Thursday, October 13, 2016

Goodbye To The King of Thailand

First let me send my condolences to my friends in Thailand.  This is a day that was long expected, yet when it actually happens it is still a shock.

The King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej,  was a daily part of my life for three years, when I taught English as a Peace Corps volunteer.  His picture was in every classroom, in every restaurant, in every house, in every shop, at the end of every movie when the audience stood up to a picture of the King and the national anthem.  I guess that could be a little creepy, except that everyone* revered the King and he was constantly visiting people all over the country, often opening hospitals for the poor, or agricultural projects in hill tribe villages.

Memory is a tricky thing.  The only time I consciously remember seeing him in person was at a royal ploughing ceremony at Sanaam Luang (the open space in front of the King's palace in Bangkok).  The slides are dated June 1969, but it took several weeks for slides to come back from Australia or Hong Kong where I had to send them for developing then, so I'm guessing this was in May.

This is the only picture I know of that I took of the King.  My sense is that I was present at other times when the King was in public, but nothing specific comes to mind.  The King is in the middle watching the ceremonial oxen passing him.

Wikipedia offers some history of the ceremony:
"In Thailand, the common name of the ceremony is Raek Na Khwan (แรกนาขวัญ) which literally means the "auspicious beginning of the rice growing season". The royal ceremony is called Phra Ratcha Phithi Charot Phra Nangkhan Raek Na Khwan (พระราชพิธีจรดพระนังคัลแรกนาขวัญ) which literally means the "royal ploughing ceremony marking the auspicious beginning of the rice growing season".[2] 
This Raek Na Khwan ceremony is of Hindu origin. Thailand also observes another Buddhist ceremony called Phuetcha Mongkhon (พืชมงคล) which literally means "prosperity for plantation". The royal ceremony is called Phra Ratcha Phithi Phuetcha Mongkhon (พระราชพิธีพืชมงคล).[3] The official translation of Phuetcha Mongkhon is "Harvest Festival".[4] 
King Mongkut combined both the Buddhist and Hindu ceremonies into a single royal ceremony called Phra Ratcha Phithi Phuetcha Mongkhon Charot Phra Nangkhan Raek Na Khwan (พระราชพิธีพืชมงคลจรดพระนังคัลแรกนาขวัญ). The Buddhist part is conducted in the Grand Palace first and is followed by the Hindu part held at Sanam Luang, Bangkok.[5]"

Here are a couple more pictures from that day.

I had taught English for two years in Kamphaengphet, a wonderful quiet upcountry province.  In 1969 I was serving a third year as a primary school supervisor for English teachers.  I was living in a room at an elementary school - Wat Rakhang - across the river from the King's palace and Sanam Luang.

Here's the ferry I took to get from the Bangkok side of the river to the Thonburi side where I lived.  In those days the weekend market - now at Chatuchak - was also located at Sanam Luang.  It was a much smaller enterprise.  While much of Bangkok has been totally transformed, the area around the King's palace and right across the river in what was then Thonburi, is comparatively unchanged.

There's much to say about Thailand now and the potential turmoil that has been expected to follow the King's death - he's been living in a hospital, not far from where I lived for several years now.  The Crown Prince has had a very public playboy life while his sister has been the one who has followed in the spirit of King Bhumipol and visited villages and helped promote the well being of Thais around the Kingdom, particularly the poor.  She greeted returned Peace Corps volunteers at the 45th anniversary of Peace Corps Thailand.  The King was 88 and was the longest serving monarch in the world.  I think that title now transfers to Queen Elizabeth.

I haven't kept close watch on Thai politics, but with King Bhumibol now gone, all sorts of forces are unleashed.  Here's New Mandela's article What Now?  And here's Asian Correspondent's story on the succession, coincidently, it includes a picture of the Crown Prince at the Ploughing Ceremony last May.

Here's a link to a post I did in 2009 when I ran into a picture of the King (in a coffee shop) with Elvis Presley. 

*Not quite everyone.  In the south of Thailand the Muslim population was less enamored.  And I remember how shocked I was at the end of a movie in the south when people just walked out ignoring the national anthem.

I'd finally note that I was rather lucky finding these slides amongst the many stashed away and only vaguely sorted.  I was also able to find a little slide viewer which I used to take pictures of the slides.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, the King is dead. It is noted here in Britain as our Queen is next-eldest as a reigning monarch. Her family will certainly be involved in the observance of his passing.

    Gene and I remember public events in Thailand (1987) when the national anthem came up with the King'a picture. People were quick to their feet. Left an impression which I take to my understanding in the constitutional monarchies that are Thailand and the UK. I know you felt it.

    Monarchs can become the totemic figures, state talisman, perhaps superstars that their position asks -- or not. This King did so. Go well, King Bhumibol.


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