Similar to the bond Eng and Chang Bunker had as the Siamese Twins, a connection between two places on different sides of the world which share their unique heritage also is becoming strong.
That includes a unanimous decision by members of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners to forge a sister city relationship with the province in Thailand where the twins were born years before they migrated to this community in the 1800s.
The board approved a memorandum of understanding for that arrangement with the Samut Songkhram province in the Kingdom of Thailand, formerly Siam, during a recent meeting.
That move had been in the works for more than three years, coinciding with a growing involvement between local residents and those of Eng and Chang’s native land. This has included delegates from the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington, D.C., regularly attending a reunion of Original Siamese Twins descendants held in Mount Airy each July.
The effort picked up steam about six months ago, when Sukanda Vorachetbancha, the governor of the Thai province of 193,000 residents, disclosed that it had formally agreed to establish a sister city relationship with Mount Airy.
Vorachetbancha requested, in a letter to Mayor David Rowe, that local leaders consider adopting a memorandum of understanding prepared by Samut Songkhram to make the arrangement official.
However, concern was voiced among city council members in January about the possible financial and other obligations this might entail, and the issue has languished on the back burner since. A less-formal kinship or friendship city relationship was favored instead.
The issue came to the forefront again at Thursday night’s meeting of the council, at the urging of Commissioner Shirley Brinkley.
“I believe that it’s time for us to make a very quick and swift decision,” Brinkley said of approving the sister city plan, indicating that it has been determined this won’t require any major outlay of city funds.
Information presented by Brinkley indicates that the sister city designation is not linked to mandatory fees or other costs. “This was validated by the city attorney (Hugh Campbell),” she said, based on his review of the implications involved.
All activities are voluntary, Brinkley stressed. “So we are not bound with blood and guts to be a part of this.”
Instead, the sister city relationship will involve more of a cultural exchange between areas separated by about 9,000 miles.
On the other hand, Brinkley pointed out that Mount Airy stands to benefit greatly from the arrangement through economic development and tourism.
She mentioned plans for a Siamese Twins museum and statue of the Bunkers underway by the Surry Arts Council on property near Blackmon Amphitheatre.
Along with housing artifacts related to the pair, who toured with P.T. Barnum’s circus after leaving Siam (Thailand) and later settled near Mount Airy, the facility will be a rallying point for Thais in America and abroad, project supporters believe.
Brinkley added that possible monetary contributions toward the proposed $4 million facility might come from the Thai community hungry for such a spot in America. That could put fundraising efforts “over the top,” she said, thus lessening any financial input on the part of the city government.
“I hope the board will understand the importance of being a sister city to this province,” Brinkley said.
It responded with a 5-0 vote in favor of the memorandum of understanding.
A catalyst for that action involves plans by Thai government officials to visit Mount Airy for a formal signing ceremony regarding the agreement on July 20 during the next reunion of Eng and Chang Bunker descendants.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.