Remembering King Bhumibol

King Bhumipol Adulyadej (1927-2016) (Image: Harpers Bazaar Singapore)

OCTOBER 13th, 2016 was a very sad day not just for me, but many Thai people. That was the day the Thai people’s king, my king, passed away. King Bhumibol Adulyadej was 88. He had led a life dedicated to his country and his people. And as a Thai, I feel as if he was another father. He is the one person I admire most for many reasons. Even though he is no longer with us, he serves to be a continual light in my life.

Why do I hold him in such admiration?

First, he embraced many Western things. He loved jazz, he loved photography, and he spent a significant part of his childhood in Switzerland. He may have been big on all things Western, but he never forgot his roots, his country, and his people.

Second, he was a man who stood for the middle path. As a royalty, he could have anything he wanted, but he knew the values of thrift. When he was six or seven, he wanted desperately to own a camera but his grandmother refused to buy one for him. “Save up for it!” she urged him. And he did, squirreling away one, two baht everyday. There were other stories of thrift. King Bhumibol used his pencil right down to the last centimeter, sharpening it down till he could hardly grip it anymore.

My third favorite story about the king concerns his generosity and love for the Thai people. During his lifetime, he led many royal projects. There’s Doi Kam, an initiative that helped tobacco farmers to stop growing tobacco, but organic fruits and vegetables instead. Then there’s the Rama VIII bridge across the Chao Phraya River that helped to ease the traffic congestion in Bangkok. These are merely two of many many projects he has done in a lifetime.

It doesn’t matter that we do not know the names or nature of these projects. What counts and what moves our hearts are the photos of him, sweat on his face, mingling with the farmers, villagers, fishermen. His heart is always with us. His face is a portrait of compassion. Think about this: he did not keep a pedigree dog as a pet, but a mongrel from off the streets. It all comes back to that middle path theme.

The king was not a man of extreme or excess. I can’t quite explain it, but every time I see a photo of the king, I’m always filled with admiration. And in those days following his death, that admiration was mixed with tears of great sorrow.

Jiji Setavoraphan, Secondary Four
March 2017

For more essays by Jiji, visit Jiji Writes.

This essay was written as a speech in response to the theme:
The Person I Admire Most.

(431 words, approximately 3 minutes of talk-time)

You may also enjoy:
Calling Thailand My Home
The Long Ride to the North of Thailand


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