Saturday, October 20, 2007

Outpouring of love for the people’s king

Thai Takes

"MY KING is in that building. I don’t know which room or which floor, but I’m told that my king is there," said Satpal Singh, a 48-year-old Thai Sikh, pointing towards a 16-story building in Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital.

Satpal Singh was among the hundreds of Thais who had gathered at the hospital courtyard on Tuesday afternoon to pray for the quick recovery of the royal occupant in an undisclosed room at Siriraj.

Last Saturday, the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej was rushed to the hospital after complaining of weakness in his right leg. An MRI examination detected inadequate blood flow to the left lobe of his brain.

The night Satpal Singh received news that his king was hospitalised he immediately prayed that nothing untoward would happen to the monarch. “I also prayed that if I had merits, I would donate all my merits to him,” recounted the Sikh.

Like most Thais, Satpal Singh, who was born in Bangkok, has an undying devotion to King Bhumibol who will celebrate his 80th birthday on Dec 5. When asked why he was so devoted to the king, he replied: “Have you seen him face to face?”

Thirty year ago, Satpal Singh had a brief encounter with the king who was visiting a Hindu temple in Bangkok. “I can’t explain what happened when I saw him for the first time. It was like seeing God on earth,” he recalled. “The King has a resplendent face which touches my heart.”

The businessman also said the Thai king has his people’s interest at heart. “He lives life not for himself but for the people,” he explained.

Satpal Singh went to Siriraj because he believed it was his duty as a Thai. “I have to be here to pray to God so that my king will recover soon,” he explained.

Asked why she travelled 60km to be at the hospital, Benja Changsewok, a 57-year-old Thai woman who teaches French, said: “If you ask anyone here that question, you will get the same answer. It is because we love him and we will die for him.”

On why she loved King Bhumibol, the world’s longest reigning monarch who celebrated his 60th year of ascension to the throne last year, Benja explained that he is a self-sacrificing father.

“My king works 24 hours a day for his people,” declared the woman, with religious-like fervour.

At the courtyard, a sea of well-wishers were singing an impromptu song that extolled the king as a god as well as his thousands of royal projects to help Thais. Others laid garlands as an offering to the statue of Prince Mahidol of Songkhla, the king’s father.

Upon the order of the king, whose general condition on that day was described as stable, 1,000 packets of food and bottles of drinking water were distributed to the well-wishers.

Since the king’s admission to the hospital, more than 100,000 high-profile figures – army generals, ambassadors, celebrities, monks and politicians – and ordinary people visited Siriraj to offer their best wishes.

Most of the visitors wore yellow, the colour which symbolises Monday, the day the king was born.

In addition to yellow, according to The Nation newspaper, pink is now becoming very popular among Thais after it was reported it would bring good health to the king.

The emblem commemorating the king’s 80th birthday incorporates a pink ribbon for with characters on it dedicated to the auspicious occasion.

As of Thursday, in its sixth statement on the king’s health, the Royal Household Bureau reported that he was able to stand for longer period with the help of a walking stick.

The bureau also said the monarch’s body temperature had come down to normal, and the inflammation in his large intestine and pain in his right waist reduced.

Though it is assuring news, most Thais are still worried about the frailty of their king, who has suffered a number of ailments including a heart problem and lumbar spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal resulting from aging).

And the royal succession, which is a sensitive subject rarely discussed openly in Thailand, is in the anxious mind of King Bhumibol’s loyal subjects, millions of whom wear wristbands inscribed with “Long Live the King.”

(Published in The Star on Oct 20, 2007)