We enter the theater and make our way to our assigned seats. The loungers that we settle into are comfortable and welcoming. We set our large cups of soda into the holders and enjoy the quiet fragrance of butter on our popcorn.
For a few minutes, we are observers, watching our fellow movie-goers adjusting themselves into their seats. Outside, the temperatures soar at 80, 90, even over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but in here, we almost shudder in the chill air. Our time of curiosity comes to a close as the lights go down.
I’m comfortable in my lounger, but all around me, the other patrons are abandoning their seats. My wife gives me a side smile. How many movies have I seen since I moved here? Nearly one every week. Certainly about one every month. Being an American, I get to enjoy all the biggest flavors of home at the reduced prices of my adopted country, and around me, everyone is forced to enjoy Hollywood as a foreign film-making source.
“Rob,” Bia reminds me.
A thousand times. And I still haven’t gotten used to being the subject of a King.
Normally, this doesn’t affect me in any way. Normally, I live as I would in any of my other countries: the USA, China. I am just another expat or national, doing what I do in a land that is so vastly different from my own, yet remaining unchanged in my habits.
I remind myself that were I to attend a sports match, I would be obligated to show respect to the flag. At every game I’ve been to, be it hockey, baseball, or basketball, they have always blasted the Star Spangled Banner while we stood with hands on hearts. Was this any different? About the only differences were that I was in a movie theater, and that instead of honoring a flag, I am on my feet listening to the royal anthem that plays in honor of a man.
Some people might rail against such a notion, wondering what could possibly make one man worth honoring. It’s not a horrible concept, especially not when such honor is earned in peacetime. Were the King a despot, then I might grumble about such things. King Rama IX, however, was about as far from a despot as they come. He spent a significant portion of his life working with his people to improve the agricultural and environmental aspects of their lives. Moreover, he was the cultural tentpole, a living representation of the traditions and arts of his country. He was like Captain America, only his shield was his sense of duty and respect for all of his subjects.
So once I remember to stand for him, I take comfort in his quiet presence. It feels strange, but it’s something I have come to appreciate. Plus, it is a nice break from the advertisements and trailers that normally precede a movie.
It is strange to think that I will never stand in his honor again. Even were I to return to Thailand, it could never happen.
A year ago, King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away. He was a decade older than my father, and twenty years older than my mother. It is my privilege to continue enjoying my parents’ presence here. For the past year, however, an entire country was in mourning for the father they had lost. Tonight, that mourning period came to an end. If I am to return to Thailand, I will inevitably find my way back into the dark air conditioning of a movie theater. It will be strange not to see my king’s face in the archival photographs and filmed interactions with the people he loved. Instead, I would see images of the new king. Though it is possible that one day, I would learn to call him king, I can honestly say that such a time has not yet come. To me, Bhumibol Adulyadej is the king. It is his face that I would expect to see when the lights go out.
May he rest in peace. Long live the king. ทรงพระเจริญ