I find it interesting how some areas of the world produce many creative, talented, brainy people, whose names are engraved in the pantheon of human scientists, artists, philosophers and extraordinary people of all sorts. And some areas don’t. I don’t think it has to do with the size of the country, or the actual intellect and giftedness of its people. It’s more about the social and geo-political factors. Some areas of the world just don’t seem to export very successfully their crème de la crème specimen. Recently I came across an article that presented Thailand as one such country and looked for reasons for this in the class system that exists here, and the fact that people are not encouraged to question, challenge or think outside of the box. There are many famous Thais, but usually they are only known within Thailand or South-East Asia, or are only famous to people interested in a certain field.
Still, there are Thai personalities that should be mentioned. Either for their quirky stories (see the end of this article) or the influence they hold.
The current King, Bhumibol Adulyadej or King Rama IX is a person that comes to mind first when I think of famous Thai people. He holds near-divine status in Thai society and is the world’s longest reigning king (he was coronated in 1950). He is a man of many talents; musician, painter, photographer, sportsman and author. He was at the helm of the kingdom during many turbulent times and was often seen as the region’s key figure.
An interesting lady to mention is his royal ancestor, Queen Suriyothai of Ayutthaya, who is noted in history as the queen who bravely rode alongside her husband in the battle against the Burmese. She was killed by a scythe while trying to protect her husband, who was in great trouble after his elephant was wounded. Her ashes are held in Ayutthaya, in a stupa dedicated to her. She is seen as a national heroine.
A somewhat different fame is attributed to brothers Chang and Eng Bunker. Have you ever wondered where the expression ‘Siamese twins’ comes from? Brothers Chang and Eng Bunker were conjoined twins, who made this condition world-famous. As they were born in what was then known as Siam (today’s Thailand), they were known as the Siamese twins. They were actually of Chinese origin, so in their homeland they were referred to as the ‘Chinese twins’. They started living in America in 1839, where they gave themselves the surname Bunker (they previously had no surname). They married, had 10 and 11 children respectively and died on the same day in 1874. If born today, they could easily be separated.
Sometimes these sorts of life-stories make you remember a country better. A pop singer, movie star or a politician will most likely be forgotten in a year or two. History alone tests and decides which stories to preserve.