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Letter From Siam

The following is a letter written to Miss Charlotte "Lottie" Reiff, age 15, a resident of Woodbine Iowa
from Mr. Lyman who was serving as a missionary in Siam.
The letter was submitted by her granddaughter Penny Juve (email gjuve@comcast.net)

������������������������������������������������������������������� Ratburee Siam

������������������������������������������������������������������� April 27, 1897


Miss Lottie Reiff.


Woodbine, Iowa � My Dear Lottie:


I never before wrote a letter from such a beautiful place, and I doubt if you ever read one written when there was an inspiration to use adjectives as here.� I am sitting in the front porch of an old palace, built by the present King�s uncle, about 24 years ago when he was Regent of Siam.� The buildings look like they were of massive stone structure, but really are made of large brick plastered over with cement.� The main part varies in width, but is about 70 feet broad by 270 long; one story high.� The floors are laid with fine marble slabs. A court paved with red sandstone is laid about on all sides and the whole enclosed with a heavy brick fence, covered with cement as the house, to look like stone.� The timbers of the roof have rotted away in places and it has fallen in.�


But I have not told you where this old ruin is.� It is upon a mountain several hundred feet above the level plain that surrounds it on every side.� We came out here early this morning � 2 miles from home, for a day of rest.� It was cloudy, and about 9 o�clock it began to rain. You can imagine how beautiful the view.� Away to the east we look out over a great plain level as a floor and green with trees as far as the eye can reach.� West of us and just below is a large circular valley covered, as is also all the plain to the east, with rice fields; only those fields near us can be seen, the trees hiding those in the distance.� Beyond the valley are mountains, covered with brush and trees; those great hills much longer than any in Iowa, roll away till they are a deep blue in the distance.�


People live over all this great valley and scattered among the hills, many of whom never read or heard a work of the gospel.� I will be glad for the time to come when I may go to them and tell them what you all at Woodbine so well know.


We have a pony and hope before long to get another, so Mrs. Lyman and I both may ride. And then when we have the language better we will ride out to those country homes and sell them books of the gospel and talk with them. You would laugh at our pony.� He is an average size for Siamese ponies, but is just 4 feet high.� I can stand beside him and reach over to fix the saddle on the other side.� He measures 54 inches around his girth.� He has a long forelock, but his mane is cut short.� His tail drags on the ground if he does not hold it up.� He eats �kow bluong� � rice with the hull on, and the grass which grows in our mission yard.� He is getting fond of me and I of him, for he is a good traveler, and takes me many a nice gallop.� I go nearly every morning at 5-30 or a little later, and at 5 in the evening.� This is my daily exercise.� I could not stand the sun which at midday is very hot. 132 (degrees) above, one day in the sun.� 89 in the coolest part of our house.� This is our hottest season of the year.� The rains which stopped last Oct. are beginning again and it will soon be much cooler.�


Do you wonder what Mrs. Lyman does when I go riding?� Well she wishes she might go too, which she will soon.� In the evening she goes with Jeanie and Freda Wachter and one or two native children to bathe in the river.� A man comes for them in his boat at 5 o�clock. It is great fun for them.�


Well, I was going to write you about a trip Dr. Wachter and I had up the river � April 15 � 23.� We went to sell medicine and books and to talk with the people.� Of course we went in a boat. If we had gone on land we must have walked, for they have very poor roads here.� Only ox carts can travel them, or a pony.� Our boat has a house large enough for two to sit in from the sun by day, and sleep sheltered from the dew and rain. Six men went to row the boat.� They row standing and push on the oar.� Early in the morning � by daylight they start, stopping about 8 o�clock to eat their rice, and again from 1 to 3 to rest when the sun is hottest.� They wear few clothes, their arms, body and most of their legs are bare.� Also their feet � for they never in all their life wore a pair of shoes � except once in a great while just a sole fastened on with straps.� Their skin is tanned very dark and very tough.� The mosquitoes which are very fond of fresh blood from America can bite a native and he won�t know it.� They jump into the water when they get too hot, and tho� it is very warm it cools them some.� It makes not difference about their clothes.� They dry in a few minutes and they do not catch cold.�


At night we anchored out in the middle of the river where the mosquitoes do not come and where it is cool.� We slept well with a quilt wrapped around us, while if at home a sheet would have been hot.� All along the banks are great mango trees which bear a delicious fruit, which is ripe now.� They last for 2 or 3 months, and we never get tired of eating.� Also, banana trees were plenty.� I saw some field which reminded me of Iowa corn fields.�


I used to think bananas grew on a kind of palm tree high up from the ground.� It is a palm tree true enough, but grows only 10 or 12 feet high and bears only one bunch then dies or is cut down.� The natives cut them usually and slice up the big soft trunk for their pigs.� After the tree is cut another sprout starts up and grows rapidly into another tree.� Ripe bananas grow from a little sprout in 6 or 8 months.� There are many kinds and some are very good.� One kind is good baked, and the Siamese roast them on sticks over live coals.�


There are many birds here, and they sing beautifully�that is, some do.� There were flocks of wild, green parrots up the river, which flew about each morning searching and eating mangos in the big tree tops.� Siam is fairly black with crows, as I guess all Asia is.� They are more noisy than at home.� They speak 6 or 8 different languages�one like our crows.� Then they say �Kaw�, short and quick, and again K-a-w drawled out long, and so on, high and low, up and down, long and short.�


I was a great curiosity in many ways on that trip, but especially to the dogs, the children and the crows.� Every house has four to eight and all bark like mad at a stranger.� The children in the country see very few foreigners, and at our approach, run for their mamma crying with all their voice.� And the crows too know we are not of their breed, and gather overhead and talk their seven languages at us in a very inquisitive way.�


I have spoken of the children.� If I had told you that all the clothing the little ones have is a string around their neck to keep demons off, and some bracelets on their ankles, you might have thought they ran for shame.� But they do not know they are naked.� From the day they are born till 7 or 8 years old, except during some of the coolest days in Dec. or Jan. when we see them in all sorts rigs, the most common being a little skull cap and a little short coat, not another thing.� They are carried about by fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters.� Sometimes the baby looks as large as the child carrying it.� And this is because they do not bear them about in their arms, but on their hip at the side, the babies holding on by their bare legs and winding one arm around the arm of the one carrying them, their arms being about the baby�s waist.�


Mrs. Lyman picked up a little girl a few months old to pat it, and before she knew what it was doing, it had crawled onto her hip and was hanging on tight.� It did not know how to be carried in arms as we carry our babies.� Siamese babies are given a bath every morning and evening, and sometimes more often, and I wonder why some of them are not cleaner, but they do not use soap and much of the dirt sticks tight and dries on.� They like the water and as they grow older are in it most of the time, for it is always warm.� All along the river we would see their black heads sticking up and several times when at a distance I wondered what kind of birds were in the water.�


There are few good doctors and tho� the parents are very fond of their children, they are ignorant and very superstitious, thinking that a string around the neck or other foolish thing will drive away the demon that makes them sick�so the little things suffer fearfully at times.� I have seen them covered over with sores which would go away if the child was kept clean and fed well.� Siamese all chew betel.� It is a kind of nut.� They put lime colored red on a certain kind of green leaf and chew this with the betel.� It fills their mouth full of an offensive looking red mass.� This colors their lips very red while they chew it, and also forms a very hard black crust over their teeth, which after a few years gets so thick that it crowds them apart and finally clear out.� They think one is foolish who will not chew betel, and it is used to welcome company, at marriages, at some government occasions, etc.� Only once in a while do we see white teeth and they look very pretty when we do see them.� Siamese say �Any dog can have white teeth.�� Children 3 years old begin to chew it.�


All the men in Siam also smoke.� They use cigarettes mostly.� I hardly know a Siamese man who does not smoke.� The little boys begin this very early also.� It looks strange to see a boy 4 years old puffing away, his mouth stretched over a cigarette almost as thick as my thumb.� The girls all chew betel, but never smoke.� They do not get to go to school as you at home do.� When rice is planted they have to work for a few weeks and also watch the oxen graze, but they spend most their time at play.�


Some of the boys are put in the Wats � Siamese for temple � to be taught by the priests.� These priests, many of them are not good men at all.� They all chew betel and smoke like others.� The boys learn to read and write some, but get little good here.� We sold many books in the Wats � about 30 or 40 along the river, and as we would leave I could hear the boys reading about Jesus.� Some of them are bright fellows and would make good men if they had the chance of Woodbine boys.� Boys who can go swimming in a river and smoke cigarettes at the same time, as I have seen them do, are smart boys.


Their houses are set up on posts, the floor about 6 feet from the ground.� They are nearly all built of bamboos though some have board floors.� There are always large cracks in floors and walls, for they do not need warm houses as in America, and through these cracks they spit betel juice in streams a yard long, and throw fruit skins, fish bones and all sorts of things.� Often a pig pen or cow yard is under the house � because the people fear their being stolen.�


Along the river we saw many large birds, eagles and vultures being the largest.� I caught a glimpse of only one wild monkey, though they are plentiful.� At Kamburee, 5 days travel by boat up the river, we stopped.� Here we went to see the governor, a good old grandpa Siamese, then we sold books and medicine the rest of the day.� A telegraph line runs up there now, and it seemed strange where all else was so new and unlike home.�


Both here and at Kamburee are old city walls built of brick 8 or 10 feed thick and 10 or 12 high.� A half-dozen old cannon lie in the places where they have stood till the wheels have rotted down under them, and the houses built over them have fallen in.� Kamburee is in a very beautiful location, where two rivers flow together.� Beyond the rivers South and West are large hills and mountains which form the boundary between Siam and Burmah.�


Get your maps of Asia �some good ones � and find Bangkok in Siam. �Run your finger along almost straight west across one river and stop at the second which runs along near the mountains.� Ratburee is near where your finger will be. Five days travel about 15 or 20 miles upstream each day brings you to Kamburee.� We came down easily in 2 days.� The night before we came back a kind of small tiger came to the shore near our boat for a drink.� The men saw him but were too afraid to speak.� I was sorry, for I had a rifle and would have shot at him.� He went away and never knew a Yankee was near.


I must close now.� This letter is yours, Lottie, but I want all the little girls and boys in Woodbine and east of town to read it.� When they are through and the older people have read it all they wish, you may keep it � if any of it remains.� I wish I might help you all to realize the ignorance and idolatry and superstition of these people.� The worst of it is they are like all foolish ones: they think they know as much as anyone and don�t care to learn much.� Some are earnest Christians and it soon makes a great difference in their lives.�


We send much love to all.� How glad we would be to see you.�


Your loving Mr. Lyman


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