Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Run-In With the King

Hey, my name is Daniel Goldschmidt. I am entering my final year of my music therapy undergraduate degree at the University of Kansas. I am originally from Minneapolis, MN, and I am interested in studying the growing connections between music therapy and music theory.

It is 7:30 AM. You just woke up to go for a run before your 9 AM class. You sleepily throw on a pair of black shorts and a yellowed v-neck, the groaning ceiling fan periodically reaching you in its circular oscillation (quite different than the stationary fans of America), persuading your hair sideways for a moment as you tie your Nikes.

You stash a 100-Baht bill, bearing the face of the king, in your waistband to buy some post-run breakfast across the highway from your hostel; you secure your room key inside your right pocket. You step out the door, a damp heat overcoming your body, and start running.

You bank westward at the main road, overtaking a crowd of undergraduate students in their black skirts and white button-up shirt uniform, and you accidentally drop your 100-Baht note. Be careful with your next few strides, as you do not want to commit lèse majesté; due to it bearing the face of the king, you can be arrested for stepping on the bill. Note in hand, you continue to run past a sports field as speakers begin to play Sansoen Phra Barami- The Royal Anthem. People solemnly stand for the duration of the anthem, and you awkwardly half-run half-walk deciding whether or not to join in (you observe some folks continuing to walk, so you keep running).

Twenty minutes into the humid workout, already drenched with perspiration, you curve onto the main road: home of breakfast. Breathlessly jogging up the flight of stairs to the bridge, you admire the decorations depicting the king and queen on a balcony, regally acknowledging the cars passing below. You see another overpass in the distance, solely a vignette of the king’s countenance illustrating its face. Reaching the next staircase, you descend, dodging two students sharing a brief meal, and spot your stop for breakfast: a petite local restaurant.

Lightly panting at the counter, you muster up a little Thai, along with your mastered form of international sign language, pointing, and order fruit with sticky rice. You glance above the teenager behind the register, again seeing the façades of the royal family on trading-card sized photos. Clutching breakfast with your right, the left meets it in front of your chest for a quick waai (bow), you diffidently say khop khun khrap (thank-you) and begin walking home. Between sweet bites, you consider the relationship this country has with the royal family, and how it compares to that of the US.

Here, one can be arrested for even speaking badly of anyone in the royal family; in the US we pride ourselves on “freedom of speech,” millions of dollars spent on t-shirts, websites, and bumper stickers bearing messages of disappointment regarding our political leaders. Preceding any film the screen indicates everyone should stand to honor the king, and a majestic arrangement of The Royal Anthem plays over a montage depicting the king’s various contributions to the country: cleaner energy, jobs for families, and many more. One can only joke about this being done in America; a screen depicting “Please stand and honor the president” followed by a video montage, to put it lightly, would displease many people (regardless of who is currently in office).

In my opinion, it is very nice having a people united by love for a politician and their country, regardless of the family’s involvement in various government positions or community cultures. However, of course, the beauty of one’s love for anything is the choice to love in the first place. Luckily, in my brief experience, the king of Thailand has made wonderful contributions to the country over his reign (since the 1940’s!) and deserves the respect he is given. What are your feelings on the power of patriotism? How would you feel about having a political leader that is the face of your nation, even though he rules mostly as a figure head?

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed being in a country where everyone was so patriotic. On the surface anyway, the attitude towards the king was so positive. I don't like negative feelings I get more often in America towards politicians running our country. I have mixed feelings as to whether I'd like a figurehead like the king for my country. Thailand is lucky because their king is such a positive influence on the country, but what if the king was a man with motives other than the country's welfare? I would feel powerless in this situation.