March 22, 2011

Guarding Bangkok

The Emerald Buddha in cold weather clothes, taken from a distance as required by Royal Family. Photo by D Ramey Logan.

Today marks the anniversary of the transfer of the Emerald Buddha from Thonburi in Siam to the city of Bangkok by King Rama I in 1784.

It was Rama who – as General Chao Phraya Chakri – had liberated the Buddha from Vientiane in Laos five years before and when he became king, he had it installed in its own temple on the palace grounds, where it still lives. The Emerald Buddha was the palladium of Bangkok.

A palladium, btw, is not, as I thought, a big hall and the name of many movie theaters, but originally meant an image which protected a community.  It comes from Pallas Athene, whose statue was stolen from Troy by Odysseus and Diomedes; in English, it came to mean any kind of safeguard.

Rama II - his grandson Rama IV hired Anna Leonowen to tutor the kids.

It is also the season for changing the Buddha’s clothes.  That is done three times a year in summer, fall and early spring – warm, rainy and cool weather clothes. The  buddha, which is not emerald but jadeite. wears a wardrobe of solid gold.

His outfit is changed by the king, although that may not happen this year, as the king has been in the hospital for many months  since coming down with the flu and pneumonia in 2009.  He is Bhumibol Adulyadej, 83, also known as Rama IX. The king is the longest-serving head of state in the world and the longest- reigning king of Siam, with 65 years on the throne.

Rama IX has lived through 15 coups, 16 constitutions and 27 prime ministers, so the palladium seems to be working.

* * *

The first enclosed, climate-controlled shopping mall in America may have opened on this date in 1956 in Edina, MN – there seems to be some confusion over whether it was Michigan or Minnesota and when exactly.

Al-Hamidiyah souq in Damascus, photo by Bernard Gagnon.

But shopping malls have been around a very long time – the first was probably in Damascus- the Al-Hamidiyah Souq has been around since the seventh century. Isfahan got one in the tenth century and the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul dates from the 15th century. Covered arcades like those in the Middle East began to appear in Europe in the 18th century – the Oxford Arcade of 1771 is still operating.  Rhode Island  got one in 1828 and The Arcade in Cleveland opened its doors in 1890.

* * *

Happy birthday to Reese Witherspoon and many happy returns also to the redoubtable William Shatner – he celebrates his 80th today.




  1. Happy birthday Will & Reese. I am really malling this story over. Hoping Rama iX gets well. Some mighty fine stories.


    Comment by avery — March 22, 2011 @ 9:04 am | Reply

  2. no way he can’t be 80?!! he looks great!!


    Comment by nina c — March 22, 2011 @ 11:42 pm | Reply

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