Thousands of Thais sat for hours under the blazing sun on the streets of Bangkok to witness the procession for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the beloved monarch who had been the father figure of Thailand for the past 70 years.
The streets near Bangkok’s Grand Palace, where the Buddhist ceremonies took place, were filled with Thais in mourning colors. In the heat, they crammed into a narrow space for three hours to witness just a brief second of the king’s funeral procession, which journeyed from Siriraj Hospital to the palace.
A dozen people reportedly fainted and were removed by paramedics. The others passed on bottles of water and ammonia inhalants to help each other battle the heat.
For most, this gathering was the first of its kind in their life. Instead of waving Thai flags and happily chanting “Long live the king,” when the procession passed them, it was as if time stood still. Every person raised their hands in a wai as they sat quietly, praying in their minds for their beloved king.
The nation bore the saddest news in a century this week when King Bhumibol passed away on Thursday afternoon following a decade of ailments. He was 88-years-old and was the longest-serving monarch in the world.
Kanokporn Radtuam, a staff member at Chulalongkorn University, came with her friend. In their hands was a golden portrait plate of King Bhumibol.
Kanokporn Radtuam (right)
“I feel overwhelmed. I came here to do good for him for the last time. I’m happy to see the Thai people unite today. He was everything to Thailand. It’s difficult to explain the feeling, but when we wake up, he’s always in our hearts,” said Kanokporn.
Despite being the richest king in the world, King Bhumibol set an example to his citizens by adopting a non-extravagant lifestyle. Stories told by the king’s servants of his frugalness and how he carefully spent each baht were widely used as lessons to Thai children.
Podjanat Soongthrong from Bangkok said she had witnessed this quality in King Bhumibol when she met him about ten years ago at Prathum Wanaram Temple, when he was raising donations.
“What impressed me the most about the king was he saw the value of money. One coin dropped from the tray that collected the money, and there were voices that told him [King Bhumibol] to just leave it,” Podjanat said.
“But I picked the coin up and handed it over to him. He directly took it off my hand. This showed that he saw the value of his citizen’s money although it was just a ten-baht coin.”
Meanwhile, Paiboon Srisuwan, a worker at Provincial Waterworks Authority, described seeing King Bhumibol as the most surreal experience in his life.
“I saw him twice in Hua Hin in the last years. Wow! It was the most surreal experience in my life. There was no one like him. The king did not need to work so hard, but he did it for all of us,” Paiboon said.
For Tansomorn Kanchareon, who came with a large group of friends from Kasetsart University, it was a proud duty to wait for the king’s funeral procession.
“It wasn’t a happy feeling, but it was one chance to complete our duty as Thai citizens,” she said.
Tansomorn Kanchareon (second of left)
Since the announcement of the king’s passing was officially made on Thursday night, televisions have switched to broadcasts of HM the king’s lifelong work and footage of him traveling deep into the countryside to listen to locals’ concerns. Thais across the country are wearing black. Online, people have changed their profile photos to a complete black as the country begins a long period of mourning.
“If we continue to follow his path… the way of life and the lessons he taught us, I believe we’ll be able to go on,” said Kanokporn Radtuam.
Photos: Pai Chanikarn
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