“Hey YOU. Stop!”
I turned and looked around. Sure there were an abnormal number of cops milling around this beautiful afternoon. But they weren’t near me. Surely this little old lady was not yelling at me. I smiled, turned around and took another step.
“You stop. NOW!”
I hit the brakes unsure of what to do. Right then a car started to drive past and the little old lady bowed in reverence. When the car had passed, she looked up towards me.
The little old lady gestured towards the car and offered her explanation in a much calmer voice.
Such was one of my earliest experiences with the reverence the Thais have for their Royal Family.
Your Majesty has reached out to the poorest and the most vulnerable people of Thailand – regardless of their status, ethnicity or religion – listened to their problems, and empowered them to take their lives in their own hands.
While I’m not against democracy, I thought elected officials spend a great deal wasting time and resources trying to gain power and discredit the other party. The nation might be on the right path, but if it’s not the road that a party would follow, then it would be sold to the party’s followers as the “wrong path” to make way for the party to become a saviour and set things right.
What the world needed were more kings. But not just any king.
Kings who would fight battles in the front lines with their troops. Kings who would get down and work on the front lines with their countrymen to achieve great heights. Kings who realize they were born into privilege – the privilege to build and inspire a nation.
And King Bhumibol Adulyadej was one such king.
He was often seen travelling through his country interacting with rural poor in the far reaches of the Siamese Kingdom. He was close to his subjects, often visiting them to talk to them, listen to them and take notes.
Perhaps it was because it was he was a scientist at heart, but with the information he gleaned first hand, he sought solutions to their problems with projects such as artificial rain, coined the Royal Rainmaking Technology, and irrigation.
He also went on a crusade against drug use and sought to bring education closer to the rural subjects.
His efforts to help his people did not go unnoticed by the international community as he was awarded the United Nations Human Development Lifetime Award in 2006.
“Your Majesty has made an extraordinary contribution to human development. As the world’s ‘Development King,’ Your Majesty has reached out to the poorest and the most vulnerable people of Thailand – regardless of their status, ethnicity or religion – listened to their problems, and empowered them to take their lives in their own hands,” Mr. Annan told the King at the award ceremony according to the United Nations press release1.
According to Channel News Asia2, he also gathered the following awards:
- Philae Medal from UNESCO for his devotion to rural development and people’s well-being
- World Health Organization plaque in recognition of his moral leadership and example in public health
- Dr Norman E Borlaug Medallion from the World Food Prize Foundation for his outstanding humanitarian service in alleviating starvation and poverty
At home, he was seen as almost god-like. His people often bow as they walked past his countless portraits hung up around the country, just like they do when they walk by a shrine.
While he shied away from the regular politics, his few, powerful, words spoken publicly brought almost immediate calm to bloody political coups during his reign.
“Each of you represents different parties that should not fight each other but jointly solve the problem, the violence that has occurred. Once it’s reconciled, you two can discuss how the country can move forward,” he said to the squabbling parties in the 1992 coup. Within hours, the rallies had dispersed.
Although the constitution left him with very little formal political power, his words commanded obedience, like a father admonishing his squabbling children.
Indeed, Father’s Day is celebrated every December 5th on King Bhumibol’s birthday.
And I came to learn how much the Thais respect their father. As I stood to hear the King’s Song before every movie. As I hustled to my destination, only to have to pause in my tracks just meters away from the door when the clock struck six and they played another song. And of course, as I learned to stop as a sign of respect when the Royal Entourage sped past me in their cars.
Today the Thais lost a father.
And the world lost a truly great king.
Rest in Peace King Bhumibol Adulyadej, “strength of the land, incomparable power”.
Have you met the Thai King in person? Share your experience with us!
Travel tip: According to sources, there will be a one year period of mourning from October 14, 2016. Access to alcohol will be restricted and do remember to wear respectful clothing in public.