SPECAIL NEWS

Her Majesty Queen Sirikit

Caring Mother of the Thai Nation

By Peter Cummins

Prologue

This short piece is presented as a token of loyalty, affection and respect for our beloved Queen Sirikit. It is not intended to be a definitive account of the Queen’s incredibly dedicated life; rather, it merely selects some salient points showing Her Majesty’s benevolence. The author adds a section on his reflections after meeting Her Majesty personally, some time ago.

He has also used a rather eclectic approach, drawing on the excellent publication of the Chaipattana Foundation Journal (August 2000), various reports from magazines and newspapers, including the Chiangmai Mail, the Bangkok Post and The Nation.

The King and the Queen of Thailand - along with members of the Royal family - have been a tremendous influence on the Thai society, bringing a relatively backward, almost medieval, country out of its instability and insecurity, into what has become a fully-recognized member of the family of nations, taking a lead role in many ASEAN, Asian and world affairs.

Thus, Thailand takes its place proudly in the world’s forum and it is the King and Queen who have been the guiding lights behind the Kingdom’s evolution.

Peter Cummins
12 August 2004

Sirikit,
Born to be Queen

Born the daughter of a Thai prince and his consort, on 12 August 1932, Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kittiyakara was destiny’s child: in her tiny hands, looking down the corridors of time, she was destined to up-raise the Thai people and improve life for each and every one of the some 55 million people who would become her subjects.

Following the end of WWII in 1945, the young Sirikit followed her father’s ambassadorial posting first to the Court of St. James and then Paris. The beautiful Sirikit, whose name means “beauty and honour,” continued her education, studying language and music, aspiring to become a concert pianist, now like her granddaughter Ploy.

Then along came the future King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, while both were studying in Europe, Bhumibol in Lausanne and Sirikit in Paris. In 1949, the young couple announced their engagement and returned to Thailand for their marriage on 28 April 1950.

When the young prince was crowned King Rama IX on 5 May 1950, the new King’s first official proclamation was to install his bride of just one week as Queen Somdej Phranang Chao.

 

Thus, the King of Thailand’s everlasting heritage to the Thai people was to commit them to the care of a beautiful and loving Queen who has spent every day of these ensuing 54 years looking to the welfare and well-being of the Thai people. Known for more than a half-century as the “Mother of all the Thais”, Queen Sirikit’s birthday appropriately coincides with Mothers Day.

Early in their reign, when visiting remote areas, the Royal Couple were disturbed by the plight of the rural people, the lack of educational and medical facilities and, not the least, poor nutrition which aggravated all other problems. The King determined to take positive action to help the farmers, while Her Majesty focused on “the home”, seeking ways to enable the women-folk to earn money to help alleviate the grinding and debilitating poverty.

Today, the whole Kingdom of Thailand rejoices and celebrates the birthday of the Her Majesty the Queen, the “Mother of the Nation” and, by extension, pays a tribute to Thai Motherhood, as Thailand also honours Mothers’ Day at this time.

Ongoing
Celebrations

In fact, the Thai people have been celebrating the forthcoming birthday of the Beloved Queen for more than a year and one of the early manifestations was two years ago, shortly after Her Majesty’s 70th birthday, when a splendid gala, featuring a Thai silk fashion show - appropriately called “Queen of Silk” - was held in Her Majesty’s honour at Government House.

The highlight of the spectacular evening was the conferring upon the Queen, the Louis Pasteur Award, by the International Sericultural Commission and the Brussels Eureka 2001, awarded by the National Research Council of Thailand.

As an added honour, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives commissioned a special musical tribute called ‘Mai Rak’ (Love of Silk), “In appreciation of Her Majesty’s role and activities in Thai silk and developing it to a world standard over the past five decades.”

These awards coincided with the staging of the 19th Congress of the International Sericultural Commission - the first time Thailand has ever had the occasion to host this prestigious event. Thus it was a fitting tribute to Her Majesty, witnessed by some 500 sericulture experts from more than 23 countries who attended the Congress.

Of course, a familiar sight to the Thai people and, certainly those at the Congress, is the Queen attired in Thai silk, particularly Mudmee (known also as Ikat), Korat and Chiang Mai silks.

During her trips around the Kingdom and abroad, the Queen invariably wears Thai silk, as do those of her staff who accompany her. As a result of this exposure, the international community has learned to admire the beauty of Thai silk and to appreciate a handicraft that is uniquely Thai.

For example, Liz Davenport is one of Australia’s foremost clothing manufacturers and retailers whose designs have earned Australia’s highest award. Liz is mooted as the “next Jim Thompson”, making remarkable use of her favourite fabric, Thai silk.

It really happened by chance. Liz met well-known Thai TV personality, Jaye Walton, Honorary Consul for Thailand representing South Australia and the Northern Territory, while at an exhibition in Adelaide.

Typically to form, Jaye was wearing a stunning Mudmee outfit which, said Liz at the time, “just stood out from the crowd”. Liz was soon on her way to Thailand and was invited to the November (2002) Silk Festival in Sakon Nakhon, sponsored by the Queen’s SUPPORT Foundation. Overwhelmed by the skill of the individual silk weavers and the magnificence of the range of products, it was not long before Thai silks adorned all of Liz’s 14 boutiques around Australia.

Awards and
Events Dedicated
to The Queen

There is almost an endless list of awards, celebrations and dedications to Her Majesty, ranging from a nation-wide tree-planting of one million trees to honour the Queen’s life, to concerts, fashion parades, to a world record sky-diving performance. There is a Queen’s cookbook, the opening of a “Butterfly Garden” and, certainly not the least, two highly-prestigious awards from the United States acknowledging the Queen’s role in preserving Thai crafts and her humanitarian assistance to the Thai people, refugees and wild-life.

It is not possible to single out the huge number of accolades and dedications made to the Queen. Only to categorize them, without any particular order of priority. Herewith are some of them:

The 2004 Aid to Artisans Award: for the preservation of Thai crafts, presented at a Gala Dinner in New York on 2 February 2004.

The Marshall Legacy Institute’s Annual International Award 2003, for the Queen’s work in helping improve the lives of people and protecting wildlife.

Upon the presentation of this award in Washington, D.C., on 4 February 2004, the director of the Institute, which is dedicated to the removal of landmines, pointed out that “Her Majesty had played an important role in promoting the welfare of Thais, with special emphasis on the poor and refugees.”

At the end of 2003, Her Majesty gave permission to print 500 copies of her recipes in a cookbook entitled “Kin Tam Mae” (“Eating as Her Majesty Does”) which stresses the benefits of good food which she prepares for her own family. The Public Health Ministry said, “The book was a demonstration of Her Majesty’s kindness and it underscored the Public Health Ministry’s declaration of 2004 as ‘The Year for Safe Food’”.

A world record of 672 skydivers from 42 countries, early this year, leaped from six C-130 military transport planes, unfurling on their descent, a gigantic Thai flag to honour the Queen.

The Queen’s Gallery, opened on Rajadamnoern Klang Avenue, opposite the Golden Temple, in honour of Her Majesty’s 71st birthday last year, is Bangkok’s newest art center and, as well as a collection of portraits of the Queen painted by HM the King, the art and museum pieces on display have been contributed by galleries and private collectors world-wide.

There have been cultural performances, soloists and many musical tributes to the Queen, herself a skilled classic pianist.

Possibly the most moving concert was a magnificent performance by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Thai Cultural Centre, attended by Her Majesty and HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana in April this year.

Franz Schubert, Mozart and Rimsky Korsakov were the featured works but, undoubtedly, one of the highlights of the beautiful concert was the playing of the King’s own composition, “Kam Warn” (“Sweet Words”), arranged by Rear Admiral M.L Usni Pramoj.

As the Chiangmai Mail Peters (Malhotra and Cummins) had the great fortune to be seated near Her Majesty, it was easy to see her delight with the whole concert - especially the King’s composition.

His Majesty’s formative musical life was influenced by the culture and history of Europe. And, as a schoolboy in Switzerland, he read books about and had private tuition in classical music.

His drift to American jazz music was inevitable and the King is world-renowned in this genre, having played with some of the best contemporary jazz bands of the time.

What is important here, in the context of the Queen’s attending the Philharmonic Concert in her honour, is that on Their Majesties State Visit to Austria in 1946, on October 3, the world premiere of five of the King’s compositions was performed at the Concert Hall of Vienna’s Msikverein, home of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

Two days later, on 5 October 1946, the King of Thailand reached unheard of heights: He was made an Honorary Member of Die Akademie fur Music und darstellende Kunst in Wien (Vienna’s Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts). A rare and very precious honour, indeed.

Both the Queen and HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana attended Jessye Norman’s “A Voice for Peace Charity Concert”, with all proceeds from this highly-exceptional performance reverting to the Queen’s SUPPORT Foundation.

Midori Goto, world-acclaimed violinist, teamed up with classic pianist Peter Vinograde who were both highly honoured to dedicate their splendid concert - and to donate their time - to “celebrate the auspicious occasion along with all Thais and to donate all proceeds to the SUPPORT Foundation and HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s Foundation.”

Probably the latest tribute to HM the Queen was that of the Thai Red Cross Society which, at a function held last month, on 12 , 13 July, named 24 projects as winners in the “Following in Her Majesty the Queen’s footsteps in humanitarianism and the value of life” competition.

HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, in her capacity as the Executive Vice President of the Thai Red Cross Society, opened the Red Cross Gathering, the first to be held in Thailand for five years, this being the eighth such since the Society was founded in 1965.

This particular event, held at the Ambassador City Hotel in Jomtien was specifically held to honour HM the Queen, the President of the Thai Red Cross Society.

“The Eighth Red Cross gathering, also known as the Provincial Red Cross Chapters, honours the 72nd Birthday of HM the Queen, with the convocation of more than 4,000 Red Cross volunteers from all over Thailand, “ said MR Jiyakorn Sesavej, Deputy Director of the Society’s Fundraising Bureau and Acting President of Public Relations.

“The Thai Red Cross,’ said Princess Maha Chakri, on opening the event, assists those in trouble and offers the poor and disadvantaged the support they need”.

Provincial Red Cross Chapters “all represent the Thai Red Cross Society in giving also initial assistance to victims of disasters,” added the Princess.

These aims very much follow Her Majesty’s footsteps around the Kingdom, bringing help, relief and compassion to the less fortunate.

One more tribute to the Queen was the result of a brilliant idea proposed by “Hi” Magazine. To commemorate Her Majesty’s birthday, “Hi” approached 72 elegant ladies from the upper echelons of society, composing a colour montage of each one, suitably attired in Thai silk clothing supplied by the Queen of Silk collection of Pias, donated to the group to make up their own styles by “Hi”.

Each ‘model’ among the 72, which includes “fresh faces” donated Baht 150,000 to Her Majesty’s charities and “Hi” Magazine will publish this exotic colour spread in a 500-page special to be published on Her Majesty’s birthday.

A dedication closer “home” was the yacht-racing event, the “10th Pattaya Mail PC Classic Royal Cliff Beach Resort International Regatta”, held off the H.M. the King’s own club, the Royal Varuna Yacht Club at South Pattaya on the 8th of May, 2004.

This event became known as “A Celebration of Life and a Helping Hand for the Needy”, the aim following Her Majesty’s own philosophy of helping each and every one of her subjects, towards a better life.

Thus the regatta was held “To honour Our Beloved and Gracious Queen Sirikit on the occasion of her auspicious sixth-cycle, seventy-second birthday, on 12 August, 2004”. As a manifestation of this tribute to the Queen, the participants, organizers, sponsors and supporters of this event donated, under the aegis of the Rotary Club of Jomtien-Pattaya, all proceeds to the less fortunate and disadvantaged people – especially the children - of the community.

Another big sporting event, held on Sunday, 18 July, also in the Chonburi area, was the annual Pattaya Marathon which was renamed this year, and in perpetuity, as the “Pattaya Queen’s Cup Marathon”, in honour of Her Majesty’s 72nd birthday. Her Majesty graciously consented to name the revered trophy the ‘Queen’s Cup’.

There were several events incorporated , including the full (42-km) marathon, a wheel-chair marathon, half and quarter-marathons, as well as a children’s five-km run.

More than 10,000 came to take part in this 10th Marathon, with 450 runners from 10 countries.and a range of ages from seven up to the veteran 84-year-old Gink Parnwan, all running as a tribute to the Queen.

On the Saturday prior to the Marathon, (July 17), thousands of residents took to the streets of Pattaya in a walk of honour, ending at night with a candle-lit homage to the Queen.

H.E. Pisit Ketphasook, Governor of Chonburi Province, at the gathering, read out a pledge to Her Majesty : “We, your faithful subjects, humbly request your permission to proclaim in harmony and unity that we will celebrate in your honour, and to offer you our sincere wishes and pledges of our loyalty to you.”

The Governor continued, “We call upon the ‘Virtue of the three Gems’, including the power of all that is holy in the Universe, to bless you with all that is sacred, good health and spirits and a long life.”

“May you,” the Governor concluded, “be at the side of His Majesty the King in his Everlasting Reign of Righteousness, for the Benefit and Happiness of the Thai people. May you forever remain in our hearts and be a shelter for the Thai people forever more.”

The huge crowd then lit their candles and sang songs of love and praise for HM the Queen.

The SUPPORT Foundation

Almost coinciding with Her Majesty’s 72nd birthday is the 28th anniversary of the founding, on 21 July 1976, of the Supplementary Occupations and Related Techniques, popularly known by the acronym SUPPORT. The foundation was established to place, on a more formal basis, the activities started by the Queen, to initiate cottage industries for village and farm women, without the necessity of leaving home.

From her own personal funds, Her Majesty supplied weaving looms and materials to make fabrics, clothing and soft goods, as well as providing equipment to produce other marketable items. Having lived in Europe for many years, the Queen was conversant with the enormous diversity of European arts and culture and thus recognized the variety of crafts and styles distinctive to different regions of Thailand: hand-woven fabrics, basket-ware and rattan products, utensils and a myriad other artefacts.

Her Majesty is justifiably well known for her clear perception and this rose to remarkable heights with her outstanding vision for making SUPPORT into a viable proposition. She brought back from retirement former court artisans - even grandmothers - to teach presumed lost crafts to a ‘new generation’. The Queen’s advice to the ‘retirees’ was that, “Before they urged the villagers to make anything, they must be certain that the end-product is marketable - and not made for charity alone which does not provide a real livelihood. SUPPORT is designed to make the villagers self-reliant,” the Queen emphasized.

Particular stress was placed upon bringing physically-handicapped people to work at SUPPORT projects, raising their confidence and creating a satisfaction for each person who was, thus, achieving a level of self-reliance by being able to earn an income - and not having to rely on charity or handouts to survive.

Mudmee Silk is but one of the Queen’s legacies to the Foundation. It was Her Majesty who ‘resurrected’ this almost-forgotten weaving craft, indigenous to the northeast. Mudmee, meaning literally ‘tied threads’, is an intricate ‘tie and dye’ process which produces brilliant colours, each piece being unique and the pattern is the individual imagination of the weaver - there are no blueprints to follow.

Due to Her Majesty’s guidance, as well as to her wearing of Mudmee at official functions in Thailand and abroad, Mudmee silk is universally known as a distinctive, exotic and outstandingly beautiful Thai artefact.

This writer recently had the good fortune to visit the Silk Museum, adjacent to the Community College, Ban Kookard, in Khon Kaen Province, when undertaking an educational assignment commissioned by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). It was a journey into a hall of beautiful, shimmering and intricately-designed silk, carefully laid out.

Many projects to raise living
standards

Recently, with the welfare of the hilltribe people foremost in her mind, the Queen asked the Third Army to drop its plans of moving them to lowlands, fearing “such re-location will affect their way of life”.

Although probably best known for the SUPPORT project, the Queen’s great determination to raise the living standards and improve the quality of life for the Thai people has led to many other projects, beneficial to the people and nature equally. For example, there are the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden, The Forest Loves Water and The Little House in the Big Forest Projects.

During her ongoing visits - often with the King and other members of the Royal Family - to the remotest and poorest areas of the country, Her Majesty soon realized that it was preservation and wise use of the natural resources and environmental protection which were the imperative components in striking a balance between the welfare of human settlements and nature.

The Queen was most disturbed by the deterioration of these vital elements, particularly the water resources, which she observed on each visit, were either becoming depleted or badly degraded. The end result was a further blow to the well-being and improved way of life for even her lowliest subjects.

The Queen counselled the people, “To bond together in order to protect the forests which are sources of the watershed and natural food,” at the same time, “Encouraging them to use natural resources properly and efficiently, to achieve sustainable benefits.”

Her Majesty also urged the people to become self-reliant and, “To grow food and garden crops, to undertake a comprehensive cultivation of herbal plants and raise animals as a food source.”

The Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden

Her Majesty has continually worked very hard, with dedication and determination, to improve the living standard and quality of life of the Thai people and the establishment of the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden is just one manifestation.

In 1996, Her Majesty presided over the unveiling ceremony of the sign of the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden, located in Mae Rim District, Chiang Mai Province.

The Queen issued a directive to establish the Garden as a Thai plant conservation centre, where botanical research and study could be undertaken in order to maintain the impressive biodiversity of Thai flora. This includes collection and propagation of Thai flora for conservation purposes, especially the indigenous species, the rare and endangered species, and such valuable species as Thai orchids, herbal plants and the country’s economic wood resources.

During each of her visits to the remote rural parts of the country, she observed the on-going problems with great concern, fully recognizing the value of the natural resources, as well as the environment and its rapid deterioration, especially the water resources.

The Queen graciously provided suggestions and initiated numerous beneficial projects for the Thai people, noting that SUPPORT and the many other projects have all created jobs and income for people, enabling them to become self-reliant and to enjoy a better quality of life. People are also encouraged to grow food and garden crops, to carry out a comprehensive cultivation of herbal plants, as well as to raise animals to provide as a food source, and other benefits.

Thai people are very fortunate to have a Queen who not only cares for the country’s valuable natural resources, but also for the people’s welfare. She has transformed barren land into verdant pasture, with many colourful flowers and cool shade from growing trees.

Concomitantly the people have also gained benefits from the various types of medicinal herbs grown. All works have been undertaken with respect to the four fundamental needs of life, namely: food, clothing, shelter and medicine, which are basically derived from nature.

All these wonderful improvements are bestowed by the altruistic Queen of Thailand, who built the foundation for achieving sustainable benefits among the Thai people, at the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden.

The Demonstration Farm Project

In March 1997, the Queen initiated a project to establish three demonstration farms, two of which are in Chiang Mai Province at Baan Khun Tae, Moo 5, Chom Thong District and at Baan Mae Tungting, Moo 5 Samoeng District. The third is located in Chiang Rai Province, at Baan Rom Fah Thong, Moo 9, Viang Kaen District. At these project farms, experimental farming of sheep and poultry is undertaken.

The Queen regularly visits these remote areas to see, at first-hand, how the quality of life is improving for the farmers who now have secure occupations, are husbanding different types of animals for food and, equally-importantly, are now protecting the forest, wildlife and the watershed - in fact, the environment as a whole - from any further degradation.

Just recently, in fact, the Queen “urged Thais to feel more grateful for their blessed country - the golden lands that have provided them with shelter and the abundant resources that have sustained their lives.”

In Ubon Ratchathani, close by the border of Laos, lies a natural forest called Dong Na Tham, a huge area covering some 55,000 rai (approx. 220,000 acres), targeting 16 villages and 1,800 families in three contiguous districts Khong Chiam, Si Chiang Mai and Pho Sai.

The hardships and poverty of the people were compounded by the fact that they could not earn enough by rice farming and were forced by circumstances to start illegal logging and smuggling of arms and drugs along the border. The environment and the ecology suffered, too, as just one outcome.

In one of her frequent visits to the people of Ubon Ratchathani, the Queen impressed upon them the dire need to “protect the forest and sustain life” through such occupations as sheep raising, with the wool thus produced, used as the raw material for farmers’ training courses on weaving.

Other livestock cultivation includes the raising of rabbits and boars, which, together with fish farming, provide protein for the people.

The Queen has been singularly pleased with the progress and suggested that “These model farms should act as educational demonstration centres where people from other areas can come to see and learn, applying this new knowledge to their own lands.”

The Queen’s initiatives are based on His Majesty the King’s philosophy of a “sufficiency economy” which counsels reduction of the production costs of rice, field and garden crops; fish and frog raising in ponds lined with plastic sheets; cultivation of garden crops around the perimeter of ponds; and chicken raising, using termites drawn from the soil as feed.

Her Majesty’s projects in Ubon Ratchathani have led to a most positive change, both to the people’s lives and the surrounding environment.

Now there is enough food and the people in these projects have learned new skills and do not need to leave their own area to seek work. Furthermore, they refrain from animal hunting and forest encroachment and have been instilled with a feeling of land ownership, resulting in care for the country’s natural resources. Now, they are determined to safeguard such heritage for the benefit and welfare of future generations. This exemplifies remarkable progress.

Other Royal
Development Projects

The Queen has made a number of incisive statements at various locations and times when visiting her Royal Development Projects.

In Roi Et Province, at the end of 1999, the Queen pointed out that, “The forest is a water resource for the people. Without forests, or if we keep destroying the trees, though we gain more land, we will lose all water supply. The land ... will become a desert. Forests should exist to preserve life and water and maintain the rainfall which helps us to a better living ...”

Starting a Royal Development Project near Pra Mountain in Nong Bua District, Nakhon Sawan Province - an area connecting five provinces - Her Majesty observed that, “Due to deforestation, water resources were diminishing. That is because the forest is one cause ... one essence that brings rain.”

The Queen would not have expressed such concerns if the large amount of forest area in Thailand had not declined. At the end of last year, in fact, the remaining forest area in Thailand was only about 25% of the country’s total area.

Nakhon Sawan is one of the provinces where trees were massively destroyed, mainly in the area of Mae Wong National Park in the western part of the province. The remaining forest areas are about 7% of the province area and can be found in the mountain range called “Tuak Khao Pra Soong”, with the eastern part bordering Phetchaburi Province.

This mountain range contains the only remaining fertile forest in the province. However, due to human settlements around the area, coupled with the presence of beautiful granite formations which are in demand by the local builders, the area was intruded upon to reclaim land, to collect native materials, and to fell trees for the timber. These activities are greatly exacerbated in the dry season, resulting in forest fires.

The Tasmanian meets Their Majesties at Klai Kangwol.

In relation to this, Pra Khru Wa Pee Pa Tum, who serves as Lord Abbot of Nong Bua District, as well as being Monk Leader for Environmental Preservation, joined with the Natural Resource and Environment Preservation Club and the people of Nong Bua District to present a petition to Her Majesty to restore the forest and water sources to their original fertile conditions.

Thereupon, the Queen adopted the area and endorsed it as the site for a Royally-initiated project called the Environmental Preservation and Rehabitation of the Pra Mountain Range Project in Nong Bua District, Nakhon Sawan Province.

The project covers an area of 69,035 rai (27,614 acres) and is aimed at restoring the environment and natural surroundings to become a year-round water source for the people. This fulfils Her Majesty’s initiative to bring back life and forest to the land.

In an immediate response to this Royal initiative, the Office of the Royal Development Projects Board (RDRB) allocated a sum from the 1999 budget to the Royal Forest Department to rehabilitate the highland ecological system. With this budget, a watershed covering 2,000 rai (800 acres) and a buffer zone also covering 2,000 rai (800 acres), were chosen as the sites for reforestation.

In addition, the RDPB supported the Land Development Department by undertaking the planting of vetiver grass and the construction of soil embankments, to divert - as well as - to store water.

For the lowland area, other government agencies were included to cooperate in the development of people’s quality of life and occupations in order to discourage the destruction of trees, and to instil in them the sense of joint collaboration in forest preservation, to restore fertility to the forest in a sustainable and long-term manner.

Recently, project implementation has made progress, even though there exist some obstacles and the achievements are not concrete. Nevertheless, the condition of the environment in the area shows improvement and the farmers reap benefits from the forest which they helped to plant and now care for.

There is now sufficient water for cultivation and the people have a stable life for earning a living. No longer having to face famine, they become self-reliant and self-sufficient.

This basically describes the successful outcome of just this single project and enables it to attain goals according to the wishes of Their Majesties the King and the Queen, to see their subjects achieve self-sufficiency, while making optimal use of the resources in the locality, thus reducing dependency on external sources.

These are just some of Her Majesty’s initiatives which, over a lifetime of devotion and dedication to Her people, have certainly improved the life of her subjects.

The writer
(a Tasmanian)
meets the Queen

One of the many aspects I like about Thailand is that I have been able to follow my passion - sailing and yacht racing - in warm, people-friendly waters - little knowing that this would be my medium to meet both the King and Queen personally, in a relaxed, casual encounter.

I had been invited (“farang khon dio”) by Mom Chao Bhisadej Rajani, the King’s confidante and manager of the Royal Development Projects, to go to Klai Kangwol Palace on the Western Gulf. There was a regatta, with racing against the “King’s men” in the single-handed OK dinghies of which there were some 100 in top condition at the Royal Chitralada Yacht Squadron, adjoined to the Palace at Hua Hin.

The event has been reported in the Post, Nation, “Sawasdee” in-flight magazine and elsewhere and reproduced in a book published on 5 December 1999, by the Pattaya Mail, entitled: “His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great: Monarch for the Millennium”.

Here, with permission of the Pattaya Mail, I reproduce one of the chapters where I had the great fortune to talk to the Queen.

One of the best things about any sport is the after - the ambience and the camaraderie which pervade the club’s rooms when the day’s event are over. The apr่s-ski best epitomizes this milieu; when the day’s stars of the slopes - and the rest - gather around the log fire, the feelings are good. At the Royal Chitralada Yacht Squadron, the apr่s-voile had its own special ambience and friendliness.

Prince Bhisadej drove me back to the hotel and said to be ready at 7:15. A bit early, I thought, to be going sailing again. It was not, however, the next day’s sailing he had in mind: it was the apr่s-voile in the form of a buffet reception to be hosted by Their Majesties that evening.

Admittedly, the evening was exceptional; it was a Royal reception and buffet thank you to the governor and provincial officials of Petchburi. The summer was over and it was back to Bangkok for the Royal Household. The day’s earlier heroes had abandoned their tee shirt and shorts for something only just more formal; several wore the uniforms of the Royal Armed Forces, the police and other officialdom.

Prince Bhisadej guided me through the marquees and open-air areas set-up adjoining the Palace recreation room, itself laid out with tables and chairs, neatly and simply.

We had some drinks and conversed with the sailors of the day’s race, recapturing the events, like sailors from any other club. But there was an air of expectancy; a suppressed excitement. The hum and buzz of conversation of four hundred of Thailand’s top families and the province’s governing elite - and one farang - ceased. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, cool and smiling, passed among the crowds. She carried a pile of magazines, topped by a copy of National Geographic. Working again.

Princess Chulabhorn came around and mingled informally. It was friendly and casual, with the sounds of conversation and people socializing filling the air. There is a casual elegance about a gathering of Thai people that is hard to define and, in many other societies, impossible to capture at such occasions. There is an underlying friendliness: the essence of sanuk.

I was taken to meet H.E. Chaowas Sudlapa, governor of Petchburi province, the chief guest of honour. He was introduced as the “Head monkey-catcher of Kao Wang”. To the hilarity of the group standing around, the narrator confided that the party was really a farewell to the governor who had not been able to catch a monkey and was therefore being transferred to take charge of the monkey section at the Dusit Zoo.

“He’ll do well there; all the monkeys are in cages, already,” guffawed the narrator, to the great amusement of the governor and all those around.

Prince Bhisadej assigned me to a place near the wall, because the King and Queen were then coming down from their quarters in the Palace. The guests flowed across the vast recreation hall and lined up, forming a respectful human corridor from the entrance stairs of the Palace to the recreation room.

Ah, this is a day to remember, I thought, keeping to my allocated place, near the wall. A sail with the King and, just now, a glimpse of the marvellous Monarchs, as they disappeared among the crowd.

After a while, I started to feel lonely, however; the only farang, standing against this wall, no one else near. I wanted to be at least somewhere near the King and Queen, while I had the opportunity. Prince Bhisadej was obviously keeping me out of the way, afraid of my doing something farang or, even worse - something Tasmanian!

M.R. Datcharee, Prince Bhisadej’s wife, called my name. I looked around and straight into the eyes, the magnificent eyes, of the Queen of Thailand. Her Majesty was wearing a silk Pa Mudmee - black and rusty brown - the ancient traditional dress of the northeast which she has revived. It was a stunning outfit. The King was dressed in a silk Phrarajthan, grey with mauve tints, and black slacks. He clutched a two-way radio.

“Welcome to the Klai Kangwol Palace,” Her Majesty said in soft, slow English. “Why do you prefer to sail an Enterprise to an OK dinghy?” The Queen asked. “Well, I prefer Enterprise, Your Majesty,” I answered, caught off guard by her frank question, “for, if I sail badly in the Enterprise, I can blame my crew; today, sailing alone in the OK ... what can I say?”

“He’s not a bad sailor,” said the King. The King gave the very hint of a smile; not a smile of condescension, but the slight bemusement of a top-class sailor who has outwitted one with pretensions in that direction. I know, for I have seen that smile many times elsewhere. I have even practiced it at home alone, at the mirror, ready for the great day of my stunning yachting victory - somewhere, sometime! But, alas, I have never been able to use it in real life.

How I wished time to stop. The Royal couple was so relaxed and friendly and I was aware of the superb way that Prince Bhisadej and M.R. Datcharee had set me up.

“Did you see any jellyfish while you were sailing today?” The Queen asked. “No Your Majesty,” I replied, “I was too busy watching the wind and the water up ahead, figuring out how to catch the King on Vega II; I never looked down.”

The jellyfish question gave me lead and I told the Royal couple of the problems we have at the other side of the Gulf at this time of the year. It was a golden opportunity to relate the drama of the previous week when one of the Royal Varuna Yacht Club members was rushed to hospital with severe injuries from an attack by a sea creature. I plunged in to the details.

“It sounds more like a sting-ray,” Her Majesty offered. I remember that it took the medics in Pattaya quite a while to come to that conclusion - and they could see the injuries.

Fifteen minutes passed like one. Their Majesties moved to the top of the vast hall to preside over the evening. Prince Bhisadej removed me from my trance and we plunged back in to the festivities. I pondered for a moment on the Queen’s knowledge and grasp of facts.

It was only then I realized I was lucky that Her Majesty only asked me about my sailing - and not my job or a thousand other things - where I could have really shown my level of incompetence (a living testimony to the efficacy of the oft-quoted management tenet, the Peter Principle).

Epilogue

“I love being a Mother”, the young Queen said, addressing a group during a Royal Visit to the United States, in October 1967. The Queen has been the “Mother to all Thais” for her lifetime.

On the eve of her 71st birthday last year, the Queen informed a big gathering of dignitaries at Chitralada Palace that “His Majesty the King had been keeping a close watch on my public role, at times advising me on what I should or should not say. Right now, he is watching my performance on television. He said ‘enough of matters involving forestry and water’ ... and when I travel abroad, he follows my English speech closely,” the Queen added with a smile.

This brief dedication could be summed up in Her Majesty’s own words, emphasizing her humanity, goodwill and, not the least, her humour. “Has HM the King encouraged you to concentrate on work for the well-being of the people?” the Queen was once asked in an interview. “He did not encourage me at all ... he ordered me to,” the Queen replied. “I will look after the land and the farmers and you must look after their families,” the King said.

A Most Happy Birthday Your Majesty from all of us at the Chiangmai Mail.