National Geographic : 1962 Jul
THAILAND A BRIEF HOP from Hong Kong, is the land James Michener has called "the joyous land." It is also among the most fortunate. With a long history of peace and independ ence, plenty of food and little disease, it has escaped many of Asia's hardships.* In Bangkok a prevalent attitude was ex pressed by the words Mai pen rai-"itdoes not matter." Our encounters with the drivers of sam lohs, or three-wheeled scooter-cabs, bore out this mood. The drivers refuse to put meters on their cabs because they love to haggle. But they were never bitter, grinning even at a refusal. One driver agreed to take a student across the city for seven bahts (thirty-five cents), but got lost on the way. Finally reach ing the destination, the driver asked ten bahts. "Oh no," the student said. "You agreed on seven. Take that or nothing." "All right," the driver laughed. "Nothing." And he drove away. From scum-covered canals where Thai both swam and threw refuse, to TV studios, where stage hands searched high and low for a stray insect whose chirp rang mys teriously into the microphones, much of Bangkok seemed touched with comic opera. Take the Thai boxing match we saw one *See "Thailand Bolsters Its Freedom," by W. Robert Moore, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, June, 1961. 104 evening at Rajadamnoen Stadium. Opposed were Prakae Petch, billed as "Bright star of Petch Chingchai camp, who loves to march in and bangs it away from gong to homestretch," and SreeSak Wongdeves, called "Blast-up star of Wongdeves camp, the good produce of the cauliflower industry of Bangkok." To the accompaniment of reed horns, these two went at it in a whirlwind of punching, kicking, and gouging that drove spectators wild. Rules, obviously, would spoil the fun. Hand in hand with Thai whimsy goes a reverence for the past. We toured Bangkok's great temples, inspected the dry docks of the royal ceremonial barges, and watched an ex hibition of Thai classic dance. But could such a tradition-bound people adapt to the needs of today? Two field trips gave an answer. First, at Saowapha Institute we saw snakes milked for venom to produce antivenins. Medical technicians explained promising research in rabies treatment. At Kasetsart University we observed laboratory work in the genetics of cattle and rice. The brisk competence of Thai scientists impressed us tremendously. Before leaving Bangkok, a number of us took college board examinations, sealed tests that could be opened only on the same day they were given in America. Then, with our completed exam papers turned in for mailing, we were off to India. KODACHROME(BELOW) AND HS EKTACHROME(C) N.G.S. Rubbing rice paper with blue paint, James Pollock traces a marble carving that adorns Wat Po temple in Bangkok, Thailand. Panels illustrate the Rama yana, an ancient Sanskrit epic of an adventurous prince. A passer-by from the city's American colony pauses to watch. Bejeweled Bangkok Outsparkles the Moon Sequin lights spangle trees outside the grounds of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha as Bangkok pre pares for the King's birthday. Glittering brace lets ring the spire of the Golden Chedi; the Panthe on wears a shimmering crown. Shadowy roof peaks suggest the grace ful arms of dancers.