By Tulsathit Taptim
I watch it, rather belatedly, on a LINE group chat. “Never seen him like that,” a friend comments. Others quickly agree.
7.30am: My younger brother informs me several neighbours have gone out to local temples to prepare free food and drinks for what could be overwhelming numbers of people saying a last farewell to their beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
8am: National flags and golden royal emblems flutter all along the 250 metres of my soi. The seemingly “poorest” home at the mouth of the soi, whose residents are street-food vendors, has put up the most flags.
The Twitter wall is flooded with funeral-related posts. Thinking about the power of the social media, you can’t help but marvel even more at the outpouring of love for the late monarch. Never before have Thais had such easy access to all kinds of information, and yet nothing has been able to make their feelings toward him waver.
8.30am: Our destination, Wat Thepleela near Ramkhamhaeng University, is crowded already, with black-clad visitors streaming in all directions. As it would turn out, though, this visit was a stroll in the park compared to what was to come.
8.40am: You must have heard a lot about the volunteers, their sheer numbers and also friendliness. I can vouch for those impressions. They came from all walks of life. They looked like your office colleagues, your friends, or even your elderly relatives. They made great meals and desserts, and some almost pleaded that you at least sample what they were offering, perhaps fearing leftovers from their generous labours.
10.15am: After an orderly queue, my turn finally arrives to place a wood-shaving flower. The woman next to me appears nervous about the procedure. She watches me and imitates everything I do, every step I make. You can’t help but admire her courage and determination to be there.
10.30am: On the way out, we pass a dessert table. The woman volunteer asks us to take home “as much as possible” of her sweet offerings. Hawkers offering free bottled-water are also in good voice. All seem anxious to distribute their items, perhaps forgetting that it’s still early with the day all ahead of us.
The volunteer spirit, however, has already persisted for weeks – and long may it continue. Pubs and entertainment places have opened their doors for volunteers to use as bases of operation. Free transport was available. Professional photographers refused to take money for their services, and set up a website for mourners to download photos.
1.30pm: Back home safe and sound, I settle myself in front of the TV. Social networks are buzzing with reports of huge crowds, and worry starts to seep that people, including those already waiting in queues, might not be able to make it in time. Outside the big cities, people travelling to pay tribute at provincial temples and religious sites are beginning to realise their mistake. The quiet places they had had in mind are now overflowing with mourners and besieged by traffic.
2.30pm: On LINE, ambitious plans to visit officially designated funeral spots are being downgraded everywhere. The message now is “anyplace will do” and names of previously unheard-of temples are being wildly recommended. The race against time has started early for many people.
4pm: On TV, the new King looks grim as he solemnly presides over the historic funeral rites, which are attracting a global audience. The world is witnessing two kinds of grandeur, wrote Dan Blacharski at www.newsorg.org – the funeral itself “and the grandeur of the throngs of everyday Thai people coming out to show their devotion and admiration to a man they called ‘father to all Thai people’.”The funeral, Blacharski added, “gave all Thai people a chance to mourn, but even more than that, it gave them a chance to connect with one another, and to connect a little more deeply with their own history and culture and to show the world a glimpse of something marvellous”. (http://newsorg.org/2017/10/a-kings-funeral-and-a-chance-to-show-the-world-the-best-of-thai-culture/)
7.30pm: After the ceremonial placing of wood-shaving flowers, the newly crowned monarch bids farewell to the foreign dignitaries, among whom the King of Bhutan stands out. Both monarchs have pledged to follow in the footsteps of His Majesty King Bhumibol.
11pm: The royal cremation is not broadcast. But tears are shed around Sanam Luang as white smoke is seen billowing into the sky above the pavilion. Shortly afterwards, photos of nine white birds hovering over the cremation site begin spreading like wildfire on the social media.
Many users describe the birds as a “miracle”. The description draws all sorts of replies, but one in particular receives numerous “likes”. It’s okay to get excited about “this” miracle, goes the reply, as long as another miracle that spanned 70 years is not taken for granted.