Looking back on October 25 – 26 2017, these dates were more than a mere Wednesday and Thursday. Officially, they were the royal cremation ceremony of the late 9th King. To me, they were one of the times I peered down into the hallows of my soul and felt ripple of shock waves risen in my chest. It was a pure chaos.
But it shall remain so in my memory unless meanings are carved out to reinterpret it.
“It is not so important what happened. It is more important what it means.”
a quote I heard from a Finnish educator
1. What went down.
My mom, sister (Mei) and I went to Sanam Luang, a public square near my apartment which hosted important royal and national ceremonies, at 5:20am. Sanam Luang is also where the King’s body would be cremated on the October 26. It was the darkest hour, just before dawn. I was feeling disorientated – Where are we supposed go in order to enter the barricaded zone to view the Phra Meru Mat (the royal crematory)? I saw on the news that at 5am, the checkpoint gates to Phra Meru Mat would open? People were filing in but the roads were relatively empty.
2. Risks we took.
A volunteer was ushering to another check-point, on the opposite side of the Sanam Luang. She said there are tremendously lesser people queuing up there.
Risk taken: Walked towards the side she pointed. Mei and I went into 7-eleven along the way to get wet napkins and black socks. I really wanted to step into the air-conditioned store. Looking back, I felt a tinge of guilt for letting my mom go ahead on her own first. I could have gone with her? When we went out, she said she was already in the line, in front ahead. Hence, we had to brave through the lines of people to get in front. I felt very fearful that someone would call us cheaters for going up in front but technically, we wasn’t because mom was queuing for us. I later learned that she followed some foreigners and continued to walk ahead and that was how she ended up a kilometer ahead.
Throughout the two days, it was full of us taking risks and grabbing the opportunities as they come. After risk 1 has been taken, two hours later, a volunteer came up to our section and announced that the check point was closed and would be opened at 8pm. But, the ceremony at 4:30pm would have started by then. People beside us who heard the news refused to budge and sat down, resigning to wait for the time. However, before I could follow suit, my mom then made a brave and quick decision to abandon the long lines we queued up for. She quickly talked to some people to figure out which gates were still open. She negotiated with the motorcyclist and hopped on to get out to the Ratchadamneon, the main checkpoint. As the motorcyclist could only take one-two passengers at a time, we got separated from her.
At that time, I was slowly filled with irritations. Why did we have to attend this ceremony? My legs hurt and my friends watching it comfortably from the live televising. Couldn’t we do the same? Mei was calling mom to ask where she was. I guessed she was still on the moves so we couldn’t get the exact location. Spotting another motorcyclist, I went to ask if he could take us to the tail of the Ratchadomneon line at PhanFa Bridge. He agreed and slowly drove us there. We kept our heads bowed low when we went passed the police officers who gave us a look before letting us pass. Nobody except us was on the motorcycle.
From the Phanfa bridge, I figured that mom would be up ahead of the line. Fortunately, there was a path where the traffic was flowing, separated from people lining up. I breezed past them with Mei. To get ahead, I hid behind the volunteers who were passing out food and moved as they went ahead. Once I see an opening, I squeezed through the crowd and quickly called my sister over. I called mom and asked her to raise her hand. We found her in front of a restaurant near the democracy monument.
I wondered how she made it to the queue to get seats – I shall call her later to ask. My assumption is that she just moved up through the flowing traffic and when she saw a spot opening up – she quickly sat down. I also bet she scanned up ahead – if it’s worth to continue moving, then she would still persist in walking up. If not, then she’d sit down.
After the royal procession passed by, the three of us moved up ahead. However, the free flowing traffic has disappeared. The lines were jammed up. We tried to get on the sidewalk. Unfortunately, it was through a food booth and my large backpack made it hard to squeeze through. The booth ladies were furious and were demanding us to move out. Though, by that point, it was virtually impossible as there were people behind me moving us, and so trapped my sister and I. One of the booth ladies were enraged and calling us cheaters when she saw us managing to landed a spot to squat down. However, we didn’t stay there long as it was impossible to move forward through the stagnant crowd. We retreated into the alleys and started to navigated our way up to Sanam Luang. We really had no idea how we would get in but mom told us to think step-by-step and plan as we go. It would be better than waiting in the stagnation. Who knows that the gate might be closed if we don’t figure out the alternative?
3. Weaved and treaded the maze.
Off we went, treading through the sidewalks of the Bangkok canals. The folks residing there were asking us what were we doing there. We gave a reply that we were figuring out somehow to get to the check point. Mom was marching in front as I was holding my sister’s hand. I was trying to stay partial – if we somehow made it to the front of the gate, that’s great. If not, then we could go home and that’s also great for me. Moments later, as if sent by the heaven, my mom met a lanky man who walked with us and guided us out of the twisted alleyways. We ended up in front of the main check point.
Mom maneuvered her way into the crowd behind the barricades and we hurried our pace to follow her. We stood underneath the tree for a few minutes before we heard a order to file in and people gather up at the feet. Seeing the opportunity, we dived into the the moving crowd.
4. A blazing oasis.
There, the checkpoint was visible in sight. The end goal was about 20 meters away. It was better than 5,000 meters few hours ago. After passing through the human stampede test, it would be time that would next test our strength and endurance. The sun was right above our heads with the unmerciful heat rays blazing down. Even though the people tried to shield the heat from above with their black umbrella, this only caused the hot air was trapped underneath. My sister was at her limit, cursing and complaining. She was like a sweating zombie, holding precariously onto her umbrella with a little sleep she got from the conference she organized a day ago. I fanned her, trying to get the air in. My legs were holding up through the music that I was blasting through my ears. I told myself that I could survive this because common’ my mountain climbing experience in Pakistan was far worse than standing in the sun.
Cramped into cages of barricades, many people were getting restless. Some of them have weathered through the rainy storm last night and there were misinformed instructions from the volunteers that forced more people in from the back. There were also rumors snaking around that the gates in front won’t be opened till the next day. With each hour rolling by and the heat waves draining the spirit, it wasn’t before long that the outraged individuals went on a shouting rampage against the guards. WHY IS THE CHECKPOINT STILL CLOSED? TELL US SOMETHING! HOW LONG DO WE HAVE TO WAIT? IF IT’S CLOSED, WE’LL JUST LEAVE. Silence from the other side of the checkpoint only angered the folks further. Some who couldn’t endure the heat fainted and were escorted out. It was a horrifying sight that I could only sympathize, for I too was annoyed as hell. I
It was tempting to walk away, however, from the back, I heard a quiet whisper. “I never succeeded much in life. But, for just this time, I want to see the king and if I died waiting, then shall be it. But I will persevere on.” I turned behind and saw a face etched with deep set of wrinkles, hands tremblings as they tried to hold onto the umbrella. But those eyes peering out of the hollow sockets were the eyes of steel. A frail old lady whispered to her friend, whose exhausted body was slumped against the metal barricade. If these ladies could do it, then my legs shall too.
Following that, there were a few military personnels who came to motivate the section that I was at. They promised that once inside, there would be comfortable seatings and spaces for everyone. In addition, there would be food courts, theatrical performance, and shopping areas to enjoy. They painted a hopeful picture that everyone can reach the oasis inside in a few moments.
5. It’s only the beginning.
Around the late afternoon, the gates finally swung open. Interestingly, a celebrity – dressed in military uniforms – stepped out to command the lines. His clear instructions and firm but understanding attitude were able to reassure the public and direct people into orderly manners. Once we went inside, there was a water foundation welcomed us and there were many spaces to move freely. The next agenda then was to find spaces for us three. As usual, mom led the way and we hastened our pace to match hers. We found one behind the wheelchair areas, getting scolded by the bossy volunteers along the way. A horrifying realization dawned on me to how similar I was to them when I was a Prefect in primary school – scolding and keeping people in lines over small unnecessary details. * Facepalm * Dear lord/buddha, I’d never want to be that again…. Before I could settle down, my mom went to scan the area and told us to pick our stuff and continued moving. There would surely be better seats. And it’s true, we found one opposite to the main Phra Meru Mat!! A kind couple moved for us and I laid out our flysheets to get comfortable. My mom asked a group behind the reporter stand if my sister could sleep there with their friends. They agreed and my sister slept there for the next 13 hours.
As usual, Mom did not sit still and went to look around the area. I, guarding the belongings, scanned through Facebook for interesting feeds. I happened to find one on manga and throughout the evening, I found solace to waiting through it. As I was sitting outside of the cordoned zone, I somehow became a gatekeeper/helper for old ladies who had to cross the cordoned ropes. I lowered it for them and held their hands to help support them. They gave me food and chatted with me for a bit. I told my mom that she should go home to sleep as she now had the sticker to re-enter and I’d watch over (manga was all I need to keep myself alive there). I didn’t get up to go to the bathroom at all for 14 hours – sorry bladders and eventually asked an uncle to help look out for my stuff.
My mom eventually came back around 10:30pm and she recalled to me about the situation outside. The roads are virtually covered in darkness – not from the night, but the throngs of people in black outfits. It was almost impossible to re-enter, having to pass through them. That night, she decided to cross over to the other side nearer to the Phra MeruMat and I didn’t get to see her till the next day. Seeing my sister still dead in her sleep, I too went to sleep (with people stepping near my head as I laid my head on the side road).
Extra. Turbulent Behind-the-scene
What went on in my knuckled-brain as I was writing this post:
Might be confusing to read
A moral dilemma
Moral – what you were taught to be the truth and deviation from it can result in punishments
or simply fear
Too much f*cks were given. It was emotionally exhaustive because I didn’t follow the conventional norm. Conventional norm I knew was early birds get the worms – early birds lined up in front and those who come later join in at the end of the lines. Officially, gates open at 5am. It is the smarter ones who can win or the early risers one? I heard there were people who were lining up 2 days before the 25th themselves. I feel bad – did my presence cut their opportunity to get in?
all for the taking when there is chaos and no order
As I wrote down, the details revealed much more than just trying to lump everything all together and feel guilt-trapped about this.