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Urgent: Seeing history as it fades
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  1. #1
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    Seeing history as it fades

    Ancient community

    Seeing history as it fades
    Pratch Rujivanarom

    The Nation March 28, 2016 1:00 am + PICS

    The large Mahakan Fort community, more than a century old, is about to disappear
    Behind one of Bangkok's old fortress walls lies an equally historic community that city authorities are about to move elsewhere - forcibly if necessary - and replace with a tourist attraction.

    The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has plans to turn Mahakan Fort - which 200 years ago protected the capital from threats across the river - into a canal-side historical park. The community nestled alongside the walls is about to be dispersed forever.

    Outsiders might see the community as a crowded, dilapidated slum, another eyesore on the city map. That's what the BMA sees as well. Looking deeper, though, there's a lively heart amid the cracked wood of the classic Siamese houses erected a century ago. History is already much in evidence without the need for refurbishing and preservation.

    Community leader Thawatchai Voramahakun says it's far more than just home to the residents. It's a link connecting brash, modern Bangkok to its quieter, more sociable past.

    "People nowadays know nothing about their roots, but here we are, standing on the firm roots of history, and we're well aware of who we are," he says, showing off a cigarette box that once belonged his grandfather, who made traditional musical instruments.

    "My family made instruments for many generations, and my grandfather was the last inheritor of the family business. He and his wife had only daughters, and women were forbidden from making these kinds of instruments."

    Old photos of the family home offer a fascinating glimpse of the past. Celebrated music teachers came for worshipful ceremonies. One corner of the house was where his grandfather always relaxed after work with a cigarette.

    "All the people of this community have their own stories to share," Thawatchai says. "They're stories about how the people lived their lives throughout the history of this city."

    As for the BMA plans to relocate the community (two other areas in the city have been earmarked), he says, "We don't have anyplace to go. Our homes and history are here. If we're evicted, our roots will be destroyed."

    Thawatchai says the community dates back almost 200 years and spans the area from the fortress walls to the canal that encircled Bangkok at the dawn of the Rattanakosin Era, when attack from downriver and from the east was still a frequent possibility.

    Once that threat subsided, the nobility occupied the area, an idyllic location on the surrounding canal, Rop Krung, and near the entrance to Klong Saen Saep. "Many people in the community today are descendants of the servants and slaves of the nobility," Thawatchai says.

    "After King Rama V abolished slavery, a lot of those who were freed had no place to go, so they set up homes close to their former masters. This is how the community grew."

    Evidence of aristocratic settlers can still be seen in the area today. Some of the houses stand out - a far cry from the "eyesore" label attached to the community. Lampin Kajitsuwan, a relative of one of the most important figures of modern Thai history, Puey Ungpakorn, lives in an old traditional house.

    "This house belonged to Professor Puey's family and he lived here for many years before giving it to a sibling," she says. "I'm the third generation living here, with my daughter and grandson."

    She doesn't remember exactly how old the building is, but it's certainly showing signs of age and requires regular maintenance. The window frames are damaged, but Lampin can't find a carpenter able to repair this sort of woodwork.

    Regardless, the house appears sound in structure and is kept clean and tidy. Lampin's even had a film crew in recently, shooting scenes for a period soap opera, she says proudly.

    The community is also sanctuary for folk arts that are rarely seen in the capital now. It's famous for its handmade birdcages, traditionally used to hold birds as they sang in competition.

    Ratchanee Nilbai's family has been making the cages for three generations. Her family moved to Bangkok from the South about 100 years ago.

    "There aren't many makers of handmade birdcages left anywhere," she says. "Future generations might not even know how to make them.

    "I know the BMA wants to redevelop the land as an historical park so tourists can learn about the city," Ratchanee says. "But I have to wonder why they don't just keep the community - it's already a living museum, and the tourists could learn the history directly from the mouths of the descendants!"

    Deputy Bangkok governor Police General Asawin Kwanmuang, though, insists the community must go, pointing out that the residents are now living illegally on municipal land.

    "They were compensated for being evicted in 1992, and anyway, most of them already have places to go," he says.

    "We will definitely reclaim the land next month, after the Songkran Festival. The governor, MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra, is urging on this operation, which is aimed at making Rop Krung Canal beautiful again and creating a new tourist attraction."

    Asawin speaks with assurance, and yet uncertainty lingers in the community and, for now at least, the lives of the residents go on.

    PAST MEETS THE PRESENT

    - 1783: Mahakan Fort established. During the reign of King Rama III (1824-51), people begin settling between the fort walls and Rop Krung Canal.

    - 1897: A likay theatre is erected.

    - 1949: The government's Fine Arts Department has Mahakan Fort registered as a national historic site.

    - 1959: Government initiates plans to revamp the area.

    - 1985: The community is registered as a legal settlement.

    - 1992: The city reclaims land deeds and pays the residents compensation for eviction.

    - 1994: Residents are officially ordered to move out.

    - 1996: The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration arranges for the residents to move to Lat Krabang.

    - 2000: Land is also offered in Phasi Charoen.

    - 2002: The community sues the BMA in Administrative Court.

    - 2003: Initial eviction efforts fail.

    - 2005: Bangkok governor and the community sign an agreement on a conservation project.

    - 2006: The BMA wins the right to evict the residents in the Supreme Administrative Court

    - 2016: The BMA threatens force if necessary in evicting the residents.

    - THENATION

  2. #2
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    Re: Seeing history as it fades

    Outsiders might see the community as a crowded, dilapidated slum, another eyesore on the city map. That's what the BMA sees as well. Looking deeper, though, there's a lively heart amid the cracked wood of the classic Siamese houses erected a century ago. History is already much in evidence without the need for refurbishing and preservation.
    Outside of the massive malls, most of Bangkok is viewed as dilapidated. It's the part that I really like.

    I'm sure some little prick will counter this.
    "Repudiate bullshit wherever you find it. Reason is worth standing up for." - Peter Boghossian



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    Re: Seeing history as it fades

    200 year is by no means old....

    In Europe we would call the newly built.....

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    Re: Seeing history as it fades

    There you have it!
    "Repudiate bullshit wherever you find it. Reason is worth standing up for." - Peter Boghossian



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    Re: Seeing history as it fades

    Hi

    Curt you nailed it Ha ha ha

    China's history far out dates europe's while europe was wallowing in the muck and pestilence of the dark ages China had culture and art far above them. Even in America the native Indians had a vast culture and history until europeans invaded and destroyed them. with disease and religion.

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    Re: Seeing history as it fades

    Jup in Europe buildings 2000+ years old (we had a time before the dark ages and even built some impressive things during the dark ages)....China and South Americans even older.
    Here 200 years....that is about every second house in Europe. Not really impressive for anyone beside Americans or Australians.
    If you are impressed by a 200 year old building I have one for sale....A bit wet in winter but the stone walls are cool in summer....and nearby is a 1000 year old church (which never attracted a tourist). And that let a Italian or Greek only yawn. So really 200 years isn't something special. Angkor Wat would be old.

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    Re: Seeing history as it fades

    As usual, you are missing the point.

    Although the neighborhood isn't ancient, it is part of Bangkok's history, AS IS THE SURROUNDING NEIGHBORHOOD!

    The dilapidated neighborhood adds character, whether it is 20 years old, or 2,000 years old. The BMA will probably sell out to some investor who will build the latest, greatest, multi-story mega-mall and totally bury the fort in its shadow.
    "Repudiate bullshit wherever you find it. Reason is worth standing up for." - Peter Boghossian



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    Re: Seeing history as it fades

    How sad. They have built historical parks to mimic life in the past, and now they are going to tear down this community?

    I'm glad I don't have to see this. A bus ride to work, or a Saturday shopping trip to Banglampu would not have been the same for me without passing The Golden Mount. Some things are best left to memory.

    But for the people living there, I wonder if they will ever again find the same sense of community?

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    Re: Seeing history as it fades

    Speaking of the Golden Mount, the cemetery, around much of its base, has been displace by a shopping arcade.
    "Repudiate bullshit wherever you find it. Reason is worth standing up for." - Peter Boghossian



  12. #10
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    Re: Seeing history as it fades

    Quote Originally Posted by Curt View Post
    As usual, you are missing the point.

    Although the neighborhood isn't ancient, it is part of Bangkok's history, AS IS THE SURROUNDING NEIGHBORHOOD!

    The dilapidated neighborhood adds character, whether it is 20 years old, or 2,000 years old. The BMA will probably sell out to some investor who will build the latest, greatest, multi-story mega-mall and totally bury the fort in its shadow.
    yes recent history....as historical important as a Disneyland....
    But you are right replacing it with the next super mega mall with exact the same shops as the 20 others would be bad.
    Replacing it with something beneficial for the normal people would be good. During the socialist times (and I am not a socialist) in my country they built large public libraries, large public swimming pools (and not some high price hi-so place), or some real museum or some real University a lot you could put instead of some useless Fort.

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