Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Nakon Sawan Rama - Nakon Sawan, Thailand

Streetscape perspective of the Nakon Sawan Rama Theater, the building to the left of the photo with the three arches.

The city of Nakon Sawan made its bones when the waterways reigned supreme in Thailand. Before the Bangkok-Chiang Mai train line was running and well before the national highway system spread its asphalt tentacles throughout the land, Nakon Sawan was the most important city in the interior of the country for domestic commerce. For centuries its riparian dominance stood unchallenged due to its prime location at the junction point of the Nan, Yom, Wang and Ping rivers, where they form the Chao Phraya River - Thailand's main artery. Any product shipped from the upper north that was destined for Bangkok or beyond had to pass Nakon Sawan en route. Likewise, anything going northwards up the Chao Phraya to Chiang Mai, Lampang or Phisanulok landed at Nakon Sawan before hand. As a result the city grew rich.

A section of the marquee remains on the far right of the building. It used to stretch across the entire facade.

A man selling ears of corn pushes his cart past the old Nakhon Sawan Rama Theater

The wealth that accrued over the years in Nakon Sawan eventually begot a number of movie theaters. Among them was the relatively late-arriving Nakorn Sawan Rama. This grand addition to the town's cinemascape was built in the mid to early 1970's, serving as its largest theater until it closed down in the early 1990's.

Pigeons perched pestilently on the sleek, cut-out letters of the Nakon Sawan Rama

The theater is accessible through an enormous arched entrance way, giving movie-goers the sensation that they were being swallowed alive.

Steps leading to the ticket booth and lobby. The signs on either side advertise Rama Snooker Hall, which has opened beneath the theater. Movie posters used to hang there.

Retail space on the street side of the building is leased to some restaurants and shops. In this photo a restaurant employee catches a break.

"It was really a treat to watch movies at the Nakon Sawan Rama," said life-long city resident Ae, pictured above. Ae's family now leases retail space in the front portion of the old theater. He recalled the excitement he felt as a little boy when he walked through the theater's giant archway, past an explosion of colors from hand-painted movie posters and the glow of neon lights emanating from the sign above. A sentimental fervor came over him as he described the theater's plush interior and the extra large screen that he laid his eyes upon so many times as a kid. As its name laid claim to, this was the theater of Nakon Sawan.

But beneath Ae's sentimentality an acute sense of logic prevailed. He was the first person I've met since I started this project who accurately identified the fact that the death of this once great theater had more to do with a newly motorized population than anything else. "When I was a kid in the 70's and 80's everybody walked to the theater," he explained. "If not, then we rode bicycles, or at most motorbikes. Sometimes we went by tuk-tuk or sam lor. But now when a family goes to the movies they drive their car there and park in the garage."

He went on. "There was no parking lot at the [Nakon Sawan] Rama, so when Fairy Land Department Store opened around the corner in the late 80's with its built-in garage and Fairy Theater, Rama's ticket sales plummeted. You know how the story goes from there."

In homage to its days as a movie theater, the snooker hall operating in the old Nakon Sawan Rama is called 'Rama Snooker.' Although it stands to reason that having a snooker hall of any name is better than letting the place crumble, or such cultural crucifixion as knocking it down, it's still a far cry from its days as a luxurious movie theater. But to put things in a slightly broader perspective, the Fairy Theater mentioned above, which used to be at Fairy Land Department Store is closed now, as well. The only operating movie theater in town is Major Cineplex, Thailand's leading chain movie theater-conglomerate, with over 300 screens nationwide, operating in the Big C Superstore off the highway on the edge of town. Try walking to that one!

It goes without saying that the river trade which for many years made Nakon Sawan such an important city in Thailand, is all but gone these days. Trucking is the primary form of domestic trade and distribution transportation now, as it is in much of the world.

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