Chapter 04: Flower Elephant in the World Bank Conference Reception
Banquet Manager, Dusit Thani Hotel
Dusit Thani Hotel received the honour of organizing the Reception party for all participants in the World Bank Conference, held at Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre between the 7th to the 18th of October 1991. Five thousand bankers from 115 countries participated in that Conference.
I was the hotel Banquet Manager who had to be responsible for the said function. When I saw the venue I was worried because the hall was huge. I could not think what I should use to arrange something so as to befit such a large hall. Having seen the place, I contacted Ajahn Theerawan Watthanotai, who used to work for the Department of Fine Arts. Now he is a lecturer in King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology, Uthentawai Campus. I asked him to look for something to decorate the hall for the reception. Most importantly, it had to be uniquely Thai. He could not think of anything when I first brought my case to him. But I remained calm because I still had a month. Ajahn Teerawan promised he would help me think of something. But he asked for some time. When the date approached I called him again to follow up. That was Friday. He told me that he would give his reply on Monday. Later, I learned that he had actually intended to decline because he did not know what to do.
On the preceding Sunday night he had a dream. Before he went to bed that night he paid homage with incense to Ganesha and prayed. It turned out that he dreamt of a large elephant in the middle of the hall. He awoke at 3 o’clock in the morning and hurried to sketch what he had dreamt. On Monday morning, he called me early to inform me that he thought of decorating the hall with a large elephant. I quite agreed with him.
I proposed this idea to my direct boss Mr. Chupong Bunnag, who thought it appropriate because when Dusit Thani Hotel did anything, it usually concerned the elephant in some way.
I then proposed a construction budget for approval. It was a large budget. Later, we received co-operation from Coke Company and Boonrawd Company for the construction budget. That was how the making of the flower elephant started.
When starting the construction we discussed what posture we should use, because there are so many. Ajahn Theerawan went to consult the cast shop. He met a certain castor who used to work for the Department of Fine Arts’ Cast Shop. This castor was Khun Manop Amornvuttiroj. He had looked at King Naret’s elephant models that Professor Silpa Birasri had made when he was doing King Naret’s Monument at Don Chedi District, Supanburi Province. We saw one posture in which the elephant was turning, lifting up his trunk and leg slightly as a kind-hearted elephant playing with people. That suited the hospitable spirit of the party well. We wanted the elephant that represented the Thai people. So, we selected this one.
When the construction was completed, I placed this elephant on a wooden platform at Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre. There was a motor to rotate the platform so as to continuously turn the elephant for people to see. Ajahn Theerawan used orchid flowers to decorate the whole of the elephant body. It looked really beautiful. As for the motor, we tested it to make sure that it worked. But when the Reception started it did not work.
I did not think of anything much, except to blame it on myself, thinking that the elephant was too heavy. Technicians tried to repair it. But nothing could be done. As far as the well-informed was concerned, they said it was because the deity had come down to possess in the elephant. Since it was thus divine it should not be turned around for anyone to watch. If the guests would like to see it, they had to walk around it. I did not pay attention to this talk though. The job was under my responsibility. It was not for me to listen to the reason concerning a deity. Rather, I had to be concerned about repairing the deficiency for the banquet.
When the function was over and we were to take the elephant back to the Dusit Hotel, we tried to use 50 employees to lift it up from the platform. But we could not lift it because the elephant was very heavy. At first I did not believe it. But I remembered that there had been a propitiation ceremony when the elephant was made, since Ajahn Theerawan was afraid of delay. I was there to pay homage to Ganesha that day for the sake of Ajahn Theerawan’s peace of mind. But then I began to think about it. After thinking, I lit the incense sticks left by Ajahn Theerawan to pay homage again. But I did not want my subordinates to see lest they question what kind of a person I was. I was shy. In the end I had to accept it myself. After I lit 9 incense sticks and placed them on the ground in the open air, I said, .” “You are invited to return to Dusit Hotel”. I was not sure if there was anything to all this. But the elephant could easily be lifted after my invitation. When we arrived at the Dusit Hotel, I went to pay homage at the hotel shrine asking to place the elephant there for the time being. I did not know what to do with it after that.
I thought about where I could put this elephant. I did not want to destroy him. It just so happened that I had read a book about elephants and found Luang Poh’s name mentioned. I knew that he was a disciple of Luang Poh Derm of Wat Nongpo. He learned about elephants. So, I thought if I would give it to any temple, it must well be the temple that realize its value. I tested to see if it should belong to him or anywhere else by coming to Wat Ambavana, Singhburi, even if I had never been to the place before. I went to see him, presenting Luang Poh with three small elephants, which were Conference memorabilia. I paid obeisance. He looked at my face and asked what the offering was. I told him they were elephants. He unwrapped them to have a look. I informed him that I would like to offer him a large elephant. He did not say anything but asked Mr. Poon Chueychom, Magganayaka (Leader of the temple’s lay community), to locate a site. At first I thought of putting it in front of the Hall. But Uncle Poon pointed to a place beside the Uposatha. I went back to inform him that there was a place. He said if there was a place to put it, he would accept the offer. So, I made an appointment. I would bring the elephant the following Sunday, 22nd of December 1991, because I needed a group of employees who would be free to help lift it. He acknowledged thus.
But when I got back to the hotel and organized the transportation of the elephant, I found that the staff was not free on Sunday, but they could go on Thursday. If Thursday was not possible, it had to be postponed to a much later date. So, I decided to go on Thursday even if I felt concerned that I had made an appointment with Luang Poh on Sunday and had no way to inform him of the change. Also, I was afraid that he would be dissatisfied with the change. But we had to go on Thursday, 19th December 1991.
Thursday afternoon, at the same time the truck arrived on the temple ground, Luang Poh was in his car coming back from a lunch invitation. When our group entered the temple we saw that they had made a special flower arrangement to welcome it. People in the temple were waiting to greet the elephant according to Luang Poh’s instruction, who had said that the elephant would arrive that day, Thursday.
When I arrived, I said that it was by accident that I went that day, not by appointment. Everybody said that Luang Poh ordered the “by-sri” (flower arrangement) to welcome the elephant for Thursday, whereas every body in the temple objected, saying I had made the appointment for Sunday. But Luang Poh nonetheless confirmed that it was to be Thursday.
When he arrived, he performed the greeting rite. I asked how had he known I would come that day. He just laughed without saying anything. Later, I learned from him that he made a resolution to test if it was King Naret’s elephant. If it were, it should come on Thursday.
Uncle Poon told me that before I met Luang Poh for the first time, he had dreamt that the elephant would enter the temple. I had been quite surprised that I had made an abrupt decision to see him. How could he have dreamt about it? And when I made an appointment on Sunday then changed my plan to Thursday, he had already ordered the flower arrangement to greet us. It was a surprise. On the day that we brought the elephant, there were 19 of us. But I had miscounted. When Luang Poh asked how many of us had come, I told him 16. He smiled as if not believing me but did not object. He questioned if it was really 16. Then he gave me 16 King Naret medals to distribute among us. Having distributed the medals, I realized that I had miscounted. There were three short. When I came to the temple again on Sunday, Luang Poh’s disciple brought me 3 more medals, saying that Luang Poh had told him to give these three medals to the Manager when the Manager came!
A certain person offered to duplicate this elephant for the temple on condition that he would cast two elephants. He would keep one for himself and donate the other to the temple. So I came to ask Luang Poh if he would accept the offer. I knew that this elephant would have to be used as a model in casting, which meant that we had to dismantle him. But Luang Poh did not want to. He was not interested in what the elephant was made of. He was more interested in what was inside it. From the beginning, he said not to allow any duplication if asked. He would not permit it because he thought there should be only one of a good thing. We discussed making this elephant more beautiful by plastering it and adorning it with prettier decorations, which we would come to do later.
I was glad I had made the right decision by offering this elephant to Luang Poh. I would like everyone to think well of this elephant. He reminded us of King Naret because he was the King’s draught animal in liberating his country.
Not only did humans love and liberate the country, but to elephants we should also be very grateful.
In presenting the elephant to this temple, I was granted permission from Khun Ying Chanat Piya-Oui, The President of Dusit Thani Hotel, to whom I would like to express my sincere thanks.
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