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Thailand - textile collections diary 2003

Thursday 9 October

Chiang Mai

After my arrival in Chiang Mai (to the Royal Princess Hotel, 112 Chang Klan Rd, Amphur Muang, Chiang Mai 50100, tel: 66 53 281033-43, fax: 66 53 281 044) after my flight from Tokyo via Bangkok I was pretty tired.  However, after supper in the hotel, ringing Susan Stem to arrange to meet next morning at 10.30 a.m., I went out to have a look at the night bazaar which was just up Chang Klan Rd on the same side of the road as the hotel. I went into the Night Bazaar building and up to the mezzanine level where the antique/collectibles shops are located. It was interesting to see what textiles were ‘in town’ including some (new to me) Chinese Miao hemp wax resist and embroidery women’s jackets, possibly from Guangxi.

I was attracted to a short woman’s skirt at one small shop – it had a weave reminiscent of Khami skirts. I asked the girl in the shop which tribal group had made it.  A voice to my left, hidden behind a textile hanging on the shop wall, said ‘Mru!’ and I started talking to the shop owner. After a short conversation she said: ‘Are you Pamela?’ It turned out that I had encountered Laura Kan of ‘Pusaka’. Laura had helped Michael Howard with his book ‘Textiles of the Hilltribes of Burma’, is a friend of Akemi in Singapore, who recommended that I should visit Laura's Chiang Mai bazaar shop and also known to Susan Stem. Laura is keen to research Chittagong tribes in Bangladesh and the skirt which had caught my attention was from a Chittagong Mru group. She had met Michael Howard during last summer and he had offered her a researcher for the work in Bangladesh but Laura was not keen to take a westerner into the region and compromise her own ability to get access via a local Bangladeshi friend.

We had a chat and she showed me a couple of other Mru skirts – neither had such fine weaving as the one I had first seen and which I purchased. Apparently her best Khami pieces were at home. Laura had also given (sold?) a large part of her collection to the Queen of Thailand for an exhibit. She suggested that I should see what her friend ‘Rin’ had in her shop (not in the night bazaar but in Loi Kroh Rd off Chang Klan Rd just before MacDonalds.)   Laura said that Susan knew Rin well. Rin visited China and might some interesting pieces.

I had a look around some of the other shops on the mezzanine floor of the night bazaar but was too tired to take things in properly. Several of the shops started to close around 10.30 p.m.

Friday 10 October

I had a bad night with sinus problems and finding it very difficult to breath.

I was collected from the hotel by Susan Stem and her husband Robert. We drove around Chiang Mai and out on the Mae Rim road to the Bank of Thailand Museum. The main Bank building is very modern with echoes of traditional architecture. The museum is housed in a separate building in the grounds behind the Bank. (The Bank of Thailand Museum, Northern Regional Office, 68/3 Chotana Road, Muang District, Chiang Mai Province. Tel: (053) 931182-3, Fax: (053) 224168, email: phanpimr@bot.or.th, jirawang@bot.or.th Open Monday to Friday except Bank Holidays 9.00-12.00 a.m. and 1.00-4.00 p.m.) Our passports were held whilst we went into the exhibition. I had a photocopy with me which was accepted in lieu of an original.

The exhibition starts with an exhibit of history of coinage in a couple of rooms and then leads on to ‘valuable’ textiles. All is very pleasingly displayed with useful and clear textual information. There were around 100 textiles on show out of a collection of around 800. These had been bought from a foundation which had purchased them from a private collector. The textiles on show were of good quality. Currently they were not housed behind glass but we were told that it is planned quite soon to put glass in the front of the display housing to enhance security. We enjoyed being able to see the textiles without the distraction of glass.

The curator of the textiles (phanpimr@bot.or.th) was in the background as we went around the exhibit.  Part way through our visit to the Museum another woman (jirawang@bot.or.th) came to talk to us about the collection. Apparently the finest textiles are currently not on show. It is planned to rotate the exhibition every 6 months and also to hold special exhibitions. An exhibition of fine Khmer textiles in the collection is planned for January 2004 and another exhibition in August 2004 to honour the Queen’s birthday.

I thoroughly enjoyed the visit to the Museum which provided a very pleasant and sympathetic background for the fine textiles. It could be said that the textiles were not displayed with a particular theme and possibly were not arranged very coherently. The addition of some maps showing the location of origin of the various textiles and a linking thread would enhance the exhibit. However, I appreciated seeing good quality textiles, well displayed and with helpful information.

We went next to visit the Tribal Museum situated on the other side of the Mae Rim road from the Bank of Thailand. Although the museum is attractively located at the edge of a lake (surrounded by small Thai restaurants) the actual exhibits were very disappointing. The collection of tribal artefacts seemed to be pretty random, with little in-depth information and chaotically laid out. There were only a small number of costumes on display and the museum lacked any sense of enthusiasm in the subject matter or interest in compiling or presenting the exhibit.

We went for lunch at the Hong Tauw Inn, 95/17-18 Nantawan Arcade, Nimanhaemin Road, Chiang Mai, 50000, tel: (053) 218333, 400039. This was near to, but on the other side of the road from, the Amari Rincome Hotel. A very good and reasonably priced lunch. We had a look a the silver shop next door which had some nice old and modern pieces.

We then drove to the edge of town where Patricia Cheeseman Naenna lives and has her dyeing workshop. (Studio Naenna, ‘Exquisite clothing and eco textiles studio’ 138/8 Soi Changkhian, Huay Keow Rd., T.Changpeuak, Chiang Mai, Thailand 50300, tel: (053)226042 Fax: (053) 217707, http://www.infothai.com/naenna, email: patstudi@loxinfo.co.th) We initially met Patricia's daughter and then Patricia herself came to see us. She had originally been joining us that night for supper at the Stems but a tour group had contacted her to move the date of their evening visit to her studio and unfortunately she was forced to cry-off from the dinner.

Patricia, on hearing of the www.tribaltextiles.info website, wanted to understand my interpretation of “tribal”. She has been working on her latest book for around five years.  She estimates that it is nearly 80 percent completed and that it will take her about another year to finish. The book covers ‘all’ the Lao textiles of Sam Neua and includes very simple as well as complex textiles. Patricia will be self-publishing this book as she has her previous ones.

In the shop there were some ‘fashion’ items made from the naturally dyed fabrics as well as some complex woven textiles from Laos which were either copies of older pieces or ‘updated’ ones made for the modern market. I bought a long silk scarf in soft natural dye colours of fawn, black and sludgy green.

A Karen woman who had returned to give a weaving demonstration to the tour group - soon due to arrive - gave us an exhibition of weaving.  She was dressed in her traditional Karen clothing.

Patricia has had a teak house built in the grounds of her house in the Lao style with turtle end roofs. There were indigo plants growing around it – a variety which likes the shade – and another indigo variety growing in a field next to her house. There were three Siamese cats and the oldest one, in particular, was very friendly. We almost involuntarily kidnapped two of the cats since they had climbed into the car which had been left with its windows open. It was a pleasant visit and Patricia was very gracious.

We then drove to Sankampaeng where Susan and Robert rent a spacious house in an estate by a lake. They have two elegant cats, an outside feral cat and a large flock of ducks. The house is an excellent space to display all the artefacts which they have collected on their travels and I very much enjoyed all the textiles on display.

William Ingram and Jean Howe of Threads of Life in Bali (who had visited Studio Naenna with a tour group the day before us) were due for dinner. Unfortunately it turned out that Jean was ill and William came on his own. We had very pleasant Thai food (from a local restaurant) and enjoyed the good company.

Saturday 11 October

Susan came to collect me at the hotel with Chaiya, a Karen guide, at 9.00 a.m. I was feeling rather woozy and the day was hot. Although better than the previous night, I had still had some sinus problems and difficulty with breathing overnight.

We drove out of Chiang Mai on the Mae Hong Son road towards Ban Rai Pai Ngarm in the Chomthong District of Chiang Mai. We stopped first at a monastery which was reputedly about 400 years old and which housed a chip of bone of the Lord Buddha. We were blessed by a holy monk whom the Pope had visited. We then drove on to Ban Rai Pai Narm, 105 Km 69-70 Chiang Mai – Hod Road, T.Sobtier A Chomthong, Chiang Mai 50160. The grounds of the house are entered by a long bamboo-lined driveway to reach a large teak house which is now a museum and where Khunyai (grandma) Saengda Bannasit had lived. Under the house many looms were set up where women were weaving. Around the house are sheds for dyeing, displays of dyeing accoutrements and a shop. We looked at the weaving/dyeing and I bought a scarf and a book on the history of Mrs Saengda Bannasit. All the fabrics are natural – mainly cotton but with a little silk – and only natural dyes are used. We then visited the museum upstairs in the teak house.

We then started to drive back towards Chiang Mai and stopped for lunch at a restaurant – in another teak house – overlooking the river. It was very peaceful and we had the place to ourselves. We then drove back to Chiang Mai. It had originally been planned that we would visit Lampun to see some more weaving.  However, I felt that I had seen enough weaving and I wanted to take the opportunity visit Rin’s shop. We dropped off Chiaya and went to ‘Pa Ker Yaw', the shop of Bunrin Thongdeelert (Rin) 180 -184 Loi Kroh Rd, Chiang Mai Thailand 50100, tel/fax 66-53-275491. Rin has a large collection of textiles, particularly in a side room which was stacked from floor to ceiling with folded textiles. Many of the textiles had been purchased in China particularly from the dealers in Kaili.  This meant that Rin did not have direct knowledge of the origin of many of the textiles. She had gathered together quite a large collection of Li textiles as well as some which she was holding for sale from a friend. Many of the Rin’s Li textiles have been photographed and shown on Susan’s tribaltrappings.com website to help disseminate and sell them. Some were very fine, others more crude. I bought a beautiful Hainan Li skirt (possibly Qi Li) with embroidered figures on it and a simpler skirt, possible Vietnam Li (attributed by Susan). I also bought a Chinese Lo Lo woman’s jacket and apron and a fine embroidered Dong apron. All were good quality items mainly or all of natural dyes, with hand spun thread and with beautiful weaving and embroidery.

I then walked back to the hotel which was close by.  After a much needed shower I had supper and went to bed as I was exhausted and could hardly keep awake.

Sunday 12 October

I had a good night’s sleep and managed to go back to sleep for a doze in the morning. I got up quite late and had a leisurely breakfast and read the paper.  I came back to my room to find an email from Susan changing our appointment to meet that afternoon to and earlier time .  She suggested that I might like to go to the Suriwong Bookshop and next door Wawee Coffee shop before they closed at 12.30 p.m. The concierge drew me a map showing the back-street way to the bookshop and I walked there in five-ten minutes. Suriwong is a large bookshop with both Thai and English language titles. I found the textile books in the Thai language section and then the ‘new arrivals’ in the English language section. I was lucky enough to find a White Lotus volume based on photographs of Chittagong including several photos of Mru showing examples of the skirt that I had bought from Laura on Thursday evening. I had a couple of cups of coffee and a slice of cake in the Wawee coffee shop before it closed at 12.30 p.m. when I walked back to the hotel.

Susan and Robert came for me at 14.00 and we had a drink in the lobby and I showed them the Mru skirt and my Japanese fireman’s sashko helmet. Susan had brought in her Zantu tunic which I bought. We then set off to Mae Rim to visit Darapirom Palace Museum which is the renovated former home of Phra Raja Jaya Chao Dara Rasimi, a daughter of the last King of the northern monarchy of Chiang Mai and consort of King Chulalongkorn. The palace had been restored in the late 1990s/early 2000. It was a very pleasant and peaceful place set on land owned by the army. (Darapirom Museum, Dara Rasamee Military Camp, Mae Rim Rd. Tues-Sun, 9.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. Tel. 053 299175). There was an exhibit of the life of Dara Rasimi including some of her clothing.

We then drove back to Chiang Mai for 1700 to visit the Sbun Nga Textile Museum (Old Chiangmai Cultural Centre, Wualai Rd. Tel. 053 215026-7. 10.00 a.m. - 12.00 a.m. or 1.00 p.m. - 7.00 p.m. Bt 100. Closed Weds).  This is located in the old Chiang Mai Cultural Centre where we were met and given a special tour by the collection owner, Khun Pom (Mr Akadet (Mrs Chaiskran) Nakkabunlung, 95/15-16 Nimanhaemint Rd, T.Suthep, Chiang Mai, Thailand 50200, tel/fax: (053) 215026, Mobile 01-8836713, 01-8815751).

Khun Pom has been collecting for the last 20 years. The museum had been open for about 6 months and he had been working on it for about a year. He had stencilled the gold designs on the teak beams himself. He was still adding items to the collection e.g. a parasol for one of the royal tableau, and Susan saw several changes/improvements since her earlier visit. It was a fantastic collection of regional Thai textiles of the northern part of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Burma and China focusing on ethnic Thai textiles and a wide range of textiles for royal use. (Our immediately prior visit to the Darapirom Palace Museum gave the royal clothing added relevance.) The collection also includes some quite ordinary textiles and many items of living to set the textiles in context. There are a large number of photographs throughout the exhibit showing the textiles being worn which really puts them into context. Many of the photos were familiar from the reference works and it was excellent to see them brought to life in colour by the accompanying textiles. In one case Khun Pom had painted a picture (in colour) based on a black and white photo and his textile collection. He has about 6,000 items in his collection and intends changing the exhibits on view every 6 months. There were good descriptions in English and Thai (albeit with, at times, some idiosyncratic English spelling). There was a recorded introduction and an explanation of each of the five rooms in good English and with a background of Thai music. The collection had clearly been assembled and displayed with a passion and the obsession of a dedicated collector.  Walking through it – especially with the collector – was an overwhelming experience! Khun Pom intimated that he was planning to write a book on the collection.

We then went for dinner at the amazing La Na restaurant created from a series of teak houses linked together and with and assembly of antiques. There were also special loos with murals on the ceilings including erotic ones in the gents.

Monday 13 October

After breadfast I went to the Post Office to mail my collection of (heavy) books. I made a mistake on the mailing and did not send them ‘economy’ airmail.  (The books arrived safely in English after about 10 days.)


Tuesday 14 October

I telephoned Tilleke & Gibbins International, Bangkok (Tilleke & Gibbins Building, 64/1 (T&G Main) Tonson Building (T&G North), Soi Tonson - Ploenchit Road, Bangkok 10330, Thailand 2263 7700 (2254 2640) to speak to the curator of the textile collection, Ms Wipawee Tiyawes (wipawee@tillekeandgibbins.com or wipawee@tillekeandgibbins.co.th), to see if I could see the T&G textile collection on Wednesday 15 October. (Wipawee’s handphone: 09 167 6752) Unfortunately she was going to a seminar out at Thamasat University on that day. However, she said that she might be back at the office at about 6.00 p.m. and she would telephone me.

Wednesday 15 October

In the morning I walked up past Lumphini Park and along Sarasin Rd trying to access Soi Tonson and locate the Tilleke & Gibbins offices. (See map) There was no direct access from Sarasin Rd into Soi Tonson and I ended up walking up Wireless Rd past the US Embassy and the front of the Ambassador’s residence. I then walked along Ploenchit Rd and down Soi Tonson (although I could not be sure that it was the right road as I could not see a sign). I stopped at the Somerset hotel to use the loo and then walked down past the back of the US ambassador’s residence. I eventually came to the Tonson Building on the right with a carpark in front of it. I checked out the building and confirmed that T&G were in the building. I then walked past the main T&G building to the end of Soi Tonson, out through side alleys past some little street-side food shops and then out into Soi Lang Suan. I walked up Lang Suan past Soi 7 and down to Soi 1. Just past the entrance to Soi 1 was ‘The Ninth' boutique and café. I had a pleasant lunch at the café (closed on Monday). I then carried on up Lang Suan and managed to catch a taxi back to the Dusit Thani hotel.

At about 5.45 p.m. Wipawee telephoned to say that she was back in the office and I could come over. I finished up my last bits of packing and got a taxi from the hotel (Preecha 5054, tel: 01-8698616.) At first we got stuck in the traffic going up Wireless Road past the US Embassy. In the end Preecha turned off Wireless Rd to the right and we managed to circle around and into Ploenchit Rd where the traffic was flowing reasonably freely. We turned into the top of Soi Tonson and reached the Tonson Building where T&G north office is located. It was agreed that Preecha would wait for me and then take me back to the hotel to check out, collect my luggage and then he wouldl take me to the airport.

I went up to the 4th floor where Wipawee’s office and the textile storage is located. She was waiting there for me with a friend. T&G have over 1,100 textiles in their collection, mainly Thai from Thailand, Laos, Burma, Cambodia and China. There are also some tribal pieces and some textiles from Indonesia (mainly Sumatra). Wipawee seemed to know my name, possibly from using the www.pacross.net web site to research some textiles.

I saw a few of the Tai-Lao textiles in storage including a nice late 19th century pha biang very similar to one in my own collection. I then looked at one of the several files of photos of the collection - Burma; each photo has a reference number which can be found on an Access database.  The Access record has details of each piece including the number of the textile storage tray where the individual textiles can be found. I had a look at the tray of textiles from Burma including some Khami pieces.

Wipawee then showed me around the 4th and 2nd floors of the T&G north offices to the see the textiles currently on display. Some nice pieces from Thailand, Sumatra, Vietnam and Laos mounted on plain fabric panels. I was then running out of time before my flight. I said goodbye and many thanks to Wipawee.  Preecha was still waiting for me below.  He took me back to the Dusit Thani hotel where I collected my bags, settled my bill and checked out. Luckily the traffic had died down and we managed to get out to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I was very fortunate indeed to have been able to squeeze in this visit to the T&G collection during my short visit to Bangkok through the kindness of Wipawee which I very much appreciated.

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