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THAILAND | Monday, 31 December 2007 | Views [690]

LEGACY OF PHUKET: Phuket has been recounted mostly as the Andaman Pearl and the Golden Sands Paradise, but less so for its Sino-Colonial style Architectures that deserves a chapter of its own and is at the core of Phuket’s legacy. I always try not to forget that behind any building there are people and their personal tales. What would be Taj Mahal without the love tales of Shah Jahan and Noor, or the Roman Colosseum without the bloody tales of the gladiators? By brushing up some of Phuket’s fascinating Sino-colonial tales I will attempt to unveil its charming historical heritage. It is thanks to Phuket tin-mining past that as early as the 1820s, Hokkien Chinese immigrants from the British Straits settlements, particularly Penang, moved over partaking in its foundations. They managed in few years to exploit the mining industry and to drastically transform its landscape. Around 1850, this settlement formed the historic core of old Phuket town, Tongkah, which was linked by few roads and a network of canals and waterways leading to Tongkah Bay. Coastal vessels transported tin from Phuket to Penang, and returned with foodstuff and hardware. In the past, workers flocked to the town to sell their ore, to stock up on provisions, and to remit money. In order to forget their hardship and homesickness, they indulged in the four pleasures - wine, women, opium and gambling. Thalang Road was the main street where the big traders had their shops and Soi Romanee was the red light district. In the early 20th century, a measure of civilization was brought by Phraya Rassada Nupradit (Khaw Sim Bee Na Ranong) during his term as High Commissioner of Greater Phuket (1900-1913). He gave a large concession to an Australian-European mining company, Tongkah Harbour Dredging, in return for funds to develop the public infrastructure. Roads were built, canals were de-silted, and a number of public buildings were put up. With Phuket becoming safer, more traders and mineworkers and their families, especially those from Penang, settled down in Phuket. With greater prosperity, more schools, temples, mansions, shop-houses, go-downs and official buildings were endowed blending largely Chinese and European architectural styles, with some elements from Indian and Islamic culture all borrowed from the Penang colonial influence, which lent a unique and distinctive brand of architecture. With their growing prosperity, thanks to a thriving trade with Penang, these multistoried brick-wood building moved from their simple beginnings - the shop-houses were originally simple dwellings of Chinese owner-traders who literally lived where they worked: shop in the front, courtyard and garden behind and residence above, to a more elaborate decorative style with glazed tiles, stucco relief and intricate wooden tracery. What constituted Phuket’s trade and red-light districts, Thalang Road and Soi Romanee, become shining example of the town’s historical heritage, thanks as well to the western influence which made their way to what is also referred as ‘Sino-Colonial style’ composed of the classic Renaissance and neo-European elements such as arches and elegant stucco edged pillars, door and windows. which nowadays form a real architectural delight, the 2km trail, that make the core of old Phuket Town. Phuketians as we know them today are a melting pot of Siamese, Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian and the sea-gypsy ethnicities; from the early unions between Hokkien (an ethnic/cultural group originating from the province of Fujian, also called Hoklo in Taiwan) tin-miners and Siamese women a unique community was formed in Phuket with its own way of life, language, dress and food: the 'Baba' or Peranakan. And, it is thanks to this distinctive community that today we can admire the Sino-Colonial architecture confirming the initial equation of this work - the Legacy of Phuket is nothing more the legacy of PHUKETIANS.

Tags: culture

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