Vol. II No. 49 Saturday December 6 - December 12, 2003
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SPECAIL NEWS

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great:

A Lifetime of Dedication to His People

By Peter Cummins
Photos: Courtesy of the Bureau of the Royal Household

Introduction

Born on Monday, the fifth of December 1927 at the Mount Auburn Hospital, Cambridge, Massachusetts, King Bhumibol reaches his seventy-sixth birthday, this year. As the Thai people celebrate this year’s anniversary of the birth of the world’s longest-reigning Monarch, the Chiangmai Mail presents this supplement, prepared by special correspondent Peter Cummins, as a “Happy Birthday” tribute to our beloved King.

In his Coronation Oath, promulgated on the fifth of May 1950, the newly crowned Rama the Ninth vowed that, “We will reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people,” and the 53 years which have passed since that auspicious day, the concept of “righteousness” has dominated his reign. In fact, the King has, throughout his more than five decades of rule, constantly revered the age-old Buddhist concept of ‘Kingship’ as defined in the “Sutta Pitaka” of the “Tripitaka” in which a King is defined as “Mahasammata” - a King of Righteousness. The Buddhist scriptures also define the genesis of the universe and the progression of evils which befall mankind: greed, stealing and lying and the inevitable repercussions of censure and punishment.

Our King has steadfastly reigned by these principles, embodying good kingship in his own life, setting an example and often speaking out against the affliction of the evils so clearly spelled out in the Buddhist philosophy - evils and afflictions which seem to have become progressively worse in the past tumultuous year.

There will inevitably be some familiar material in parts in this story, for the King’s development projects have been ongoing for more than 50 years and there is, of course, a historical perspective which has been encapsulated. 

Honours Pour in
for the Royal Birthday

Many events are planned throughout the Kingdom to celebrate His Majesty’s 76th birthday. Abroad, too, the accolades pour in to honour the world’s longest-reigning Monarch. Late last year, the University of Tasmania honoured the King, awarding the Degree of Doctor of Science Honoris Causa, in “recognition of His Majesty’s vision, leadership and commitment to agricultural sustainability, environmental restoration, education, cultural diversity and self-reliance”.

Michael Codd, Chancellor of the University of Woolongong, conferred a Doctorate degree on the King, “in recognition of His Majesty’s distinguished leadership and humanitarianism” - the first time that this University has awarded such a degree.

Upon the conferral of the Doctorate, the University of Tasmania noted the strong links with a number of Thai Universities and “in honour of the occasion, established a Royal Thai Scholarship for post-graduate study, with awardees to be selected by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.”

Late last year, Dr Michael Vertican, Chancellor of the University of Tasmania, on behalf of the university honoured the King, awarding the Degree of Doctor of Science Honoris Causa, in “recognition of His Majesty’s vision, leadership and commitment to agricultural sustainability, environmental restoration, education, cultural diversity and self-reliance”.

Following this, the University of Woolongong conferred a Doctorate degree on the King, “in recognition of His Majesty’s distinguished leadership and humanitarianism” - the first time that this University has awarded such a degree. As the University stated at the time, this honorary Doctorate is indicative of the level of “reverence for His Majesty’s commitment to a goal that is closely identified with the mission of the University of Woolongong ... and which it expects of its graduates: ethical standards, a desire to seek improved solutions, participate in social change and an acceptance of individual obligations.”

As with the University of Tasmania, Wollongong has a long and close association with Thailand and has formal links with some eight institutions and universities in the Kingdom.

Just recently, the King was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Music - also a first of the genre - by the University of North Texas. Noting that the King has excelled in many areas of music, has mastered several instruments - including piano, saxophone, clarinet, guitar and violin - and has composed in English and French, the University plans to come out to Thailand for the Royal birthday. The 25-member group will include the University’s own “One O’clock Jazz Band”, to play for - and, hopefully, according to director, Professor Slater - with the King. 

Living Museums

Over the years, the King has established five Royal Development Study Centres - or, as they are better known - “Living Museums” - situated in the roughest terrain in their respective regions. These centres are the locale for experiments in re-forestation, irrigation, land development and farm technology which are conducted to find practical applications within the constraints of local conditions, geography and topography. His Majesty’s aim is to restore the natural balance, to enable people to become self-supporting.

The first centre organized was that of Khao Hin Son, in the rocky area of Chachoengsao’s Phanom Sarakam District. Here, the centre studies how to turn the barren soil, caused by de-forestation, back into fertile land again.

His Majesty the King, accompanied by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, presiding over the 2001 Prince Mahidol Awards Presentation Ceremony at the Chakri Throne Hall, the Grand Palace.

Other centres are located at strategic places around the Kingdom. The Pikul Thong Centre at Narathiwat studies the swampy, acidic land of the southern-most region.

The Phu Phan Centre in Sakhon Nakhon studies soil salinization and irrigation in the country’s biggest region, the Northeast which suffers from endemic drought.

The Krung Kraben Bay Centre in Chantaburi examines the rehabilitation of mangrove forests and coastal areas, following massive destruction.

The Huay Sai Centre in Petchaburi studies the rehabilitation of degraded forests and shows villagers, in their turn, how to protect the forests.

His Majesty the King observing a model of the Rama VIII Bridge and its vicinity during a visit to preside over the Opening Ceremony of the Rama VIII Bridge, Charansanitwong Road, Bang Phlat District, Bangkok.

To become thoroughly conversant with the problems, the King will fly over a particular area, armed with aerial photographs and maps of the terrain, noting features as they pass underneath. But, being a good photographer himself, he also takes his own pictures and later juxtaposes them over the charts, to obtain a detailed image of the area of his concern which helps in his planning of specific development projects.

Throughout the more than five decades that the King has ruled Thailand, not only Thais, but people around the world have become accustomed to seeing His Majesty travelling to remote areas of the country. He works with - and brings rational development to - even the poorest and most disadvantage groups. He is often filmed leading officials, farmers and many diverse groups up rough mountain trails, over bridges, punting along in small sampans, to initiate sustainable projects and ideas, aimed at helping the many who have been forgotten or left behind in the development process.

His Majesty the King presiding over the Ceremony to Lay the Foundation Stone of the Suvarnabhumi Airport, at the airport construction site, Bang Phli District, Samut Prakarn Province.

His Majesty’s insightful approach to local prevailing conditions has enabled him to improvise new theories for agricultural development, to provide guidelines for educating farmers on self-sufficiency, and to solve problems of goitre by feeing iodine into salt roads at strategic points.

In all these works, His Majesty has promoted a simple approach, using environmentally-friendly techniques and utilizing moderate amounts of locally available resources. For example, before environmentalism became a major force in the development equation, His Majesty was using vetiver grass to prevent erosion, controlling ground water level to reduce soil acidity, and seeding clouds with simple materials such as dry ice, to produce rain.

In fact, in a very recent development, His Majesty instructed the Royal Thai Army, in co-operation with the Royal Project Committee, the Land Development Department and the Department of Agriculture, to cultivate nursery stocks of vetiver, to be distributed ultimately to areas and regions suffering soil erosion problems.

Looking at the ongoing - and related - problem of flooding, the King, earlier this year, graciously contributed 18 million baht from his own funds for the construction of water gates as a bulwark against flooding in Petchaburi and Prachuap Kiri Khan Provinces. The King surmised that these water gates would drain floodwaters while blocking seawater, allowing the excess water to flow to the sea. They are also planned for Sukothai, Phitsanulok and Phayao.

It was in June this year, in fact, that two of the King’s development initiatives went into the public domain, when the government presented patents to His Majesty for his creating a new rain-making technique and his invention of an engine lubricant from pure palm oil. 

A Direct Approach

The King’s philosophy to development problems has been to “keep it simple”, relying on an intimate knowledge of Nature and her immutable laws, such as using fresh water to flush out polluted water or dilute it through utilization of normal tidal fluctuations. The ubiquitous water hyacinth, too, can be ‘harnessed’ to absorb pollutants.

The results of any development, the King asserts, must reach the people directly as a means of overcoming immediate problems, translating into “enough to live, enough to eat”, while looking at a longer-term result of “living well and eating well.”

His Majesty the King, accompanied by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, presiding over the Opening Ceremony of the Golden Jubilee Museum of Agriculture, Khlong Luang District, Pathum Thani Province.

His Majesty compares this to using “adharma” (evil) to fight evil, observing that both pollution and the water weed are a menace, but they can be used to counteract each other, thus lessening the damage to the environment.

The King himself practices this “simple approach” and brings a down- to-earth philosophy to which the people can readily relate. He studies and deliberates exhaustively on the particular project and then reveals his thinking in short, easy-to-grasp titles. The very simplicity belies the profundity of his ideals, for each title reflects a much deeper insight into a given problem while outlining the mode of operation to be employed.

A major working principle has been a true knowledge of and reliance upon the immutable laws of Nature in solving problems and coping with abnormal conditions, such as using fresh water to flush out polluted water, as in his analogy “good water chases bad” referring to the hyacinth/water pollution problem in the Chao Phraya, for example.

It was in 1969 that the King, vitally concerned about the Hill Tribes cultivation of and addiction to opium, established the Royal Project, the first manifestation being a Hmong village on Doi Pui in Chiang Mai Province and development has now has spread to Chiang Rai, Lamphun and Mae Hong Son.

Over the years, the Projects have been instrumental in the conversion of the poppy fields being turned into groves of temperate fruits and vegetables. It is under the dynamic direction of the King’s close colleague, friend and confidant, Prince Bhisatej Rajani, who manages the projects from his base at Chiang Mai University, that there are now five research stations and 35 Royal Project Development Centres which incorporate some 300 villages, comprising 14,000 households and approximately 90,000 farmers.

The Royal Development Projects Board, under the Office of the Prime Minister, also serves as the secretariat for the Chai Pattana Foundation which is directly responsible for the work related to the Royal Development Projects.

Thus, more than three decades later, the results can be seen in the new life which has come to many of the mountain villages. Greenery has returned to areas once denuded of forest cover through the highly-destructive slash-and-burn agriculture, leaving only barren hills in its wake, and the opium cultivation, a cause of extreme national concern, is relegated to the dust-bin of history.

“The key to the success of the Project lies in His Majesty’s guidelines,” explains Prince Bhisatej. “They focus on obtaining knowledge, through research, avoiding bureaucratic entanglements and swift action to respond to the villagers’ needs, while promoting self-reliance,” he adds.

The effectiveness of this approach has been applauded internationally. For example, in 1998 the Royal Project won both the “Magsaysay Award for International Understanding” and the “Thai Expo Award for the Highest Quality Standard of Thai Goods for Export.”

The King’s own views are that development must respect different regions’ geography and peoples’ way of life. “We cannot impose our ideas on the people - only suggest. We must meet them, ascertain their needs and then propose what can be done to meet their expectations,” the King pointed out recently.

The King’s ideas are in direct contrast to the bureaucracy’s wish to impose standards from the top down, with the inflexibility inherent therein. “Don’t be glued to the textbook,” he admonishes developers who, “must compromise and come to terms with the natural and social environment of the community.”

The King sees no need to spare any sensitivities - if there are any - because he feels that the government approach is costly and authoritarian which is why it has “failed miserably to address the country’s problems.” 

A Royal Imprimatur for Sports

Of course, His Majesty is highly pleased with the performance of Thai tennis star, Paradorn Srichapan who has raised the Thai flag the highest it has ever been on the international tennis circuit, maintaining his 11th ranking in this highly-competitive arena.

HM the King on the beach at Klai Kangwol (Photo by Peter Cummins ca. 1987).

Inaugurated in 1987, to honour His Majesty the King on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday, the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta, this year is right now in its seventeenth sailing. The King graciously accepted the title of Regatta Royal Patron and, through his Personal Representative, each year bestows his own Permanent Trophy to the winners. The now-famous “Phuket Regatta Week” will end tomorrow, the sixth of December. This evening, at Kata Beach, in front of perennial Regatta supporter, Mom Tri’s Boathouse, there will be a candle-lit ceremony, timed to co-ordinate with Kingdom-wide celebrations for the beloved Monarch.

An informal moment at Klai Kangwol Palace (Photo by Peter Cummins ca. 1985).

The King has consistently encouraged ALL sportsmen and women EVERYWHERE, to “put the sporting spirit first, strive for victory - and friendship” and his own example has always been a great source of inspiration to athletes: every sailor knows that His Majesty is a Gold Medal helmsman, winning the OK Dinghy Class in the South East Asian Peninsular Games, 36 years ago on the 16th of December, 1967, this day now celebrated as “National Sports Day” in the Kingdom.

An informal moment at Klai Kangwol Palace (Photo by Peter Cummins ca. 1985).

This nautical record, unlikely to be equalled in the annals of sporting history, is matched by a land-based one, the King being the only person to have lit the torch, opening the Asian Games on four occasions, last time being in Bangkok in 1998.

The King shares some yachting lore with HSH Prince Bhisatej (Photo by Peter Cummins ca. 1985).

His Majesty is also well known as being highly-knowledgeable about many sports having, at various times, participated himself in skiing, motor racing, ice-skating, badminton, tennis, swimming and even a little golf.

Sailing is a Royal pastime. Here the King’s granddaughter, HRH Princess Bhajrakitiyaba tries a Laser off the King’s own Royal Varuna Yacht Club (Photo by Peter Cummins ca. 1995).

As the then-president of the Thailand Olympic Committee, the late Air Chief Marshal Dawee Chullasapya emphasized when presenting the King with the highly-prestigious honour of “The Insignia of the Olympic Order”, at the Rajanives Hall, Chitralada palace, in December, 1987: “The King is not just a world-class yachtsman, but he has also participated in - and encouraged - many other sports”.

(Left) Peter Cummins is awarded a trophy by HM the King. HSH Bhisatej looks on (ca. 1986).

“The Olympic award was made not only to recognize the King’s prowess as a dinghy sailor,” said ACM Dawee, “but also to acknowledge the leading role he has played in promoting all sports - in Thailand, in the region and internationally - always displaying a firm grasp on the history and the finer points of a multitude of sports,” ACM Dawee added.

In boxing, too, the King has proved to be most knowledgeable. In 2001, president of the World Boxing Council, Dr Jose Sulaiman, in bestowing upon His Majesty the WBC’s “Golden Shining Symbol of World Leadership Award”, was “amazed at the King’s knowledge of boxing”. Whereupon, the King urged Dr Sulaiman “to promote boxing not only as a sport ... but also as an art of self-defence.”

In Mexico, August 11, 2003, through the Royal Thai Embassy in Mexico City, the King, in turn, bestowed the title of “Second Class Knight Commander of the Most Admirable Order of the Direkgunabhorn” on Dr Sulaiman - one of the highest Royal Awards ever to be conferred on a sports official.

Another sportsman who has enjoyed Royal recognition is snooker player Noppadol Saengnil. His Majesty had watched Noppadol play and learned that this talented young man had been chosen by the Asian Confederation of Billiards Sport to represent the region in the 2003-2004 Challenge Tour in Britain, but there was no funding. His Majesty awarded Noppadol a grant, drawn from his own personal funds, to ensure that the rising snooker star would be able to participate.

Epilogue

As one would expect from a Monarch defined as “Mahasammata”, or a “King of Righteousness”, by all the people and who, upon his accession to the Throne in 1950, embraced the “Tenfold Moral principles of the Sovereign”, His Majesty has ruled quietly and without ostentation.

Starting very early in his reign and continuing to this day, the King, usually accompanied by the Queen and second daughter Princess Maha Chakri Sirindorn, travelled to the far corners of the kingdom to learn first-hand from the farmers and peoples of the rural areas about their problems.

Again, as with all his other interests, the Monarch studies, observes, photographs and imbues himself with all the relevant knowledge and facts which he needs to move forward with recommendations, implementation of beneficial projects and follow-up.

The Thai Monarch is probably best known, universally, for his unbending resolve to improve the lives of each and every one of his people - a singular dedication to their welfare which has been acclaimed from all corners of the world.

A lasting image of the King is that of a man, often kneeling or sitting on the ground, poring over charts and topographical maps of the area, while surrounded by local farmers and villagers discussing their problems.

It has been recorded that the King has spent more than 200 days per year, for more than three decades, in rural areas where he has initiated some 2,000 projects aimed solely at improving the well-being of his people.

Thus, through the illustrious decades of his rule, the King has been the very embodiment of his “Oath of Accession” that “We will reign with Righteousness for the Benefit and Happiness of the Siamese People”.

The world’s longest-reigning Monarch, today celebrating his seventy-sixth birthday, continues to be, as he has been for the half-century of his just reign, “the light of his land, the pride of his people and a shining example to all peoples of a troubled world”.


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