Today, August 31, Chulalongkorn University is scheduled to demolish the Chao Mae Tubtim Shrine to make way for a condominium and mixed-use development.
The shrine is considered to be a sacred shrine for the Taecheow Chinese community that once lived in the Suan Lum area. The majority of the Chinese inhabitants have since moved out or were evicted due to high rent costs. The shrine and the community had occupied the area long before the establishment of Chulalongkorn University over a century ago.
The Property Management Office plans to build a 1,800-unit condominium on the site and remove the shrine. They reassured the students and caretakers that they will relocate the shrine to the 100-year Chualongkorn Park, and any construction costs would be covered by the office.
The shrine was scheduled for demolishment in June but protesters including young people, once scolded by the adults for not being interested in the local culture, rallied together to stop its destruction.
That did not stop the university from proceeding with construction around the area and leaving only a narrow passageway to access the shrine. It also did not stop them from blasting megaphones in the area saying that the shrine must be removed. Like this government, the university is resorting to psychological pressure.
These tricks are not new. The local community has been pressured by this ‘prestigious’ university before. The area, ‘Samyan,’ where the community was located was a large Chinese community with famous shrines and markets for decades. (Even Henry Kissinger reportedly has eaten in the area) But through Chulalongkorn University increasing rent and developing shopping mall and condominiums, the locals have been forced out and forced to relocate.
If the shrine is demolished on Monday, it would be the end of that historic community.
Chulalongkorn said that it would move the shrine to a new place and develop it with a modern style. Who is unaware of local culture now? Perhaps the reason the shrine is important and revered is that it is archaic, it does not need smokeless incense or modern architecture. It needs a community to support it and the stories that come with history.
Oscar Wilde once wrote that “The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Well, Chulalongkorn is certainly cynical in their two-handed approach to the community that once surrounded its campus and the shrine. It seems for an institution of higher learning whose rhetoric is always about preservation and conservatism, the irony is not apparent. To the leaders of the university, nothing matters but bottom lines and dollar signs, cultural value is just a lofty word to be tossed around when convenient.
Today, the students will once again stand in front of the shrine and try to stop it from destruction. We hope the university reconsiders.