Rich Sacher, pictured in the lobby of the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, reports from the 2007 IWGS Symposium Thailand

The Princess and Dr. Ding-a-Ling

Text by Rich Sacher, Louisiana USA
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. 

Bangkok Airport

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 birthday.

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 the recipients.

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, I thought. 

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
WGI 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 to say.

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 to delete! 

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 loud "DING-A-LING!"

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. 

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.

The Nursery and Hybrids of Chaiyapon "Chaipol" Tamasuwan
More Images from the Symposium - Chang Mai and Bangkok
Rich Sacher's Lecture Text in
WGI Online Journal 2.3

WGI ONLINE Journal Table of Contents

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