Almost nothing can mute the vivid clamor of Bangkok. But in the wake of Thailand’s most-dreaded event — the death of the kingdom’s monarch — this raucous city feels remarkably hushed.
There is little wailing or sobbing in the streets. This is Thailand, after all, where a Buddhist-driven culture values letting go over hysteria.
But the city feels blanketed in grief. The subways are strangely quiet. Shopkeepers can be seen dabbing Kleenex at their eyes.
At least three in four people are clad in black or muted colors. TV stations, by decree of the military government, have halted soap operas in favor of black-and-white films extolling the king’s greatness. Even Google’s Thai-language homepage has gone colorless.
Life goes on. But in monochrome.
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King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 88, was the world’s longest-serving monarch. He passed on Oct. 13 after ruling for more than seven decades.
From birth, generations of Thais were taught that the very essence of their Thai identity was embodied in this living human being. Bhumibol was widely regarded as a sacred father figure. His passing has plunged Thailand into a year of official mourning.
“We feel indescribable pain,” said Kanchana Noktor, 34, a freelance worker. She was waiting to enter Thailand’s Grand Palace, a complex of glittering spires and jade Buddhas. Elaborate funeral rites, possibly lasting months, will be held within. Many thousands of mourners waited hours in the searing heat to catch a glimpse of the proceedings.
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Through tears, Kanchana explained that the death of her king — despite his well-publicized fight against organ failure — had registered as a shock. For years, public discussion of the king's death has been all but criminalized by the state.
“I felt like he could have lived 120 years,” she said. “None of us have prepared our hearts. We can’t accept it.”