The King’s Parade
Two months ago I met with Sudchai Kanonokulsoontorn, a pleasant 63 year old man with a deep love for the King. We were to talk about the International We Love the King Parade — a parade organised exclusively for foreigners in Chiang Mai who wish to express their love and respect for the King independently from the usual collective events that are scattered throughout the city around the 5th of December, His Majesty the Late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s birthday. We talked, we laughed, we shared stories about the King and about what the expat community in Chiang Mai were doing for him and we smiled, a lot.
At the end of the interview, a call came through on Sudchai’s phone. If he was smiling when he answered, it quickly disappeared. He clutched his heart as if something has wrenched his soul from his body, his face aged before me. His friend had called to tell him that the King was severely ill in hospital. The next day the Royal Palace confirmed his worst fear in an official statement. A statement we all knew had to come one day, but one we were all dreading. The King’s Parade was put on hold, and as the rest of the country was reeling in sadness, a new parade had to be envisioned.
For the last five years the parade has grown far beyond the imagination of its founders, with over 2,000 foreigners attending in 2015, as well as hundreds of Thais. “The concept is simple,” explained Sudchai. “The International We Love the King Parade gives a chance for expats and foreigners living in Chiang Mai to independently pay tribute to the King in their own way.” Most years, the parade itself is separated into countries with banners and signs expressing love for the king in dozens of languages. At the parade’s destination, speeches from representatives from all attending nations are read before musical, dramatic and spoken word performances are presented in homage to the King.
“We started it after many of our foreign friends and people we met through work expressed a sincere desire to do something for the King,” said Sudchai. “The official club is called We Love the King Club (International) initially started with Apiradee Tantivejakl, the manager of Jing Jai Market who has sadly passed away (incredibly, mere hours after His Majesty’s death), Ruechuchai Potha, head of the department of employment, and Chayanee Chalatlaem the owner of Chiang Mai Friends. In more recent years, the support of some long existing expats such as Shana Kongmun have also begun yield great results.”
With the passing of His Majesty, the parade went into limbo. What was deemed respectful and meaningful was now a hot potato as people scrambled to interpret the appropriateness of holding the parade during this time of mourning. Plans were scrapped, only to then be brought back, adjusted, refined, curated and finally decided upon.
“This year it will be called International Remembrance of the King Parade,” said Chayanee. “We will still have the parade and many other activities and events come to be expected from this annual event.” Sudchai added that despite the King passing away, our love for him is still strong and the things he has done for the people of Thailand and the foreigners here are as still as valid as ever.
This year the King’s Parade is inviting everyone who wants to pay tribute and remember the King to join them at Central Festival on January 20th between 2pm to 8pm. There will be a gathering of people who will be invited to light candles and sing the King’s anthem along with a few songs penned by the King himself. There will be musicians, speeches from representatives from all attending nationalities just as before, and a parade and all sorts of activities. For those who have not yet had a chance, there will also be a book where people can sign and express their regret, love and support for the late King and the Royal Family.
“Last year we had performances and speeches from so many nationalities from countries such as Nepal, Burma, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Germany, England, France and America,” said Sudchai who expects the parade to continue and grow for years to come.
“Even though our great King has passed away, we can still remember him. After the next succession, we will still pay tribute to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej this time every year, but we will also celebrate the arrival of a new monarch. Our love for the late King will be as strong as ever, and we should be able to always remember him.”