January 26, 2018
Today is for Thai royalty. Luckily we were able to get a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast. Now we are ready to seize the day.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy that sees its royal family as an important part of the national social glue that binds the people together. The modern kingdom started in Bangkok in the late 18th century. The original Chakri Dynasty is still on the throne. King Number 10 just took over for 9. He is yet to be actually enthroned as the one year mourning period for his Dad just ended. Despite not being official, his picture is everywhere as is the likeness of his beloved father. In fact, family portraits festoon all of the major streets. It is a bit weird for a “figurehead” but it is much nicer that pictures of the Generals who actually run the country.
There is a parliament but it rubber stamps what the ruling junta wants. The king and his family preside over National ceremony and technically over the Buddhist religious community. This religious control is pretty much like that practiced by the Queen of England over the Anglican Church. Today we toured the Royal seat of power even though there is no real authority.
The palace complex encompasses and tells the story of the first nine modern Thai kings who led Thailand to continued independence despite the efforts of the Burmese, the Japanese, the French and the British. The Burmese and Angkor kings seemed to dominate much of Thai history until the 18th Century. The kings of Siam managed to carve out a kingdom from tributary regions of the Chao Phraya River up to Laos and Burma. Fortunately, for the Thai kings, the French busied themselves to the east while the British dominated Burma and Imdia to the west. The kings of Siam managed to play these imperialist nations off and survived with its Imdependence until the Japanese over ran the country in WWII.
The palace complex reflects the cosmopolitan nature of Thailand and Bangkok in particular. Most of the complex was built in the mid to late 19th Century. The first king is the dynasty was crowned there as well as the rest of the ruling members. There are private residences but these are no longer used. The place is focal point for modern tourism. It is colorful and confusing. The Hindu antecedents of Buddhism are on display with detailed depictions of the Ramayana epic on mural after mural. The battles between the good monkey and the evil demons are possible to understand by the untutored. The various warlike,guardians are everywhere is a variety of sizes. The huge stupa in the center of the religious area contains some of Buddha’s ashes. The stupa is of Sri Lankan design as fits the time because the Thai form of Buddhism came from there. The stupa is covered with gold mosaic imported fro Italy. The supposed highlight of this part of the palace complex was the Emerald Buddha. It is actually jade but you wouldn’t know it with the other thousand tourists squeezing by to take a gander. It was not fun but we survived.
The royal government buildings were designed in the French or English styles but were modified with Thai architectural elements. The complexity reflects the international nature of the Thai government and society. Today, English is the Second language and used by almost all of the younger generation. In fact, despite the crowding sim this city of seven million, there is an obvious bustle and sense of optimism.
This evening we will visit the night market. It was just too much last night.