Friday, August 4, 2017

Impressions: Going Back For The Funeral

Written by Adam

We awakened very early in the morning in Denpasar, Bali.  Our previous experience with vehicular traffic on the island of Bali compelled us to leave plenty of time to procure a taxi and make our way to the airport.  We were fortunate to have our driver choose one of the only true expressways we saw anywhere on the island, and we arrived at the airport without very much delay. 

We each ordered some much-needed coffee and a breakfast sandwich in an airport cafe.  Because we spent over 20,000 rupiah on the order we also received a free beer.  I downed it just before 9:00 a.m as a chaser, hoping that nobody nearby would notice.  We had previously sailed through the multiple airport security checks and still had nearly three hours left to kill before our flight departed.  That’s what the world might actually be like without any truly disruptive local traffic to contend with.

Our Thai Air Asia plane eventually pulled up to Gate 2 as we waited patiently inside the International Terminal for our outbound flight to Bangkok, Thailand.  The maintenance crew presumably prepared the interior of the plane, and then the gathered passengers waiting at the gate were invited to board the plane with an announcement blared over the terminal intercom.  We were members of the first group to be allowed to board, sitting in seats 5A and 5B.

The Thai Air Asia flight attendants helped people with their carry-on luggage, and also assisted passengers with finding their proper seats.  It was pretty hot on the plane; the AC was not quite up to the task of keeping the cabin supremely comfortable.  The heat and humidity of Bali had sneakily penetrated the plane since the cabin door was opened a few moments earlier.

I subtly greeted each of the on-duty flight attendants that I saw as we boarded the plane.  We found our own way to our assigned seats - we are familiar with the drill.  We stowed our two backpacks in a nearby overhead compartment, and then shuffled to our left and plopped into our seats for the next 4 hours and twenty minutes.  

I looked out the window next to my seat, where just a couple of rows to the rear was the left engine cowling.  Just the day before I watched a YouTube video of a jet engine being tested and deliberately destroyed to ensure that disintegrating metal parts would be contained by the engine cowling.  I hoped that the engineers knew what they were doing, and then I proceeded to fasten my seat belt and pulled it snuggly across my lap as suggested.

The final passenger to board the plane was now standing by the door.  He was looking straight down the center aisle of the plane.  He took a few steps forward, stowed his lone carry-on bag in the overhead compartment, and then awkwardly fell into the seat right in front of mine, 4A.  Later on in the flight he was to recline his seat, essentially dooming me to typing this blog post just like a Tyrannosaurus Rex might.  I chose my seat assignment online, and so did he - lucky me. 

When everyone was finally on board and buckled in, the flight attendants stood in the center aisle facing everyone and then made an announcement.  They asked for a moment of silence to remember the recently deceased King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand.  It was then that I first noticed that the cabin crew were all wearing black armbands. They all looked quite somber and serious. 

Thai Air Asia flight attendants were working a non-stop international flight to Thailand, so I suppose that their gesture was quite apropos given the sad circumstances present at home. When they bowed their heads I just stared straight ahead, not making a sound.  Neither did anyone else.  After the moment of silence concluded, the flight attendants proceeded to tell us about the important safety features of the plane as well as delivering other mandated pre-flight conversation.

Boredom set in much quicker on this particular flight, most likely due to my somewhat confined seating configuration.  Karen asked me if I wanted to listen to some music on her iPhone, so I put on a pair of earbuds and began to work my way down the available digital choices.  It was going to be a long flight - so why not listen to The Voice’s Jordan Smith?  He performed a cover version of Queen’s seventies hit “Somebody To Love”, and the inspiration for this blog post was thus provided to me on a vinyl platter.

The King, ninth of the 234 year-old Chakra dynasty, died a very sick, very old man.  He was hospitalized in Bangkok for two years before eventually passing away.  He lived a long life, and thus enjoyed an equally long reign - 70 years being spent on the throne.  

Upon assuming the throne as an eighteen year old, King Bhumibol Adulyadej soon became a father figure and a munificent benefactor. His public actions and personal conduct enabled him to become much beloved across his country over the years. 

Video tributes depicting the recently deceased King appeared nearly everywhere in Thailand upon his death; he was portrayed as a simple man of the people, seemingly devoted to improving the welfare of his subjects.  Old newsreel footage show him riding in a now-vintage car, visiting seemingly remote areas of his kingdom.  A set of construction plans documenting public works projects instigated by royal decree were nearly ever-present in the moving images - placing him squarely involved in the everyday lives of his royal subjects.  Most Thai people alive today have never experienced any other King ruling them, and their grief and sorrow at his passing was quite remarkable to witness first-hand, their grief very public and seemingly sincere.

Observers of the Thai Monarchy expect his 64 year-old son to ascend to the throne,  a succession that should be (by all accounts) a seamless affair.  Commentary about the late King’s health circumstances and the succession plan itself is scarce because of Thailand’s very tough royal defamation laws, which have seen increased usage and application under the current military government.  I rather innocently asked a hotel desk clerk if any plans had been announced regarding the King’s funeral, and he reacted to that question with a rather panicked facial expression and a palpable hesitancy to even speak about it in any useful detail.    

The military junta has made it clear that they will be backing the Prince, and will also extend their own tenure within the government by at least a year to ensure a distinct measure of political stability during these still uncertain times.  It is hoped that when the new King finally assumes the throne the Thai people will have found someone to love all over again, an especially challenging task due to the recent sad end of a golden era in the royal history of their country.

Building-sized sympathy cards.  Corporations and government entities all implied that their group had a meaningful relationship with the late King.
Elaborate memorials were everywhere: in shopping malls, hotel lobbies, outside, in small family shops.  It seemed everyone wanted to pay tribute to the late King.
A memorial erected in the lobby of the Ibis Riverside Hotel in Bangkok.
Waiting for the BTS Sky Train.  Soft, somber music filled the station, while movies about the late King played in an endless loop.  Most everyone wore black clothing.
We visited the Grand Palace in downtown Bangkok to witness and participate in the funeral events.  The crowds were massive, with many people having traveled from throughout Thailand to pay homage.  
The Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand.  
Mourners proceeded to migrate from their buses to gathering points in order to pay their respects.
Monks and others shopped for souvenirs that commemorated the nation's loss.
Omniscient and seemingly overlooking his kingdom, even in death.
Bunting became a big business in Thailand.
Two of the largest shopping malls in Thailand, side-by-side and sharing a massive tribute to the late King, inside and out.
A typical memorial tribute to an atypical man.

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