|Said statue of carrying a durian.|
Am coaxed into agreeing to read Sunthorn Phu's (1786-1855) epic long-form poem 'Phra Aphai Mani' (พระอภัยมณี). It has 94 books and 30,000 verse lines. My gawwwwd. 😮🤔😶 Reading the wiki page in Thai is already torturous. Reading this fully in Thai will probably take me at least 12 months to even begin to understand it. Ugh.
It all started when I noticed all these statues around town and even on the beaches on Ko Samet depicting a mermaid, a female demon of sorts, and a boy on a mythical creature of a dragon-head-and-horse-body. There was even one statue of the boy carrying A DURIAN placed in front of a row of shops selling dried jackfruit and durian chips that Rayong is famous for.
I thought it might be related to a story about that famous Thai national poet that I've read about, but never actually going deep into his works. So I asked the friends about it. To their great delight. They piled it on heavy. Ugh!!! They gave me a one-hour lecture about the background of the classic literary poem 'Phra Aphai Mani' and all its characters within, its author Royal Poet Sunthorn Phu (1786-1855) who lived and died a life no less dramatic than his poems and stories. While his talent is undoubted, I'm not sure if Thai people hail him as an example of morality, what with the indiscretions, many loves (but one true love named Jun), insults to Kings and all, exile, jail time and all that. :P He started writing the epic in 1821, but didn't finish it till two decades later.
'Phra Aphai Mani' is a literary classic, and like many notable literary classics in the world, that of course has to be all about tales of a romantic saga that encompasses princes, princesses, kingdoms, and wars. Duhhhh. 🙄 The main characters are Prince Aphai Mani, his misplaced love of a female ogre who disguised herself in human form, and a mermaid who later rescued him from the ogre and they hid on Ko Samet, and later on, two human (princesses) wives. All in all, I think the women bore him a total of two sons and four daughters. (Ahhh, please ownself wiki Sunthorn Phu and the plot details in the epic 'Phra Aphai Mani'.)
And because my scintillating friends are also brilliant professors, the lecture concluded with a stop at the author's Memorial Park built in his honor. I suppose it's because the poet's father was born in Rayong, and resided in the town, and naturally the poet returned to Rayong a few times to visit him. So Rayong claimed the poet as their own.
Sunthorn Phu Memorial Park that was completed in 1970 has a dedicated shrine and a small room filled with information about the poet's life, as well as big statues of the main characters- the flute-playing Prince Aphai Mani, his abductor- a female ogre in her true form, and his rescuer- a mermaid in her true form. So that boy riding a mythical creature with the head of a dragon and body of a horse—that's Sutsakhon, the child of the Prince and the mermaid. It was a hot day. Luckily we all wore caps and hats. It wasn't too blistering to walk about staring at the statues, and for the friends to offer flowers and incense.