How can we love someone we had never met personally?
How can we… even revere him?
We were brainwashed, someone said.
Thailand is not a democratic country so we never knew otherwise, others commented.
Some, seeing us cry, even compared us to North Korea.
The strict Lese Majeste law, or as Thais know it as Law 112, forbids us from criticizing the royal family; Therefore, as many explained, we never really knew the truth or questioned our respect for the family.
Let me ask you some very simple questions.
Have you heard about Abraham Lincoln and his legacy? Do you respect him?
What about Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi?
Did you understand when the people wept for their deaths?
No, our King did not have to fight to free his race to have the same right as others in the society. But yes, he did fight, very hard, to free his people from starvation and poverty.
Though in different contexts, it is the same concept.
My name is Kalyakorn. I’m 33 years old, born and raised in Thailand. I consider myself a bilingual, spending my elementary years in a regular Thai school, then entered an international school for middle and high school diplomas. As a bilingual, who has deep interest in history, it’s fortunate that I’m able to access information and historical records in both Thai and English. In fact, my passion lead me to study the history of other civilisations, empires, and kingdoms even before I developed an interest in Thai history.
The four years in a Thai university made me realize how little I knew of my own country. Traveling to different places, mostly to rural areas, riding buses, sleeping in temples, eating non-luxurious meals, such as crispy cow skin with sticky rice, allowed me to see this country in a different light.
So, I started to look deeper into my home country. It was around the same time that I started to travel to our neighbouring countries. This made me realize that although we share very similar cultures and went through many similar events throughout the history, seeing the different outcomes of those challenging times between Thailand and other countries, I felt deep appreciation for whom had built this country to where it is now.
Yet, I learned that our past is not as glorious as some tried to paint it to be. I learned that through difficult conditions and under threats, the country was rushed into great reformation, under King Chulalongkorn’s lead, to try to survive during the time Western countries were hunting for new colonies in Asia.
Studying from both English and Thai references, I saw there were a lot more dimensions to the stories I’d heard since I was a child.
I learned that democracy was such a sweet and trendy ideology, but was forced upon Thais, through a coup, when its people were not ready as they were never educated to understand what democracy really meant.
I learned that many royal family members had to flee the country or they would risk being put in jail.
I learned, from comparing the history of my country to that of other countries, that how King Ananda, and his brother, King Bhumibol, came to the throne may be unconventional.
Prince Ananda was a young boy with royal blood, living in Switzerland with his small family. His mother was a commoner and his father, who was a prince, had passed away. But as a grandson of King Chulalongkorn, he was pushed by the then government to rule Siam, now known as Thailand, believing he would be easily controlled as a young king. When he grew up, he started to realize that there was more to his job than being a puppet. So, he started to really work as a king even during a short visit to his country.
Able to solve long existed conflict between Thais and Thai-Chinese community, King Ananda started to win people’s heart. Then, he was assassinated, a few days before he would return to his study.
After his death, the throne was then succeeded by his brother, King Bhumibol.
It was not an easy job.
It was probably the job King Bhumibol had never asked for.
This was the job that was forced upon him, at a very dangerous time.
But he accepted it.