, opposite Thewes pier.
"First, I thought there would be nothing left. But after walking through the alleyways under Rama VIII Bridge, I saw an alley named Suan Sawan. In there stood Wat Suan Sawan's deteriorating ubosoth," he recalled.
Despite its rotten wooden components, the tiled roof of this ubosoth sports intact stucco art depicting the story of Phra Malai, a monk who visited heaven and spoke with the god Indra. The backdrop is Chedi Chulamanee.
Inside the ubosoth stands the image of the Lord Buddha and some of his followers. The presiding Buddha statue, named Luang Phor Dam, is covered in black lacquer. Behind it are two small windows. The side walls are in the shape of a lotus petal placed upwards, which is similar to the art of the late Ayutthaya period after the reign of King Narai. The ceiling is painted in red and adorned with gold stars. The rarest elements are the granite sema, which were cut and curved to fit each corner of the ubosoth. Two tall Phra Prang-style pagodas, one of which is now in the compound of a house, reflect Bangkok period art.
Mr Prabhassara then looked for the location of Wat Pikul Nai in Bang Bamru, according to the 1910 map. Near the Bang Bamru railway station and the south-bound railroad, he came across a Thai-style pavilion with a sign, "Luang Phor Yai". Inside it are several Buddha statues from the Ayutthaya period. The chairing Buddha statue named Luang Phor Yai is positioned in the mara vichai (subduing Mara) posture. Despite being covered in gold lacquer, it is very likely to be made of sandstone. Behind its base lies a small sema from the late Ayutthaya to early Bangkok period. There are also broken pieces of red bricks dating to the Ayutthaya period. The location of this pavilion matches that of Wat Pikul Nai, which is believed to have been deserted after the construction of the railroad.
While travelling along the Bang Ramat canal in Taling Chan, Mr Prabhassara spotted a sign, "Wat Angkula Rang" (deserted Angkula temple), near Wat Chang Lek. There, a base of what he believes to be an ubosoth as well as an Ayutthaya-style Buddha image named Luang Phor Dam remains. Scattered roof tiles lying nearby date from the middle to late Ayutthaya period.
The archaeologist also tried to find another deserted temple named Wat Kradang-nga. The map of 1910 refers to Wat Kradang-nga as a deserted temple, west of Wat Champa along the Bang Ramat canal. He found no trace, but met a woman who said her house was built during World War II on a plot of land which used to be part of Wat Kradang-nga.
The next temple on the search list was Wat Wichian, or Wat Mai Wichian. It was supposed to be near Tha Phra intersection in Bangkok Yai. Mr Prabhassara walked into nearby fruit orchards and finally saw this temple behind Wat Ratchasittharam. It is no longer a deserted temple as some monks have moved in. However, there is only one vihara left there. Inside the chapel lies a Buddha image, set in the reclining position. His face looks like that of a puppet, in the art style of the early Bangkok period.
Mr Prabhassara later explored the banks of the Bang Chak canal where many temples, including Wat Sala See Na, Wat Bosth, Wat Kampaeng and Wat Thong once stood, according to the map of 1910. He finally found a deserted temple named Wat Suwannakhiri in the compound of the Sutham Suksa School. Now, it is just a religious pavilion with a seated Buddha image dating back to the Ayutthaya period inside. Above its entrance is a sign saying "Suwannakhiri". One of the school owners said this pavilion was the only thing left when her grandfather built this school there.
On another day, Mr Prabhassara started his exploration at Wat Sing on Rama II Road and strolled along the Dan canal. Eventually, he spotted a deserted temple whose real name is unknown. It is called Viharn Luang Phor Khao. Inside the pavilion is a white image of Buddha.
After that, he searched for Wat See Bart, opposite Wat Kok, according to the 1910 map. From Wat Kok, he crossed the Dan canal and found an old structure beneath a new building. Inside this chapel is a Buddha statue called Luang Phor Phet.
It is covered with thick layers of gold leaves. Nor Na Pak Nam called this temple Wat Nak like some people did. He wrote: "There is nothing left but the ruins of Phra Ubosoth on a high mound like those at Wat Kampaeng. The front section of this roofless ubosoth has all collapsed. Remaining there is only a large Buddha image believed to date to the late Ayutthaya period. His face is long and his lap is five-sok [an ancient Thai measurement equivalent to about 50cm] wide. A few headless sandstone Buddha statues were also found scattered on the ground. So was a medium-sized terracotta or red sandstone sema. It is half a sok in height and dates to the late Ayutthaya period, around the reign of King Thai Sra."
As the real Wat Nak is elsewhere, Mr Prabhassara walked further, crossed the Dan canal and entered a community. Behind a house stands a brick building covering the deserted Wat Nak's old ubosoth. In there is a large seated Buddha image named Luang Phor Daeng with a square face and an Ayutthaya-style head. This image is probably made of red sandstone, but it is painted red now.
At Wat Nak, Mr Prabhassara discovered a fragment of a sandstone sema dating to more than 500 years ago. This sema depicts a flora design within a series of triangular and rhombus-shaped frames and an eight-petal flower design on the sides of the base.
"As its art style belongs to the early and middle Ayutthaya period, this sema is considered the oldest artifact discovered in the area," Mr Prabhassara said.
The discovery of the sema also supports the fact that the Dan canal was used by ancient people as a transportation route to the sea during the early and middle Ayutthaya periods, as stated in the Kamsuan Samut, a classical piece of prose written in the Ayutthaya period.
The Dan canal connects the old Chao Phraya River, which is now the Bang Luang canal or the Bangkok Yai canal, and flows southwest to the Tha Cheen River in Samut Sakhon, according to Sujit Wongthes's book, Maenam Lamkhlong Sai Prawattisart.
"The presence of the sema supports the theory that, since the early Ayutthaya period, there must have been communities along this route which linked the Chao Phraya River to other places including Ratchaburi, Phetchaburi, Marid and Tanao Sri. This confirms the Dan canal has long been used since ancient times," Mr Prabhassara said.
The lecturer concluded that many pieces of artistic and archaeological evidence discovered at these deserted temples in Thon Buri delve into the long history of communities on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. Unfortunately, these temples are now in decay and under natural and human threat, especially the expansion of Bangkok's suburbs.
"The temples, art works and surroundings prove the importance of Thon Buri. However, the rapid changes being made to the area are of serious concern. Condos are mushrooming. Each new road comes at the cost of pagodas. Development is necessary, but we can move slowly and encourage locals to be proud of their communities, heritage and history," Mr Prabhassara said.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Here's an odd but enduring tilt-shift video of San Francisco with some misplaced labels and Alcatraz, which appears to be covered in snow. My new residence almost made the cut, but apparently the videographers don't appreciate the unique charms of the Tenderloin. They also missed my former residence at the Dalt Hotel, right in the heart of soul of Crack Central.
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
I recently moved from the Dalt Hotel back to Civic Center Residence, and had one hell of a time getting back online. What can I say, except that AT&T has the world's worst service. Complete idiots. So I've changed my internet provider to Comcast.
I should return to posting in the next few days. Thanks for your patience.
Posted by Carl Parkes on Tuesday, March 02, 2010