One of the first things I noticed upon my arrival in Thailand was the unmatched devotion its people showed to a man named Bhumibol. His face was everywhere- on all currency, billboards, framed portraits paid homage to him in every home. The King’s Anthem was even played in movie theaters before the film. Everyone stood at attention, and some even cried. It was almost as if this man was deity. This type of undisputed, nationwide loyalty was unlike anything I had ever seen, and I marveled at how a monarch with no political power could capture the hearts of a nation. Being from a country that no longer acknowledges a monarchy, figurehead or otherwise, I was enamored by (and frankly envious of) the camaraderie shared by the people regarding their King.
News of his death has broken my heart and lingered in my mind for these last couple of days. Thailand is devastated by having to say goodbye to a leader who has championed them for 70 years (the longest reigning monarch in the world.) Thailand’s King gave citizens an ethical point of reference, giving hope to a nation ravaged by political upheaval. He put numerous agricultural systems in place, put an end to class-based slavery , and introduced Thailand to democracy.
I remember witnessing one of his last major public appearances in 2012 while I lived in Thailand. My travel partner and I were in a local shop watching as he addressed a crowd of tens of thousands of Thais who were gathered at the Grand Palace. Crowds in Vatican City itself paled in comparison to the vastness of this worshipful scene in Bangkok. Wearing and waving all things yellow, the people revered the King by wearing his special color (established because the King was born on a Monday, and on Monday we wear yellow.)
I wasn’t even a native, and my heart swelled to see the love in his feeble smile.
To my Thai friends: Long Live the King!