Christina has asked me to tell her about my guiding and what is involved with it, so here for Christina and anyone else who is interested, are my experiences to date. Picture shows those of us who “Graduated” from the guiding course with two of our leaders in the grounds of the museum.Our nationalities are: British, Canadian, Australian, American, Indian, Dutch and Thai
As mentioned in my last entry, I did a guiding course at the National Museum here in Bangkok, earlier in the year. This course is prepared, organized and some of it is taught by other volunteers who have learned their business the same way. It is excellent and is held once a year for any members of the NMV. We had about 50 or 60 people at the start of the course, consisting mainly of lectures on origins of Thailand, Buddhism, Hinduism, how the Buddha statue changed with the eras, different areas of Siam and its arts, etc.
Once we began viewing the museum artifacts,with experienced guides, to see the different areas in depth and eventually to write about one item and guide some of the new guides, we lost a lot of the original participants, ending up with about 15-20 people who completed the whole course and maybe 10-15 of those have /will become guides.
I took my first tour around on 19th May and my second today. I had 5 people in May and 3 of them left after an hour while another 2 joined after 1/2hr. I chose to take them around, the Palace first. I had 11 people today, mostly North Americans.
I should explain a little about the museum, part of it was originally The Wang Na, or “Palace to the Front” in reference to the Grand Palace which the Wang Na was the protector of. In Thailand they had a history of “Second Kings”. While their was only one king, the second King had a palace and almost as much statues but not as much power as the King. It did not necessarily follow that the second king would replace the King.
The Wang Na was turned into a museum in 1926, at this time it lost a lot of its land and some of its buildings which were either incorporated into other institutions or demolished, new ones were eventually built (in the 1960’s) to house all the artifacts.
The main Palace where the second King and other princes lived is still there and houses mainly decorative arts. This is the area I have been showing. Explaining about; the dolls house brought back from King Chulalongkorn’s (RamaV) trip to Europe and used to show the courtiers how Europeans lived; the means of transportation used here, Palanquins and Howdahs (saddle for elephant) as their were no roads to speak of, you used a boat when ever possible and if you were rich, for short journeys, you used the above or, if poor, your feet.
The War Weapons Room, I tell the story of war elephants while everyone sits around the life size elephant complete with his general in front, signaler on the howdah (this is the leader elephant) and mahout hanging on for dear life on the back. We see the first machine gun dreamed of by King Mongkut (Rama IV) and explained by him to the court gunsmiths who made it ( predating the 1870 automatic machine gun developed by the west).
In the wood carving room we see the huge solid wood carved main doors from Wat Suthat which were removed from the Wat after they were damaged by fire in the 1959. Some of the elaborate carving on them was done by King Rama II.
The Mother of Pearl Inlay room, has some beautiful examples of this art(natural lacquer tapped from a tree, into which the tiny pieces of sea shells are placed in intricate designs) including a cabinet whose doors are thought to come from a Viharn (Assembly room in a wat compound) from the Ayutthaya period. This art form has been traced back to the Dvaravati period (6th century CE) in Thailand.
Theater Arts and Games Room, has some wonderful examples of Thai Hun Luang (royal puppets) and Hun Lek (viceregal puppets) as well as Khon Masks used in a classical dance/ drama The Ramakien, which is the Thai version of the Indian epic The Ramayana. Their are also examples of Chinese puppets and shadow puppets.
The Ceramics Room has a lot of Chinese examples but their are some examples of Swankaloke stone wear including Si Satchanali celadon wear and Sukhothai undergalze black fish plates mostly recovered from ship wrecks. We also see Bencharong (five colours achieved through the use of coloured enamels each fired at different times according to the colour) china made in China to Thai deigns, these were popular in the Ayutthaya period.
The Music Room has examples of Thai as well as other south east Asian musical instruments on show. The Thai music scale is 7 notes of which 5 are the ones mainly used hence the strange (to western ears) sound produced. The Pi Pat ensemble is the one used to accompany the Khon masked dance and puppet performances of the Ramakien. They also have lovely examples of knee drums with a Bencharong ceramic shaft and leather top.
After the palace I take them to the Funeral Chariots Hall and explain how a Royal funeral is conducted. They are wonderful examples of Thai wood carving covered in gold paint. They are very tall, representing mount Meru, the centre of the universe, in Hindu and Buddhist cosmology.
The Red House is a Royal example of a typical Thai wooden house built originally for one of the sisters of Rama I and ending up in the grounds of the Wang Na. It is easily moved as it is made entirely from panels which slot together. It is a one story stilt house with a very high sloping roof consisting of 2 large and two small rooms as well as a large covered veranda along the front.
We also have an in depth look at the Buddhaisawan Chapel which was built to house the Phra Buddha Sihing image, the second most important in Thailand (the first being the Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace). Its walls are covered in murals which depict, in detail, the last life of the present Buddha. The chapel is shown here.
Since I first wrote this article I have guided twice more. I now take tours around the the South wing which has Buddhist and Hindu sculptures from the 6-12th centuries, as well as that described above.
I enjoy it very much, each time is different and I am also learning a huge amount about public speaking as well as my subjects. For this reason I am very happy to be staying in Bangkok for another 3 months.
This is a view of one of the outdoor galleries with the Hindu god Vishnu.