Film: 5956

Places + Locations | 1960 | Sound | Colour


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Thailand or Siam in South East Asia. The land and it's people including farming, life on a sampan, religious festivals and royal pageantry 1960's

Character of the Land. Asia is the largest and most heavily populated continent on the globe. Its land area is most barren and dry, but Siam - or Thailand - is forever green. It is surrounded by a wall of mountains which trap the rain clouds. Each monsoon season, from April to October, a daily torrent falls on Siam.
Floods. The people of Siam have learned to accept the flood as part of their daily lives. To them a cloudburst means no more than a spring shower. Business goes on as usual. With the high waters come all kinds of fish, but more important than fish is the silt brought by the muddy waters to enrich the land where the rice will grow.
Rice. The Siamese people eat twice their weight in rice each year. Everyone helps to grow the rice. Children begin at an early age and the women transplant the young rice plants and help in the harvesting and threshing. The water buffalo does work in the field that no machine could do.
Religious Festivals. In the religious ceremony known as the Kathin, a benefit for the temple and the priest, young girls dance the nail dance. Long artificial fingernails represent lighted candles. At the climax of the ceremonies money trees are carried in. The blossoms are made of money folded and glued together with the juice of the natomb fruit.
Buddhism. Buddhism reaches into the life of almost every inhabitant. Each male is expected to spend three months of his life in the priesthood. In the morning the priests in their yellow robes with their begging bowls go out to receive the food especially prepared for them. Each afternoon they retire to their temples to meditate and study the teaching of Buddha.
Culture. Culture takes many different forms. Grotesque statues called Yaks guard the temple from evil spirits. In contrast is the living beauty of the dancers who spend there entire lives perfecting dramas in pantomime. In physical culture there is the Siamese version of fisticuffs where clever foot work is ninety per cent of the battle.
The Elephant. The elephant is used in heavy industry. He is trained from the time he is five years old. Each elephant has a permanent mahout, or driver; often this becomes a lifetime partnership. The elephant instinctively finds the perfect balance of the logs he works. These logs are dumped into rivers at remote mountain camps. They will drift some 600 miles to Bangkok, a journey which may take up to eight years, depending on the whims of the river.
Bangkok. Most of Siam's rivers converge at the capital city of Bangkok. A network of canals called klongs control the water and make Bangkok the Venice of the Orient. Many families live on Sampans on the canals.
Life on a Sampan. Sala, his wife Sawai and their small son Pok, live on a snug teak sampan, supporting themselves by buying produce from the jungle farms and selling it to the city. On the sampan cleanliness is an obsession and before lunch everything receives a scrubbing. Sawai prepares a curry for lunch from materials she has purchased from a floating stall. It includes many types of pepper and is cooked over a small stove on deck.
When the tide changes, the floating home moves slowly through the countryside propelled by all three members of the family. No matter how much activity there is on the klongs, there's none of the usual traffic noises, just the ripple of quiet waters. In a quiet back-water the sampan comes to rest, a peaceful end to another peaceful journey.
The new king is crowned. His inherited royal possessions are carried in the parade ending with the royal elephant, Chang, the living symbol of Siam.

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