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her control the rich trade in spices, sago, and guttapercha which yearly passes through this famous port.
We have become so familiar with the common spices used in preparing our food that they do not always remind us of the distant lands from which they come.
Not far away are the large islands of Sumatra, Borneo, and Java, all of them furnishing an important addition to the commerce of the East.
Between Siam and Singapore are several states, some under the protection of Great Britain, others independent. These states are little known to the western world, as few white men have traveled through them. Native villages are scattered here and there with the unbroken jungle lying between. In all the larger towns there are great numbers of Chinese. They control the business of every community.
Siam occupies the central portion of the Indo-China peninsula, and is often called the “ Land of the White Elephant." The country is interesting, and of so great importance that three nations - France, England, and China — stand at her gates eager to add her to their possessions.
All the rivers of Siam flow through low plains, and overflow their banks in the rainy season. During the annual overflow the whole country looks like a lake. The streets in the cities are filled knee-deep with water, and the people go everywhere in boats.
The native villages along the rivers are built of houses of the simplest character. They consist only of a framework of bamboo poles covered with straw matting, and roofs thatched with straw. Because of the frequent freshets these houses are built upon posts some eight or ten feet above the river.
Hundreds of square miles are so enriched by the annual deposit of the black soil brought down from the mountains by the rivers, that Siam is made one of the most fertile portions of the earth. All tropical fruits and cereals grow in luxuriance, but rice is the great crop.
A very large number of people are engaged in the cultivation of rice, and it is estimated to make up two thirds of the entire export trade of the country.
The most important part of Siam is the valley of the Menam. Here are the most productive lands, and the largest towns and villages. The Menam River is to Siam what the Nile is to Egypt, and the Ganges to India.
Everything depends upon the river. Should it not rise high enough, or should the overflow continue too
long, the rice crop would fail. When the water does not begin to go down at the usual time, the people are alarmed and appeal to their Buddhist priests to help them.
State barges bearing priests who chant prayers and wave wands, commanding the waters to recede, are then sent down the river. Sometimes the waters continue
to rise, in spite of these services, and then the priests go away in disgust.
Fish swarm over the rice lands during these periodical floods, and are easily caught as the water recedes. This furnishes an abundant food supply. In many of the small villages every man, woman, and child is occupied in catching and drying fish, during this period of the annual overflow.
The native Siamese form but a small portion of the population of Siam. The fertile soil, the fruitful gardens, the forests of teak, and the mines of gold and tin have attracted people of many nations to this richly favored land.
The Chinese are to be found in every part of the kingdom, and by their industry and energy are taking the lead in all business enterprises.
The Siamese are a peaceful, mild, and submissive people. They lack the energy of the Chinese and the Japanese. Not being devoted to business they give much time to simple amusements, and are fond of showy processions. They celebrate many holidays, some of which last for a whole month, and give much time to the preparation of new games. The games and tricks played by the young people are very comical.
These amusements are largely enjoyed by all the people. They are celebrated by processions both on land and water, and at such times the river is crowded with boats and rafts, all beautifully decorated. At night displays of fireworks, and boats brilliantly lighted with lanterns and torches, add a new interest to the
It may be that some of the king's boats, shaped like great dragons, will appear in the procession.
These river festivals are incomplete without a boat race, and all the people linger to watch the amusing sports of the racers. Instead of being anxious to win the race, as boat crews in our country are, the Siamese racers are more intent upon running down and upsetting other boats, and so compelling their crews to swim ashore, to the great delight of the spectators.
Situated not far from the mouth of the Menam River is the most important city of Siam. This is Bangkok, one of the strangest cities of the Far East. As we enter through one of the many beautiful gates
think we are in the 6 Venice of the East." The river with its many branching canals and creeks is especially interesting.
Here are floating houses, built of bamboo and thatched with palm leaves, the homes of thousands of the poorer people. These houses are buoyed up by bamboo rafts and moored to the bank or to posts driven into the mud. In and out among them dash hundreds of tiny boats, as well as the steam launches of the European merchants or the rich Chinese traders.
One could spend days in sight-seeing about Bangkok and yet go everywhere in his own boat. It is not many years since it could be said that there was not a single wheeled vehicle in the city. Now street cars traverse the principal streets, electric lights flash upon the strange costumes of foreign peoples, and telephones are in daily use. Railroads connecting the city with different parts of the kingdom are being built.