Monday, March 12, 2018

Hanoi’s Shrinking Waters

                                    by Jim Goodman

Hoàn Kiếm Lake 
       What distinguishes Hanoi from other cities in the region is the large amount of water within its urban boundaries.  Every visitor knows picturesque Hoàn Kiếm Lake in the center of the old city, and probably the much bigger West Lake, and its subsidiary Trúc Bch.  But the city has many more lakes, plus innumerable scattered ponds.  Altogether, Hanoi has more water than any city east of Venice.
        It used to have much more.  West Lake began as a lagoon of the Red River until the early Lý Dynasty, when a landfill separated it.  Hoàn Kiếm Lake was connected to the Red River until the beginning of the 19th century.  H By Mu sprawled all the way to the southern wall of the Lý Citadel.  Other lakes, long since vanished, occupied most of what are now the city suburbs.  Many ponds lay within the old town environs until the French began filling them in. 
the Red River at Hanoi
       In prehistoric times the site of Hanoi was a lagoon within a gulf that lay at the confluence of the Red and Đung Rivers.  Over countless eons the gulf receded, disappearing under the layers of silt deposited by the two rivers.  The lagoon turned into a swamp with channels, lakes and densely forested islands.  The first pioneers arrived during the Bronze Age, settling on the islands and along the banks of the Tô Lch and Nhu Rivers, which are now in the western part of metropolitan Hanoi, grew rice, vegetables and fruits on small plots and supplemented this with hunting and fishing.
houseboats on the Red River near Long Biên Bridge
       Nobody knows the original village name, though in later centuries it became identified as Long Đ--“dragon’s navel.”  Near the Tô Lch River stood a small hillock, which the villagers believed was linked to the center of the earth by a long hole within the hillock.  The village continued to grow during the Chinese occupation, and when the Tang Dynasty came to power the Chinese shifted their administrative center from east of the Red River to Long Đ, which was becoming a more concentrated population and commercial center in the Delta.  In 621 they constructed a small citadel, of 1600 meters length, beside the Tô Lch.
West Lake, formerly Foggy Lake, in its usual weather conditions
       Chinese rule was never very secure, subjected to periodic local revolts and clashes with their rival Nanzhao, a kingdom in what is today Yunnan.  In the late 9th century the Chinese enlarged their citadel, renamed it Đai La and built a protective dike along the Red River.  But the Tang Dynasty fell in the early 10th century and in 938 Ngô Quyn captured Đai La, expelled the Chinese and re-established Vietnam’s independence. 
       Ngô Quyn made C Loa, the last capital of Vietnam before the Chinese conquest, the capital of his new state Đi C Viêt.  Đai La’s citadel fell into ruins, and some of the population moved to C Loa, but many residents remained.  The town was still inhabited when King Lý Thái Tô journeyed from Hoa Lư, the country’s capital since 968, to visit the site in 1010 and decided to transfer the capital.  According to legends, the king witnessed a dragon rising over the ruined citadel upon his arrival and so named the city Thăng Long—Rising Dragon.
preserved Hoàn Kiếm Lake turtle
       The new citadel, like Đai La, lay just south of West Lake, with the Tô Lch River serving as its northern moat.  Another large and long lake lay just west of the citadel.  The royal family, retainers, guards and high nobles all lived within its walls, while the commoners, mostly craftsmen and traders who served the palace, lived between the eastern wall and the Red River--the nucleus of what would later be the Old Town.  Stilted houses were still the norm and every house likely had a boat.  And some folks probably lived along the rivers in floating houses, a feature that has persisted down to the present on the western side of the Red River.
earliest map of Hanoi
       Lý Thái Tô’s successors created West Lake with a landfill to cut it off from the Red River.  Until 1547 it was called H Dâm Dàm—Foggy Lake—after its usual misty weather conditions.  Royalty rode pleasure boats on the lake and the earliest recorded water-puppet performance took place on the southern shore in the 11th century.  They also established the Temple of Literature on an island near the citadel in H By Mu, extended the dikes and built canals.  
       Because most nobles lived on estates far from the city, Thăng Long did not become very large during the Lý Dynasty, nor in the Trn Dynasty that followed.   Mongol invaders destroyed it three times in the 13th century and Chăm armies sacked it thrice in the 14th century.  Ming Dynasty Chinese occupied it 1408-28.  Only after their expulsion, and the foundation of the Lê Dynasty, did the city, now called Đông Kinh—the Eastern Capital—finally develop. 
Bẩy Mẫu Lake today
       The Lê Court demanded officials live in the city.  They mostly resided near the citadel, but the old town grew with guilds set up to service the palace and its government personnel.  Many ponds still existed in the old town, the Tô Lch River, wider and deeper than the scraggly creek that’s left of it today, was a prime transport artery from the city to the countryside and the body of water beside the old quarter, still connected to the Red River, changed its name from Lc Thu--Green Lake—to H Hoàn Kiếm—Lake of the Restored Sword, after a legend about the dynasty’s founder Lê Lợi.
Đông Kinh (Hanoi) riverfront, 1679
       A nobleman from Thanh Hoá province, he is supposed to have visited the lake when contemplating launching a rebellion against the predatory Chinese occupiers.  Casting his net for fish, he instead caught a magic sword and used it during the insurrection.  When he finally expelled the Chinese in 1428 he took a boat out onto the lake and a huge turtle, for which the lake had long been famous, emerged from the water and took the sword from his hand.  Mission accomplished, the sword had to be returned.
Hanoi in the late Lê Dynasty
       A specimen of one of these turtles, over a meter long, has been preserved at the temple on Ngc Sơn Island at the top end of the lake.  For centuries Hanoi residents kept their eyes open for a glimpse of one of these turtles whenever they walked along the lake. Their sight of it would be brief, as the turtle sucked up some air and plunged back beneath the surface.  Never a favorable environment for them after it was blocked from the river, the last turtle died just two years ago.  But before that, at the lakeside opening ceremony for Hanoi’s millennium celebrations in October 2010, the Hoàn Kiếm turtle popped his head above the water in full view of thousands.
Trấn Quốc Pagoda
       In the early 16th century, after a succession of four weak, incompetent, teenaged Lê emperors, Mạc Đăng Dung seized the throne and founded a new dynasty.  Some of the Lê family escaped to Thanh Hoá and, backed by the powerful Trịnh and Nguyễn families, eventually waged a long war against the Mạc and in 1592 captured Đông Kinh and restored the Lê Dynasty.  However, the victors had a falling out and another civil war resulted, this time pitting partisans of the Trịnh and Nguyển against each other.  The Nguyển wound up with autonomy over the south, while the Trịnh ruled the north.  The Lê emperor was just a figurehead for both sides.
Trúc Bạch Lake
      The warfare, sporadic anyway, did not affect Đông Kinh.  The old town continued to get more congested, while migrants filled in parts of the big lakes and made farms and villages on the outskirts of the city.  The long lake just west of the citadel was filled in and organized into an area known as the Thirteen Farms.  Immigrants from the countryside filled in parts of Bẩy Mẫu Lake, separating it from the Kim Ngưu River.
       Within the city itself, the Lê emperor and his entourage stayed inside a smaller, rebuilt citadel.  The Trịnh Lords set up their palaces near Hoàn Kiếm Lake, including one on Ngọc Sơn Island.  From here they would observe naval maneuvers on the lake, the boats sailing in from the Red River.  In the 18th century the palace was replaced first by a Buddhist pagoda, then temples to the god of war Quan Công and the spirits of literature and the soil.  In the early Nguyễn Dynasty a temple to Trần Hưng Đạo, hero of the Mongol Wars, also went up on the island. 
fishing at Bẩy Mẫu Lake
       At West Lake, in 1600 one of the city’s most venerable temples, Chùa Khai Quốc—Establishing the Nation Pagoda—was removed to an island in the southwest part of the lake. Originally built along the Red River in the 6th century, soil erosion threatened its stability.  In its new location it was renamed Chùa Trấn Quốc—Defending the Nation Pagoda.  In 1619 local residents built a causeway alongside it, which gave it easier access and also created Truc Bạch Lake beside it, which was used to breed fish.
       In the late 18th century, the city experienced another round of turmoil with the collapse of the Trịnh Lords regime, a brief occupation by the Chinese, the Tây Sơn Revolt and the capture of the city by Nguyễn Ánh in 1802.  Founding a new dynasty, he moved the national capital to Huế and ordered the old citadel demolished, a new one made and landfills to separate the Red River from Hoàn Kiếm, now truly a lake.
June flowers on the lake
Thê Húc Bridge
       More changes in the city’s water ratio ensued in the next few decades.  By the time Emperor Minh Mạng changed the city’s name to Hanoi in 1831, the big lakes that had sprawled over the southern and western parts of the area were much reduced.  Bẩy Mẫu split twice, with reclaimed land now separating it from its western half, creating Hồ Giảng Võ, and a road running directly south bisecting the eastern part. And the Temple of Literature was no longer on an island, though a small lake survived just across the street from the compound, where scholars still went for quiet study.
Tháp Rùa--the Turtle Tower
       More drastic changes occurred as soon as the French took over.  They began filling in the ponds in and around the old town and the lower part of the Tô Lịch where it ran into the Red River.  No ponds exist in the old town today, but the memory of them is still sharp.  The street Cấu Gỗ (wooden bridge) got its name from the bridge that crossed the stream coming from Hồ Thái Cực (Lake of Abundant Fish) next to it to Hoàn Kiếm Lake.  The next street up, Gia Ngu, means ‘fish market’ in literary Sino-Vietnamese.  The streets branching off Hạng Bông--Hàng Mành and Hàng Hòm--run slightly downhill, because there used to be a pond at the end.
       Before this development, in 1886 a Vietnamese mandarin working for the French persuaded authorities to allow him to build a tower on an islet in the middle of Hoàn Kiếm Lake, where the turtles used to bask in the sun and lay their eggs.  Called Tháp Rùa (Turtle Tower), it honors the magic turtle that seized Lê Lợi’s sword.  The mandarin who built it intended to lay the remains of his father there, but local people objected and removed the body. 
       The tower remained, though, and in later years the French added a statue on top similar to the Statue of Liberty in New York.  The Vietnamese official the Japanese installed during their occupation removed the statue in 1945.  Ever since, the tower has become the best-known monument in Hanoi.
B-52 wreckage in a Ba Đình  pond
       When the French finally departed from Hanoi in 1954 the city core was rather densely populated, but vast areas of farms and pastures still surrounded the settled area.  This situation continued until the late 1980s, when the new renovation policy (đôi mới) inaugurated rapid development of the city.  The rural belt around Hanoi quickly filled in with roads and buildings and in a few years a quarter of the city’s water area disappeared.  West Lake lost twenty percent of its water before the government stepped in to halt further encroachment.  Other lakes in the city, like Giảng Võ and Bẩy Mẫu also shrank considerably, while a quarter of the lakes existing a decade earlier completely disappeared. 
Triiều Khúc Pagoda and its pond
       The smaller ponds largely survived because they were often part of temple compounds.  One pond in Ba Đình district became a monument to the America War because it contains the wreckage of a B-52 bomber.  Currently, it seems likely that the size of the remaining lakes and ponds will remain constant.  After all, they do add to the city’s beauty, for the buildings around them that reflect in the water and the careful, harmonious layout of the ponds.  Like the beautiful, mid-19th century red wooden bridge to Ngọc Sơn Island, called Cấu Thê Húc (Morning Sunlight Bridge), they represent a prominent cultural characteristic and artistic achievement of Old Hanoi—the aesthetic marriage of architecture and water.

summer flowers at Hoàn Kiếm Lake
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Hanoi and its lakes are part of Delta Tours Vietnam’s cultural-historical journey through Vietnam.  See the schedule at


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Why Chiang Mai?

                                                                         by Jim Goodman

Chang Puak Gate and Doi Suthep
       Thirty years have passed since I decided to make Chiang Mai my home.  Of course the city is much bigger now, more congested, more polluted, but that’s true almost everywhere.  It swarms with tourists during the dry months and is still pretty crowded even in the rainy season.  But increasing tourism is a permanent phenomenon for any attractive destination and Chiang Mai gets such attention because it truly deserves it.  Its location, size, cultural features, religious and historical monuments all contribute to its popularity for travelers, and were precisely the characteristics that first enchanted me. 
the iron bridge across the Ping River
       The city lies on a broad plain between the mountain Doi Suthep to the west and the Ping River to the east.  With mountains on the horizon, especially north and west, towering trees both right inside the city and gracing the banks of the moats and the river, Chiang Mai is easy on the eyes. 
       Even with its expansion over the past three decades, it’s still a small city.  Traffic can be pretty heavy at times, yet if you’re on a motorbike instead of driving a car, even in rush hour you can be in the quiet, clean-air countryside in less than half an hour.  Most of the city traffic emanates from the business district near the river and the suburbs.  The old town, the main focus for tourists, experiences far less traffic.
Ku Ruang, the southwest bastion
       Chiang Mai dates its creation to 1296, founded by Mengrai, King of Lanna, a state that at its peak comprised most of the provinces of Northern Thailand.  Roughly square-shaped, 1.5 km per side, surrounded by moats, the city had five entry gates, bastions at the four corners and brick walls connecting them.  Mainly the extended royal family and some of the nobility lived within the walls, while commoners dwelt outside.  From its inception the city had many temples and another large portion of the city’s population were resident monks. 
       Today the old town has about forty temples within the moats and many more in the neighborhoods beyond them.  One cannot walk very far without passing by a temple compound and the high sloping roofs of the viharn, the main assembly building, and the spires of the chedi, the reliquary building shaped like an inverted bell that stands behind the viharn, are often taller than surrounding secular buildings.  Towering skyscrapers are absent from the old town, and much of the rest of the city as well, a factor adding to the pleasure of exploring it.
Wat Phra Singh compound
       In the early 90s, though, real estate speculation threatened to turn Chiang Mai into a Little Bangkok.  Condos and high-rise hotels began going up at a frantic pace.  Ownership changed hands several times before the building’s completion.   Meanwhile debris from the construction process fell into people’s yards and monastery compounds.
       By the mid-90s city residents were more than just annoyed.  Before work began on the Rimping Condominium next to the Nakhon Ping Bridge, angry neighbors called in monks to curse the ground.  Then they put up a banner just across the street announcing what they had done.  The condo went up anyway, but after its completion it was nearly three years before anyone moved into it.
ruins at Wat Chedi Luang
       The governor rebutted these complaints by stating that Chiang Mai needed development and that meant more condos and hotels.  But shortly after that an earthquake struck, cracking four of the condos.  Nobody was hurt and it fact it was a mild tremor, but it did scare people living near anything tall.  Then the governor himself died in a helicopter crash.  His successor reversed policy and limited new buildings within the city limits to six stories.  Those that had already begun construction were permitted to rise according to the original plan.  But since then, the six-story rule has held and all the tall buildings standing in the city today are at least twenty years old. 
sculpted horses at Wat Khun Kha Ma
       Thus Chiang Mai did not become Little Bangkok after all.  It retained its identity as a small, pedestrian-friendly city, full of historical and religious monuments, free of the hustle and bustle of a major metropolis, even though it’s Thailand’s second largest city.  There are no industrial complexes or big factories in the area and tourism, broadly defined, is the biggest industry. 
       Temples and the historical remnants are the main tourist attractions.  Temples all over Thailand feature ancient chedis, outstanding sculptures and so forth and so do various Chiang Mai temples.  The most famous chedi is that at Wat Chedi Luang, which in the 15th century stood 95 meters tall, truly the region’s first religious skyscraper.  A major earthquake in 1545 knocked down the upper part, never rebuilt.  What’s left of it still rises higher than all other buildings around it.
Tha Pae Gate
       Some temples are unique to Chiang Mai.  I include Wat Lamchang, Temple of the Tethered Elephants, erected on old Lanna’s royal elephant stable and full of elephant statues in the compound.  Not far away is Wat Khun Kha Ma, built on the former royal stables after an epidemic slew the horses and the distraught owner wanted to commemorate his beloved animals.  Finally, there is Wat Lokmolee, across the northeast side of the moat, which has a special shrine to Chiraprapha, the only Queen Regnant in Lanna history, who ruled briefly about a dozen years before the Burmese conquered the city in 1558.
       All these details became familiar to me the more I explored Chiang Mai, augmenting my appreciation of the city.  In 1996 the city celebrated its 700th anniversary by restoring some of the old temples and city walls.  Wat Lokmolee’s restoration came only this century, along with a few other temples.  This exemplified another notable feature of Chiang Mai.  Its people have a strong sense of their own separate cultural and historical development, without that sliding into nationalism or separatism, such as affects the Shan in Myanmar.  One manifestation of that is keeping their historical monuments in good shape and restoring whatever can be restored.
alms-giving in the old town
       When the Japanese occupied Chiang Mai they tore down the gates and walls to use the bricks to make new roads.  They left the four corner bastions standing though, but it was not until the late 1960s that the city got around to reconstructing the gates.  And only in the mid-90s were parts of the walls rebuilt.
       Of the city gates, the most important today is Tha Pae Gate, the eastern one, with a large plaza in front and the only one vehicular traffic cannot pass through.  It’s popular in the morning with tourists who want to pose for photos with the pigeons.  It is also the venue for special city events—beauty contests, stage shows, New Year’s countdown--and festival processions pass by here.  Opposite Chang Puak Gate, the northern one, and right next to Chiang Mai Gate, the southern one, food stalls open at night, with a variety of inexpensive meals on offer.
northern beauty on a Loy Krathong float
Flower Festival procession
       Another example of the Northern Thai people’s cultural consciousness is their enthusiastic celebration of the city’s festivals.  A majority of these are Buddhist events and largely restricted to gatherings at the temples, though one of them, Buddha’s birthday, includes a procession up Doi Suthep the night before.  Religion is still a major factor in local people’s lives and many Chiang Mai residents rise early to donate food, money and other daily necessities into the monks’ begging bowls when they make their morning rounds.
summer flowers on Rattanakosin Street
       Others are basically secular, even if they have accompanying rituals.  The most famous is Songkran, 13-15 April, marking the traditional Thai New Year.  It’s also known as the Water-Throwing Festival, after its primary activity—people throwing water on each other the whole day long for three days.  After one experience of it I have tended to avoid it over the years.
       The most attractive event is Loy Krathong, held for three days around the full moon of November.  People make krathongs—small boats made out of banana leaf, containing flowers, incense and a candle—and float them in the Ping River.  This is done to persuade the river goddess to cease the rain, for it’s harvest time soon, and take the waters back, by giving her a beautiful send-off.  Processions, fireworks, stage shows and thousands of floating lanterns wafting into the sky these nights make it the most spectacular and enjoyable public event of the year.
flowering trees on the northern moat
       The Tourism Authority of Thailand added another annual event to the calendar with the creation of the Flower Festival the first weekend of February.  Heavily decorated floats on flatbed trucks file in a procession from the train station all the way through downtown Chiang Mai to Buag Had Park in the southwest part of the old town.  Here they stay another day, while various food and commercial stalls set up on adjacent streets. 
       For a resident then, Chiang Mai has regular public events to punctuate the year.  Some are rather sedate temple affairs, but others, like Loy Krathong, are spectacles worth seeing every time they occur.  Loy Krathong occurs at the beginning of the cool, dry season, the most comfortable time of year.  Temperatures drop somewhat the next couple months, but not to the level of more northern countries.  It never snows here or at night gets colder than ten degrees Celsius. 
200 year-old tree at Wat Chedi Luang
sacred trees on the road to Lamphun
       From March through May is the hot, dry season, with temperatures reaching up to forty degrees Celsius in the daytime.  Yet the nights are pleasant and in compensation for the heat, tropical fruits abound in the market and flowers bloom on the trees along the moat and throughout the suburbs.  When the rains commence in June-July, the temperatures drop a bit and the rain comes mostly at night and rarely all day long.
monk procession on a Buddhist holy day
Lahu Shehleh in Warorot Market
Besides their colorful displays when they blossom, some of Chiang Mai’s trees are believed to be home to guardian spirits, like the towering dipterocarp planted by Kawila at Chedi Luang, after he resurrected Chiang Mai in 1796, following the expulsion of the Burmese.  The biggest trees in temple courtyards date from the compound’s original construction or a major renovation.  To honor the tree’s guardian spirit, devotees place poles at its base to prop it up and relieve the stress of its weight.  Other venerable trees feature shrines in front and the tall trees parallel to the old road south to Lamphun are wrapped in yellow robes to indicate their sanctity.  They make this route the most beautiful drive in any direction outside Chiang Mai.
street mural, Loi Kroa Road
       Modern Chiang Mai has its supermarkets and shopping malls, but the traditional markets, like Warorot and Muang Mai along the river, are still quite active, the latter all night long.  The scenes here are sometimes enhanced by visits of ethnic minorities from the mountains, dressed in their traditional clothing, especially Lahu Shehleh, Hmong, Akha and Palong, which adds an exotic, colorful aspect to the streets, yet another attraction of life in Chiang Mai. 
       Night markets are also popular, especially with tourists, both the Night Bazaar on Changklang Road and the ‘walking street’ weekend markets Saturday on Wualai Road, southeast of Chiang Mai Gate, and Sundays on the road between Tha Pae Gate and Wat Phra Singh.  Lanna handicrafts dominate the goods on sale, from hill tribe products to items from long-established specialty villages, like celadon wares from San Kamphaeng, umbrellas from Bor Sang, woodcarvings from Hangdong and silver and lacquer creations from Chiang Mai’s Haiya district.
       In addition to its traditional crafts, Chiang Mai is one of the country’s prime artistic centers, home to many modern artists.  The city has several galleries and art and photography exhibitions take place throughout the year.  Imaginative street artists have also covered bare compound walls with their works and when riding around familiar routes I often come across new murals that cause me to stop for a bit and appreciate.
rising of a 'super moon' over the banks of the Ping River
       Beyond the city’s assets, which I am constantly discovering the longer I stay here, Chiang Mai is close to other attractions in the region.  It is a short, pleasant drive to ancient Lamphun, whose moats, walls and religious architecture had a profound impact on Mengrai and his foundation of Chiang Mai.  The hills, valleys and gardens of Mae Rim are less than an hour away going north.  Hmong, Lahu and Karen villages are within easy reach, while Akha, Lisu, Palong and Yao villages are further on.  Forest parks and scenic reservoirs are also within easy access, while the Ping River itself is most attractive near the city and a great venue for sunset and moonrise viewing.
       All these features make the city increasingly popular with tourists, but they hardly ever get in my way.  Tourism development has basically meant more hotels and restaurants, so if I fancy a different meal than the local food that I ordinarily prefer, I can choose among a variety of Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, German, French, American and Italian restaurants.  It’s obvious why Chiang Mai became a tourist hub, as well as a favorite place for retirees and pensioners.  They are all here for the same reasons that lured me to remain for three decades so far, with little inclination to seek anything conceivably better.
wooden foot-bridge over the northern moat
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Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Chinese Community in Chiang Mai

                                                                by Jim Goodman

gate to Chiang Mai's Chinatown
       Ethnic Chinese constitute the largest minority of Thailand’s population.  Though Chinese had always lived in Thailand as merchants in Ayutthaya, they began seriously migrating in the early 19th century, after the establishment of the Chakri Dynasty.   At first, they moved mainly into the capital Bangkok and the cities on the east coast.  Chiang Mai may have had a few resident shopkeepers at that time but large-scale Chinese immigration to the northern city only got underway from about 1870, when the semi-autonomous state of Lanna was becoming more fully integrated with Siam.
Chinese shop in Kad Luang
       The first Chinese community was in Watgate, on the east bank of the Ping River, outside the city proper.  They later took up residence on the other side of the Ping River in what is today Warorot Market, or Kad Luang (Big Market in the Northern Thai dialect), as well as the lower part of Tha Pae Road.  It was a small and slow influx in the beginning, of pioneers from Southeast China originally, setting up shop-houses and angling to establish themselves as merchants.  A population count in 1884 put their numbers at around 2000.
       Most of them originated from Bangkok and spoke the Guangdong, Hokka and Teochow dialects of southeast China.  Others were Hui from Yunnan, Muslim Chinese who spike a Chinese dialect close to Mandarin.  They had fled the fierce reprisals of Qing Dynasty troops at the end of the Muslim Revolt (or Panthay Rebellion) in 1872.  Hui refugees from Yunnan settled downriver from Warorot, around what is now the upper end of the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar on Changklang Road.  They built a mosque on the first lane, renamed Halal Street today, which was long ago replaced by a modern building more in the Middle Eastern style.  Local Thais referred to them as Jin Haw.
Chinese gold shop in Warorot Market
       Over the next few decades, as Siam began reaching out to integrate economically and politically all parts of the country, one result was a movement of more Chinese to the north.  By 1919 Chiang Mai had 3600 Chinese residents.  The initial wave of Jin Haw had subsided, but non-Muslim Yunnanese were trickling in, eventually establishing a neighborhood around today’s Anusarn Market, a few blocks down from Halal Street.
       The bulk of the immigrants, however, came up from Bangkok.  They were an overflow of successful immigration to the capital, who moved north to cities like Tak, Lampang and Chiang Mai where there was less competition in their particular trade, profession or business.  As a newcomer community, one that relied on commerce rather than land for its maintenance, its success depended on the close bonds it knitted within itself.
Chinese temple near Muang Mai Market
       Chinese could plunge confidently into the adventure of relocation because they could count on the solidarity and assistance of already established, resident Chinese communities.  Moreover, they could also benefit from the extension of credit by their contacts back in Bangkok.  The attitude of the time (and conditions then) was that Chinese should help other Chinese to succeed.  It was good for the community.
       Based around Warorot Market, Chinese ensconced themselves as the principal merchants of the city.  They controlled the retail trade, money lending and the commercial river traffic.  At the dawn of the 20th century Chiang Mai-Bangkok river commerce consisted of one thousand sampans annually, carrying two and a half tons of cargo.
Pung Tao Gong Chinese temple
       Chiang Mai exported animal hides and horns, lac dye, lard and teak logs.  From Bangkok it imported clothing, fabric, thread, matches, kerosene, soap and iron tools.  The balance of trade was always unfavorable to Chiang Mai.  The journey could take three weeks, though some only went as far as Nakhon Sawan and met cargo boats there coming up from Bangkok.
       Another occupation the Chinese got into in the late 19th century was tax collector.   They could do this because the local autonomous government had a lot of powerful nobles who were responsible for tax collection in their spheres of influence.  Wealthy Chinese businessmen simply bribed the nobles to get the tax collection concessions.  In a particularly notorious case, a Chinese businessman named Teng Sophanodon, from the Kim Seng Lee Company, constructed a Bangkok palace for Lanna’s King Inthawichayanon, in return for the right to collect taxes on pigs, cattle, opium, tobacco, betel nuts and leaves and coconuts.
stone lion at Pung Tao Gong
making s lantern at Pung Tao Gong
       Sometimes the Lanna nobles agreed to the tax collection concession after accepting the bribe, but then changed their minds when a competitor offered a bigger bribe.  This led to lawsuits, aroused the attention of Bangkok and led to Rama V’s reforms of the whole tax collection system in Lanna, at the same time further reducing Lanna’s autonomous authority.  In 1899, resistance to the new system spawned a revolt in which animosity was particularly directed at Chinese tax collectors.  Subsequently, government tax collectors took over the job.
Warorot temple at New Year
       The nature of Chiang Mai commerce changed again in 1921 with the inauguration of the railroad link to Bangkok.  A highway followed a few years later.  Trains and trucks could now carry greater amounts of cargo much faster than boats and at a cheaper rate.  Chinese in Chiang Mai began consolidating control of all the import-export trade.  With greater contacts across the country and access to credit, the Chinese were able to displace the Shan, Burmese and Indian competition, who had no such advantages, and from 1932 began buying out their rivals.
       Foreign manufactured goods, primarily from Great Britain, but also from Germany and Japan, began flowing north.  With a dramatic expansion of rice farms throughout the north, rice became Chiang Mai’s principal export south.  Chinese traders were involved in every step of the production process.  They purchased the rice brought in by caravans from distant places.  They set up rice mills in and around the city.  They tendered high-interest loans to farmers and confiscated their lands if the farmer could not repay the loan.  They constructed irrigation canals and dikes and controlled the rice shipped to other parts of the country.
New Year--a time for serious selfie-examination
making noodles on Wichayanon Road
       Their rising prosperity encouraged other Chinese immigrants, who knew they would be accepted and assisted by the Chiang Mai Chinese community, as well as draw credit support from their connections in Bangkok.  When the Warorot area became congested, the Chinese community expanded north, past the Nakhon Ping Bridge to the Muang Mai market area, today mainly a food market, open all night.
Chinese specialities on Chang Moi Road
       While it was a very tight community, it did not remain a purely Chinese one.  The majority of the immigrants were male, so there was a shortage of ethnic Chinese brides.  Many of them took Thai wives, though in this highly patriarchal society their children identified as Chinese, even in later decades when they used the Thai language domestically more than one of the Chinese dialects.  The men of the Jin Haw community, augmented by ex-caravan members, sometimes married women of the Muslim Malay and Bengali communities, from colonial Malaysia and Burma, who began arriving in Chiang Mai in the early 20th century.
       Now in the 21st century the Chinese no longer control the Chiang Mai economy as extensively as they did in the past.  Yet they are still the most important players, expanding into real estate and banking in recent decades.  The Warorot and Muang Mai neighborhoods are still dominated by Thai-Chinese and the markets there are quite active, even with the modern competition of shopping malls and supermarkets. 
scribe writing messages to gods and ancestors
a well-known symbol of China
       A big, red wooden gate on Chiang Moi Road, about a block west of the Ping River, marks the entrance to Chiang Mai’s Chinatown, otherwise known as Warorot or Kad Luang.  Typical Chinese-style, curly-headed stone lions, like the kind commonly mounted in front of bank buildings, stand at the base on each side of the gate.   All kinds of shops and sidewalk stalls exist in this area, both inside and outside the covered markets, selling all kinds of products, including those traditionally marketed by Chinese merchants, like temple and festival decorations, herbal medicines and the numerous gold jewelry shops.
       On Kuangmane Road, the first lane to the right down Chang Moi Road after passing through the gate, stands the most venerable Chinese temple, a rather simple structure with yellow walls and tiled roofs, upturned at the corners in the typical Chinese style.  In more recent decades, Chinese residents have built two more temples in the Muang Mai area and quite a fancy one on the riverside road past the flower market.
stage performance on Kuangmane Road
singer in classical Chinese costume
       Called Pung Tao Gong, this is the moat outstanding Chinese temple in the Kad Luang area, with most of its buildings added in the 21st century;  the gate, a two-tiered pavilion within and a seven-tiered pagoda with a ceramic vase on top.  Dragons flank the tops of the entry gate and pavilion, writhe around a tall pole in the courtyard and the pillars of the entrance gate and flank the way to the altar inside the main temple building.  The deities within are mostly Taoist ones but a small shrine to the right houses a Thai Buddha statue as well as a Chinese bodhisattva image.
       Besides new temples in Warorot and other sites, the other main development in the Chinese community this century has been an increasing ethnic awareness, resulting in a much more enthusiastic celebration of traditional Chinese holidays, Lunar New Year in particular.  Kad Luang holds three days of celebrations.  The streets are closed off to vehicular traffic and stalls go up all the way down Chang Moi road and on WIchayanon Road between the two covered markets of Warorot and Tonlamyai.
Chinese opera performance, 2014
       Red lanterns saturate the whole area, suspended above the streets, strung on poles, hanging in front of the temples and flanking food stalls in the streets.  Tables and chairs, set up in the middle of the street, provide convenient places to dine on the meals, drinks and snacks offered in the rows of stalls on either side.  A couple tables on Chang Moi Road are reserved for a checkers tournament.
       Besides the special foods, stalls also market clothing, lanterns, jewelry, handicrafts and dolls.  The red color also dominates the people’s clothing, from the red t-shirts worn by dragon dance teams and shop workers to the high-collared, side-fastened, red and gold Chinese dresses, with split sides, donned by the women.  There’s lots of selfie action these days by folks dressed in their festival best.
       Beyond shopping and eating, entertainment also draws people to Kad Luang.  Until a new coffee shop replaced it, a stage opposite Pung Tao Gong featured classical Chinese opera performances at night.  These have disappeared from the program, but in some years a small stage goes up at the end of Kuangmane Road to hold afternoon shows of classical dances and songs.  Temporary bamboo gates are also erected on this lane for the occasion.
Chinese opera character
pole-dancing, dragon-style
       At the corner of Chang Mai and Wichayanon Roads, during the festival a red stage becomes the venue for a beauty contest, with the competitors dressed in classical silk dresses and elaborate headdresses in the Qing Dynasty style.  Singers and dancers also perform here, but the show ends rather early the night before New Year as attention shifts to the dragon dances whirling around in the plaza in front of the stage.
       A dozen or so team members prop up each of the two dragons as they cavort in the street accompanied by two lions, one red, one yellow.  After this the lions perform separately and in the final act one of the dragons climbs a pole and spouts fireworks and flames from its mouth when it reaches the top.
lion dancer inside Warorot Market
       On New Year’s afternoon a dragon and the two lions emerge from a lane near the Kad Luang Gate and head for the market.  Their purpose is to collect donations from the shop and stall keepers, so they don’t perform any dance.  However, they enter the Warorot covered market and make a route through most of its lanes and even the dining area downstairs.  When they pause, people place money in the dragon’s mouth or tie banknotes to one of the strings making up its beard.  In return, the dragon master severs beard strings to give the donor as a souvenir.  The procession lasts two hours and makes numerous stops, especially at the gold shops.
       At night song and dance performances take place again on the stage.  One or two acrobatic acts or kungfu demonstrations might add variety to the stage entertainment, which is augmented in the evening by a burst of fireworks illuminating the sky behind the stage. 
       The day after New Year is more subdued.  The street stalls are still up and busy and some shows are on stage again after dark.  But many shops in the lanes close for the day for their proprietors and employees to spend time with their families.  New Year activities—renewing kinship ties, venerating gods and ancestors and putting their ethnic identity on display with decorations, dances and temple action—come to a close.  The rest of the year the Chinese community reverts to its principal pre-occupations of business and making money.

the dragon collecting donations inside Warorot Market
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