Saturday, January 12, 2008

Long Live the King

Thailand's King - A People's King

If you went up to the majority of my friends from the United States and said “Long Live the King” they would probably think you are studying a Shakespearean tragedy or getting into an Elvis groove. However here in Thailand everywhere one goes the King is ever present and they would not have it any other way.

Simply put I have found in my days here in Thailand that Thais love two things – food and the King. What do I mean? Well for instance, when the 80 year old King was not feeling well last year, the people organized a campaign to wear yellow on Mondays. Over a year later it is still in full effect as more than half the city of 12 million people wears yellow. It has become a staple to show unity and respect for their beloved head of state. The idea is very Buddhist in nature. The belief is centered on how the thoughts and goodwill send positive energy to the King. It does not stop with wearing the King’s color on Mondays. His flag is flown next to where ever the Thai flag hangs and large tributes and posters of him in various stages of life line the main avenues and various buildings (See photos).

In the States, the idea of a king in the 21st century would probably be greeted by a New York catch phrase, but when you dig deeper it makes sense in this country. The King is seen as a humanitarian, an honest man, and someone who always has the best intentions for the people of Thailand. This belief is unquestioned and uniform throughout all of Bangkok. The Buddhist temples praise him for his demeanor and spirituality. The older generations revere him and have grown up with him as he as reigned for over 60 years. The younger generations love his calls for action and admire how he accepted advances in technology. It is not difficult to understand why. In 2006 when the prime minister was deposed and replaced by the military, it was the King’s diplomacy that made it bloodless and a smooth transition. It is the King who challenges the government on how it spends the people’s money and the work they do in the name of Thailand. It is the King who created and runs a large scale project to support small agricultural communities.

In a developing country, where economics and politics are usually crazy and the majority of people are living in poverty, the King remains the beacon of hope and pillar for what is right. He is the voice of reason and a whistleblower. Unafraid of the consequences he speaks from experience and has the support of the entire country. It certainly becomes difficult to find a similarly popular and righteous person who plays the same kind of role in the States and I unfortunately did not find this type of figure in Nicaragua.

Who comes to mind? Well, in no particular order - Oprah (women’s school in South Africa), Al Gore (global warming), Bill Clinton (Foundation’s HIV work), and then there is Hollywood, such as George Clooney’s public stance on Darfur. However, it is still not comparable because these people are often heavily criticized and none really touches all the areas that the King addresses. Understandably this is a different culture, and I am not saying that I think the US needs a king, but having someone that is so important in the public eye and that person being beloved and seen as the vanguard of the nation is quite a unique experience.

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