American descendants of famous Siamese twins visit Thailand
Chang and Eng, the legendary Siamese twins of yesteryear, were joined forever at the chest, but today their American descendants and the people of Thailand are joined forever at the heart.
Dozens of American descendants of Chang and Eng, the Siamese twins who became famous in the mid-19thcentury when they were taken to the United States, visited Thailand for the first time last week as guests of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and said they were overwhelmed by the experience of seeing their ancestors’ birthplace and the warm welcoming hearts of the Thai people.
“It’s beyond our expectation and so exciting to [hold the reunion] here in front of the twins’ statue,” added Alex Sink, the great-granddaughter of Chang, as the group visited the statue of the twins in Samut Songkhram, the province near Bangkok from which they hailed. The visit marked the 207th birthday anniversary of the twins who were born on May 11, 1811 and passed away on January 17, 1874 in Mount Airy, North Carolina.
“Our family would love to erect a similar bronze statue designed by an American sculptor in our city Mount Airy,” Sink said. “We are working on joining the two cities as ‘Sister Cities’ in order to boost exchange between the two countries.”
Chang and Eng were the first Thais to set foot in the United States, arriving roughly 11 years after Captain Stephen Williams, the first American to reach what was then Siam, sailed his ship up the Chao Phraya River to Bangkok in 1818. A decade later, a Scottish merchant spotted Chang and Eng and took them to tour the United States, as Americans had ever seen conjoined twins. Since then, such twins have been referred to as Siamese twins. The pair eventually took the surname Bunker, married American women, became naturalized United States citizens, and lived out their days in Mount Airy.
They also fathered 21 children between them, and today they have over 1,500 descendants, 12 of whom made the trip to Thailand this year. The journey was the first official visit to the Kingdom by members of the descendants, although they hold a family reunion every July in North Carolina.
“This [birthday celebration] is so meaningful,’’ said a tearful Robin Craver, Eng’s great-great-granddaughter as she visited the statue. “They are here in my heart, so they are home. I feel a strong connection. I’m so proud to be a part-Thai descendant.”
Emotions ran high among the family as they participated in Buddhist rites at the Twins’ Statue in Samut Songkhram and planted two Inchan (in Thai for “Eng-Chang”), or Gold Apple, plants in front of the Statue, as well as inaugurated a nearby road named after Eng and Chang on May 11, 2018.
To mark the visit, the provincial government organized a“Return of Siamese Twins Chang and Eng Festival” from May 10-12, aimed at promoting tourism in the city and an exchange between Samut Songkhram and Mount Airy.
“Chang and Eng realized the ‘American Dream.’ They were not only very successful in business, they also were the first Siamese to connect people between the two countries,” said Sarun Charoensuwan, Director General of the American and South Pacific Affairs Department.