Elephant’s Leg


WATCH WITH MOTHER, BANGKOK STYLE: SIRIRAJ’S CARNIVAL OF THE GROTESQUE

Together forever – even in death

Where should one take a visiting mother in Bangkok? Temple-hopping, perhaps? Bargain-hunting in markets and malls? Rooftop or riverside dining? Or maybe to see mutated babies, preserved serial killers, elephantiasis-afflicted scrotums the size of medicine balls, and all manner of diseased, ruptured, punctured, crushed and deformed organs, skulls and limbs?

If that, rather than a Chao Phraya cruise, is what floats your – or your mother’s – boat, then jump on board a ferry to Siriraj Hospital’s Forensic Museum, which mixes genuine scientific endeavour with the kind of shock appeal previously reserved for Victorian carnival freakshows or 1980s body-horror movies.

My mum, visiting me for a second time, and Thailand for a fourth, only planned a token few days in Bangkok before heading for the beaches of Krabi and Phuket, as she had “seen it before”. So, the gauntlet had been laid and I had to surprise her with something. Siriraj’s museum promised to open eyes and turn stomachs in equal measure.

There’s no easing you in. Immediately you are confronted with a brightly-lit room full of pickled babies sporting all manner of deformities, from conjoined twins, to a “mermaid” (fused legs), to one with its brain growing outside its skull, and more.

From there, its on to a photo gallery featuring the hideous effects of various crimes and accidents, sitting atop a row of glass cabinets filled with human bones.

The central body of the museum is a mind-numbing miscellany of disease and disaster, arranged in no logical order, with cirrhosis-afflicted livers neighbouring dismembered hands or feet, blackened smokers’ lungs accompanying sheets of tattooed human skin, punctured organs in a different part of the room to an exhibit boasting the items which did the puncturing (bullets, pencils, and even a vibrator), and, utterly incongruously in a room full of human carnage, a lone, skinned tiger’s foot. Oh, and more bottled babies.

The legend of Si Quey lives on

The museum’s star exhibit is the preserved body of Thailand’s most notorious serial killer, Si Quey, a Chinese immigrant who killed and ate a number of children in the 1940s and ’50s.

Skin coated in paraffin and orifices plugged with wax, his naked body is housed in a glass box for your viewing pleasure, with a few unnamed peers (labelled simply as “murderers” and “rapists”) similarly accommodated nearby.

Si Quey looks no different to any other decades-old preserved corpse, so in that sense I didn’t feel any gravity in viewing his body, although perhaps its different for Thai people, for whom he is a historical household name. Maybe I would get more of a chill if something similar had been done with Fred West’s or Myra Hindley’s remains.

Finally, we enjoyed the delights of the parasite exhibition, with its rows of jars of awful organisms pulled out of innards and extracted from skin, photos of worms pouring out of backsides by the litre, and the aforementioned centrepiece of a preserved scrotum swollen by elephantiasis to the size of a large pillow (indeed, there is a mocked-up display of a man – presumably the victim – sitting atop his afflicted balls as if they were indeed some kind of cushion).

For all its unashamed shock value, the museum is nevertheless genuinely fascinating, especially as such a place would be unfeasible in the First World.

The human rights questions are myriad. Who donated the bones, the body parts, the babies? How do the families of murder victims feel about their loved ones’ mutilated features being put on display, whether as photos or actual pieces of people?

What, even, of Si Quey? As despicable as his crimes were, is it appropriate for his body to be kept in this way, or, having been executed, has he paid his debt to society? And what do the families of his victims think? Does his preservation and public shaming constitute some form of continued punishment, or would they prefer he was buried or cremated and thus have his legend lessened, along with the reminders of what he did?

These are not questions for me to answer. It’s just amazing that such a place exists in this day and age, although appropriate laws and regulations are more relaxed in developing countries. Often that is part of the appeal of living in a country like Thailand – or visiting.

Which brings me back to my mum. She has never been one for the conventional tourist trail, preferring instead to attempt to get under the skin of a place and its people. At Siriraj Medical Museum, you can do exactly that – literally!

* Siriraj Forensic Museum is open 9am-4pm, Monday-Saturday. Entry is 40 baht. The nearest public transport link is Wang Lang pier on the Chao Phraya Express Boat route, or simply catch a taxi to Siriraj Hospital.


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[…] babies”. (Obviously because of my Siriraj museum article, but worryingly, this is the second most common search term that has brought people to my site!). […]

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