DECEMBER HAS BEEN a month of joy for the people of Thailand. On the fifth of this month, our beloved monarch, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, celebrated his 78th birthday. At his coronation, more than fifty years ago, this American-born, Swiss-educated young man made a pledge to his people - "We will reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people".
King Bhumibol was born in Massachusetts, U.S.A. on 5th December, in 1927. The reason that His Majesty was born in the United States is that his parents, Prince and Princess Mahidol of Songkhla were both studying there at the time. It was never anticipated that the Baby Prince Bhumibol would ever become King because that role, in the fullness of time, was expected to fall on the shoulders of his elder brother Prince Ananda. However, destiny can sometimes move in mysterious ways.
In this case, Prince Bhumibol's father, Prince Mahidol, passed away at an early age and the family, with their mother Princess Mahidol of Songkhla in charge, moved to Lausanne in Switzerland for their early life and education. King Prajadhipok, Uncle to Prince Ananda and Prince Bhumibol, was reigning in Thailand but when, in 1935, he abdicated his throne (very similar to King Edward VIII of Great Britain), the monarchy passed to Prince Ananda. At the time of his elder brother acceding to the throne, Prince Bhumibol was a young 8 year old, living and studying in Switzerland, blissfully ignorant of future events. Destiny played another unexpected card.
In 1946 King Ananda was fatally shot, in tragic circumstances, and this single event catapulted young Prince Bhumibol into a situation which neither he, his family nor nation ever expected. Prince Bhumibol had, with terrible swiftness, become King. He was 18 years old when the mantle of Majesty draped itself around him -- the Prince had become His Majesty, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX, of the Kingdom of Thailand.
Siam has since become Thailand, and like the rest of the modern world has undergone significant change. The challenges faced by the people of Thailand have been numerous and often daunting. Yet through even the darkest hours, King Bhumibol has remained a constant beacon of rectitude and strength to his subjects.
As the world's longest-reigning monarch, he commands unparalleled respect from the people of Thailand, and the admiration and friendship of royal households and heads of state throughout the world. But for all the public adulation heaped upon him, His Majesty remains a humble, soft-spoken man of the people. His love of, and lifelong devotion to his subjects began once he ascended to the throne.
At the behest of his mother, however, Prince Bhumibol continued with his academic studies overseas, and his coronation was postponed until 1950. During this period, the young prince met the love of his life, Mhom Rajawongse Sirikit, the beautiful young woman who would become his wife just one week prior to his coronation. The people of Siam rejoiced, firstly at the lavish wedding of their youthful prince to his radiant bride; then in the space of seven days, celebrated the coronation of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his new Queen, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit.
While his ancestors had ruled with absolute power, King Bhumibol is a constitutional monarch. That is, he is above politics and therefore has no political power. The King has only threefold "rights" -- the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn. His Majesty has always exercised his latter right carefully but, on behalf of his subjects, the King has not been timorous when the need arises to caution wayward politicians be they prime ministers or military generals. He commands enormous popular respect and moral authority, however, which he has used on occasion to resolve political crises that have threatened national stability.
Currently there exists just such a threat in the form of what is euphemistically referred to as "the trouble in the south." His Majesty has spoken on the need to communicate, as opposed to the use of force. He has held regular consultations with the Prime Minister and members of his cabinet, and has spoken with leading Islamic officials from overseas in a bid to find common ground upon which to seek a solution to the unrest.
On the day to day matters affecting the people of Thailand, King Bhumibol has for decades immersed himself in the search for solutions to problems of a wide and varied nature: pollution, over-logging, soil erosion, education, health, unemployment, drugs, crime, the problems facing both rural and inner-city residents - the list of issues in which His Majesty has sought direct involvement appears almost endless.
A graduate of engineering, the King has an inbred desire to tinker with all matters demanding technical know-how. Among the many and varied projects to which he has lent his expertise is the innovative art of rainmaking, or cloud-seeding, as is the correct terminology. Acutely aware that drought affected many parts of the kingdom ; nowhere more so than the Northeast's arid plateau of Esarn, where many rice farmers saw the fruits of their labour wither and die in the absence of rain, His Majesty thoroughly researched the process of "cloud seeding", by which small aircraft were deployed to spray chemicals into clouds to create much needed rain.
Today, squadrons of these aircraft take to the skies over Thailand, spraying silver iodine, salt and dry ice causing vapour droplets to freeze and fall towards the earth.
One thousand such flights per month have eased one of the worst droughts in seven years by as much as eighty percent. The aircraft perform a technique patented by King Bhumibol, whereby they spray chemicals into warm and cold clouds at various altitudes to create rainfall over the widest possible area. As the news of this operation spread, pleas for help arrived from neighbouring Cambodia and as far afield as Oman, but Thailand's method is successful only if the right type of cloud exists, and where humidity is higher than sixty percent.
Following the success of His Majesty's project, he produced an instruction manual which is used by a special task force now operating over six rain-making basins throughout the kingdom (including Chiang Mai and Phrae).
The Royal Rainmaking Project took the Outstanding Innovative award from Bussells in 2001,and was declared one of the two most interesting projects at the seventh International Weather Modification forum.
In his leisure time - yes, the King actually manages to have some time for himself - His Majesty is an avid photographer, author, artist, linguist, yachtsman and a composer, performer and lover of music, particularly jazz. Should you ever hear sultry numbers such as "Candlelight Blues or "Hungry Man's Blues", it may surprise you to know that they were penned, arranged and performed by none other than His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX, King of Thailand!
"Was he any good as a musician?", I hear you ask. In his younger days the gentleman played sax and clarinet with legends such as Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden, Lionel Hampton and Stan Getz. Yes, you could say the boy could play a bit! Is it any wonder that His Majesty is so revered by his subjects, and admired by so many people abroad? This is the regal, yet humble man all Thais are proud to call "My King."
The proprietors, staff and readers of the magazine, wish His Majesty many more years of health and happiness.
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