On Easter last year Rob and I had just arrived in Chanthaburi,
Thailand, the site of the World Durian Festival. We were on the look out
for durians, but kept finding bunny rabbits.
Rabbits run amok in Chanthaburi. The furry little guys share real estate
with durians throughout the old city on road signs, lamp posts, government seals, and more. It’s a wee bit ridiculous, which is my
favorite situation. Rob and I kept a tally of bunnies, and were so
tickled that Rob started writing a blog post about why a city most
famous for it’s durian would have bazillions of bunnies too. Now that
I’m gearing up to return to Chanthaburi for the festival in May, I
thought I’d resurrect this post in honor of Easter. Happy Bunny Day!
|A Wat near the market|
When Rob writes a post, he does it really, really well. Just not often. That’s why of the few posts he’s written for this blog, Durian and Cholesterol has been our number one most popular
post for the past six months. He’s sitting on a lot more gold, especially in the nutrition department, so go ahead and encourage him by commenting on his post. His more prolific wife, (me!) is going to
finish this post.
Chanthaburi is a small province and a
city in the southeastern corner of Thailand, snuggled right up to the
border of Cambodia. There’s really not much to attract the average
tourist, unless you’re interested in durian, the gems trade, or the
history of King Taksin the Great. I realize he saved Thailand from the Burmese invaders through his naval prowess and was then executed as a traitor, but *yawn*.
For those of us
interested in durian, Chanthaburi province grows more than 40% of
Thailand’s durian. That would be an impressive figure anywhere. But this is Thailand. Thailand is the number one producer of durian in the world. There is a lot of durian in Chanthaburi.
Chanthaburi is such a durian powerhouse it
makes sense that durians should inhabit the corners of street signs and
government seals. But why the bunnies? The answer just adds to the very
subtle charm of Chanthaburi.
Just to put it out there, I have no idea if bunnies eat durian.
The name “Chanthaburi” is
derived from old Sanskrit words for “City of the Moon.” I was surprised
that the root word was Sanskrit and not Thai, but like Buddhism and yellow curry, many things
came from India and stayed. In Thai Folklore, the dark areas of the moon
form a rabbit shape, like a rodent version of our Man in the Moon.
Chinese and many other Asian cultures also claim the story of the Moon
Hare, who is believed to
pound herbs for the elixir of life with a mortar and pestle. It’s
sometimes known as the Jade Rabbit or the Gold Rabbit, and these monikers can be used to refer to the moon as well as to the bunny itself.
Coincidentally Aztec, Incan, and Native American folklore also tells of a rabbit on
the moon. So what’s with Western homo-centrism?
There are many stories about the Moon Hare, but all have one theme in common: at some point the rabbit gives itself up to be eaten by a starving person. The miserable person turns out to be some kind of a god, who engraves the rabbit on the face of the moon so that everyone will remember it’s ultimately selfless act of sacrifice. I’m not sure what kind of didactic message this conveys to children, but I suppose the Moon Hare could be seen as a sort of Jesus Christ figure. Or a Piglet.
The Chinese in particular revere the Moon Rabbit. It could be that way back in history, the Chinese had some say in the naming of the town. Chanthaburi has the largest population of Chinese ethnicity in Thailand, yet one more gift of King Taksin the Great who left behind his mercenaries.
I’d never heard of the Moon Bunny before visiting Chanthaburi. Knowing the story, I feel far more affectionate toward Chanthaburi’s narrow streets crowded with traffic and the random rabbit. It’s a
detail that gives the city a unique charm.
|How many bunnies can you count in this picture?|
The World Durian Festival starts on May 3rd and runs for two weeks. In the meantime, make sure you get some durian chocolate and have a wonderful Easter!
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