Museum gives an eye-witness view

The Nation, Published on Nov 9, 2003

For many of his generation that grew up witnessing the horrors of World War II, silence has been the best way to deal with the bitter memories, but for Aran Jansiri from Kanchanaburi, building and running a private war museum has been his way to deal with grief.

Built through his own efforts and money, his World War II Museum sits on the banks of the Kwai River near one of the two bridges build as part of the infamous Thai-Burma Death Railway by Allied prisoners of war and Asian labourers in 1942 and 1943.

I wrote the description cards for each item [in the museum] using my own research and my own experiences. People on either side of the war might not like it [my descriptions], but its my version. Dont come if you dont like it, Aran said.

Dont compare this [my museum] to a standard museum. Its my style, he said describing the museums unique approach.

Despite the no frills decorations, each of the exhibits is genuine, having been collected by Aran over the past five decades.

On the face of it, Aran might be mistaken for an entrepreneur/collector of World War II memorabilia with an interest in war-related tourism, but when you sit down and hear his story, what emerges is a picture of a man with an important message to deliver.

I want to tell people war is nothing but disaster, said Aran, who witnessed the brutal treatment of Allied POWs and Asian labourers by the Japanese when he was a young boy.

I did not know what war was at the time. One day, our teacher told us the war would soon start. Several months later we felt the first bomb explosion, and then Japanese army troops occupied the town, he recalled.

Like most Kanchanaburi residents, Arans local community did not take sides and stayed on the sidelines.

We children always came to see

them [Japanese troops] build the bridge. That is the first one, the wooden one,

before the huge iron one that exists now was built. It was childish fun, the old man recalled.

But the involvement of some locals was not totally removed, nor impartial.

We saw how farangs [foreigner prisoners] were forced to build the bridge day and night. My grandmother pitied them very much. She would often sneak them bananas while they walked to take a shower by the river. I helped her carry those bananas, 68-year-old Aran recalled.

After the war, Aran pursued his love of history, particularly World War II, which gave him the impetus to collect items for his own museum.

After grade four, I worked in tailor shop and came to own the shop when I was 17. Then one day a much-respected uncle convinced me to become a trader.

I was lucky in business. After coming into money I began to think about the museum and got it started. It began operating in 1992, Aran said.

But soon he found his operating costs high, so he began to charge visitors Bt30 each to offset the expense, as well as the further develop the museum.

I develop it daily, I add more and more things to see. This is what makes me happiest, he said.

Apart from exhibits featuring, among

other things, parts of motorcycles, cars and giant cooking pans used during the war,

Aran has opened a new section dedicated to the Thai-Burmese wars. He is also eyeing an extension to his museum commemorating the democracy uprisings on Oct 14, 1973 and Oct 6, 1976, as well as exhibits on other major global wars.

Although he started off hating the Japanese for their role in pushing POWs to build the Death Railway, his life-long dedication to learning has made him reassess many of his pervious views.

I began to take a dislike towards the West, especially the US. Its eager and bad behaviour in invading other nations is unbearable, he said.

Thousands of visitors from around the world are expected to visit Kanchanaburi this month to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the building of the Death Railway.

Kamol Sukin

The Nation