Friday, February 26, 2010

Paradise Lost - by Serhat Unaldi & Chwis Kaeomano

We are a group of friends who, in 2007, spent a weekend in Thailand's troubled South, as one of us is from there and we wanted to visit his family in Pattani. On the first day of our stay we went to see some of the city's tourist hot-spots. After stopping at the shrine for the Chinese goddess Chao Mae Lim Ko Niao beside the Krue Se mosque, where the Southern conflict escalated in 2004, we passed some lesser known parts of Pattani. At one point we reached a small alley that was dominated by the site of big pink building at the far end. Its run-down appearance contrasted sharply with the decaying Thai letters on the edifice reading "Paradise." The building was once a cinema.

--> The Paradise Theater dates to 1981 and in its prime boasted of 796 comfortable cushioned seats. If a blockbuster film drew more cineastes than there were permanent seats to sit on, four additional plastic chairs were added to each row, enlarging the capacity to 916. When "Titanic" hit the screen in 1997, the people of Pattani flocked to "Paradise," which operated at full capacity for many evenings. Once in a while, moreover, the theater was turned into a concert hall and live music filled the air.

Then, in 2004, the Southern insurgency escalated and many Pattani locals began to think twice before going out, especially after dusk. While on the whole, families in Pattani have drawn closer together due to spending more time at home, many once-popular places of entertainment are no longer frequented. Some have had to close altogether. And so, "Paradise" was lost.

The theater's last owner, Khom Akaradej, had to shut its doors in 2006. What remains is a crumbling facade and a fascinating melancholy. A place that was built to make people forget their troubles has turned into a monument to violent conflict. Reality caught up with this purveyor of fiction. Since the lights went out, a flock of swiftlets (nok nang aen) have taken up residence in the Paradise, as they prefer to build their nests in darkness. Birds are also covering the outer walls, where some of the theater's former grandeur has survived the ravages of time and neglect. One side of the theater is magnificently decorated with a painted rain forest - a "paradise." Real plants seem to grow out of painted tree trunks adorned with Toucans and other tropical fowl. Like these South American birds, the whole building seems out of place and time, at the end of a remote alley in conflict-ridden Pattani.


Many thanks to Serhat and Chwis for putting together this great piece of local history! Indeed, it is a new angle on how this once prolific facet of Thai cultural life has come to an end.

Don't forget to send in your own photos and stories of Southeast Asia's stand-alone movie theaters.


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