Chulalongkorn set to bulldoze historic Chinese-Thai shrine, build condos

Activists protest the demolition of a shrine today in Bangkok’s Pathumwan district. Photo: @Tula / Twitter
Activists protest the demolition of a shrine today in Bangkok’s Pathumwan district. Photo: @Tula / Twitter

Protesters gathered today to mount a last-ditch effort to save a historic shrine in Bangkok’s Samyan area slated for demolition tomorrow to make way for a high-rise condominium building. 

Student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal led a rally against Chulalongkorn University’s destruction of the century-old Tubtim goddess shrine in Soi Chula 9 and eviction of its caretakers to make way for an 1,800-room project.

“There is a family who has looked after this shrine since their great-grandparent’s generation … where will they go?” Netiwit wrote online. “Plus, where will all the festivals be arranged? Isn’t this very action destroying the local community?”

Netiwit, a leading pro-democracy campaigner, has protested many of the elite university’s policies over the years, including its treatment of tenants at some of its sizable land holdings.  

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He said they oppose the move by the university’s property management office because the shrine is an important part of the community’s way of life. In addition to visitors paying respects to their ancestors, it previously hosted Chinese opera performances.

The development project, called Block 33, will cover 150,000sqm and cost THB2.6 billion, according to its designer, Architects 49.

Records indicate the shrine dates back to the reign of King Rama V around 130 years ago, at least. It is well regarded by local Chinese-Thai and was built in the rare Chaozhou Chinese style. The shrine is surrounded by local shops near the Samyan community market and next to a park.

More than 1,200 people have signed a petition against its removal, and #SaveGoddessTubtimShrine trending today online, where people have been registering their opposition.

On Twitter, @Cincin_aka said the university’s development slogan for what used to be a low-rise community adjacent to its campus was disingenuous.

“‘Samyan the district to create mutual value for the local community and society’ … So to do that, you have to destroy the community first?” Cincin_aka wrote. “Samyan these days isn’t like Samyan anymore. It’s losing its vibe.”

Last year saw the doors open at the sprawling Samyan Mitrtown shopping mall, which was built by Golden Land Property and TCC Assets under a lease granted by the university.

@Cherryjaneint93 said the university was too motivated by greed at the expense of neighborhood residents.

“I don’t understand why they feel the need to get their lands back from communities in Samyan to build commercial buildings like I’m Park and Samyam Mirtown while they already have Chamchuri Square,” they tweeted, referring to another large mall on the edge of campus, located above MRT Sam Yan. “Now they want to build another one to encourage more consumption. Aren’t they rich enough?”

The university does not seem to be backing down. In an online statement addressing the protests Friday, it said the shrine would be rebuilt in the university’s nearby Centenary Park. It promised to preserve its Chinese roots and incorporate objects from the original shrine into the new one. 

It said the new location would benefit residents because it would be located among peaceful trees and have a parking lot and toilets. It said the work would be completed by December.

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