Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Wander around Chulalongkorn University

In between conference preparation, pilgrimage, visits and general sight-seeing, I was given a special tour of Chulalongkorn University, by Khun Tewee, a long-time family friend who used to play with my mother as a child. Both of them had studied at Chula - Khun Tewee physical sciences and my mother (then Fuengsin Sarayutpitag) liberal arts. On this occasion I wanted just to get a feel for the environment, and see how much it resembled the scene depicted in group photos from the late 50s (my mother is standing, 5th from the left):

Chulalongkorn University occupies a privileged position in Thai history and culture. Even its Thai wording claims the linguistic distinction of having the word ‘university’ following the name: จุฬาลงกรณ์มหาวิทยาลัย [Chulalongkorn Mahawitthayalai] so it reads in the same order as in English, whereas all other universities would put Mahawitthayalai before the name.

The University has its roots as a civil service training school, founded during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) at the end of the 19th Century CE to help in Siam’s administration. It gradually expanded its remit and so emerged Chulalongkorn University, formally granted its new name and status in 1917, the first university to be established in Thailand. It is located fairly centrally in Pathum Wan district of Bangkok, with the nearest BTS station being National Stadium and occupies a rectangular plot of land plus a number of surrounding buildings.

When Khun Tewee proceeded to showed myself and one of her friends the central site, she led us first of all towards the original entrance across playing fields. There looking out from a raised platform were the University's two founders commemorated in a memorial statue:

King Rama V and VI, founders of Chula

Seated is King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and standing beside him is King Vajiravudh (Rama VI). Whilst we were there, a couple of students were paying respects, lighting incense sticks. Nearby there were some elaborate floral kratongs, very likely student creations, now looking somewhat bereft after the Loy Kratong festival, but still nice and colourful.

Next we retraced some steps and approached some of the original buildings (or, at least, the oldest that are still standing). Particularly prominent is the main auditorium, where the conferral of degrees and other major ceremonies take place in a grand theatre:

Auditorium, Chulalongkorn University

We then carried on to the Faculty of Arts building, close by, and naturally I was keen to explore.

Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University

The first thing that struck my was the lightness of the building. By modern standards it doesn't have many floors, but as I wandered around, I could gaining a feeling of great solidity and substance, an imposing presence, with lofty spaces. It was a very distinguished environment and not hard to imagine students feeling like princes or princesses. Every angle seems to be pleasing architecturally, certainly worth protecting with the nagas!

Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University

The only disappointment was learning that these buildings are now used mainly for administration. So where do the Faculty of Arts students have their classes, if not in these buildings? Looking from the centre, there are new buildings dotted around:

Chulalongkorn University

The tall building in the distance is บรมราชกุมารี Borommarajakumari (Supreme Daughter of His Majesty the King), an epithet for HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who herself was a graduate from the Faculty of Arts in the 1970s (details in a biography). It is a multi-purpose building: as well as lecture spaces, there are exhibition areas and academic staff have rooms towards the top.

Inevitably a lot of change, but it seems to retain a distinguised ethos and it looks like the staff and students continue to build on the heritage. It still looks an attractive place to study.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Steam Train to Chachoengsao

Saturday 4th December was a day for various modes of public transport. I caught the BTS sky train from Wong Wien Yai as far as Sala Daeng and then took the MRT underground to Hua Lamphong, where I met up with Khun Vasana and Khun Jamras, long-time family friends.

They had invited me to join them on a day trip to Chachoengsao, travelling there by train and then touring the area by coach. I arrived shortly after 7.30am and the station was buzzing. I cautiously grabbed something for breakfast (I say cautiously since from my experience of travelling with Thais, there’s usually a surplus of food!) Then we met up. Hua Lamphong is a big station, built in the early 20th century, apparently to an Italian design – see the station's Wikipedia entry for details.

On this occasion there were some exhibits on show to co-incide with celebrations for H.M. King Bhumipol’s birthday on the 5th. As we made our way down the platform, we passed some royal carriages. There seemed to be quite a lot of activity, with excitement among a large group, many wearing pink (the current colour for showing support for His Majesty). They were congregating around the train, chatting and clutching cameras.

Why the fuss? It was because the 8am departure this morning was not the usual diesel service, but a steam train! The train itself had many carriages. The tour that we had joined had been allocated three of them, towards the rear, leaving several carriages to the front – I think they were for employees of the State Railway of Thailand. When we pulled out, it became evident how many had come to wave us off, including members of the Government’s Transport Department. I though it would be fun to capture the departure on film:

The train puffed its way eastwards and throughout its ponderous progress amidst the urban sprawl, people watched on in fascination and amusement. Unlike the Skytrain, the railway lines cling to the ground and so they thread right through streets, across roads …

Bangkok Traffic at rail crossing

… and over canals …

Rail bridge across a Bangkok canal 1

Rail bridge across a Bangkok canal 2

Whereas in Britain, homes are kept at some distance from the railway track and - at least – people aren’t supposed to wander onto the track, these restrictions are not observed in Thailand:

Life by the Railway

Some people find this kind of sight discomforting – makeshift buildings of corrugated iron in such close proximity to the railway line indicate material poverty and invariably you come across stray cats and dogs. It’s a very common scene in Bangkok; it’s right next door to where my relatives live in Thonburi. Yet there’s still a sense of life and liveliness – opportunities for hawkers, space for games of football and so on – aided by the climate.

Chachoengsao lies about 50 miles to the East of Bangkok, but it took 2 hours to reach our destination, even though we were hauled by two locomotives. But no-one was complaining about the very leisurely journey! Eventually we arrived and hoards of people scrambled to the front to get a closer look of the locomotives.

Steam Locomotive (State Railway of Thailand)

Steam engine at Chachoengsao

The drivers seem to be getting younger every day…!

Young Driver in the Cab (Steam Engine 824)

The trip continued with a tour of some impressive temples, starting with Wat Sothorn Wararam Woraviharn, said to be the oldest temple in the province. It is dedicated to Phra Phutthasothon or Luang Phor Sothon and visitors can go and pay respects in a new marble hall, whose construction was supported by the royal family, with HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn presiding over its consecration.

Wat Sothornwararamworaviharn

We proceeded to visit other temples, including Chinese temples, but there was one other that is immensely popular, Wat Saman Rattanaram, which is famous for its statue of Pink Ganesh in a reclining pose:

Pink Ganesh

But the temple also had a very beautiful Buddha image in what I assume is the Uposatha Hall (uposatha is a Pali term designating holy observance, in which monastics intensify practice; ordinations and other important ceremonies take place in the Hall):

Wat Saman Rattanaram

One of the last places we visited was a sand sculpture exhibition. I think it had originally been set up mainly by some Western artists, but since its establishment, many local Thai artists have got involved. The following sculpture shows Kuan Yin, a Bodhisattva embodying Compassion:

Kuan Yin

The wonderful thing about this tour was that at the end of the sight-seeing we could really look forward to the return journey as it was again steam-hauled! To round off a varied and enjoyable day, right towards the end of the visit, tour staff came round with souvenirs. I wonder what we might get in Britain? A badge perhaps? A golf cap (actually we were issued with Thai railway authority golf caps)...? For this tour to Chachoengsao we received an amulet of Luang Phor Sothon. :-)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Lucy Dunlap and the Founding of Satriwithaya School

Whilst it is very well known that Somdet Ya, the Princess Mother was educated at Satriwithaya School (see also the Wikipedia entry, which Google can help a bit to translate), much less is known about its founder. Shortly after I came across the information in the Srinagarindra Museum that enabled me to establish that my grandmother had been a pupil there, I came across an article about the history of the school in the Education section of the Bangkok Post. It makes brief reference to its founding and then proceeds to offer a perspective that combines tradition with careful adaptation. I can see that the school is still highly regarded and a popular choice among parents.

But what piqued my interest was the very brief reference to the fact that it had a “Thai-American founder, Miss Lucy Dunlap, or ``Ma'am See'', who, we are informed, subsequently handed over the school to the Education Department. Who was Lucy Dunlap?

Once again I consulted Mr. Google, but there were very few matches returned. It seemed initially that there was no information available, but then I came across a link to the Wheaton College archives. The College contains in particular the Margaret and Kenneth P. Landon Papers. Margaret Landon is the author of Anna and the King of Siam, a work of fiction that has long been regarded in Thailand with some notoriety, but I won’t explain here.

As far as I can tell, all the authors in this archive were Presbyterian missionaries in SE Asia. Among the works (Box 196, Folder 17) is The Story of Lucy Dunlap by Margaret McCord. I had no idea about its format, publication status etc.; I then tried to search for this title in various library catalogues, but this was the only place I could see it referenced. So I filled in their online contact form, explained my interest from my grandmother's connection to the school and expected to come away empty handed ... Within a week, I received an email with an attachment – an archivist had very kindly scanned the document and sent me a PDF. It wasn’t very long, but I was still impressed at the service.

The document is a typed manuscript, 12 pages in length, dated August 1945, with a few corrections in ink. It starts with the heading Lucy Dunlap (Born 1869) and proceeds to describe in narrative form how the author came to meet Miss Dunlap in person and find out her story from missionaries. There’s a mixture of travelogue and second hand reports, laced with the author’s own interpretations, but the accounts of some key episodes sound true. One of these concerns the unusual circumstance’s behind the birth. Margaret McCord writes that a Dr. E. P. Dunlap was evangelising in Thailand (presumably in the late 1860s) and in the course of this missionary work came across a woman in prison, who was about to give birth. He asked for the woman to be released temporarily so the birth could take place with better care. When she gave birth to a girl, he and his wife subsequently offered to the mother to adopt her daughter, to which she agreed. Dr. and Mrs. Dunlap named the girl, Lucy.

We are informed that when Lucy was 9 years old she was taken to the U.S., where she continued her schooling, with training as a missionary, though it was not formally completed. She subsequently returned to Thailand in the 1890s and we learn that she was initially a teacher at Wang Lang School, but that didn’t work out. However, “next she was seen in charge of a small government school. However, this school did not continue long.” Since Lucy Dunlap’s subsequent work was in nursing and given the date, I guess this is a reference to Satriwithaya School.

I think this story is significant because it shows among other things the influence of Christian missionaries in the Thai education system, particularly in the 19th Century, a period in which the Thai monarchy consciously sought rapprochement with the various Western powers so as to ensure as best as they could the survival of Siam’s independence and furthermore prosperity, through the broadening of its culture. I think the story behind the founding of Satriwithaya School’s could be seen as indicative of the curious interplay that was taking place in those times. I wonder how much these undercurrents would have affected my grandmother and how much my mother knew about them...

Somboon Sarayutpitag and Satriwithaya School

In recent trips to Thailand I’ve been learning how my maternal grandparents greatly valued education. I’m sure they were a strong influence on my mother, Ajahn Fuengsin, who acquired a lifelong interest in learning and transmitting her knowledge through teaching (Ajahn is a general prefix for an established teacher).

My grandfather had been awarded the title of 'Luang', so he was subsequently addressed as Capt. Luang Sarayutpitag (he had been a captain in the army). The distinctive Thai surname seems to have been spelt in more than one way; my cousins generally insist on ศรายุธพิทักษ์ but there are several letters that can represent an ‘s’ sound and an extra ท ('t') seems optional, so sometimes it has been written สรายุทธพิทักษ์ (with an opening ส instead of ศ). I expect that if one knows the roots of Thai language (Sanskrit, Pali and so on), then one can work out the appropriate letter, but I guess that might be like asking someone in the UK to distinguish between Greek and Latin etymology...

Anyway, prior to this visit, I had heard that my grandmother, Khun Yay Somboon Sarayutpitag, had attended the same school as the Somdet Ya, the Princess Mother (the mother to H.M. King Bumiphol). This school was called Satriwithaya School, a girl’s school in the heart of Bangkok. Some time last summer I started typing into Google ศรายุธพิทักษ์ and สรายุทธพิทักษ์ and a few permutations.  Eventually I came across the Web site of the Srinagarindra [Somdet Ya] museum, the museum of Satriwithaya School, set up in honour and memory of its most famous pupil. Google had spotted an occurrence of the name in the following paragraph:
สิ่งที่เป็นจุดเด่นของพิพิธภัณฑ์สมเด็จย่าคือ พระบรมฉายาลักษณ์ ที่มาของภาพเก่าอันทรงคุณค่าของสมเด็จย่า ส่วนหนึ่งมาจากศิษย์เก่าและครูเก่าเก็บไว้ และอีกส่วนหนึ่งได้ไปขอมาจากสำนักพระราชวัง หนึ่งในรูปภาพที่ทรงคุณค่าอย่างยิ่งคือภาพถ่ายหมู่ของนักเรียนชั้นมูลปีที่ หนึ่ง(ปัจจุบันคือระดับอนุบาล) ถ่ายวันที่ 9 มีนาคม ร.ศ.127 (พ.ศ.2451) สมเด็จพระศรีนครินทราบรมราชชนนี ครั้งยังทรงเป็น ด.ญ. สังวาลย์ โดยพระองค์ประทับในแถวกลาง เป็นลำดับที่ 3 จากซ้าย ซึ่งภาพต้นฉบับสีซีดจนอ่านตัวหนังสือบนแผ่นกระดานที่แขวนไว้ด้านหลังนัก เรียนไม่ออก ต้องใช้คำบรรยายที่เจ้าของภาพเขียนติดไว้ด้านหลังภาพ ภาพนี้ได้รับความอนุเคราะห์จากทายาทนางสมบุญ ศรายุทธพิทักษ์ ในภาพมี ด.ญ.สมบุญอยู่แถวหน้า ลำดับที่ 6 จากซ้าย ส่วนด้านขวาสุดคือครูทิม
My attempted translation is as follows:
A prominent feature of the Srinagarindra [Somdet Ya] museum is the Royal source of some valuable old pictures of the Princess Mother. One part comes from the collections of alumni and former teachers, and another has been requested from the Bureau of the Royal House. One exceedingly valuable picture is a group photograph of first year pre-elementary students (now equivalent to kindergarten) taken on the 9th of March R.E. (Ratanakosin Era) 127 (B.E. 2451). The Princess Mother [can be seen] at the time when she was still a girl, Miss Sangwan; Her Royal Highness is residing in the central row, 3rd from the left. As an original picture it is extremely faded to the extent that it is not possible to read the writing on the plate mounted on the board behind; it's necessary to use the description that the owner has attached on the back of the picture. This picture was received with the assistance of the descendants of Mrs. Somboon Sarayutpitag. In the picture Miss Somboon is in the front row, 6th from the left.

The next paragraph presents an invitation:
สำหรับ ผู้ที่อยากชมภาพนี้ มีภาพขยายใหญ่เกือบเท่าตัวจริงติดอยู่ในห้องเอลิซาเบธ ซึ่งเป็นห้องประชุมของโรงเรียน ห้องนี้มีขึ้นในช่วงที่ควีนเอลิซาเบธที่ 2 เสด็จมาที่โรงเรียนสตรีวิทยาในวันที่ 30 ตุลาคม พ.ศ.2539 เพื่อทอดพระเนตรกิจกรรมและนิทรรศการการป้องกันยาเสพติดในสถานศึกษา พระบรมฉายาลักษณ์สมเด็จพระราชินีนาถ เอลิซาเบธที่ 2 พร้อมพระปรมาภิไธยที่ได้รับพระราชทาน ขณะนี้อยู่ที่พิพิธภัณฑ์สมเด็จย่า
 In approximate English:
For those who want to look at this picture, there is a near life-size enlargement on display in the Elizabeth room, which used to be the school assembly hall. This room was set up on the occasion of the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Satriwithaya School on October 30 2539 to observe events and exhibitions relating to drug prevention in schools. The picture of Queen Elizabeth II, together with her signature, is in the Srinagarindra Museum.

I soon found a copy of the photograph online in the Wikipedia entry for the Princess Mother. However, having read the description above I thought, "I’d really like to see this picture for myself at the school!"

I was fortunate. I got in touch with my cousin, P’ Laem, and he made enquiries through an aunt who used to teach there. Soon arrangements were made and we went along to visit one Friday afternoon in late November. Designed around a courtyard, the buildings rise on three sides to several storeys, having expanded considerably since its foundation over a hundred years ago. When we arrived the school was still bustling with activity; at the entrance there was a large tree occasionally shedding its leaves under which a group of pupils was anticipating its every move ... and then a leaf would come sailing down and they’d try and catch it. Later when we left there were just two girls by the tree, still playing the same game!

On the left hand side as you enter there is a status to the Princess Mother:

statue of the Srinagarindra (the Princess Mother) at Satriwithaya School
The inscription says it is dedicated to สมเด็จพระศรีนครินทราบรมราชชนนี (Somdet Phra Srinagarindra Boromarajajonani), giving the dates she was alive (B.E. 2443 – 2538, i.e. 1900-1995CE). It was unveiled by สมเด็จพระเจ้าพี่นางเธอ เจ้าฟ้ากัลยาณิวัฒนา กรมหลวงนราธิวาสราชนครินทร์ (Somdet Phra Chao Phi Nang Thoe Chao Fa Galyani Vadhana Kromma Luang Narathiwat Ratchanakharin). This is the full title of HRH Princess Galyani, the elder sister to H.M. King Bhumipol. P’ Laem informed me that she took a great deal of interest in the Royal family history and was particularly interested in the school. The statue was unveiled in B.E. 2543 (2000 CE).
We were shown inside the museum by a librarian and directed to a number of books on the table. These contained further photographs and descriptions. We learnt that at the time that group photo was taken, Khun Yay Somboon was 14 years old and the eldest in the group. Afterwards we were led to the Queen Elizabeth Room, which now serves as the board room, where the enlargement has been placed on the wall. Here it is (clicking on it will take you to the version on Wikipedia):

Satriwithaya School group photograph, 1908
This photo was taken in 1908, right towards the end of the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). Thailand's process of modernisation through especially European influences is evident in the uniform: you can see the children wearing the traditional jongraben, but also Western style shoes and socks!

Thailand’s tropical climate is very severe on paper, yet the photograph itself is in very good condition. How come? P’ Laem explained that Khun Yay Somboon had cherished this photograph very much and took special care of it. His parents had built their home very close to the grandparents’ house and P’ Laem’s room was almost opposite Khun Yay’s. He could see it hanging at the back of the room as Khun Yay emerged onto her balcony. The positioning was deliberate!

The Princess Mother subsequently went on to Chulalongkorn Hospital to study nursing. Khun Yay also had an opportunity to study there but declined, apparently afraid of the ghosts! Thai people are generally sensitive to spirits, but this response surprised me as she was certainly a strong character, as I hope to convey in a future post or two...


Postscript [August 2012]:  Please note the primacy in spelling of ศรายุธพิทักษ์ over สรายุทธพิทักษ์ - previously I had got it the wrong way round!  Sorry about that.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wat Paknam Magazine from 2497 (1954)

As mentioned previously, in my recent trip to Thailand I had been shown a number of printed items that were published by Wat Paknam in the 1950s. I was able to borrow any that I was interested in and quickly decided to buy a scanner. With the help of a friend, Khun Yuttana, who works in I.T. in Bangkok, I bought an Epson Perfection V33 scanner, which is based on CCD technology and makes a good attempt at capturing bulky objects. It also came bundled with a ‘lite’ version of Abbyy Finereader 9 that included Thai OCR, but it’s not really practical for older documents with faded print.

I partnered the scanner with my ubiquitous netbook as below:

scanning the 1954 magazine from Wat Paknam

The combination worked fine, but being pressed for time I cut some corners that probably reduced the quality of the results - I should have placed the scanner flush with the edge of the table and held the overhanging pages at 90 degrees. (It’s even trickier when there are mosquitoes milling about!)

You might wonder what is the item under the lid. At first glance I had expected a book or manual, but it turned out to be an annual produced by monks at Wat Paknam.

Cover of Magazine of the Junior Monks of Wat Paknam, 1954

The English reads:

THE MAGAZINE
OF THE JUNIOR BHIKKHUS OF
WAT PAK NAM, PHASICHAREON
DHONBURI, THAILAND
For the year B.E. 2497. C.E. 1954

That's the easy bit and I also recognise the temple crest with its name underneath - วัดปากน้ำภาษีเจริญ ธนบุรี Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen, Thonburi. So far so good. However I usually struggle with Thai translation, especially if the fonts are stylised, as is the case for the larger lettering. So I shall have to ask some Thai friends for assistance.

One word that I can make out is โอปนยิโก. This, I’m quite sure, is the Thai phonetic spelling of a Pali term that is usually rendered in Roman script as opanayiko. It’s an important term that is included in daily recitation about the Dhamma, the second aspect of the Triple Gem (Svakhato bhagavata dhammo...), and is perhaps what we’re encouraged to recall. According to Pali-English dictionaries it is an adjective translated as “leading to” that, as here, is usually associated with the goal of nibbana. There is, though, perhaps a more specific sense that comes via another translation “leading onwards.” Given that the path is through meditation and it is “within this fathom long body” that we find deliverance, it then makes more sense to say “leading inwards” and this emphasizes the general process of internalising Dhamma. I think confidence in its proper translation depends on meditation experience.

The magazine is approximately US letter size and over 360 pages long – I guess this was a bumper edition given the arrival of the first Western ordinand, one who was particularly active that year. There’s a wide range of articles with plenty of photographs, reflecting the diverse activities, based mainly around scholarship and meditation. What is probably distinctive for that period is the fact that it contains substantial articles in English as well as Thai; and many of the photographs have labels in English, adding to the sense that this aimed to be an international publication.

The English language content includes the following:

  • A biography of Chao Khun Bhavanakosol Maha Thera by Kapilavaddho Bhikkhu (W. August Purfurst) [10 pages]
  • Article: ‘The Essence of the Dhamma’ by Kapilavaddho Bhikkhu (W. August Purfurst) – transcript of a lecture given at the Thai - Chine Pracha Association, on Saturday 2, October 1954 [14 pages] (This was likely organised with the assistance of Ajahn Gaew).
  • A Photographic record of Wat Paknam Bhasichareon, Dhonburi, Thailand [16 pages]
  • Article: ‘An Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy’ - a transcript of a 2 day interview between Ven. Kapilavaddho and Robert Samek, Senior Lecturer in Commercial Law, Melbourne University and Ven. Kapilavaddho, 2-3 August 1954. This was “electronically recorded” – probably using audio tape recorder. Also included is a diagram of Dependent Origination, produced in 1950. [64 pages]

I would like all the articles to be shared online. It’s clear to me that there was every intention to distribute them, so I think it would be fair to do so, but I should seek permission first from Wat Paknam (and then give them due credit and links.)

Unfortunately, the results of my scans were rather mixed in quality. I’m sorry to say there are many pages where words at the margins have disappeared or are unreadable. Even so, with a bit of extra effort I think this may still be largely achievable or otherwise another attempt could be made at scanning.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Ajahn Gaew and the first Western Bhikkhus at Wat Paknam

A few days after my pilgrimage to pay respects to the late Abbot of Wat Paknam, Chaokhun Phramongkolthepmuni, I went with my cousin, P' Laem, to visit the family home of one of his disciples, Ajahn Gaew.

Ajahn Gaew Potikanok (from the cover of his memorial book)

Ajahn Gaew was my mother's primary meditation teacher of vijja dhammakaya (advanced meditation using the method of the Middle Way) and my mother had huge respect and admiration for him, being fulsome in her tribute at has passing. Now I had the opportunity to learn more about his legacy from some of his children. I am particularly grateful to his daughter, Khun Darunee, and his son, Khun Goo, for sharing recollections and materials with me relating to their father.

Ajahn Gaew had become a respected lay meditation teacher at Wat Paknam in the 1950s - certainly known, for instance, by the maechi I had visited only days earlier. Among his students were monks, nuns and lay people and he subsequently continued to give teachings for many years. In a manner that seemed to predict the interfaith work of my mother, his outlook was very broad in terms of building bridges. He was fluent in Chinese and helped the Wat by translating Dhamma teachings into Chinese for there was a significant Chinese community; he did a great deal to persuade them to support Wat Paknam and thereby share in meritorious deeds.

As he had knowledge of English, he got to know a Western ordinand by the name of William Purfurst, who took bhikkhu ordination as Kapilavaddho (among the various materials I was shown a signed photograph). As Khun Goo gradually produced various publications, it was evident that Ajahn Gaew had taken considerable interest in Venerable Kapilavaddho, echoing my mother's remark that Ajahn Gaew often described this monk's activities in detail. It didn't matter that Ajahn Gaew was a lay person - the circle of meditators would know each other. In fact Ajahn Gaew did later take bhikkhu ordination for a rains retreat before returning to take care of his family.

I hope to describe the various items in more detail in a separate post, but here I just mention one that particularly caught my eye: a booklet, in Thai and Chinese, presented at the bhikkhu ordination of the three Western disciples of Ven. Kapilavaddho:

[Cover] Commemorative booklet for 1956 Ordination of Westerners at Wat Paknam

An English translation:

The English Sangha Community

The Buddha Bhavana Association
A publication to commemorate the ordination ceremony of the English [ordinands]

We bow to offer respects to
Luang Phor Phramongolrajmuni
Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen, Thonburi

For distribution
Donated to
Those who come to share in the merit of the ordination ceremony.
10,000 copies.

This book contains quite a few photos of the Western disciples - including samanera ordinations and their arrival as a group at Don Muang Airport. I think most of the photos have already been circulated in other publications, but I hope to translate some of the text as this may provide further details that can help shed light on the activities at the time. The booklet also includes photos of the Chinese Association, including a group photo showing the Abbot welcoming visiting Chinese bhikshus (of the Mahayana tradition). These may be the same bhikshus who actually attended the ordination and remarked upon in the cine footage that was taken (with commentary by Kapilavaddho himself).

And so this little bit of history continues to unfold...

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Orchids at the Rose Garden, Nakhon Pathom

Allow me to welcome in the new year with some flowers!

orchid at the Rose Garden, Nakhon Pathom

The day after the Buddhism and Science conference at Mahidol University ended, I found myself back in Nakhon Pathom province as some relatives picked me up from Thonburi and drove me to a floral market at the The Rose Garden, which was host to an orchid festival.

It's a popular venue, where they they host competitions among flower growers as well as offering for sale a huge choice of exotic varieties. There's a slightly contrived effect to the location with occasional bird sounds playing underneath a net canopy, but even for someone like myself whose knowledge of flowers is minimal, it's a nice and colourful scene.

Rose Garden: Orchid  Market under net canopy

Shopping tip: If you're in Thailand looking for special orchids, worthy of gracing royal palaces, and happen to find yourself at a market like this then see if there is a stall belonging to Khun Oi who has a farm in Samut Sakhon. Here she is tending some that she had on display at the Rose Garden:

Khun Oi's orchid stall at Rose Garden, Nakhon Pathom

Khun Oi is recommended by my cousin, P' Yui, who has bought hundreds of flowers from her!

Whilst we were wandering around, a little convey of golf buggies drove past. At the front, alongside his driver, was Dr. Rapee Sakarit [sorry, not sure about the spelling], who is regarded as Thailand's leading authority on orchids - I see a biography is available, but it's only in Thai. I was told that Dr. Sakarit is now at least 90 years old, so the transportation was provided to help his mobility. He seemed to enjoy observing the various activities there.

It's not just local growers who exhibit at the Rose Garden. There are also international displays, also exuberant in colour and form.

This display is from Japan:

Floral display from Japan at the Rose Garden, Nakhon Pathom

And this one is from Papua New Guinea:

Floral display from Papua New Guinea, at the Rose Garden, Nakhon Pathom

I took some more orchid photos, but apologise in advance as there are few descriptions due to my floral ignorance!