Saturday, March 06, 2004

The King and the Thais

The King and the Thais

While countries like Britain are increasingly questioning the role and relevance of the monarch in a modern democratic society, here in Thailand, the issue does not arise. Thai people simply revere their monarch. In fact it is one of the defining characteristics of Thai society, besides the Buddhist religion, which give the people a sense of national identity and common destiny.

The present king, His Majesty Bhumibol Adulydej is the ninth king of the Chakri dynasty which was founded in 1782. This long unbroken line of succession is indeed remarkable, placing the monarch as the legitimate guardian and moral leader of the Thai people. In times of crises, the Thai people looks to their king for leadership; and indeed, some of the military coups in the past have failed because of disapproval from palace.

The reverence that locals have for their king is not unlike the kind of respect that Yogyakartans have for their Sultan, Hamengkubuwono X, ("He who cradles the universe on his lap") whose leadership proved pivotal during the tumultuous period that led to the downfall of Suharto. The Sultan of Yogjakarta also holds the position of governor of the Special Province of Yogyakarta, which makes him both the political and spiritual leader of Yogjakartans.

King Bhumibol or Rama IX is the grandson of King Chulalongkorn--the most beloved of Thai kings, who modernized Thailand and kept Thailand from being colonized by Western powers. The father of King Chulalongkorn is King Mongkut, popularized in the musical and movie, The King and I. Of course, the movies, (including the recent adaptation, Anna and the King starring Chow Yuen Fatt and Jodie Foster) are all banned in Thailand for their disrespectful and inaccurate portrayal of the royal house.

His Majesty King Bhumibol at 77 years of age, is the longest reigning Thai monarch. Having been schooled in Europe, he is fluent in French, English and German besides his native Thai. Like all good Thai youths, he also underwent apprenticeship as a Buddhist monk for short duration as a teenager. The king is active in public work and travels widely within his country to listen and understand the plight and concern of his people. He truly deserves every bit of respect and veneration that the people accord to him.

What's interesting about the king is that he is also an avid saxophonist and composer. He had even jammed togethered with Big Band greats like Benny Goodman. Some of his compositions can be downloaded from the web. Being a bit old-fashioned in my taste in music, I kind of like his songs, especially the piece called Candlelight Blues:
The candlelight is shining low,
My only love, I'm missing you so.
I know I've lost
But still I dream of you.
I'll hope and dream
Till all my dreams come true.
Just by the candlelight
You used to hold me tight.
This candlelight reminds me so of you;
By candlelight you kissed me.
Still the candle's burning for two,
But darling, where can you be?
Come back, my love,
If you're feeling this blue
By candlelight you'll meet me.
But darling where can you be?
Looks like the king is quite a romantic. I wonder what His Majesty thinks of The King and I.

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