Pattaya: Viharna Sien: "Never Say Never"
March 21, 2005
Dear Family and Friends,
Before departing Miami on my very first trip to Thailand, December, 2001, all my buddies who had already been here unanimously "insisted" I "head directly" to Pattaya, a popular beach resort close to Bangkok.
My guidebook was considerably less enthusiastic, but my friend Jeff, who had been living here for six months, also "insisted." So a little reluctantly and dutifully, I made the two hour bus ride with Jeff as my "orientation counselor."
Let me say this about Pattaya with a certain sensitivity:
Remember the business card from the movie "LA Confidential"? ...
"Whatever you desire."
I spent two fun days there. Jeff and I did what we did. As I stretched out on the beach, I even had an attractive dragon "tattooed" on my left forearm while I sipped a cold Singha. Tattoos also for my friends Nam and Ann.
I wanted to see Thailand, so I left Jeff and friends behind. I flew to Chaing Mai to resume being a tourist. I figured I'd never go back tp Pattaya.
Never say, "Never."
Just recently, Jeff introduced me to Dianne, his colleague at Jomtien University near Pattaya.
Dianne asked me to join her and her sister Sophie and her brother-in-law, Paul. I accepted her invitation for a three day visit.
Dianne and her family were generous hosts. First a tour of the University. Then Dianne and Sophie took me "downtown" for some book shopping for my upcoming trip to Australia and Indonesia. We all had a delightful seafood dinner together at a restaurant overlooking the beach.
Dianne hired a car and driver and took me sightseeing.
And what sights they were!
Our first stop was a temple complex with something for everyone. Beautiful, large, colorful Buddhist and Hindu temples. A lake nearby with several small peaceful shrines from various traditions. What a contrast to the club scene not so far away.
Next, a large park with a giant gold outline image of seated Buddha painted on a sheer cliff several hundred meters high. (I may submit the photo to CondeNast Traveler magazine for their "Where are you, anyhow?" section.)
As if all this beauty was not enough, our last stop was "Viharna Sien" - a three story museum complex with an astonishing array of Thai and Chinese art, sculpture and furnishings. Maybe the best museum of its kind in Southeast Asia.
Our time was limited so early the next morning, by bus and motorbike, I returned. I was the first visitor through the gate. I teamed up with Johnny Valentino, an Italian-Thai young man who took me on a complete tour.
I dare not try to detail this amazing art collection. There are over 300 sculptures of granite, bronze, jade and clay. Most of them are very large depictions of the pantheon of Chinese gods and goddesses. Also, more than 1000 pieces of Thai fine art which were donated by the Thai community from around the world.
Here are a couple of my favorites:
1. The Statue of The Eight Immortals Crossing the Ocean....This huge brass statue may be the largest in the world. It is 11 meters long and 4 meters high (33'x 12'). The Eight Immortals are central in the Taoist mythology. They are crossing the ocean on a raft to worship the mother of the supreme god. The beauty and detail of this work is truly miraculous.
2. Peking Lions....These two lions protect the entrance to the main building. They each are 3.5 meters high and weigh about 44 tons. They are just two of more than 60 pieces of granite carvings depicting animals of the Chinese Zodiac and Chinese gods and soldiers.
3. Eighteen Terracotta Arhats....These arhats are personal disciples of Buddha and are worshiped by Chinese Buddhists. Each sculpture shows the fine detail of muscles and tendons and clothing and the personal emotion of each disciple as he attains enlightenment.
4. Terracotta Statues of Soldiers....These two statutes come from the famous group of "buried" soldiers found in Qin Shi Huang Di's Tomb in Xian Province, China. They are a permanent gift from the Chinese Government which has never given them to any other country or organization for permanent exhibition.
How is it possible that an unprecedented collection of art can be assembled in one place within just a few year's time? The answer is...Master Sa-nga Kulkobkiat.
Beneath a large statute of The Master is the following Brief Biography:
"Master Sa-nga Kulkobkiat was born in Bangkok on Monday 18th October 1925 and grew up in the People's Republic of China. He was an elder statesman who devoted himself to the popularization of Thai and Chinese cultures. He also played an important role in continuously fostering and maintaining the good relationship between Thailand and China.
Sa-nga was a master of Feng Shui, the traditional Chinese art or practice of creating harmonious surroundings that enhance the balance of yin and yang and the flow of energy (qi). Using his expertise, he kind-heartedly helped many people from all walks of life without any discrimination. As a result, he is well known both domestically and overseas. He is admired for his wisdom and is respected as a man who adhered to high ethical and moral principles. He is a model of a devotee who acted for the common good of the overall society in order to repay a debt of gratitude to his country and his motherland.
"He left behind this "Anek Kusala Sala (Viharna Sien)" as an invaluable architectural heritage for Thailand and China. This Viharna Sien represents one of outstanding creations of art in Southeast Asia that houses many priceless Thai and Chinese art objects. He was also a key leader in constructing another "Viharna Sien" in Chaozhou City, Guangdong, the People's Republic of China in order to enhance the cooperation between Thailand and China in promoting the cultures of the two countries.
"Master Sa-nga Kulkobkiat passed away on Friday 22nd August 2003. In order to pay homage to the master, his relatives and disciples jointly erected this statue in commemoration of his generous contributions to the people, the society and the two countries."
There is only a small catalog of this museum. Unfortunately there is no website or even postcards. Maybe that is a good thing.
If I were the Minister of Tourism for Thailand, I would "insist" that every visitor "head directly" to Pattaya, not for Sodom at the seaside, but to see for themselves what is possible when one man has the wisdom to create beauty and harmony.
As for me, I shall return as often as possible. Also, I am motivated now to visit China to see the sister museum and, of course, the site at Xian where I can see the other 6000 soldier-statues.
There is a direct flight from Bangkok to Xian. See you there.