Hope I’m not boring people but there’s so much happening that my newsletters are a wonderful way to capture memories in for me because as you know my recall isn’t brilliant.
I had my Phuket heritage tour yesterday and found it very interesting and worth a separate newsletter.
The tour was booked for the afternoon so the Jolly Green Giant (JGG), my jeep, and I headed off into the Thai traffic madness to a meeting point that was only a vague possibility on my map. Needless to say the road I expected to turn into never eventuated and I was lucky to spot a place I felt comfortable to ask for directions the Thai equivalent of Bunnings. It was like returning to a DIY womb, somewhere safe and familiar. I managed to get most of the staff involved in trying to find out where I needed to go, at one point having around 10 people around me. They obviously recognised a DIY traveller lost in a foreign land and instinctively gather round to protect and nuture. With some better idea of where I had gone wrong the JGG bulldozed a spot back in the traffic with the ease of being huge, old and having massive tank like bumpers.
I met up with the guide, a Thai Chinese lady, and the only other tourist, a German professor of social sciences (I think I have that right – Jen you’d know) in a coffee shop as the sky’s opened in a brief monsoon appearance. More about the professor later (#1)
The historical part of Phuket town has a history based on Chinese immigration. Originally brought over to work the tin mines from China and Macau they ended up being the richest group in the place through hard work and community spirit. The Macau connection explains why the mansions were built in Portuguese style, which is something that puzzled me as the Portuguese weren’t a power here. The oldest part of Phuket evolved at the junction of three canals where the junks would come up to load tin for export. Commerce followed the workers and there were some wonderful examples of entrepreneurship that shows the fundamentals of business success is unchanging.
The first tells the story of a young Chinese man who arrived at the age of 20. He spotted that the Chinese worker needed to send money bak home to support family. The only way available was by buying physical gold or jewellery and taking the risk of shipping it back to China. He set up an arrangement where the Thai currency was swapped for a “cheque”, the promise to swap for exchange for Chinese currency back home. He then establish a receiving point in China. The only thing shipped was then the promise note, not the actual valuables. Needless to say a percentage cut ensured he became the richest man in Phuket and we visited his mansion, which is still lived in by one of his descendants. More on this later (#2). God as soon a think I’ve finished a thought I come up with another one.
The second story is about another family who spotted that the Farang, Western foreigners, missed home cooking. So they opened a shop that specialised in food that provided a break from Thai curry and chilli. Pasta, tomato sauce etc. Steve Jobs would have been impressed.
The religions here have coexisted peacefully with Chinese temples, Buddhist shrines, Christian and Hindu places of worship side by side. The Buddhist society here provides a fundamental acceptance of variation in spiritual paths, in a way that Christianity and some others would never accept. How long will it last I wonder.
(#2) Back to the mansion. The original guy, the banker (aaaah another thought. A lot off the shops have very narrow street frontages but are several stories high. Hanging from the roof in some are baskets. If space or security was an issue then a trap door was built into the ceiling accessing the floor above and goods or money were transported using the baskets. His banking premises was an example of this). Right…….the original banker had an arranged marriage at 15. He and his wife to be met one hour before the wedding. Having got the formal bit out of the way they went to the bedroom which is set up to include two cots as well and the main bed. One cot is small and the other larger. It is a statement to the new wife that the expectation is to produce at least two children. By the time the first is big enough to move into the bigger cot the original cot will be filled by the second. No pressure. Also a roster and a hen are brought into the bedroom and put under the bed. If the roster finds its way out first the first born will be a male – yay – if the hen a female – sad.
Part of the wedding ceremony is the display of the wedding basket. In the basket are the gifts of money or valuables given to the couple. The richer the family the larger the basket. It forms part of the ceremonial procession of the couple and people came out to see the size of the wedding basket and therefore determine the success of the couple and their families. However there is an interesting outcome to this. The wedding basket is then used over the lifetime of the couple to give back to the community. For example it would be taken to the temple filled with food for the monks. A demonstration that the more you received originally you then had to return in equal proportions to others during your life. I really like that philosophy. People who started poor with a small basket and then became rich were expected to upgrade their basket so no cheating.
The tour included a visit to a local Chinese eating place, very original, which has been open for generations. Aaaaah another thought. Houses or businesses (oh no two sidetracks) display a photo of the king. You can tell how long they have been in business or how old the house is by seeing how many kings they have displayed. Thought two – in the entrance hall of the mansion they have an ancestral shrine with pictures of previous generations husbands matched to wives. The husband of the current owner of the mansion has died so his picture is there matched with an empty frame on the left for his still living wife. Interesting recognition of ones final destiny.