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News from the 90s: Bangkok 1890-1899


News from the 90s: Bangkok 1890-1899

Inspire is delighted to have teamed up with Expat Life magazine to bring you more great content to do with Thailand

What if we could go back 120 years to ask Bangkok residents what their life was like then? How did they (notably the foreigners) regard the city, what were their fears and concerns, how did they entertain themselves, how did they earn their living, how did they travel, how did they stay healthy?

Of course, these residents are long gone. Fortunately, they recorded their daily lives in the Bangkok Times newspaper, which was issued each afternoon. Steve Van Beek has excerpted 160 pages of these articles from 1890 to 1899 and folded them between two covers to produce News from the 90s: Bangkok 1890-1899. What makes them particularly poignant is that these are not modern historians looking backwards but are the words that flowed from the pens of the reporters who experienced them. It gives their observations a particular relevance.

Revealed is a vivid city with a dynamic populace that displayed a profound engagement with events, a fascination with novelty, and a hope for the new century. The reporters brought the era alive with perceptive writing leavened by droll humour. Listen to people much like ourselves telling in their own words the challenges of grappling with a complex world.

It would be a mistake to think that these people were simpler versions of ourselves or that they were quaint foreigners adrift in a tropical paradise. Instead, they were fully-formed people who were fascinated by their surroundings, with new technology to better their lives. Their enthusiasm was often untempered by caution (or armed with our hindsight) as suggested by their numerous and often bizarre applications of electricity and radioactivity to age-old ailments.

It was also the period when railroads began stitching together the capital and distant provinces and when the faraway world was impinging on their daily lives. As they reached out, they often collided with that world, and found their sovereignty threatened by the colonisers. King Chulalongkorn’s state visit to Europe in 1897 was an attempt to convince foreign leaders that Thailand was an advanced nation that was quite capable to handling its own affairs, thank you. All these were reported faithfully in the Times’ pages.

Steve Van Beek previously explored Bangkok in the pages of his highly-regarded Bangkok Then and Now where, as the title suggests, he juxtaposed photos of the city taken at the advent of the 20th century with pictures taken in 1999. What they revealed were the often-dramatic changes that have taken place over a century.

Among the book’s most popular items were news stories taken from the Bangkok Times newspapers of 1900 and 1901. These proved so popular that he returned to the library to read every issue from 1890 to 1899, extracting stories that often read like serials: a situation unfolds over weeks as new information emerges, much as we deal with the world today. As such, it makes for fascinating reading not only about an antique age, but about our own as well.

Interlarded with serious stories were snippets that reveal a finely-honed scepticism, rendered with humour. These are a few examples of both: A man was badly upset yesterday in jumping from the Bangrak express. A piece of durian held under his nose brought him round, however, and though much affected he is still alive.


Source: Expat Life Thailand

Inspire is delighted to have teamed up with Expat Life magazine to bring you more great content to do with Thailand

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