Thai ‘Indiana Jones’ divers scour Bangkok’s murky river for treasure

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A boatman places a homemade metal scuba helmet on an Indiana Jones diver who will scour Chao Phraya river to hunt for sunken treasure. (AFP)
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Diver Bhoomin Samang holding rare coins he found during previous diving trips to the bottom of the Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river. (AFP)
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Bhoomin Samang emerges from a dive into Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river to hunt for sunken treasure. (AFP)
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A Buddha statue and China ceramic set retrieved by divers from the bottom of the Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river. (AFP)
Updated 31 July 2018
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Thai ‘Indiana Jones’ divers scour Bangkok’s murky river for treasure

  • The ‘Indiana Jones’ divers use more makeshift equipment and operate under the radar in the middle of the country’s urban metropolis
  • Selling a few copper coins can make them some 500 baht ($15) — nearly twice Thailand’s daily minimum wage

BANGKOK: Kneeling before his homemade metal scuba helmet, Bhoomin Samang prays for good fortune before he dives into the day’s work — scouring the bed of Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river for sunken treasure.
The 62-year-old is part of a small community known as Thailand’s “Indiana Jones” divers, who brave the inky-black underworld of the trash-filled waterway in search of coins, china, jewelry and scrap metal.
“We look for old coins, sometimes we are hired to find lost objects in the river,” says Bhoomin, a veteran diver who has been scouring the river for 30 years.
Sometimes the find is more macabre — the divers have stumbled across skulls and skeletons as they feel their way along the river bed in total darkness.
“If you’re afraid of ghosts, you can’t go in because you can’t see anything. But we’re used to it,” he explains.
Trained foreign and Thai Navy SEAL divers were recently at the center of global attention for their daring rescue of 12 boys and their coach from a waterlogged cave in northern Thailand.
But the “Indiana Jones” divers use more makeshift equipment and operate under the radar in the middle of the country’s urban metropolis.
Wearing shorts and T-shirt, Bhoomin jumps off his motorized skiff into a river strewn with city sewage and debris.
He is able to breathe thanks to the boxy helmet that weighs around 20 kilos (45 pounds), and is hooked up to a rubber tube that connects to an air tank aboard the boat.
The tank pumps oxygen into the helmet to keep water out, allowing the most experienced divers to drop down to 30 meters (100 feet) below the surface.
After 15 minutes underwater, Bhoomin resurfaces with a cotton bag stuffed with mud.
He pans it out on a metal dish, revealing several 200-year-old copper and bullet coins with pictures of 19th century Thai kings Rama IV and V on them — artifacts divers call “regulars.”
The coins trace the history of the Thai capital’s lively waterfront, whose traditional stilted homes are increasingly being knocked down for development.
“In the old days, we lived on rafts and had floating markets. Villagers lost their jewelry and money in the river,” he said.
An unfinished small Buddhist amulet was also hidden inside the mud.
The divers can turn a decent profit. Selling a few copper coins can make them some 500 baht ($15) — nearly twice Thailand’s daily minimum wage.
If lucky, a piece of jewelry or a rare coin in good condition can be sold for up to $300 at Bangkok’s antique markets, while their loot is fattened out by scrap metal.
But the divers’ fate is in limbo as urban development threatens their riverside community, which stands on weathered wooden stilts.
Bangkok officials have ordered the families to relocate away from the river as part of the junta government’s gentrification plan for the city.
The divers fear that without direct access to the river, up to “90 percent” of them will lose their livelihoods.
But that’s not their only tension with the law — taking artifacts is technically prohibited and can be punished with fines or jail time.
Bhoomin, however, defends the trade, saying divers only go for the small stuff.
“We don’t take big artifacts like Buddha statues... (if officials really want something), they can go down there and take it,” says Bhoomin, who dips into a box of salvaged spectacles and sunglasses whenever he needs them.
Then again, the lure of something special is always just around the river bend.
“We don’t know what we will find or where we will go today, said 29-year-old Somsak Ongsaard, another diver. “It’s exciting.”


Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour picks up Crystal Award at Davos 2019

Updated 22 January 2019
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Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour picks up Crystal Award at Davos 2019

DAVOS, Switzerland: Haifaa Al-Mansour, the first female filmmaker in Saudi Arabia, has received a Crystal Award at the World Economic Forum's 2019 meeting in Davos for her leadership in cultural transformation in the Arab world. Watch a recap of the award ceremony below:

“Wadjda”, Al-Mansour’s feature debut, was the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first by a female director.

The success of her 2005 documentary “Women Without Shadows” was a breakthrough that was followed by a new wave of Saudi filmmakers and front-page headlines of Saudi Arabia finally opening cinemas in the Kingdom.

She was recently appointed to the Board of the General Authority for Culture to advise on the development of the cultural and arts sectors in Saudi Arabia.

She recently released “Mary Shelly” starring Elle Fanning, and “Nappily Ever After” starring Sanaa Lathan. Al-Mansour is the first artist from the Arabian Gulf region to be invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In her speech after receiving the award, Al-Mansour reflected on the role her father played in her filmmaker dream, paying homage to the films he showed her as a child.

“Those films made me feel part of a bigger world, they made me love the world. They made me who I am,” Al-Mansour said.

"I wanted to have a voice. I wanted to have a passion. I wanted to be happy," she added.

The other winners of the Crystal Awards at this year's Davos meeting are Marin Alsop, for her leadership in championing diversity in music and legendary broadcaster Sir David Attenborough for his leadership in environmental stewardship.

The Crystal Awards honour exceptional artists and cultural leaders whose important contributions are improving the state of the world and who best represent the “spirit of Davos.”