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Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Real or not?

I have a note in my diary that Tuesday August 18 is Science Day in Thailand. No, it's not another public holiday but apparently King Mongkut predicted a solar eclipse on this day in 1868 and now we acknowledge the father of science in Thailand. Keen to promote science, the Thai government has now declared the whole week as Science Week.

I knew something was happening because on the weekend a whole heap of stalls sprang up on the road outside the science buildings but no one told me why. I had decided to go and do some stuff on the old campus this morning. It wasn't a commitment, just a plan.

There were many sorngtheaus and big buses parked along the road that I was walking towards the local sorngtheau stop—and more still arriving with kids of varying ages getting off and heading towards the science area of campus along with their teachers.

I took a few photos and asked a friendly kid where he'd come from. He gave the name of his school but that gave me no more clues. As I got to the bridge that crossed the canal and led towards the science faculties, I decided to change my plan.

Most people were heading into the biological sciences building and so did I. I discovered that there was a science fair with displays from the various science-related faculties and also many of the high school students from schools around the region, that would be MSU's feeder schools, had set up poster sessions based on experiments they'd done. There was a lot of stuff there that would make an environmentalist proud on topics such as natural pest control, paper recycling, composting, earthworms, biodiesel and alternative electricity generation.

One section was attracting quite an audience. I managed to get close enough to see that one of the nursing students was testing male students to see if they knew how to put on a condom. She had a wooden erect penis on a table. This guy had to open the condom packet, remove the condom and place it properly on the wooden penis. But that wasn't all. She gave him some tissues and he had to remove it in a manner that would not allow any fluid to escape. He must have got it right because all his friends cheered.

Just past this was a room that most people coming from were holding their hands, a tissue or a cloth over their mouths and noses. I wondered what could be in there. I saw groups of people gathered around tables.
It took a while before I could see what was on the table—some sort of dead animal I guessed. There was lots of meat and organs exposed. As I looked more closely at the shape of the legs and then the rest of the body I realised that this animal was in fact human. 'It can't be real,' was my first thought. When I got close enough I asked the student who was taking care of it, running her bare hands through the various organs, picking them up for everyone to see, 'Jing reuh?' (Is it real?)

'Jing jing,' she replied. (It sure is.)

'Ma jark ti nai?' (Where did it come from?)

'Khon Kaen University.'

I asked if she was from the faculty of medicine. Nursing, I discovered. I was told that on the other side of the room were students from the faculty of medicine. There were several tables on each side of the room and on each was a similar body, cut up sufficiently that the gender was not obvious. The skulls on most had been sawn open. They weren't newly dead. They looked like they'd been preserved in some chemicals. Perhaps that is what was giving off the smell that many found offensive.

There were kids in the room, perhaps no more than ten, and no one was bothered to protect them from this sight. I was having a mixed reaction. On the one hand I was fascinated and got a few photos. On the other, I've been known to have bad reactions to this sort of thing in the past. I checked myself and decided that I wasn't about to pass out but that perhaps I'd feel more confident if I got out of there.

It was an interesting exhibition. Now I'm wondering if I should go back tomorrow.

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Wow. That's down to earth science. There seems to be a relaxing of values around death and bodies a bit lately. I suspect the popularity of the forensic TV shows and novels lately has something to do with it. On TV the other night a 'pom' was doing a tour of the US in his London taxi and just happened to drop in to the 'body farm' at a Southern Uni where they do the forensic researchon what happens to bodies left in the bush etc. It was pretty graphic I thought. Things are changing.

Hope all is well.
Hi Daryl, thanks for the comment. I'm fine. Have recovered from the science fair ; )

I think values relating to death are a little different in Thailand anyway. Newspapers used to show graphic pictures of dead bodies after road accidents. They've been told to tone it down and generally now they do.

BTW, Pics of the science fair, mostly more bland than the one in this blog, can be seen here: http://www.inter.msu.ac.th/hotnews-en/detail_msu.php?hotnewsid=N0000034
There's an update to this page, here.
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