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Thursday, October 13, 2016


Rama IX, more popularly known as King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, passed away today.  He was the second son and was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but became king through various mysterious acts of violence, with at least one conspiracy theory linking him to his older brother's (King Mahidol) assassination.

I've been to that country more than 25 times, but never met, nor even saw, him.  I have lectured at the Mongkut (Rama IV) Institute of Technology and Chulalongkorn (Rama V) University.  I title this posting The King and I because King Bhumibol had a kind of omnipresence throughout the Nation, and also because the world best knows the country through those films and Broadway shows.

King Rama IX's rule began on 9 June 1946, meaning he reigned for more than 70 years.  Turns out there have been 16 others who led their country longer, with #1 being Sobhuza II of Swaziland at 82 years and 254 days.  Currently #45 is Elizabeth II, who is approaching 65 years.

King Rama X is Maha Vajirolongkorn, who legally transitions in at a time when the military rules the country.  There is a bit of discomfort because Rama X is close to ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is now exiled in Dubai.  King Bhumibol approved 17 military coups.  King Vajirolongkorn might have a mind of his own.  He is 64 years old and the only son.  He was largely schooled in the United Kingdom and Australia, is a career officer (General, Admiral and Air Chief Marshal) and is a qualified military pilot.  He owns two Boeing 737s.

He divorced his first wife, got married to an actress, but had a scandalous falling out, marrying for the third time to a commoner.  But, alas, he divorced her, and who knows what is in his future.  He has seven children.  His parents (with mother Queen Sirikit), in contrast, had a fairytale romance involving courtship in Paris and a happy marriage.  Here is an early photo of Royal Family.

A calmer and more stable succession would have been Princess Sirindhorn, who is highly respected by the masses and linked with the military.  Her older sister married a foreigner and cannot become the heir.  Sirindhorn has a PhD in developmental education, and her only training outside the country was at Peking University for a month.  The Princess speaks fluent English, French and Chinese, plus she is currently studying German and Latin.  She teaches at the Royal Military Academy. 

The King of Thailand has little real power, but more than Queen Elizabeth II.  Rama X will be able to veto laws and approve cabinet members.  He has an important say in military rule, and here is where problems could well occur.

The Royal Family is said to have a net worth of $30 billion.  The British Crown Estate is valued at $10 billion, with Buckingham Palace alone said to be estimated at $5 billion, and the Crown Jewels up to $8 billion.  The government also gives Queen Elizabeth II $13 million/year and another $36 million to carry out her duties.

There is something called lese majeste, where you can't insult the King.  This law also remains throughout Europe and the Middle East.  Tourists in Thailand can be arrested for any slight, as Oliver Jufer received 10 years in jail for defacing a poster of King Bhumibol.  The King pardoned him after a year, and he was immediately deported.  Thanakorn Siripaiboon, a factory worker, supposedly received a 37 year sentence for INSULTING THE KING'S DOG!!!  It was, of course, more than that, for he also accused the military of corruption.  Earlier this year Siripaiboon was bailed out for $14,700, which means, he is still not exactly in the clear.

Finally, the Chakri dynasty began with Rama 1 in 1737, who began construction of the Grand Palace (above), the country's premier attraction.  The first "celebrity" king was Rama IV, Mongkut (right).  He ruled from 1804 to 1868, and we now very well know about his encounter with Anna Leonowens (left), who from the age of 31 taught in the royal court from 1862 to 1867, because this assignment became Anna and the King in 1944, a semi-fictional biographical novel by Margaret Landon.

Two years later came the first film, Anna and King of Siam, featuring Irene Dunne (read about her in my posting yesterday) and Rex Harrison as Mongkut.  A more recent Anna and the King in 1999 had Jody Foster and Chow Yun-Fat, as the King.  I could be wrong, but I don't think either film has ever been shown in Thailand, and mostly because the King is not portrayed to perfection.  As penalties are possible, best not to talk stink about the Royal Family when you get there.

Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II in 1951 wrote and produced The King and I, with Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner, and they both earned Tony Awards for their performances.  So far, then, Mongkut played by an Englishman and a Russian (Brynner was born in Russia).  There have been many revivals, with in 1996 Lou Diamond Phillips, mother was Filipino, playing the King.    

The most appropriate King was Kan Bonfils (right) in the the 2000 London revival, for he was Vietnamese.  Then last year Ken Watanabe (Japan) won a Tony for playing the King, followed by Daniel Dae Kim (Korean) earlier this year.

The eye of Hurricane Nicole at 120 MPH is pummeling Bermuda as I write this blog.  However, Nicole is not further expected to encounter any major population base

In the West Pacific, Tropical Storm Sarika will become a typhoon and roll over the Philippines:

All models show Sarika on a path sufficiently north of Manila.


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