Tuesday, May 27, 2014

In the Sketchbook: On the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, Thailand

Longboat on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok
7" x 5" ink and watercolor sketch
Here it is -- about 1 in the afternoon and I am riding in a longboat on the magnificent and choppy Chao Phraya River in the central part of Bangkok, Thailand. I've been up since 5 a.m., flown from Cambodia with some of my touring friends, gone through a very busy customs area, met our local guide, and ridden the tour bus to the very modern downtown. Again, I pinch myself -- am I really in what, to me, is this very exotic location? I am mesmerized by the mixture of skyscrapers and pockets of old, and in some cases ramshackle, houses.

My sketch captures part of  the longboat with it's beautiful wooden construction, colorful canopy, and decorative flowers hanging from the prow. You can see that my lettering was definitely freehand. We sit two to a seat. Our boatman manipulates a small engine which has a very long rod with propeller that trails behind us at an angle so he can traverse not only the river but the shallow klongs (canals). The Coast Guard is out warning drivers to slow down in the fast moving current and stopping boats where passengers have not donned their life preservers. The city buildings rise above us on both banks and there are several royal sites on one side.

Longboats speeding along the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok
Thailand loves its royal family; the king now very elderly, has been kept alive for about 5 years in a medical facility. There is a parliamentary form of government, but periodically the royals or the military intervene in politics, as was just done this month. The country, formerly known as Siam, takes great pride in the fact that it was never colonized by Western powers, unlike the surrounding countries. Our guide explained that cleverly the reigning king took action in the 1800s to make the country modern and westernized and did a good job of playing the French against the British.

The guide also laid to rest any thoughts that we believed the story as told in "The King and I." People were insulted by the portrayal of their King. The King at the time was most proper and would not have had any intimacy with the woman he hired to teach the royal children as part of his modernization of the country.

We made a few stops to see the royal barges and Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn. The royal barges are very beautifully decorated with gold and mythical figures. The temple is amazingly beautiful. Here and at other sites, we see the clever way the Thais used broken pottery that had served as ballast on ships delivering goods from China to decorate the outside walls.
Wat Arun
Broken porcelain used as ballast on Chinese
ships is reused decoratively on the temple buildings

We also went down the klongs, but I save that sketch and story for another day. We checked into our very modern hotel and had a relaxing evening.

1 comment:

CrimsonLeaves said...

The longboat sketch is very colorful and beautiful! I know Chang and Eng (the Siamese twins) were born in Siam but I confess that is the extent of my knowledge. Oh yes...they have elephants there too. I'm so enjoying your trip vicariously, Mary!