Thursday, January 16, 2014

Thailand Journal VIII: Opium Wars

Tunnel of Hall of  Opium Museum (Watercolor by Hallie Cohen)
Most people may think of a perfume by Yves Saint Laurent when they hear the word “opium." They’ve never heard of the Opium Wars or the Treaty of Nanking which allowed the British to engage in the kind of free trade in China, aka Imperialism which addicted millions. The current king of Thailand has been instrumental in curbing poppy cultivation and his mother was responsible for the creation of the Hall of Opium Museum in Chiang Saen. The museum is entered through a long tunnel lined with haunted Blakean images. The museum then traces the history of the 70 species of Papaver Somniferum or poppy from Summerian and Assyrians times 3000-5000 BC through the Greeks and Romans and onto Paracelsus, the Renaissance physician who immersed opium alcohol to make Laudanum. It ends with a whole exhibition on addiction that deals with famous addicts like Billie Holiday and even boasts a historic diorama of Ben Franklin who , it turns out, was hooked, despite his famed advocacy of moderation. It closes with a Buddhist proverb, “He who conquers many men in battle is not the noblest victor. But he who conquers himself is, indeed, the noblest victor.” If you ever visit the Golden Triangle, which has been transformed from the mystique of drug smuggling and opium dreams, to the nightmare of modernity, you can ride elephants in the luxurious Anantara Golden Triangle Elephants Camp & Resort and cross a four lane highway to the museum. How times have changed!

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