As Thailand mourns the death of a great man and king; it is sad that the first blog post for the Bangkok Consultant is under unhappy circumstances. However, rather than sadness, we should celebrate a life that touched the hearts and souls of a nation:
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was one of the most revered kings in all of Thailand’s history. During his 70 year reign, he set up many economic and agricultural projects to help some of his country’s poorest people. A ‘hands on’ King, he was born in Massachusetts, in the US, in 1927 and was the youngest of three, with his elder sister Princess Galyani Vadhana and an elder brother Prince Ananda Mahidol. After the death of his father in 1929, the young family moved to Switzerland where they studied Liberal Arts, as well as Bhumibol taking English, French, German and Latin lessons.
During this time, his nine-year-old brother, Ananda, became the new King Rama VIII of Thailand though his mother was adamant that he have a normal upbringing away from royal life. Following the end of the Second World War, King Ananda and his brother, Prince Bhumibol, returned to Thailand still both just young boys. Sadly, during this time, King Ananda passed away and, as a result, Bhumibol ascended the throne in June 1946. He was officially coronated in May 1950, at the Royal Palace in Bangkok.
Having a Western upbringing, and education, allowed the young King to recognise the potential in Thailand and set about trying to change things for the better. In an attempt to help his people become more self-reliant, in the wake and devastation of the war, he began to set up a number programs to educate rural Thais in self-reliance. When he was 18 years old, he used a short wave transmitter to form his own radio station called Ar Saw and would often play saxophone live on air, while taking the opportunity to ask his listeners for donations to some relief projects.
During his formative years as King, he had a very personable approach, shaking hands and speaking to the public on matters that were important to them, giving him the name, The People’s King. In ancient times, commoners were not allowed to gaze upon the King, and most Thai Monarchy traditionally would keep a distance from their subjects. As Thailand began opening up to Western consumerism and ideas, the King embarked on an extensive expedition to see the living conditions of his people across Thailand. As a result, he became highly active in the development of Thailand’s rural areas, and over his lifetime, he set up thousands of human development programs to help his people.
One that I was particularly impressed with was the Artificial Rainmaking Research and Development Project, established in 1969. The majority of Thai people depend on agriculture to survive; however, drought has always been a large problem with many families often relying on a single crop a year, which can cause mass famine if it fails. King Bhumibol took it upon himself to learn about this problem, to try and help his people and devoted many resources to studying and researching artificial rainmaking techniques, donating a lot of his private funds to help launch the project. Initial methods included releasing chemicals into the air via a Cessna airplane (and other delivery systems) that react with clouds to produce more rain. The project had some success. In 1999, he discovered a new technique called Super Sandwich, which gains more cloud density increasing the amount of rainfall. Today new techniques are being discovered and are being introduced to the Thai people. The King’s ingenuity for inventing the rainmaking technology has been widely recognised, as well as many of his other projects.
Another of his Majesty’s projects is called The New Theory, based on the ideas of Tolstoy and Gandhi, which are a set of guidelines for the proper management of limited natural resources to achieve optimum benefit. It teaches Thai people how to divide up their land for the cultivation of vegetation, rice and animal breeding (including fish), which should (in theory) give the farmers all the food they need for consumption, making them self-reliant. During his reign he had implemented over 4,000 successful projects and, in 2006, Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented King Bhumibol with the first Human Development Lifetime Achievement, recognising the monarch’s 60-year-long efforts to help some of the poorest people in his kingdom. Mr Annan told the King at the award ceremony:
“Your Majesty has made an extraordinary contribution to human development. As the world’s ‘Development King,’ Your Majesty has reached out to the poorest and the most vulnerable people of Thailand – regardless of their status, ethnicity or religion – listened to their problems, and empowered them to take their lives into their own hands”
Among other awards, King Bhumibol also received a gold medal for his Royal Rainmaking Project from the Brussels Eureka in 2001. Being a highly educated king, he was a keen believer in lifelong learning and knew the importance of education and schools to help in the recovery and development of Thailand. He began funding many projects to help hill tribe children get an education and, in 1976, started a foundation to help people who had dropped out of formal education due to poverty. Many of these were practical vocations, which filled a huge gap in the market during this time. The King is recognised as a great man for all he has done for his subjects, and yet he held no political power, his status among his people is above all, and the love and respect of his Majesty, by the Thai people, is unequalled anywhere else in the world.
He will be sadly missed.
(The Bangkok Consultant)