Friday, August 2, 2013

Waiting for the King

People wave pictures of Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, and the flags of the Thai monarchy  at Siriraj Hospital Thursday. 

Thailand's King and Queen left Siriraj Hospital, where they've lived for years, Thursday to go to Hua Hin, where the Monarchy has long had a summer palace. Thais absolutely revere the King. In a country as polarized and split among Red Shirt/Yellow Shirt political fault lines as the United States is split along Republican/Democratic fault lines, the monarchy is seen as a (really the) unifying force in the country. Poor Thais in the countryside, Red Shirts who support deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and rich Thais in Bangkok, supporters of the Thai Democrats, all agree on the importance of the monarchy. 

The King is his mid-80s and his health is not good, so anytime he appears in public crowds throng the venue, clamoring for a chance to see their King. 

Thursday at the hospital was no different. The King and Queen were scheduled to leave the hospital about 4.00PM. I got there about noon and people were already staking out spots on the street and sitting on the sidewalk. They had four hours to wait, in the broiling sun. Vendors were working the crowd selling snacks and drinks, Thai and monarchal flags and plastic sheets to sit on. Every once in a while, someone would start chanting "Long live the King" (in Thai) and the rest of the crowd would pick it up. 

By 2PM, the sidewalks were crowded but there were still a few spots left and by 3.15PM it was so crowded you couldn't move through the crowd without stepping on someone. I've covered royal appearances a couple of times and the public's devotion to the King no longer surprises me but it still amazes me. There's nothing like this in US culture. 
A man holds up a picture of the King just before his Majesty left the hospital. 

I didn't photograph the King or Queen as they left the hospital. There are strict protocols for photographing the Monarchy and I don't have the proper credentials. I knew that I wouldn't be able to photograph them, I went to the hospital to photograph the crowd. For me, the public's reaction to their Monarch says it all. 

There are more photos of the crowd in my archive or available from ZUMA Press.
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