This is the biggest day in Thailand since Anna met the King of Siam. King Bhumibol was kind of like God but less divisive. I don’t know what figure in America, dead or alive, could inspire this kind of unqualified devotion. Maybe George Washington? When I asked at the hotel where would be the best place to participate in this commemoration, I was directed to go to flower park (Pak Klong Talat) which I did. I got at the end of an extremely long line but I didn’t know how long at the time. The goal was to pay respects at a temple that only appeared to be close. Everyone was in black and I appeared to be the only Westerner among about a quarter million mourners. People were incredibly nice, smiling at me and offering signs of encouragement. I think they’ve been working on the organization of this event for about a year. It’s extremely impressive. There are young people offering iced water, offering sticks that seem to be smelling salts, offering even food to eat and all of it free. As it is incredibly hot and humid there are ambulances all over the place just in case people are overcome. Everything is closed so I really had nothing else to do. I took a moto taxi here and found that traffic was in fact very light. Everyone seems to be either home watching the ceremony on TV or in this very very long line. I’m glad I brought a lot of black things to wear and because my allergies are bothering me, my eyes are red and swollen, as though I had been crying. I fit right in.
After about an hour as I saw that the line was snaking through many streets, I decided to leave. It looked like an all day affair. I headed into the grand Siam Plaza Shopping Mall which was aggressively air-conditioned. What a relief! I wandered around for a little while examining the clothes and grabbing a few snacks but most of the stalls were closed. I found myself following the crowd to Wat Ratchaburana Ratchaworawihan (Wat Liap), an extensive Buddhist temple.
What a scene! Tables were laid out with every variety of hot and cold snacks, fruits, salads, fried dumplings, rice topped with spicy chicken, vegetables, and washed down with an astonishing variety of cold drinks. I found a seat at a table underneath the canopy which was fortunate because the monsoon started soon thereafter. It rained and rained. Fortunately a monk opened up the temple and many of us headed inside to pray, listen to the chanting, and stay dry. When the rain let up, I followed the crowd again and wound up on Memorial Bridge.
On the other side there was apparently another temple with another line of people waiting to pay their respects. Crossing over again I noticed that there was a perfunctory security check. Back in the vicinity of flower Park came the highlight and most beautiful part of the whole experience. The flower sellers had set up a tunnel of flowers, beginning with white and ending up in the colors of the flag of Thailand. Called “Flowers for Dad”, it was gorgeous. Getting back to the hotel involved a lengthy negotiation with the motorcycle taxi driver who didn’t know where the hotel was and a security guard who also seemingly could not read the name of the hotel in Thai. Eventually this all straightened out and I arrived back at the hotel and very happy to take a dip in the beautiful swimming pool.