Friday 8 Sep
King and country
If you saw dozens of people wearing 'We love the King' tshirts in any other capital city in the world you'd probably assume you'd arrived in a nation of Elvis fans. Not in Thailand, they love His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Life size pictures of The King and Royal Family line the streets of Bangkok like an extended family portrait album in his honour.
The biggest insult you can give a Thai person is to make disparaging remarks about His Royal Highness. We went to the cinema the other night and before the film started the entire auditorium stood to attention whilst the national anthem boomed out to a montage of images of 'The King' on the big screen. It was quite an experience. The adoration the Thai's have for their King cannot be underestimated, and their worship of him has reached even greater heights this year. With 60 years under his belt, King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the longest serving monarch in the world and is still going strong at the age of 80+. He has transcended celebrity to reach 'demigod' status here. This is partly due to tradition but mainly because, by all accounts, he is a remarkable man and quite a character. Every house, restaurant and even nightclub has a shrine to him, and he is loved by young and old alike.
A taxis driver tried to explain to us why this King over all others had captured the hearts of the Thai people. 'He gives everything away and keeps nothing for himself,' he declared. How true this is I couldn't say. In photographs he still seems to be ordained with all the usual royal paraphernalia, and 'The Palace' with all its gold, jewels and sparkles is one of the most audacious buildings I've ever seen, but he does seem to have an impressive public works record. Our taxis driver even told us he had developed new and improved farming methods in the royal gardens, which were now part of an educational program he was taking to poorer and more remote provinces in Thailand.
To name but a few of his talents from a dazzling list of credentials, include: fluent in English, French, German and Thai; writer of no less than four acclaimed novels; jazz composer and saxophonist. His daughter has just completed her doctorate. When we compared his innovation and intellect with our own 'inbred' royal family our taxis driver simply replied: ' Ah yes but there is no one like My King!' The overwhelming pride with which he said 'My King' was like he'd just announced the birth of his first grandchild.