Why is everyone frozen in time suddenly?
Imagine this: You are walking in a crowded market with thousands of people milling around, and suddenly everyone freezes, standing motionless. What is going on here!? You will get used to it. Every day at 8 am and 6 pm all over Thailand a mini ceremony takes place in honor of the King. A special song is played over the loudspeakers and everyone stops whatever they are doing and is standing motionless until the song ends. At that time everyone just continues with whatever they were doing.
This can happen in all kinds of places. It is a familiar scene at Chiang Mai’s busy Sunday market. While you will not see it in big city traffic, I have been in smaller towns where all traffic just stopped in the middle of the street as soon as the song started to play. If you go to Bangkok’s huge Hualampong train station, all the police and security people will line up in a row and salute while all passengers stand up to honor the king twice a day.
If you go to any cinema in Thailand, you will see the usual trailers and advertisements, but shortly before the movie starts, the King’s music is played and everyone in the theater stands up. I have even received a Thai massage session, and in the middle of it the music came on. So the massage therapist just stopped working on me, stood to attention during the song and then continued the massage.
Criticism of the King is the one thing you should never do in Thailand
It shows just how much the King is respected in Thailand. Actually if you say anything negative about the King, you can go to jail, get kicked out of the country and be permanently banned from ever coming back. Some time ago Youtube was banned in Thailand for quite a while because someone had published a movie with critical content about the King.
Thailand is a very tolerant place and you can say pretty much whatever you want, but there are two exceptions. One is the King and the other is the monkhood. If you have nothing positive to say about these two institutions, keep your opinions to yourself. But if you gain a better understanding of Thai culture, you will find out that both the King and the monkhood are very important pillars of life in Thailand and both contribute a lot of value in many areas.
I eat my avocados thanks to the King
Although the King has no political power, his opinion has always been respected in conflicts and many potentially explosive situations have been settled peacefully when the King intervened. Personally I benefit from one of the Kings’s projects daily: It is called Doi Kham, a big royal organic agricultural project that produces tons of fruits and vegetables which are sold in the towns. Doi Kham has introduced many new varieties of produce like avocados, rhubarb and other non-native fruits and vegetables. It is the best place to get high quality produce in Thailand.
Cleanliness in Thailand
The King also started an initiative for a cleaner Thailand, and as a result you find very little garbage strewn about compared to some other Asian countries. In Bangkok you can get fined for dropping cigarette butts on the street. Thais are very clean in their personal habits and they shower several times a day. It is generally not acceptable to relieve yourself in public, again unlike some other Asian countries.
Fighting hero versus symbol of peace
I remember when I was living in Mexico, I was always amazed that the whole country is full of statues of heros who were busy fighting and killing for one cause or another. In Thailand there are pictures of the King in every public building, in every office and in every home. But the king here always symbolized peace, conflict resolution, progress and unity. Unlike many national heros in countries around the world who were revered by some and feared by others, the monarchy in Thailand is an institution behind which all Thais rally and unite.
Thailand is a democracy, but is has to be said that the King, without any official political power, repeatedly had to fix the cracks in the system and without his intervention the fledgling Thai democracy would have had a much harder time surviving its birthing pains.
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