King Bhumibol Rama IX, king of Thailand: the world’s longest serving monarch, the hero of the Thai people. Before we came to Thailand, I didn’t even know he existed. Now I know he is the center of the Thai universe.
The first time I saw the king’s image was on the money (he’s on every bill of Thai currency). It didn’t mean anything to me then. Coming out of China and Vietnam where all the bills have pictures of Mao and Ho Chi Minh, I just thought he was another past dictator. Soon I found I was wrong. We stepped on the bus to Bangkok and of course there was a tapestry with the king’s face on it. It still didn’t mean anything to me; pictures of Ho Chi Minh are on many public things in Vietnam. We got into a cab after our bus ride and there was a picture of the king hanging on the rear view mirror. After that I started seeing the king everywhere. In every restaurant and hotel there is a picture of the king hanging somewhere. Everywhere were there is a Thai national flag flying, there is also the royal flag. In the malls there area huge photos of him watching over the shoppers. In the bus stations, in the houses, and in the parks. This surprised me because of the recent coup in Thailand. Through all of the political upheaval, the people have remained devoted to their king, and their king alone. They adore him. In movie theaters before every movie there is a brief film that plays during which you MUST stand up, pay your respects to His Majesty, and watch images from the 70s of the king working to benefit Thailand. The main attraction to the country right now is even motivated by love for the king. The Royal Flora Expo in Chiang Mai is a giant complex housing flowers from all over the world in honor of the king’s 80th birthday. Many foreign countries even built their own gardens to show their respect for the king. This is were I started to get annoyed. I know the people love him, but it seems they are putting him on the same level as a god (they even put pictures of him next to the Buddha in their temples). Twice a day a call goes out over loudspeakers and all people must stand at attention while a tribute to the king plays. I mean it’s fine that they like him so much and all, but is it really necessary to do all this? At Thai bookstores all five of the best sellers are books documenting the king’s life and works. I’m sick of it. The King is everywhere, and the king is everything. Maybe it’s like my dad says, being brought up in a country that threw off the shackles of monarchy has created a dislike for kings in me. (Oddly enough the king himself was born in the United States). I’m sure the king is a great man. He has won the respect of all his people and served them for over 60 years. I just don’t want to have to stand up at another movie theatre or listen to any more tributes.