Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The King and I

Yes, we climbed these.

I do love me some lions.
Ronald doing the "wai," the traditional Thai greeting. 
Wat Arun, with Bob acting all Chinese
Even the Buddha is relaxed.
We got home last night from four days in Bangkok, and of course my short visit to the Thai kingdom allows me to come to some sweeping and cliched conclusions about the entire country. (See under: Japan's cool toilets; Vietnam flashbacks)

Thai people are very much the way the tourist propaganda describes them: perpetually smiling, unfailingly gracious, and eager to be helpful. In our first couple of hours wandering around Bangkok we encountered a doctor, a lawyer, and a working man who all went out of their way to direct us to attractions and draw instructions on a map. True, all three were mainly invested in pointing us to shopping opportunities, but I had the sense that they simply wanted us to get the deals and bargains Thailand is famous for.

The other thing that came up in conversation with nearly every Thai person was an affectionate reference to "my king." Not "our king" or "the king," but always MY king, as if the citizen had a personal relationship with the king. At the moment he's ailing and in the hospital and it felt as if the entire kingdom was holding its breath and hoping for the 86-year-old king's full recovery.

What makes this fact even stranger are the enormous billboards and murals everywhere with pictures of the king and queen, him a scrawny man in owl-size eyeglasses, seemingly incapable of cracking a smile, alongside a wife who could be twice his size with a pasty white face and a matching grim expression. The day before we arrived a newspaper editor had been given ten years in jail for running an article that supposedly mocked the king, lese majeste (or injured majesty. So thin-skinned, these royals).

I don't get it, but then again the Thais as a nation seem infinitely more cheerful than the Chinese -- or the Americans for that matter -- so maybe they have a point.

Or maybe it could be the delicious food, the tropical climate, and blue skies, all very welcome after Beijing's winter of bitter cold and hazardous air.  As far as I can tell, Thailand is an easygoing country, as long as you don't dis the king....or have a balloon.


  1. Why no balloons, do you think?

  2. A fairly pedestrian reason: Balloons in Asia are highly flammable. Still, I like to think it's the one thing that makes the Thais look like party-poopers.