Monday, August 30, 2004

My fascination with Ban Chiang

Ban Chiang, its discovery, its pots, the mystery of its people captivated me from the moment I stumbled on the first pictures of the pots. I drew the images, I searched out all the books I could get my hands on in Bangkok, and continue to look for more information. Despite its deep historical and archeological implications, there is frustratingly little public information, the internet has helped a bit, but not enough. I think I should just warn my readers that I will probably tend to be obsessive with this subject and come back to it again and again.

Ban Chiang is preserved as a World Heritage Site.

The best website on this subject is University of Penn State.

I recently discovered this photo in University of Hawaii's Ban Chiang Gallery

Disappointed that I can't find much deep information from Thai sources apart from touristic info sites.

However, I did find the official site of the Ban Chiang Museum here.

You can find some picutes of Ban Chiang pots shown in these websites below. For me, it is a somewhat sad reminder of all the smuggling that occurred when the dig was first discovered in the 60s. The pots became so much in demand that such good fakes, that were nearly impossible to detect as fakes, were sold. (Note: no connections with the ones shown here.)

Tinny Fishers Antiques

Hundred & One Antiques

Shaw Collection

Vase from Suan Pakard Museum

List of other interesting websites I found related to Ban Chiang:

Image from Met Timeline

Wikipedia page on Ban Chiang

A page of Museum Presentation Association's Exhibit on Prehistoric Thai Ceramics: Ban Chiang In Regional Cultural Perspective

The Crucibles of Ban Chiang, by Dr. William Vernon

A Ban Chiang ritual bell, (most of Ban Chiang's amazing bronze artifacts tends to be overshadowed by the much more interesting pottery)

The making of oral history in Thailand

A paper on "The making of oral history in Thailand" was presented at the 65th International Library Associations and Institutions on August, 1999.

Rujaya Abhakorn, Department of History, Chiang Mai University, writes about the paper:

"This paper is based on a rough survey, with the kind assistance of Nakharin Mektrairat and Warunee Osatharom of Thammasat University, of "oral history projects" conducted since 1976 as well as publications that used oral interviews. The result shows that a state agency, the National Archives, and academic historians have played the most active roles in the making of oral history in the modern era. There appears to be three types of oral history, all of which are political in nature, but reflecting three different concerns: the history of the state, the history of the democratic movement and the history of the people."

An explanation of "What is oral heritage" prepared by Thai Library Association can be found here.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Who are the Tai?

A few months ago I found this very thought provoking article Who are the Tai? A Discourse of Place, Activity and Person that was presented by RICHARD A. O'CONNOR of the University of the South.

Here are some intresting quotes from his paper:

"Asking 'who are the Tai?' already presumes there are Tai. Are there Tai? No, not if that means a timeless ethnic whole.....All groups are always changing, and if their boundaries are absolute then we can't cross them to discover what's there anyway. Why then do we imagine 'Tai' as a fixed group that once had or now has a single consistent culture? We're creatures of our era. Ours is an age that imagines discrete peoples swept along or away by progress. That's the modern story. My own discipline, anthropology, gets caught up in this teleology which creates cultures that don't exist whose passing we then mourn."
"Building upon Leach, Moerman and Condominas' insights, scholarship on the region suggests four working truths. 'Working' means open to revision. Our four are thus first approximations. ... First, the Tai are a wet-rice people... Second, the Tai are social-cum-political entrepreneurs ... Third, Tai live in place-defined groups ... Fourth, Tai ethnicize difference"
"That requires me to retheorize culture and redefine the Tai."
"I propose three changes. First, to bring contradiction and power into our model as it is in life, we should equate culture with the openness of discourse rather than the closure of a code or text. Second, to ground our constructs empirically, we should focus on functionally and historically specific Tai complexes that we can study in the field. That's what 'place,' 'activity' and 'person' are. Third, to keep culture open, we need to stress the interaction of semi-autonomous complexes within a regional tradition rather than the integration of a single timeless ethnic whole. Making this shift redefines the Tai."
"What I'm calling the Tai tradition is a largely inherited set of well institutionalized cultural complexes. We might liken each to a tradition within a larger Tai tradition. I identify and group these complexes as 'place,' 'activity' and 'person.' That triad is my grouping."

By chance I found another web article about a DAAC study that follows O'Connor's thinking about the spread of the Tais, from a linguistic and geographical perspective: "Tais that Bind" written by Rachel Hauser in a seemingly unrelated site, Earth Observatory.

Outlawed pages of history

This was published by Nation on Jan 5, 2004. Since the link to the page is usually difficult to find. I thought it better to just copy the whole text here:

Scholar and publisher says the writings of erstwhile social pariahs have by no means lost their relevance for the mores and politics of modern-day Thailand. Literature has always been a most effective and timeless tool for reflection, especially when the books have been banned and their authors discredited by the authorities. At least that's the opinion of Chalong Soontravanich, a noted historian at Chulalongkorn University. Since 1995, Chalong and his social-science colleagues have reprinted five controversial books written by some of the most significant and controversial authors in the nation's history.

The books, reprinted by Chalong's Chakawal Witthaya ("Universal Learning") Institute, were first published between 1907 and 1937. They cover a wide range of controversial topics, from female monks to political decentralisation.

"We would like more people today to know what people of previous generations thought about society," Chalong said. "We've only selected books that were rejected at the time they were published. The writers were social outcasts, and some of them were even jailed for being too radical."

Chalong's literary revival focuses on unconventional thinkers who had ideas before their time. The project also serves to prove that censorship, which is an ancient tool used by the authorities to suppress rebellious thinkers, only works in the short term and seldom succeeds in the long term. Funded by the Osaka-based Thai Club of Japan, the institute has published 5,000 copies of rare books. The selection features the works of Kor Sor Ror Kularb or Kularb Trisananond (1834-1921), Narin Bhasit or Narin Klueng (1874-1950), Aum Boonthai (1902-1940), MC Sakol Wannakorn Vorawan (1888-1953) and Phraya Soontorn Pipit (1891-1973). Half of the published books were donated to libraries and academic researchers in related fields. The other half were put on sale at the Chulalongkorn University Book Centre.

Chalong said the group was always on the lookout for rare books that it might be able to publish. It is waiting for funding to reprint another extremely important book that contains biographies of 100 significant bureaucrats who served the country from the reign of King Taksin (1767-1782) to that of King Rama III (1824-1851). Some of the controversial issues of that time are still unresolved today. Not least of these was Narin Klueng's belief that women should have an equal right to be ordained into the monkshood. In 1928 he began a campaign for the acceptance of female monks and saw his two daughters ordained as female novices in a temple especially established for them.

Narin wrote a book called "Thalaaengkarn rueng Samanaree Watra Nareewong" ("Statement About Female Novices"), which campaigned for the revival of female novices and monks, which he believed had existed at the time of the Lord Buddha. But the novices were later derobed and arrested by the authorities. Narin fought back by sending a petition to King Prajathipok, who ordered that Narin end his campaign.

Several decades have passed, and the issue of female monks is still a controversial one in today's society. Last year Bhikkuni Dhammananda was ordained in Sri Lanka because female monks were not accepted in the Thai Buddhist tradition. The argument about female monks hasn't gone very much further than in the time of Narin Klueng. It's still centred on the question of whether or not the Lord Buddha allowed women to be ordained as monks. Bhikkuni Dhammananda believes that Narin Klueng represented the first wave in the struggle for the rights of female monks. Her late mother, Bhikkuni Woramai, who was ordained in Taiwan in the early seventies, represents the second wave. Chalong republished Narin's book last year as a part of his group's contribution to the debate concerning the case of Bhikkuni Dhammananda.

"I like the book because it challenged the status quo and authority," he said. His group believes that no other institutions would ever have reprinted Narin's book or any of the other books selected by the Chakawal Witthaya Institute. "This is because they are controversial and rebellious," Chalong said. The writers of these books had to pay a high price for having the courage to publish their beliefs. Narin Klueng was jailed many times while Kor Sor Lor Kularb was portrayed as "mentally retarded". Prince Damrong, the "father of Thai history", accused him of stealing knowledge about Siamese chronicles from the Royal Hall and rewriting them as his own work. Prince Damrong also discredited Kularb's works. He claimed they were fake history and asked for King Rama V's judgement. Though the king granted him a pardon, Kularb was sent to a mental hospital in 1900.

Kularb wrote "Aryatiwat" in 1911, explaining the 136 changes in royal and bureaucratic tradition. The Chakawal Witthaya Institute republished this book in 1995. Aum Boonthai was jailed on Tarutao island soon after his 1933 classic "Krisadarnkarn bon Theeraabsoon" was published. Aum was accused of being a member of the Bavordej Rebel Group, which fought against the government's People's Party in 1933. He died a prisoner in 1940. Aum published the book to introduce himself to the people ahead of the country's first general election. "His book is the first political template in Thai history. It's the first example of people's politics," Chalong said.

Another book that reflected people's politics was the 1935 classic "Pathakkatha Khong Phuthaenrasadorn Rueng Saphab Khong Jangwat Tangtang" ("MPs' Speeches on the Condition of the Provinces"), which Chakawan Witthaya republished in 1996.

"It's interesting that how these MPs viewed and thought of their provinces," Chalong said.

The latest Chalong revival was "Sakol Thesabal" ("Local Governance"), by MC Sakol-wannakarn Vorawan and Phraya Soontornpipit. The book was published in 1935 and was used as the country's first textbook on local administration.

"We selected this book because of our expectations of local administration and decentralisation under the present Constitution," said Chalong.

The two authors were interested in democracy despite being a nobleman and a member of the royal family. "MC Sakol Vorawan was one of those who defended Pridi Banomyong's economic policy," Chalong said.

The Chakawan Witthaya group hopes these reprinted books will encourage debate among those who believe that local governance is the root of democracy and civil society. The second edition of "Sakol Thesabal" will be launched today in Room 105 of Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Arts Building I as part of an event from 12pm to 7pm including a seminar on "Rare Books and Thai Society". Speakers will include Professor Nidhi Eewsriwong, Nakarin Mektrairat, Attajak Satayanurak, Supoj Chaengraew and Anek Laothammathat.


To the authorities they were mad, bad or just too contrary

Progressive thinkers:

Kor Sor Ror Kularb/Kularb Trisananond (1834-1921)

Kor Sor Ror Kularb gained a reputation among Thai and foreign scholars as a historian and liberal writer, even though he was discredited by the "father of Thai history." In 1891 Kularb worked as an editor of the Siam Observer, a newspaper owned by Phraya Attakarn Prasit.

From 1897 to 1908 he published his own magazine called Siam Prapaet, which focused on history, chronicles, biographies of important people and legends. He also published a magazine called Samut Bamrungpanya Prachachon ("Book for Thought"). One edition of the magazine was called Aryatiwat, and others dealt with "official conversations" and "details of rules and traditions used in official business".

Narin Bhasit/Narin Klueng (1874-1950)

Narin was given the title of "Phra Phanomsarnnarin" by King Rama V and appointed governor of Nakhon Nayok. He resigned from the official post in 1909, when he was 35 years old, and began to study the teachings of the Lord Buddha. In 1912 Narin and his friends established the Buddha Borisat Samakhom in Bangkok. He wanted this samakhom ("association") to be a centre of Buddhist knowledge. Narin felt the wealth of Thai society was centred on institutional Buddhism. He thought people were fooled because they were ready to believe without reason. Narin also established two publications, Saradhamma and Lok kab Dhamma, where people could discuss Buddhism.

Narin is probably Thailand's first human-rights activist. Apart from his campaign for the acceptance of female monks, he distributed leaflets called Sa-ngob Yoo Mai Dai ("We Can't Live in Peace") during World War II, criticising the government's non-neutral policy. He also campaigned against the death penalty.

Aum Boonthai (1902-1940)

Before running in Thailand's first general election, Aum Boonthai was a teacher in Ubon Ratchathani. He was also a freelance writer for Witthayajarn magazine and the newspaper Prachachat. His articles focused on the "cooperative system". In his book, Krisadakarn bon Theeraabsoong, Aum criticised Pridi Banomyoung's economic policy. His ideas were more in line with the beliefs of King Prajadhipok. When he was arrested in 1933, Aum was ordered to stop writing, and his books were burned by the authorities.

MC Sakol Wannakorn (1888-1953).

The eldest son of Prince Narathip Praphanpong, MC Sakol Wannakorn was educated in England. He was interested in theories of the state, labour, social welfare and local governance and was among those who supported Pridi Banomyong's economic policy. He played an important role in drafting the Municipal Laws of 1930 and 1933.

Phraya Soontorn Pipit (1891-1973).

He was appointed governor of several provinces before being named director-general of the Home Ministry. He was also a political lecturer at Thammasat University. His topics were municipalities and the spirit of authority.

Subhatra Bhumiprabha, Nantiya Tangwisutijit


On n'a plus le temps

I found this with languagehat:

On ne lit plus, on n'a plus le temps. L'esprit est appelé à la fois de trop de côtes; il faut lui parler vite où il passe. Mais il y a des choses qui ne peuvent être dites, ni comprises si vite, et ce sont les plus importantes pour l'homme. Cette accélération de mouvement qui ne permet de rien enchaîner, de rien méditer, suffirait seule pour affaiblir et, à la longue, pour détruire entièrement la raison humaine.

Félicité Robert de Lamennais, 1819.

(Translation: "We have stopped reading, we have not the time. Our mind is solicited simultaneously from too many sides: it has to be spoken to quickly as it passes by. But there are things that cannot be said or understood in such haste, and these are the most important things for man. This accelerated movement, which makes coherent thought impossible, may alone be sufficient to weaken, and in the long run utterly to destroy, human reason.")

Some news about wikis and blogs

I found Ross Mayfield's reference about investments in Wiki- and Blog-mania quite interesting to note here for my future reference. I've just signed myself onto to Wikipedia yesterday, hope I'll be able to contribute something there. There's the Thai Wiki to keep an eye on. These past two days, I've also found Wiki's city, weblogs, slashdot (very interesting!), social networking, nanotechnology pages useful.

My other internet "identities"

For the sake of transparency, I thought I should point out my other internet identities. Google's new services encouraged me to start two new blogs: my Thai History Blog, a subject I'm planning to be more deeply invovled in; Manila Galleon, a blog I initiated for my husband's baby book, (I'm pressuring him to get it on published, he's not doing much about it).

Then I'm regularly posting with the community at All About Thailand, my alias there is globalwoman. I've just starting posting with the discussion forum at In my previous post, I wrote about how I started logging in at Wikipedia.

Lastly,there's the MMS2 group/class blog. And of course, this blog was started as part of MMS1 course.

Still struggling to make my blog a transparent medium of my thoughts

I haven't been blogging much lately because there's just too many things going through my mind, too many life events I'm trying to integrate, too many books I'm reading. When I log on to the internet, I prefer reading my Thai newspaper, my alternative news source:, looking for websites or blogs on subjects that interest me, and posting on "All About Thailand" Forum. I'm also taking French lessons. I have an exam next Monday, which I haven't studied for. There's also a bunch of projects in my "To Do" list. Even without a 9-5 job, there's too little time to do all I want to do, especially for a dreamer like me. I need time to write in my morning journals, to think over things I experience by reading up on the various topics, the books being my little looking glass, so blogging comes at the bottom of the list of all that.

Through the years, I think I've deepened my multi-tasking skills in real life. Now I wish I could multi-task with the use of computers. It's so time consuming. So instead of writing what I want to write with care, I rush through my posts (when I do post). Then what concerns me is that what I write can't express the variety of things that interest me. Transparency is what I hope to achieve, I wonder if it's hopeless? Hmm, maybe a better goal is clarity?

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Chicago, birthplace of skyscrapers

Last weekend I visited Chicago and it was such a great trip that I wanted to share some of the cool sights!

Chicago, I discovered, was the birthplace of skyscrapers. As a result of the Chicago fire of 1871, an innovative style of construction was created to build taller buildings. The first skyscraper was built there in 1884. The nine-storey structure was supported by a steel skeleton that become known as the distictive architectural style called "the Chicago School". Chicago's skyline is probably one of the most interesting in the world because of the density of tall buildings with many different unique features.

Other impressive things were the Millenium Park, which has the coolest interactive public 'sculptures', the "Bean", and two water towers that showed interactive faces of the city's people; the Art Institute of Chicago which houses the largest collection of Impression and Post-Impressionist art outside of France. I was also lucky to be taking a river and lake tour in a boat during an air show and had F18s fly and do stunts right over my head several times.

My stepdaughter in front of "The Bean".

One of "The Towers", there's two of them with different pictures interacting with each other and eventually spraying water through their "mouths" on the kids playing in the water plaza between them. Sorry I couldn't figure out how to rotate the picture.

The air show planes going over the boat next to us.

Chicago was soooo interesting because it gave me firsthand insight about the birth of industrialisation and capitalism. I have to go back again, because I just missed a musical I wanted to see (The King and I), I haven't gone to listen to the blues, I haven't had time to do the south side of the city, nor seen the famous old houses of the world famous architects who have for some time made Chicago their home. I also want to take my son to see the Chicago Bulls. That's for my next trip! It's only a 8-9 hour drive from Toronto, now I know the roads.