Slow Life in Nan Province

Today, I’d like to take you on a photographic journey to Nan province in Thailand. I thus invite you to enjoy the peaceful and serene atmosphere and landscape of this place. Enjoy the beauty of Nan province!

Nan Province

A Buddha in Nan province (photo: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram @knack66)

A Buddha in Nan province (photo: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram @knack66)

Nan is a hidden gem in Northern Thailand where life is still slow anf tranquil. Thus, Nan has become increasingly propular with both local and foreign travelers and the province is also known for its amazing handicrafts.

Temple in Nan province

Mythical beings in front of a temple in Nan*

Nan is located near the Laotian border and it is also in close proximity to Luang Prabang, the capital of Laos. Hence, this place is very much upcountry Thailand. Historically, Nan was once an independent kingdom. Hence, Nan’s history has been very much influenced by the neighbouring countries and in particular by the kingdom of Sukhothai.

Temple in Nan (photo: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram @knack66)

Golden temple in Nan*

In history, this province was an independent principality under the reign of Lanna, Sukhothai, Burma and Siam. However, in 1558, Nan was conquered by the Burmese. It was not until the late 18th century that Nan became allied to the Rattanakosin Kingdom.

Painting in a temple in Nan National Park in Nan, Thailand Temple in Nan (photo: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram @knack66)

Mural painting in a temple in Nan*

Amazing handicraft from Nan Painting in a temple in Nan National Park in Nan, Thailand Temple in Nan (photo: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram @knack66)

Amazing paintings from Nan*

Thus, Nan was a half-autonomous kingdom with its own kings who reigned from 1786-1931. Nan is also the home of many Tai Lue people and other hill tribes like the Hmong, N’tin, Yao and Khamu. About 10 percent of Nan’s population belong to the hill tribes. They preserve their traditions and customs.

National Park in Nan, Thailand Temple in Nan (photo: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram @knack66)

National Park in Nan, northern Thailand*

In Nan, there are also great agricultural areas where rice and fruits also grown.

Nan is devoted to agriculture, particularly to rice cultivation

Nan is devoted to agriculture, particularly to rice cultivation*

What is more, Nan is known for its stunning national parks. For instance, the Doi Phukha National Park is well-known for its nearly 2000m high mountains. Therefore, Nan is also a popular destination for people who like trekking and hiking. Interestingly, the provincial tree and flower is the Orchid tree.

Nan is a popular destination for people who like trekking.

Nan is a popular destination for people who like trekking*

Make a wish! Have you ever seen such a starlit sky?

Make a wish! Have you ever seen such a starlit sky? The milkyway is just around the corner*

Summing up, we may say that Nan province has not only impressive and interesting cultural destinations like temples and museums but also an unique laid-back charm. Last but not least, the province also offers amazing quality cafes and restaurants for refreshment 🙂

Quality cafe for refreshment Amazing handicraft from Nan Painting in a temple in Nan National Park in Nan, Thailand Temple in Nan (photo: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram @knack66)

Quality cafe for refreshment*

Yours, Sirinya 🙂

*All photos in this post: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram @knack66




Queen Suriyothai & The White Elephant War

Every Thai person knows about the White Elephant War of 1563 and the role that Queen Suriyothai played in this context. The King of Burma learned that the ruler of Siam, King Maha Chakkraphat, owned seven white elephants. The white elephant was considered a symbol of prestige and royal power. Thus, the Burmese King was envious since there were not any white elephants in Burma at that time and he decided to have one at any cost.

Suriyothai

Ayutthaya Queen Suriyothai Monument (photo credit: Peerapong Prasutr, wikimedia.org)

The Ayutthaya Queen Suriyothai Monument (photo credit: Peerapong Prasutr, wikimedia.org)

Therefore, the Burmese King demanded three of King Chakkraphat’s white elephants. The ruler of Siam, however, refused. As a consequence, the Burmese king led his army to Ayutthaya, the capital city of Siam. From the wall of the city King Chakraphat and Queen Suriyothai watched the Burmese soldiers invading the city.

Beautiful Queen Suriyothai (photo credit: madmonarchist.blogspot.com)

Painting of the beautiful Queen Suriyothai, source unknown (photo credit: madmonarchist.blogspot.com)

They were deeply worried because there were so many enemy soldiers. Thus, the King decided to let them attack the city and then defeat them. Queen Suriyothai was eager to go into battle with her husband but of course, the King disapproved. Nonetheless, the Queen was determined, and when the King went into battle, she remained at his side.

Painting by Prince Narisara Nuvadtivongs, depicting Queen Suriyothai (center) on her elephant putting herself between King Maha Chakkraphat (right) and the Burmese prince (left). (photo credit Prince Narisara Nuvadtivongs, wikimedia.org)

Painting by Prince Narisara Nuvadtivongs, depicting the Queen (center) on her elephant putting herself between King Maha Chakkraphat (right) and the Viceroy of Pray (left). (photo credit: Prince Narisara Nuvadtivongs, wikimedia.org)

She watched the King lead his war elephants into the heat of battle. He was duelling with the Burmese Prince when the Queen saw her husband’s body weave with the sway of his elephant. It was obvious that the King would soon be killed. However, Queen Suriyothai courageously spurred her elephant between the elephants of the royal warriors and was killed by the fatal spear intended to kill her husband.

Suriyothai Monument constructed in 1991 in the area called “Tung Makham Yong” in Ban Mai sub-district, PhraNakorn Si Ayutthaya district (photo credit: Peerapong Prasutr, wikimedia.org)

Suriyothai Monument constructed in 1991 in the area called “Tung Makham Yong” in Ban Mai sub-district, PhraNakorn Si Ayutthaya district (photo credit: Peerapong Prasutr, wikimedia.org)

Hence, King Maha Chakkraphat’s life was saved but he wept for his brave wife and did not stop the war. In four months, however, the Burmese were forced to withdraw their forces and the King of Burma did not succeed in capturing a white elephant.

Queen Suriyothai has become a very popular female historical figure in Thailand. Because of her bravery, boldness and self-determination, she is also regarded as a great feminist. Even though, in history she is only known from three lines in a chronicle, her story was filmed. Thus, ‘The Legend of Suriyothai’ (2001) directed by H.R.H Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol became very popular in Thailand similar to ‘The Legend of King Naresuan’. In 2003 ‘The Legend of Suriyothai’ was also release in the USA and edited by Francis Ford Coppola. Since nearly nothing is known about the historical Suriyothai, her story in the movie was mostly invented.

Finally, we may say that the story of Suriyothai and the White Elephant War has intrigued many generations of Thai people. In addition, the Queen may also be regarded as an early feminist with good reason.

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference: Marian Davies Toth, Tales from Thailand. Folkore, Culture, and History, 2nd ed. 1982)




The Legend of King Naresuan (History & Movie)

The story of the Black Prince dates back to the historical Ayutthaya period. Prince Naresuan (in Thai: Ong Dam, องค์ดำ) was born 1555 in Phitsanlunok, Thailand. His brother Ekathotsarot was called the White Prince. In contrast to his brother, he was more lenient and less rigid. Naresuan was captured by the Burmese and thus raised with the Burmese royal princes, among them Crown Prince Mingyi Swa, in Pegu. Naresuan was an intelligent boy who was educated in the style of early modern warfare by the Burmese.

King Naresuan

King Naresuan in Ayutthaya (photo credit: Peerapong Prasutr, wikimedia.org)

King Naresuan memorial in Ayutthaya (photo credit: Peerapong Prasutr, wikimedia.org)

The legend of King Naresuan has been filmed and directed by HSH Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol in six parts from 2007 till today, starring Wanchana Sawatdee as Naresuan. The 6th and last part will be featured in August 2015. The first part released in 2007 deals with the Black Prince’s childhood.

When the Black Prince was a young man, the Burmese King trusted him to such extend that he gave him permission to train an army of captured Thai soldiers. The Prince affectionately called his men Naresuan’s Wild Tigers. Thus, the Wild Tigers became increasingly powerful and one day they defeated the Burmese army returning triumphantly back to Siam. Soon after this event, the Black Prince became King Naresuan of Siam thus reclaiming sovereignty. This is mainly what the second part of the film series is about.

Hence, his first major challenge was with the Burmese who were his former hosts. A giant enemy force of Burmese soldiers threatened the border between Siam and Burma. Naresuan ordered his people in the north to withdraw and burn their rice fields. The farmers thus fled to Ayutthaya and the new king turned every able-bodied man into a soldier.

To both Siam and Burma, the war was very painful. However, neither army would give in to the other. One day, King Naresuan’s war elephant was startled and hence ran madly into the enemy lines. When the dust from the elephant’s hoofs cleared, the King realized that he was facing his enemy, the Burmese crown prince.

The King was surrounded by a large force of enemy soldiers. The Burmese prince could have ordered his death but instead accepted Naresuan’s challenge to a duel. This is the Elephant Battle in which the two opponents fought with swords and spears from the back of the elephants. The legend tells that when the Burmese prince urged his elephant forward, Naresuan swung his sword and wounded the prince who soon died from the injury.

The King thus declares an armistice while the Burmese soldiers removed the body of the slain prince from the battlefield. It seemed that the King admired his opponent whom he had been forced to kill. Thus, on their battleground he built a memorial chedi to honour the Burmese prince Mingyi Swa, his childhood friend.  This fight took place on 25 January 1592 at Nong Sarai field in Suphan Buri.

Don chedi memorial, Suphanburi Province, Thailand (photo credit: Heinrich Damm, wikimedia.org)

Don chedi memorial, Suphan Buri Province, Thailand (photo credit: Heinrich Damm, wikimedia.org)

With their crown prince killed, the Burmese had no one to lead them and thus they lost heart for battle. In consequence, they withdrew their forces and for a while the Burmese and the people of Siam enjoyed a time of peace. King Naresuan died in 1605 at the age of 49.

Finally, I must confess that I’m not such a great fan of historical movies because I often find them too strenuous. In particular those movies that deal with a lot of fighting and warfare. However, is was very much interested in the story of King Naresuan, thus the movies came in useful for me 🙂

Yours, Sirinya




Meanings of the Term ‘Farang’ (ฝรั่ง)

We’ve all come across the word ‘farang‘ (ฝรั่ง) in some context or other. We all know that in Thai it describes a European person. However, what are the origins and the meanings of this term? It is an assured fact that the word derives from ‘Frank’, a word that originally referred to a Germanic speaking people in the region of today’s France.

The Farang

Western tourists in Thailand (photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram@knack66)

Western tourists in Thailand (photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram@knack66)

Nevertheless, this term was also widely used in medieval Greece, Egypt and further Mediterranean areas attributing to West European people generally. In addition, similar expressions can be found in other languages as well. For instance, there is the Persian ‘farangg’, the Hindi ‘farengi/farangi’, the Tamil ‘pirangi’, the Arabic ‘frangi’ and the Polynesian ‘palangi’. These terms all sound very similar and point to a common origin.

Reminiscence of Portuguese in Siam: Bangkok Santa Cruz Catholic Church (photo credit: Sayompoo Setabhrahmana, wikimedia.org)

Reminiscence of the Portuguese in Siam: Bangkok Santa Cruz Catholic Church (photo credit: Sayompoo Setabhrahmana, wikimedia.org)

In fact, the Thai word ‘farang’ was borrowed from Muslim Persian and Indian traders during the Ayutthaya period (1350-1767). During that time this term referred to the Portuguese who were the first Europeans to visit Siam. Later, the term became a generic Thai word for other Europeans as well and finally to all Caucasians generally. What is more, ‘farang’ describes the West in general. Thailand’s neighbouring countries Cambodia (‘barang’) and Laos (‘falang’) also know this term.

Westerners in Thailand (photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram@knack66)

Westerners in Thailand (photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram@knack66)

Thus, we may say that ‘farang’ is a Thai word referring to ‘Otherness’ whereby there is no specification of culture, nationality, ethnicity and so on…Hence, this word is in fact neutral, even though it might be used as an insult in some contexts. There is for example the expression ‘farang khi nok’ to describe an ill-mannered European. Literally translated this term means ‘guava tree or fruit growing out of bird’s dropping’ since ‘farang’ also means guava which originally came from South America and was brought to Thailand by the Portuguese.

A farang temple guard at Wat Pho (photo credit: Ian Gratton, wikimedia.org)

A European-looking temple guard at Wat Pho (photo credit: Ian Gratton, wikimedia.org)

Nevertheless, ‘farang’ is also used as a classifying category to describe things that come from the West. These may be fruits, vegetables, animals, goods or inventions. For instance, think of ‘man farang’ (potato), ‘mak farang’ (chewing gum) and ‘nang farang’ (Western movie). In fact, we may say that things labelled as ‘farang’ sometimes not merely indicate their foreign character but also their alluring character or in other words, the allurance of ‘farangness’. This may be interpreted as signifing some superior qualities in comparison to the Thai counterparts.

In terms of 'farang', a European in Bangkok (photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram@knack66)

In terms of ‘farang’, a European in Bangkok (photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram@knack66)

Summing up, we may say that ‘farang’ is a cultural signifier of cosmopolitanism that also reflects how Thai people have dealt with Western Otherness and incorporated some foreign aspects into their own culture.

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference: Rachel V. Harrison & Peter Jackson eds. The Ambiguous Allure of the West. Traces of the Colonial in Thailand, 2010)




Kosa Pan – A Siamese Diplomat in France

Among the first Siamese visitors to Europe was an embassy of three ambassadors sent by pro-foreign King Narai (r. 1656-88) to the court of Louis XIV. Among them was the diplomat Kosa Pan who was also a minister and the great grandfather of the first King of the present ruling dynasty of Thailand, Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke. Formally, Pan was called by the noble title Chao Phraya Kosathibodi (เจ้าพระยาโกษาธิบดี; “Lord Minister of World Affairs”). In addition, his former title was Ok Phra Wisut Sunthon (“Count of Pure Amity”) which was the title for a skilled diplomat.

Kosa Pan

Thai ambassador to France Kosa Pan, 1686 French print, (wikimedia.org)

Thai ambassador to France Kosa Pan, 1686 French print, (wikimedia.org)

Arriving in Brest in June 1686, the ambassadors’ task was to study the language and customs of the French. During their three-week sojourn at the Brittany port, the diplomats took copious notes. Hence, the first ambassador Kosa Pan collected data with relish. He documented every detail he encountered, from the dimensions of navy vessels, flags, lances and crossbeams to those of his bedroom mirror. The main purpose of the Siamese to travel overseas was to record detailed information from the foreign encounter which in turn could be used to the greater good of Siam.

Siamese Embassy To Louis XIV, in 1686, Nicolas Larmessin, personal photograph at the Musee Cognacq, Ile de Re, France

Siamese Embassy To Louis XIV, in 1686, Nicolas Larmessin, personal photograph at the Musee Cognacq, Ile de Re, France (photo credit: wikimedia.org)

Therefore, the emphasis of Pan’s account was on monitoring objective truths rather than on conveying subjective impressions. Hence, he also took notes on his visit to Paris and Versailles which are broadly complementary. However, he also mentioned the filthiness of the streets and of French people in general. Thus he pointed out a difference to the Siamese.

Kosa Pan presents King Narai's letter to King Louis. From Smithies, Siam and the Vatican in the Seventeenth Century. Original credited to National Archives of Thailand, wikimedia.org

Kosa Pan presents King Narai’s letter to King Louis. From Smithies, Siam and the Vatican in the Seventeenth Century. Original credited to National Archives of Thailand, wikimedia.org

The ambassador’s observations on the poor standards of 17th century French hygiene further forged a national stereotype which has persisted for centuries and which is still present in contemporary Thai popular imagination. This is for instance exemplified by the common epithet given by Thai football commentators to the French national team, as the ‘thim nam-horm’. This is because the French come from a country renowned for its production of perfume which is called ‘nam-horm’ in Thai. In the past, to the Siamese it seemed that the French were always in need for perfume because they were unwilling to take regular baths 😉

The Siamese ambassador Pan, 1686 French print. Reproduction in Three military accounts of the 1688 revolution in Siam, wikimedia.org

The Siamese ambassador Pan, 1686 French print. Reproduction in Three military accounts of the 1688 revolution in Siam, wikimedia.org

What is more, in his accounts the Siamese diplomat inverts the modern stereotype of French femininity as the embodiment of farang elegance and beauty. In fact, according to Pan, French women are very unattractive and ugly both in behaviour and in appearance. He seems to be appalled by their large noses, pale skin and wanton behaviour. Similarly, Western travellers to Siam also described local women with equal distaste. In terms of cultural studies this can be interpreted as the foreign visitor shoring up a firm sense of his own identity by an acknowledgement of the difference of the ‘Other’.

Kosa Pan with Louis XIV, 1687 French almanach. Reproduction, wikimedia.org

Kosa Pan with Louis XIV, 1687 French almanach. Reproduction, wikimedia.org

Nonetheless, Pan’s embassy was generally met with a rapturous reception and caused a great sensation in the courts and society of Europe. In particular, the French were so enthralled with the amazing textiles worn by the Thai diplomats that they began to imitate the rich silk brocades calling them “Siamoise”. By the way, there is also a Jim Thompson print named in honour of the ambassador, showing a procession of Siamese nobles elegantly dressed in brocades and silk.

Kosa Pan fabric (photo credit: jimthompsonfabrics.com)

Kosa Pan fabric (photo credit: jimthompsonfabrics.com)

However, after returning to Siam, Pan became a strong advocate of Phetracha who was the ruler overthrowing King Narai and eliminating the French influence. This was the time of the Siamese revolution (1688) which led to Siam severing all ties with the West until they were renewed in the 19th century.

French depiction of King Narai, 18th century print. Reproduction in Les Missions Etrangeres Perrin, wikimedia.org

French depiction of King Narai, 18th century print. Reproduction in Les Missions Etrangeres Perrin, wikimedia.org

Under Phetracha’s rule, former diplomat Pan became Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade. However, about a decade later in 1700 Pan was disgraced. It is said that King Phetracha cut off Pan’s nose so that the former diplomat committed suicide.

Summing up, we may say that Kosa Pan was a kind of pioneer being one of the first Siamese to visit Europe. Additionally, he was also the direct ancestor of King Rama I who founded the Chakri Dynasty.

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference: Rachel V. Harrison & Peter Jackson eds. The Ambiguous Allure of the West. Traces of the Colonial in Thailand, 2010)




Pad Thai Noodle – A Popular Thai Dish

Pad Thai (ผัดไทย) might be called the most well-known and common Thai food. Everyone who has been in Thailand, has come across this delicious Thai meal. It is also called Guai Tiau Pad Thai, ‘Guai Tiau’ referring to the rice noodles that are the main ingredient in this dish. Further ingredients are shrimps, tofu, eggs, some vegetables, fish sauce and peanuts. Hence, sometimes this dish is also called Pad Thai Gung Sot (ผัดไทยกุ้งสด) because it is prepared with fresh and dried shrimps.

Pad Thai Noodle

Homemade Pad Thai Gung (photo: Sirinya's Thailand Blog)

Homemade Pad Thai Gung (photo: Sirinya’s Thailand Blog)

Nevertheless, even though Pad Thai is a familiar Thai dish nowadays, it originates from Chinese cuisine. This dish was first introduced to Thailand in the 1930s and 40s in the course of the country’s modernization. Thus, then prime minister Plaek Pibulsongkram tried to define and establish Thailand’s national identity which is today generally known as ‘Thainess‘. This modernization among others, included changing the name of the country from Siam to Thailand.

However, today this kind of stir-fried rice noodles is considered a typical Thai dish which differs from the Chinese version since Thai people made their own creation of this meal.

Here is what you need to cook two portions:

  • 300g thin or medium size rice noodles
  • 6 fresh shrimps (or as to taste)
  • 2 TSP dried shrimps
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 8 TSP vegetable oil
  • 1 TSP garlic, chopped
  • 3 TSP fish sauce*
  • 4 TSP palm sugar, or regular sugar
  • 1 TSP tamarind sauce or paste*
  • 50g salted radish, finely chopped
  • 1 packet of extra firm tofu, cut into thin slices
  •  3 eggs
  • 1 TSP white pepper
  • 500g soja bean sprouts
  • 150g garlic chives
  • roasted peanuts

*Optionally you may also take a Pad Thai sauce, then you will not need the tamarind and fish sauce. You may buy this gravy at a local Asian supermarket or prepare it yourself. Here is a recipe how to prepare Pad Thai sauce.

Preparation:

Heat about 3 TSP of vegetable oil in a pan or wok. Put in the garlic and shallots and roast them gently. Add the rice noodles and coat them with water until they are soft. In a next step add the fish sauce, tamarind juice and sugar (optionally the Pad Thai sauce) – stir everything together. Then put the noodles onto one side of the pan, take care that they do not stick together. Heat another 3 TSP of vegetable oil in the pan and add the radish, tofu, shrimps and dried shrimps. Mix them with the rice noodles and put them aside. Heat the remaining 2 TSP of oil, beat the eggs and mix that with the noodles. Finally add the garlic chives and the soja bean sprouts.

Garnish your meal with roasted peanuts, some white pepper, fresh garlic chives and soja bean sprouts.

The following video by Rin Silpachai will demonstrate you how to prepare Pad Thai!

Hope you’ll give this dish a try!

Yours, Sirinya

(P.S. Please check out my Thai Food Dictionary for more general information)




Dara Rasami – A ‘Foreign’ Princess at The Siamese Royal Court

Dara Rasami (in Thai: ดารารัศมี, also spelled ‘Rasmi’), born in 1873, was a Princess of Chiang Mai and a descendent from the Chet Ton Dynasty. Her parents were King Inthawichayanon and Queen Thipkraisorn Rajadevi of Chiang Mai. Dara Rasmi Na Chiang Mai, as she was officially called, became a princess consort of Siam by marrying King Chulalongkorn (Rama V of Siam). They had an only daughter called Vimolnaka Nabisi who, however, died at the young age of only 2 years 8 months.

Later, the Princess was promoted to the rank of High Queen ‘Chao Chom Manda Dara Rasami’.

Princess Dara Rasami

Recently promoted to the rank of High Queen, Dara Rasami poses for a formal portrait in her hometown, Chiang Mai. Note that she wears a phasin [skirt] made from a Burmese court textile calle*

Recently promoted to the rank of High Queen, Dara Rasami poses for a formal portrait in her hometown, Chiang Mai. Note that she wears a phasin [skirt] made from a Burmese court textile calle*

King Chulalongkorn’s marriage to the Princess of Chiang Mai was mainly a strategic alliance. In the 1860s and 70s Siam became increasingly concerned that the British might colonize the Kingdom of Chiang Mai since they had already taken neighbouring Burma. In addition, there was also a rumour that Queen Victoria intended to adopt Princess Dara. Hence, the Siamese court became alarmed that the British wanted to take over Lanna. Consequently, the King’s brother, Prince Phichit Prichakorn, was sent to Chiang Mai to forward the King’s proposal to the princess. In 1886, Dara became a concubine to the King, entering the Siamese Royal Court.

Dara Rasami in front of her dresser, unwinding her hair. All images courtesy of the National Archive of Thailand*

Dara Rasmi in front of her dresser, unwinding her hair. All images courtesy of the National Archive of Thailand*

However, the princess who came from Chiang Mai was not really accepted at the Grand Palace but rather disparagingly referred to as a ‘Lao Lady’. She and her retinue were also teased that they ‘smelled of fermented fish’. Nonetheless, Dara and the ladies in her entourage were not to be deterred by these circumstances. In fact, they stuck to their northern style clothing and long hair. Thus, they did not adapt their appearance to the fashion of the Siamese court where the ladies wore short hairstyles at that time.

A princess with 'exotic appeal' and ethnic distinction*

A princess with ‘exotic appeal’ and ethnic distinction*

As a matter of fact, Dara’s appearance, her way of clothing and her extremely long hair, differed greatly from that of the Siamese ladies at the court. Thus, her ‘foreignness’ or ‘exotic appeal’ is strikingly on display in a series of photographs taken by Erb Bunnag who was also a royal consort.

The Bunnag sisters, royal consorts, notice that they all wear a short hairstyle*

The Bunnag sisters, royal consorts, notice that they all wear a short hairstyle*

Dara is portrayed in front of a dressing table and mirrors which evoke an atmosphere of intimacy. The viewer gets the impression that he is in the private sphere of the princess. It is also interesting to note that Dara’s face is often reflected in the different mirrors and thus seen from different angles, a fact that she did not seem to be aware of.

Dara with loose hair and face reflected in different mirrors*

Dara with loose, floor-length hair and face reflected in different mirrors*

These photographs stress the ‘foreignness’ of the princess and point out that she is different and does not really fit into ‘the otherwise ethnically homogenous environment of the Siamese royal court’ (Leslie Woodhouse). It is primarily her amazingly long hair that signals Dara’s ethnic distinction from the Siamese ladies. This fact is particularly on display in these photos. In a broader sense, this presentation also indicates what can be considered siwalai (‘civilized’), adjusted and what not.

Long hair as a signal of ethnic distinction*

Long hair as a signal of ethnic distinction*

In other words, Dara is presented as feminine, however, her way of dressing and styling does not seem to be in accordance with Siamese ‘siwalai’ standards. Thus, it is hinted at her ethnic inferiority. Nevertheless, she stayed more than two decades at the court but a few years after King Chulalongkorn’s death in 1910, Dara asked King Rama VI for permission to go to Chiang Mai for retirement. Her wish was granted and she returned to her hometown in 1914 where she continued her royal duties to the Lanna people. She died at the age of 60 in 1933.

Here is a video clip summing up the most important stages in Princess Dara’s life.

Finally, we may say that Princess Dara Rasami can be considered a ‘foreign’ and ‘other’ concubine at the Siamese Royal Court. In fact, she had the status of ethnic inferiority which is also displayed in contemporary photographs.

Yours, Sirinya

(*photo credit: National Archive of Thailand, pictures retrived from quod.lib.umich.edu)

(Reference: Leslie Woodhouse, Concubines with Cameras: Royal Siamese Consorts Picturing Femininity and Ethnic Difference in Early 20th Century Siam, Volume 2, Issue 2: Women’s Camera Work: Asia, Spring 2012)




The Concept of ‘Siwalai’ in Late 19th Century Siam

You’ve probably come across the term ‘siwalai‘ (ศิวาลัย) in some way or other. Just think of the ‘siwalai‘ dress that we’ve dealt with in the context of traditional Thai dresses or the Siwalai garden (Suan Siwalai, สวนศิวาลัย) which is situated in the Grand Palace, Bangkok. The Siamese notion of ‘siwalai was first introduced in the reign of King Mongkut (r.1851-1868) and can be regarded as a modified version of the English word ‘civilized’.

Boromphiman Mansion is part of the Grand Palace and is situated in Siwalai garden (photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org)

Boromphiman Mansion is part of the Grand Palace and situated in Siwalai garden (photo credit: Andreas Hörstemeier, wikimedia.org)

The Notion of Siwalai

Thus, the meaning of this term ranged from etiquette to material progress in the sense of new bureaucracy, infrastructure, electricity, judicial system as well as dress codes, grooming and appearance. However, it is interesting to note that the Siamese quest for ‘civilization’ was primarily a transcultural process in which Western practices and ideas had been adapted, transferred and incorporated into the Siamese setting.

King Chulalongkorn and Family, dressed in Victorian fashion (photo credit: wikimedia.org)

King Chulalongkorn and family, dressed in Victorian fashion, around the 1890s, photograph of a painting made more than 100 years ago (photo credit: wikimedia.org)

In other words, this led to the phenomenon that Western and Siamese aspects were mixed and combined together. For instance, this is shown in clothing: ladies of the court had assumed the hybridized fashion of combining Victorian lacy, high-collared blouses with traditional jongkraben pantaloons (wrapped trousers). Queen Saowapha (also written ‘Saovabha’) who was the chief consort of Chulalongkorn also wore this kind of mixed fashion.

Queen Saowapha, clothed in part Siamese, part Victorian fashion (photo credit: wikimedia.org)

Queen Saowapha in 1902, clothed in part Siamese, part Victorian fashion (photo credit: wikimedia.org)

For this reason, ‘siwalai’ might be regarded as a technique that could provide Siam with equally civilized standards to the West. Nonetheless, additionally to its display of civilized standards to the West, it also served as a local legitimization for the symbolic powers of the Siamese elite. That is to say that there was a gap between a ‘siwalai’ Westernized public domain and a private domain which remained Thai and local. However, generally we may say that the quest for civilization served as a project for self-confirmation as well as of constructing occidentalized images of Siamese prestige. Thus, we may also claim that Siamese siwalai never had the intention to imitate all features of Western civilization.

It is more the case that distinctively Western features were adapted in order to create something new that was nevertheless completely Siamese. Hence, things and aspects labelled as civilized were considered as prestigious and authoritative. Referring back to the example of fashion, the following clip shows how Western fashion was adapted to fit in a new Siamese style considered as ‘civilized’. What is more, it is also interesting to note that today the Siamese Fashionista group tries to encourage young Thais to dress traditionally again.

Finally, we may claim that siwalai was in fact a kind of elite mimetic resistance to the West and not an attempt of farangization and westernization respectively. What do you think about this topic?

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference: Rachel V. Harrison & Peter Jackson eds. The Ambiguous Allure of the West. Traces of the Colonial in Thailand, 2010)




Ekaterina ‘Katya’ Desnitskaya – The Russian Princess of Siam

Ekaterina ‘Katya’ Desnitskaya was born 1886 in Lutsk, Ukraine. The story of her marriage to the Siamese Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath has intrigued many people over different generations, since a marriage between a Russian lady and a Prince of the Siamese Royal Family was considered impossible and unimaginable at that time. Hence, the couple and in particular Katya, who is also called the Russian Princess of Siam, had to face a lot of opposition and also undisguised anger of the Siamese Royal Family. In fact, their marriage was regarded as a “a national dynastic catastrophe” quoting Chakrabongse’s full brother Prince Pradjadhipok.

‘Katya’ – Russian Princess of Siam

Ekaterina Desnitskaya who became the Russian Princess of Siam (photo credit: viola.bz)

Ekaterina Desnitskaya who became the Russian Princess of Siam (photo credit: viola.bz)

Thus, who was the young Ukrainian lady who made such a bold step? Since Katya’s parents died relatively early in her life, she went to St. Petersburg in 1903 where her older brother Ivan studied.  Thus, as young teenager, she already graduated as a nurse from the Sisters of mercy courses.

Ekaterina met Prince Chakrabongse around 1905 when he had already been living seven years in Russia and had even become Colonel of the Russian Army. As a matter of fact, the Prince spent most of his youth in Russia because his father King Chulalongkorn sent him there. The King was concerned with modernizing Siam, for this reason he sent some of his sons abroad.

Ekaterina Desnitskaya and Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanadh (photo credit: viola.bz)

Ekaterina Desnitskaya and Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath (photo credit: viola.bz)

Prince Chakrabongse immediately fell in love with Katya. However they were separated for a while because of the Russian-Japanese war where Katya served as a nurse. Finally in 1906 the couple married in an Orthodox church in Constantinople. This was very unconventional since the Prince was a Buddhist. Nonetheless, the Prince had not asked his parents’ permission to marry the young Russian lady because he knew that they would be vehemently against their alliance.

Certainly, you remember my recent article about Prince Chula Chakrabongse – well, then you know that he is the only son of Prince Chakrabongse and Ekaterina who was born 1908 in Bangkok.

Ekaterina Desnitskaya and her son Prince Chula (photo credit: songkran.eu)

Ekaterina Desnitskaya and her small son Prince Chula (photo credit: songkran.eu)

However, Katya was not acknowledged by Prince Chakrabongse’s parents and hence, she became a kind of outcast of the Siamese Royal Family. Nevertheless, Katya was able to ‘build bridges’. She began to wear Siamese dresses, mastered Thai language and after all, the King grew fond of his grandson Prince Chula and accepted him as ‘flesh and blood’. This was because the King felt that the little Prince looked more Thai than European.

Prince Chula and his mother Katya (photo credit: blog.i.ua)

Prince Chula and his mother Katya (photo credit: blog.i.ua)

After King Chulalongkorn’s death Katya was awarded official status and became Mom Catherina Na Phitsanlunok, named after the province that her husband was responsible for. About ten years Katya lived happily in Bangkok with her husband Prince Chakrabongse. However, finally the Prince had a love affair with his young cousin Princess Chavalit. Thus, Katya decided to get divorced and go to Shanghai in China where she helped refugees from the Soviets- it was the time of the Russian revolution.

A short while later in 1920 Prince Chakrabongse died at the age of 37 and Katya returned to Thailand to attend the funeral. Nevertheless, it was also a tragic situation because she was not allowed to take her son, Prince Chula, with her. Mother and son were separated and both were very unhappy and sorrowful about this. Prince Chula did not become King but was sent to Britain where he spend his youth and studied while his mother married again and moved with her new husband, engineer Harry Clinton Stone, to the USA. Mother and son remained in contact by constantly writing each other letters.

Summing up, we may say that it was a tragic love and marriage between Katya and Prince Chakrabongse. Their granddaughter, Narisa Chakrabongse, wrote their story down and the result was the novel ‘Katya & the Prince of Siam’ published in 2013 by River Books Press.

What is more, there is also a ballet version of their story. Here is a short clip to give you an impression 🙂

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQoKdDpMMjU

Finally we may say that Katya, the Russian Princess of Siam, certainly was a courageous and strong woman. For her time, she, a European lady, made a daring decision to marry a Siamese Prince and to move to Thailand where she was a stranger. In addition, Katya, who is also the great-grandmother of Thai ‘royal rocker’ Hugo Chakrabongse Levy, proved to be very flexible and adapted herself to the ways in Siam.

Yours, Sirinya




Thainess, ‘Luk kreung’ & The Siam Renaissance

The Siam Renaissance (Thawiphop, dir. Surapong Pinijkhar, 2004) is a movie about a young Thai woman named Manee/Maneechan (Florence Vanida Faivre). She is from the early 21st century and educated in France but with the help of a mirror she is able to travel back and forth in time.

Hence, she visits Siam’s early modern past and then goes back to the present. The movie is adapted from the historical Thai novel “Tawipob” (Two Worlds) by Tamayanti which is also a love story. Thus, the movie can be classified as historical and romantic film because apart from time travelling, Manee finds valuable lessons in life and love along the way with soldier Dhep (Rangsiroj Panpeng).

The Siam Renaissance

The Siam Renaissance (photo credit: viki.com)

Scene from The Siam Renaissance, Manee & Dhep (photo credit: viki.com)

Being in 19th century Thailand at the court of King Mongkut (r. 1851-1868), Manee criticizes the Western influences in modern Thailand. When asked by two nobles at the court, she generally presents the ‘farang‘ (Westeners) and tawan-tok (the West) as a threat to Siamese cultural identity. Thus, it seems that her point of view is in accordance with Thai nationalist discourses.

Although we know that Thailand has never been colonized, there have nevertheless been strong Western influences. Hence, the movie also raises the question what Thainess is or rather what remains of it considering these influences. In addition, it also deals with the question of Thai national and cultural identities and points out ambiguities implied in a modern construction of Thainess which is devoid of Western contamination.

Here is a trailer to the movie. By the way, you may also watch the full movie with English subs here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMVJSXEGzqs
Florence V. Faivre in the part of Manee is interesting in the context of this film, since she is luk kreung (Thai-French), considering the fact that Thainess in brought into question by the threat of the farang Other. That is to say, it might appear weird that a half-Thai (who is herself partly farang) expresses nationalistic thoughts. However, we must also note that in the movie the protagonist Manee is supposed to be a full-Thai woman. Nonetheless, since the film dwells very much on her beauty and often focusses on her body and facial features, we may assume that she, Florence Faivre, as a luk kreung, represents the Thai beauty ideal of the day.

Focussing on Manee's beauty (photo credit: 2g.pantip.com)

Focussing on Manee’s beauty (photo credit: 2g.pantip.com)

Nonetheless, the half-Thai actress might also reiterate the message for the Thai need to accommodate and to move with the times but above all the movie is about a young woman’s quest for her identity.

Manee's transformation (photo credit: 2g.pantip.com)

Manee’s transformation (photo credit: 2g.pantip.com)

This is emphasized in the scene when Manee/Faivre is transformed from a traditionally dressed lady of the Siamese court to a kind of ‘farangized’ guest at the French diplomat’s residence. The film pays very much attention to Manee’s transformation. Thus, she is shown rotating behind a screen until her naked form is revealed. She is then bathed and massaged in a traditional and aestheticized Thai manner. Finally, she is dressed in a Victorian garb.

Manee farangized (photo credit: 2g.pantip.com

Manee is farangized (photo credit: 2g.pantip.com

However, despite her outer appearance, the protagonist Manee is and remains essentially Thai at heart. The point is that she may look and seem to be half-Thai and hence, all the prettier for being so in contemporary Thai viewers eyes. Nevertheless, her core and heart are completely Thai through her performance of the protagonist Manee. For this reason, we might be justified in claiming that the movie is not so much about the ‘farangization‘ of Thainess than it is about the ‘Thai-ization’ of the farang.

The Thai-ization of the farang (photo credit: 2g.pantip.com)

The Thai-ization of the farang (photo credit: 2g.pantip.com)

In other words, we may argue that the Siam Renaissance shows how the concept of the powerful West is stripped of its foreignness in order to become part of modern Thai selves. This might seem a controversial topic. What do you think about it?

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference: Rachel V. Harrison & Peter Jackson eds. The Ambiguous Allure of the West. Traces of the Colonial in Thailand, 2010)