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Illuminating the past
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    Illuminating the past

    Touring the privately owned Yusuksuwan Museum in Prachin Buri is like taking a walk down memory lane

    Bangkok Post
    February 21, 2008

    About 10 minutes by car from downtown Prachin Buri, tucked away in the sub-district of Dongkilek, is a remarkable repository of antiques and curios plus a small zoo. On a beautifully landscaped, seven-rai site, ringed by some unusual trees, sits a group of structures built in contemporary Thai style. Towering above them all is a watchtower designed to resemble an old oil lantern.

    Welcome to Yusuksuwan Museum, the brainchild of antique dealer Narong Yusuksuwan who accumulated this eye-catching collection over a period of three decades, picking up old objects here and there on trips around the country. Of the 20,000 items on display here, lamps, of every conceivable shape and size, predominate.

    "I've always had a passion for collecting old things - household appliances and other objects that many people tend to discard just because they're no longer in fashion," says the bespectacled, 60-something, a native of the province.

    "But lamps have always been my favourite, because to me they signify both light and hope. I sell different types of antiques, but never the lamps - I prefer to keep those for myself."

    Opened to the public last year, the museum is housed in five separate buildings, some named after flowers indigenous to this region. Each has its own theme and individual style. Lamps are a constant motif, though; they're everywhere you look: mounted on walls, hanging from ceilings, adorning the lobby and toilets; there are even some dotted around the car park.

    "I spent 20 million baht building the museum and I know it'll be years before I make any profit," says its rather diffident founder. "I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing young people appreciate things from the past. Few youngsters today see the importance of preserving objects that have become obsolete.

    "Every single thing here tells a story about the generation in which it was made. For me even an old matchbox is priceless. Some of our young visitors are totally mesmerised by all this stuff they've never seen before. They love watching me demonstrate how to work the old paraffin lamps and spend ages poring over the old magazines; I've got periodicals that date back half a century."

    Our tour starts in the artistically designed Rachawadee Building which houses the largest collection of lamps and lanterns, some 30 different types in all. The ground floor has a good selection of old silverware, brassware and pottery from the early 20th century. Passing a row of bottle-openers mounted on the wall - Narong said they're about 30 years old - we walk into a full-size reconstruction of a period coffeeshop in the Chinese style, complete with original furniture and equipment such as paraffin-powered refrigerators. The sight of some chunky old metal irons causes Narong to wax nostalgic: Nowadays we're spoilt for choice when it comes to purchasing labour-saving devices, he declares, making the point that technology has advanced so far that youngsters today have no idea how much effort it once took to iron a pile of clothes.

    We climb the stairs and suddenly we're transported back to the 1920s or '30s; it's another reconstruction, this time of an old barber's shop. Then we stop to admire a cabinet full of beautiful antique lamps, originally imported from Germany.

    Downstairs in the lobby again, Narong points to a huge lamp suspended from the ceiling, revealing that it was his most expensive acquisition; he paid 50,000 baht for it some years back. The oldest lamps in his collection are from the late 1930s.

    Then it's on to Leelawadee, two inter-connected buildings, six rooms in all, crammed with period crockery, quaint ceramic trays, cooking pots, lemonade bottles, more oil lamps, paraffin stoves, bicycles, toys, bronze bowls and Buddha images.

    The history of Prachin Buri is well documented in the next stop on our tour: The Chuanchom Building contains masses of old photos, including several of HM the King on a visit to Wat Kaewpichit. Piles of old newspapers and comic books, albums of postage stamps and lottery tickets offer a colourful glimpse into the not-too-distant past.

    Outside again, we make a brief inspection of an open-sided building containing a display of old wooden boats where Narong has also had a traditional bamboo house, complete with thatched roof, erected. Then we climb several flights of stairs to the top of that lantern-shaped watchtower - it's called the Chao Payu Building and is 13 metres high - for a bird's eye view of the compound and the surrounding countryside.

    We wind up our visit with a walk around the little zoo which has ponds containing fish, turtles and crocodiles plus a large enclosure housing all kinds of exotic birds.

    Many different species of tree line the boundary of the site and when I ask Narong about them he explains that each of the 76 provinces in the Kingdom has adopted a tree as its official emblem and that he is very close to completing his collection. "Now we're missing only three - the emblems of three provinces in the far South.

    "We haven't been open that long so we're still at the trial-and-error stage," he announces as we're preparing to leave, "but my aim is to make Yusuksuwan a great destination for family outings."

    Yusuksuwan Museum, 135 Prachintakam Road, Tambon Dongkilek, Muang district, Prachin Buri. Open daily, 9am to 5pm. Entrance fee: adults, 150 baht; children, 100 baht. Narong is hoping to recruit some English-speaking guides later this year. For more information, phone 037-465-300 or 037-465-333.
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