Monday, 16 March 2009

Thai School Girls Made Apsara!

"My Thai Girl and I"... the movie!

A day out of school at Sikoraphum.

School girls hard at work practicing their dance.

And next day transformed into apsaras.

Nearly a thousand years after these figures were carved in stone.

A final bow.

I’ve seen Niagara and a few of the world’s great water falls but none has the impact of the unexpected.

When in Sierra Leone exploring the jungle and pristine beaches to the west of Freetown, we stumbled across a small waterfall that was at least as memorable as Niagara. Following the sound of thundering waters, suddenly there it was, perfect, untouched, unvisited and with so much magic added by surprise.

Not far from our sleepy rice village in Isaan, we’ve recently had a similar experience, uplifting in its beauty and revelation, this time a display of traditional Thai dance at the ancient Khmer temple of Sikoraphum.

We had staying with us in our village home in Surin province some documentary makers, who were with us to shoot preliminary footage for a film version of MY THAI GIRL AND I, the book about my life in Thailand with Cat. As nothing much ever happens here, it was going to be hard to find things for them to shoot.

When you’ve seen one dry rice field you’ve seen the lot so I decided to take them to see the temple at Sikoraphum. Dating from the Angkor era and almost a thousand years old, the temple truly is a gem. It’s well preserved and maintained and has a very special atmosphere indeed.

Usually it’s deserted and there’s hardly a soul there but on arriving we found the lawns around the temple occupied by hundreds of school children from the nearby Sikoraphum Phisai School. A teacher explained to us that they were out of the class rooms for a few days for a special ‘integrated learning’ project, using trigonometry for example to measure the height of the temple stupas. And what’s more some of the school girls were practicing for a traditional Thai dance display to take place the very next day.

No movie maker would miss an opportunity like this so we came back the following day and the dance was even more special for being so unexpected. Previously while practicing the girls had been in sports clothes as they went through their dance routines, all giggling and worldly. Today in their elaborate costumes they were transported to another time, back to the Khmer empire, the era of Sukhotai or Ayuttaya. These were ordinary school girls made apsara, the lissom messengers of the gods, seen famously carved in stone at the temples of Angkor, and they danced like angels.

The setting was idyllic, the platform of the temple providing a perfect stage. The costumes complemented the warm browns of the temple’s brick work and the dancing itself was impeccable. I was utterly entranced.

The Thais love dance but so often their current obsession with coyote girls gyrating sexily to loud music obliterates all interest in more traditional forms. How sad this is as traditional dance is perhaps the finest of Thailand’s performing arts. Even in Bangkok it’s rarely seen today except in shows put on for tourists and then not always very well done. I was told a few years ago that traditional Thai dance is so much in decline that many of the forms and skills are being lost.

That a provincial school such as this one should thus excel itself in traditional dance and make so creative a use of its local temple is therefore a huge credit to them. I can only say that they gave us an unexpected and special moment which I for one shall certainly long remember.

Thailand, obsessed with sexy dancing from six year olds at school to almost every show on television, has abandoned it's love of traditional dance which is so very sad.


Andrew Hicks The “Thai Girl” Blog March 2009


Malcolm and CieJay Burgess said...

Andrew, again a great post and some super pictures , thank you for sharing them .I am in agreement with you that so much of Thailands culture and tradition are being lost on a daily basic , as sadly Thai's have now thru western advertisment and the tv ,and of course the Soaps , discovered that SEX SELLs and we know that if a Thai thinks there is money to be made that they will jump in with both feet so to speak , no matter what the cost.
I commend the school and teachers for trying to perserve what little of the Thai culture that is left . SAD, SAD, SAD Malcolm

MJ Klein said...

great photography and reporting, Andrew. i hope to visit that temple, perhaps in a few weeks on my next expedition to Thailand.

it seems to me that today, Thai culture is about becoming whatever it takes to hook a foreigner out of his money.

Thai Girl said...

The comments removed were defamatory statements which had no relevance whatsoever to the subject matter of this blog and a couple of requests to remove them. Which I have now done.

This is the first time I have ever removed a comment so please keep the straight ones coming.


mike said...

Great photos and what a lucky coincidence. I share your love of the traditional Thai dancing - we made a donation to our local school dance troop, to help pay for the costumes and makeup, and they performed at our wedding. All the guests enjoyed their performance, epsecially the overseas visitors. These girls were only just in their teens, and it is great that their traditions are thus maintained.
Mike C.

Darrell said...

Hi Andrew,

How good is that . . . comimg upon a great surprise like that. The schools of rural Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Burma are constantly a treasure of the unexpected, and a resource that provides many deep and memorable occasions when travelling and discovering a foreign land. This is what 99.9% of tourists miss out on . . . many who don't care of course. They just want to see the sights, go on insignificant tours, and go to a few restaurants.

When I travel I always seek to get involved in the culture and meet the people. For example, if I was in Paris, I would visit several cafe's and back streets and suburban shopping areas and restaurants, and talk to the local people before I ever got around to see the Eiffel Tower or Champs Elysses. Sometimes it would be days before I get to see the "famous sights" and sometimes I never get there at all!! Indulging in the spirit of a city, town, rural community is what I believe travelling is all about.

I constantly have family and friends and associates that are in complete awe of the experiences I have . . the houses or farms I am invited to, the festivals that I get to visit, the banquets in which I bcome a part, the friends that I make, and sometimes the gala events that I am invited to by government officials, CEO's, doctors, lawyers, university officials and lecturers, and even farmers or small business people.

I have people regularly ask me . . "How is it that you seem to discover these extraordinary people, events and circumstances . . because we have looked in the travel guides and they do not seem to include such things".


To me I ask how could I not have these memorable experiences . . . I talk to people, I get out of the city, I visit schools, I visit hospitals, I visit refugee camps and I even sometimes invite myself along to business clubs and meetings.

All lead to extraordinary experiences, irrespective of the language.

And in every country I also see the depletion of their culture. It happens as the world changes and becomes more global. It is the natural progression of globalisation, and this is even more pronounced in developing countries.

This is because the biggest thing that will bring further prosperity to these countries is change. It is easy for us wealthy foreigners to be saddened by a depletion of the indigenous culture, but not to those that need the higher standards of health, education, employnent opportunities . . all in these lands that do not have . . and cannot comprehend . . free healthcare, pharmaceutical benefits, social security, unemployment benefits, payments for having a child, or subsidised housing.

The entire western world is concerned with the ability of sex to assist in selling their products, developing image, and even developing a higher social standing . . something that Asian nations value more than almost any other traits . . . particularly those at the bottom end of it.

It is all a double edge sword really.

Cheers for now!!!

Anonymous said...

I like the Thai apsara. It is similar to Khmer Apsara in Angkor Wat.

Anonymous said...

There is no such thing as Thai Apsara, there is only Khmer Apsara. Thais just manage to invade the Khmer Empire and conquered her land. That is why there is many Khmer Temples in Thailand.

Thai Language School said...

You have great photos there. I wish to go there too, someday. The Thai culture and language is really interesting. I would love to learn and hear more.