Thanks to the continuing efforts of Will Csaplar, the fish and game hobby reached a significant new milestone this past week at the Thailand 2018 World Stamp Exhibition. Csaplar’s comprehensive waterfowl stamp exhibit, A License and Stamp System for Waterfowl in the 20th Century U.S., not only became the first fish and game exhibit to be awarded an International Large Gold Medal – but garnered unprecedented accolades for our hobby as well.
Among the comments heard coming from the ebullient Commissioners and Judges in Bangkok were: “Very powerful”; “The story really shined throughout”; “About perfect”; More than just another exhibit of pretty duck stamps”; “Just what the revenue hobby needs to attract new collectors” and “This changes everything – now serious collectors know they can achieve the highest levels of philately with fish and game stamps”. Pretty heady stuff, indeed.
To top it all off, the exhibit received a special prize from the Federation Internationale de Philatelie (the FIP) for exceptional material. Yes, you read that correctly – this honor was bestowed upon an exhibit of United States waterfowl stamps!
2018 will always be remembered as a breakthrough year for fish and game stamps. In addition to Will Csaplar’s achievements, Charles Ekstrom III and Michael Jaffe continue to receive Large Gold medals at the national level. Ekstrom’s exhibit, Federal Migratory Bird Hunting Stamps, was awarded a large gold at ROPEX 2018 and Jaffe’s exhibit, A Philatelic Survey of U.S. Waterfowl Hunting Jurisdictions, was awarded a large gold at SEAPEX 2018.
At ROPEX, Ekstrom’s exhibit became only the third fish and and game exhibit to win the Reserve Grand Award at a national level show, after my own Classic State and Local Fish and Game Stamps (five times in the 1990s) and the Csaplar’s ten-frame exhibit at the APS StampShow in 2015.
From all of us at Waterfowl Stamps and More, congratulations to Charles, Michael and Will for your personal achievements and our heartfelt gratitude for making the effort to advance our specialized hobby within organized philately. Thanks to you, the light shined brightly upon us in 2018!
One of the obvious perks of exhibiting at the international level is the opportunity to visit new places and learn something about their culture. As this is considered by many to be an integral (and fun) part of the exhibiting experience, I will take this opportunity to share with you some of the sights and food we enjoyed in Thailand – a truly magical destination.
Two weeks before Thanksgiving, I delivered Will’s exhibit to U.S. Commisioner Sandeep Jaiswal in Rhode Island. Sandeep is a veteran exhibitor and commissioner and we felt confident that he would be able to safely negotiate the exhibit through customs. As it turned out, his customs experience would prove to be a lengthy one. Fortunately, Sandeep was ultimately rewarded by joining Will as one of the few in the U.S contingent to receive a large gold in Bangkok. Congrats, Sandeep!
As Kay and I spent a month in Italy this past summer for our 30th wedding anniversary and just recently completed a remodel – she was a bit spent and I was left to travel to Bangkok on my own, where I would later meet up with Will and his daughter Linda.
I had never been to Bangkok before and had heard much about the warm people (and weather), fascinating historical sites and exceptional cuisine. I was truly excited. The official show hotel was located some distance from the venue at the Siam Paragon (see Figure 1) and since we were unfamiliar with the city, Will put us up at the beautiful Siam Kempinski Hotel located just across the street (See Figures 2 and 3).
The 25-hour journey (including a three-hour stopover in Taipei) left me in surprisingly good spirits upon arrival at the Bangkok International Airport. For those who have never visited this airport – which serves a metro area with a population of 14.7 million – the experience can be daunting. Fortunately, I had struck a rapport with the person sitting next to me on the incoming flight (a San Fransisco Bay Area expat) and he kindly guided me through the process of immigration, collecting my bags and pointed me to the correct exit – whew!
My next new experience was an introduction to Bangkok traffic… I have been to a number of places and don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. Not insane like Cairo – just very, very crowded and slow. Over an hour later we arrived at the Siam Kempinski and I suddenly felt safe and secure. Even before checking in, I stopped by the concierge and booked tours for the next two days prior to the arrival of Sandeep and Will’s exhibit. I was anxious to experience some Thai culture and cuisine!
The concierge was surprised to find I was not too tired for a great culinary experience right away – so he made me a reservation at one of his favorite restaurants, Ma Maison, located perhaps five or six blocks from the hotel. The cab ride took 45 minutes. I’m not kidding – we literally did not move for about 15 minutes at one point.
Ma Mason proved worth the wait. It was beautiful, everyone was super friendly (as was everyone I met in Thailand) and the meal was a great introduction to Thai cuisine (see Figures 4-7).
After another long cab ride back to the hotel, I began to look forward to the next morning and seeing one of Bangkok’s most famous attractions – the floating market.
An Unexpected Surprise
The next morning my guide, Michael, picked me up at he hotel and told me that on the way to the floating market we would be making a stop at a place he called the “train market” which I had not heard of. This was located about 40 minutes from the hotel, just outside Bangkok.
On the way Michael gave me a brief orientation, including the fact that the government in Thailand is now a constitutional monarchy which combines a monarch head of state with a parliamentary system – similar to that in England. Therefore, it now differs from that made famous in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, The King And I.
In the movie, the then King of Siam was played by Yul Brynner who won an an academy award for best actor in a leading role for his performance. Interestingly, a guide on a subsequent trip informed us that the movie is now banned in Thailand for portraying the king in a less than flattering manner. Michael also informed me that Buddhism was introduced to Thailand by King Asoka during the 3rd century B.C. Currently, Michael estimated that 80% of the country practiced Buddhism.
Soon we arrived at the train market, which from the outside looked similar to all of the other markets we had passed along the way (see Figure 8). As we started to walk deeper within, I began to sense that this particular market was really quite extraordinary (see Figures 9-13).
Then Michael pointed out why this place was known as the “train market”. I had not noticed before he pointed it out but the “path” we were walking on through the market was not really a path – it was actually train tracks – and the market was set up all around (and in many cases, right on) the tracks! (see Figures 14 and 15).
Now for the really wild part – every 30 minutes everything has to be moved so that the train can pass, then put back exactly in place! I couldn’t believe it. Simply one of the coolest experiences of my life (see Figure 16).
In talking to other visitors while in Thailand, I discovered the train market is a kind of a well kept secret. If you ever get to Bangkok – I would highly recommend stopping by on the way to the floating market.
The Floating Market
After next visiting a small plantation where they produced brown sugar from coconut flower nectar (as opposed to sugar cane – which is sweeter), we arrived at a quaint floating market which was located along the sides of one of the many man-made canals that criss-cross Thailand.
A floating market is pretty much what it sounds like; while many of the local venders sell their food and merchandise from booths located on solid ground – the main attraction is that some of the vendors offer directly from small boats floating on the water (see Figures 17 and 18).
At this point, we boarded a boat ourselves for an exhilarating 45 minute ride (often at high speeds) through the canals in the countryside outside Bangkok – on our way to the floating market that has achieved international fame for being the largest of its kind in the world.
When we arrived I was surprised to find that that the roadways were not the only place you experienced traffic jams in Bangkok (see Figures 19-21).
After boating around the market, we got out and walked around the land-locked portion of the market. Here I could not pass a photo op with a cute baby Lemur (see Figure 22).
After we finished walking through the market we started the 60 mile drive back to the hotel and I began to look forward to my “splurge dinner” for this trip to Bangkok.
Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin
Sra Bua serves contemporary Thai cuisine and was developed, interestingly enough, by Danish Chef Henrik Yde-Anderson. My enthusiasm for Sra Bua originally stemmed from my culinary research which showed that for many years Chef Henrik operated the only Michelin-starred Thai restaurant in the world – in Copenhagen! Just recently, Sra Bua was awarded its own Michelin star and the fact that it is located in the Siam Kempinski Hotel made it a no-brainer.
When I arrrived at Sra Bua, a friendly hostess greeted me at a podium outside the restaurant. After confirming my reservation, she led me inside. I was immediately struck by the beauty of the space (see Figure 23).
After a refreshing cup of tea, I was served numerous small plates of street food as appetizers. Now, of course “street food” is often considered synonymous with the Bangkok food scene. However, this was not your typical street food – more like Chef Henrik’s upscale take on it. The waiter chose my appetizers and at this point I must confess I had very little idea what I was eating – but, for the most part, it was all very enjoyable! (see Figures 24-26).
Now we get to the items I actually ordered and I can speak a little more intelligently. First we have Frozen Red Curry with Lobster Salad (red curry paste, Maine lobster, longan from Royal Project Chaingmai, lemon juice, chili, coriander, kaffir lime leaves, lychee foam, cashew nuts and edible flowers – see Figure 27). Really outstanding flavors!
Next, I had Duck Breast, Sweet and Sour, Carrot, Lemongrass and Tamarind Sauce (see Figure 28). Also very good.
Finally, desert – Banana Cake with salted ice cream and caramelized milk. This dish caught my eye immediately when looking over the menu and it did not disappoint! (see Figure 29).
Now quite full and content, I went up to my room and began thinking of the next day’s adventure. This would include a visit to the Bridge over the River Kwai and and an afternoon of riding and feeding elephants. My last free day before Sandeep and Will’s exhibit would arrive in Bangkok.
The Bridge over the River Kwai
For most people, their frame of reference comes from seeing the 1957 movie of the same name. It won seven oscars, including Best Picture. The movie also has an 8.2 rating on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) as well as a 94% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Well worth a look for those who have somehow missed it. Despite all this, it turns out the storyline in the movie is highly fictionalized and was adapted from a novel by Pierre Boulle.
The bridge is located 128 km northwest from Bangkok and takes about two hours by car or bus. Alternatively, you can take a train from Bangkok (which includes riding over the bridge) but this takes 6.5 hours in each direction and is an all day and part of the night affair.
The historical significance of the Bridge over the River Kwai is pretty much the same as in the movie. After bombing Peal Harbor on December 7th, The Japanese began a well-organized, systematic attack on much of Asia and the Pacific. They attacked southern Thailand on December 8th and within three months were in Bangkok.
Burma was providing China with desperately needed supplies and the Japanese wanted to get their army into Burma in the worst way so they could put an end to it. They devised a plan to build a railway from Bangkok to Burma – through a route that was previously rejected by the British as being not only nearly impossible but it could only be accomplished by thousands of laborers being subjected to the most inhumane conditions imaginable.
The Imperial Japanese army decided to use Thai slave labor and 60,000 POWs – primarily British troops that had recently surrendered in Singapore. Not only did the Japanese work the men 14-18 hours a day – they had very little food and needed it for their own army. As a result, the laborers received one small bowl of rice a day and 12,000 died in the effort. These men are memorialized in three separate cemeteries near the bridge.
All of this is very interesting (and depressing). There is an excellent museum near the bridge which explains everything in great detail. I have to say, I found the experience to be very worthwhile. The big disappointment for myself (along with just about all visitors who have seen the movie) is that not only is the bridge not the same one shown in the movie – it is not even the same kind of bridge.
The bridge shown in the movie was a cool-looking wooden trestle bridge – which apparently was used occasionally in some other places along the Thailand-Burma railway – while the real bridge is a rather mundane steel bridge (see Figures 30 and 31). But you know what the best part is? The movie was not even filmed in Thailand – it was filmed in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka)!
For those who are interested, a more accurate depiction of this chapter in Thai and WWII history can be seen in The Railway Man (2013) starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. This movie was actually filmed in Thailand – using the real bridge!
Thai elephants are a sub-species of Indian elephants. Basically, they are shorter and have thicker bodies than true Indian elephants. They are considered to be very important culturally. Unfortunately, their numbers have been in a steady decline. In the early 1900s there were about 100,000 elephants in Thailand and today the number is under 10,000.
I am not going to go into all of the reasons for the decline, as it is generally unpleasant. However, it is safe to say elephant conservation is a very worthwhile cause and, for those so inclined, you may wish to consider participating in some way.
With regard to riding elephants, the practice of taming an elephant so that it will allow a human to ride it is now seen as controversial. Some people think it is, in part, responsible for the downturn in population (I learned all of this after I returned, while researching this blog). Prior to leaving for Bangkok, I had been made aware that riding an elephant in Thailand was a big part of the tourist experience so I decided to give it a try.
I must admit it was quite exciting. In the beginning, I was riding on a seat mounted on the animal’s back while the trainer (or driver) rode ahead of me, sitting directly above the animal’s neck. This was cool. After about 15 minutes the driver decided I was doing pretty well – and he jumped off!
He motioned for me to step down from the seat and put one leg on either side of the elephant’s neck. I was a little uncertain about this but decided to just go with it. I was then allowed to ride the elephant bareback for another 15 minutes or so, before he got back on and guided us safely back to the starting area (see Figure 32).
Feeding the elephants was even more fun. They have big appetites! While I was riding the elephant (after the driver stepped down and left me in charge?) my elephant took me under every tree that looked like it had tasty branches. It is surprising the size of branches the elephant would tear off – up to 4-5 inches in diameter in some cases.
When we returned to the starting area I was allowed to feed the elephants bananas. Initially I fed them a few bananas at a time – but soon learned they preferred whole bunches at a time. I was told that each elephant eats hundreds of pounds of food each day!
So now that I got that out of my system, it was time to focus on stamps.
The Thailand 2018 World Stamp Exhibition
The exhibition was hosted by the Philatelic Association of Thailand under the patronage of H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn in joint collaboration with Thailand Post Co., Ltd. The main attraction of the show was 2,500 frames of international level exhibits from all over the world.
I had arranged to have Sandeep text me once his flight had landed, so that I could meet him at Royal Paragon Hall to mount Will’s exhibit. It was some time before I heard from him and he explained that customs had taken “forever’. After he checked into his hotel he texted me he was finally on his way to the show. I met up with Sandeep at the bin room (the room where commissioners and exhibiters wait in queue to mount their exhibits). It was taking a long time.
After about an hour (past 11:00 PM) Sandeep told me it could be a lot longer and told me to go back and get some sleep. He explained he had to stick around and mount five other exhibits and offered to mount Will’s too. I felt guilty but I was very tired and not feeling great – so I took him up on it. The next day he texted me that he got back to his hotel at 3:45 in the morning!
After eating breakfast I walked across to the Siam Paragon complex. In order to get to the elevators that would take me to the 5th floor and the Royal Paragon Hall, you have to cross through a gourmet market on the ground floor, the likes I have never seen before. Similar to the one in Harrods Department store in London – but much larger. This would prove to be a rather torturous exercise each day – walking past counter after counter of fabulous desert items! (see Figures 33 and 34).
After taking the elevator up to the 5th floor, one was able to walk down a long hallway and reach the entrance to the Royal Paragon Hall Exhibition Center (see Figure 35). Once through security, the lobby included beautiful displays pertaining to the current King, the Princess – and her love for stamp collecting (see Figures 36 and 37).
Located in the lobby, along the right side, were large sets of double doors leading to the main exhibition hall and 2,500 frames of exhibits from all over the world (see Figure 38).
Upon entering the cavernous exhibition hall, there were large banners hanging from the ceiling which pointed to the location of the various classes of exhibits. I scanned the banners and located the one that read “Class 9, Revenues”. As I made my way through the hall I could not help but notice the many powerful international exhibits.
Finally I reached the Revenue section and the closest exhibit was really impressive, “The History of Early Stamp Duties of GB up to 1891 – Based on Usage of the Blue Embossed Non-Adhesive Fiscal Stamps”. There were a number of revenue exhibits, 23 in all, and many looked quite formidable.
If you remember, Will and Abby last showed their exhibit at Finlandia 2017 where it received a score of 93 – two points away from the 95 needed for a large gold medal. Several improvements were made to the exhibit, including the addition of a genuine photo essay for RW12 (the 1945-46 federal migratory bird hunting stamp), some previously unrecorded stamps required to hunt waterfowl on military bases, the set of 1937 Tennessee Shell Tax blocks discovered in the Garage Sale Gold Find and the first public showing of the experimental 1994-95 HIPA (Maryland) stamp in unused condition.
In addition, the synopsis was tightened up and a strong case made for the “importance” of the exhibit (see Figure 39)
I looked at all of the revenue exhibits, looked at Will’s exhibit (Sandeep did a nice job of mounting it), talked to some friends and even a couple of potential new waterfowl stamp collectors, then went back to the hotel to rest. Will and Linda were flying in the next day and we planned to go to do some more touring around Bangkok together.
Philately is Alive and Well in Asia
Thankfully, philately is doing extremely well in many places throughout the world. This includes several European countries and especially those throughout Asia. In fact, recent reports indicate philately is rapidly growing in popularity in future economic powerhouses China and India. The Future of Philately (2018), published by members of the Royal Philatelic Society in London, states “The Chinese [currently] put 17% of their wealth in stamps as it is seen as a hedge against inflation, it is patriotic and they have fewer alternative investments than in the west.”
The same report indicates there are now as many as 100,000 stamp collectors in India and “India Post has included encouraging stamp collecting in its 5-year plan.” I was curious to gauge the interest for stamp collecting in Thailand in general and for Will’s exhibit at the exhibition in Bangkok – for it is a well known fact that Asian cultures hold birds and specifically waterfowl in high esteem.
Much to my surprise, nearly everyone I talked to – including my guides, hotel staff and even a doctor I saw for a touch of the flu – indicated they were long time stamp collectors and eager to talk about my participation in the show. It was kind of fun.
But the biggest surprise came in front of the frames of Will’s exhibit. Almost without exception, every time I was in eyesight of the area in front of the exhibit – it was filled with people carefully examining each and every page. In and of itself, this is not particularly unusual as international philatelic exhibitions tend to attract serious philatelists and the exhibit has proven to be popular with the stamp-collecting public since its inception.
What was different in Bangkok, is that I counted no less than six different people systematically photographing each and every page of the exhibit so that they could really digest it on their own time, away from the show. I assume there were many others when I was not around. I found this to be an explicit and, quite frankly, startling expression of the high level of potential interest for collecting U.S. waterfowl stamps in Asia and among advanced collectors, world-wide, in general. It was gratifying and made me feel good about our hobby’s future.
A Large Gold Buddha and A Large Gold Medal
The next day I was feeling a bit under the weather and after greeting Will and Linda, decided they should go out that day without me. We made plans to see the Grand Palace and Wat Pho (the site of the Reclining Gold Buddha) together the following day.
Fortunately I awoke feeling pretty good and, truth be told, somewhat excited as I had always wanted to see the Reclining Buddha in person. We started out visiting the Grand Palace and it was very large and very hot! (see Figures 40-43).
Our next stop was Wat Pho and the Reclining Buddha. One of the top tourist attractions in the world and a bucket list visit for me – it did not disappoint. Hard to photograph, the Reclining Buddha is over 150 feet long, five stories tall and completely covered in gold plating (see Figure 44). If you are ever in Bangkok, I can’t recommend seeing it enough – it will take your breath away!
After we finished the Wat Pho grounds I asked our driver to take me back to the hotel. I had enough of the heat already and started to get a feeling the medal levels might have been posted. After freshening up a bit I managed to get past the pastries and assorted deserts yet again and made my way to the exhibit hall.
As I stepped inside, I saw that some of the medals had indeed been posted. When I arrived at the revenue section the medals had not yet been posted there but I ran into U.S. Judge Ron Lesher and he seemed upbeat about the exhibit. As we were standing there talking, someone from the show committee walked up and posted it right in front of us – Large Gold! (see Figures 45 and 46).
I texted Will and Linda but they were on a boat tour of the canals and would not see it until several hours later. The next day we all went over and spent some time talking to the judges, who were all very positive and enthusiastic about the exhibit.
They appreciated the clearly-defined story line which explains the interrelated nature of U.S. waterfowl management – i.e., the systematic cooperation between all levels of government that collect and share data used to establish season lengths and bag limits. Subsequent to these controls being established on a yearly basis, the license and stamp system facilitates regulatory control measures and – of basic importance – provides the necessary funding to keep the conservation machine oiled. This was clearly exhibited.
They appreciated that the stamp and and license system and (more to the point of the judging) the exhibit which tells the story are both comprehensive and elegant in their approach – each having been assiduously developed and refined over time.
They appreciated the nuances of the exhibit – how the pre-stamp license chapter defines and establishes context for and, in the case of the pictorial California licenses, actually precipitates the issuance of first the federal and, soon after, the subsequent state, local, military and tribal adhesives. They especially appreciated and specifically commented on the role the non-pictorial stamps played in the success of both the license and stamp system and the exhibit, itself.
One of the judges even commented on Will’s use of diverse license types used to tell the story – i.e, paper, cloth, metal, celluloid pin-backs, etc. In other words, the jury at Bangkok totally got it.
I could tell Will was proud of his accomplishment and I was really happy for him and grateful to be a part of it – it has been a very rewarding journey. I believe in my heart that Abby, in her own respectful and self-effacing way, would be pleased too. Abby, always positive and supportive of our hobby in every way, deserves much of the credit for our success – for this really would not have been possible without her participation. Our hobby owes her a sincere debt of gratitude.
The exhibit received a final score of 96 points, one more than the amount required for a large gold and the highest score of all 23 exhibits in the revenue class at Bangkok. It was later revealed that, at the jury’s discretion – the exhibit also received a special prize for exceptional material.
It is at times like this when emotions wash over you – making it possible to realize all the hours (years) spent collecting, researching, mounting and opportunity cost sacrifices are clearly worth it. Fish and game stamps have come a long way since I first started exhibiting nearly 30 years ago. Now that the playing field has formally been leveled, let’s see where we can go from here.