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Auspicious number 8 brings luck for elephant ploughing ceremony

A British tradition in Chiang Mai – the Gymkhana Club

A Welcome First Appearance

Breathtaking and Brilliant – a Piano Recital by Sek Thongsuwan

 

Auspicious number 8 brings luck for elephant ploughing ceremony

Elena Edwards
An unusual version of a ploughing ceremony performed to bless the rice paddies before planting and honour the rice spirits, (Khwan Khao), took place recently at Baan Nai Fun in Chiang Mai. The ceremony, Pucha Phifa-Na Kha, is part of ancient Karen tradition.
The auspicious number 8 played a significant part in the ceremony, which began at 8.08 a.m. on the 8th of the 8th month, and involved 8 elephants and 8 rai of rice paddies. In Chinese astrology, the number 8 represents eternity and infinity, and is pronounced ‘ba’, sounding similar to ‘pa’ - prosperity. 8 is also a perfect symmetrical shape; perfect symmetry leads to perfect balance, which is considered the ideal.
In the paddies around Chiang Mai, ploughing has traditionally used buffalo; however, the Karen people in Ban Na Kian Village, Omkoi District, have for several generations been using elephants, as they can plough more efficiently due to their massive strength. Karen villagers prepare their fields using a unity farming system, with all helping to plough the entire area. Traditionally, just before the planting season, villagers would recapture their elephants from the nearby jungle in preparation for the ceremonials.
Traditional dances were performed before the ploughing began. Guests at the event were invited to plant 4 varieties of organic rice seedlings in the newly-ploughed paddies and enjoyed elephant rides and a demonstration of elephant painting. As an illustration of Karen culture, an educational video about the lifestyle of a Karen village was shown.

 

A British tradition in Chiang Mai – the Gymkhana Club

Elena Edwards
The entire expat community in the Rose of the North must, by now, have at least heard of the Gymkhana Club, even if they’ve never visited its quaint and welcoming clubhouse and marvelled at the magnificent and huge Rain Tree in its grounds, but how many know how it came to be founded 111years ago. And how many of us know how long westerners have been coming to Chiang Mai?
‘Khon tang chat’, (foreigners), have been seen at times in Chiang Mai since the very first visitor, a London merchant named Ralph Fitch, in 1586 made the tortuous 25 day journey from a town in Burma to the then hugely prosperous city. He wrote, ‘It is a very fair and greate town, with faire houses of stone, well peopled, the streets are very large’, adding that ‘here come many marchants out of China and bring great store of muske, gold, silver and many other things of China work’. Portuguese soldiers are reputed to have followed, with two East India Company merchants choosing a very bad time to arrive in 1615, just as the Burmese attacked the city. One disappeared, the other was taken captive and transported to Burma, where he died. The city was conquered, and for long years there was no further record of foreign arrivals.
During the later part of the 19th century, Siam, as it was the known, began to open its doors to western commerce. In 1855, a treaty was signed between the Siamese King Mongkul and Sir John Browning, and in 1866, the then ruler of Chiang Mai, Prince Kawilarot, agreed that Presbyterian missionaries from the USA could take up residence in the town. He later came to regret his decision. The missionaries became the first foreign property-owners and businessmen in Thailand; their presence in Chiang Mai today is still both controversial and noticeable.
Entrepreneurs from Britain came to Siam when the teak trade was opened up to foreigners, and in 1884, due to concern in Bangkok about British and French military activity around the borders, another treaty was signed regulating the teak trade and giving British citizens access to local justice. The first British vice-consul, E.B. Gould, was appointed to Chiang Mai by Her Imperial Majesty, Queen Victoria. From that point onwards, Chiang Mai became gradually more and more integrated into Siam, finally losing it independence as a result.
By 1882, the teak rush had truly begun, with the opening of trading offices and huge investments being made. Actually getting to Chiang Mai presented real problems and a great deal of discomfort for travellers, as the railway was not to be opened until 1921! By 1898, there were around 50 British citizens living in the Chiang Mai area, the majority being ex- public school men working in the still-flourishing teak trade. As was happening everywhere in the far- flung British Empire, when a number of expats came together, they invariably formed a club! Inevitably, in 1898, the Chiengmai Gymkhana Club came into being – as befitted the name, one of the most popular activities was the holding of gymkhanas! Other activities, especially at Christmastime when most of the members returned from the upcountry teak forests, included horse racing, polo, golf, cricket, and tennis. Of course, there were also parties, dances and rather a lot of drinking!
Life in Chiang Mai in those far-off days must have been very pleasant, with servants catering for every need, genteel afternoons on the veranda or at the club, and evenings spent dining with friends and indulging in polite conversation. The minutes from one of the club’s board meetings held in September 1905, noted the proposition that a ladies’ day should be held weekly during he dry season, and that a tea-set and comfortable chairs should be ordered from Bangkok for the comfort and refreshment of the wives and daughters of the members.
And so the Chiengmai Gymkhana Club continued through the years, surviving world wars, political instability, the Great Depression, the introduction of constitutional monarchy and many other performances on the world stage, and so it still continues today. Not as a relic from olden times, but maybe as a reminder that the present expat community is just the latest of many which came before, hopefully benefiting the country and city in which they found themselves.


A Welcome First Appearance

The Princess Galyani Vadhana Chamber Orchestra, pictured on stage at their inaugural Chiang Mai concert held August 6 at CMU’s Faculty of Humanities auditorium.

Jai-Pee
The Princess Galyani Vadhana Chamber Orchestra under conductor Mom Luang Usni Pramoj made its first appearance at Chiang Mai University on August 7th and 8th. This newly formed orchestra delighted the audience with a concert of music for strings by the conductor, Mozart, Bellini and Tchaikovsky. A good-sized audience heard the piece, Threnody by conductor Usni, dedicated to the memory of the late Princess. This was a rare treat as the music was both profound and respectful while carrying a most beautiful and nostalgic melody in the central section. It was played with conviction and reverential feelings.
The Mozart Eine Kleine Nachtmusik lacked energy and zest, certainly in the first two movements, and the playing seemed very reserved. However, the minuet was a little more true to Mozart’s effervescent character and the final movement was performed with suitable panache. Celebrated trumpeter Lerksiat Chongjirajitra then joined the assembled strings for a very polished performance of Bellini’s Trumpet Concerto in E flat. He played this short melodic piece with accuracy, energy and a clear tone that reverberated throughout the hall. After a short interval the Tchai­kovsky Serenade for Strings showed what the small orchestra could really do when less restrained. The melodies soared, the unison and counterpoint was clear and the pace just right.
Many of these musicians are young. They have a fine, experienced and knowledgeable conductor and a very able and professional concert master and leader in Tasana Nagavajara, whose playing was exemplary at all times. How lucky we are in Chiang Mai to have this delightful emergent orchestra visiting us. They have some way to go to reach perfection, but with distinguished oversight from ML Usni and inspired leadership from Tasana, this youthful orchestra has a great and assured future in Thailand. Please come back soon!


Breathtaking and Brilliant – a Piano Recital by Sek Thongsuwan

Jai-Pee
The relatively young Sek Thongsuwan, billed as ‘the best Thai pianist from St. Petersburg Conservatory’, enthralled a good sized audience at the Saisuree Hall at Payap University on August 6th. For once, we were presented with a wonderfully different repertoire, most of it Russian music – some old favourites such as the celebrated  18th Variation on a Theme of Paganini by Rachmaninoff, (newly arranged by the pianist), as well as his much loved Prelude in G minor, and less familiar pieces by Scriabin and Shchedrin, amongst others.
We were also treated to a delightfully syncopated jazz piece written by His Majesty the King, followed by a magnificent composition by the pianist himself, Variation in B flat major, the enthrallingly delicate and glittering Bua Khao (White Lotus) by Thai composer Puangroy Sanidwongs and a sparkling waltz by Sviridov. More jazz completed the menu.
The pianist, who explained that he had a lower arm problem, gave a breathtaking and brilliant performance throughout. His playing of the legato in lyrical passages was sweet and tender, balanced against the storm and angst of the violent surges in other parts. He displayed complete mastery of the keyboard, maintained a unique balance of tone in the contrasting forte and pianissimo passages, and showed significant feeling and deep understanding of the music he was playing. Nowhere was this more evident than in his final piece in the first half, the pianist’s own composition, Variation in B flat major which was performed with passion, energy, determination and total commitment.
What a great pity the organisers did not show the same commitment to this brilliant young man who deserves to be heard far more widely. Once again, despite internet programme notes having been sent in English and Thai as well as Thai notes in the printed programme, we were subjected to five minutes of unnecessary introduction repeating what we already knew. No Royal Anthem was played to show respect for the King. Throughout the first half, the doors were opened during the break between every single piece with noisy latecomers squeaking their way across the rear of the hall while the following piece was being played, distracting both the performer and the audience. The outer door banged constantly and the piano stool squeaked badly during the first half, but luckily someone had the sense to re-adjust it during the interval. This performer, with his technical wizardry and skilful playing deserves better than the pathetic and unprofessional support he received.