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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

FABULOUS FALL FANTASY: Day 11--Why I'm in Bangkok

I awoke to a beautiful Bangkok morning.  There is a once in a lifetime event happening in Thailand this week, and, more specifically, Bangkok, that could well never again occur with such pomp:  the Royal Cremation of former King Bhumibol Adulyadej.  He was not just another monarch, he ruled for 70 years.  Queen Elizabeth II?  65 years.  The King's life reads like a hyperbolic movie script:
  • He was born as Baby Songkla in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where his father was attending Harvard.  
  • His older brother, Ananda, at the age of nine, became King Rama VIII.  
  • Rama IV, Mongkut, was the King in The King and I.
  • Rama V, Chulalongkorn, reigned for 42 years.
  • Bhumibol's education was mostly in Switzerland, and he returned home in 1945 after World War II ended.  In a swift series of still unknown mysterious circumstances, Ananda was shot and killed, with Bhumibol being the last person to see him.  
  • Bhumibol went back to Switzerland to earn a legal degree, but spent time in Paris, where he met, Mom (yes, that's her first name) Sirikit Kitiyakara, daughter of the Thai ambassador to France, and his distant cousin.  She was then 15 and studying to be a concert pianist.  
  • In 1948 he got into an auto accident in Switzerland, and became paralyzed in half his face, losing the sight of one eye.  
  • Sirikit and Bhumibol were married in Europe in 1950, said to be the shortest, simplest royal wedding ever, and that year was crowned King of Thailand.
  • Their:
    • oldest child, a daughter, married an American (now divorced), had two daughters, but one was killed in the tsunami generated by the Great 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake
    • oldest son, now King Maha Vajiralongkorn, married Mom L. S. Kitiyakara (yes, this gets complicated), but divorced...and all in all has now been married and divorced three times, with seven children.
    • Third child, Princess Maha, has never been married.
    • Fourth child, Princess Chulabhorn, is divorced with two daughters.
  • When made king in 1950 he pledged to reign in righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people.  Incredibly, for 70 years (there was a three year period from 1947 when he was, effectively, the King), this is exactly what happened.  He is far and away the most beloved leader in modern history... maybe ever.
  • To say that Thailand has been peaceful and idyllic through the kingship of Rama IX would be a total misstatement.  From before his ascendancy to his death, the country has been embroiled in a variety of coups, drug problems, Muslim insurgency and blatant sex.  But Rama IX has been the foundation for stability and progress.
On those notes, this is probably the only Royal Cremation involving my personal presencc.  Previous kings here were burned in a pyre lit by the new king.  When Queen Elizabeth II goes, it will not be a Royal Cremation.  When Donald Trump...oh well...

There will only be room for around 60,000 people in the ceremonial area.  A military-police force of 151,000 will insure for security.  There will be 1500 in plain clothes milling around.  Streets are already closed, but free buses will be available from throughout the region.  People from all over the country began camping out since Saturday, wherever they can to be close to the ceremony.  Replica Royal Crematoria were built at 85 sites throughout the nation for people to pay their respects.

As only a beginning, there is now a spectacular and free floral display extending 879 yards, close by the Royal  Termination site.  I will show you some of my photos, but savor them, for the temperature was 95F with no breeze, and this teeming mass I had to follow walked through the exhibition area very, very, very slowly.  I don't know how I survived.

Marigolds were prominent:

Of course,orchids, daffodils, etc.

Each "house" represented a phase of the King's life.  Marigold, for example, is symbolic of his color.  At the end, Montharop, representing the gate to Heaven:


Note that people are already largely dressed in black.  From Thursday, you will not be allowed into the ceremonial complex unless properly attired.  

All officially begins with the cremation that day, a national holiday, followed by a procession carrying the Royal Ashes to the Grand Palace.  There will be daily formal parades focusing on key phases of the process until Sunday, October 29, when the final ceremony will occur.

Mind you, this is Bangkok 2017, so there were garish balloons....and a whole swarm of my Blue-Bar Pigeons has already arrived:

Still without a name, Tropical Storm 27 and I seem to be heading for the same spot on Planet Earth on Monday, October 30:  Narita Airport:


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