The night was dark and cool. There was not a single sound outside. I was plunging deeper into my sleep when I felt Joel calling my name. “Mink. Read this.” Wincing at the glow of the screen, a big bold headline wrote, “King Bhumibhol, the king of Thailand, died at age 88.” My heart dropped. Tears streaked down my cheeks. Though I knew this was going to happen, I still wished it was a dream. It was October 13, 2016.
It has been a month since. I have wanted to write something to honour my late king, but words escaped me. Whenever I started typing, nothing I wanted to say seemed sufficient to describe what I felt, what most Thai people felt, when we heard the news. The sadness runs deep, but more than the sorrow is the realisation that we will no longer live under his reign anymore, this history-maker king.
King Bhumibhol had reigned over the kingdom of Thailand for 70 years. He and his wife were barely getting out of their teenage years when the coronation ceremony took place. They were confronted with poverty problems and political issues. With determination, perseverance and grace, they penetrated the walls of all social classes and united people together. They rose early and retired late, working doggedly alongside their staff and the local people. Their shoes were caked with mud as they trudged into the jungle; their pants dirty from sitting on the dirt floor, and their hair windswept and dusty from spending time outside talking to villagers as they brought medical aid and farming advices to villagers.
For most Thais, we have spent most of our lives living under King Rama IX’s reign. We celebrated his birthday every December 5. We listened to his speech. And we watched about his works and activities that ALWAYS involved the people of Thailand on TV. When I was young, every Friday afternoon before school finished, every student in the school would stand in line outside their classrooms to sing the king’s anthem together. Even in cinemas all over the country, before the movie starts, we would have to stand up for the king’s anthem. As a child, I did not really see the importance of all this. But as I grew older, the knowledge of his goodness and the understanding of how much he sacrificed for our sake has given me appreciation of and deepest respect for the king.
Sometimes I wonder why we mourn so much for him, the king whom most of us had never met in person. I wonder why a multitude of people are willing to stand in the sun for hours only to see the van that carried the late king’s body to the grand palace. And I wonder why there is such hollowness in my heart since he has been gone…
The only answer I can come up with is because King Bhumibhol loved us so fiercely that he dedicated his life for the country. We see his love through his deeds. His genuine interest in the well-being of Thai citizens took him to the most dangerous part of the country, where he was vulnerable to harm. He didn’t care about whose sides people were on, whether they were democratic or communists. In one of the interviews given to BBC, he was asked if he had won over the communist insurgency by managing to build a dam in the area. He said,
“Oh I don’t know. But we are winning against hunger. This is what we are doing. We are not fighting against people. We are fighting against hunger. We want them to have a better life. If we make this and they have a better life, the people you call ‘communist insurgency’ will also have a better life also. So everybody is happy.”
As a Christian, King Bhumibhol had helped me understand what Jesus’ love must have meant for his disciples and the people in his time. I am not saying that the king was god or even had god-like attributes. Rather, his attributes and traits that portrayed selflessness and enduring love had captivated our hearts. His love makes us want to be better – to drop the differences, to stop fighting over things that do not really matter and to unite for the better of our country.
I am so thankful to have lived under his reign, to have witnessed his majesty and to be able to carry this heritage to the next generation. When we have children, I will tell them of our Thai king, the man who devoted his life for the people of our country. More than that, I will also point them to the God-man, King Jesus, who is the ultimate model of selfless love, when he gave his life for the people in the whole world as well.
Today my heart weeps with the people of Thailand again because I have remembered that king Bhumibhol is no longer with us. He spent 88 years on this earth with excitement, enthusiasm and unapologetic way of serving. He gave his all for his family and his countrymen. It is now time for him to rest. What a privilege for me to be a part of this glorious historical period. Yet what a loss for us all…
Recently, hundreds of thousands of people gathered to sing the king’s anthem at the royal field near the Grand Palace for a major music production, and to show solidarity and honour to the late king. The singing was loud and full of emotions. Usually, after singing the anthem, we usually chanted “long live the king, long live the king” over and over again. But on that day, there was no more chant. All we could hear was the deafening silence that echoed in everyone’s heart. It is still echoing in my heart today…