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Cruise Lectures on Far Eastern Paper Money 2008


2 – 12 MARCH 2008

One afternoon in the latter part of January this year I received a telephone call from my agent asking if I would like to do some cruise lecturing on paper money at very short notice. He offered me the first choice on no less than six sectors on three different P&O liners but with very little notice I had no alternative but to opt for a cruise in a part of the world where I already had some lecture material. So I chose Bangkok to Mumbai aboard P&O's Aurora which was on her westbound world cruise and due back in Southampton on 28th March.

P&O are quite different from other cruise lines because they take lecturers on to their payroll, pay them handsomely as well as providing free flights and accommodation together with cabins in the officers' quarters of their ships. So I was enrolled as a merchant seaman with a special log book (a magnificent document with blue boards and gold lettering which looks very like what a proper UK passport once looked like) and was told to contact the crew manager on arrival. The ship was due in at Laem Chabang, the port for Bangkok, Thailand, on March 2nd but I wanted to see something of Bangkok first and was permitted to fly there 5 days earlier. The BA flight left London Heathrow in the evening and arrived in Bangkok nearly 12 hours later at 3.30pm local time. Soon I was immersed in the hubbub of this huge city of over 10 million people and loving every minute of it. My hotel was very central, situated in the middle of a very busy part of town and surrounded by wonderful restaurants serving mouthwatering food at very reasonable prices. Thai food is probably my favourite cuisine but it tends to be expensive in England. So to find superbly prepared four course meals on my doorstep for less than £5 sent me into a sort of culinary paradise!

But I hadn't come to Bangkok just for the food. I wanted to see for myself and take my own pictures of the many sites which appear on the paper money of Thailand with a view to expanding and improving my lecture material. So my first port of call was the Grand Palace which is featured on so many Thai banknotes. As the vignettes usually show this great World Heritage Site from the water, I decided to make my approach by barge up the Chao Phraya River which flows through the heart of this pulsating city. The first glimpse of this extraordinary complex is of golden stupas surrounded by a brilliant white wall which completely encloses it. The whole site is full of temples guarded by giant fearsome creatures where saffron-robed Buddhist monks meditate cross-legged and attend to their ritual duties.

Inside one of these temples is to be found the most revered and greatest treasure in all Thailand - it is the world famous Emerald Buddha, whose special temple appears on so many Thai banknotes. The statue came from Laos to Thailand in the mid eighteenth century and is quite small, being only about two feet in height. Furthermore, it is not made of emeralds at all but of green jade and is clothed in different apparel depending on the seasons. Collectors of Thai banknotes will know that the Emerald Buddha itself never appears on any of the notes, only the great temple in which it is housed. This is because the figure is regarded as so holy that to photograph it or make images of it is deemed disrespectful.

Reverse of Thailand 100 Baht issued 1969-78 (P85) showing the complex of the Grand Palace, Bangkok with the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the great white wall in the foreground.

My second visit in Bangkok was to the Museum of the Royal Barges which lies on one of the many canals leading from the Chao Phraya River. These magnificent boats adorned with gold and jewels are used by the King and his family for special royal occasions. There are several of them and two different ones appear on Thailand's paper money. They are each crafted from a single teak tree, have a special golden pavilion for the king's use and need the services of about fifty oarsmen to row them. The sight of seven or eight of them all lined up in a vast boat house is quite unforgettable. Now when I look at the backs of the 100 Baht note of 1968 (P79) and the 20 Baht note of 1971 (P84) I can appreciate the differences between these two great works of art and can pass on my newly acquired knowledge to passengers attending my lectures.

Reverse of Thailand 100 Baht issued in 1968 (P79) showing one of the Royal Barges at centre left. It is made of a single teak tree completely overlaid with pure gold and adorned with precious stones.

Reverse of Thailand 20 Baht dark green, olive-green and multicolour issued from 1971-81 (P84) showing another of the Royal Barges at centre. The whole of the decorative patterns surrounding the vignette are taken from actual designs on the barge. The Grand Palace can be seen in the background, a view visible from the numerous water taxis plying their trade on the great river.

I spent my last day in Bangkok visiting the superb house and gardens created by the American Jim Thompson who almost single-handedly revived the Thai silk industry after the Second World War. He disappeared in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia in 1967 and has never been seen since. He fell in love with Thai culture and regarded the country as a second home. All that he collected, created and restored is now lovingly cared for by an eponymous trust which administers the house as a museum and seeks to promote Thai culture to the wider world.

It was now time to find the Aurora and P&O sent a taxi to my hotel to take me the 80 or so miles from Bangkok to the port of Laem Chabang situated on the Gulf of Thailand. The next day was spent at sea, one of only five such days on this sector of the world cruise, and I was therefore scheduled to give my first lecture. The Aurora has a no less than three lecture theatres and I was shown to a beautiful room with the seating in a semi circle around the stage, professional lighting and superb acoustics. The technicians on this ship are first class and I was allowed time before the lecture to ensure everything ran like clockwork. P&O now insist all their lecturers use PowerPoint and this was only the second time I had used it. I needn’t have worried. The superb equipment and projector displayed the banknotes in all their glorious colour with pin-prick sharpness on to a huge 20 x 12 foot screen. The effect was stunning and I knew that the presentation would have an immediate effect on the audience. I always give a lecture entitled “Introduction & History of World Paper Money” as my first in any programme and this was obviously appreciated, particularly as paper money had never before been the subject for any lecture course on this ship. The presentation was supported by a dozen or so A4 sheets showing the notes annotated with relevant research and starter packs of world banknotes supplied by Kate were made available afterwards along with copies of the Token Banknote Yearbook edited by me.

The following day we docked in Singapore and I spent a very productive day looking for material to support my forthcoming PowerPoint presentation. So I took the MRT and paid a visit to the world famous botanical gardens which houses so many of the flowers which appear on the banknotes. The most important of these is the orchid “Vanda Miss Joaquim” which is the national flower of Singapore. It is depicted on the reverse of numerous notes, particularly those in the third issue “ship series” and I took several close-up shots of this most beautiful of flowers.

Reverse of Singapore $50 blue on multicoloured underprint issued between 1987-90 (P22) showing at centre left the national flower of Singapore, the orchid “Vanda Miss Joaquim”, in all four corners of a superbly engraved guilloche.

I also travelled to the south of this city state in order to take the amazing cable car across to Sentosa Island. This affords superb views of the Singapore Cruise Centre from a height of 90 metres and gives access to the city’s famous statue and symbol, the Merlion. Half lion and half fish standing at over 37 metres in height, it provides awesome views over the city and even allows tourists to have their photos taken right inside the animal’s jaws. Both the cable car and the Merlion are featured on Singapore’s notes as can be seen in the following two scans:-

Reverse of Singapore $5 green and brown on multicoloured underprint issued between 1976-84 (P10) showing the Sentosa Island cable car.

Obverse of Singapore $10 red, brown and multicoloured issued from 1999 to date (P40) showing two representations of the Merlion at upper and lower centre left.

The Aurora departed Singapore late that evening and we arrived in Port Kelang the following morning. This is the main port of Kuala Lumpur so I took a bus into the city centre. It is full of buildings and monuments which appear on the paper money of Malaysia and the most famous of these are the Petronas Towers. Petronas is the state owned oil company and its offices are housed in the tallest twin towers in the world. These massive towers rise to the incredible height of 452 metres with a dizzying walkway which runs between them at a mere 190 metres from ground level. They are so high that it is virtually impossible to get the whole structure in a single photo, unless you have a fish-eye wide angle lens. So I took three photos: one of the bottom section, one of the middle section with the walkway and one of the top section with its pointed towers topped by masts deemed to form part of the architectural design of the building. This is important because so many countries are now trying to beat the record for a tall building that the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats has had had to step in with some new rules. So just adding a tall mast or antenna to a building is disallowed unless the architects can show that such an addition is an integral part of the overall design. The Petronas Towers passed this test and although the new Taipei 101 Tower in Taiwan is now higher, the KL building is still the tallest twin-towered structure in the world. It appears on a Malaysian banknote as you can see below.

Reverse of Malaysia 5 Ringgit green on multicoloured underprint a polymer note issued in 2004 (P47). It has a similar design to an earlier paper note issued in 1999 (P41) and shows the Petronas Towers at centre left with the KL Tower to the right of it. The KL Tower is not as high as the Petronas Towers but the viewing platform is higher than the latter’s walkway and from it you can get the best views of Kuala Lumpur’s tallest building.

Other buildings and monuments of Kuala Lumpur appearing on Malaysia’s banknotes include the National Monument (P19 and P27), the ornately decorated railway station (P21, P29, P29A, P36 and P37), the Parliament building (P18, P26, P34 and P34A), the superb King’s Palace, the residence of the unique rotating monarchs of Malaysia (P20, P28, P35 and P35A), the ugly central bank building of Bank Negara Malaysia (P22 and P30), the National Museum of Kuala Lumpur (P23, P31 and P31A-D), the National Mosque (P24, P32 and P32A-C) and the High Court building (P25, P33 and P33A). All these are situated in close proximity to each other and are easily accessed using the city’s excellent mass transit system and monorail.

Most of these buildings are also shown on the folder which accompanied the issue of the 50 Ringgit commemorative banknote issued to mark the holding of the XVI Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998.

After an action packed day in Malaysia’s vibrant modern capital, it was time to return to the ship for the overnight trip to the Malay island state of Penang and its capital Georgetown. This is a hauntingly beautiful island with a wonderful mix of races and cultures but unfortunately none of her scenery or buildings appear on the banknotes. So I just relaxed and enjoyed myself imagining myself as the president of the Bank Negara and wondering which site of so many I might chose for the honour of a Malaysian paper money vignette. On reflection it had either to be the amazing funicular railway up Penang’s highest mountain peak or the extraordinary Kek Lok Si Buddhist temple complex described by one American tourist as the Las Vegas of Buddhism! Perhaps one or both may soon appear on the banknotes – they are both wonderful sights and certainly deserve such recognition.

Three whole days now followed at sea as the Aurora crossed the Bay of Bengal heading for the south west coast of India. This was when I had the opportunity to become better acquainted with my rapidly growing audience which had doubled by the time I gave my fourth lecture and trebled for the fifth and last one. Sea days always mean work for lecturers and I had to give three individual country lectures on Thailand, Malaysia & Singapore and India on successive days. This cruise’s itinerary was not ideal for me as I know from past experience that to maximise audiences it is essential to give lectures on a country’s paper money either immediately before or immediately after the ship actually docks there. With only one day at sea before the first three ports I was unable to give the Thai lecture until after we had left Penang and the size of the audience was considerably reduced. Things began to look up for the third lecture on Malaysia & Singapore and the Indian lecture, coming as it did just before we arrived in Cochin, was very well attended. My final lecture on English paper money attracted well over 100 passengers with considerable interest shown, as always, when I explained how they could make some money out of their local cash machines!

There are no images of the city of Cochin in Kerala on Indian paper money but our last port of call was the seething city of Mumbai with its world famous monument, The Gateway of India. This only appears on the reverse of the 5000 Rupee note of 1949, a note which is so rare that it is most unlikely to feature in any collection of world paper money. Nevertheless I made sure I took several photographs of this amazing structure even though it is at present undergoing extensive refurbishment and is partially covered in scaffolding. It is shown below soon after sunrise.

I spent two days in Mumbai and then flew back to London on March 12th. All in all it was a marvellous experience. I sold all the copies of the Token Yearbook I could carry, sold three starter packs of world banknotes and managed to get three new collectors into our wonderful hobby. One of them has since ordered twice from Kate’s website and has made a handsome profit reselling notes on eBay. P&O are also pleased with the feedback they have received from the passengers and have promised to contact me about another sector on one of their world cruises in 2009. Watch this space!

Laurence Pope
IBNS #7037

Last updated 25/06/2008