The shadow of the son


Only fifty years ago Koh Samui was a very different island.

Back then the King made a rare visit to the island, and those that could manage it walked the 2 days journey through jungle dirt tracks, simply to be in his presence. His boat came ashore on the sands of Na Thon, and he walked on mats woven from banana leaves.

Today in modern Thailand his yellow monarchic flag flies alongside the Thai flag at every given opportunity. Across the country images of him appear in almost every shop, office or home.
The most prominent are the country wide 20 foot high gilt edged framed royal scenes, which are also
lit to allow them to be seen throughout the night.

Fifty years ago my bungalow land lady, then 8 years old and born on Koh Samui, made barefoot her way to meet the King on the sandy shores, simply to capture a glimpse of him. Fifty years on another member of the royal family is making a visit, this time it doesn't instil the feeling of celebration and jubilance, instead it bring a feeling of unease, and to some, fear.

I headed out of my room mid-afternoon to scoot over to Lamai, to pick up a spot of lunch.

An eerie silence came from the only road which circumnavigates the island, normally busy with taxis, scooters and impossibly laden supply trucks. As I head for my bike the landlady grabs me from the roadside into the safety of the shaded reception area.

It seems that today there is to be a visit from the Kings son and, due to police requests, all traffic, on a 1 ring-road island, has been stopped.

Excellent, I think, time to get a flag and wave it at the cortege. Not to be says she, in fact the police, an officer stationed every hundred metres or so along the route, have warned that no-one must be in sight of the cars as they pass by, they even demanded her dog be kept inside. Presumably the Prince is incredibly allergic, even within the leather confines of Mercedes air-con comfort.

Her story is that the Prince is a violent bully who uses his position to throw his weight around, and
seeing that he is now 50 odd years old and has still yet to take the throne, he doesn't seem to be taking it too well. And the never ending list of adulterous affairs doesn't seem to be dulling the pain.

But the King is now very old and very frail.

The eventual loss of such a loved royal, being replaced by a bullish rogue, will change the outlook for a lot of Thais. The Thai smiles may soon be replaced by the feeling of discontentment and resentment.

A side note to this is that the King eldest child is a daughter, highly educated, respected and the perfect replacement for such a devoted, caring monarch.

The only problem is that she was born a girl.

P McNiven

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