"If I could live like a king", the old saying goes.
Yet some who are born into riches and power, think more of their subjects, devote every hour, to ensuring a future for those born with less, whilst giving less thought to their own happiness.
A child was born in Cambridge Mass in the good old USA, and grew into the noble King all Thais adore today. He traveled widely as a child, his manner studious and mild; his schooling, mainly in Lausanne, in beautiful, mountainous Switzerland.
All Thais will remember the fifth of December, the day of King Bhumibol's birth.
Visitors to the kingdom will often say - "We know this is the King's birthday, but Bhumibol Adulyadej, we cannot understand." The Thai guide will smile and then explain, the derivation of the royal name; her hands shaped like a lotus flower, she says "Strength of the Land Incomparable Power."
And strength of the land he's indeed had to be, during turbulent times that no one could foresee. But apart from his skills as a great mediator, the king is best known as inventor, creator. One who's prepared to devote most of his time to the service of subjects who deem him sublime.
Royal Projects make an endless list, but just to let you get the gist of what's at stake; read on.
From agriculture to education, any issue affecting the nation that needs improvement, the King has formed for every problem a special movement ; comprising men and women of skill to tackle each and every ill, these teams of experts travel wide from cities to the countryside. They take on projects regardless of size, improving the lives of their fellow Thais.
Agriculture, dairy farming, soil erosion, floods-alarming. No problem, however Lilliputian escapes a Royal Project solution. Take droughts that Thai farmers fear the most, their crops lie rotting their businesses lost."Never again", says their noble King; I've heard of a method of creating rain.
Like every issue he's ever tackled King Bhumibol's imagination unshackled, seeks an answer to this widespread malaise. The answer comes in months, not in days. Like every scientific mind he seeks advice from far and wide. After months of research on what's known as "cloud seeding", the King produces exactly what farmers are needing.
"Spray my choice of chemicals into clouds warm and cold, at various altitudes," the pilots are told. "This will produce rain to all land poor or rich, I'm going to call it my super sandwich."
When a young man he designed and built his first boat in which he sailed round the palace moat. His interest sparked, he soon became a sailor of international fame. And once while hosting a royal guest, the King suggested a nautical test. Would Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, husband to Britain's Queen, be interested in a race between, the King of Thailand, Bhumibol, just for the sport, no winner- takes- all ? The Prince agreed immediately and soon the royals took to sea; their course from Pattaya to Kho Lan, then round the island and back again. Who won the race I cannot reveal, both gentlemen being far too genteel to tell. Suffice it to say on a much later day that a present arrived from the Duke, to wish the King well. T'was a catamaran, the first in Thailand , and the King he did name it "Pladook". Now in Thai this means catfish, the "dook" for his friend; a mere play on words with no wish to offend. Indeed the Duke laughed when he heard the craft's name, a joke between friends who share humour with fame. Royals so rarely are seen to have fun, but the Duke roared with laughter when he read the King's pun.
Successful on water, he was more so on the land; as composer, arranger, musician, and leader of the "Aw Saw" band. On Friday nights, the week's work done, the band would assemble to have some fun. And from the King's own radio station their music was relayed to the nation.
The classics have always been dear to the king. But with the advent of the big band sound, his focus changed to swing. Often at home the young king could be found, trying to emulate Duke Ellington's sound. He'd play his sax along with a recording; the results more than often were very rewarding. He'd follow the riffs and all of the dodges of Ellington's saxophonist, the great Johnny Hodges.
It soon became clear to one and to all that Jazz was a true love of King Bhumibol. He began to compose:" Love at Sundown" - "Falling Rain"; just two of many numbers that brought him acclaim. He then began to study the blues, Miles Davis, Muddy Waters and John Coltrane, and a string of great artists too numerous to name. Within a short time he wrote "Candlelight Blues", as they said in the forties "This kid's got the news".
Picture a jam session somewhere in the States, attended by some of the jazz world's greats: Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Stan Getz, Les Brown - But who's on the sax, who's the new kid in town? " I'm not sure, "Lionel Hampton tells the press down the hall. "All I knows is he goes by the name Bhumibol."
Whether working on issues of national import, or learning a hobby, a pastime , a sport; the king spares no effort in being the best. Many Thais owe him much for his tireless endeavour. To them he is simply the greatest King ever.
The King does love his subjects all regardless of their station, and knows the problems of each one wherever in the nation, He visits his subjects far and wide with Queen Sirikit by his side, but the gulf between those who have and have not, His Majesty cannot abide. And when it comes to his few dislikes, topping His Majesty's list, is the insincere and obsequious, social alpinist.
Surrounding the King like so many ants, a crowd of fawning sycophants who bow and scrape and wai and blush, urging His Majesty to rush, to leave behind the Hoi-Polloi and meet instead the "Real McCoy", Far from this poverty-stricken bunch a banquet's been arranged for lunch. The well-to-do, the nouveau riche, all straining at the communal leash.
His Majesty decides to linger; a baby grips the royal finger. His gentle voice preventing tears from a child who will in later years, recall with pride "I once held the hand of the gentlest King of all Thailand." The ragged crowd all wai their liege as he displays noblesse oblige and softly walks away - "Lord bless His Majesty and long may he reign," they say.
George Montgomery 5th, December 2005
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