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Bangkok is the residence of the king, and the royal palace is by far the most conspicuous work of Siamese architecture. The city is surrounded by a wall six miles in circumference, and is a little realm in itself. Within these walls are temples, audience halls, images, shrines, and public offices.
From earliest times the kings of Siam have desired to own white elephants, and have encouraged their capture by awarding titles of nobility to the people discovering them.
It used to be commonly believed that the Siamese worshiped the white elephant as a deity, but this was found to be untrue. The feeling on the part of the people, it was learned, was only one of great respect
a sacred beast.” Whenever a white elephant is captured, the king and his attendants meet the illustrious animal, a long distance from the city, and escort it in royal state to the capital. A procession of soldiers, dressed in bright uniforms, leads the way into the city. Then come the state elephants, dressed with trappings of gold and bearing on their backs richly decorated howdahs.
Behind these are seen the king's bodyguard, surrounding his Majesty, who, seated on a litter-chair and sheltered beneath a huge gilt umbrella from the scorching rays of the sun, is borne by his attendants. Next comes the white elephant, the hero of this occasion, led by his keeper.
Extravagant stories were formerly told of the almost royal state in which white elephants were kept; how
they were fed from golden dishes, and were decorated with gems and chains of gold. These stories may have been true many years ago; but a sight of the common sheds in which the white elephants are now housed,
and the simple manner in which they are fed, makes us realize that the Siam of to-day is giving up many of the customs and superstitions once common in that kingdom.
Of more importance than the palace are the temples, or wats, as they are called in the Siamese language.
The religion of Siam is Buddhism, and the people are devout worshipers. The king, although a Buddhist, has made a proclamation that all religions are to be free and unmolested in his land. The Christian missionary is, therefore, met with cordial good will, and not with opposition.
Among the imposing temples of Bangkok the most prominent is the Wat Chang, and the following vivid description, written by Bayard Taylor, will reveal its beauty:
“ Within a stone's throw of my window rose the shining tower of the most splendid temple in Bangkok. From its broad octagonal base to the tip of its splendid spire it must measure, I should think, a good deal more than two hundred feet; and every foot of its irregular surface glitters with ornament.
“Curiously wrought into it are forms of men and birds, and grotesque beasts, that seem with their outstretched hands, or claws, to hold it up. Two thirds the way from the base stand four white elephants, made of shining porcelain, facing one each way toward four points of the compass. From the rounded summit rises, like a needle, a sharp spire. This was the temple tower; and all over the magnificent pile, from the tip of the highest needle to the base, from every prominent angle and projection, there were hanging sweet-toned bells, with little gilded fans attached to their tongues, so swinging that they were vocal in the slightest breeze.”
Along the east coast of Indo-China is a region known as Cochin China which, with Anam and Ton
quin on either side, is now under the control of France.
The people are very largely Mongolian, and their language is like that of the Chinese.
THE MIDDLE KINGDOM.
66 What shall we call
You are familiar with the names Hong-Kong, Canton, Shanghai, and Peking. What pictures come to your minds as these names are repeated? These are but a few of the great cities that fringe the coast of the mighty Chinese Empire.
We may form some idea of the immense size of China when we know that, with the exception of Russia, it is the largest empire the world has ever known. It occupies about one third of the whole continent of Asia. This vast empire has been, till recent times, one of the least-known countries on the globe. Look at your maps, and you will soon discover why