For the first time in 70 years, Thai people woke up without Their King. I can't begin to comprehend how badly the nation is hurting. I made Thailand my home for five years and His Majesty the King was ever present from day one. Taking in the celestial city of angels for the first time as a young man, I could never have imagined how much Thailand would come to mean to me.
Through teaching in government high schools I became part of a Thai family. And during the years I was lucky to develop many meaningful relationships. Today, all the Thai people I care so much about are completely devastated. The following are my personal thoughts and experiences during my time in Thailand with His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. May He Rest in Peace.
At 22 years of age shortly after finishing my undergrad I came to Thailand to visit my mom. She had been working in the country so I skipped my graduation and hopped over. After two months with her in Isaan, I volunteered at a government high school in Udon Thani. I was tasked with helping an M6 student for an upcoming speech contest. Her speech topic was His Majesty. I knew next to nothing about The King, although I was beginning to get the idea. And the early details from my student's speech (along with her passion) helped get the ball rolling.
I couldn't understand why people were wearing yellow polo shirts on Monday and pink ones on Tuesday. "Why? Is it like a mandatory uniform?" Patient Thai friends and my mom would explain that yellow is the King's colour and pink was for His health. I was so new to Thailand and only had surface understanding. So it all seemed a bit odd. It was different from Canada, but I continued with an open mind. Slowly, I began to appreciate the togetherness of the shirts. It began to grow on me, along with the country. One of those cool, unique things you only really appreciate until you leave perhaps.
At school, I was given a yellow shirt and ended up buying my own (pink too of course). Thai teachers and students loved when I wore it and began to tell me more about The King. I was honoured to wear the symbol of His Majesty. The more I heard, the more interested I became.
Now, I cannot pretend to be an expert on His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. However, I do know he always worked to help Thai people . From large-scale irrigation projects in rural areas to His sufficiency economy theory, His Majesty wanted Thailand and Thai people to thrive. He quickly gained my respect and admiration the more I read about His vast accomplishments.
I listened to His Majesty's composition every day at school. I always loved standing by the military students from M4-6 during the national anthem. It was so different from my upbringing in Toronto and I thought the military respect and discipline respect was so cool. Watching M5/6 players from my senior boys basketball team line up in their fatigues at the front of the school with pride etched on their faces to celebrate The King is something I won't soon forget.
And In every home I would visit, pictures of His Majesty adorned high spaces on walls amongst families' most prized possessions. For He was the most prized person, Father to all Thais.
All foreigners in the Land of Smiles have seen the video tributes before movies. I had never seen anything like that before and was fascinated from the beginning. Some of the videos even had me choked up! Ramrod attention, a bow at the conclusion and back to your popcorn. It's completely unique to Thailand, His Majesty, and was one of my favourite little joys during my time. True story: I once sternly reminded my Thai girlfriend at the time to stand properly while the tribute was playing. We recalled that funny memory today.
It is impossible to describe how much Thai people love His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej because there is nothing else to compare it to. I can't think of another country that has loved a King, Leader or person so unanimously and unconditionally. One thing that always struck me was the way Thai people would say "My King." There is so much pride and love in their voice. You could viscerally feel it and see it on their face. My King. Whenever I asked questions about His Majesty the Thai person would begin to light up. They were so proud to share.
This morning I could feel the grief coming through on social media. Sitting in my apartment in Toronto, Canada I could feel it. I knew the people writing the messages, posting the pics and how much they were stricken. A CNN reporter commented that on the ground you couldn't help but feel the grief.
The coming ceremonies, visuals and tributes will be spectacular and awe inspiring, as they should be. Thailand and its people will mourn and say goodbye to Their King and Father. And I will be sad with them, as a friend is when a loved one is going through a difficult time. I hope Thailand moves forward with strength and unity. It would be a great tribute to His Majesty. Rest in Peace King Bhumibol Adulyadej.