I have never felt sorrow in the masses before. I have never witnessed citizens deeply mourning their leader before, and – being from America – I probably never will again. I have never witnessed the end of an 80 plus year reign; the end of an era. In Bangkok, on Friday afternoon at 2PM, there were thousands of people crowded alongside the street where the King’s body was to pass from the hospital to the Palace, and I was one of them. The majority of people were Thai and dressed in all black. Sweaty bodies were standing, packed tight, skin touching skin, waiting for the King’s body to pass by. Some people were foreigners, but it didn’t seem to matter here. We all waited for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, ภูมิพลอดุลยเดช.
No one talked loudly, just quite chatter among the crowd. Sometimes someone would touch my elbow and asked to squeeze through, followed by a thank you in Thai. Groups of people had arrived early in the morning and have saved the best “seats” – right on the curb. Others came early in their pick-up trucks, and tightly situated themselves up in the truck bed for a better view of the road. Some found room to sit crossed-legged among the crowd. Earlier, as we had walked to the procession, photos of the king we being sold on the street. Now, within the crowd, these photos transformed into temporary fans, as the afternoon heat pressed down on us all. Several people fainted that day, I heard, including one person just 10 yards behind us.
My friends, Rachel and Stephen, from Minnesota, were visiting me in Thailand. We decided to take an adventure in Bangkok for a couple days at the end of their visit. The day we departed from Chiang Mai to Bangkok is the day the King passed away. The next day we attended this funeral procession in Bangkok. Our visit to Bangkok was certainly changed – no tourist destinations, no music, all black and very little public displays of joyfulness. However, we were honored to be here, at this funeral, sweating from every part of our bodies, waiting with the people of this country to pay our respects to their beloved King.
The King’s procession was an hour late. My legs became numb. Occasionally someone would call out and we would all kneel, thinking this was it, but after a couple times the crowd lost faith in the cries down the road. Finally, around 4PM, the officials in front motioned for us to kneel. We tentatively knelt on the sandy dirt ground beside the road, once again, trying not to crush the toes and knees around us. In this moment I sadly learned that whether the crowd was standing, or kneeling, I still cannot see very much of what is happening up front. Hands folded in front, tears gently seeping from an internal wound, image of the King held up high, and the tops of official cars passing down the road: these are the things I did see, and that was enough.
However, I did not need to see, I needed to feel, and I did feel. I felt a country mourn a leader, and a friend. A friend of mine said some Thai people saw him as a Jesus-like figure. This King fought for the peace of the people and their day-to-day well-being. “If there was a big problem in Thailand, he would always fix it,” another Thai friend told me. Another Thai woman told me that the King went into hill tribes and successfully worked with them to change their main source of produce/income from poppies to vegetables and fruit. Both politically and socially, King Bhumibol Adulyadej had won and cared for the hearts of Thai people. As the procession on the road developed, a song of mourning lifted up from the voice of the crowd. I could not see which car the King’s body was in, but I knew when he passed, from the cries of farewell that burst from the people around me. It made me sad that I did not know him.
Now many people in Thailand are worried about the future. It seems politics may never look the same in Thailand as it has been for centuries. There is a steady feeling of unease and unrest here, as people begin to react to the King’s death, and the Crowned Prince’s oncoming coronation. I am not relaying this information to needlessly spread concern and panic. However, I am asking that you pray and/or think of Thailand often, as we are now in a transition point. I also ask that if you talk or post about the Kings passing and/or Thailand’s new government, that you do so respectfully. The people of Thailand and ex-patriots whom have adopted Thailand as their home, are strong, whatever happens, they will endure. However, let’s work and hope for a peaceful resolution to this shift in power.
Below are some photos of our adventure in Bangkok 🙂