Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Rung Napha Cinema - Takli, Nakon Sawan, Thailand

-->“This rusty old marquee is a part of our heritage here in Takli,” explained Nid, my local factotum for all of 20 minutes. “It’s kind of like a welcoming arch in the center of the city. There’s not really any good reason to take it down, it’s still in good shape and everybody in town enjoys its presence.” Salubrious words from a man with an appreciation of hometown history.

The words on the marquee translate to "Rung Napha Cinema, Duang Nimit Market"

The marquee from behind

-->Regrettably, Takli’s recent history is best noted for its gradual economic decline, beginning with the 1975 pull-out of the US Air Force from the town’s Royal Thai Air Force Base. Although the base is still used by the Thai Air Force, the number of units stationed there now is much lower than when the Americans were engaged in war across the border. Otherwise, Takli faces the same issues that most small to medium sized Thai towns face: a severe human resource drain in a country where the economy centers on a few nodal hot-spots. Anybody with a bit of ambition heads off to somewhere that has more opportunity.

This man's name is Monte. He's a life-long resident of Takli and runs a vending cart in the shade of the old Rung Napha Cinema's street-side marquee.

Duang Nimit Market with a side view of the Rung Napha Cinema in the background

-->A bit of scrounging around in history books and the internet yielded some more background data on Takli. Apparently it has long been home to a military base. Before the Americans dug in during the Vietnam War, the Japanese military had an occupational presence there during World War Two. But it was during the US years from 1961-1975 that the town really grew. I haven’t been able to pin-point exactly how many USAF personnel were stationed there, but I did learn that the Takli squadrons flew bombing missions over Laos and North Vietnam, specifically targeting enemy surface to air missile facilities.
Facade of the Rung Napha visible at the end of a street.


-->Aside from movie theaters, of which Takli had four, American soldiers were entertained by Bob Hope and Raquel Welch, who made personal appearances at the base in 1967 as part of a morale-boost tour (Click here to see Bob and Raquel photos from a Takli vet).
Wrought iron mythical being welded to the upper facade of the theater.

Lobby shot. The theater is now a parking lot.

-->The Rung Napha Cinema is just one legacy of the American military presence in Takli. Hotels, restaurants and other types of establishments likewise opened up to accommodate this relatively high-spending market, which fell from the sky onto sleepy Takli in 1961. Another legacy of Uncle Sam’s erstwhile airmen which I found interesting was that people older than 50 referred to me, formally, as “sir” – an moniker I scarcely encounter, let alone deserve, elsewhere in Thailand.
Nid (above) lives with his aunt on the street in the background, just in front of the Rung Napha Cinema. He recalls watching Indian, Thai and Western movies there as a little boy. It's been closed down for over 10 years now

(Click here to see a photo of the Rung Napah Cinema in the late 1960's)

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