Thai Tours Pt. Two

Yesterday I left off as Bo and I were beginning our tour of the Smithsonians many museusms here in DC. You may be asking yourself why would that be something to blog about on a blog page devoted to Thailand? Other than the fact that Bo is Thai 😛 Well actually dear reader you would be surprised just how much of Thailand you can find in the Smithsonian 🙂

From the number of Thai people that I have worked with in the business division of the museums to Thai artists and exhibits there is alot to find here you just have to know where to look. Bo and I started at the Museum of American History, mainly because there is just so much cool stuff to see!

Once we got through the lines of security, Bo waiting on me while I got my ever present book bag of Thai books and homework hand checked, we got a free museum guide and planned what to see. I told Bo whatever he wanted to see I’d show him. I should mention that all of the Smithsonian museums are free and open to the public except for the added security you have to go through each time now since 9/11. There is so much stuff crammed into this museum that is it like a maze to try and find it all.

I explained this to Bo and he said “Oh it’s Amazing?”
“Well yes but it’s like one big maze here”
“Really AMAZING!”
“No, that’s not guite what I mean 🙂 It’s a maze”
“?”
I was almost to the point of digging out my Beckers Thai-English dictionary when mai bpen rai saved the day! Later on looking at the layout for the Science in America exhibit I showed Bo that it was layed out as a Maze. Ping. Light bulb! “ooooh!” (which btw the word for ‘maze’ is taang kot kiao ทางคดเคี้ย&#3623

One of the really cool things we checked out were several exhibits like Within These Walls an actual 200 year old house built in Massachusetts. The house was taken apart piece by piece and rebuilt inside the museum so you can see how 5 different American families lived throughout our history.

Something Bo really liked was that many exhibits are interactive with dials and levers and things to pull and smell or open to show more about a certain exhibit or period of history. He was like a kid in a candy store finding stuff he wanted to photograph. I wish I had asked him to download all his pics in my computer so I could use them for this blog. All the pics you will see in this series on the museums are stock photos I found on the internet.

Walking through the main entrance hall we stopped to watch a live drama presentation by singers and actors. They were talking about what it was like 40 years ago protesting for civil rights when black people were discriminated against in America and suffered a lot to gain egual rights like the right to vote. They showed picket signs saying ‘we shall overcome’ and one woman becan to sing an emotional gospel song.

Bo was taking pictures and I asked him if he had ever heard American gospel music before. He hadn’t but he commented how it made him feel very tingly inside. Amazing how music can reach and touch people of different cultures, races and languages the same. The presentation was also at the foot of a very special exhibit in the museum. Towering above us and hanging as a backdrop was the actual three stories tall American Flag that was hung on the side of the Pentagon after the attack on September 11th. The other really cool exhibit was on the third floor and all about the Presidents and history of the Presidency of the United States.

Did you know that as far back as 1833 Presidents such as Andrew Jackson, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln all received Royal Gifts from high ranking members of the Thai Court (like the Bunnak family), Prince Mongkut (later HM King Mongkut, Rama IV) and his brother Phra Pin Klao (later the Second King.)

The first official American contact with Thailand (then Siam) came in the Reign of King Nang Klao, Rama III (r.1824-1851) On a mission to negotiate a treaty of friendship and commerce this was the beginning of the exchange of gifts of state between Thailand and America in which we sent in return a steady supply of scientific books and equipment from Western missionaries requested by the King and important members of the court. This was a good opportunity for the scholarly royalty and nobility of Thailand to improve their knowleadge of Western science and culture.

Now I would love to tell you that all this information is on display at the Smithsonian. In fact you can see a display of some of the actual royal gifts in the Natural History Museum but to be honest I got all this information from one of the books in my collection “Treasure of Two Nations: Thai Royal Gifts to the United States of America” by Lisa McQuail. This is a book I bought from Asia Books in Bangkok that was actually published by the Smithsonian! It was published for the asian cultural history program and is actually one of two books I have on Thailand published by the Smithsonian.

One of the Royal Gifts also included two gorgeous swords given to President Lincoln and as I was telling Bo about that I swear he was rolling his eyes a bit “yeah I KNOW you like swords” On the Metro that day on the way headed to the museums Bo and I met a kid who had a Kendo sword used in the Japanese art of combat. I told Bo afterwards how I wanted to get a real Thai sword, or Daab, to display on my wall. I have a friend in Thailand that makes armor to re-enact Thai battles and can have a Thai sword made for me. I’m sure Bo thinks I am such a geek maybe haha.

Seeing all we wanted to see we decided to move on to our next target the Museum of Natural History! I’m really trying to keep my blogs in fairly bite sized portions 😉 so that and more to come tomorrow. My apologies if maybe I’m too long on the history lectures this time and too short on the humor 😛

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7 responses to “Thai Tours Pt. Two

  1. I read somewhere that Thailand offered to send Abe Lincoln some war elephants during the American Civil War, as a token of friendship and support !

  2. Khun Don –

    I don’t think the elephants made it but there is actually a real life account of a Thai soldier that fought in the Civil War and was wounded. Let me see if I can find out the facts on that somewhere it might make an interesting story to share.

    Wit

  3. I read about this too, a while ago. What little I recall, the letter was addressed to Lincoln, but due to the slow post service, he never got it. Instead, some other big shot, whose name I forgot already, got the letter. He then politely refused the royal offer, citing the reason that the climate over there is not “optimal” for such animals. Well, I guess it’s the thought that counts. :p

    I wish I could write it here as it was originally written in the book, but I read the story in Richard’s library, so it’d be difficult to reference it from the northern mountains, lol.

    Good blog, Wit, I enjoyed it. 🙂

  4. Fascinating! What a great insight on one of our nations most educational sites. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    Great blog!

  5. Yes-I seem to remember the elephant offer was politely declined, but I did not know a Thai soldier fought in the Civil War.
    I believe some of the Royal Princes were sent to Europe to serve in the Navys of the “Great Powers” in order to learn western military tactics -very astute at a time when the “western wolves” in the shape of Britain and France were up to no good on Siam’s borders.

  6. Wow. Just imagine if the elephants made it here back in the days. Talk about introducing foreign species. I can see elephants roaming wild in the fields of Georgia…

    On the note of sending Thai troops to war abroad, I believe there’s also a story of Thai soldiers being sent to fight WWI. But by the time they got of the ship, the war was long over. Or something like that. 🙂

  7. As interesting as the idea of Thai war elephants would have been during the Civil War – for one thing it would surely have brought to prominence Siam (now Thailand) into modern Western culture much more quickly -thereby changing the course of history between our countries in who knows how many ways it would also have been a horrible slaughter! A useless sacrifice of these majestic animals in what is one of the most savage wars in modern history.

    For one thing, as is with all ‘civil’ wars, it was a blood bath because we were Americans killing fellow Americans! Each side armed to the teeth and bristling with the urge to fight to the death for what they believed in. Another was the fact that this was the first truly ‘modernized’ war with new weapons (for that time) and tactics that brought the wholesale slaughter of our fellow countrymen to an efficient and un-imagined scale for 4 very long years. Battles were fought with devastating casualities at greater and greater distances with weapons of far superior range and accuracy than anything we had known in warfare before.

    Thai war elephants, which although were mightly strong, were also very slow and only truly effective in extreme close quarter combat. In terms of the carnage we were unleasing on ourselves to expose them to this would have been condemning them to a horrible death at the hands of canons and rifles.

    Not a very pleasant ‘What If..’ to think about after all.

    Wit

    (P.S. – Oakley I did smile at the idea of Thai elephants roaming free in the cotton fields of Georgia..imagine what they would be like as farm animals!)