The official opening of the Chalermraj Center (Baba Phuket)coincided with the inaugural ‘Museum Festival 2012’ that was held from September 21-23. The three-day event was held at four locations in Phuket Town, namely Thai Hua Museum, Phuket Baba Museum, Phuket Thai Hua Club and Phuket Municipality Information Centre.
Speaking at the launch of the event at the Thai Hua museum, Vice President of the Thai Peranakan Association of Phuket, Professor Pranee Sakulpipatana said, “We have been trying to open a Peranakan Museum for six years now, and are very happy to have been able to finally open it.’
She added that the former Standard Chartered Bank building in Phuket Town was a significant and very poignant choice for the museum. Opened in 1907 by, whom she refers to as one of the first original Phuket Babas, Phraya Rasda Nupradit Mahisornpakd, the Standard Chartered Bank was introduced in order to help locals receive loans and get out of debts accrued through working in the tin mines.
For Ajarn Pranee, Phraya Rasda is a great source of pride, “He still has the highest honorary title (Phraya) ever bestowed on a Baba, by HM King Rama V.
“He looked after the people of Phuket like his children. At that time, Phuket people saw Penang as a kind of London in the Far East.”
Phraya used to visit Penang frequently and apparently learned a lot from the then British colony, including vital soon-to-be introduced elements of infrastructure.
“Phuket is very small, like a full stop, but it’s a very important place as well. Because traders and sailors and those involved in the tin mines had to have somewhere to stop.”
It is for this reason among many others that she, along with thousands of other ‘Phuket Babas’, are happy at the – albeit – belated launching of the museum, even if much of the work and renovation costs were done by the community itself.
“One of the major donors – apart from the Phuket municipality – was fellow Baba, Dr Supranee Tarnsiriroj, the owner of Phuket International Hospital who donated B1 million.”
Showing The Phuket News around the impressively-organised Thai Hua museum on Krabi Road, Ajarn Pranee enthusiastically explains how she hopes one day the newly-opened Baba Museum, which at the moment is sparsely decorated, will look just as impressive.
“I have plans to one day have two floors and have lots of ideas to allow people to follow the evolution and life of a Baba. It can be interactive, everything.”
In order to do that however, Ajarn Pranee said they still needed a lot more help. She estimates that they still need about B40 million more to make what she refers to as a proper museum, and is calling on local people who profess to love Phuket to do it.
“If you say, “I love Phuket” it’s abstract. But if you do something and actually buy something for it, it’s concrete love.”
Somebody who could help turn her dream into reality is Suppakorn Poonyarith, the Head of the Bangkok-based Department of the National Discovery Museum Institute (NDMI).
This is the first time the NDMI organised the Museum Festival 2012 in Phuket. In previous years it was held in Lopburi and Chiang Mai.
“These events are all about creating relationships between the different museums in Thailand. In this particular event we have used exhibits from 30 museums in the South,” said Mr Suppakorn.
The NDMI recently donated B2 million to the Thai Hua museum in order to help with promotion, management and staff training. As such, the Thai Hua is head-and-shoulders above other Phuket museums – at least for now.
With regard to perhaps initiating a similar big brother relationship with the recently opened Baba museum, Mr Suppakorn said he would like to, but ultimately the decision would come from Bangkok.
He added though that it shouldn’t just be Baba people who are proud of Phuket’s Sino-Portuguese buildings, and its rich and colourful communities. “All Thai people are proud of Phuket, and many of the buildings, including the Baba Museum, have 100 years of stories to tell.”