His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX, passed away on October 13, 2016. Since then, the entire nation has been mourning this king who ruled for more than 70 years. It is amazing to me that people have worn black for almost a year, that buildings and structures are still draped in black and white bunting, and that the Thai people have found incredible ways of expressing their feelings for this great monarch. I struggle to think of a single individual who would inspire such devotion and respect in the Western world.
At one of the largest intersections in Bangkok is the Bangkok Art and Cultural Center. They have offered a series of exhibitions throughout the year featuring special aspects of this king’s life and reign. Earlier this year, when I was walking toward the elevated train station, I saw an artist drawing on the walls of this building. He was one of several famous artists of cartoon characters who had been invited to create a work of art expressing the nation’s sorrow at the passing of this king. It was interesting to stop and watch him work. When I returned to the same intersection some weeks later, I was able to see the final product and the art of these many artists.
My favorite character is the darling littlechild with three eyes, dressed in a fuzzy white outfit – the signature work of this particular artist. However, in this collaborative work of art, I find my eyes drawn to the little pig who is holding up a placard with the Thai number 9, standing under the falling tears of the Thai people and crying so hard that sheets of tears cover his entire body. A good friend of mine, however, likes the patchwork red-orange dog, representing Tong Daeng, the beloved pet of the late king.
On the same building is a massive portrait of the late king, painted on another wall of the building. It overlooks two large malls and the intersection of two major elevated rail lines, almost as if the king is still overseeing the lives of his people. (You can catch a glimpse of the other work of art under the elevated train’s tracks.) This is one building in Bangkok. Now, imagine, if you can, similar expressions of respect and grief on other buildings or at other intersections, multiplied a thousandfold. Everywhere you look there are other pictures,posters, and paintings of the late king – most of which incorporate either an expression of respect and grief or one of his famous sayings. I have added some more thumbnail photos below. As I said earlier, I cannot imagine this happening for an individual in the Western world – and certainly cannot imagine it continuing for one year.