Bangkok: Farewell to the King

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Sometimes we find ourselves at the right place at the right time without any signs and warnings that we will be witnesses of something greater than us. That is what happened to me when what was supposed to be a tourist visit to the exotic Bangkok, turned into a privilege of testifying a historical moment which announces changes for the whole country and its Thais.

King reunited Thailand once again – this time through his departure. Thousands of people in black, in silence dressed in mourning are following their king to the place of eternal rest. The atmosphere is different from everything you might have heard about this Asian country – instead of loud streets, nightlife and cheap fun, from this October Bangkok is gloomy and sad. Based on the decision off Thai authorities, this is how the city will be until the end of next year, even though the period of “official mourning” ends in November.

On the second Tuesday of October Bhumibol Adulyadej had passed away – the world’s longest-reigning monarch who was head of state for 70 years.tajland4

The monarch who was in power for seven decades was buried in The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which is located in a complex consisting of temples, pagodas, monuments, museums and parks – rightfully called The Grand Palace. This complex was the official royal residence of all Kings of Siam, protected by 4 high white walls going 1,900 meters in length. The palace was built in 1782 during the reign of the first king of the Chakri Dynasty, who was also known as King Rama I. Since then, Rama becomes a royal title carried by all the kings – from the first until the King Adulyadej who carried the title Rama IX.

LEGEND OF THE EMERALD BUDHA

smargdni-buda-slika-sa-netaFor more than two hundred years, the statue of the Emerald Buddha is kept in Thailand. However, there are different stories about how it got there and why only 66 cm tall represents the guardian of the Thai nation and a symbol of prosperity. Its name does not derive from the material it has been made of as you might assume, because of the Emerald Buddha is actually made of jade. This statue was named a semi-precious stone because of its penetrating green color. One of the common beliefs is that this small powerful image of Buddha traveled a long way from India through Vietnam and Cambodia because all armies wanted the statue behind their kingdom doors after the victory of the opponent’s so it would become their guardian. Back in 1778, after the victory of Thailand over Vietnam, the statue was transferred from Laos to Bangkok, which became the capital in 1782. Under the leadership of Rama I the Temple of the Emerald Buddha was built to honor the Guardian Budha. At the beginning of each season (rainy, summer and winter) it is the obligation of the King to change the robe of the Emerald Buddha as a sign of care and respect for the Guardian.

 VILLAGE OF WILD PLUMS
Bangkok is actually the name of a small village from which the development of the city had begun before Rama I moved its base to the other side of the river Chao Phraya. This name has remained in use among world travelers ever since and it means “village of wild plums”. The real name of the Thai capital is Krung Thep (กรุงเทพ) which translates to “City of Angels”.

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Krung Thep is actually just a generally accepted abbreviation for the longest city name in the world that has found its place in the Guinness Book of Records – Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.

Yet, this is still not the whole story about the interesting name of this city. Krung Thep is actually just a generally accepted abbreviation for the longest city name in the world that has found its place in the Guinness Book of Records – Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.

Although it is difficult to give a credible and exact translation, translators around the world agreed about the closest meaning: Earth of angels, the great city of immortality, beautiful gem and angelic unconquered country, the land of nine precious gems, the royal castle and the land of eternal reincarnated angels and spirits predestined and created by the highest wealth.

Now it is completely clear why the abbreviation was necessary.

 

THE KING AND TITO

King Bhumibol Adulyadej was known as a noble king of many talents. After completing his studies in Europe, he returned to his country and sought ways to help his people. He was known for solving problems ‘bottom-up’, through talking to people and trying to understand their daily problems in order for him to find practical solutions. Therefore, regardless of the traditional rituals and royal title, the King of Thailand was very close to his people.

tajland-2During his reign he had successfully completed more than four thousand projects in the field of irrigation, agriculture, droughts and floods, public health, transportation and education. All this were vital points for the development of the country, connecting urban progress and suburban farming growth.
However, in addition to this King Bhumibol was also a great admirer of the arts. More than that, he was an art lover who believed that art should be celebrated as a part of everyday life. He enjoyed painting, photography, music, and was the biggest-selling author in Thailand. He wrote several books and one of them was dedicated to his role model – former Yugoslavian president Tito. The King described Tito’s life from his point of view in the book “Biography of Josip Broz TITO”. His book states that he was delighted “with the way that Tito’s system kept the country united and people happy” and said he would love to live to the age of Tito. Coincidence or not, both Tito and King died at the age of 88.

He wrote several books and one of them was dedicated to his role model – former Yugoslavian president Tito. The King described Tito’s life from his point of view in the book “Biography of Josip Broz TITO”. His book states that he was delighted “with the way that Tito’s system kept the country united and people happy” and said he would love to live to the age of Tito. Coincidence or not, both Tito and King died at the age of 88.

Temples are still overcrowded by tourists, but my attention was being drawn to Thais who come to lay flowers and bow to their King by his photos and the flag at half-staff. A few young people ready for work assured me that they are allowed to go out from work three times during working hours to light candles and kiss a picture of their King.

This is certainly a loss and a change at the national level. But this was to be expected, as each major change carries uncertainty and fear with it. It’s much more interesting to see how the people felt this loss to a much deeper and more complex level – this is a personal loss of a family member whose absence will be felt only when the period of initial mourning has passed.

“I have not lost a king, I lost my father” – these are the words that Minglu, a bookseller in Bangkok, shared with me through tears. He grinds his teeth trying to remember English he studied in elementary school, because he wants to tell me about his King. It was interesting to hear that within a week of King’s death 112 000 Royal biographies were sold. It has been confirmed once again that the losses and emotional wounds have always been a fertile terrain for profit. So today, on the streets of Bangkok, you can buy all kinds of things – small or big given a higher significance and value with the image of the beloved King.

 

tajland6Who will be the guardian of Buddha made of Jade?
My last stop in Bangkok is Sky bar – rooftop on 64th floor offering an amazing view of the whole city. It was made world famous in the movie “Hangover,” in which well-known Hollywood actors start the night they will remember (or won’t). Overpriced drinks and too many tourists, but actually we all paid for the same – the view. From this point, Bangkok does not look so somber — the city has its own rhythm and beat of life and a million city lights are waiting for a new day to break.
An overwhelming sense of pride because they had been part of his 70-year reign is felt in every corner of the city. However, the Thais are talking in a low voice about the future King, the heir to the throne who should bear the title of Rama X – King, Prince Maha Vajiralongcorn. Son of the late King has a reputation different than his father’s – modesty, caring for the people and renunciation are not values that are engraved deep under the skin of 63-year-old three-times married prince. These are the main reasons why the international media writes about him as the “King that the monarch fears”. Still respecting the royal family, people are skeptical when it comes to expressing an opinion on the future leader of Thailand.

Listening to the vibrating rhythms of jazz, you could easily fall for the story that in Bangkok nothing has changed. You would have never assumed that 68 million Thais have lost someone important. For this reason, in order to better understand the world, we must look at both perspectives – The Grand Palace close up and the bigger picture offered by the height of the Sky bar.

Listening to the vibrating rhythms of jazz, you could easily fall for the story that in Bangkok nothing has changed. You would have never assumed that 68 million Thais have lost someone important. For this reason, in order to better understand the world, we must look at both perspectives – The Grand Palace close up and the bigger picture offered by the height of the Sky bar.

If you like jazz, or simply prefer to hear something new, I heartily recommend you to listen to jazz compositions by talented King who has repeatedly shared the stage with great Benny Goodman. Let this be the first step to your journey to the far away land of Thailand.

2 Replies to “Bangkok: Farewell to the King”

  1. You were indeed lucky to be here during that time. As you note, many people felt like they lost a father or uncle. It was amazing to see people wear black for a whole year. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

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