In January 1921, Sawyer met with Dr. Victor Heiser, the director of RF operations in the East. Heiser asked him to come along
on a three-month tour of the RF public health sites in southeast Asia, and Sawyer agreed, though it meant missing the birth
of his son (who arrived on March 23). His letters to his wife describe in detail the rigors of traveling and his reactions
to other cultures, as well as the activities of the hookworm control campaigns.
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1921-03-11 (March 11, 1921)
Sawyer, Wilbur A.
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From Hookworm to Yellow Fever: Rockefeller Foundation, 1919-1927
[Wat Pra Keo, palace grounds, Bangkok, Siam] [2 March 1921]
[Hookworm meeting at Wat Sansai, near Chiengmai, Siam] [7 March 1921]
[Wilbur A. Sawyer and workers from the headquarters of Unit No.1, Amphur Sansai, near Chiengmai, Siam] [7 March 1921]
At the end of my last letter I was on the way to Amphur Sansai to see Dr. Barnes' hookworm unit No. 1 at work. We found
them in a newly constructed leaf house and laboratory. We went from this to the wat (temple) which was packed with an audience
of 200 men and a few women waiting for a hookworm lecture. Dr. Heiser and I sat in chairs at the feet of the great gilded
Buddha while Dr. Barnes and a Siamese army doctor of his staff lectured in Siamese. Hanging from the pulpit was the everpresent
hookworm chart. The audience sat still giving absolute attention. At the end of the lecture they were told to sit still
to have their pictures taken, and I went back to the doorway, the only source of light of any consequence, and took time exposures
of 40 sec. each. The people sat still as mice under Dr. Barnes coaching until the photo was taken, and, marvelous to relate,
all the pictures came out well. In the background is the huge Buddha smiling sardonically. At his feet is the group of upstarts
with their hookwarm chart and before them sit the priests and the
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people. We saw the temple library, a sort of box in which were kept the books. The books were bundles of strips of palm
leaf on which was most regular and handsome writing (evidently not written on trains). These leaves were strung together
loosely by strings passing through two perforations in each page thus:
After the meeting there was a microscopic demonstration outside. We returned to the headquarters, where we visited with the
staff and discussed methods. While we were there, two police brought in two prisoners in chains to the government headquarters
in the same enclosure. They were followed by two men carrying the evidence consisting of two bottles of booze. I suppose
the charge was selling liquor without a license. I got a photo of the group.
In the yard one of the weeds was the wonderful sensitive plant. If you touched a leaf it almost snapped shut and if you pinched
a stem, it bent back to an acute angle.
We returned to Chiengmai for luncheon. A couple of native women were waiting to sell us the beaten silverware of the region
and the lacquer work.
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In the afternoon we called on Mrs. Daniel McGilvary, sister of Prof. Bradley of the U. of C., and widow of the pioneer missionary
of Chieng Mai. Prof. Bradley was born in Siam and his father was the pioneer medical missionary at Bankok [sic]. We saw
the Chieng Mai Club and watched the polo. The British minister (Mr. Wood) was there with his wife, who is a native Siamese
woman with European education. Mr. and Mrs. Wood and Mr. and Mrs. Harris (missionary-teacher) came to dinner at the Barnes'.
Mrs. Harris is the daughter of Mrs. McGilvary.
In the afternoon, we visited the market and sampled palm sugar, made like maple sugar, and quite good. We visited the Chiengmai
prison. In the enclosure there was the constant sound of clanking chains, for most of the prisoners had chains riveted to
their legs. In spite of this barbaric use of chains there were evidences of prison reform, for there was a workshop in which
the prisoners manufactured baskets and chairs of wicker work.
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In the corner of the yard was the rice mill where the grains were beaten out by a long row of foot-power hammers. I saw one
case of beriberi and several lepers.
We drove out to the tombs of the Chieng Mai king and I photographed them with the adjoining ruined wat.
At luncheon we had curry on glutinous rice. This sticky rice is peculiar to the region and is very good. We also had black
rice for porridge and puffed rice cakes.
We saw a couple of Buddhist priests standing motionless in the street silently waiting in front of a house for their donation.
They held bowls in which to put the money.
We have reached the next day, March 8. In the forenoon we visited the Amphur (county) Sarapee and saw evidence of Dr. Barnes'
activities. On the way back we stopped at a wat and asked the priests to wheel the big temple drum (called a "gong"
or "kong") into the sun so that we could photograph it, which they did.
In the afternoon Dr. and Mrs. Barnes, Dr. Heiser and I called on the Chao Dara (meaning third wife) one of the widows of the
late King of Siam and daughter of the last king of Chiengmai, and
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therefore of Lao blood. We met there the Chao Suang, the son of the last king of Chiengmai. He lives on a pension which
may recompence him in part for not succeeding to his father's throne. We sat quite a while holding a silent conversation
with the Chao Dara, although Dr. Barnes was able to talk Lao with her. She came in with her mouth crammed with what looked
like shredded tobacco, but it was probably a betel nut mixture. When the servant brought her anything he crawled in on hands
and knees and then crawled out. After a while the Chao Dara showed us the workshop where she was supervising the making of
garments of the future queen of Siam, who was going to adopt the Lao "sin" and reform the dress of the fine Siamese.
The dresses were of silk and were being woven in hand looms by native women of Chiengmai. The colors and patterns were lovely,--blues,
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pinks, reds, gold and silver, and greens. The Chao Dara had invented the patterns by embroidering them on pieces of scrim,
which were used as guides by the weavers. The thread was being wound on a spinning wheel.
We then visited the native silver-smiths. They work in primitive houses hammering out silver bowls backed during the operation
by a stiff wax. The women do the selling. From there we went to a lacquer maker. The boxes are first woven out of bamboo
fibres and then covered with a clayish mixture and surfaced with lacquer, hiding their structure. Patterns are scratched
on by hand and then filled with color. We also visited a pottery where jars were being made on a wheel with marvelous dexterity.
We also saw some wats, the elephant gate, etc.
And the next morning we started back toward Bangkok, and we are still on the way. In the initial motor ride we passed many
women wearing yellow orchids in their hair,--a common custom. At Pitsanloke a big "tucktoo" lizard a foot long watched
us eat dinner from his position on the wall. This is the third day on the road, and we shall soon reach Bangkok.