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Yearning for heaven in a cycle of civilisations

September 29, 2000

HANOVER, Germany - A visit to Planet Visions at the Expo 2000 makes you reflect about how far civilisation has evolved and whether the ultimate human aspirations for peace, harmony, happiness and prosperity can be attained at all.

As soon as you enter the hall, you confront the Garden of Eden. You see plants and different kinds of flowers. A giraffe moves its head slightly from time to time. But this picturesque heaven is mere imagery. This scene of greenery is a reflection on the surface of a small pond, which is a mirror for the whole garden attached upside down on the ceiling above your head.

Since the beginning of civilisation, man has been yearning for heaven. But heaven has always been elusive. You may see it in different ambiguous forms, but you'll never be able to touch it.

Then you walk through a small cave. On the wall are different characters or language signs, lost forever with the collapse of the civilisations from which they sprang. This reminds you of the disappearance of the ancient Khmer and Mon empires. An IBM sign appears as a mockery to lost civilisations.

As soon as you enter into the hall from the cave and turn your back, you see the Tower of Babel. Again, this represents a symbol of the human yearning for heaven. The tower was intended to take people all the way to paradise. But their dream died with the collapse of the tower as a punishment from God who sent these sinful human beings to scatter all over the world.

Inside the high-ceiling hall, you encounter a Statue of Myth. From different parts of her Venus-like body, computer screens poke out to project images of the heroes and heroines of different times. Every man needs heroes and wants to become a hero himself. There are unmistakable pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger, John F Kennedy, Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe. They represent the idols of our time.

Then you move on to take a look at City Utopia. It is, guess what?, New York - the greatest metropolis of our time. But for all its lavish wealth, this New York is also the New York of crime and violence.

Next is Social Utopia. In a honeycomb-like globe, you can see different people working and assuming different roles. People have agreed to a division of labour, which should keep them happy. But unlike bees, human beings are complicated, with different needs and frameworks of thought. They don't live together quite peacefully.

The tension and discord necessarily leads to the Gate of Apocalypse. It immediately reminds you of the date of April 28, 1767 when Ayutthya, the ancient capital of Siam, fell into the hands of the Burmese. That was the Day of Apocalypse. Here is how it was described:

"On the 28th of April, 1767, the town was captured by assault. The treasures of the palace and the temples were nothing but heaps of ruins and ashes. The images of the gods were melted down and rage deprived the barbarian conquerors of the spoils that had aroused their greed. To avenge this loss, the Burmese visited their heavy displeasure upon the town folk. They burnt the soles of their feet in order to make them reveal where they had concealed their wealth and raped their weeping daughters before their very eyes. "The priests suspected of having concealed much wealth were pierced through and through with arrows and spears and several were beaten to death with heavy clubs.

"The countryside as well as the temples were strewn with corpses, and the river was chock full with the bodies of the dead, the stench of which attracted swarms of flies causing much annoyance to the retreating army. The chief officers of state and the royal favourites were in the galleys. The King (King Ekatad), witness of the unhappy fate of his court, endeavoured to escape, but he was recognised and slain at the gates of the palace." (quoted from Sunait Chutintaranond's and Than Tun's On Both Sides of the Tenasserim Range: History of Siamese-Burmese Relations, Asian Studies Monographs No 050, 1995, page 6). With the fall of Ayutthya, the Siamese later on moved down to found new capitals in Thonburi and Bangkok.

Now is the Thai currency devaluation in 1997 a revisitation of 1767? Through the Gate of Apocalypse, you can see a green pasture of rebirth. In front of the gate is pure hell, or eternal damnation. If the Thais cannot tackle their present problems and move on to experience a resurrection, they will continue to experience damnation in this economic crisis.

Then you'll come to Mechanical Utopia and a flying ship that will take human civilisations into the 21st century. There are robots, built to serve human needs. But they don't seem to be the answer to human convenience or happiness. And the ship will only carry those who survive this present turmoil.

After finishing this brief tour, you feel enlightened by the long process of human struggle for perfection and happiness. But as the exposition suggests, heaven will always lie beyond your grasp, if not your dreams.

BY THANONG KHANTHONG

 

 

 

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