Fri, Aug 15, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Golden Triangle museum portrays history of opium

AFP , CHIANG SAEN, THAILAND

Nestled in the heart of Southeast Asia's infamous Golden Triangle region, a gleaming new museum portraying the chequered global history of opium is about to open its doors to the public.

The 400-million baht (US$9.5 million) Hall of Opium, built amid mountains that a decade or two ago were covered with the intense red blush of opium poppies, will take visitors through the 5,000-year-old story of opium when it opens in October.

"Drugs are a global issue; it's not about the Golden Triangle," says Disnadda Diskul, secretary-general of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation which established the museum.

A 130m underground tunnel leading to the hall, softly lit and emblazoned with sculpted scenes of souls tortured through the abuse of opium and its derivative heroin, gives visitors a taste of the journey to follow.

Using a variety of state-of-the-art multimedia, visitors are taken back to opium's first appearance in ancient Sumerian texts, to the British-Chinese Opium Wars, the coining of the term Golden Triangle in 1971, and the spread of heroin as the West's illicit drug of choice.

Walk through a replica of a British clipper ship used to carry opium from India to China, where it was exchanged mostly for tea -- to feed another addiction growing in the well-heeled salons of London.

And observe how opium was prepared to be served at the thriving opium dens of the 19th century, catering to both rich and poor, and take a whiff of the drug's rich scent.

Snippets of information are divulged along the way: heroin was believed by its creators not to be addictive; opium was legal in Thailand only for the ethnic Chinese; the global trade in illegal drugs was worth an estimated US$400 billion in 2000.

Matter-of-fact presentations allow visitors to judge for themselves how the rituals and romanticism associated with opium-smoking could have led to addiction.

The beautiful opium-smoking accoutrements on display, including pipes, pipe bowls, weights and pillows, show opium-smoking was seen a refined and tasteful practice -- at least at the outset.

Other exhibits show the desperation associated with drugs, such as the ingenious methods traffickers have employed to move their illicit cargo: soaking T-shirts in a heroin solution and drying before transporting, or mixing heroin with clay to form innocent-looking Buddhist amulets.

The positive side of the poppy crop is also highlighted -- in medicines and poppy-seed-sprinkled bagels, while tales of stars who have fallen victim to drug abuse are retold, such as that of River Phoenix who famously collapsed after a lethal night on heroin, cocaine, Valium and alcohol.

The long-gone world of illicit opium dens and antique paraphernalia are a world away from the region's latest drug problem: methamphetamine pills pumped out by the million in jungle laboratories along the Thai-Myanmar border.

Disnadda sees the museum as the fulfillment of a wish by Thailand's revered late Princess Mother -- the mother of reigning King Bhumibol Adulyadej -- to whom he was private secretary for nearly 20 years.

During a visit to the region he commented once that it was a pity the tourists traipsing to the Golden Triangle for a glimpse of its mythic past did not learn anything.

"We are branded, condemned, for being the producers of narcotics. And I said to her isn't it a pity that people learn nothing here? So she asked me could it be done, that people could learn something about the Golden Triangle?"

This story has been viewed 3332 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top