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Looking Back: A brief history of Thai-US relations

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Looking Back: A brief history of Thai-US relations | The Thaiger

PHUKET: Diplomatic relations between Thailand and the United States date back to the early 19th century. The United States was founded only a few decades earlier, when thirteen of Great Britain’s colonies in the Americas declared their independence on July 2, 1776.

The USA was a young nation, more concerned with preserving its new found freedom than becoming a great empire like Britain and France.

Less than fifty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the first American ship arrived in Bangkok in 1821. Ever since, the United States and Siam have maintained friendly diplomatic relationships towards each other, helped by the fact that the US never really had much ambition in Southeast Asia during that period. More worrisome were the Europeans who had maintained colonies in the region for hundreds of years.

After the arrival of the first American ship in Bangkok, more American merchants came to Siam to trade. Not many years later, an American named Captain Abel Coffin came across Eng and Chang, two brothers with an incredible anomaly. Eng and Chang (pronounced phonetically “in” and “jun) were twins. But, unlike most siblings, they were joined from the lower chest to the waist. Intrigued by what he saw, Capt. Coffin offered to take the boys back to America with him. In the year 1828, at only 17-years-old, Eng and Chang set sail for the United States. They became the first Thais to ever set foot on American soil.

Capt. Coffin toured with the Siamese twins and displayed them around Europe and America. He made a large profit for himself. However, in 1831 the twins left his custody and began touring the country on their own. They made quite a lot of money, and after eight years were able to buy a large piece of land in North Carolina. Both of them got married to two different women and fathered more than 10 children each, adopting the surname ‘Bunker’. In 1839 Eng and Chang received American citizenship. The twins died in 1874, having lived most of their lives in America.

The first formal treaty between the Kingdom of Siam and the USA was signed during the reign of King Rama III and the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Jackson sent Edmund Roberts as a US envoy to the court of King Rama III in the year 1833. Roberts carried a gift from the president, which he presented to the King in Bangkok. The gift was a beautiful gold sword that had an elephant and an eagle sculpted into the handle. The treaty that Roberts signed in 1833 became known as the “Treaty of Amity and Commerce”.

After Edmund Roberts, Townsend Harris was the next American envoy to travel to Siam. He arrived in Bangkok in 1856, during the reign of King Rama IV, and signed a second treaty with Siam in the name of President James Buchanan.

This revised treaty proclaimed that there would henceforth be “perpetual peace and friendship” between the two nations. The treaty also extended full royal protection to any American citizen that visited Siam.

The treaty paved the way for the appointment of an American consul in Bangkok. In case any American citizen breached Siamese law, they would be handed over to the American consul to be dealt with. Americans were also extended the right to freely practice their religion and establish places of worship.

They were also allowed to hire Siamese servants to serve their households. Furthermore, it laid out the rights of American traders, the protocols for ships entering the capital, and the tariffs on importing and exporting goods between American and Siamese merchants.

Abraham Lincoln succeeded James Buchanan as President of the United States in 1860. A year later, the American Civil War erupted and Lincoln was forced to enter into a long and bloody conflict against his fellow countrymen.

During the American Civil War, a letter arrived in Washington. Addressed to the US President, it was from King Rama IV of Siam. The King offered to send the president a herd of elephants so that they could be bred in America.

Because it was during the Civil War, many interpreted that the king meant to give Lincoln the elephants for use in the Civil War against the confederates.

However, the letter was written a few months before the Civil War started. Also, it wasn’t addressed to Lincoln, but to former president James Buchanan. It turned out that King Rama IV did offer to send a herd of elephants to the US president, but their purpose was not for war. It was to be used as beasts of burden and a means of transport.

When Lincoln received the letter, he was asked by an advisor what the elephants could be used for and in jest, he said he did not know, unless they could be used to stamp out the rebellion.

In his reply, President Lincoln politely declined the King’s offer.

“Our political jurisdiction does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant,” Lincoln stated in his letter.

It meant that America was not as close to the equator as Siam and that the cold climate would not be suitable for elephants to thrive in.

“And steam on land, as well as on water, has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation in internal commerce,” Lincoln added in his letter.

Anand Singh is an avid Phuket historian. If you have any comments or questions about Phuket history, click here.

— Anand Singh

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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Thailand

21% of Thai teenagers are gambling

Greeley Pulitzer

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21% of Thai teenagers are gambling | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Gambling, local style, Rai Et, north-east Thailand – Pinterest

Early in October the Thai Health Promotion Foundation met to discuss the gambling situation in Thailand in 2019. Also present were the Centre for Gambling Studies, Stop Gambling Foundation and related groups.

The meeting was set up after a report revealed that more than half (57%) of the Thai population, or 30.42 million people, gamble. The director-general of the Centre for Gambling Studies at Chulalongkorn University shared the report, which was based on data from a survey of 44,050 people across 77 provinces.

The figure is an increase of 1.49 million people from 2017. While most Thai gamblers are of working age, 2.4% of the total were aged between 15-18 years. This means that 21% of that age group are gambling.

According to California’s Council on Problem Gambling, youth, like everyone else, gamble for many reasons, including entertainment; socialisation; competition; loneliness, and boredom; to get rich quick; to impress others; be the centre of attention; make new friends, and because winning provides an instant, temporary boost of confidence.

“The California Council on Problem Gambling lists depression as one reason youth turn to gambling, noting that depression can just as easily be an effect as a cause. This is especially important to note in a country like Thailand.”

In an article in The ASEAN Post, it was noted that in December 2017, Thailand’s Department of Mental Health (DMH) reported that an estimated one million teenagers are believed to suffer from depression, many of whom go untreated, with two million more are at risk, making upward of three million among a population of eight million teens then.

The DMH said that stress and anxiety may affect a student’s ability to concentrate and perform well at school, and they may show several warning signs, such as lack of attention, loss of interest in daily activities, lethargy, sadness, and sleeping issues.

“It is clear from studies that depression and gambling go hand-in-hand: the unfortunate case in Thailand is that it is affecting children too.”

SOURCE: The ASEAN Post

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Bangkok

Professor: Military government too interested in tourism – not people’s welfare

Greeley Pulitzer

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Professor: Military government too interested in tourism – not people’s welfare | The Thaiger

A professor of Rangsit University has criticised the previous military government for focusing too much on tourism and not enough on the welfare of the Thai people. The professor was speaking at Chulalongkorn University at a seminar discussing street stalls and urban development.

She questioned the National Council for Peace and Order’s policy of clearing street vendors in all but a few areas such as Yaowarat and Khao San Road that mainly cater to tourists.

She claimed that the NCPO – in power since the coup of 2014 until this year’s election – was more interested in economic development through tourism than in the welfare of the public.

Having affordable street food options was not just about tourism, she said, it was vital for poor workers who have migrated from the countryside, adding that it was part of an informal rather than a formal economy.

“For years people had earned their living from selling goods and services, including food, on the streets.”

This in turn provided an affordable option to eat for workers who came to Bangkok on for large investment projects. The issue, she said, was not just about tourism but the wider economy that might benefit.

The professor noted that CNN had once called Bangkok the best place in the world for street food but this had changed with the sanitized food trucks that have appeared since stalls and vendors were banned from most areas.

The Thaiger notes that banning street vendors has divided the capital. Many are happy that the sidewalks are easier to navigate, but others – including tourists – have said that the lifeblood and character of the city has suffered.

SOURCE: Naew Na | ThaiVisa Forum

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Chiang Rai

Journey back to Tham Luang in ‘The Cave’ – VIDEO

The Thaiger

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Journey back to Tham Luang in ‘The Cave’ – VIDEO | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Tom Waller on site during the filming of The Cave – AFP

Determined divers racing against time. Rising waters threatening lives. 12 teenagers and their soccer coach trapped inside for two weeks. A remote cave that most had never heard of.

The stuff of a Hollywood drama, except that it’s all true and happened in Chiang Rai last year. Now the first of several re-tellings of the story comes to the big screen in The Cave.

The ordeal in late June and early July last year had barely ended when filmmakers began their own race to get the nail-biting drama onto cinema screens. The first of those projects premiered at the start of October, when director Tom Waller’s The Cave showed at the Busan Film Festival in South Korea.

The film was shot over three months earlier this year and has been in post-production since then. The 45 year old Thai-British filmmaker says the epic tale of the Wild Boars (Mu Pa) football team was a story he simply had to tell.

“I took the view that this was going to be a story about the people we didn’t know about, about the cave divers who came all the way from across the planet.”

The 13 young men entered the Tham Luang cave complex after soccer practice and were quickly trapped inside by rising floodwater. The boys were forced to spend nine nights lost in the cave, whilst Navy Seal and other diver searched frantically, before they were spotted by a British diver.

It would take another eight days before they were all safe, against all odds, in a risky mission.

Waller was visiting his father in Ireland when he saw television news accounts of the drama.

“I thought this would be an amazing story to tell on screen.”

But putting the parts together after their dramatic rescue proved to be a challenge. Thailand’s government, led by the military NCPO, became very protective of the story, barring unauthorised access to the Mu Pa team or their parents. Waller often feared his production might be shut down.

His good fortune was that the events at the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province had multiple angles and interesting characters. Especially compelling were the stories of the rescuers, particularly the expert divers who rallied from around the world. He decided to make a film “about the volunteer spirit of the rescue.”

Other people proposed telling the story from the point of view of the boys, and Netflix nailed down those rights in a deal brokered by the Thai government.

“I took the view that this was going to be a story about the people we didn’t know about, about the cave divers who came all the way from across the planet. They literally dropped everything to go and help, and I just felt that that was more of an exciting story to tell, to find out how these boys were brought out and what they did to get them out.”

Waller even had more than a dozen key rescue personnel play themselves.

Waller said they were natural actors, blending in almost seamlessly with the professionals around them, and helped by the accuracy of the settings and the production’s close attention to detail.

“What you are really doing is asking them to remember what they did and to show us what they were doing and what they were feeling like at the time. That was really very emotional for some of them because it was absolutely real.”

Waller says his film is likely to have a visceral effect on some viewers, evoking a measure of claustrophobia.

“It’s a sort of immersive experience with the sound of the environment, you know, the fact that is very dark and murky, that the water is not clear.”

“In Hollywood films, when they do underwater scenes, everything is crystal clear. But in this film it’s murky and I think that’s the big difference. This film lends itself to being more of a realistic portrayal of what happened.”

Some scenes were filmed on location at the entrance to the actual Tham Luang cave, but most of the action was shot elsewhere.

“We filmed in real water caves that were flooded, all year-round. It is very authentic in terms of real caves, real flooded tunnels, real divers and real creepy-crawlies in there. So it was no mean feat trying to get a crew to go and film in these caves.”

The Cave goes on general release in Thailand on November 28.

ORIGINAL ARTICE: Associated Press | Time.com

Journey back to Tham Luang in 'The Cave' - VIDEO | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Tom Waller – Associated Press/Sakchai Lalit

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