I have been coming to Thailand for fifteen years. I was always aware that Thailand had a King and that he was very popular. He died a few weeks ago and the country was still in mourning when I arrived early this week. It seemed like a good time to ask my local friends more about King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
I was surprised to find out the King was actually born in Cambridge Massachusetts while his father was studying at Harvard. My response “so the King is an American” generated a smile on my host’s face and the conversation about the King continued. His family moved back to Thailand when he was still very young but he wound up being educated in Switzerland. A global perspective seems like a good thing for a King (or a President) to have but we will get to that.
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The King took the throne at 19 and reigned for over 70 years. In all my visits here I have never heard an ill word said about the King. On this trip, everywhere I went it seemed his image was looking down at me amid an incredible amount of flowers: in hotels, offices, on the street.
It is not my intention to give a history lesson here but for those interested there is plenty online about the world’s richest and seemingly most popular monarch.
I was in Thailand on business. Many of the people I deal with were educated in the US, Canada or UK so given the time of year the subject of the Hillary vs Trump Presidential “food fight” was an embarrassing juxtaposition to the passing of a beloved King after a 70 year reign.
Most of the people I deal with here also happen to be women so I found it very interesting that I did not hear one positive comment about Hillary – zero, zilch, nada.
This is not to say “The Donald” is viewed as a great option but in my statistically insignificant sampling of very well educated Thai women, Mexican wall jokes aside, Trump seemed to be perceived as the lesser of two evils which was a great surprise to me.
As I have spent more time in the last 20 years outside the US than on American soil, I have always enjoyed the take people in other countries have on our political system. I will board a flight to China in less than two hours. I am looking forward to hearing my friend and former driver, Philip’s take on the election. I will spend election night in Osaka, Japan where I will see how our Presidential food flight concludes or will I? I was living in Japan 16 years ago when the hanging chads prevented us from knowing the winner for far too long.
As a proud American, I have to say my pride is being sorely tested as I try to explain why America can’t find better options for our top job.
I feel a little jealous that the Thais had a King for 70 years that seems universally loved while American politics seem reduced to a Saturday Day Night Live skit.