THE DAY THE KING DIED
For the Boomers that time-stopping moment is certainly when Kennedy was assassinated, for some it might be the fall of the Berlin Wall
and the collapse of the Soviet Union. I know many in my generation will remember September 11th as one of those days. For anyone living in Thailand,that day was Oct 13 2016, the day His Majesty King Brumibol Adulyadej passed.
It was a long time coming, but I was still shocked and remember exactly where I was when I heard His Majesty had died. I had just arrived to the office, and my manager was the first to tell me. He had just hung up the phone from his wife telling him the news. We both had the same look in our eyes, and the same question running through our little brains...What the shit is gonna happen next? Will there be outright chaos or will there be another curfew? The king was this society's glue, holding Thailand together through many tumultuous times throughout the 20th century. Throughout all the civil unrest, droughts, floods, the Vietnam Conflict and finical hard times, His Majesty has been there.
I know a lot of you are probably scratching you head and saying, "it's just one guy and he doesn't have any political power". Understand that kings, queens and military regimes have been very much of this countries history in the last few centuries. Most notably, it is the current royal family that is credited for preventing the colonization of Thailand by the West in the late 18th century. So The Royal Family of Thailand is viewed much differently than in countries with a constitutional monarchy. Though Royal's political power has diminished on paper, their influence has certainly not.
I know it's not easy to understand, so let me see if I can simplify this with a good analogy. To say The King was like God to them would not be the best analogy. But imagine if Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark was king of a country...any country, details aren't important with superhero stories/analogies. We can always, use the time machine loop hole if we get caught up. I digress...so lets call this individual Tony Wayne. (no The King didn't have an Iron-Bat suit, but I think his Majesty would have thought it was a cool idea).
Now Tony Wayne and his family have ruled for all of your great-great-grandparent's life, your grandparent's life, and so on through the generations. During his reign, Tony Wayne has been inventing things and experimenting with Geo-engineering to overcome the droughts. His campaigns built over 400 dams to contain the floods. He would experiment with plant genetics and botany to create the best rice for Thai people to grow. Seeing the other countries dependence on fossil fuels he commissioned The Royal Department of Energy to come up with alternative energy solutions. By the 1980's, the country had broken free of fossil fuels through the manufacturing of ethyl and solidified alcohol. His work consumed him so much he had the entire royal palace converted into a giant laboratory. Inside was for laboratory work and the outside royal grounds were for field testing. His constituents at the time must have thought he was mad! Yet somehow, in his free time, he managed to paint over 100 paintings, compose dozens of musical arrangements and literature and develop as a skilled photographer. He could be seen studying with religious icons, hobnobbing it with celebrities, presidents and politicians the like. At the same time helping the nation, feeding and educating the poor, building roads, bridges, hospitals and schools. He quite literally lifted the country out of the swamp. Now one day, after all these amazing things Tony Wayne has done for your people, he dies. What now?
Well in the days and weeks that followed, the country was very calm and composed. Nearly every Thai wore black and the attitude of Bangkok was certainly very somber. It had been several weeks since The King's death and my soi was still noticeably more quiet than usual.
The ban on entertainment was lifted about a month after His passing, the music still doesn't play as loudly and this year's holidays are sure to be more reserved. On an up note the girls are still out, looking good, but for now there is an uncertainty that remains. in the air...remaining in many people's mind is again, what now? I wish I had an answer to that question, however the question isn't one for me to answer. I am not Thai, and never will be. Though I live and work here, my concerns are certainlynot their's. For now, like most farang we carry on through out our day as normally as possible. I try to make sure my attitude is as in-tune, sympathetic and as neutral as possible during this time. For those that have been here long enough to see this all happen two, three or even four times over, none have known a stay in Thailand without Rama 9 on the throne. I'd venture to say very few people alive have set foot in this country when his Majesty was not king.
In closing, I must admit, the Thai's handled the event and the days that followed with poise and grace. Yes of course there was sadness and heavy emotions could be felt by all. People came out in mass but things never turned violent. They shared a unique moment though incrediblysad, it was unspeakably beautiful to see as an outsider. The ceremony lasted for many days and the mourning will continue for a full year. The new King, Rama X, was sworn in on the first of December and will be ruling abroad for the early part of 2017. Though he has rejected the military's constitutional proposal things have started to go back to normal (normal for Thailand that is). Many Thai's can still be seen wear black, the color is starting to return to the country. At the end of the day we hope that human rights and libertarianprincipalsprevail (and that the ladies continue loving foreign men of course).
Before we leave you, if you have a spare 47 min check out the History Channel Documentary: King Bhumibol of Thailand, The People's King.