Similar to any family reunion, the annual gathering of Original Siamese Twins descendants in Mount Airy is a time for great-great-grandchildren or distant cousins who share a unique bond to reconnect.
Yet increasingly, the local reunion also is helping to solidify a bond between two countries — Eng and Chang Bunker’s adopted homeland of America and Thailand, the nation formerly known as Siam, from which they hailed in the 1800s.
That again will be the case this weekend, when the 26th-annual Siamese Twins reunion not only will include representatives of the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington, but a media group from Voice of America.
The trend was launched at the reunion two years ago, which was attended by Dr. Chaiyong Satjipanon, then Thailand’s ambassador to the United States. This was believed to be only the second visit ever to Mount Airy by a foreign ambassador.
For the 2014 reunion, Satjipanon’s successor, Vijavat Isarabhakdi, continued that practice by attending.
The present ambassador, Pisan Manawapat, would be coming this year, if not for another commitment elsewhere that will include Thai royalty. Zack Blackmon Jr. of Mount Airy, a reunion organizer, is understanding of this — given that the local event is taking a back seat only to royalty.
“But he said, ‘I do want to send a delegation and we do want to support your reunion,’” Blackmon said in relaying comments from the man who is the 44th person to hold the post known officially as Thai ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the United States of America.
“He considers this a Thai community,” Blackmon said of Mount Airy. The first ambassador visit two years ago was hailed as the start of an ongoing relationship between local residents linked to the twins and modern-day Thailanders in Southeast Asia.
Voice of America
The team to visit Mount Airy from the Thai embassy will include Sarog Thanasunti, minister and deputy chief of missions; Suchada Maktara, counselor; Chormanee Muangmongkol, assistant for cultural affairs; and others.
Two representatives of the Voice of America’s Thai Service are scheduled to accompany the delegation from Washington.
Blackmon assumes this will result in some type of news coverage by the broadcast organization, but exact plans for that were uncertain ahead of its arrival.
The Voice of America, which is funded by the U.S. government, began in 1942 as a radio news service to provide a reliable source of information for people living in closed and war-torn societies.
Its Thai Service played a key role in 2014 when the military junta that took power in Thailand suspended radio and television broadcasts.
Voice of America responded by expanding its programming on satellite and digital media, among other countermeasures.
A Saturday gathering in the fellowship hall of First Baptist Church in Mount Airy, beginning at 11 a.m., will be the focal point of the Siamese Twins reunion. It will include lunch catered by the embassy.
Between 150 and 200 people are expected to attend the event billed by organizers as “a special time of celebration and storytelling as we celebrate the lives of the twins and being a Bunker.”
Along with the international flavor, it will include the usual reunion activities such as recognition of the oldest and youngest descendants in attendance, first-time attendees, family members who have died since the last reunion and descendants of the Yates family, into which Eng and Chang Bunker married.
The person traveling the longest distance to the event also will be recognized. In the past, people have come from such states as Nevada and Colorado.
In addition, a roll call of descendants by family is scheduled along with speakers highlighting the history of the twins.
There also will be remarks by local elected officials and Thanasunti, the Thai minister and deputy chief of missions.
“There’s several things different,” Blackmon said of new activities associated with the annual reunion.
One will be a 2:30 p.m. carpool tour of three local Bunker family sites after the program Saturday at the church.
Included will be:
• The home of Chang and Adelaide Bunker, where family history is to be presented and old photographs displayed;
• Will Bunker’s house at the present-day site of Mayberry Campground, where participants can visit the former home of Eng and Sarah Bunker’s son and see artifacts;
• White Plains Baptist Church and its cemetery, to include a history presentation and visits to family graves.
Another addition this year is a panel of speakers, including descendants Jim Haynes, Woody Haynes and others, who will share stories that have been passed down in the Bunker family along with original documents and photos. It is scheduled for 3 p.m. today at the Historic Earle Theatre in downtown Mount Airy.
Information presented will cover the twins’ journey from Siam and their links to Wilkes County, Mount Airy and White Plains.
The panel program will be held after a 1 p.m. presentation today at the Earle featuring Dr. Joseph Orser, author of the 2014 book, “The Lives of Chang and Eng: Siam’s Twins in Nineteenth-Century America.”
“I’ve counted 13 books that have been written about them,” Blackmon said.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.