I was in the office when Sky News pinged up its most recent tidings of bad (why can they never report on something positive or enlightening?!) and revealed that Thailand’s (and the world’s) longest standing King had passed away.
I’ve never been too interested in our own monarchy; the latest outfits of Prince George and whether or not he waved at the adoring crowd does not float my boat, and with such a stable political system I don’t understand why we still have to sit and listen to the Queen’s speech on Christmas day (sorry mum). However the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej made my heart sink considerably.
When I visited Thailand back in 2012, I remember walking through Bangkok with our guide May and listening to her talk about her King. She was so animated, affectionate and respectful of him and the effect that he had on her country; and even then was concerned about his health. I just remember thinking ‘wow, that’s some serious admiration right there’.
Now some people may tell me that I am naive, and that such a speech was more linked to Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws than true feeling and opinion. However I think not. Yes, it is illegal to speak ill of Thailand’s monarchy or deface the King’s image in any way, however King Bhumibol Adulyadej was also a rare calm and constant political figure in the country. He reigned through numerous coups, political unrest and uncertainty, and often stood as a symbol of support and hope for his people. It is not surprising therefore,, that his death has come as a blow to the Thai nation.
During the last week, my Thai connections have been posting photos and videos of remembrance on social media. Photos of the King set as their cover photos and profile pictures, live video footage of them paying their respects along with thousands of other Thai people in Bangkok, and stunning nighttime ceremonies of thousands of candles and the songs of countless broken hearts.
I think it’s really easy to forget another country’s hardships. We rock up, expecting somewhere to be accommodating and welcoming with not much thought about the political climate or issues that the people of that nation are facing. I’ve seen friends post Instagram photos of themselves sunning it up in Turkey, while the news posts stories of people dying in inner city bombings. To a certain extent we are all guilty of it. However as I count down to my trip back to Thailand in January, I am already preparing for a rather different experience to the last. While it is still a few months away I am preparing to be respectful and understanding, to accept that some tourist sights may not be accessible and that some forms of dress may be frowned upon. I love Thailand, it is honestly one of my favourite places in the entire world and I will do my best to act accordingly. I sincerely hope that all visitors to this nation, that has been plunged into uncertainty and turmoil, do the same.