The long journey of the Original Siamese Twins took them from what is now Thailand to Surry County, and this weekend their descendants from near and far are reuniting in Mount Airy.
Not only is the annual gathering now in its 27th year a family affair, it is regularly attended by representatives of the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington, D.C., who cherish the bond between Americans and their country’s most-famous native sons.
Also, the event honoring the legacy of Eng and Chang Bunker increasingly has drawn both national and international media attention, which in 2015 included coverage by a Voice of America broadcast team.
This year, public television will have a presence at the reunion, highlighted by a Saturday luncheon meeting in the First Baptist Church fellowship hall, with a picnic scheduled tonight along with tours of local sites linked to the Siamese Twins and other activities.
“A group from UNC-TV will be there,” said chief organizer Zack Blackmon Jr., a great-great-grandson of Eng Bunker. “They called me and were very interested to come.”
The UNC team will be gathering material for a program with talk-show host D.G. Martin.
Meanwhile, the Royal Thai Embassy also will be at the Mount Airy church in force, though minus Pisan Manawapat, Thailand’s present ambassador to the United States.
“The ambassador had something to come up,” Blackmon explained regarding an impromptu VIP visit in Washington which Manawapat must address. Speaking at the local event in his stead will be Pattrawan Vechasart, minister and deputy chief of missions, who’ll be there with an entourage of other embassy representatives.
“There will be a total of 12 people,” Blackmon said.
The embassy’s presence in recent years has brought an international flavor to the Saturday gathering in Mount Airy and a merging of cultures including Thai food and entertainment. This year, Miss Andear Saiyatsahit is scheduled to perform a classical Thai dance on the stage of the fellowship hall celebrating the reunion and the presence of embassy personnel.
Thailand flags and exhibits also will be part of Saturday’s event, along with local photos of the twins and their family members and displays of books about the famous pair.
One key development since the last reunion in 2015 involved Mount Airy officials agreeing to a sister city relationship with the community in modern-day Thailand where Eng and Chang Bunker were born.
City leaders including Mayor David Rowe and members of the board of commissioners are expected to attend Saturday’s event at the church along with others including Randy Collins, president and CEO of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce.
Family ties strong
Despite the pomp and circumstance, the annual reunion of descendants of the Original Siamese Twins boils down to family members celebrating a uniquely common bond.
The conjoined twins, linked at the sternum by a small piece of cartilage, managed to produce 21 children between them after settling in North Carolina in the 1800s. And the exponential nature of heredity mathematics has led to their descendants being scattered around the nation, though many are concentrated in Mount Airy, such as Blackmon.
“It brings everybody together,” he said of the Saturday luncheon that last year attracted about 200 people and has included attendees from states such as Nevada, Colorado and Florida.
The reunion has become an event at which long-lost cousins have been found and new relationships forged.
It also is a forum for sharing stories and experiences that help keep the special heritage of the twins alive for future generations.
During Saturday’s gathering that begins at 11 a.m., Jim Haynes — a great-grandson of Chang Bunker — will speak about the life of the twins, and there also will be a roll call of descendants by family. In addition, descendants of the Yates family, that of Eng’s and Chang’s wives who were sisters, will be recognized.
As with other family reunions, a memorial recognition of family members who have died since the last gathering is planned, along with recognizing the youngest and oldest descendants attending and the one travelling the farthest distance.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.