If it weren’t for Atsawin Auttatum, President of the Culture Office in Phuket Town, raising the alarm by calling for people via Facebook to rise up against the planned fate for the century-old Boonphat Building at Vachira Hospital Phuket, Phuket might have lost one of its treasures forever (See story here.).
The simple image of the Boonphat Sino-Portuguese style mansion against the backdrop of the multi-story modern hospital buildings at Vachira Hospital with stark clarity is reminiscent of the small church surrounded by cloud-reaching skyscrapers in the 1927 classic film Metropolis.
Events this week showed plainly that the theme of the Fritz Lang movie is clearly alive in Phuket. Preserving monuments to the past takes effort, but is most likely a burden to be shouldered by a handful of people far from the public limelight, and whose efforts mostly go unnoticed.
Phuket Town is home to the few buildings on the island that can be directly traced back to roles played in Phuket’s past. Most people think of the classic shophouses that line the streets through Old Town, but the Boonphat mansion is out of sight, and obviously nearly out of mind.
Kudos must also go to Fine Arts Department Deputy Director Kajon Mookmeeka who called for the Boonphat mansion to be turned into a museum. Phuket has little architectural heritage as it is and all efforts to preserve what we have must be supported.
Thailand is home to only five World Heritage sites as recognised by Unesco. Another five sites remain on the “tentative” list. Phuket is not among them. Despite the island’s vital role as a port of call connecting East and West during the centuries of ships making spice runs, when the island became a veritable mixing pot of cultures, Phuket has yet to be recognised culturally for anything other than its food.
What is dumbfounding is why the Boonphat building was slated for demolition in the first place. Two other similar-style and similar-age buildings – the Ranong and Sripatcharintaranusorn buildings, both already situated on hospital grounds – were already listed by the Fine Arts Department as cultural heritage sites. If this is the calibre of thinking of those responsible for operating the largest government hospital on the island, heaven help us. We’re going to need it.