The Digital Adventures

Love of Siam-CH20

Chapter 14

Phaulkon’s first duty as Assistant Treasurer, and one that he didn’t mind at all, was to change his attire. It would not have been proper for him to wear the uniform of an officer in the East India Company. He put away the uncomfortable dress of the Europeans. No more tight woolen trousers, heavy leather boots, long coats, shirts with ruffles, balloon sleeves and lace cuffs and three cornered hats. Now came the more appropriate clothing of the Siamese, clothing suited for the tropics. His new tailor was Siamese, and he fitted out him in Siamese dress: colorful clothes befitting a women more than a man. There were sarongs, but instead of wrap arounds, the ends were tucked between the legs so as to form bulging trousers. There were penangs of various colors and vests that were open fronted. For more formal wear there were velvet Siamese shirts with brocaded sleeves, gold-jeweled epaulettes, belts and sashes, and pagoda headpieces. The one thing that Phaulkon didn’t fancy was the conical, pointed hat that he had to wear to designate his rank.

And there was the matter of the palanquin, the cushioned sedan chairs with overhead canopies for protection from sun and rain, mounted on two long slender poles. It required two bearers to carry one. The Barcalon went everywhere in his palanquin, even to cross the street, but for him it took four bearers to transport him. Phaulkon preferred to walk. Then there were the servants. Phaulkon was, at first, uncomfortable with servants crawling on hands and knees to serve him. But there were some things, he realized, that he had to accept.

When Phaulkon looked at his reflection in the glass, he had to laugh. He amused himself with the thought of marching over to Mr. Fanique’s house, knocking on the door, and announcing to the servant, “Tell your master I am here, in the service of the king. Ask him if I can now marry his daughter?”

The Barcalon assigned Phaulkon an office near his in the palace grounds but, of course, it was not as elaborate as the Barcalon’s. In fact, it was rather simple. Phaulkon continued to live in his quarters near the Portuguese quarter. He didn’t want to admit it, even to himself, but it was near Mr. Fanique’s house.

Phaulkon wasn’t long in his office at the palace when it became a beehive of activity. Every morning he could be seen at the first light of dawn walking along the klongs to the palace grounds. Soon merchants and shopkeepers along the way got to know him and greeted him as he passed. He learned many of their names and called out to them by name. The children, most of all, took delight to see him pass, this strange looking foreign man in Siamese dress. They laughed and giggled, and pulled at their noses in mock imitation of his long nose, and Phaulkon did the same to them which brought on more laughter.

The Barcalon had full control of all the kingdom’s matters and that included transaction of trade, and by making Phaulkon his assistant, he was placing into the Greek’s hands many of the responsibilities of that office. The Barcalon, naturally, having put Phaulkon in office against the wishes of many ministers, desired to see him succeed. He was pleased when Phaulkon took charge, without complaint, and put all matters of business into his own hands. Phaulkon was determined to do well. In a very short time he learned his way around official circles in the capital and mastered the ins and outs of trade in the kingdom. He learned quickly.

As the Barcalon’s assistant, Phaulkon’s duty was to check all trade-related transactions. He had to make certain that when a shipment came in, the king and palace officials got first choice. He negotiated the price on behalf of royalty. Once settled, the rest of the goods went on the open market.

Phaulkon was in his office only a few days when the Barcalon came to visit. It was one of those chaotic yet normal days. Merchants and sea captains crowded the premises, all clamoring to see Phaulkon at once. Christoph did his best to maintain order by keeping everyone in line. Diego in the meanwhile led visitors one by one into Phaulkon’s office. Barcalon had entered the office unnoticed and, as he stood in the rear, he could hear Phaulkon in conversation with the merchants and captains, talking with each in their own language. When a clerk spotted the Barcalon and recognized him, the clerk fell to his knees, and everyone in the office, seeing who he was, followed suit, except for the Europeans. They looked confused. When Phaulkon came out of his office he did the same, went down on his knees. He then admonished the Europeans for their lack of respect and instructed them to do likewise. Like weary domesticated cattle they lowered themselves to the floor. It was comical to watch them. A few could make it only as far as one knee and there they stopped. The Barcalon left the office pleased, chuckling to himself Diego and Christoph had a side room next to the office and they made it their policy to always be at hand in the event they were needed. As Phaulkon’s popularity grew, and more demands were put upon him, either Diego or Christoph followed him wherever he went. One of them would be at his residence waiting for him when he left in the morning to go to the office, and one or the other would accompany him home at night when he left the office. When he ventured out into the streets, they were there. They were doubly cautious when he went to inspect the godowns along the riverfront. As Phaulkon’s bodyguards, they went about their business armed with sabers at their sides and flintlock pistols tucked in their sashes. Phaulkon gave up wearing his saber but he carried a dagger out of sight inside his vest. In the same way as he was much admired and liked, he was also hated. He was aware that he had untold enemies.

At least once a week Phaulkon took time to visit with his teacher Thamnon. The meetings became his respite from a busy schedule’. His walks with Thamnon in the garden were peaceful and enjoyable. They talked about many things, politics, the economy, Siamese society, and the behavior of Europeans in Ayutthaya. Phaulkon learned much from his teacher about the Siamese and their social structure. “Each race feels superior to the other,” Thamnon once said to him. “How the Siamese feel is one thing; how they behave is another.”

“Europeans are much the same,” Phaulkon commented. “The English feel superior over the French, and the Dutch over the Portuguese.”

”And the Greeks?” Thamnon asked.

“We can always fall back on our heritage, and no one can deny that,” Phaulkon replied. “Unfortunately heritage by itself doesn’t put food on the table.”

”And with all Europeans, no matter which country a person may be from, he feels superior to Asians. But remember, Mr. Phaulkon, the laugh is on them. Asians classify all Europeans as barbarians.”

“But I am beginning to think as an Asian,” Phaulkon said. “You even said so.”

“You may proclaim to be Asian, and you may dress accordingly, and speak the language flawlessly, but you are not Asian, and you never could be. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can.” Thamnon said.

“But why not?” asked Phaulkon.

“Because your ears are too small,” Thamnon said and laughed. “What’s so funny about that?” Phaulkon asked, puzzled.

“I read a report by the French to their king, and it said Siamese are very different from Europeans. Siamese have larger ears. Now I spend all my time looking at the ears of foreigners when I see them. They must think it very odd of me. However, I think maybe the French are right. Siamese do have larger ears.”

They both laughed.

The longer Phaulkon was in office, the more the English merchants and other European traders treated him with disdain. Behind his back they referred to him as that upstart “cabin boy.” Phaulkon didn’t mind when he got wind of it. He had more serious problems to worry about than what people thought of him. A difficult situation arose when two ships, perhaps an EIC vessel and another belonging to an interloper arrived and both had the same trade goods aboard. It was his decision as to which ship could open its cargo first. The same applied to exports. No matter which one he chose, the other became his enemy. Often he chose interlopers for the reason they were less arrogant than the British working for the EIC.

Phaulkon encouraged both Siamese and foreign merchants to offer their goods to the king first, and the rest after that for export. Phaulkon in return gave favors to merchants who followed his rule. Merchants who had no regard in giving first choice to the king found themselves last on the treasury’s list of benefits. In time it became the habit of traders and merchants to put the king’s service above everything else.

When goods were seen in market places that hadn’t been cleared through customs, Phaulkon had their source traced, from which ship they came, and then had the goods confiscated. Merchant and traders learned they couldn’t outsmart the Barcalon’s assistant. “Being a smuggler once before, I am aware of the system,” Phaulkon lectured Samuel Potts at one of their disagreements.

With the confiscated goods, Phaulkon obtained authorization from the Barcalon to auction them publicly, and the money received from the sale was donated to the king. The Barcalon and the king were impressed.

Abu Umar won Phaulkon’s favor by conducting the auctions. It was a weird relationship between the two. Both knew they couldn’t trust the other one and it worked well to both their advantages.

One day after Phaulkon was well entrenched in the matters of the treasury, the Barcalon called him to his office. He had an assignment for his assistant. A very special assignment, he said. The king was planning a grand celebration for his daughter’s coming birthday and wanted to use the occasion to express his gratitude to the foreigners in the kingdom. He wanted to invite high-ranking foreign officials, even those from as far away as Sangkau and Mergui, and leading merchants from Ayutthaya to attend the ceremony. The foreign delegation would include English, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Arabs and others. “Since the celebration is basically for foreigners,” the Barcalon said, “the king wants it arranged according to western fashion. Thus I have decided to put you in charge of organizing the celebration.”

The Barcalon explained until then Arabs were in charge of the king’s entertainment. Once Phaulkon accepted the responsibility he knew it would upset the system. The Arabs, naturally, became distraught for being replaced by Phaulkon and they immediately retaliated by presenting the palace with the balance of unpaid bills for past services. Until then they had been willing to let them slide by, intending to make up for it in the next billing. Phaulkon insisted upon seeing the accounting records for past services, and after auditing them, discovered that instead of the king owing money to the organizers as claimed, the organizers had overcharged and actually owed money to the king. Phaulkon demanded payment, which, when paid after duress, he turned over to the Barcalon.

Phaulkon proceeded to organize the birthday celebration and when the final bill was presented to the palace, Barcalon informed Phaulkon that he was on his way to meet the king, and he would inform the king that the celebration would cost less than half of what the king had expected to pay. “I am sure His Majesty will be pleased to hear that,” the Barcalon said. But he didn’t tell Phaulkon what else he intended to tell the king.

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