Turntable tales Nº 6

‘The charm of a living museum’

It’s not nice leaving Chiang Mai before taking another look at the turntable.  Thursday December 28th 2006, in the end it shows the function: turning the half-open parlor car of the Eastern and Oriental Express. The ultimate luxurious train for the rich to see the poor as decadence rolls by. By all means it is not cheap to enjoy a three-day tour between Chiang Mai and Singapore with a side trip to the Burma Railway as well. One journey with this train and you can do almost fifty trips by ordinary one. No complains; the wealthy have their toy, a less well-to-do his dream only.
All railway workers seem to be gathered around the turntable while a few of them handle the rusty lever and chain mechanism in order to turn. It’s quite an event seeing the car slowly going around; so on the way back to Bangkok at the end of the train the passengers can enjoy in the open a disappearing rail from underneath till the horizon while they sip a soda mixed with something stronger. If they had stay some longer instead of changing clothes in the cabin and going to the diner for anything except a simple lunch, well… they could have seen it in glimpse while passing by.

Saraphi – km 742 + 790 meter and 8.635 from Chiang Mai – three tracks, one sidetrack with a push block. This track – shortened by a newly build road – once led to a company of agricultural products, behind the gate one still can see the traces of former rail shipment. Two signals on both ends but the only thing changed is the semaphore itself, replaced by a pole with lamp. The iron wires are still there and connected with a switch. Instead of pushing a button, the stationmaster or his aid still have to move the heavy working lever. This is railway on its best, a living museum for the benefit of keeping the mechanical functioning things from the past alive. That’s anyway what the station staff made of the appearance; a fancy style with bright colors and a lot of greenery. At least they make an effort to give things a nicer look.
In that respect most stations do have their own character. Someone within the State Railway of Thailand with sense of competition should organize a sort of beauty contest and proclaim a winner. The real miss among the stations.
Saraphi if chosen wouldn’t any longer be the same as it is even without winning. It’s a small village in the dust of Chiang Mai. Maybe the inhabitants are still the same, their lives still following the path of centuries, a peaceful coexistence with nature and the things that try to disturb that harmony. For long the old nice and winding Chiang Mai – Lamphun Road surrounded by big trees, was the only blood vessel for traffic. Beside that road one still can see a lovely sign pointing into a ‘soi’ where in the back-waters a train should halt. Be surprised; only twice a day, ordinary 408 / 407 the local from Chiang Mai to Nakhon Sawan vice versa. All in all not much of a need to take a train from here.
After opening the new road to Lamphun beside the line, a second one is build. Where once the train was riding alone through a swamp like open field, two roads now flank it, straight on! Develop real estate around it and Chiang Mai will have his long wanted extension and be freed from a constipated inner city. Plus that there will be sufficient public transportation if the rail line is doubled as well. For a while the station itself will breathe a sphere of locality while the foreground drastically changed. Tarmac and speeding traffic makes the picture complete. Saraphi founds the connection with the rest of the world.

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About Robert von Hirschhorn

Author / Performer or in Dutch: schrijver / dichter
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