The King and I: Bangkok

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Shrine to King Rama IX

Earlier this month I made my third trip to Bangkok, Thailand, one of the great world cities. My three trips were always work related so I didn’t get much time to experience the city. My hotel had a beautiful view of the Chao Phraya river which runs through the heart of the city. It is mesmerizing to watch the many types of boats going up and down the river, from huge barges being pulled by tugboats, to lighted party cruise ships to tiny private boats. One could just sit and watch the river all day, which I basically did between meetings. I guess with traffic being so bad in the city, it is a fast way to get around.

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Durian salesman under the neon lights of Bangkok’s Chinatown

We did get away from the hotel one night and we walked down to Bangkok’s Chinatown. There were heaps of restaurants along Yaowarat Road which were started by immigrants from mainland China. They are in the style of classic “shop-house” which are three to four-story row houses with the business on the ground floor and living quarters above. They were not elegant; the restaurants were basically plastic chairs and tables, but judging by the large number of patrons, probably pretty good. Preparations were already underway for the Chinese New Year celebrations taking place on January 28 this year.

One could not help but notice the ubiquitous billboards and shrines for honoring the memory of the recently deceased King Rama IX. He was the world’s longest serving monarch with close to 70 years in power. I remember watching the King and I on television with my dad, so monarchy has played a role in Thailand for a long time. The king featured in the book and play was King Rama IV.  It seemed like the Thais are obsessed with King Rama IX as literally every building has some form of shrine. The pool workers at the hotel wore black ribbons on their uniforms. One said they wear them for the first 100 days after the king’s death, and there are 11 more days to go. The country is officially in a one-year period of mourning and his body will be ceremonially burnt in October. His son is scheduled to succeed him next January.

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View from my hotel of the Chao Phraya River

In reading about the departed king he seems to have been a good man and good leader. Thailand is somewhat of an economic success story and is growing at a pretty good rate. However, Thailand still has lots of poverty despite a booming tourism industry and I think there must be other reasons why he is so publicly and prolifically mourned. The country is under a military government since 2014 and there are some serious conflict between the upper class elites in Bangkok and the many poor of the rural north. I think King Rama IX was someone everyone liked and he helped keep the country together. I read one expert saying the the business community honors the king so much in order to keep the status quo and avoid a revolution of the majority poor. The king didn’t have much real power, although the family is super rich. The son, the soon to be King Rama X, is not as competent as his father was as royalty and I read where he spends most of his time living a lavish lifestyle abroad.It will be interesting to see if he can grow into the position and use the good will of his father to maintain peace in the country.

I am not sure when the military will be allowing elections again. They stepped in and took over because the opposition “red” party won over the traditionally ruling elite, “yellow” party. Why won’t the same thing happen in the next election? I would like to see the lives of the many poor of Thailand improve and it is my wish for them to maintain the economic growth and include more of the underclass in growth experienced in other areas of the economy.

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