These days it is as easy (or even easier!) to get say Italian, Japanese, Indian or Vietnamese food in Bangkok as it is in any major metropolis on the planet. Bangkok seems to stand as a symbol for the “era of globalization,” for the entire world seems to be present there in one form or another.
Today I was looking at a microfilm of “despatches from US consuls in Bangkok.” I took a look at a reel that contained letters from the late 1850s, shortly after the first US consul to Siam, Stephen Mattoon, had been appointed in 1856.
It’s amazing to see how international Bangkok already was at that time (although admittedly the “international community” was still very small at that time compared to the local Siamese population). In December 1858, Mattoon wrote to the US State Department to report that the free Hanseatic Republics of Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg had signed commercial treaties with Siam and had set up a consulate.
He also reported on fears that the sizeable Chinese community in Bangkok was planning a rebellion.
“Some fears of a rising of the Chinese population have been entertained for some time past and guards have been stationed in the Chinese quarter of the town and those about the king’s palace doubled. But not disturbances of the moment have arisen and the fears of all classes have greatly subsided.”
Finally, Mattoon discussed in some detail the extent to which American businessmen were already present, particularly those who dealt with steam-powered machinery, and he mentioned the English as well.
“A large amount of American steam machinery has been lately introduced, mostly to fill orders of native parties. One rice cleaning establishment belonging to an American firm is about going into operation. One American owned steam tug, built here, is at work, and several small sized steam yachts, native owned with American engines have been completed, and others of a larger size are building.”
“The Siamese have lately purchased an iron steamer of English make which is now making regular trips between this and Singapore. The Siamese mercantile marine of square rigged vessels has been largely increased within the last few years and many vessels are now building.”
So by the late 1850s, Bangkok’s globalization was already in full swing. I wonder if they had any Italian restaurants yet. Probably not, but they would come with time.