Introducing His Majesty, King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Her Majesty, Queen Sirikit
When in Thailand, they're your Royal Family too
Foreign visitors are often uncomfortable with the concept of royalty.
For generations, western populations have overthrown royal families, leading to a general western distrust of ruling lineages.
In Thailand, the visitor may be surprised to find that His and Her Majesties are revered and loved by people in all stations of society.
This is not lip-service.
The King and Queen have championed the lot of poor people, students, and intellectuals, doing much to improve living conditions, and education.
As benevolent monarchs, they have made it a point of freeing dozens of convicts on their birthdays each year.
Your stay in Thailand will be much more pleasant by adhering to a few small formalities that show respect to the King, the Queen, and their family.
You already know that itís impolite to show the soles of your feet to a Thai person, or to a Buddha image.
The same goes for images of the King.
Never put your feet on money (all baht notes carry the Kingís visage), even when a gust of wind has blown it away.
Donít hide baht notes in your shoes: when Thai people see you removing it, they will know youíre disrespecting the King.
Please donít joke about, or disparage the King, or members of his family.
Doing so contributes to the myth that most westerners do not respect the cultures of others.
Each day, at 8 am and 6 pm, the national anthem is played at many public places, and you should join Thais in standing out of respect, and refrain from talking.
Do likewise when you hear the royal anthem, played prior to the beginning of films and theatrical presentations.
The King was born on December 5, 1927, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where his father, Prince Mahidol, was studying medicine at Harvard.
He was crowned King of Thailand on 5 May 1950.
In his private life, the King plays the jazz saxophone, and composes music.
Queen Sirikit was born on August 12th 1932, as Mom Rajawongse Sirikit.
She and the King were married on July 19, 1949.
The King and Queen have four children, Princesses Ubol Ratana, Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, and Chulabhor, and Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.
On August 12, 2004, approximately 20,000 prisoners will be released in honor of the Queenís birthday, most of whom are elderly, ill, or guilty of minor offenses.
They will receive job counseling and pocket money as part of the re-integration process.
The King as seen through his deeds and projects
In 1973, student protestors demanded the return of the Thai constitution, which had been suspended by the military junta in 1958.
Hundreds of thousands of people jammed the area around the Democracy Monument in Bangkok, and on October 14 government troops began mobilizing against the students.
The King vociferously demanded an end to the bloodshed, and appointed the Thammasat Rector as new Prime Minister.
The protest and aftermath ushered in a new era of reforms in Thailand.
The King has established "Living Museums," study centers that allow visitors to view first-hand the means of bettering the lives of themselves and their fellow citizens.
His mantra has been: restore the environment, respect natural and cultural diversity, listen to the locals, go for simplicity, forego inter-agency rivalry and strive for self-reliance.
As one example, his first rural development study center was in Khao Hin Son, in which he developed a working model demonstrating how to turn depleted, hardscrabble soil into successful farmland.
The King continues to speak his mind on the constitutional leadership of Thailand, expressing his concern, in his birthday speech of 2003, over the government-led killings of large numbers of alleged drug dealers.
The King has always viewed tribespeople of the hills as victims of poor economic conditions and large drug barons alike, and favors a humanistic approach to the problem.
He has used his own money to initiate programs to allow the development of new crops in the lands of these disadvantaged peoples.
In the Hmong area, for example, he encouraged researchers to find ways to assist the Hmong in growing larger apricots as a way to replace opium as the major cash crop.
He funded a study center at Kasetsart University to do just this, and the success of the project resulted in Thai and international funding to continue to support the enterprise.
While in favor of the modernization of the country and its growing economic power, the King has also cautioned against sacrificing human values:
"It is not important to be an economic tiger.
What matters is that we have enough to eat and to live.
Self-sufficient economy will provide us just that.
It helps us to stand on our own and produce enough for our consumption."
This enlightened monarch deserves the respect of Thai citizens and visitors alike.
The Royal Familyís concern for the welfare of the public is constantly in the news.
We encourage you to read the stories.
Understanding their views and discussing their actions is a good way to ingratiate yourself with your Thai friends.
At the same time, you will be building your knowledge of a critically important element that makes Thailand the unique experience it is.
Queen Sirikit has also been responsible for many improvements to the Kingdom.
One of the most notable has been her advocacy and protection of the Thai silk industry.
In 1976, she set up a support industry to protect traditional Thai fabrics, which were in danger of being lost to machine-made designs.
One of her aims was to protect Thai villagers, ho relied on weaving to provide income to the home.
To this effect, she sponsored a cataloguing effort to document village designs, which now (2004) has resulted in over 7,200 textile patterns.