Black is back as Thais mourn rev­ered king

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

ON his birth­day Thais wore yel­low. When he got sick they put on pink, and now that King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej has passed, Bangkok’s streets have turned monochrome in a ex­tra­or­di­nary dis­play of col­lec­tive grief.

The ven­er­ated monarch died at the age of 88 on Oc­to­ber 13, plung­ing the na­tion into mourn­ing and leav­ing a po­lit­i­cally di­vided peo­ple bereft of a rare uni­fy­ing fig­ure.

Thai­land is a coun­try that leans heav­ily on symbols and peo­ple have long ex­pressed de­vo­tion to the king through cloth­ing, with many in Bangkok sport­ing yel­low ev­ery Mon­day, the day he was born.

But since his pass­ing most in the dis­traught na­tion have for the first time hon­oured the late king in black, with tens of thou­sands pour­ing onto the streets in un­prece­dented dis­plays of som­bre de­vo­tion.

All gov­ern­ment staff have been or­dered to forgo colours for an en­tire year and many pri­vate busi­nesses are ask­ing em­ploy­ees to don black for at least a month.

That has sent shop­pers rush­ing to snaf­fle up black gar­ments from street ven­dors and lux­ury malls who swiftly re­placed their stocks – and even their man­nequins – with mourn­ing at­tire.

At a street­side stall at Pratu­nam, a bustling whole­sale mar­ket in Bangkok’s com­mer­cial heart, Som­porn Sri­wichai is rak­ing in more money than she has in weeks sell­ing T-shirts and po­los for be­tween 150, and250 Thai baht (US $4-7).

“All of us in Thai­land are very sad and I don’t want to be sell­ing black cloth­ing,” said the 45-yearold, who nor­mally sells chil­dren’s dresses.

“But I have very lit­tle money and now I have some­thing I can re­ally sell,” she said, adding she shifted 100 items on Oc­to­ber 14 alone.

The sud­den de­mand for black has sparked fears of a na­tional short­age, with the gov­ern­ment say­ing it will work with man­u­fac­tur­ers to en­sure sup­ply as well as crack­down on op­por­tunist price-gougers.

“We want the world to know our feel­ings,” Som­porn said, ex­plain­ing that “by wear­ing the same colour shirts and be­ing united we can ex­press our grief all day.”

For the past decade Thai­land has been torn apart ri­valling camps known by their op­pos­ing colours: a pop­ulist “Red Shirt” move­ment and their foes –roy­al­ist elite-backed “Yel­low Shirt” group.

The colour-coded po­lit­i­cal tribes have staged re­peated rounds of mass protests over the past decade, of­ten bring­ing Bangkok to a stand­still and some­times spilling into vi­o­lence.

Though Bhu­mi­bol had in the past drawn upon his moral au­thor­ity to avert po­lit­i­cal crises, the monarch re­mained mostly silent dur­ing the twi­light of his reign as the colour wars rocked the king­dom.

Crit­ics say the army’s tight grip on ex­pres­sion has only tem­po­rar­ily buried the na­tion’s strife, leav­ing open the pos­si­bil­ity of a new flar­ing of the coun­try’s fiery po­lit­i­cal di­vides. –

Photo: AFP

After the death of King Bhu­mi­bol, Thais must wear black for 30 days of mourn­ing.

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