The Princess and Dr. Ding-a-Ling
Text by Rich Sacher, Louisiana USA
Rich Sacher, pictured in the lobby of the Oriental
Hotel in Bangkok, reports from the 2007 IWGS Symposium Thailand
Images by Rich Sacher & Kevin Joyce - Click to enlarge
I was surprised and honored to get an official invitation
to participate as one of the guest lecturers at the 2007 IWGS
Symposium in Thailand. My first trip there ten years ago was
a memorable experience with a people and culture I had long been
curious about. I was more than eager to make a return visit.
There are a number of wonderful Thai hybridizers that I knew
only from our emails, and I really wanted to meet them and see
their work in person.
When I asked how long my lecture on hybridizing waterlilies
should be, I was told, "Thirty minutes". Ouch! I can
hardly get warmed up in thirty minutes! Well, Kevin and I were
planning on attending the symposium anyway, so I said I would
be honored to present the lecture. I told myself that the time
limit would force me to be more concise ... and at last, I would
learn how to put together a PowerPoint presentation ... and maybe
I could learn enough Thai to make my opening remarks in their
language, too. That would be a fun challenge, I thought.
We arrived at the new Bangkok airport, a beautifully designed
glass and steel structure, with incredible landscaping on the
grounds and numerous orchid displays throughout the terminals.
Most impressive, however, were the enormous banners with pictures
celebrating the King, displayed on jetways, inside and outside
the terminals, and on posters everywhere in the airport. One
of the longest reigning monarchs in modern times, he celebrates
his 80th birthday this year. The King is greatly loved by the
Thai people for his devotion to the welfare of the people. Their
admiration and respect for the King and the royal family is palpable
and very touching. I wondered aloud what it must be like to live
in a country whose leader is so universally respected, and loved
with both pride and joy.
In an amusing twist of fate, Thailand's King Bhumibol could
actually claim to be an American, because he was born in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, when his father was studying at Harvard! If you
want to read about his amazing life, do an Internet search on
King Bhumibol. No fiction writer could come up with a story as
fascinating or remarkable as this man's journey through life.
Banner honoring the King
The Symposium lectures were to be held in Bangkok, in the
auditorium of the magnificent King Rama IX public garden, which
comprises 200 acres of horticultural wonderland: lagoons, lakes,
pavilions, international gardens...and best of all, 16 acres
of water gardens full of blooming waterlilies, lotuses, aquatic
plants and dozens of Victorias. The newly installed IWGS certified
tropical waterlily collection is also part of the display at
this garden. Adding to the significance of the occasion, the
year 2007 is the 20th anniversary of the founding of the park,
and the Symposium is dedicated to celebrating the King's 80th
The King's youngest daughter, Princess Chulabhorn Walailuk,
would be presiding over the opening ceremonies for the symposium,
presenting awards to the sponsors and contributors who made the
Symposium possible. Princess Chulabhorn has a doctorate in chemistry
and founded the Chulabhorn Research Institute which promotes
scientific exchange worldwide. She is an internationally respected
scientist in her own right, and as a member of the royal family,
her presence at the symposium opening gives enormous prestige
to the event.
When we entered the auditorium, it was already a beehive of
activity; there was a large table off to the side, where some
50 trophies and plaques had been assembled, in their proper order.
On the other side of the dais was a group of official photographers
with both still and video cameras. Several young women in white
military uniforms were seated on the floor, forming a relay line
so they could remove the awards from the table and present them
to the Princess, who would personally bestow them on each of
A moderator took a microphone and explained to us how the
event would unfold: when the Princess and her escorts entered
the room, we would all stand in silence. A song would be played;
we were to be seated after the Princess sat down, and she would
deliver her welcoming remarks before giving out the awards. When
she stood up to depart, we were to stand until she was out of
the room. Then the lectures for the day would begin. There was
an excited buzz of anticipation among the 150 of us assembled
in the hall ... a polyglot of Thai, English, Chinese, and Korean
... truly an international gathering.
The Princess and
Chaiyapon "Chaipol" Tamasuwan
I was in for quite a surprise when the Princess entered the room.
Gliding into the hall on the arm of her husband, Dr. Chaichon,
the Princess was exquisitely thin and petite, even in her four
inch heels. Her luxuriant tresses of long dark brown hair were
swept to one side, cascading down her shoulder; her skirt and
jacket were a rich blend of leopard and tiger patterns in brown
and white ... giving her the appearance of a very hip young woman.
I was seated in the front row, and I thought she looked like
a woman in her late twenties, but with the elegance and poise
that only comes with decades of practice. Royalty becomes her,
For me, the highlight of the award presentations was watching
my friend Chaiyapon "Chaipol" Tamasuwan, receive his
award for his contributions to the Thai Water Lily Lovers Society
and to the Symposium. Chaipol is the hybridizer of Nymphaea
'King of Siam', and has created some very unusual tropical waterlily
hybrids. It was a thrill to see Chaipol's remarkable work being
recognized by a member of the royal family.
Rich and Chaipol
Chaipol's N. 'Love on Fire'
was the winner of Best New Tropical Waterlily
in the competition in Thailand. For complete results see
Online Journal 2.3
We visited Chaipol and his family at his nursery the week
prior to the Symposium. I was pleased to finally meet him and
his friend Jeremy Biggs, and see the wonderful lilies in his
nursery. Kevin and I flew into Bangkok several days early, especially
to make time for this visit. Our friend Nopchai "Noi"
Chansilpa, hybridizer of the beautiful N. 'Mangala Ubol',
was incredibly generous with his time, providing a driver and
van to take us to Chaipol's home about an hour's drive from Bangkok.
See Chaipol's Nursery and Hybrids,
also in this issue.
Jeremy, Noi, Chaipol and Rich
at Chaipol's nursery >
When the Princess left the auditorium after presenting the
awards, it was time for the lectures to begin. A new moderator
made an announcement: "All speakers must keep their remarks
down to 25 minutes ... so we won't be late for lunch."
"LUNCH?" I grumbled to myself ... "You mean
the boxed sandwiches that are waiting for us just outside the
door ... in 95 degree F (35C) heat? Perhaps they are afraid the
sandwiches and bottled water will get warm? We have an hour and
half for lunch, so why ask the invited speakers to shorten their
lectures? People have traveled half way around the world to make
their presentations ... which is more important ... lectures
or lunch?" Grumble, grumble, etc.
I had practiced my lecture and timed it for exactly 30 minutes
... I had even asked Andre Leu to stand up if I ran overtime,
so I would not run into his allotted time. It was my misfortune
to be the first lecturer, because if I had not been the first
speaker, I would have seen and heard how better to handle the
microphone and PowerPoint equipment. A volunteer sprang to my
aid with the projector, and I soon learned I had to keep the
microphone very close to my mouth.
As a courtesy to my Thai hosts, I had decided to learn enough
Thai to deliver my opening remarks in Thai. Not so easy. Six
weeks with Rosetta Stone language program, and I had memorized
quite a vocabulary, but still could not put together what I wanted
Rich and Andre Leu
Rich makes his opening
remarks in Thai!
Thankfully, there is a great Thai restaurant a few block from
my nursery in New Orleans, and the chef's wife agreed to tutor
me so I could deliver my greetings without mangling the Thai
language too badly. With a tape recorder and scribbled notes,
she helped me compose my opening remarks ... and assured me that
although I had an accent, everyone would understand me. This
was certainly one part of my presentation that I was not willing
I launched into my greetings in Thai, which obviously surprised
and amused the natives in attendance. I even got a smattering
of giggles and polite applause ... so I guess I did not insult
anyone or create an international faux pas. Then I went into
my talk, cutting a few lines here and there so I could reduce
my lecture to the required 25 minutes. I was in the middle of
my suggestion that more people should be hybridizing between
the Australian native lilies (Anecphya) and our more widespread
Brachyceras hybrids...when all of a sudden there was a
The moderator had rung the bell on me! I thought to myself,
"Surely I have not used 25 minutes already? Maybe my Thai
greetings were offensive? Is my talk boring? Is this what it
feels like to be a contestant on the Gong Show?"
I looked down the table to the moderator, forcing my most
pleasant, questioning smile ... and he yelled out "Five
more minutes"! Hoping that my smile did not betray my shock
and embarrassment, I concluded my remarks on the Australian lilies.
I thought that was especially fitting, since Andre Leu was the
next speaker, and the Aussie lilies were his topic. And I had
stressed that hybridization between these two sub-families held
great promise for wonderful new hybrids.
I was still in a bit of a shock as I left my place at the
lecture table. Everyone on this Symposium had been so thoughtful,
polite and helpful; I could not understand the rudeness of our
moderator, who arbitrarily limited the time for our presentations
... and then ding-a-linged us without warning. It suggested at
the very least a lack of sophistication on his part. "Maybe
that is just the way they do things in academic lectures here,"
I thought to myself, attempting to smooth my psychic ruffled
feathers. Alas, a flurry of ruffled feathers were on their way.
Nursery and Hybrids of Chaiyapon "Chaipol" Tamasuwan
In a question and answer session that followed, the moderator
stated, "As we all know, it is not possible to hybridize
between the Anecphya and Brachyceras families!"
He spoke in perfect English, so either he did not listen to
the last part of my presentation ... or he chose not to believe
it. Several of my fellow lecturers looked at me with raised eyebrows.
I just shrugged my shoulders and remained silent, not wanting
to cause him the embarrassment he had just caused me. But it
was then that I decided to call him Dr. Ding-a-Ling. I figure
he had earned the title.
"The Princess and Dr. Ding-a-Ling"... makes a catchy
title for a short story, don't you think? And yes ... we were
all on time for lunch.
More Images from the Symposium - Chang
Mai and Bangkok
Rich Sacher's Lecture Text in WGI
Online Journal 2.3