Two Exhibitions worth visiting
If you are new to Thailand, and especially to the NE Region and the land of the Isan People and culture, then I recommend you take in these two exhibitions in Bangkok, assuming you will be passing through there on the way to Nong Khai. (Or even, like me, you have already spent a little time in the NE and want to learn a bit more).The first is on at the Museum Siam, situated between Wat Pho (the Reclining Buddha) and the Flower Market.
The museum is set in an attractive neo-classical building and is not of the usual run of the mill displays and printed commentary type. This one describes itself as a “museum of discovery” and it certainly lives up to its claim. The overarching theme (at the time of writing, February 2018) is dedicated to what defines “Thainess”. Each of the 17 exhibition rooms has a separate theme, for example “Truly Thai” or “Thailand as viewed by the outside world”, allowing the visitor to discover a variety of aspects of this fascinating culture. Not only does each room take you through a different theme, but each displays the material in a different, mostly interactive and always interesting, way, and maybe - best of all - each is just the right size to avoid information-fatigue leaving you eager to discover what the next one holds.
As an example, one room deals with objects or inventions that are uniquely Thai, such as the old-fashioned ticket vending containers carried by bus conductors, shaped in the form of long, metal cylinders and that can still be seen in use on some of Bangkok’s public transport buses today.
Another illustrates the evolution of some of the letters in the Thai alphabet from the Ancient Khmer script, whilst yet another, has a series of boxes, each dedicated to a Thai custom or celebration (eg, The Songran Festival, or the Interpretation of the many Thai Smiles); each box contains games and objects the visitor is encouraged to take out and to play with, thus learning more about that particular custom or tradition in a fun way.
Allow about an hour to explore the exhibition; longer if you want to linger in some of the rooms to enjoy participating in the interactive displays. There is also an audio guide available.
Although I am not new to Thailand or to the Thai culture, having visited numerous times in the past, I still found this exhibition valuable to deepen my understanding and appreciation of this land and of its people.
The second exhibition I would recommend for newcomers to the NE region of Thailand (of which I am one), is on at the Bangkok Arts and Cultural Centre located right next to the National Stadium BTS station. Entitled “Common Exercises: Isan Contemporary Report”, this is only on until the 25th March, so you need to be quick if you want to catch this. As the title suggests, this features the Isan culture, which is found in a region of the NE of Thailand but also takes in a bit of the surrounding area of Laos and Vietnam. The exhibition uses a variety of art forms (video, installations, paintings, photographs, sculpture) to show a selection of contemporary aspects of Isan culture, in particular, the struggle with competing land uses, the striving for an identity and democracy, etc. Although not a comprehensive coverage of what it means to be Isan (the exhibition doesn’t purport to do that), it does offer a little sneak into the lives of these proud people, especially for those that wish to dig a little beneath the surface.
Although I have yet to read some, I’ve been told that a very good insight into the Isan (sometimes written as Esan or Esaan) culture can be had by reading Pira Sudham’s novels or collections of short stories, all set in and concerning the NE Region, where he comes from. He writes in English.
Louis, Volunteer at the Openmind Projects Training Centre, Nong Khai. February 2018