KUALA LUMPUR – When homemaker Sakhon Saleesongsom heard the grievous news of Thai King King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s passing in Oct last year, she put on a black ribbon pin in mourning.
Over a year on, the 49-year-old from Chiang Rai still fastens the pin to her clothes, in a daily expression of devotion right in the heart of Petaling Jaya.
“It was very heart wrenching to hear his Majesty’s passing and can’t believe one year has passed by so quickly. Felt like it was only last week, as the grief and sadness continues to linger. May His Majesty’s soul rest in peace,” she told The Star.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a revered monarch who reigned for seven decades, will be cremated on Thursday (Oct 26) Sakhon, who has stayed in Malaysia for 30 years, is following the five-day ceremony via social media, as all her friends and family in Thailand post frequent updates.
Chatchanit Arif, a teacher at a private and international school in Johor Bahru, will also be following the ceremony on various Thai online news channels.
According to the 31-year-old from Bangkok, there are also channels that offer live broadcasts through Facebook, such as Thai PPTV.
“It is indeed the greatest loss the nation has experienced. I am deeply saddened and words cannot describe how heartbroken we all are in Thailand. Our late king was like our father, and until he was gone, we felt protected and safe. He always took care of his people,” she said.
Though she has lived in Malaysia for almost five years, Chatchanit said her love for the late king has never faltered: “I am sure Thais across the world share this mutual feeling.”
“We miss you, father. Do rest in peace knowing that even though you are no longer with us, your thoughts and legacy remains with us forever,” she offered as parting words to her beloved monarch.
Malaysians are not exempt from the momentous occasion, either.
Justin Ng, a project manager living in Kelana Jaya, had travelled to Thailand with the express intent of attending the cremation event on Thursday with his entire family.
His interest in The Land of the Free deepened when he spent six months working in Thailand back in 2010 and grew fond of her people.
“I came to understand how much the people here love and respect their King. So I started my research on why they love their King so much, and that made me felt the same way,” said Ng.
“I actually felt saddened on the passing of the King. He did a very good job to unite the people and Thailand to what it is today. He does deserve the title King Bhumibol the Great, King of All Kings,” he added.
His wife, 31-year-old homemaker Laddapron Kongied, said the family decided to attend the funeral when the cremation date was released.
According to the Trang province native, travel arrangements were smooth-sailing as they had been ready for the event for the past year.
Laddapron, who has lived in Malaysia for the past four years, shared that Thai citizens are “destined to have two fathers” at birth, with one being their biological father and the second being their beloved King Bhumibol.
“He never taught us to love him, but instead he taught us to love each other.
That’s when we as his children learnt what love is, and we eventually love and respect him naturally,” she said.
“King Bhumibol is more than a king and father to us, as he gave us his life to serve for a better Thailand. He works and serves the pupil throughout his life without a day off, and he helps the people in need regardless if we’re from the city or a deserted village,” she added.
Laddapron told the Star the late king’s “only dream” was to help everyone live a comfortable life.
“We know he’s tired, but he never once complained nor said he is tired. Though at the brink of death, he fought for life just to be with us a little longer so that he could shower us with his love regardless of race or religion, because we’re Thai citizens.
“We are grateful that we are born in the era of King Rama IX, our beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Though he’s no longer around, but he will always remain in our heart. We will use what he has taught us and use it in our life and teach it to our children,” said the mother.
Other Malaysians, such as boutique owner Toi See Luon, chose to travel to Thailand on Wednesday (Oct 25) to be a part of the “once in a lifetime event” Prior to this, the history enthusiast said his most memorable travel experience was spent in Hong Kong during the handover in 1997.
“The Thais are so deeply steeped in tradition, and it’s a great chance to see their artefacts. I’ve always been fascinated with the royal family there too,” said the 58-year-old boutique owner, who was on the way to the airport when contacted.
Toi hopes to see the sentiment on the ground firsthand, and will stay on till Oct 28.
“I think, of the many kings and queens in the world, he’s one that I think really cares for the people. That’s why I want to see how his subjects give him a grand send-off. There’s not many great leaders in the world, and he is one,” Toi added.
When contacted, the Embassy of Thailand in Malaysia confirmed that it is not doing a live feed of the royal cremation ceremony.
A visit to a popular Thai eatery and grocery shop in Section 17 saw that it was closed during their regular business hours, though no sign on the premises indicated if the owners were away due to the king’s passing.
A check at another award-winning Thai restaurant nearby had workers refusing to comment without clearance, though they seemed downcast when the subject was broached.
By Michelle Tam